Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Train pricing in the UK

Can anyone explain why two singles are sometimes, often, in fact usually cheaper than a return on British trains? I'd always assumed returns were a bit cheaper because the company got a guaranteed payment, and sometimes seat (if it was a fixed date and time return), and maybe also because it segmented the market into those who were unwilling to pay for flexibility and those who were.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Invade Scotland!

Aaro comes out with fighting talk on the prospects for Scottish independence. I see a glimpse of What the Papers Say in 2015:
Sir David "not the wildlife documentary maker" Aaronovitch, writing in The Times, argued that claims by the anti-war lobby that military action against Scotland was merely a ruse to gain control of the nation's oil was wide of the mark, and not just because it was running out. Instead it was merely the Decent humanitarian reason of freeing the Scottish people from the tyranny of President Galloway, and to find and destroy the secret nuclear weapons facility that Prime Minister Johnson (Not the former Minister and Trade Unionist) had alleged was at Faslane, on the Clyde. Aaronovitch warned that if the nuclear weapons facility was not there, "he would never believe another word I am told by the English government", and for that matter, "neither would anyone else", but only for five minutes, by which time he would have come up with good explanations for the honest error they had made.

New lows

I can't quite believe that the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer took 14 handwritten words from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and gave them to a handwriting 'expert' to come up with a character profile. What was the point? Are all the Shadow Cabinet going to submit to the same 'analysis'? The sooner David Cameron appoints 'Save the Pound' to the job the better.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Carbon[1] offsetting by lastminute.com

Much as the title says, basically. British Airways have been doing this, but not at the time you booked the flight (you were sent to a separate site). This is what Felix was asking for a few months ago, though personally I found the lastminute.com site not very good and never use it for flights.

I also have my doubts about the scability of carbon offsetting, which I said here.

[1] Whoops I forgot the footnote in the title. I know it should be "Carbon dioxide" offsetting, and "Carbon dioxide credits" or CO2 credits etc. But when I put this in a comment on Tim's site I thought it sounded silly, so I'm going to stick with carbon.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

The Ashes

As with many children and even adults, Chris Brooke's cat was introduced to cricket during the Ashes of 2005, and thus probably sees The Ashes as being a close (and sometimes not even that) fought contest which England win, instead of the one-sided embarassment that us older folk know and love.

Hopefully such youthful innocence won't be dashed, though the early signs are not good (or perhaps that's how newer fans imagine it always starts, as England lure the Aussies into a false sense of superiority). On the other hand having it totally one-sided does help with the time zone - in 2002 I watched a lot of the Ashes and was in bed by 2am, as often England were mostly out by then. This year I am Sky +ing it, which means I record the seven hours it is on, and then watch it at 30 times normal speed. It takes just 14 mins, and Glenn McGrath seems almost pacey.

It's reasonably hard to regain the Ashes, as you need to win. England are currently 7 to 1 on Betfair if you fancy a punt.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

My name is Bond, Snuggles Bond

After having read suspiciously early favourable reviews, and suspiciously unfavourable reviews after it had come out, I did not have high hopes for James Bond. But in fact it was rather good - albeit it half an hour too long. The only thing that spoilt it for me was very occasionally I thought Daniel Craig looked and sounded like Andrew Marr. This is obviously offputting. Worse, clearly, is that no-one else thinks this, therefore I might be seeing some odd pyschological effect of my Marr obsession.

On the issue of celebrities, the girlfriend had a dream on Monday that she was asked to show Sophia Loren and Kirk Douglas the inside of an English pub, as the had never seen one before. Apparently they were delighted.

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Xmas

Has anyone seen the usual newspaper letters debate where someone writes in and says 'I hate how people use Xmas when it should be Christmas' and then someone else writes in and says something along the lines of (mercifully I forget the details) 'In fact the X has a long tradition as a sign of the Cross'? I fear, like Christmas itself, it arrives earlier and earlier and I've missed it, and there's nothing I like more than such things - the question of when the Millennium began, and more importantly, if anyone was really going to care that much, kept me occupied for months.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Satsumas

Aren't they great? I wonder how many one can eat in a day without negative health consquences. Are there government guidelines?

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Two sets of comments

Apparently YACCs comments don't work with the new Blogger, and won't be fixed this week. So I've reluctantly installed the Blogger commnets, which you'll see to the side of the posts. I think the system is rather clunky, and at the moment plan to keep both in case YACCs returns to health. This promise is, however, much like the Times' promise to keep both the broadsheet and tabloid - ie it is a Tony Blair promise - I'm not exactly lying, but you'd be mad to believe me.

