spudtater: (Default)
( Apr. 7th, 2011 01:10 pm)
Is it that time of year again already? A co-worker just came round offering a bag of names for the Grand National. I told him no thanks, and left it at that. I try not to make a habit of gambling, whether that's casino, lottery, scratchcard or raffle. The only exception is when it is for a good cause, and the Grand National is kind of the opposite of that.

You see, for all its image of "a bit of good clean fun", the Grand National is actually a rather controversial sport. The jumps are large and fixed, and the horses run at them at full speed, in a large pack. Broken necks are common (from which the horse dies instantly), as are broken legs (after which the horse will almost certainly be destroyed).

Statistically speaking you can expect three horses to die at every Grand National. Last year it was five horses, and the same the year before that. (Full list here.) The organisers have gone to pains to point out the precautions they have taken to prevent more deaths this year, but then they say that every year. I don't doubt that they do their best to minimise risk, but this is an inherently dangerous sport.

And yet we as a nation don't want to hear about Grand National deaths. The words "national institution" are muttered, and the subject is quietly dropped.

I'm hardly the person most obsessed with animal rights — I eat meat on a daily basis, and my support for animal research is pretty much entirely unreserved — but even I balk when animals are dying not for nourishment, not for the advancement of humankind, but for entertainment. I am surprised by Britain's continued love of and support for the Grand National — this, from a nation that is too squeamish to eat horse meat.

If you watch the Grand National this year, be under no illusions — if a horse falls down, and doesn't get up, then it is either dead, or shortly to become so. And wonder, if the camera lingers, whether this is just slightly in the realm of blood sports.

I won't be watching, I won't be betting; I don't have the stomach.
So Michael Gove was on BBC Breakfast this morning, talking about his proposed school reforms. He seemed to return to two particular obsessions during the interview: getting people from the military qualified as teachers, and encouraging team sports.

Military types, he said, would make the perfect teachers, since they're well versed in both maintaining discipline and "motivating young people". Never mind the fact that the military specialises in quashing creativity and individual thought, and promoting blind, unquestioning obedience to authority — not exactly a trait I'd like to see more of in schools. And never mind, too, that this plan would seem to involve importing sizeable amounts of testosterone-laden young men from an almost exclusively male, macho-poisoned culture into an environment full of attractive, impressionable young ladies in skirts.

And team sports, he says, are the ideal way to build "teamwork" and "cooperation". He contrasts sports like these, with his prime example of a silly, pointless P.E. activity: "circus skills". Yeah, because who needs coordination, control, skill and patience when you could be out rolling around in the mud for a bit of male bonding with a bunch of burly young men?

These two obsessions of his seem hint at an obsession with promoting group thought and obedience at the expense of individualism and creativity. And the former in particular makes me wonder if education is really his priority, or if to some extent he sees his position as the ideal opportunity to get military men and military thinking into schools, and thence beef up our armed forces.

Euch. Fucking Tories.
English Defence League: "We're not thugs, we're a balanced mix of people with an important political message. Now, to prove our point, let's go smash up that truck!!!1! Woooo!! Yeah!"

EDL Protesters Attack Sky News Truck — 09 Oct 2010, Sky News

"Oh... there were journalists in it? Well, I'm sure we made a good impression."
Meant to post this yesterday, but I forgot:

This morning's BBC Breakfast did a short segment on "what it's like to be a young recording artist". They cut to a shot of $PFY at his computer, with a sound editor open, who plays us his most recent piece of sampled electronic beatz. It's reasonably pleasant, for that sort of thing — so okay, fair enough, he's at least moderately talented.

The voice over tells us how modern technology has made creating music much simpler for $PFY than it would have been in the past — he can do everything in the privacy of his mum's home that previously would have taken a recording studio and a lot of expensive machinery. But, the voice over continues, technology has its downsides too. For every track $PFY sells legally, a much larger proportion is illegally pirated, which cuts into his profits!

