30 September 2007


If you will forgive a little self-indulgence, today marks one year since Hofflimits published its first posting. During that time we have hosted over 500 visits, not all by me, including 381 unique visitors from 7 different countries. Of these, 231 of you were brave enough to come back for more than one visit - if that's you, Hofflimits thanks you for your persistence, or optimism that the quality might pick up. Actually these stats belie the true data, since I only started tracking activity about 6 months ago.

A year ago, as Hofflimits was finding its voice, the country was caught up in a row started by Jack Straw about the appropriateness of the use of the Muslim veil in public. One year on, and we find a dentist has been found guilty of serious professional misconduct for insisting female patients wear headscarves (story here). The dentist admitted he would ask Muslim women to cover up in accordance with Islamic law, but, thankfully for comfort of those whose teeth he might drill, this doesn't seem include wearing the veil. So we've obviously come a long way since 2006, and I like to think Hofflimits has played its part in framing the debate.

24 September 2007

Every cloud...

I was reading an article recently by Max Hastings, who complains that people are negatively disposed towards the war in Afghanistan (article here). That all people hear is the negative - friendly fire, British army deaths, uncertain aims, a faltering coalition etc.

Here at Hofflimits we want to address this imbalance - consider some of the positives coming out of the place that others overlook. Take suicide bombing, for example. The bad news is the number of suicide bombers continues to increase. The good news is that number is also falling. Albeit one at a time.

23 September 2007

If you can't pack the heat, get out of the classroom

The latest teaching debate going on in the US is whether teachers should be allowed to carry weapons to class. No, really (story here).

The idea is not about trying to enforce higher homework completion but, apparently, to try to prevent a repeat of the various campus-based mass murders that have taken place over the last 10 years. The theory is, because everyone at school is unarmed - and gun-wielding maniacs know they are unarmed - it makes them more vulnerable to any Tom, Dick or Seung-Hui Cho who fancies dealing with their personal issues through firearms.

At first glance, the figures appear alarming: According to the Journal of American Medical Association (December 2001), between 1994 and 1999, there were 220 "school associated violent events" resulting in 253 deaths - 74.5% of these involved firearms. That's about one death a week. Until you realise that, outside of school, 15 young people are murdered every day in the USA, 82% with guns. In fact, less than 1% of child murders happen in school.

Unless this is a clever piece of reverse psychology to get the guns off the streets. After all, what could possibly make a gun less cool than if your teacher had one too?

21 September 2007

The firing line

According to the official Chelsea Football Club statement:

"Early this morning we announced that Chelsea and Jose Mourinho had agreed to part company by mutual consent. The key phrase here is that there was mutual agreement. Jose did not resign and he was not sacked."

If he didn't resigned and was not sacked, then surely that must mean he still has a job? This could be the ultimate "mind game" - imagine the look on Sir Alex Ferguson's face when he leads the Chelsea team out at Old Trafford on Sunday.

16 September 2007

That "just got off the building site" look

A "product", according to the dictionary, is "a thing produced by labour". A pretty all-encompassing noun you'd think, but one that has recently been highjacked by vacuous marketeers to mean exclusively 'personal grooming materials'. Here at Hofflimits we have little time for the flim and flam of head-boiling hair treatments that strive to convince you they are as desirable and useful as a spare kidney.

Nevertheless there are occasions when I am forced to look for some tub of snake oil that will keep my unruly hair under control. So yesterday found me trawling the vanity aisles of my local Tesco. And I was truly baffled by the type of 'product' being sold, and wondered whether I hadn't, in fact, walked into B&Q by mistake.

The L'Oreal Studio Line series used to win my business for its "styling Creme" product - a bit pretentious, but you could work out what it did - until they discontinued it. By contrast the replacement is something called "Mouldable Fibre Putty", which has me wondering which surface I should be applying it to. Further down the shelf, they were offering me "Radical Fixing booster gel technology" in a tube of something called "glue gel". The final option was something called "Architect Wax", which I thought might be a depilatory treatment for a narrow group of professionals.

Given the choices, maybe I should start hoping for middle-aged baldness to strike. At least I wouldn't need to arrange planning permission every time I stepped out of the shower.

15 September 2007

A hair's breadth

Having sustained newspaper circulations through the flat summer months, it would seem the tables have been turned on the McCann family, whose daughter Madeline is still missing. For so long the personification of tragic despair, a whispering campaign to indict them has led to a sudden distancing between them and the previously supportive media.