Six minutes later: You shouldn't now be able to see the YACCs comments. But they might return.

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Good news from the Middle East

Apparently Iraq and Syria are going to have full diplomatic relations for the first time in decades. This slightly confused me as I thought they had been best buddies over that time, but it seems not.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Taxation out of the control

Fascinating chart in The Economist this week which shows PwC's attempts to calculate the entire tax burdern on a typical small firm. The UK seems to have the 5th lowest, whilst its compliance costs in hours is (I think) the 4th lowest

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Hay on Wye

Norman Geras quotes former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans on a incident at the Hay-on-Wye festival earlier this year.
Something similar happened at this year's Hay-on-Wye festival, sponsored by the Guardian, where a five-person panel discussed "Are there are any limits to free speech?" One of the Muslim panelists said if anyone offended his religion, he would strike him. A lawyer, Anthony Julius, responded that Jews had lived as minorities under two powerful hegemonies, Christian and Muslim, and had been obliged to learn how to deal nonviolently with offense caused to them by the sacred scriptures of both. He started by referring to an anti-Semitic passage in the New Testament - which passed without comment. But when he began to list the passages in the Koran that denigrate Jews, describing them as monkeys and pigs, the panelists went ballistic. One of them, Madeline Bunting of the Guardian, put her hand over the microphone and said words to the effect "I am not going to sit here and listen to any criticisms of Muslims." She was cheered, and not one of the journalists in the audience from right or left uttered a word about free speech - not hate speech, mind you, but free speech of a moderate nature.
He adds himself:
I've excised the words [He did, I've put them back in - Matt] Evans attributes to Madeleine Bunting, since he doesn't claim to know precisely what she said, and neither do I. But Bunting wasn't simply a panellist, she was in the chair; and I have heard from others who were there that she intervened in broadly the way described - that is, in a not very balanced or even-handed chairperson-like manner. What a surprise
There's a few things that don't quite have the ring of truth in the Evans' version. It is said that Bunting put her hand over the microphone, presumably so the audience could not hear what she was saying, but then it is implied (it is possible he means the panel) that the same audience cheered those comments they couldn't hear, and then Evans expresses surprise that the journalists in the audience who couldn't hear those comments didn't make any comment in response to it.

The issue is not fully resolved by actually listening to the debate (or at least the most relevant bit), but it helps. You can find the mp3 linked to in the opening paragraph here and (at least according to ITunes' timer) the bit to listen to begins when Ziaudin Sardar says he would give someone a black eye if they caused him offence - which is at 25:06. Anthony Julius begins speaking at 30:13, he doesn't make the point Evans says he does (at least here; I don't doubt he believes it) but he does talk of the Old Testament being anti-semitic and of the Koran calling Jews 'apes' and 'monkeys' (at 31:47). Then he is interrupted loudly by Sardar saying that is 'absolutely absurd' and I think Phillip Henser, if he is American, who say that is not the case. Bunting then interrupts the argument to say that 'we're going to have to leave that there' and then she says, 'Anthony, I'm really sorry, I'm going to chair this'. Julius then says, I think as it is really faint, that 'I'm feeling censored', though (and here I cannot be sure if that is what is said or that this interpretation is correct) it might have been said at least slightly jokingly, as the audience laugh.

What can we conclude from listening to it? As one can hear no audience cheering in that section, it strongly suggests that there was not cheering, as it is alleged, in response to what Bunting said. So I think that bit is wrong. This gives credibility to the idea that Bunting didn't actually say anything like what is alleged, but of course as it's said to have been aired off-microphone we cannot be sure. The only thing that suggests it might have been is Julius's comment about being 'censored', though I think that is open to alternative explanations, such as Bunting's wish to move the debate on even before the argument blew up.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Melanie Phillips on Britain

Today she links approvingly to a piece that says Britain 'indirectly abetted the Holocaust' and that it is now 'outsourcing' the murder of Jews to Islamists. She also declares that Britain is 'morally bankrupt'.

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The Things Daily Mail Readers Say!

On the current airline security measures...
...At Gatwick I saw enormous bins filled with hundreds of items of expensive private property. What happens to this booty? Does Cherie Blair get first pickings or the divine Pauline Prescott?

