Thursday, 25 July 2013

Wales to leave EU and Great Britain ??

Opinion poll in Wales suggests 39% of people prepared to vote for the mindless nationalism of UKIP or Plaid for the Welsh Assembly - but not for where it would matters i.e, when electing MPs where their combined support falls to 17%.

July 2013 poll
Westminster: CON 23%, LAB 48%, LDEM 8%, PLAID 9%, UKIP 8%
Welsh Assembly (constituency): CON 19%, LAB 46%, LDEM 8%, PLAID 17%, UKIP 6%
Welsh Assembly (regional): CON 12%, LAB 25%, LDEM 9%, PLAID 23%, UKIP 16%
Just goes to show people vote for the oddest of reasons.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Bonking Boris -

Not long ago Prime Minister David Cameron wrote:

" I also think we need to make Britain a genuinely hostile place for fathers who go AWOL. It’s high time runaway dads were stigmatised, and the full force of shame was heaped upon them. They should be looked at like drink drivers, people who are beyond the pale. They need the message rammed home to them, from every part of our culture, that what they’re doing is wrong – that leaving single mothers, who do a heroic job against all odds, to fend for themselves simply isn’t acceptable."

I assume he will be having a word with London Mayor Boris Johnston, who was revealed the other day to have fathered at least two children other than by his wife.

Oddly, Boris 's behaviour is widely treated as endearing rather than hypocritical - Boris himself treats it as a offensive if anyone asks about it, although he himself is not slow to moralise about the behaviour of others.

Trident - the part-time bomb

Old joke -  what are you doing ? Sprinkling woofle dust. Why are you sprinkling woofle dust ? To keep the elephants away  of course ! But there aren't any elephants in Clacton.  Just goes to show it works.
Trident is much the same, it has deterred attacks on the UK in much the same way no one has nuked Peru, i.e. not at all.

The Government has published a review on possible options to replace the Trident Nuclear Missile System with  a slightly less expensive alternative.  The Conservatives have already denounced the option as a part-time deterrent.

Trident is inherently useless.  Lets save the money and spend it on something else. My favourite is more overseas aid.  Funny how people you are helpful too are less likely to go to war with you.

Monday, 22 July 2013

The Legacy of Arabic Science

The Forgotten Legacy of Arabic Science
The Bristish Humanist Association are proud to announce that the 2013 Holyoake Lecture in Manchester will be presented by BHA President Jim Al-Khalili on 22 October. The topic will be the forgotten legacy of Arabic science.

In the ninth century, the Abbasid caliph of Baghdad, al-Ma'mun, created one of the greatest centres of learning the world had ever seen, known as the House of Wisdom.  Focussing on the story of how the scientists and philosophers he brought together sparked a period of extraordinary discovery, launching a golden age of Arabic science, this lecture will cover the next few hundred years which saw great advances in medicine, astronomy, philosophy, mathematics and many other disciplines, and highlight the birth of whole new fields, such as algebra and trigonometry.

This is the forgotten story of one of the most exciting periods in the history of science, full of wonderful characters and geniuses, such as al-Kindi, Ibn al-Haytham, Ibn Sina and al-Biruni – names that should be spoken alongside Newton, Galileo and Aristotle. Jim will argue in this talk that the world needs to look at the achievements of these scholars with fresh eyes, and the Arab and Islamic world needs to take greater pride in its rich scientific heritage, far removed from the dogmatic anti-scientific attitudes found so widely in the Islamic world today.

Farewell Mel Smith

Comedian and actor Mel Smith - best known for his work with Griff Rhys Jones has died :-(   Perhaps that ought to be comedic actor and director, as that was more what Mel Smith was.

One of my favourite no the nine o'clock news sketches involved Mel Smith going into a gift shop and buying the most tacky souvenir just for the pleasure of smashing it to pieces. 

All deaths are sad, and it was strange to think that despite much wealth and huge talent, Mel Smith spent many years addicted to simple pain killer tablets and in pain from gout. 

