Tuesday, 31 December 2013

RIP - John Fortune

The death of John Fortune has been announced. John will be remembered as a satirist - but all too often all he did was explain the situation. He could have an audience in stitches just by reading out government policy.  He would point out how businessmen got golden hellos and golden goodbyes and thus needed further incentives to do any work.

My tapes of the Long Johns (John Bird and John Fortune) discussing the electoral system, the euro-fighter and banking are amongst my most treasured possessions.

I always wished that the Long Johns had been massive - confined largely to channel 4 they reached millions but should have reached so many more.  I don't know if telling the truth is satire - satire is much like parody with a purpose - whereas the world we live in is as one satirist famously said - beyond satire.

The free market - question mark

The ongoing saga of pemier league football clubs is a welcome antidote to those who rave about the laizaie faire economics and 'free markets'

Chelsea Football club for instance http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/25564078
reported a loss of £49.4 million for the last year. It has reported a loss for every year 2003 (and possibly before that) bar one with a tiny £1.4 million profit.

Advocates of the delusional free market view of the world that bussinesses are only motivated by profit and that consumers have power. Yeah right, if I don't get

And where did Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea football club get his money from - google it and find out. 

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Season of Reason

lieving in nonsense hurts people, and that's why James Randi and The James Randi Educational Foundation work hard to promote critical thinking and skepticism as a form of intellectual self defense.
2013 — the last twelve months were our most productive ever — is quickly coming to an end, and as you would expect, we are busy with our plans for 2014. But only with your help will we be able to continue battling unreason into the New Year.
We have only a few days left in our Season of Reason campaign to raise the support we’ll need to continue fighting the fakers and enabling people to defend themselves from paranormal and pseudoscientific scams. Please join with Randi and our team at the JREF as we stand up for reason and continue battling for you and other science-minded folks in the coming year.
Your contribution will enable us to:
  • Continue exposing paranormal and pseudoscientific frauds. Uniquely among organizations who oppose unreason, we challenge the James Van Praaghs and the quacks with our $1 Million prize for anyone who can prove a paranormal ability under fair conditions. And we put the million dollar prize on the line at live events like at TAM 2013.
  • Produce more free courses on scientific skepticism such as our 10 part video lecture series by Ray Hyman titled "How To Think About Dubious Claims" and companion course guide released in 2013.
  • Create and inspire the investigative spirit in a new generation of critical thinkers by providing more grants and free teaching resources to educators, scholarships for students, and free resources for the classroom and parents. In 2013 alone, the JREF published four new hands-on classroom educational kits available free for the asking.
  • Organize the world's leading annual skeptics conference, The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM) in Las Vegas, featuring the brightest thinkers and skeptics from around the world, in addition to numerous activist and educator training workshops. Nearly two million people viewed videos of JREF’s free educational sessions online from TAM and other JREF events in 2013.
  • Support the skeptical community and important grassroots consumer advocates who fight for the public’s right to know the real facts by producing workshops such as 2013's "Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia" featuring Susan Gerbic, and providing activist resources to promote skepticism at the local level.
  • Publish more books for the public on skepticism, such as the more than a dozen titles the JREF published in 2013 on Science Based Medicine topics like Homeopathy, Chiropractic, Acupuncture and "Eastern" Medicine, and more.
  • And spread the "good news" of critical thinking through educational and digital outreach initiatives including podcasts, online articles, videos, special reports, and mobile apps.
And I’m very happy to say that thanks to long-time supporter of the JREF’s important work, someone who recognizes that Randi and the JREF team are uniquely positioned to respond to harmful claims made by peddlers of paranormal nonsense plaguing society, all donations up to $100,000 through the end of the end of the year will be matched – dollar-for-dollar!
For a limited time, you have an opportunity to take your support of the JREF’s unique and valuable work and give it a boost — to make your end-year gift go twice as far. Make a donation today, and your impact will be doubled — but only if you contribute now.
For these reasons and more, I’m asking you to support the JREF at this critical time. I’ve been working since the late-1990's to help make the world a little saner, and inspired by Randi’s decades of successes, all of us at the JREF are dedicated, more than ever, to promoting skepticism to the public, and to providing reliable information about psuedoscience and the paranormal. I’ve honestly never been more optimistic about the future of this project in the public interest, and with your help I know we can continue to do amazing things for scientific skepticism.
D.J. Grothe
President, The James Randi Educational Foundation
P.S. – Please make your most generous donation today in order to double your gift to the JREF.
P.P.S. – We still have a very limited number of Randi’s special gift to especially generous supporters of the JREF this year -- a rare poster from his personal collection. Don't miss this very chance to have a very special gift from Randi – and to help the JREF keep going strong in the process!

