31 December 2008
I realise in these days of trillion dollar debt this might not seem like a lot, but to give it some context, that is roughly the equivalent of the combined public and private debt of India, China and Brazil for next year. For those of us uneasy with the fact that our central heating bills were bank-rolling Vladimir Putin's political agenda, this is an unexpected silver lining to the rather big black cloud in the economic sky. And it also gives western governments a chance to laugh up their sleeve - after all, it seemed a touch unfair that Russian capitalism was quite so dynamic, as the Johnny-come-latelys of the free market.
But I guess the fact that Gazprom will soon be a basket-case company, propped up by government money to protect its inefficient practices, in many ways, shows how far the Russians have come in 18 years. It took General Motors nearly one hundred years to achieve that level of business acumen.
30 December 2008
Given the disproportionate coverage this sort of crime regularly attracts in the news, I thought this was a rather small number, so the story actually had the reverse effect of its intention by reassuring me, rather than making me anxious. It is a well-known principle of political stirring, of course, relying on the general inability of humans to make sense of statistics and use them to calculate probability.
Last year, according to the Office of National Statistics, there were 504,052 deaths in the UK. Of these 2,481 people killed themselves with intent, while another 2,236 were met their deaths after an accident in the home. So by just using the raw data, I am nearly ten times more likely to either kill myself on purpose, or by accident under my own roof, so maybe the government should send round a few coppers to my house, just in case.
19 December 2008
Except at Christmas. Obviously there are conventions that are not so much expected as demanded (fake snow, golden turkeys amid a table of food groaning under the weight of its own opulence etc). But there is also an incredible amount of lazy, derivative advertising that gets redressed and wheeled out every year, like the Christmas decorations. It's as though the Christmas period is so important to so many retailers that they adopt a herd mentality, never daring to break from the pack with an original campaign. This year's John Lewis campaign (know the person, know the present) is an obvious example.
But I was today stopped in my tracks by a seasonal ad outside Colchester station that was original in its approach, but it served to remind me that 'original' is not the same as 'good'. As far as I can tell, Essex Police have dispensed with the services of a professional advertising agency in their latest PR assault upon the criminals of Colchester and decided instead to hold a competition amongst primary school children. How else to explain such an appalling piece of creative - reproduced below for your pleasure:
Where to begin? It's the season of goodwill, so let's overlook with the pretext that a local criminal will think twice about a bit of B&E when confronted with a 48-sheet normally aimed at commuters (insert joke here about City workers being criminals). We start with a statement so obvious, I can scarcely believe they bothered - if you nick something you might get caught. I presume this is also true of other times of the year, and that it's not just Christmas when coppers try extra hard to catch perps.
Then there's the pun. My son thought it was funny when he found out there was a herb called Thyme, before he became sophisticated and moved on to laughing at farts. To illustrate the power of this double entendre, we have a seasonal visual, and the central weakness of the idea: that you cannot show a picture of thyme, because that would be to underline the joke and remove the 'gap' you want the readers to close in their minds. So you have to show something else we serve at Christmas that may contain thyme - but is hardly synonymous with that herb. Because we don't serve thyme at Christmas, we serve turkey, cranberry sauce, puddings and cheap wine. We might equally have a close-up of a paper crown with the line "Commit a crime at Christmas? You must be crackers".
I suppose the main problem I have is understanding the call to action. Having processed the information, what does the advertiser want me to do? Given that the target audience is pretty narrow (unless ordinary members of the public suddenly start committing crime at Christmas), are we really to believe hardened criminals will have their hearts turned by the prospect of missing a roast turkey dinner with their families? Such insight into the criminal mind seems dangerously simplistic for a modern police force - maybe Essex Police also think lags dress up in black-and-white hooped jumpers with bandit masks and a sack marked "SWAG"?
I'm going to investigate whether this ad is covered by the remit of the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
16 December 2008
The problem with the present government is it is going broke in the wrong way. Because the current recession is a result of the credit crunch and collapse of the global banking system operating under very loose regulation (whose idea was that?), Gordon Brown has the "luxury" of public spending to boost growth. So pity poor Sir John whose misfortune was to create the wrong type of recession - one born of "inflationary growth" (again, whose fault was that?).
But brave Sir John spotted an opportunity for the country. His masterstroke was to cure the UK economy once and for all of the scourge of inflation that had plagued governments for 50 years. Engineering a recession to "cure" inflation is certainly a novel approach - like Henry VIII's radical solution to the problem of Anne Boleyn's headaches.
Presumably, therefore, the cure for the Conservative Party's split over Europe was to engineer the heaviest election defeat for 180 years. Another triumph for Sir John...
15 December 2008
It's an interesting point, but is it ironic? What I think would be more ironic would be, say, if someone who had been Chancellor of the Exchequer who engineered Sterling's entry to the European exchange rate mechanism, after years of pegging the Deutschmark, despite interest rates of 15%, an inflation rate three times higher than Germany's and a boom coming to the end of its cycle. And if that person then became Prime Minister, and spent £27bn of UK reserves shoring up the pound, ultimately failing, and then plunging the UK economy into a recession and housing market crash. And then if that same person had the big brass neck to turn up on TV to tell another Chancellor-turned-Prime Minister where he had gone wrong.
Yes, I think that might be really ironic.
10 December 2008
06 December 2008
‘Little Einsteins’ is a TV sub-brand of the popular “Baby Einstein” product range, that keeps the great scientist himself in the top ten list of highest-earning dead people. ‘Baby Einstein’ preys upon the worst instincts and weaknesses in parents who should know better, by charging premium prices for ordinary toys with some claim to pseudo-scientifically proven benefits for infants. No sooner does a story appear about an alleged link between exposure to Mozart and precocious child development, and the Baby Einstein company will produce a dummy that plays the prelude from Cosi Fan Tutte.
While the products are careful to make no claims to turn your darling dunce into a Nobel prize-winner, the inference one is meant to draw is clear: the use if the Einstein name is lending scientific credibility to the product, even if none is demonstrated. Similarly, the “Little Einsteins” TV programme purports to introduce pre-schoolers to the world around them by encouraging investigation and observation. And then it blows it by falling back into educational gibberish.
In last Sunday’s episode, the diversely representative Little Einstein cartoon characters were demonstrating how seeds grow into plants, and the required ingredients and processes. Except they were magic musical seeds which, once planted, warmed and watered, grew into musical instrument-bearing plants in the vegetable patch. Ripe harpsichords and swelling violins, growing on the vine - is this what Einstein's reputation and ideas will mean to future generations?
