Not Saussure

June 5, 2007

The death of the author

Filed under: Uncategorized — notsaussure @ 11:15 pm

Via The Flying Rodent’s comments the Postmodernism Essay Generator. Just click the refresh button every so often.


Binge drinking and citizenship

Filed under: Politics, UK — notsaussure @ 9:09 pm

Two pieces of apparently unrelated — other than that they annoyed me — news that maybe have a bit more in common than at first I thought.

First, the BBC reports:

Health minister Caroline Flint denied they were targeting “middle-aged, middle-class hardened drinkers”, but said: “There are people, adults, who on a very regular basis are probably drinking twice the amount that is recommended.”

Just so we’re clear what that means, the Department of Health tell us that

men should not regularly drink more than 3 – 4 units of alcohol per day, and women should not regularly drink more than 2 – 3 units of alcohol per day.

and produces a handy chart so we may calculate what this means.

According to the chart, ‘A 175ml glass of red or white wine [represents] around 2 units.’ Now, I have no real idea what a 175ml glass looks like, but a bottle of wine is normally 750ml, so that means there are 4.28 of them to a bottle. So according to my calculations, a woman who regularly splits a bottle of wine over dinner at home with her partner is already getting pretty close to twice the recommended daily amount, and if she accompanies this with a decent sized pre-prandial sherry or gin and tonic, she’s well over twice the recommended daily amount and thus, according to HMG, a regular ‘binge drinker.’

While I’m sure we’re all grateful to

Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker [who apparently] added: “It is unacceptable for people to use alcohol and urinate in the street, vomit and carry on,”

(he gets paid £90,000 a year to tell us this sort of thing), that’s not normally the behaviour I associate with women who’ve had half a bottle of wine and a couple of sherries of an evening. Presumably the women with whom I tend to socialise must be such hardened topers that they seem to take such excess in their stride (though obviously it wouldn’t be a good idea to drive after drinking that).

I’m not completely sure why I find this sort of thing so irritating; I hardly ever drink myself, on medical advice, so it’s not because I have a vested interest. Maybe, in fact, that’s part of it. My GP, whom I trust far more than I do any government minister, and who certainly knows considerably more about me than do they (though, of course, that may change with all these databases that are being set up in our own best interests), put it to me that, for various reasons, I had choice between stopping drinking and dying considerably sooner than I might otherwise expect. She also — and this, I think, is the important bit — treated me like an adult, explaining exactly why this was a particular problem for me and saying, in terms, ‘it’s entirely up to you what you decide to do about my advice, but you do need to know the consequences so you’re making an informed decision.’

The government, though, seem to prefer to treat us like children to be lectured and cajoled. By all means provide sensible medical advice, though I for one would rather have it from my GP rather than this broad-brush approach from ministers. But then, it’s surely up to people what they do with their lives; obviously we want to discourage people from getting falling down drunk in the street, but this isn’t what Caroline Flint seems to be talking about. The government seems determined — with, I’m sure, the best possible motives (which always alarms me) — to intrude more and more into our private lives.

This expansion of government interest is, I realise, one of the many things that so irritated me about another piece of ministerial nonsense, the proposal from Ruth Kelly and Liam Byrne to have a ‘citizenship day’ and give would-be citizens credits for doing voluntary work and the like. The great thing about voluntary work, it seems to me, is that is something people do because they think it’s important; it’s people getting together and deciding, of their own initiative, that here is something worth doing. No one makes them do it and the government doesn’t tell them how they ought to be doing it. Involve the government and it seems to me that voluntary work becomes an unpaid arm of the state. Indeed, there’s some voluntary work that seems to annoy the government no end; we’ve several times been told, as I recall, that supporting rough-sleepers (rather than trying to get them into hostels) is a bad idea, and I get the impression that some work some people do supporting asylum seekers isn’t always as greatly appreciated by Liam Byrne as it might be.

One of the things that I recall astonished the Mayor’s Office in St Petersburg back in the early ’90s — and, which once they’d got their heads round the concept, they thought was absolutely brilliant — was our idea of charities and community organisations doing things themselves, rather than — as had been the case under communism — the state and the party organising everything. The idea, for example, that people would actually undertake first-aid training, join the St John’s Ambulance and help provide support at sporting events because this was what they wanted to do rather than because it got them kudos with the local party was revolutionary. Seems to me that we’re in danger of losing that in this creeping nationalisation of just about everything; it’s as if state control of the economy is out, so the state has to find some other way of making our lives better for us, whether we want them to or not.

