To thine own self be true

Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi

Posted by Polonius on 20 August, 2009

This started off as a comment on Head of Legal’s post on the rumours leading up to today’s release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.

A successful appeal would be embarrassing to the governments of several countries. Where there’s terrorism, the standard government reaction seems to be some form or other of the politician’s syllogism. The American approach is along the lines of “We must invade somewhere. The culprits were from Saudi Arabia, but we can’t invade there – Afghanistan will do.” The British approach seems to be to convict somebody – anybody will do.

That goes some way towards satisfying the immediate lust for revenge. If they convict the right people, so much the better – it stops them committing crimes and deters others. But it’s intensely embarrassing when it goes wrong. If an appeal succeeds, it’s apparent that the real culprits are still out there somewhere. Furthermore, potential terrorists can see no point in not committing crimes if they think they’ll be considered innocent until proved Irish/Muslim/whatever.

I think Lord Denning understood that, and he pointed out that the death penalty is an effective way of preventing such appeals. Of course, he also felt that the possibility of embarrassing police officers with evidence of their perjury constituted grounds for rejecting such appeals. (Many readers will know that that was the speech where he coined the term “appalling vista”, preempting Microsoft by a quarter of a century.)

If I was a real conspiracy theorist, I’d say that the Scottish government saw an opportunity to avoid an embarrassing defeat at the appeal, especially if the rumours turn out to be true.


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Charity begins at home

Posted by Polonius on 3 February, 2009

[Resisting the temptation to end the title “…homo”. What a pity many readers would have misconstrued it.]

There’s a bit of a kerfuffle about animal charities in Scotland today. The Scottish SPCA accuses the RSPCA of  allowing Scots donors to believe that the RSPCA spends money in Scotland, when in fact it doesn’t. I’m sure the same confusion exists between the NSPCC and Children 1st (The bloody stupid name doesn’t help.)

But I think there’s a much more shameful comparison to be made here. In 2007, the RSPCA made £114.1 million to the Scottish SPCA’s £11.984 million. In the year to March 2008, the NSPCC made £119.435 million  to Children 1st’s £9.270 million. The real disgrace is that the figures for the children’s charities are much the same as the animal charities’. Aren’t suffering children worth more than suffering of other species?

Gary Larson once did a Far Side cartoon titled “Bobbing for Poodles”. In one of his books, he talked of the number of complaints it had attracted, and expressed his relief that he hadn’t gone with his original title of “Bobbing for Babies”. I have no doubt whatsoever as to which title would have attracted more complaints in the UK, and it saddens me.

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Egregious ignorance

Posted by Polonius on 10 July, 2008

In what way is a word processor better than a typewriter? Firstly, because it can wrap text automatically at the end of a line. Secondly, because it allows users to define text styles. Every word processor I have used over the past quarter of a century has supported styles. So why does almost nobody use them? Of course Microsoft make them less intuitive with every new version of Word, but even before Word 97 people insisted on reinventing the wheel with every paragraph.

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Dumbing down

Posted by Polonius on 19 February, 2008

I’ve followed the journey of The Independent with interest since its inception. When new, it was visually striking. Its then state of the art printing process, together with its editorial policy, led a renaissance in photojournalism. Its initial attempts at political neutrality made it a bit boring, but it soon settled down. As it struggled to find its niche in the market, it sought new stories, often with a strong, sometimes preachy, moral voice. Its international coverage has been better than most.

The story of why the Indy went tabloid is an interesting one. Somebody on the staff (I don’t recall who) drew up a chart. Draw a vertical line down a page, dividing it in half. Draw two horizontal lines across the page, dividing it in six. That’s the UK newspaper market (as it then was). Left and right are the political stance of the papers; top to bottom you’ve got broadsheets, mid-market tabloids and red-tops. Top left is The Grauniad; top right, The Times and The Torygraph. Bottom left is The Daily Mirror; bottom right, The Sun. Middle right are The Daily Express and The Daily Mail. Middle left is (or was) nothing. That was an obvious gap in the market.

I used to buy the Indy daily, then weekly. The Saturday magazine crossword is one of the most entertaining there is. Of course, nobody can beat Araucaria in the Grauniad. And The Listener Crossword is more challenging – but I wouldn’t buy The Times for that. More recently, I’ve found that my main reason for buying the Indy on a Saturday has been (though it pains me to admit it), Jeremy Beadle’s quiz. Now he’s dead and, though his replacement compiled a creditable effort on Saturday, I thought I’d take a long hard look at the paper to see if it was really worth my while.

Of course it’s got a lot of crap in it. It’s always had fashion pages, and the centre pages on a Saturday are always full of bling for brain donors. Even Saturday’s cover story was about fashion. Racism is a serious issue, but I can’t get terribly worked up about serious issues set in a context of a market that only exists because some people are too stupid to choose their own clothes.
I’ve been vaguely aware of a few stories in recent editions that appeared to be pure padding, with no substance to them at all. Turning to page 5 of Saturday’s edition, I came across something that triggered alarm bells – “Computers ‘to match human brains by 2030’“. The first sentence was enough to convince me this was likely to be garbage. Computer power to match the intelligence of human beings – by what measure of intelligence? I don’t know if the piece said, because I never reached the end of it. The second sentence talks of “technical progress” in a way that suggests to me the author doesn’t know the difference between “technical” and “technological”. But maybe he’s a fairly junior writer – or out of his area of expertise? No, his name is Steve Connor and he styles himself “Science Editor”, no less.