Of course the easy defence for this is: it's a kids TV show, not Science 101. But if you are using the power of the Einstein name to explain the world around you, that surely brings with it some responsibilities? Or does anything go? Imagine if the Little Einsteins went to find where eggs came from and discovered a magic bush that grew them, instead looking underneath a chicken - would that be a good thing to teach our children? It smacks of a middle-class muddled-headedness about the role of science, and our children's engagement with the world: that somehow teaching kids about the science of the world in which they live will stunt their imagination, or will bore them - neither of which is true.
Incidentally the word "Einstein" is a trademark of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem - so I'm guessing that's where the royalties go. I hope that doesn't so much comment on the state of teaching at that university as the parlous state of funding for higher education that relies on Disney Faustian pacts.
25 November 2008
We don't tend to hear much about this phrase anymore, probably because we have moved beyond the point where we can debate the ethics of bailing out large banks. But I think we are finally starting to understand what it means: it's when the government gives a bank a squillion quid to lend to its customers, and the bank decides it wants to keep the money, because all its customers don't have the luxury of Moral Hazard and might go bust. Finally, the government tells them they really should think about letting other people play with the money, and the banks say: "Or you'll do what?"
It reminds me of the observation by the American comedian, philosopher and visionary, the late, great Bill Hicks, about the fact that British policemen do not carry handguns as standard issue. "What do they shout when they're chasing crooks: 'Stop. Or I'll shout stop again'? ". Maybe Alastair Darling should take a leaf out of his book and start carrying a loaded gun to his regular meetings with the banking Chief Execs. Instead of pleading with them to play fair, he could start to redefine the meaning of Moral Hazard.
In 2010, this borrowing is set to rise further to £118 billion. Meanwhile, in the USA, it was announced that an additional $800 billion would be injected into the American economy, taking their annualised borrowing to nearly a trillion dollars. As this is all being done in order to save a paralysed global banking system, the question occurs to me: who is Alastair Darling borrowing from?
It's such a simple question, and probably explains why I never studied economics. But if no-one has any money, forcing the government to borrow beyond the realms of the human imagination, then who is doing the lending here? Because if the government has run out of cash, and so have the banks, I wonder who actually has all the money that is keeping everything afloat? Probably a ship of Somali pirates on a floating barge full of cash, somewhere in the Indian Ocean.
22 November 2008
Yet the media persist in referring to him as Baby P. Sticking my neck out, but I reckon it wouldn't really be considered an invasion of privacy to use his actual name, whatever that is. I'd hazard a guess that protection from media intrusion is not something he has much use for these days. At least putting a name to that sad, haunted face might give him a shred of dignity, and remind us he was a person not a political football or means to sell newspapers.
Recently they have hit upon a new strategy - creating a climate of anger, harnessing the public reaction, and riding it like a bucking bronco until the next object of bile comes along. In an attempt to appear relevant, online versions of the same press encourage the world to join in the hate - email your views, sign a petition. In London, free newspapers are given out on the streets every evening that consist mainly of the opinions of its readers, the angrier the view, the more likely its chance of publication.
There is no consideration of the implications for this spleen venting beyond the next month's ABC figures, but it seems to be a model in tune with times of uncertainty and economic depression. If we were riding the crest of a booming economy, with the prospects of jam tomorrow instead of bread and dripping, I can't think that the whole Ross/Brand phone pranks story would have garnered the interest it did. Of the 30,000 people who complained to the BBC, about 29,998 never thought to complain until prompted to do so by the media. They bought the papers, logged on to the YouTube postings to enjoy the permission granted by the press to get angry.
This week saw the strategy descend into bathos, as the same set of journos at the start of the week were telling us to be angry about the death of an abused child that, by the end of the same week, urged us to rage about a contestant on Saturday night TV show. There is no quality control - the anger itself is the main thing. So far half a million people have signed a petition with The Sun newspaper following the death of Baby P at the hands of his parents that is revealing in its vagueness: rather than a reasoned assessment of where the fault lies before judgement is made, it demands a mass sacking of anyone who went near the case.
Some might argue this is good for democracy - that at least getting angry is better than the indifference of a non-voting population that feels unengaged with the political process. Personally, I feel P.J. O'Rourke put it best:
"The idea of a news broadcast was once to find someone with information and broadcast it. The idea now is to find someone with ignorance and spread it around."
08 November 2008
You can look at this two ways - after eight years of catastrophically bad leadership, the country was crying out for radical change, no matter what colour the candidate. An alternative view might be that things have gotten so bad, a small majority of Americans thought: what's the worst that could happen? The small, cynical part at the back of my mind thinks: what does this say about America, that it takes the biggest crisis of the last 80 years before a black man can make it into the white house?
Actually I don't think this is cynical at all, but quite a reasonable conclusion to draw. After all, Obama didn't start pulling away from McCain until the banking crisis really pushed the US economy down the toilet. President Bush has been setting records for the worst poll ratings for the last three years - to be in the same zip code as him, never mind the same political party, should have been as toxic as a sub prime mortgage in Detroit. If the economy had been bumping along with a few job losses, Cindy McCain would be choosing curtains for the Oval Office by now. Despite the fact that Obama was clearly the best candidate in terms of brains, eloquence, inspiration, organisation, decision-making, judgement, policy, savvy, originality and nous, it took a earthquake to the entire underpinnings of capitalism to give him a chance.
02 November 2008
No doubt there is much soul searching in Spain about whether this is meaningful or helps the country in any way come to terms with its past. But, in the week when it was revealed that British police had probably been under counting the number of violent crimes, I wondered whether there were plans to adopt this approach in the UK.
After all, it has certain obvious advantages - if you can pin something on a dead man, it would certainly help clear-up rates. Or perhaps we will see employment of mediums by the police, to interrogate crooks beyond the grave? The possibility of spectral mugging might explain how I can end up with no money at the end of the month.
31 October 2008
The caricature is a tempting one: two overpaid, over-confident, overtly sexual comedians preying on the elderly from their towers of money. At the risk of adding a little balance to the debate, the reason Brand and Ross ended up leaving messages on Andrew Sachs's answering machine is because they were trying to conduct a pre-arranged phone conversation with him, but he wasn't there. Does that justify leaving an obscene message and then broadcasting that to the nation? Probably not, but it's also not the case that they sat around thinking of old people to pick on - two broadcasters with a mischievous sense of humour then egged each other on when they probably should have known better. End of story, or at least it should have been.