Janet Laughton, Uckfield, E.Sussex
Ok it ends in a ridiculous rant. But what does happen to the 'booty'?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

To the ends of the Earth...and beyond

I'd missed this article by Tim Hames on the Iraq war in which he says that it does not matter how bad an idea any American foreign policy adventure would be, he would still insist on British troops joining in. You'll note he is not offering to join in himself, so these are other people's lives he is throwing away for no reason. The example he gives (which might seem in jest, but as it is making his main point, can't be) would mean certain death for the Parachute Regiment and not a single gain, except perhaps gratitude on the part of a about to be electorally-destroyed government.

I am a neo-American. I think that when US foreign policy is wise Britain should back it to the hilt and when it looks wayward we should be in the thick of it so that we can be a potential influence. So if the Americans opted to liberate Pluto tomorrow I would think to myself (i) that is a little odd, (ii) is it worth the effort when the place is not formally a planet anymore? and (iii) how can we ensure that there are seats in their spaceships for the Parachute Regiment?

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

The things London Lite Readers Say!

It has to be said the Daily Mail's letters page is not a patch on London Lite's for inanity.

In the latter today we have a special letters feature on 'Did Tony Blair sell peerages for loans?'. "Jane", from London, is an optimist:

It would be impossible to cover something like this up! The police have questioned lots of people on this and nobody, as far as I have heard, is going to jail. If it were really true that peerages were "sold" then lots of people would be arrested. It's just not true. Everyone is making this as easy as possible for the plice by co-operating with their investigations. This is because it's so important that justice is seen to be done and the whole mess cleared up as quickly as possible.


"William" from Wendover is not:

The Labour Party should be banned from running for office ever again! Maybe that would help all parties to focus on getting rid of sleaze from within.

s

Problem solved

Alan Johnson says that he backs Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership when Tony Blair stands down or is forced to go. This solves a problem we've been worrying about for some time, that is whether Alan 'not the minister' Johnson would have to be renamed Alan 'not the prime minister' Johnson. NTM it remains, unless Gordon is very selfish and sacks him from the government.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Things Daily Mail Readers Say!

Further to the young woman who hopes to pay off her credit card bill by selling her eggs (Mail), I don't want her eggs but I wouldn't mind some of her bacon.

James Kyley, Betchworth, Surrey

Monday, November 06, 2006

The absurdity of the Left

I've managed to get a sneak preview of Nick Cohen's latest masterpiece, "What's left? How Liberals lost their way".

Here's an excerpt where he tears into a particularly idiotic left-winger:

I was brought up to believe that being left-wing was to be good. Now I'm not so sure. Some people who claim on the Left appear to believe the strangest things. A good example is an award-winning journalist who wrote in the late 1990s and early 2000s for a number of impeccably liberal publications. He supported CND, who wanted to get rid of our nuclear weapons despite the overwhelming nuclear strength of a hostile Soviet Union. In February 2000, in the New Statesman (not much of a surprise, you might say) he declared that the best definition of 'terrorist' was also the best definition of the British "political class and security establishment". On June 17th 2001 he declared that "Bush is destroying international agreements and pushing potential rivals who fear American military dominance of the planet through the militarisation of space into a new and unnecessary nuclear race".

Was his complacency shook by the horrific events of September 11th 2001? Not a bit. In those dark days after the atrocity, he argued that British intervention in Afghanistan - where the perpretators of that wicked act were based - 'endangered' its citizens, and declared that its Prime Minister's 'indiscriminate love' for the United States and meant Britain was 'American's poodle'. Worse still, he criticised those liberals in the media who were prepared to stand against Afghanistan as 'demented' and declared that standing shoulder to shoulder with our American allies had 'pinned a large target sign on this country'.

As America continued to recover from the horrors of September 11th, on January 14th 2002 he wrote a piece in the New Stateman titled, 'Why it is right to be anti-American', declaring that "The determination to destroy the Kyoto agreement, International Criminal Court and Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty says in effect: "We are not content with our dominance. We want more." American unilateralism is contemptuous of the rest of the world, and the rest of the world can't be blamed for responding in kind." He concluded, "there is little about modern America to be for." In March 2002 he declared there were no links between Iraq and Islamic terrorism: "The CIA and MI6 have searched for them for six months and found nothing."

In August of that year he criticised the great lawyer Alan Dershowitz as a "blood-lusting fantasist" for advocating torture, and arguing that such a policy could not "be excused as an understandable but transient overreaction to the slaughter of innocents. The suspension of civilised standards has become settled policy".

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Pinkos

The Army Times is going to call for Rumsfeld to go.