I got as far as the fourth paragraph before I encountered this gem: “optical character recognition – the technology behind CDs”. Remember, this pig-ignorant cretin describes himself as a “Science Editor“! Not only should he be dismissed for incompetence, but so should whoever employed him in that post. I gave up in despair and disgust.

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Posted by Polonius on 21 January, 2008

How should one respond when caught up in a tabloid story that’s blatantly untrue? I’m not the victim, but a relative is. From some of the details they’ve got right, it’s clear they’ve been talking to someone  who knows the victim; from some of what they’ve got wrong, it’s clear they’re lying when they claim the story came direct from the horse’s mouth. The advice of people more accustomed than I am to the attentions of the sewer-rats seems to be to ignore it. Punch a journalist today – it’s in society’s interest.

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Crime and punishment

Posted by Polonius on 22 August, 2007

The UK press, and some of the more irresponsible of politicians, including Jack Straw, have been spluttering through their manic drooling in the past few days about how the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal should ignore the law and just make up the rules as they go along. Well, I can’t be bothered looking up chapter and verse right now, but as I understand it, it’s really quite simple:

  1. a citizen of an EU country can’t be deported unless he poses a threat to society;
  2. a prisoner on a life sentence can’t be paroled if he poses a threat to society;
  3. therefore, if a life prisoner can be paroled, he can’t be deported.

You’d think even a Daily Mail reader could understand that, but some of them fall for such drivel, one can only assume the comments that follow it have been typed by a more literate acquaintance – possibly the same person who ties their shoelaces.

And then there’s this story. Now, regular readers (if I have any) will know that I’m sceptical of the journalistic standards of the BBC, so I ought to be reluctant to jump to conclusions on the basis of this story, but I’m going to go out on a limb here. To the boy’s mother I’d have to say “You’re scum, your brat is scum. GFY (that’s Good For You).”

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A multi-billion pound opportunity

Posted by Polonius on 3 August, 2007

I’ve just had a phone call from someone purporting to be from the Bank of Scotland, calling from 08704 604506, and offering me a credit card. Usually, when I get pissed off at a bank, it’s because someone claiming to be their representative has phoned and asked me to provide evidence of my identity. Of course, there’s a fair chance this is fraud. If not, if the caller really does represent the bank, the most charitable interpretation is stupidity; sadly, I don’t believe banks really are that stupid. No, it’s utter cynicism. If you are in the habit of revealing security-sensitive account information to everyone who phones claiming to be from your bank, then, when your account’s security is in any way compromised, it must be your fault. If anyone can recommend a bank that doesn’t treat its customers with such cynical contempt, I’ll move my main account tomorrow.

As an aside, there’s a lot of scaremongering about identity theft these days. People need to understand what information is sensitive and what is utterly harmless; if someone were to find out your bank account number and sort code, the worst they could do is to maliciously deposit money in your account.

With hindsight, it might have been better if I’d reminded the Bank of Scotland of the telephone preference service. Unfortunately, I do have an account with the Halifax (part of the same group) and it’s quite possible I once failed to tick the box, so it’s possible the call wasn’t actually unlawful.

Maybe I’m over-reacting to these calls, but they do irritate me. I also find I have a (perhaps irrational) sympathy for the poor sods who make them. I’m inclined to tell the corporate bastard bosses where to shove their credit cards, but I know the droid on the other end of the line is only there because they can’t get a better job. Despite my sympathy, I’ve yelled abuse at them, I’ve hung up on them, on this occasion I just laid the hand-set down and let her babble on to fresh air until she got bored. The bastards must be doing something right because I feel vaguely guilty about that.

I can understand that there is a market for banks who want to deal with idiots. Of course it’s easy for banks to take advantage of their customers if the customers are hard of understanding. I can’t help feeling there’s also a market for any bank that might want to deal with the rest of us – the ones who might actually have money. Does nobody want that market?

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Sally Clark RIP

Posted by Polonius on 17 March, 2007

Sally Clark has passed away. The cause of death has not yet been made public, but I have a bad feeling. If it turns out to be suicide, the real blame lies with the disgraceful Roy Meadow and the even more disgraceful Alan Williams. Meadow was incompetent; his real culpability lay in his lack of remorse after the event. Williams, on the other hand, knowingly chose to suppress the evidence that would have immediately cleared Mrs Clark. If either of those bastards had a conscience, he’d never sleep at night.

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Posted by Polonius on 22 February, 2007

I’m not good with stress. I need to get a report out next week and my in-house expert who was to do much of the work has gone off sick, so I’m having to do his work on top of my own. I’ve had yet another sleepless night, and I come in to this:


Unfortunately our IT support is outsourced to a bunch of numpties. The only time I ever tried to get them to recover a file from a backup, it took them over a month to report back that the only backup they had was taken the night after the file was corrupted. You pay billions, you get monkeys.

Ah well, back to work.

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Cellar floor television

Posted by Polonius on 13 December, 2006

I read in today’s Grauniad of The Verdict, the latest concept in “reality” television. Ever since Big Brother broke through the bottom of the barrel, the most cynical minds in tabloid television have competed to tunnel deeper and deeper into the cellar floor. The Verdict is a serious contender for the deepest yet. Lord Perjuror may be otherwise unemployable, but that is hardly sufficient justification for throwing licence-payers’ money at this drivel. If this is reality, stop the world – I want to get off.

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