Too much has already been said about the merits of "edgy" comedy on the BBC, whatever that means. But if what happened this week is the occasional price of trying to be innovative, then I think it is worth paying, with all the caveats and apologies you like. The BBC should be allowed to fail, because without that risk of failure, they will never achieve greatness. The victory of a policy of taste as dictated by the Daily Mail will be the triumph of mediocrity - where all comedy is Terry and June, all entertainment is Dancing on Ice and everything tastes of vanilla.
23 October 2008
But following the Icelandic banks whose assets are now frozen, there seems to be more nominative determinism at work, as Goldman Sachs laid off 10% of its workforce today, giving lazy headline writers perhaps the easiest day's work this year. Certainly the credit ratings given to banks by Standard & Poor must feel uncomfortably close to the truth. And I am not sure I would trust my savings to the New Zealand-based company called Blackhole Investments. As for the Fuxin Bank in China - let's hope that one stays nationalised.
19 October 2008
Maybe it's the logical conclusion of both parties copying each others policies, presentational style and techniques. It's not like you can even be sure when you hear their views, as both parties seem intent on muscling out each other for occupancy of the centre ground. I'm also unsure as to who should be most offended by the comparison.
10 October 2008
I haven't seen "Les Mis" on the stage, so can't pass comment on it. But so far Fantine has left her daughter with a family to live in child slavery while she has had both her front teeth removed, and her hair cut off, to pay for the child's upkeep. Now she has had to resort to prostitution to support herself and her growing drink habit. It's not exactly Salad Days.
09 October 2008
It might seem counter-intuitive in these uncertain times to invest in luxury goods, but it seems that is where the smart money is going. Fine wines and champagnes continue to buck the trends, and the recent auction at Sotheby's of Damien Hirst's work shocked the art world with the prices he was able to attract, pocketing the shark pickler a cool £111,000,000.
But I can see a problem with this:
"Darling, the milkman needs paying, and I've only got an early Picasso - he says he can't change more than a small Braque."
"Try next door - see if they'll change it for a couple of Rothkos"
08 October 2008
And so it is with the money required to pay for the investment folly of the elite. Today the UK government announced financial guarantees to the money markets worth up to £500 billion, according to the Evening Standard. The BBC, however, reckoned it added up to £400 billion, further proof of this blase response that two media outlets could disagree about the most important news story of the day by the equivalent of total UK annual health budget. As the numbers get ever greater, the nature of what is underpinning the entire economy becomes ever more surreal.
To put it in context, today's announcement guarantees the near-equivalent of the government's entire annual budget. That's like the government not spending money on anything for a year - from paperclips to pensions, DSS leaflets to Darling's tea bags. Think of how much of a fuss was made about the will-they-won't-they vote by the US Congress over the recent US government bail-out. This was more money - both in absolute and relative terms - but do you think our elected representatives will get the chance to tilt at the idiots who got us into this mess, make them sweat a bit? I think all we'll be invited to do is shut up and pass the money.
Assuming the government spending will not immediately cease for a year, they will have to borrow the money. I'm guessing not from the banks they are bailing out. I am also presuming that the collateral used to secure this borrowing is that famous bottomless pit, the UK Taxpayer? So, in fact, the government is not the lender of last resort - I am. And if those loans are called in, who's going to bail out the government?
This begs the question: can I ever be said to own my house if it is, effectively, part of the security against bailiffs reclaiming the entire United Kingdom? No wonder the housing market is a bit flat at the moment.
24 September 2008
This is not, you understand, a protest against the quality of programming or declining standards that usually marks people having a pop at Aunty - he even described the licence fee as "astonishing value". It's because the BBC has become too "aggressive" in the way it goes about collecting the fee: "There are too many organisations... that seem to think it's OK to badger, hector and threaten people," he said. In Noel's eyes, then, the BBC is no better than a loanshark.
In Edmonds' world, time was when Lord Reith himself would come round with a posy of flowers and a four-pack to ask if you wouldn't mind most awfully chipping in a tanner or two for that lovely Mr Dimbleby's wages. Presumably he doesn't remember the TV Detector vans of the 1970s, or maybe he views them fondly because of their ineffectiveness - a fig-leaf for the fact that, for years, successful collection of BBC revenue was largely self-policing. Even today, when the idea of a collectivist entertainment system seems increasingly at odds with a culture of individual choice, more than 93% of properties pay for a TV licence.
True enough the BBC will prosecute people for failing to pay for a service they use - more than 1000 are caught every day. But I am willing to bet they aren't half as "aggressive" as the Royal Bank of Scotland when it called in a disputed debt it claimed it was owed by Noel Edmonds, precipitating the collapse of his business empire. The sort of thing that might make a man feel as if the world was out to get him.
I began to wonder whether Edmonds applies this rather bizarre principle to other parts of his life. When he pays for something in a shop, does he walk out without paying if the vendor forgets to say 'please'? Does he dodge bills in restaurants if he feels the waiter was looking at him funny? Maybe Sky could try their luck by refusing to pay him for his new TV show, just to see how aggressive he became - then withhold indefinitely as a matter of principle.
"Who's that?" asked the ingenue, indicating the Foreign Secretary.
Without skipping a beat, her friend sized him up and replied, confidently: "Lee Evans".
Such savage satire from one so young.
21 September 2008
The first is that the Vice President is "a heartbeat away" from being President; this is of particular interest given that the Republican candidate, John McCain, will be the oldest first-term President, should he win the election. A surprisingly high percentage of Presidents fail to complete their terms of office, adding further spice to the media interest bubbling around his choice of Veep, Sarah Palin.
On average, a Vice President will succeed to the top job once in every 4.77777777777778 Presidents. The last man to do so was Gerald Ford, some 5 Presidents ago, so if the mathematical mean holds, watch out for President Palin.
Which brings us to the second truism - each party's candidate will start the campaign from the extremes and gravitate towards the political centre, as the need to shore up party support turns into a need to appeal to the broadest base of people. This campaign is unusual in bucking that trend as candidate McCain has to move from a centrist nothing-to-do-with-George Bush position to reach out toward the traditional right-wing Republican base. So for all the talk about this campaign breaking new ground, it comes to something when the right-wing candidate has to recruit a small-town, pro-abortion, fundamentalist Christian gun-nut in order to give his ticket "balance". For that to represent balance, it would put McCain somewhere to the left of Fidel Castro.
