Saturday, 31 January 2015

The man who knew too much - Alan Turing and the invention of the computer

A concise book about the life and achievements of Alan Turing - mathematician, enigma code breaker and key person in the invention of computers.

It was fascinating to find out how visionary Turing was. 

The tragedy and horror of Turing conviction and punishment for homosexuality is both shocking and disturbing.  That particular law was in place in the UK until 1968, that is within my lifetime.  Perhaps a few people ought to keep that in mind before propounding the idea that the UK is an untarnished beacon for the rest of the world.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Iain Dale predictions of seats the Lib Dems will win.

These are blogger Iain Dales predictions for the Lib Dem seats. I've annotated his words with my own view in bold and or brackets.

I think the LibDems can only be confident of winning 8 seats for definite. And these are…

Leeds North West
North Norfolk
Orkney & Shetland
Ross, Skye & Lochaber (Only so long as Charles Kennedy is candidate)
Sheffield Hallam
Westmorland & Lonsdale (Only because of Tim Farron)
Let me make it clear, I don’t believe the LibDems will only win 8 seats, but these are the only ones I reckon they can be 100% sure of winning.

These are the seats I reckon they can be 100% sure of losing…
Bradford East (to Lab)
Brent Central (to Lab)
Burnley (to Lab)
Manchester Withington (to Lab)
Norwich South (to Lab)
Redcar (to Lab)
Solihull (to Con)
So that’s only 7 seats I reckon the LibDems are dead certain to lose. Which means if you add those to the seats they are dead certain to win, there are 42 which are in doubt. They fall into three categories…
Argyll & Bute (SNP gain they got 50% in the Scottish Parl. elections to the Lib Dems 12%)
Bath (almost certain Lib Dem hold)
Bermondsey & Old Southwark
Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk
Bristol West
Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross
Cheltenham (almost certain Lib Dem hold)
Colchester (almost certain Lib Dem hold)
Edinburgh West (SNP gain)
Hazel Grove
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey (Could be lost to the SNP)
Kingston & Surbiton
North Devon
North East Fife
Southport (almost certain Lib Dem hold)
Thornbury & Yate (almost certain Lib Dem hold)
Birmingham Yardley (could stay Lib Dem on Ashcroft polls)
Cardiff Central
East Dunbartonshire
Hornsey & Wood Green

Berwick upon Tweed
Brecon & Radnorshire
Carshalton & Wallington
Eastbourne  (Looks like a Lib Dem hold based on Lord Ashcroft Polling)
Eastleigh    (More likely a Lib Dem hold or UKIP gain)
Mid Dorset & North Poole
North Cornwall
Portsmouth South
Somerton & Frome
St Austell & Newquay
St Ives
Sutton & Cheam (looks like a Lib Dem hold based on Lord Ashcroft Polling)
Taunton Deane
West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine

Gordon SNP Gain

Over all how did things stack up?
Dale predicts 8 Lib Dem definite, 20 Lib Dem probable holds,  7 certain losses and 21 probable losses.  Apart from switching 3 seats in Scotland to Lib Dem losses and 3 seats in England to Lib Dem holds and expecting the Lib Dems to hold onto one seats (perhaps not Birmingham Yardley but one of the 5) from Labour, I think we are in agreement, except at the moment I would put a further 8 Lib Dem seats as definite Conservative gains.
 Of course these are predictions as things stand and things could change. The Lib Dem poll rating could double before polling day- I can dream, can't I ?

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Labour promises

  1. Decent wages – by raising the minimum wage, promoting the living wage and tackling the gender pay gap

  2. Secure jobs now and in the future – by raising the quality of apprenticeships, ending zero hours contracts, and the stopping the exploitation of agency workers

  3. Rights at work – by building partnerships between workers and employers and reforming the employment tribunal system

  4. Saving our NHS – by repealing the Health and Social Care Act and recruiting 20,000 more nurses and 8000 more GPs, paid for by a tax on properties worth £2 million or more, by clamping down on tax avoidance schemes and by a levy on tobacco companies

  5. Helping with the bills – by freezing energy bills, scrapping the bedroom tax, introducing a cap on annual rail fare increases and providing 25 hours of free childcare for working parents with three and four-year-olds
One has to ask - who is this aimed at ? If  your not on minimum wage, if you haven't got 3or 4 year old children. If your not unhappy with your zero hour contract or apprenticeship and have not been dissatisfied by an industrial tribunal what is going to grab your attention and get you down the polling station to vote ?