Of course, they're making the standard recording industry false assumption: that every person who has downloaded an illegal copy of this artist's work would have bought it if it weren't available illegally. This is patent bull-crap — people download things for a variety of reasons, not least of which is to have a decent listen to a track before they decide whether they want to purchase it. (This has been better argued by people smarter and more thorough than myself — with figures and everything — but my Google-Fu is failing me. Any links, anybody?)

I would have thought the real reason that $PFY is struggling to sell tracks would be staring everybody in the face. If every monkey with a computer and a lot of free time on their hands can do effectively the same thing as $PFY, it's going to be a lot harder for him to convince anybody that his efforts stand out in quality. It's a buyer's market, basically — it's less tempting for random internetters to buy one of his tracks when there are a hundred very similar MP3s being offered for free. It's much harder for him to get gigs when the organiser's nephew's roommate is offering their DJ skillz for the price of a case of beer. And it's hard for him to find agents when the pool of people jumping up and shouting "ME! ME! ME!" is pretty much the entire population of the UK. (Pardon my hyperbole).

And then there's the X-Factor effect, and what that's done to the public perception of what music is and how it is manufactured... but that's a different rant.
I seem to have missed any press coverage of it, but Nick Clegg's "YourFreedom" site was launched yesterday. It asks you to list and vote on laws that you would like altered or repealed, in order to better restore and/or preserve the freedoms of the UK people.


Okay, it's easy to mock the coalition government as having "so few ideas it has to ask us what to do", but I think this is a huge improvement on New Labour's attitude to governance, which was more "we'll tell you what to think — and you'd better like it". So let's get on this site and let Nick know what we want. If it all comes to naught, then at least we gave the coalition government the benefit of the doubt.
spudtater: (Default)
( May. 12th, 2010 01:47 pm)
I just bought a one Terabyte network hard drive. I remember when I was aspiring to own a one Gigabyte hard drive. (Come to think of it, I remember when I owned a computer without any hard drive at all... tell that to kids these days, they won't believe you... mumble...).

To be set up tonight as a central file- and print-server. (Yes, it does print serving. I was a little surprised when I realised that, but hey, I'm not going to argue.) Woo shiny tech!

I seem to be more optimistic about the the coalition agreements than a number of my friends. That's almost certainly because I was out of the country during the Thatcher years. (Okay, 1981–~1983 excluded, but I wasn't really up to forming political opinions during that time). But am I naïve in not knowing what Tories Are Really Like, or are others still living in the 80s? We shall see.

All I know for now is that I much admire any politician who uses the phrase "constitutional geekery".   8^)
spudtater: (Default)
( May. 11th, 2010 09:48 pm)
It's the "end of an error", as the USians say, and the start of an entirely new one.

Here's hoping that Tory tempered with Lib Dem isn't, overall, too much worse than Labour.

I'm fairly happy about the prospect of a referendum on AV. (Yes, Labour were offering AV off the bat and a referendum on STV, but that was a desperate attempt at staying in power, and never really a realistic — or wise — proposition.)
spudtater: (Default)
( May. 10th, 2010 06:48 pm)
Surprised I haven't seen anything about this on my friends list yet: there's another Take Back Parliament demonstration next Saturday. 208 confirmed participants so far (including me). Who else is going to be there?

Must find something purple...
spudtater: (Default)
( May. 7th, 2010 08:43 am)
Shite, shite, shite.

So, when it came to the day, it looks like the majority of people forgot their promises to vote Lib Dem, and simply reverted to the old-fashioned "lesser of two evils" tactics. The Lib Dems recorded an insubstantial increase on their vote from last election (~1%). Unfortunately, they've lost seats overall, and it's seats that matter, not vote share.

So it's looking like Nick Clegg hasn't got any weight to speak of to push around at parliament, and with the largest party out-and-out opposed to vote reform, it looks like we're stuck in the same two-party boat for a very long time to come.


Congratulations to the Greens, at least. I might not agree with all their views, but they deserve at least one voice in parliament. Well done too to Alliance, for winning their first Westminster seat, Belfast East. I'm not particularly au fait with the NI political situation, but they seem like an okay bunch. And well done to the Pirates, for getting enough votes to look like they're here to stay. (0.6% isn't too bad, given that they're an entirely new party).
...to get to my polling station, I have to walk past a different polling station.