Much has been made of Governor Palin's suitability for the task by both sides, but leaving aside the mud-slinging over her executive experience or lack of it - for me the key is in her children. She's had five opportunities to give her kids proper names, and blown it each time, coming up with the following collection of apparently random nouns: Willow, Piper, Bristol, Track and Trig. If we can't trust her judgement when it comes to the comparatively simple task of naming an offspring, I'm really not sure she is the best person to trust with the nuclear missile launch codes.
11 September 2008
Best headline of the day goes to the London Evening Standard for the incontrovertible "World survives 'Big Bang' ". Presumably if the world hadn't survived the switching-on of the LHC, the Standard would have been there to report it - just in case we'd been too busy to notice.
I think my answer is probably: “Why are you using 48-sheet ambient media when a targeted email would be more cost-effective? As an omniscient being, I presume he must have all our email addresses.
From a professional point of view, in these tricky economic times it’s comforting to know that even the Almighty needs media advice.
Of course you should be able to choose an appellation because you thought it was pretty, regardless of its connotations. But all the same, if you were to call your kid Adolf, Caligula, Crippen or Osama, you shouldn't be surprised if the birthday party invitations prove thin on the ground.
03 September 2008
But while everyone is keen to point out apparent differences between the Prime Minister's position and that of his chancellor, Darling's use of the phrase "pissed off" to describe voters' attitudes raised barely a remark. Every pre-watershed news broadcast bandied the phrase with such matter-of-fact insouciance, it made the reporting of the story more remarkable than the use of the phrase itself.
Maybe he also described the economy as being "shagged" and growth forecasts as being "shit", with a recovery likely to take "fucking ages" - which might be one reason why "pissed off" seems not to have really registered. I'll have to listen to the interview in full to find out - but faced with the unusual prospect of having a Parental Guidance warning preceding the broadcast of the interview on the BBC website, I'm half afraid of what I might hear.
30 August 2008
Yesterday I saw one of these ads on a train on the London Underground. I am not sure exactly how attention-deficient the average visitor to London is, but if people do find that particular ad useful or well-placed, I'd wonder how on earth they managed to tie their own laces, never mind negotiate the interchanges on the Central Line.
26 August 2008
One is a country persecuted for the ethnicity of its majority population, which must be recognised as an independent state in record time by the Russian Duma. The other is an illegitimate polity run by criminals and terrorists. Or is it the other way around?
22 August 2008
I was left to reflect on the irony of the situation when my son was left confused by this news story that was apparently just about someone travelling on an aeroplane. Without some heavy censorship of the news by me, the feverish speculation ahead of Mr Glitter's arrival was much more of a threat to my son's mental well being than anything 'The Leader of the Gang' was likely to do.
Anger seemed to dissipate once it turned out the data lost was the private addresses of the entire UK's prison population. As audiences warranting public sympathy go, banged-up criminals would rank pretty low, somewhere just ahead of Gary Glitter. But in an attempt to keep the story alive the Conservative Party has been keen to imply that this exposed the government to being sued by those affected, which seemed a pretty desperate take on the facts. After all, last year the government lost even more sensitive personal data belonging to me, along with about 25 million other people, when two CD-ROMs went missing in transit between London and Newcastle. At no point did anyone imply, let alone advise me, that I might be entitled to sue the government for negligence and claim compensation.
To me the most surprising thing is not that data gets lost - given the numbers of people who come into contact with sensitive personal data held by the Government, it is inevitable. Rather it is the dizzying quantity of bytes that seems to go astray on every occasion. Why on earth did the worker in question need the personal data on every prisoner in the UK? What was he doing - compiling an HMP Christmas Card list? It's like the stationery manager of the Bank of England taking the entire national gold reserves to the corner shop, in case he doesn't have enough cash for a packet of paperclips.
20 August 2008
It certainly confused me when I first heard it, as the idea of "medaling" in anything sounded very rum, as a homophone for illegal interference. To my traditional ear, for example, medaling with the Women's Beach Volleyball Team would earn a slap.
Someone else earning a slap, at least metaphorically, for the other form of meddling was Liudmyla Blonska, a Ukranian Heptathlon silver medalist who tested positive for banned substances. This brings the total of doping cheats caught at this games to five. Amid the usual cyclists and weight lifters was a North Korean shooter, Kim Jong Su. Quite what competitive advantage a shooter would gain from a dose of anabolic steroids I can't quite imagine.
Unless the North Korean food shortage has reached such heights they are feeding people on steroids to keep them going. It would certainly make for an original explanation amongst the litany of excuses usually offered by offenders.
11 August 2008
The Chinese authorities have been very matter-of-fact in their admittance, excusing the voice substitution: "The girl appearing on the picture must be flawless in terms of her facial expression and the great feeling she can give to people", the musical director of the opening ceremony explained. Quite what this will do for the self-esteem of the 'flawed' little girl was not mentioned.
The fireworks sleight-of-camera was provided to broadcasters for "convenience and theatrical effects", according to Wang Wei, Beijing's Organising Committee's executive vice-president, to counteract the effects of "poor visibility". That's 'pollution' to you and me.
This has given a new angle on Olympic Cynicism, a syndrome that sets in sometime between the optimism of the opening ceremony and the first positive drugs test of one of the weightlifting competitors. Now we can speculate whether, in fact, a result will be invalidated not by an injection of nandrolone, but for convenience and theatrical effects of the host nation. Look out for the first Chinese winner of the Men's 100m Final.
10 August 2008
Georgia is an "accession" country to NATO - on the threshold of joining the biggest military coalition since the great alliance between France, Britain and Russia in 1914. And we all know what happened then. So, if we had accepted Georgia's entry when it was last mooted at the Bucharest summit last April, we would technically find ourselves at war with Russia right now, under the protocol of mutual security.
As NATO seeks to expand ever eastward, under the principle of Annoying The Russians, the potential for embroiling ourselves in ever more obscure ethnic conflicts multiplies almost exponentially. There may well come a time when there's some corner of Kamyanets-Podilsky that is ever England.
06 August 2008
30 July 2008
Needless to say, whatever Ryanair loses in fares it will make up by increased charges for baggage, overweight baggage, unevenly distributed baggage contents, early boarding, food, drink and unfashionable clothing. Actually the last one might not be true, but with Ryanair you never can tell. They seem to pride themselves on delivering a service that gives customers a philosophical lesson in the sheer arbitrariness with which they can apply the rules and fleece passengers of cash.