Partly this may be explained by the new friends the fourth estate seems to have found in the Portuguese police; back in May the local fuzz was infuriatingly tight-lipped. Now, it seems, they are leakier than Sellafield, if the rumours of physical evidence are to be believed. New updates come almost daily about hair and body fluid DNA matches to Madeline from a car hired by the family 25 days after her death. Nothing official, of course - just a drip-drip of innuendo to establish a presumption of guilt in the public's mind.

For let us be under no illusion that this is about due process of law. This is a case that is being fought in the court of public opinion, for which read Tabloid Opinion. The McCanns have announced the equivalent of a rebuttal in the form of new press and TV advertising to appeal for help in finding her. Such a campaign will not be about finding the girl, but about reminding the public they are innocent until proven guilty - for there can surely be no-one left in the Western Hemisphere who couldn't identify her image.

A cheaper and easier rebuttal would surely be this: if the police truly believe that Kate and Gerry McCann killed their daughter, hid her body for 25 days and then buried her, how on earth was this not spotted by the press? Given the saturation coverage of this story for the first two months, it is inconceivable that not one long lens paparazzo would have snapped them in the act. In this regard, the press that now seeks to bury them may be their best alibi.

11 September 2007

Facebook update

It seems Hofflimits is at the vanguard of the backlash against Facebook - 2007's Friends Reunited. A company called Peninsula has published a PR story masquerading as serious research, estimating that Social Networking sites "cost" companies 233 million working hours in the UK. Mike Huss, director of employment law at Peninsula called on all firms to block access to sites such as Facebook, asking: "Why should employers allow their workers to waste two hours a day on Facebook when they are being paid to do a job?"

Ignoring the rather obvious point that Facebook no more created time-wasting at work than the 1960s created fornication, Mr Huss goes on to say that loss of productivity was proving a "major headache" for firms. However, according to a recent study, poor management, which contributed to 64% of wasted time, was the chief cause of low productivity in the UK, alongside insufficient planning (34%) and inadequate control and supervision (30%). The UK's productivity, at 63%, trailed that of the US and Germany at 64%, but was slightly ahead of France at 60% (although it seems we have to work twice as many hours to achieve this competitive edge). Nowhere in the top ten did "poking" your pals on Facebook enter into the equation.

Given this evidence, maybe the likes of Peninsula should steer its energies towards something more productive, like better management training. Maybe they could set up a forum to discuss ways of tackling low productivity with like-minded employers. I know just the website where they could meet such people...

10 September 2007

The Futures market

On the week my son started school, Gordon Brown announced that Children as young as five will learn how to open a bank account and manage their money in maths lessons. They will also be taught about interest rates and investment banking as part of a Government drive to wipe out debt problems in later life.

The government was keen to point out that these children are also the first to benefit from Children's Trust Funds, set up five years ago to give a cash lump sum to each child born. Cunningly, to prevent mum and dad spending this money on gin and fags, these special savings accounts are held in trust until the child turns 18, when the whole lot becomes his by right. Mum and dad are encouraged to chip into this pot to encourage a supposed sense of fiscal responsibility, or "ownership" as it is probably described on the scheme website.

At the moment my son's spending priorities seem to be Playmobil characters and dinosaurs. By the time he is 18, based upon my recent memory of 18 year-old boys' desires, I'm not sure they will have advanced very much, so the thought of me salting away piles of hard-earned, in order that he can blow it on a gap year in Ibiza, is less than appealing.

Presumably, then, the economic lesson behind this scheme is if you wait around long enough you'll get a wad of cash for doing nothing except not dying. Like a small scale version of what he'll be facing in his 30s: waiting on his inheritance to give him a pension because all his earnings go to saving for a house he'll never be able to afford to buy.

When he's six, they'll teach him about pension schemes by secretly taking away the snack he was saving for break, and claim it was actually a school asset so not technically his.

04 September 2007

The long lens of the law

Gatso road cameras - those that catch motorists exceeding the speed limit and create instant penalty notices served via the mailbox - are called many things, some of which are not repeatable here. "Speed Cameras" has given way to the more politically pointed (and debatable) "Safety Cameras". In Wiltshire, where I found myself driving last week, they go by the less explicable title of "Police Enforcement Cameras", which was a new one to me.

According to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, last year the Wiltshire Constabulary caught 2,386 policemen speeding, via these devices, making one of the highest detection rates of heavy-footed police drivers in the country. They issued fixed penalty notices in just 8 cases. It would seem that police enforcement was just about the last thing such cameras actually do.