Despite a number of achievements - hit TV shows, successful film director, stage performances, even a  hit charity single there was a slight feeling that Mel Smith perhaps could or should have achieved more. I am reminded though of the comments of someone about Peter Cook - he was known as the funniest man alive and created some of sketches and jokes that inspired a generation of more of comedians, isn't that enough ?

50 Books that changed the world

Books that changed the world - the 50 most influential books in human history by Andrew Taylor  ISBN 978-1-84724-602-8

This is an excellent book about books.

I suppose a list of the 50 most influential books is meant to provoke some debate, so perhaps my knowledge of books is lacking but it was hard to argue with the choice.

Some books, the Bible, the Qu'ran are obvious - most of the others have a very strong case.  I won't spoil the fun by iving the full list now.

The writing is concise and informative giving reason for inclusion, context, influence and a flavour of the book.

As an overview of books and their inluence, it is probably hard to beat.

Time for a real benefits cap

Here's an idea - why doesn't the Government limit the amount of tax relief available to anyone individual to £26000 a year. There seems to be a dreadful 'entitlement culture' amongst some better off people who seem to think the taxpayers should fund their lifestyle choices - so for example an wealthy individual can claim tax relief on pension contributions of up to £40,000 a year.

Clearly the ordinary family  we hear so much about these days can't possibly be in a position to put aside £40,000 a year towards a pension, let alone claim tax back.

Incredibly the individual lifetime allowance is £1.25 million.  An individual putting aside every penny of their £26,000 a year income for 45 years would still have plenty of their lifetime allowance left.   Someone on minimum wage would have to put in every penny for 114 years to reach the cap.

So people on minimum wage and on average incomes don't benefit from these tax breaks, but the very richest, those who need it least get the most help.
There seems to be a "dependency culture" amongst the wealthy.

Oddly you never seem to read about it in the Daily Mail.  You never get articles pointing out the landlords charging excessive rents with 40 properties all being funded by housing benefit - ie the taxpayer. 

You never hear of the Tesco subsidy - where the tax payers fork out billions in tax credits so people who work for Tescos can afford to eat and rent somewhere while Tesco avoids tax by pretending it's CD's are sold from the channel islands.

Tose of us who know about these things realsie that Housing Benefit goes to the Landlord - not the tennant - so if the Government wants to reduce costs rather than saying tennants can claim only £26,000 a year - lets make the rule the same for landlords.  If they find that they can't afford their buy-to-let properties without the huge state funded subsidy they get, then they can sell them off.  We can't expect the taxpayer to fund them. If this was British Leyland, the Conseravtives would be going up the wall. Yet here we are with private sector landlords provding a shoddy, expensive service and being funded by the taxpayer to do so.

If the benefits cap is good enough for the poor- it's sure as hell good enough for the rich.

The paranormal

It is often assumed (good word often, very vague) that skeptics would be disappointed if something paranormal like esp was proved to exist, when in fact they would be delighted.

My own brushed with the 'para normal' include - several out of body experiences, visits by demons (sleep paralysis), vivid dreams about dead people and many times having an overwhelming feeling of a sense of deja vu.

None of which I consider para normal and all of which I fell have excellent scientific explanations.

Professor Richard Wiseman is a leading media figure in explaining science - but probably not very well know - as explaining science is rather seen as not very media friendly.

This book is a great starting point to understanding cold readings (how people might seem to tell your fortune or speak to the dead) and a variety of other strange phenomena.

It also includes practical guides if you want to experience table turning/tipping and lucid dreaming and out of body experiences.