Labour used to offer shopping list politics. A long list of pledges, not in any priority, each aimed to win other a particular interest group, little attempt at coherence or costing.   That was an awful approach, this seems to be the mirror image.    No doubt polling has told them the public want achievable realistic proposals not vague promises and grand gestures.   But one should always treat such opinion polls with care as they actually very misleading.

More importantly, as a vision for Britain, let alone a programme for Government 'capping annual rail fare increases' doesn't cut the mustard.

Where are the pledges for those wanting housing ? Why not just increase the minimum wage instead of this half way house of the 'living wage'? What are the specifics of crackdown on tax avoidance - presumably the same ones they let continue last time they were in Government ? Also it is not so much tax avoidance but tax allowances which need abolishing.

Harold Nicholson MP

Harold Nicholson by Norman Rose ISBN 0-224-06218-2

Harold Nicholson was a diplomat, politician, biographer, diarist, novelist, lecturer and broadcaster, journalist and gardener.  Never quite making it to the top rank, he never the less was a witness and participant in lot of events.

He is perhaps most remembered for his diaries, which published late in his life and edited by his son, he referred to them as three books he didn't realise he had written and the most successful of his forty books (actually he wrote nearer thirty books not forty)

He had an interesting career, being involved in the conference that followed the ending of WW1 and so worked with Lloyd-George.
His politics were very odd.  Essentially a Whig, the sort of Liberal Grandee who wants to improve the lot of the workers without actually having to have them round to dinner, he zig-zagged  from being a career Diplomat, then standing for Oswald Mosley's "New Party"  - which at the time was essentially a radical progressive off shoot of the Labour party promoting Keynesianism and public works to conquer unemployment.   In spirit it was very similar to the feeling in 1943-1945 when people started thinking if we can do all this in time of war - this organisation, this better treatment for the masses, we should do it in peace time too.

However Mosley soon started his move towards Fascism.  Harold was appointed editor of the New Party newspaper  'Action'. Harold contributed articles of high brow literary artistry such as one entitled "Lift high the Marigold" which perhaps didn't appeal to aspiring black shirts and  which probably explains why circulation plummeted from 160,000 to 15,000 in ten weeks.

He was personally loyal to Oswald Moseley but wrote in his dairies "He has no political judgement. He believes in fascism, I don't I loath it." Harold begged Mosley not to get involved in fascism, saying it was unsuitable for England and would be doomed to failure and ridicule.

Harold switched to the National Labour Party - those few people who followed Ramsey MacDonald into the National (coalition) Government.  National Labour was dying even as Harold was elected to Parliament at the 1935 General Election.  Harold could have easily ended up a Conservative MP had they offered him a seat (he did ask)  and was basically parachuted into as a coalition candidate in Leicester East in a move very much like being given a rotten Borough in the 1800's.

Harold himself recognised he was essentially an old style Whig and would have been more at home in the Liberal Party but recognised they were doomed  (if only he had spotted that with the New Party or National Labour!) although he was friends with Liberal Party Leader Archibald Sinclair.

As an MP Harold had a excellent record opposing appeasement and the rise of Fascism/Nazi's but outside of Foreign Affairs, his speciality, he struggled to make any impact and recognised himself he was unsuited to being an MP.  Harold was more a supporter of Anthony Eden, rather than Churchill. He knew Churchill but wasn't argumentative enough for Churchill tastes.

After a brief junior minister role in the Government, Harold was demoted to the backbenches and lost his seat in the 1945 general Election. Once again he looked around for a party, sending out feelers to Conservative and Labour. He threw in his lot with Labour and stood in a by-election, but soon regretted it. Really he wanted a seat in the House of Lords, politics without all those pesky constituents and elections but he managed to upset both Labour and Conservatives so that neither were inclined to nominate him.