I flew Ryanair four times (I say "flew" rather than "have flown" because I do not intend to ever use their 'services 'again), and of those four flights, I had a profoundly negative experience on two occasions. They apply the principle of Lowest Common Denominator not just to their prices, but as an entire customer service philosophy, all the time asking the question: exactly how much bad service can we get away with? The answer is, of course, almost anything as long as they keep the fares low, as they understand customers, essentially, in terms of prostitution - we will suffer more or less any degradation as long as the price is right. And the lower the fare, the lower the service, but the more we love it, apparently.
I am intrigued by the point at which people realise that a service is something that is actually worth paying for. That no matter how low an airfare becomes, there is a point at which human dignity requires some self-respect.
I suppose I should end my boycott of Ryanair in order to enjoy an experience of the arbitrariness of life - random punishments and misfortune would remind me of the chaotic lack of purpose that characterises human life on earth, and that all complaints famously go unanswered would serve to remind me that there is no retribution after the event.
But I'll settle instead for the amusement of hearing Michael O'Leary call the European Union "communists" because they are considering stopping paying him subsidies via the obscure airports Ryanair uses. Maybe he should write them a letter of complaint?
24 July 2008
It has thrown open the debate on acceptable names, as this decision is just one of a number that the kiwi judiciary has been comfortable making in recent years to combat extreme parental boredom. It also reveals the arbitrary nature of what is deemed acceptable - apparently you can get away with calling your offspring Violence, Number 16 Bus Shelter and Benson & Hedges (twins), but not Sex Fruit, Stallion or Fish & Chips (twins). Such randomness seems almost as bizarre as wanting to call your child Yeah Detroit, another unacceptable name according to the NZ courts.
Casting my mind back to the naming process, while I don't think I would have been troubling the Registrar with Keenan Got Lucy or Cinderella Beauty Blossom, the desire to be different is certainly a strong one. While we may crave the anonymity of conformity for ourselves, we think our children so profoundly unique that they must stand apart from the crowd. Thus names such as John and Alan have dropped out of common usage altogether for the under 5s - instead replaced by herds of Freyas and Benjamins.
When considering these things, you have to think of the long game. Prince Harry's on-off girlfriend Chelsy Davy is clearly from posh stock, so imagine her parents feelings about the ubiquitousness of that name that must have seemed so other-worldly back in the 1980s. I recall hearing a distinctly non-ABC1 parent screaming "You-ni-ee" across a crowded TK Maxx at her errant daughter, no doubt sending the Mitford sisters spinning in their graves. Who knows whether similar fate will befall the Oscar of today in 20 years time. No doubt there were a few teenage Adolfs in the 1940s who felt the uncomfortable need to change their names. Under such circumstances, it is perhaps not surprising parents reach for ever surreal combinations of names. After all, if you met Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii, it seems certain you'd remember her, which is surely part of the point about being named.
22 July 2008
Maybe it's just me, but there seems something ridiculously mercenary about this whole scheme. By combining the two events (water sales in Europe, water supply in Africa) in such a precise ratio, it has the unintended consequence of making them appear to be linked as cause and effect. The proposition 'if you drink our water, we'll pay for water for Africa' begs the question: "what happens if we don't drink enough"? Will the wells run dry across the savanna if we stop sticking away litres of spring water? Drink faster everyone, the summer is coming.
It also is to misunderstand an important sales technique: the reciprocity principle. Humans are hard-wired to understand reciprocity as the basis for social organisation - you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. Numerous successful sales techniques are built upon the idea that giving something to a customer makes them far more likely to buy something from you. But your chances of doing this successfully are multiplied if you do the giving first - it puts the obligation onto the customer, even if no formal arrangement exists. If it didn't work, companies wouldn't bother giving away free gifts, trial packs, BOGOFs, discounts and prize draws.
Returning to our thirsty Africans, Volvic are expressing this the wrong way around - putting the onus upon us to act, before they will fulfill their side of the bargain. Of course the small print reveals that they are not that callous: they have actually already committed to paying for kit that will deliver 2 billion litres of water regardless of my consumption. But to make the promotion pay, they feel the need to link this provision directly to sales, which is not just an error of PR judgement, but one that will directly impact upon the bottom line.
I'm willing to bet the president of Volvic that he would sell more water if he put the 2 billion figure up front, and let consumers follow with their wallets. I'll let you know what he says.
11 July 2008
I'd like to think the British press and other parts of the Conservative party were particularly prescient in their calls for action to be taken against the Mugabe regime these last 5 years or so. No doubt the plight of the oppressed all over the world touches them deeply, evidenced by the wealth of front page news stories and foreign policy pronouncements, demanding all political corruption be opposed by force, not coming to a British newspaper anytime soon.
In fact, Mr Mugabe probably felt quite at home in Sharm el Sheikh, mixing the likes of Omar Bongo, the improbably-named President of Gabon. He's been in power for 40 years now, last elected in 2005 despite widespread accusations of electoral fraud and bribery, not to mention violence. I don't remember that leading the news 3 years ago - I must have missed it.
President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan was also there, someone whose use of violence as a political tool overshadows even that of Robert Mugabe. President Gaddafi of Libya was a low-key presence - the western media no longer seems interested in the fact that political parties have been banned in Libya since 1972 and there are no free elections as we would understand the term. Not since they gave up their WMD programme at least.
There is, of course, one big difference between Zimbabwe and other African countries: a substantial white population. Surely that couldn't be the reason for the focus on Mugabe's ills at the expense of similar coverage of some of his neighbours? Not that they deny it happens elsewhere, just that, well, it's somehow less newsworthy. Those pictures of Amy Winehouse won't print themselves you know.
The most interesting part of the ruling, it seems to me, is the qualification about the rights of people who hold "orthodox" religious beliefs to have their rights respected. Apparently religious orthodoxy can now be judged by industrial tribunal - that if enough people claim a faith-based reason not to to do their job, then it's okay. What about if she had refused on the grounds that she just hated gay people instead of playing the God card? Would that have been grounds for dismissal, or would Islington Council have to respect her rights to hold those views and not do her job? If not, that is putting religious beliefs on a higher footing than non-religious beliefs - what does that say about the rights of atheists?
Presumably if Ms Ladele had been a member of the South African Dutch Reformed Church, she might have claimed to right not to marry mixed-race couples. Fifty-thousand people in South Africa say that's an orthodox view, even if it might not get you on the front page of the Daily Mail.
07 July 2008
After all, if you were to talk about "tackling the challenge of migrants", you'd be embroiled in a political knicker-twist quicker than you can say 'Trevor Phillips'. But by saying "migrancy", you take away the agent - it's not saying the Polish builder is the issue, just the act of him coming here that is a problem. I mean challenge.