People and opinion polls

Be careful about confusing support/oppose in polls with salience. Most people don’t notice most political news stories, especially rather insidery ones about the workings of government (and the people who are most likely to notice will have the most fixed political views). So if you ask people if they think that the PM’s advisor should be working for other companies too people say no… (Only 18% think it is acceptable for Lynton Crosby to advise the Conservative at the same time as he works for other commercial clients)  but if you ask people who Lynton Crosby is only 11% know who he is, what he does and something about him. Ask people what news stories they noticed this week cigarette plain packages, Lynton Crosby and so on don’t even show up (suggesting they must have got below 1.5%). Doesn’t mean it can’t be an issue of course, that it won’t get noticed if it has legs and is kept going.

People will answer polling questions if asked (they’re helpful like that!)… but remember it doesn’t mean they necessarily had an opinion before the pollster forced them to have one, nor that they were even aware of the story.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Will anyone win the next General Election ?

Many commentators are expressing the view that many in both Labour and Conservative parties expect to lose the General Election.

It seems that key strategists in both parties are working to win on what is called a 35% strategy - that is that they should aim to win 35% of the votes cast at the General Election and that this may see them elected.

Whoever wins is likely to break some records.  Rarely have Governments been more popular at a second general election than they were at a first. Rarely has an opposition been as unpopular as Labour are now and gone on to defeat a Government.

The logic for the Conservatives is painful, if they couldn't win a majority facing an unpopular Gordon Brown after 13 years of Labour Government, what chance of them doing better are 5 years of cuts ? For Labour the reverse is true, here is a Government making cuts and yet, Labour are barely ahead in the opinion polls and their Leader has failed to impress the public.

Support for the Lib Dems could revive, specially if they choose a new leader, or it might collapse further as it did in the Scottish Parliament Elections.

Despite the current collapse of support for the Lib Dems, the rise of UKIP means that it entirely possible both Conservatives and Labour could get a smaller share of the vote in 2015 than they did in 2010.

That is deeply worrying for a democracy. 

Some commentators are predicting another hung Parliament - it may be that the Lib Dems could do better in areas where they have MPs and that a  surge for UKIP could mean the Lib Dems holding on to or even winning seats they might otherwise lose.   To be honest, I think both of these scenarios are overplayed. Both might help the Lib Dems slightly, but unless the base level of support for the Party rises, they face a return to 20 or so MPs.  Frankly that isn't enough to be part of a coalition nor to hold the balance of power even in a hung Parliament.  A minority Government by Labour or Conservatives, probably with the tacit consent of the other would be a near certainty. For the Lib Dems having gone from 53 MPs 25 or less would be traumatic. To risk another coalition and another halving of their MPs would be madness.

So who will win the General Election - not the public, who may wake up to a "democratic dictatorship" elected by around 1/3 of those who voted and perhaps 1/5 of those entitled to vote.

Lead on Mac Duff

Watching Macbeth at Shakespeare's Globe in London was an amazing experience.  It is terrifying to think that without the First Folio, there would be no record of this play and no performances.

The production was brilliant, the genius of Shakespeare being that his plays can be refreshed and reinvented, this was certainly the case in this production.   It is slightly odd to realise how little time is given to the three Witches and Lady Macbeth yet their impact on the play is enormous.

The players were excellent, Macbeth in the David Tennant mould, the costumes of Shakespeare's time.

The drumming, music and dancing were a treat. The battle scenes dynamic, the ghost scene entirely memorable.  Two many superlatives and too little description on my part I fear.

The only disappointment was the program which far from being a souvenir was big on adverts, short on photos with none of the play itself, just a few early rehearsal pics.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

here comes a policeman, a big friendly Policeman PC McGary number 452

I suspect my introduction to the Police was the children's TV show Camberwick Green (see wikipeadia) and hence the song lyrics above.

I respect to the Police, I like the Police. I turn to them when in need and don't envy them for the job they do, but, since 1990 almost 1000 people have died in Police custody yet, not a single police officer has received a jail term as a result.

That is a bout one person a week dying in Police custody.  The issue is that the Police investigate themselves and the  Iindependent Police Complaints Authority  can drag investigations out for years on end.  The system need to change and soon.