Oddly (or perhaps more generously not unusual for someone of his times and background) Harold held   Typical of his views was that he hated black people but hated injustice and apartheid even more.   He hated anti-Semitism but disliked Jews and made anti-Semitic comments toward them.  He was derogatory about Turks, Arabs, Japanese and the "coloured races".
Trade Unionists were "ghastly" the working class and the middle class were pigeonholed as  "sheep" and "dumb idiots".  He at least felt uneasy knowing that he was asking for votes from people who's views he disagreed with and who would disagree with his views should they know them.   He fell out with Anthony Eden over Suez (or Suez fiasco as it is usually termed)

Ironically his son became a Conservative MP but was deselected for being far too Liberal for the deep blue constituency party in Bournemouth.

Harold private life is covered too.  As a homosexual man married to a Lesbian wife, Vita Sackville West they had a strange but loving relationship which worked for them in the times they live in.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

One in the eye for Harold

A great little book by Phil Mason taking on so well worn historical myths.

Some of my faves are:
The Vikings were mainly peaceful settlers not sacking monasteries
Far from being desolate - Hadrian's wall was surrounded by settlements and farms
Breaking the enigma code wasn't entirely positive as suing too much information would have given away the fact it had been broken and even when info was passed on commanders weren't told where information came from and couldn't trust it.
The constitution of the USA wasn't easily agreed by wise men but cobbled together, especially the amendments and the wild west wasn't very wild.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Give Blood

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Sunday, 11 January 2015

Last man standing - by Roger Moore

A very good collection of reminisces and tales form Roger Moore from across his acting career.
It had been wonderfully spoofed in Private Eye Magazine but it is genuinely self depreciating about himself and revealing about the many many stars he has met.

from the telegraph

Friday, 9 January 2015

Let the Green Party join the debate

There is an air of absurdity to the Ofcom ruling that the Green Party are not a major political party but UKIP are. 

Everyone seems to bring their own highly biased view of what should entitle a party leader to take part in a televised debate.  Usually it is the qualification that ensures their own favoured party has a place and cuts off another party.

To my mind, the key determinant should be the number of candidates a party is standing.  There was (and perhaps still is) a understanding that any party standing 50 candidates at a General Election is entitled to a party Political Broadcast.

The same principle should apply to the Leaders Debates.  Not to do so gives a catch 22 situation where a party, particularly a smaller party  is not given the opportunity to increase its support and then the failure to increase support is in turn is used as the justification for not giving it the Party the opportunity to increase support.

A change is going to come

So here's the scenario - the Conservatives get 30% of the vote and 280 seats Labour get 31% and 260 seats, the SNP 50 seats and UKIP (15), Lib Dems (25) and Northern Ireland (18) and others get 60 between them. (plus the speaker)
People notice that Labour got more votes than the conservatives but fewer seats, UKIP and the Greens got more votes than the Lib Dem and SNP but fewer seats.  Nearly 40% of people didn't vote Labour or Conservative yet they have less than 40 seats in England and Wales out of 572. 
The Conservatives as the party with the largest number of MPs forms a minority Government, the 70% who didn't vote for them  almost 85% of the electorate) get mightily pissed off.   The new Labour Leader, stuffed by FPTP in Scotland, claiming an moral election victory because of winning more votes for the Tories and despairing of winning a majority announces support for electoral reform.  Suddenly leaders of parties who got 70% of the vote want electoral reform. Alternate Vote has already been rejected so a proper proportional system is the only option.

when dreadful things happen

The awful and callous murder people in Paris in shocking and horrifying.  It is heart breaking to witness the actions of a few humans.

Almost all death is sad, these deaths in Paris seem particularly sad as they were so unnecessary.

We have to remember though that according to the World Health Organization, 56 million people die each year, which is an average of about 153,424 people each day.  The majority of people die peacefully but there will be many who die prematurely and often avoidably from murder, war, famine, unwanted illness or accident.

There are now over 7 billion people on the planet.  It may be horrific to say it, but billions of us could die and human life would go on.  What terrorist atrocity could ever

There are many responses to terrorist attacks - I think the best is for life to continue as normally as possible.  Ensure maximum help is given to the victims, their families, friends and communities affected but pay tribute to them by not dancing to the terrorist tune. Terrorism that doesn't inspire terror has failed.

music mestro please

Graham Nash said the magic of music was to write a song so personal everyone can relate to it.