Perle, Adelman and Frum jump ship

Perhaps not quite as surprising as Con Coughlin, but notable nevertheless. Who's next? Are the nutters at the National Review still in favour of the war?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Not England

Iain Dale calls for an English Parliament, and in this bit of text says how much he loves England. He says:

John Major was right to talk about warm beer and old maids cycling down country lanes.


Oh lord, here we go again. The Major speech referred to was made in 1993, in a desperate attempt to reassure the euro-sceptics. He said:

50 years from now Britain will still be the country of long shadows on country grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pool fillers and - as George Orwell said - 'old maids cycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist'.


It was based on this piece from George Orwell.

The old maids hiking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning – all these are not only fragments, but characteristic fragments, of the English scene.


As a characteristic fragment of the English scene this was pretty idiotic in 1943, let alone 1993, and will probably be barely understood in 2043. When you return from a foreign trip, say to Heathrow, you don't look out of the window and think 'Look, there's an old maid dodging the juggernauts as she cycles to Holy Communion on the M4 - we must be back in England', or similarly at Dover, 'Look, there's an old maid cycling to Holy Communion - we must be back in England' and if by some freak you did, you'd soon be administering the last rites as the tail-to-tail juggernauts or the really steep Dover hill got the poor old dear.

Of course as a prediction of what makes England England forever, it's not as loopy as Stanley Baldwin's:

"the sounds of England, the tinkle of the hammer on the anvil in the country smithy, … the sound of a scythe against a whetstone, and the sight of a plough team coming over the brow of a hill, the sight that has been seen in England since England was a land, and may be seen in England long after the Empire has perished and every works in England has ceased to function


The only possible sense in which this was true would be if you say the Empire perished in 1947, and even then I doubt it was a particularly common sight then either. But at least Conservative Politicians use this an example of what England is not, rather than what it is.

Anyway at least it gives us a new game to pass the time on long car journeys. Forget Pub Cricket - we now have Baldwin V Major (or Orwell, if you prefer Orwell's Decency to Major's moral quietism). One half of the passengers have to look out for Old Maids cycling to Holy Communion in the morning Autumn mist, and the other half have to keep their ears pricked for the sound of a scythe against a whetstone, and their eyes open for the sight of a plough team coming over the brow of a hill. First to one wins.

Asbestos seen as a 'badge of honour'

What weird things the Kids are up to nowadays, I thought, as I read the above headline in this morning's Guardian. What were they doing with it? Making it into dust and inhaling it? Apparently not - it seems I misread it.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Iraq War

Daniel Finkelstein claims supporting the Iraq war was like trying to predict the score of last week's Chelsea v Sheffield United- a sensible person would support the war and predict a Chelsea victory:

Now, seven out of ten times this would have been correct and you would have won the fiver. A couple of games might have ended in a draw. But once every so often, Sheffield United will pull off a victory. The pundits will pore over the game trying to work out how it happened, but no one will be completely certain. And you? You might feel mildly foolish.

Yet did Sheffield United’s victory mean that your bet was the wrong one? Of course not. To have predicted a Sheffield victory would have been silly, since most of the time it would have been wrong.


This is a rather strange analogy, given in last week's game Chelsea beat Sheffield United, 2 - 0, yet the Iraq was has not been a success. But nevertheless it's an important piece as it means he admits the war itself has been a disaster (as a prediction of a Chelsea victory would have been in this imaginary world in which they lost to Sheffield United).

Finkelstein didn't used to be so dismissive of outcomes and how they affected the rightness or wrongness of decisions. Back in the glory days of May 2003, when he assumed he'd backed a winner (and all this betting talk does make you wonder whether he sees it in that light) Finkelstein told us that:
'The war's feeble opponents clutch at a last straw: Was it a quagmire? No. Did the Arab street rise? No. Did it plunge the Middle East into a crisis? No. Did the Iraqi people fight the occupiers to the death? No. Did they prefer Saddam Hussein to the Americans? No. Every single thing that the anti-war protesters predicted would happen if we invaded Iraq did not happen. They were utterly wrong. Yet they still cling to one small sliver of hope. We have not yet found Saddam's weapons of mass destruction".


Well it's lucky those feeble opponents got the quagmire, occupier fighting to the death and middle east crisis wrong, isn't it?

Government waste

Does anyone really believe that Britain's two new aircraft carriers - the rumour that one is to be named HMS Henry 'Scoop' Jackson is untrue, by the way - will cost only £3.6bn?