Monday, 23 December 2013

some sense from a judge


why another round of council bashing

According to the motoring organisation, in 2012-13 local authorities in England made a "profit" of £594m from parking charges and penalty notices (after deducting running costs)

However, 52 of the 353 parking authorities across England reported a deficit.  And just 10 Councils account for £188 million of the 'profit'.  Which leaves the other 291 Councils sharing £406 million, an average of £1.395 million.  Lets take a rough estimate then that most councils make about £10 per resident from parking charges.  Oh the outrage !

It is surely no surprise that many of the Councils with the biggest take form parking are also renown for low council tax levels - Westminster £39.7m, Kensington and Chelsea £30.44m, Hammersmith and Fulham £19.39m, Wandsworth £15.89m.

There seems to be an unspoken assumption that councils charging for parking are ripping off motorists.   But really - what people should think is that if councils didn't charge for parking and penalty notices they would either have to raise the money some other way or cut spending.  Secondly, they should think that it is good councils can manage assets on behalf of the community at a profit.  Car parks don't belong to councils but to residents who elect the councils.    Thirdly, when I think of Brighton - one of the top chargers, I also think of what it would be like if charges were lower and penalty notices not enforced.  Yes I wince a bit if I park in Brighton - but it makes me more likely to come in by train or bus or car share to avoid the charges. If people could park all day for a £1 - a few would be able to but most would find the spaces permanently occupied.  Traffic would grind to a halt as people park on double yellow lines or worse. 

So come on RAC - stop the council bashing.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Paddy Ashdown - lessons for the Lib Dems

Re-reading Paddy Ashdown's auto-biography, I am struck by the lessons for the Lib Dems.

Paddy was rightly keen on taking the Lib Dems into Government - but he made a number of decisions that the Lib Dems now would do well to ponder.
Firstly, he predicted that the smaller party in a coalition almost always comes off worse - hence a change in the voting system to proportional representation was essential to protect the Liberal Democrats.  On this I think even Paddy underestimates the problem with First Past the Post - which is one of mind set - there is always the desire amongst many in a party for one more election where the random effect of FPTP will throw up a single party Government of a party getting little more than 1 in three votes  - under PR, parties know the go it alone Government is much more unlikely.

Secondly Paddy decided that in the event of a coalition he would not take a cabinet post for himself - leaving himself free to promote the Liberal Democrats.

Thirdly Paddy lists Tony Blairs own view in 1997 of what would make him a Prime Minister of lasting impact like Margaret Thatcher.  1. Ending the schism between Labour and the Liberals 2. Changing the relationship with the EU with  the UK engaging constructively with the EU  3. Narrowing the gap between rich and poor.  On all three areas Tony Blair must be judged a failure.  The co-operation with the liberal was soon blocked by Blair, Brown and Prescott. The people of Britain have become more euro-phobe rather than euro enthusiasts and the gap between rich and poor widened to record levels.  Constitutional reform, the one area that bored Blair and in which he had no interest has been his lasting legacy - along with the disaster of war in Iraq. 

Lib Dems need to ponder what policy concessions they have secured that will truly be of any significance in 5 years, let alone 20. On constitutional reform - Nick Cleggs special responsibility, nothing has been achieved - unless you really want to count police and crime commissioners.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Oliver twist asked for more these days he'd have to ask for firsts :-(


Speaking to my father the other day, he said considering the Governments approach to welfare for young people he wouldn't be surprised if they soon suggested bringing back work houses.  He is old enough to remember when they were still around.  A few years back I would have dismissed such concerns as unfounded, these days all I think it would take is an opinion poll in the Daily Mail and ministers would be drawing up proposals.

Friday, 6 December 2013

What the European Convention on Human rights actually says on right to a family life

Right to respect for private and family life
1Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.