Thanks to Jackson Browne, Suzanne Vega and Country Joe McDonald - you will never know how much you mean and meant to me but I am sure you would pleased if you knew.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Nostradamus - right again!

One of my favourite books - Nostradamus the end of the Millennium prophecies 1992-2001
on the front cover makes the prediction 1992 - George Bush Re-elected.  Good start as Bill Clinton was elected, not George Bush.

You might have missed the Californian Earthquake in 7.05pm on 8th May 1993  when San Diego disappeared beneath the Pacific Ocean. Worse than Krakatoa, masses of land from San Francisco in the North to the Lower California peninsula in the South are flooded and made useless. Los Angeles is destroyed, as is Hollywood - the geography of this part of the world will be permanently changed. A Tsuanmi (or more than on) hits Mexico but good news, after the quake the San Fransico Golden Gate Bridge is rebuilt.

Here are some other predictions that didn't happen:

Mrs Thatcher's re-election as Conservative Party leader in 1995, or indeed the Conservatives being in opposition in 1995.  (or is it 1996)

Aliens on television in 1998

Fraud destroys the Swiss financial system in 1995

War between Greece and Turkey 1994-1998

Israel defeated in war by her Arab Neighbours 1995-1998

The Coronation of King Charles in 1992-93

The ordination of the first women priests into the Church of England in 1995 (tough luck it happened in 1994 !)

The curing of all cancers by sound waves, the reversing of the aging process, need I go on ?

Predicting the General Election 2015

Predictions as all "psychics" know are best made after the event or with get out clauses or when stating the bleedin obvious.

However, by common consent the UK general election 2015 will be one of the most unpredictable for a long while - probably since 1945.

The most obvious prediction is a hung parliament - if the Conservatives failed to get a majority in 2010 against an unpopular Labour Party and unpopular Labour Prime Minister it is difficult to see how a grateful nation will reward five years of austerity and with more votes in 2015.

However, the British First past the post voting system makes predicting exact results very difficult if not impossible. A handful of votes  can quite literally change the result in a number of seats.
In 2015 we face the following swings and roundabouts.
a) The biggest change is likely to be in Scotland where on current trends the SNP is likely to win 50 or more of the 59 seats.  

b) The second change will be the near annihilation of the Liberal Democrats.  Currently with 57 MPs they are likely to lose the majority of them.   Some of these are the most difficult to predict. Lord Ashcroft has undertaken polls in many of the Lib Dem held seats (and a few they almost won)  on the ordinary voting intention question the Lib Dems where ahead in none of them - only when a second question asking people to think about their own constituency did the Lib Dems get back ahead  in some of the seats (more on this in another post) - taking an optimistic view the Lib Dems are currently set to lose 9 seats to the  Conservatives, 9 to Labour and 9 to the SNP.

c) Labour ought to be winning seats form the Conservatives - on current levels of Labour support the will do so.  Currenty they are on 34% to the Conservatives 31% compared to 29% and 36% respectively in 2010.

Fascinating when Labour got 28% of the vote cast in 1983 it got 209 MPs, 29% in 2010 netted then 258 MPs. The Liberal SDP Alliance got 26% of the vote in 1983 but got only 23 MPs.

d) UKIP is rather unpredictable - looking at the results from local and European elections and from constituency polls by Lord Ashcroft it is obvious that while UKIPP support is rather evenly spread, it does have some areas of strength.  Seemly these are based more on the demographics of the seat and  less on the amount of campaigning by UKIP. My hunch is that they will win about 12 seats mostly from the Conservatives but with a couple from Labour and the Lib Dems

e) The Green Party has only one MP and in unlikely to add many more - but in the increasingly fractured political system they could have the opportunity to establish themselves as a national force.  They outpolled the Lib Dem in the election for Mayor of London and in the European elections. They have wisely decided to target just a few seats - I suspect their best chance of a win is in Bristol. What could be crucial for their future success is their share of the vote.  Some opinion polls have hed them as high as 9 and 10% although 5-6% is more typical - 5-6% is  big improvement on the 2% they usually poll.