Saturday, May 22, 2010

A hand bag ??!!

"The Guardian" published a general paper from the All Souls, Oxford fellowship exam. It's a gruelling test that Keith Joseph passed and Hilaire Belloc failed, so it's not a perfect gauge of a person's worth.

You write an essay on three from a list of 34 topics. Here's my attempt, which probably shows I'm more suited to be a fellow at Ar Souls, rather than All Souls.

Q1 : "Is it immoral to buy a £10,000 handbag ?"

No. Not at all. As long as it's your ten grand, this is as close to a win-win situation as you will find in economics. The purchaser gets something that will impress other rich, selfish idiots and the seller gets £10,000. Selfish and stupid, but not actively immoral.

By the way, I love the choice of a handbag as an example here. Is it possible that most fellowship candidates will be male and unlikely to understand the utility of spending anything on a handbag ? And will they see that spending several billion on Trident and several tens of millions on a football player are much worthier subject for criticism ?

Wonder how many expensive paintings All Souls has on the walls, and yet they can only afford to sponsor two fellowships per year? Hmmm.

Q30 : Is string theory science ?

Yes - it's what scientist do, so it's science. Repeatable experiments are for wimps.

But I do think their time would be better spent working on a beetle that eats everything in a suburban garden that doesn't taste good in a pie.

Q29 : Why "hug a hoodie"?

(1) So his whole posse will laugh at him and call him a batty boy, innit.
(2) For warmth

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I'm not drunk occifer, I've only had ti martwonis.

It has been illegal since 1925 in the UK to drive a vehicle while drunk. It wasn't until 1967 however that anyone bothered to say exactly how drunk.

The Road Safety Act of that year introduced the first legal maximum blood alcohol drink driving limit of 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood and there was some good science to suggest that, in the absence of something extraordinary, this equated to 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath or 107 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine.

The breathalysers available in 1967 were pretty basic and involved crystals changing colour (see below), so they didn't provide an acceptable quality of evidence. There was also a lot of discussion of civil liberties and the pub landlords went ballistic. To cut a long story short, it wasn't until 1983 and the introduction of the Lion Intoximeter that we ended up with the procedure we know and love today.

As a sop to those who distrusted the breath tests, the Act of 1981 introduced an option that anyone who blew under 50 could ask for an allegedly more accurate blood or urine test. The police choose the method - either get a police doctor to come and take blood or measure the alcohol content of the second of two urine samples given within one hour.

All this is fine - but after a quarter century, surely we trust the breath technology enough by now to dispense with this ?

Can you guess what happens if the doctor can't find a vein and the accused can't wee twice in an hour ?

Let's just say that lawyers get rich and Magistrates lose the will to live and the accused still gets their ban.

Scientific Footnote

1967 breath test - Orange-yellow crystals of a mixture of sulphuric acid and potassium dichromate in a tube turn to blue-green chromium sulphate and colourless potassium sulphate when the mixture reacts with alcohol breath. Check the colour by eye - if blue then naughty; if very blue then very naughty.

Modern breath test - the breathalyser has a platinum anode which acts as a catalyst to cause the alcohol in the person's breath to oxidise into acetic acid. In the process, the alcohol molecules lose electrons, producing an electric current, which is proportional to the amount of alcohol in the breath.

An accurate ammeter will give you a more accurate reading than checking crystals against a colour chart.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Florence + The Machine @ Blackpool

I went to an awesome gig at the Blackpool Winter Gardens. It was 1982, I was 16 and Ultravox blew the walls down.

I went to an awesome gig at the Blackpool Winter Gardens. It was yesterday, I was 43 and Florence + The Machine blew the walls down, set fire to the roof and stomped up and down on the ruins.

Her voice is miraculous, her stagecraft is compelling and her backing band really know what they're about. The live version of "Girl With One Eye" was Edgar Allen Poe scary and the singing, whooping and bouncing rendition of "Rabbit Heart" had the energy of a military coup.

Totally faultless and I can't see how she can possibly improve, but by jingo I'm looking forward to watching her try.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

All Governments are Coalition Governments

The title pretty well says all I want to say. There seems to be so much fear that a Lib-Con or Lib-Lab-Green-SDLP-SNP-Acronym alliance will be in some way inferior to single-party rule.