Am tempted to stay up to watch election results roll in tonight... it only happens every five years, after all. But if I do, I'll be knackered tomorrow. And I have work.

May try to get up in the small hours, and catch the last half of them.
spudtater: (Default)
( Apr. 29th, 2010 11:52 am)
So, everybody's talking about Gillian Duffy and her remarks on eastern Europeans "flocking" in, and of course Gord's leaked after-comments on her being a "bigoted woman".

The right wing's having a field day, of course, with claims that debate on immigration is being "stifled". Lord Pearson of UKIP was invited onto BBC Breakfast this morning and got his chance to make that very point. Happily, he was then grilled by Sian on other aspects of their manifesto, over which he reverted into a blathering upper-class twit. Cutting a third of NHS staff, but not including a single doctor or nurse? Seriously?

But I have to admit as well that I think that there's an element of dismissiveness in the left-wing reaction to the story that does not sit well with me. Particularly the large amounts of people saying things along the lines of "well, she is a bigot".1

Sure, the belief that immigration from eastern Europe is inherently problematic could be described as bigoted — or racist even. But in a country where a vast portion of the population holds that belief to some degree, I dispute that labelling all such people "bigots" is the correct response. Because to label somebody is to push them away, seperate them from us. And that works both ways. If they're a minority, like the BNP, then it helps to sideline their stance. But if they're a group that the majority of the population sympathises with, then I would say you're actually sidelining yourself.

You see this all the time in left-wing debate. Somebody will say that the majority of people in society are racist, or sexist, or whatever anathemic word is applicable to the debate. And its effect is to split the commentor away from mainstream opinion — after which it's easy for the average person to point to them and call them a "loony lefty".

To call Duffy a bigot is to place yourself in a bubble where immigration is a non-issue, a taboo subject. Which may be very reassuring to yourself, but unfortunately there are more people outside the bubble than there are inside. And especially with an election round the corner, that puts you outside a position of power.

So Gord's original, public, reaction was the correct one. Do not get upset, but defeat the argument with logic and common sense. Then politely, but firmly, show that you do not wish to debate the matter any further. You may be surprised at the proportion of people who will respond positively. (If they continue to push it, then they're probably not worth engaging with.)

The third leaders' debate is coming up, and immigration is now bound to come up. My eyes are on Clegg, as the candidate with the most obviously pro-immigrant policies. How will he respond? Will he be dismissive of the question, hoping not to draw attention to Lib Dem policies? Or will he seize it, and present immigration as a positive force that improves our economy and society — in the hope that there are more people to win with this stance than there are to lose?

I can hope, can't I?

[1] This paragraph edited for clarity.

Edit: Aaaaaaand, he's on the back foot. Poop.   8^(
spudtater: (Default)
( Apr. 18th, 2010 06:14 pm)
The polls have shot up for the Lib Dems, and despite what the naysayers have said, mainly seem to be eating into the Tory vote, not Labour.

A couple of polls have even put them in first place, which is... well... frankly staggering. I didn't think I'd see the day.

Unfortunately, due to vote distribution, the jump in percentage of vote for the Lib Dems doesn't give them a proportional increase in seats... instead, Labour looks like it will win out at the current vote share. (It'll still be a hung parliament, of course; that's looking like a virtual certainty now).

But if the Lib Dems could shoot up from around 20% to almost 30%, how much more could they do?

I notice there's a a Facebook group called We got Rage Against the Machine to #1, we can get the Lib Dems into office, which now has over 85,000 members. Even if it is ultimately unsuccessful, it's making me feel a little bit fuzzy inside.   8^)

Bet Gord and Dave are now feeling stupid about having railed on about "voter apathy" in today's youth...
spudtater: (Default)
( Feb. 20th, 2010 08:15 pm)
First science linky is this very interesting article about ozone depletion denialists. It points out how the exact same tactics being used by climate change denialists today were being used by politicians and industry groups in the 70s/80s, before the discovery of the ozone hole forced a massive backpedal. Particularly interesting is... no, just read the article.   8^)

Second linky is to Ben Goldacre's Bad Science blog, about the Ying Wu chinese herbal medicine case (a woman was given pills for acne, got cancer, and ended up having to have both kidneys and urinary tract removed).