Unwittingly it gets closer to the truth than intended - Hazel loves those Czech plasterers for keeping labour costs down, if only they wouldn't insist on speaking funny and making the place look untidy. "Migrancy", then, is a new word that successfully combines two existing words: "Migraine" and "Vagrancy", planting a negative connotation in the mind without you realising. Peter Mandelson would be proud, were he not trying to concoct a few neologisms of his own to describe President Sarkozy.
04 July 2008
Basement: Childrens Books
In a bookstore. A place where you might go to get some learnin' about how to punctuate words right and stuff. Innit. Sweet screaming Jesus, if we can't even rely on a national chain of bookstores to punctuate its store livery correctly, then I think the end is surely nigh.
28 June 2008
Previously I have questioned the validity of applying the finest* branding to products such as Tesco Broadband, given their inability to promise a higher-quality online experience than ordinary broadband. But today I saw an interesting application of the Value branding: Tesco Value bottled water.
Now correct me if I am wrong, but I thought that Tesco Value was aimed at people who wanted basic products. Surely bottled mineral water is the preserve of those fairly insensitive to the price of food. What next - Tesco Value fois gras?
At 17p a litre, Tesco Value Still Water does represent a more realistic cost for one of the most basic products of all, certainly when compared with the equivalent volume of, say, Evian. But if you turn on your tap around here you can apparently buy a cubic metre of clean, still drinking water for £1.20, according to Anglian Water's website. I don't even know how many litres you get in a cubic metre, but I'm willing to guess it is more than 8.
I'm quite tempted to bottle up some of my tap water and sell it outside Tesco for 10p a litre to this clearly burgeoning gentry who fancy "designer water" to accompany their turkey twizzlers. After all, at 17p each, I can't imagine Tesco is doing anything different.
27 June 2008
With this in mind I thought I'd check out the website of our favourite conspiracy theorist for fresh news of his run for parliament. Disappointingly, there is little comment on Mr Icke's website about his latest assault upon our intelligence, though I noted with interest all his books are available to buy online - and web-based applications to join his organisation are similarly welcome.
Given the extraordinary nature of Mr Icke's claims (see previous Hofflimits entry here) of multiple conspiracies on an eye-popping scale, you would have thought he'd be rather suspicious of the World Wide Web: a global network of computers, controlled by large corporations and governments. But there is not the slightest whiff of talk of Lizard men, the "Illuminati" or international banking being linked to this all-encompassing net. Surely he is missing a trick here?
Or could it be he has already taken a stand against the Internet but his views are somehow being suppressed by an electronic information conspiracy from which even the turquoise son of God cannot escape? That David Icke has become part of the conspiracy? I'd like to see someone on the doorsteps of Haltemprice try that one out on him, when he comes knocking for their votes.
But can you put a price on beliefs? For example, if I think that Rupert Murdoch is an egomanical monster whose obsessive need to control the news agenda is corrosive to democracy, how much does that view cost me? After years of self-flagellation - not buying a Murdoch newspaper or a Sky TV subscription - I have settled for the moral defeat of middle aged compromise. I am now a Sky subscriber for phone, TV and Broadband.
I can, of course, comfort myself with mealy-mouthed excuses: for every Murdoch paper I didn't buy I probably read a Harper-Collins book or watched a Fox Corporation movie or TV show, both of which line Murdoch's capacious pockets. I can say I am doing it for my family, providing the best value multi-media package on the market. But I suppose the most curious compensation is that I now know the exact price of my principles. £28 per month, apparently.
15 June 2008
Thursday evening came, and my scheduled service left on time for the first time in a week, as I buried my head in my book, by now nearly at the end. Meanwhile, ahead of me a goods train was being derailed, bringing with it the usual effects with which I had become so familiar: replacement bus services, misinformation, confusion and open-ended delays.
While I accept the logic of Mr Hitchens' arguments, I think I'll be sure to finish the book before I next take the train to London.
In the agonised debates about the need to protect its citizens versus the rights of those citizens to remain unmolested, it's hard to pinpoint the precise point at which detention becomes unacceptable. No-one would deny the police some time to question arrestees before charging, but whether that is measured in hours or days, or even weeks can become Reductio ad absurdum: is 21 days acceptable but 22 a violation of habeus corpus?
Looking overseas for a steer on this debate, we can see the UK leads the way amongst western democracies, who mostly limit such detention to 7 days. Even in the War-On-Terror United States it is limited to just 2 days - on the mainland at least (military facilities in the Caribbean don't count). But I think the truth of how illiberal the UK has become is to be found in the exact opposite of such places.
Take Burma (please), or Myanmar as nobody insists on calling it. This week their military junta - generally acknowledged to be high in the Top Ten list of "people you wouldn't want running your country" - offered its latest explanation of Aung San Suu Kyi's indefinite house arrest. Her detention for the last 13 years was justified as being in line with modern anti-terrorist legislation passed by the likes of Britain. Surely you know the game is up when the Burmese government compliments you on your criminal justice system?
The fact that the UK subjects some of its citizens to indefinite house arrest, in the same way as Burma does, shouldn't fool one into making lazy comparisons, of course. After all, there are other regimes that allows such practices, so we are in good company: North Korea, Iran and Zimbabwe.
10 June 2008
Never mind that black politicians have been winning elections for a generation in the US, this is deemed to be some sort of breakthrough moment. Obama is clearly an extraordinary man in many ways, but he also conforms to a certain template of Presidential candidate: overachieving, driven, ambitious and articulate, with a great background story with which to burnish the myth of the Presidency. A template whose main exception seems to be the present incumbent to the Office.
If it's not Obama, then someone else will break the ceiling before long. But how long until America is confident enough to vote for a candidate who claims no religious affiliation? I think they'll have elected a score of black presidents before that particular "first" ever happens.
While reading this book on the train yesterday returning to London, I chanced to look up to check how far we were from our destination. At this moment I found myself looking at a billboard on the side of a house adjacent to the railway line that simply read:
28 May 2008
Ian Fleming also has a new book published this week to mark his centenary. He has had to overcome even greater hurdles than Ms Katona to make it to print, what with him being dead for 44 years. But into his shoes Sebastian Faulks has bravely stepped, and the result is The Devil May Care, which is rather curiously described as being "by Sebastian Faulks, writing as Ian Fleming". Unless Mr Faulks wrote the book while in costume, I'm not sure how he can honestly be described as "writing as Ian Fleming". You'd think he'd have enough trouble writing as Sebastian Faulks, judging from his recent novels. What will be his next turn - staying in bed for 20 years so he can claim to be writing as Proust?