Think about it though - the Labour party is composed of many feuding groups and contains characters like Frank Field and Dennis Skinner whose views bear little or no resemblance to Peter Mandelson's. On the Tory side, anyone who spots a similarity between David Davis and Zak Goldsmith deserves a prize.

The point is that they put their differences aside when they have to and co-operate where they can. Sounds very much like a coalition government to me.

Vote Stan.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Wake Up and Smell the Chaos

I did say I wanted all the political parties to lose, and blow me if that wasn't the way things worked out. Cameron missed an open goal, Brown took a kicking and Clegg did some step-overs but didn't do much of anything with the ball. A three-way nil-nil-nil no-score-draw, and now it's time for extra time and penalties, with the potential for a replay.

Stanetta wanted to watch my "The West Wing" box-sets now that she's old enough, and we've just finished watching all seven series together. I like to compare the deadlocked Democratic convention in series six with the current Lib-Lab-Con fatal embrace. Somebody is going to have to talk to somebody and work it out.

Vote Stan.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Overthrowing the Government

Yes, I'm the kind of geek who will sit up all night watching the election results come in. This year I'm not particularly struck by any of the parties involved and I've ended up voting for the one I feel the least contempt for. It's like watching Manchester United vs Chelsea - you desperately want them all to lose.

The Conservative candidate in my constituency has been MP for the last 8 years and is likely to remain so for the next 40 years if he so desires. Despite this, his leaflets try to make out out that he is the "Change" candidate. If he wants change so much, maybe I should give him 50p and tell him to clear off.

Vote Stan.

Some random points to bulk this out

  • The yellow "Vote LibDem" signs look too much like speed cameras
  • I had Bakewell pudding and custard for breakfast this morning
  • Saw this amazing Anne Stevenson poem on the Tube - love the way that no word can sensibly be swapped and that no punctuation is optional.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Attention Music Buffs

I think Usher's "OMG" is ripping off the bass line from Savage Garden's "To the Moon & Back", but I'm not enough of a musicologist to make it stand up in court.

Anyone else suspicious, or do they just share one of the limited number of tonic-dominant bass lines available ?

Knicker Crime

I got a nice letter from the chairman of the magistrates' Training and Development Committee basically confirming that my recent appraisal hadn't shown up any signs of open bigotry or senility and that it wasn't yet time to cart me off to the Rest Home for Befuddled Former Magistrates. Not for another three years anyway.

In other magistrate news, there was an outbreak of sanity in Bedford when the District Judge decided that it was not in the public interest to prosecute someone for having trousers so low that you could see their pants. The Telegraph, fairly typically, doesn't pass up an opportunity to snipe at the Human Rights Act - I'd like to think the DJ decided that it was just no part of his job to be Fashion Police.

I have however sat with not a few reactionary magistrates who might have nodded along with this, and then would have attempted to impose an additional haircut and National Service requirement.

Personally, I'm in favour of this gentlemen having low slung trousers - it'll slow him down next time he has to run away from the police.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Lost - The Plot

Oi ! You ! The script writers on "Lost" - I'm coming to get you.

Yes, I know you've finished writing it and the final series is airing on Sky just now. But this gizmo on a my head is a hydrogen bomb rigged to explode on impact so I'm hoping to break the time-barrier and make you change some stuff when I come down there and head-butt you.

Do I have your attention ? Good - I only have a few perfectly reasonable issues.

Firstly, quit putting in new twists before you've resolved some of the old ones. After a while there's no drama - you just shrug and think "Oh that bowl of mushroom soup hasn't been explained. I'll bet we won't hear a word about it for twenty episodes and then it'll fall on someone's mother's bodyguard's sister's head for no good reason."

Secondly, characters. If you will insist on gratuitously introducing new ones, you dilute even the comic-book paper-thin characters we almost care about. Best to work on the basis of one-in, one-out. And when you kill one off, make sure they damn well stay dead.

And thirdly, totally ignore me. I'm just a guy with a nuclear bomb on his head. What you do is totally marvellous - do you really have to stop after series 6 ?