Tuesday, January 26, 2010

One Cheer for the Economy ... Hip Hip !

The UK economy grew at 0.1% in the final quarter of 2009. Wow - anyone feeling giddy ? Scream if you want to go faster...

The media (and the government) seem to think it's a big deal, but let's get a sense of proportion.

If I were to grow at 0.1% in the next 3 months, this would equate to a gain in height of less than 2mm and a weight gain of 100g. In other words, the difference between having a number 1 haircut and a number 2 haircut and the weight of half a cup of sugar.

And anyway, unless the economy grows faster than the population then we're not actually any better off. And according to the World Bank, UK population grew by 0.65% over 2008, which suggests a quarterly population growth of 0.16%

Whoops. We've all got a slightly smaller slice of a not-much-bigger pie.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Orange makes Stan see Red

My mobile phone company wrote to me recently :-

"Dear Stan,

We've been asking Orange customers what they want from a credit card.
The feedback was loud and clear."
Here's what my loud and clear feedback would have been if they'd bothered asking me :-

"What the flippy heck are you doing asking us about credit cards?? If you've got some time on your hands you should be improving your rotten customer care and billing systems or your slightly iffy network coverage in Stanshire.

No, I do not want an Orange credit card - for the same reason that I don't want a Bradford & Bingley mobile phone.

Now get back to work, and the next time you contact me the message had better be about mobile phones, preferably containing the words 'free' and 'upgrade' '"

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

We Meet Again, Mr Coyle

The duty of the underdog is to fight. An underdog that doesn't fight is a sheep, placidly waiting for the bolt-gun. Even though the situation seems hopeless, you've got to find some way to compensate for your lack of numbers or unpromising location.

If nothing else, if you're going to take a beating it's some consolation to know that you had them worried for a while there.

History (and mythology) is full of cases where the outsider makes a fight of it and sometimes even wins :-
  • Spartans vs Persians, Thermopylae, 480 B.C.
  • David 1 Goliath 0, Valley of Elah, 1067 B.C.
  • Wimbledon 1 Liverpool 0, Wembley, 1988 A.D.
In fact let's stop the list there - most of the other examples I can think of are football-related and this is the point I'm taking so long to get to.

A mathematician using Utility Theory would say that a 10% chance of a win is only half as desirable as a 60% chance of a draw, and that a defeat has absolutely no value at all.

To a fan of an unfashionable football team (Bolton Wanderers, say), this kind of arithmetic doesn't work at all. They demand that their team fight for that win and if they've tried and failed gloriously, then there's even some pleasure to be had in defeat.

This wasn't the way Gary Megson saw it. The not-lamented former Bolton manager never had the fans' taste for giving it a go and so ultimately he had to go. I personally was almost physically sick in his last game when he took off our star striker and brought on a so-called Utility Midfielder. As in "as much utility as a chocolate ashtray".

I even enjoyed watching the slightly new Bolton lose 2-0 on Sunday. Cesc Fabregas was freakishly excellent and there were ten others nearly as good and just as expensive in the Arsenal team. But Bolton played with an untypical lack of restraint and might just have fluked it. And the fans responded to this and made more positive noise than I've heard at the Reebok in some years.

Interesting that Owen Coyle has taken over as manager. When I lived in Glasgow and was a season ticker holder at the ultimate underdog Partick Thistle in the early 1990's, Owen Coyle, whether playing for Airdieonians or Dundee United, always seemed to be there to knock us down and out.

In fact, he was the reason I almost dropped Stanetta when she was one month old in 1996, walking around our bedroom in the dark listening to the relegation play-off final against Dundee United on the radio. When Owen Coyle scored the winner in extra time, I just about managed to hang onto my baby's ankle, although I think my inhuman moan of despair may have woken her up.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Better the Doofus you Know

The hero of Stephen Fry's book "Making History" sends a male contraceptive pill back in time and makes Adolf Hitler's dad infertile. The theory was that by making sure Adolf Hitler never existed, millions of people would be spared the mayhem of war and holocaust that he caused.

What then happened though was that a different, less mad, more able man led the Nazis to victory in Europe in the 1940's and on to a lasting world domination that changed our hero's past and present very much for the worse.

I was reminded of this when I read about the government banning the organisation Islam4UK.

I actually wish they hadn't done this - Islam4UK's actions and opinions are monstrous, but they are almost comically incompetent and impotent. They have zero PR ability and are led by a failed medical student who supports his family on State Benefits. The man is so dim that he fails to see the contradiction involved in taking money from a State that he doesn't want anything to do with.

Can you imagine a situation where instead of this bunch of stroppy mammy's boys, an extreme Islamic organisation was formed that was led by someone of more substance. Imagine a man (not a woman, infidel) who was filled with something more than just lazy hatred and ambition. Imagine someone capable of building an organisation that was intelligent, well-funded, coherent and media-savvy.


Society's best defence is actually the incompetence of its enemies. For example, Glasgow Airport was only saved because the car bomber didn't realise his jeep was too big to ever fit through the door. And the BNP will never prosper with a voter-repellent like Nick Griffin in charge.

Organisations like Islam4UK are never going to change anything and we shouldn't indulge Mr Choudary's ego by banning it.Being a member of a banned organisation is actually a little bit cool and there's a danger of making it more attractive to disaffected youth.

Better instead to charge them whenever they break the law (which they did) and to take any spare opportunity to look them in the eye, point at them and laugh.

Ha ha. Silly name "Islam4UK" anyway. Don't they realise there isn't anything more decadent and Western that using textspeak.


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

We Don't Need No ...

Some children skip school and their parents are committing a criminal offence if they encourage it, allow it or don't seem to be trying terribly hard to stop it.

Middle-class parents taking exotic holidays in term-time definitely wouldn't agree, but they are every bit as guilty of this as the poor parents with chaotic lives who can't or won't stop their offspring bunking off.

In this Information Age, if the kid is AWOL once, the school will telephone, write, email, twitter, poke and/or text the parents to make sure they are aware.

If the truanting continues, the school's pastoral staff of teachers and civilians will get into the act and if necessary would work with the family to resolve any of the billion possible underlying reasons.

Eventually a face-to-face will be set up to discuss needs and responsibilities and agree a way forward. If that doesn't work out and the child keeps absenting themselves, the Local Education Authority can issue a Fixed Penalty Notice - almost identical to the one you would get for littering. They've tried the Carrot of social work and now it's time for the Stick of costing real money.

Guess where the parents who don't pay the fixed penalty end up?

Not a very pleasant experience for anyone involved. Not for the skint single mum who just wanted everyone to leave her alone. Not for the teachers called as witnesses. And certainly not for this Magistrate who suspected inadequacy rather than malice here and would much rather spend his time dealing with genuinely bad people rather than acting as some kind of school prefect.

But hey, there has to be a final sanction or else the system is toothless and this wonderful compulsory education system becomes optional and kids run around unsupervised. This lady's already meagre benefits will now be short by £5 for the next couple of years and I don't feel great about that, but she did have dozens of opportunities to sort this and she passed up every one.

I know my first instinct was that this was a waste of Magistrate time, but actually this couldn't be more crucial. After all, what are the best three ways of reducing crime ?

Education. Education. And Education.