And, so, does the ghostwriter for Tough Love have to claim to be writing as Kerry Katona? That would surely be an assignment too far for even the gamest writer.
26 May 2008
Actually it's a pretty loose amalgam, but more or less any combination of results can be used to frame the sceptics arguments - thus if Croatia votes for Russia, it's called a slavic fix, or if they vote for Bosnia-Herzegovina, it becomes a Balkan carve up. Never mind that UK and Ireland regularly prop each other's feeble efforts up with maximum points, such sour grapes seems to be overlooking some rather basic points.
First, how many of us could remember what the UK entry was called, never mind hum it 48 hours later? By a singer whose chief claim to fame was not winning a talent contest; as a former bin man, it seems maybe Andy Abraham had been on a busman's holiday. If the UK didn't have a guaranteed bye into the final, it would have pushed Ireland's singing puppet for a less lifelike rendition of a novelty record.
By contrast, the Russian winner, Dima Bilan, is the Robbie Williams of eastern Europe, shifting millions of records as his day job. Is it possible people might have voted for him because he was an already popular singer? Of course not, because we hadn't heard of him. As well as himself, Mr Bilan had a bloke with him playing a 200-year-old Stradivarius AND an Olympic ice-skater doing circuits of the stage; give the guy his dues, at least he made the effort.
According to Terry Wogan, the performance by Andy Abraham "certainly deserved more marks than it got". Truly we must be clutching at straws, the day when we start taking Terry Wogan's views on pop music seriously
Leaving aside the aesthetics of the song contest, it seems our knowledge of recent history is about as attuned as our ear for Slavic pop. According to the conspirators, an eastern European love-in happens every year, simply because they are next door to each other. On Saturday night both Georgia and the Ukraine awarded Russia the maximum 12 points, less than 5 years after nearly declaring war on the former Motherland. Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia all traded points, despite a bitter and bloody civil war in recent memory, not to mention centuries of ethnic tension.
But let's assume the conspirators are correct and Britain will never triumph again. That would explain an entry attaining mid-table obscurity, not last place. Saturday's piss-poor finish by the UK is not explained by Croatia giving Russia 12 points, but rather by nobody at all giving us 12 points. Not even Ireland, a country whose own entry suggests they know a thing or two about singing turkeys.
22 May 2008
It's ironic that this should have happened in an era when we least need it. Once upon a time, when musical reproduction equipment was confined to the home, and before the ubiquitous infiltration of muzak into every commercial building, busking might have had its place to cheer people up or help people pass the time, waiting for buses and trains. Staying one step ahead of the police, our peripatetic piper could bash out a quick tune into a world of white noise.
But when every other person seems to own an iPod or MP3 player, the market for gratuitously incompetent musicianship is surely limited. There is no greater irritant, come 6pm, when, having entered the bowels of the London Underground and blocked out the trials of another hard day with music through your headphones, the reverie is shattered by the inescapable cacophony of someone playing "Apache" at top volume on a cheese wire guitar.
The word busk comes from the Spanish root word buscar, meaning "to seek" – buskers are supposedly seeking fame and fortune, though some are clearly looking harder than others. And to the man who insists on singing "Mr Tambourine Man" at Chancery Lane station every evening in the manner of a constipated chicken: please, call off the search.
19 May 2008
The reality, of course, was a documentary about a dreary series of meetings, thinly attended by marginal people whose main threat to the mainstream population was forcing a leaflet about homosexual abomination into unwanted hands. The premise of the film - that this somehow constituted a real and present threat to British democracy - was undermined by the sheer numbers of people who failed to turn up to any of their organised protests.
In truth it was a very British form of fundamentalism: a lot of shuffling embarrassment by participants and passers-by. In fact their supposedly explosive views on Islam as apostasy were no worse than I have heard coming back the other way from members of the Muslim Council of Britain, which is supposedly the political mainstream. Certainly there was no Oliver Cromwell amongst this New Model Army.
It should be noted that this is official mourning. No doubt the military Junta is vigilant for anyone trying to partake in any unofficial mourning - contraband sadness that falls outside sanctioned parameters. After all, in a country infested with poverty, corruption, starvation and slavery as an official economic model, the living might start to envy those who died.
12 May 2008
Until today, when, in exchange for a large amount of Rupert Murdoch's money, she was prepared to tell us, in, frankly, unnecessary detail, how Leo was conceived at Balmoral. As you try to remove from your mind that image of Tony and Cherie bumping uglies together in the highlands, instead reflect on what a difference to MMR take-up it might have made to have the Prime Minister publicly endorse its use. In parts of the UK, vaccination levels are as low as 70%, putting all children at risk, both inoculated and non-inoculated.
Is that Tony Blair's fault? Of course not. But, funny as it might seem now, in those days he was a sort of role model. Maybe Cherie was aware of the meaning of 'Politics' as defined by Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary: "(n.) Strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles."
06 May 2008
I thought of this today when I passed the "Catch 22" employment agency in Victoria, en route to a client. Apparently the agency has been in business since 1982, though I wonder if, in all that time, any of its staff had bothered to read the eponymous Joseph Heller classic? It's not the sort of thing you'd necessarily want associated with a temporary employment agency - being trapped in a hellish existence by the merciless logic of the language of the system.
Or else the sort of place that wouldn't do much business:
"Excuse me, do you have any jobs?"
"Are you registered with us"
"No - how do I do that?"
"Well, first you'll need to have a job"
05 May 2008
It reminded me of the one thing that always puzzles me about depictions of UK fascists: why do they always chant "Sieg Heil" at these mini-Nuremberg rallies? Is it that the enjoy either the sound of the German, or the irony of using a foreign language to describe their ultra-Britishness? Or should that be Uber-Britishness?
A third possibility is that they might not know what it means, but figure it sounds threatening enough to the average English ear. Or maybe it is simply a lazy assumption on the part of scriptwriters who don't fancy checking out a White Power meeting in order to sample the tone of voice - and the result is the equivalent of a Stonewall meeting as depicted by Jim Davidson.
28 April 2008
Or, rather, his estate does - for I am sure that he little imagined, when he buckled himself into his seat aboard that Beechcraft Bonanza back in February 1959, what a monster he had spawned. Thirty years later, someone chanced upon the idea of turning his life story into a stage play, complete with soundtrack. They set in motion a terrible bandwagon that has culminated in the head-on collision that is "Never Forget - the Take That story", currently being advertised across London. Truly the new theatrical genre of "Jukebox Musical" has reached its nadir.
