Friday, 27 March 2015

Cute Cat Friday 2015-03-27: Dexter

Very well, you may pass. But only if you scratch my ears first.

No deals, Mr Cameron

This week, Alex Salmond announced the SNP would vote against a minority Conservative government, if David Cameron attempts to form one after the general election. If the polls continue to hold steady, this makes it highly likely we will have a minority Labour government after 7 May, with Labour all but wiped out in Scotland but making significant gains in England.

No deal with the SNP to keep Cameron in Number 10 Downing Street.
Source: Daily Telegraph
Source: Electoral Calculus, 27 March 2015. There are 650 seats in the
House of Commons, so 326 are required for a majority.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Cute Cat Friday 2015-03-20: Belle

What is this tiger doing here?

A bunch of amateurs

Another week, another UKIP scandal. This time it involves Janice Atkinson, an MEP and prospective parliamentary candidate for Folkestone and Hythe. She was previously in the news last September, for referring to a consituent of Thai background as a "ting tong". Now her chief of staff, Christine Hewitt, appears to have been recorded attempting to fiddle her boss' expense claims as an MEP.

Janice Atkinson. Source: BBC News

The sheer audacity of Hewitt's claimed justification is impressive:

In the footage, she appears to ask for an invoice for a much higher sum than the bill she had originally received. 
Ms Hewitt is heard to say: "The idea is we overcharge them slightly, because that's the way we repatriate it."

In other words, she seeks to overcharge the taxpayers of the European Union, to "repatriate" some of the funds which the UK contributes to the EU. This is meant to be a noble ideological cause. If reports are accurate, Hewitt is fighting the good fight on behalf of Atkinson and the British public, one phony expenses claim at a time.

The UK's net contribution to the EU budget was £8,624 million in 2013, so I don't think a few thousand pounds will make any substantive difference. On the other hand, they would be quite significant for Hewitt, Atkinson or whoever else was the final recipient of the money.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Terry Pratchett: The Letter I Should Have Written

It was announced this afternoon that Sir Terry Pratchett has died at the age of 66. He was a tremendously funny and brilliant writer, and his passing is a great loss to us all. This must be devastating for his friends and family, and they have my deepest sympathy.

A Just Giving page donating to the Research Institute for the Care of Older People (RICE), a dementia charity, has been set up in his memory. I have made a donation at:

Sir Terry Pratchett.
Source: psjmprints

I was fortunate enough to meet Sir Terry once, at a book signing in Edinburgh in 1997. I naively turned up with a few friends at the advertised start time, to find a queue already stretching out the doors of Waterstone's, and continuing a long way down the pavement at the east end of Princes Street. It was early summer, sometime in May I think, and the weather was good, so we didn't mind waiting.

The advertised time was something like 2 pm to 5 pm. At about 4.30, I was still outside the shop, but the word was passed down the line that Pratchett (not yet Sir Terry at that time) was going to do the whole queue. Sometime around 5.30, nervously clutching my hardback copy of Hogfather, I reached the front of the queue for my moment with the great man.

Friday, 6 March 2015

The Philosophy of a Ruling Class

Two former Foreign Secretaries, Labour's Jack Straw and the Conservative Sir Malcolm Rifkind, last week were caught in a sting by Channel 4 and the Daily Telegraph. Journalists posed as representatives of a fictitious company based in Hong Kong, and the two MPs offered to use their influence on the company's behalf, in exchange for exorbitant fees. This opens wider questions about what MPs are for.

"Hey, I'm a firm believer in the philosophy of a ruling class. Especially since I rule." --- Randall, "Clerks" (1994)

It was tawdry behaviour, even by the debased standards of our politicians. Both said they would expect at least £5000 for a day's work. Straw was already retiring at the next election; Rifkind intended to stay on, but now has announced he will not seek re-election in May.

Jack Straw (left) and Sir Malcolm Rifkind (right). Source: Daily Telegraph

Cute Cat Friday 2015-03-06: Belle

A majestic cat, born to the purple.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

1st Blogiversary

As of today, I've been writing this blog for a year! Thanks to all my readers.

My most viewed posts are as follows:
  1. Death and Facebook: Facebook's business model is to mine our emotions for profit, and its algorithms do not care if anyone is hurt in the process. Even when it works "correctly", it circulates some astoundingly thoughtless remarks. This post has the highest number of pageviews, by far; many from a comment on Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty by Eric Meyer.
  2. Waste of Space: An Open Letter to Nigel Farage: Denouncing the odious leader of UKIP, on an occasion when he claimed immigrants like myself are literally a waste of space. 
  3. Scotland's Vote 23: Yes or No: My final summary of the debate on Scottish independence, the day before the referendum. I tried very hard to make it compact, informative and even-handed, and I think I largely succeeded.
  4. Cute Cat Friday 2015-01-09: Belle: I don't know why this particular one is so popular, but isn't she a beautiful cat? (Photo appears below.)
  5. Scotland's Vote 7: The SNP Disparity: Written two months before the referendum vote, and looking at the disparity between support for the SNP and support for independence. Nationalist myth-making aside, this points to the best explanation of why Yes lost.
I'm enjoying this space to comment and rant about the things which interest me, so here's to many more years of blogging.