Upon telling [personal profile] galaxy_girl that the industry was entirely unregulated, she responded that "they could be selling rat poison for all we know". I then proceeded to discover via this, this and this:

Aristolochic acid is a rodent carcinogen found in Aristolochia and Asarum, both in the Aristolochiaceae family of plants.

Well, then.
spudtater: (Default)
( Jan. 27th, 2010 01:02 pm)

Monday's word-of-the-day calendar informed me about Nellie Bly, 19th century investigative journalist extraordinaire.

Wiki extracts )

Why have I not heard of this awesomeness before?

This morning's news included the story of a report on the question: "should people in troubled relationships stay together for the sake of the children?". To which the answer turned out to be: "No". Or, more specifically, "unhappiness in children is more likely to be influenced by conflict in their family than the family's structure"

Thank you. You'd have thought that would be bleedin' obvious, but apparently not, as they then interviewed some fucking Tory who went on to explain how this survey, comprehensive and unbiased though it might be, contradicted the beliefs and policies of the Conservative party and was therefore, obviously, wrong.

I may be paraphrasing there. But only a little.

My personal feelings are that the increase in divorce levels are consequences of nothing more complex than the fact that more women are able to support themselves, giving them an increased chance of being able to escape unhappy or abusive relationships. But this would contradict that rose-tinted image of 1950's household nirvana that is so bloody pervasive in this country, wouldn't it?

Just been reading through a selection of emails* that the helpdesk here have received from a variety of outraged Americans. And thus:

Dear Sirs,

Please allow us to express our regret at the news of your cancelled trip to Scotland. Our country will be much worse off without the presence of your illiterate, gun-waving, emotionally retarded selves, and the literally dozens of dollars that you would have no doubt contributed to our economy. We are particularly distraught at the thought of alienating those of you with such a strong Scottish heritage, and are sure that your imaginary Scottish royal ancestors would indeed be ashamed of this recent decision.

Our whisky industry will also suffer greatly from your withdrawn support -- indeed, your average accuracy in hitting the correct keys on your keyboard suggests you collectively consume a large amount of Johnnie Walker indeed, and I'm sure this fine company's profits will be deeply hurt once you switch back to that good ol' fashioned moonshine just like your paw used to make.

Please let it be known that if there were any way we could win back your custom, short of turning into a bunch of violent, xenophobic, right-wing cretins like yourselves, we would do so.

Yours faithfully,


* Sorry, no can share. Don't want to risk getting colleagues in trouble.

EDIT: http://www.boycottscotland.co.uk/

spudtater: (Default)
( Jun. 4th, 2009 08:13 pm)
Have held my nose and voted for my MEPs. (Ended up supporting the haggis-fancying diagonalised-execution-fetishists — best of a bad lot, IMHO.)

Polls are open 'til 10, if you haven't voted yet.
Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] gominokouhai for bringing to my attention the Open Rights Group questionnaire to MEP candidates, which included questions on copyright, data retention, personal data and the open internet.

Unfortunately — and somewhat disturbingly — no Labour politicians have replied to this questionnaire. A smattering of Tories have, and their responses show that they have not changed their spots. The Liberal Democrats are better, but not as good as I would have expected from them. In particular, their top candidate for Scotland, George Lyon, only agrees with the ORG on half the issues, marking him out as on the less liberal side of the party.

So now I'm looking at changing my vote. SNP or Greens? The SNP top candidate Ian Hudghton has responded "Agree" on all fronts. For the Greens, Elaine Morrison's responses do not appear on the 'Scotland' page above, but she has told me via personal correspondence that they are "Agree/Agree/Agree*/Agree" respectively. Bonus points to her for taking her time to respond even this late into an election campaign.

Anyway, neither SNP nor Green parties are 100% appealing, but I don't feel I can vote for a LibDem candidate who is as soft on individual freedoms as George Lyon is, either. Who should I vote for?

* EDIT: Elaine's responses updated above; her initial response accidentally missed one out.


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