To date there are approximately 9,588 pop groups being written up for the stage, with another 5,116,225 in development. Having already been hit with Abba (Mamma Mia), Boney M (Daddy cool), Madness (Our House), Billy Joel (Movin' out), The Beach Boys (Good vibrations), Rod Stewart (Tonight's the night), Queen (We will rock you) and Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons (Jersey Boys), I do begin to wonder where the line will be drawn. Milli Vanilli? Toni Basil? Or maybe "Shaddap You Face - the Joe Dolce Story".
Perhaps more worrying is the impact this will have on future creative endeavours of the pop stars of tomorrow. When the Amy Winehouses of next year are discovered, will the A&R men suggest they write an extra track that could be turned into a first half closer for the musical of their life? Will future artist sing summaries of their careers to date, in order to give any future stage show a lift halfway through the second act?
Even more frightening is the prospect of "Unbreakable - the Westlife story", coming to a stage near you. At which point I will launch a campaign for the reinstatement of the Lord Chamberlain's office as licenser of plays to the west end stage. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
23 April 2008
Look out for Tony Blair’s autobiography where he tells the world he was a little bit taken with political spin.
02 April 2008
01 April 2008
Fortunately for the future of the game in England, there are, as yet, no proposed requirements that British players should be able to speak English before they start work.
In 2007, 27 youths were murdered in London alone, mostly from knife or gunshot wounds. So far in 2008, nine young men have been stabbed to death in the capital. Maybe school leavers living in some British cities might fancy joining the army just to get away from all that violence.
25 March 2008
Kicking off on Good Friday's "Thought for the Day" on Radio 4, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, takes a swipe at the faithless for their arrogance. What puzzles the bish, apparently, is "the absolute certainty of their conviction which does not allow for any doubt ...the believers I know have a much humbler attitude".
It's a reworking of a very familiar claim - the last resort of someone who has run out of ideas. To seek an explanation of the complexities and mysteries of the world around based upon only what we can prove, in my humble opinion, is, well, pretty humble. To say: "I can explain it all - God made it" is surely the most arrogant position of all. But it saves having to expend too many grey cells.
Next up the leader of the Scottish Catholic Church, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, used his Easter sermon to pile into the debate on the proposed embryology bill as a "monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life". He forgot to add something about the "human dignity" of those who live with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's who might face the prospect of a cure through such research, but I'm sure that was just an oversight.
He concluded that it would allow experiments of "Frankenstein proportion." Which was ironic, really - I don't think any of the scientists I have read on the subject have mentioned using the bill to turn the dead into the living, as Dr Frankenstein attempted. They leave that sort of thing to the church every Easter.
Finally, even the non-conformists felt a need to get in on the act, when faced with the prospect of bookmakers opening on Good Friday for the first time. A spokesman for the Methodist Church said they would prefer people to think about the day's religious significance rather than placing bets. In logical terms that's a false opposition, surely? I don't believe that one activity excludes the other.
In fact I would go further and say that placing a bet can be part of contemplating the wonder of the universe and complexity of life. If you care to really think about the chances of life existing at all on earth, and marvel at the process through which we came to be, I reckon a £10 punt on a 50-1 outsider might put things in perspective. It would certainly seem like short odds, all other things considered.
I'm prepared to guess that a smaller proportion of the population knows how the date of Easter is calculated than attempts a DIY project over the four day break. For the record it is, according to the English book of Common Prayer, "the first Sunday after the full moon which happens upon, or next after the 21st day of March; and if the full moon happens upon a Sunday, Easter Day is the Sunday after."
Can you imagine if Christmas was calculated in the same way? Which begs the question: why do we not decide on a fixed date in April? If we can cope with a fixed date for the Messiah's birth, I'm sure we can struggle through when it comes to mark his crucifixion. It would make it a great deal easier for the rest of the real world that has to plan holidays, work cover and Q1 revenue reports.
19 March 2008
At no point amid all the huffing and puffing did anyone mention what the object of such a policy would be. Arguments were advanced on either side (well, mostly against) about the practical challenges, and whom or what would be sworn to or at – but no-one seemed to come out with a straight answer about what the scheme was for. A cure for binge drinking, teenage pregnancies or happy slapping? Like ID Cards, it was a solution in search of a problem.
I think the answer was the first attempt to standardise the Traditional Teenage Rebellion. If we recognise youthful contrariness as a necessary developmental stage between acne and employment, it would be much more efficient if it were channelled into specific forms at predictable times. Giving school-leavers the chance to tilt at the establishment through provocative but harmless decrees would give them a focus for their angst, to slot alongside the other parts of the National Curriculum. Whatever form their protest took, they could then get an official certificate to put on their UCAS form.
Look out for the setting up of a new government Task Force on Buying Halves Of Cider In Pubs or the launch of a Certificate For Navel Piercing.
According to the Daily Telegraph: "The debut in early summer could provide a landmark because travelling into the past is only possible - if it is possible at all - as far back as the point of creation of the first time machine." In other words, if this experiment does, ultimately, lead to the creation of a working time machine in the future, the resultant time travellers could be amongst us as soon as July.
So if you catch sight of a DeLorean leaving fiery-tracks in the road, it might not be the local joy-riders earning their next ASBOs. (And if you don’t understand that reference, the only time-machine you need is a beta-max video to take you back to 1985, when time-travelling was just about the coolest mischief a kid could get up to.)
05 March 2008
Public support for a universal database, hosting the DNA profiles of all UK citizens, seems to vary from week to week, depending on the number of murderers caught versus the number of records mislaid by the government. This is reflected in the government's own apparent double-think on the issue: they maintain that a universal system would have "significant ethical issues", while simultaneously opposing the removal of innocent people's data from police files.
Those who hope such a database would be able to solve all future murders will probably be disappointed by a fact that has gone widely unreported. That the database itself is riddled with inaccuracies and duplications. Surprising as it may seem, when people are arrested, they sometimes lie to the police about their identity - but not before their DNA sequence is committed to record. If I were nicked for an offence and gave an acquaintance's name and address it would not only get me off the hook, but would leave me free to commit at least one offence at his or her expense.
Of course the error would soon be realised, but not before my associate had been banged up for a couple of hours. And, of course, have his own DNA profile added to the list for absolutely no reason. But as the Home Office says "They have nothing to fear from providing a sample". Nothing except the incompetence of the Home Office, of course.