It’s enough to drive you to drink.

June 4, 2007

Don’t try this at home

Filed under: Uncategorized — notsaussure @ 9:17 pm

Via Boing Boing.

Chap in America –where else — buys a taser as a present for his wife. He thinks to himself,

if I was going to give this thing to my wife to protect herself against a mugger, I did want some assurance that it would work as advertised. Am I wrong?

So, there I sat in a pair of shorts and a tank top with my reading glasses perched delicately on the bridge of my nose, directions in one hand, and taser in the other. The directions said that a one-second burst would shock and disorient your assailant; a two-second burst was supposed to cause muscle spasms and a major loss of bodily control; a three-second burst would purportedly make your assailant flop on the ground like a fish out of water. Any burst longer than three seconds would be wasting the batteries.

All the while I’m looking at this little device measuring about 5″ long, less than 3/4 inch in circumference, (pretty cute really and loaded with two itsy, bitsy triple-A batteries) thinking to myself, “No possible waaay!”

What happened next is almost beyond description, but I’ll do my best…..I’m sitting there alone, [my cat,] Gracie looking on with her head cocked to one side as if to say, “Don’t do it Master.” Reasoning that a one-second burst from such a tiny little ole thing couldn’t hurt all that bad….I decided to give myself a one-second burst just for the heck of it. I touched the prongs to my naked thigh, pushed the button, and … HOLY MOTHER ..WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION…@!@$$!%!@*!!!

I’m pretty sure Jessie Ventura ran in through the side door, picked me up in the recliner, then body slammed us both on the carpet, over and over and over again. I vaguely recall waking up on my side in the fetal position, with tears in my eyes, body soaking wet, both nipples on fire, testicles nowhere to be found, my left arm tucked under my body in the oddest position, and tingling in my legs. The cat was standing over me making meowing sounds I had never heard before, licking my face, undoubtedly thinking to herself, “Do it again, do it again!”

Update: Boing Boing have now updated their story with the warning it may be apocryphal. Here’s Snopes’ take on it. Made me laugh, though, true or not.

That Olympic brand

Filed under: Uncategorized — notsaussure @ 7:39 pm

Olympic Logo

Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell said: “This is an iconic brand that sums up what London 2012 is all about – an inclusive, welcoming and diverse Games that involves the whole country.

“It takes our values to the world beyond our shores, acting both as an invitation and an inspiration.

“This is not just a marketing logo, but a symbol that will become familiar, instantly recognisable and associated with our Games in so many ways during the next five years.”

Despite this, the new logo brand for the London Olympics seems to be causing a degree of ribald hilarity. For the considered professional opinion of a graphic designer, see The Devil’s Kitchen. The Thunderdragon, Mr Eugenides and Tim Worstall are also among those on the case (though Tim is apparently confused by references to Lisa Simpson in all this).

Meanwhile, Theo Spark has put his animation skills to good use:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Update: The Telegraph isn’t too impressed, either;

Mesmerised as if confronting a nasty incident in traffic, we gaze at the Olympic logo. It is a puerile mess, an artistic flop and a commercial scandal.

though I still think Mr Spark demonstrates that a picture is worth a thousand words, at least in this case.

GoatseBBCUPDATE 2: user The Coast of Yemen aka Sean Stayte, managed to get this Goatse variant onto the BBC news website. The BBC pulled the picture shortly after Boing Boing publicised his little joke, but not before it had been broadcast on national TV.

UPDATE 3: (Via Mr Eugenides)

A segment of animated footage promoting the 2012 Olympic Games has been removed from the organisers’ website after fears it could trigger epileptic fits.

Prof Graham Harding, who developed the test used to measure photo-sensitivity levels in TV material, said it should not be broadcast again.

Charity Epilepsy Action said it had received calls from people who had suffered fits after seeing it.

Brown, intercept evidence and disclosure

Filed under: civil liberties, Law, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 7:07 pm

Craig Murray, our sometime man in Tashkent, sounds a note of warning about Gordon Brown’s proposal to allow intercept or wire-tap evidence in terrorism cases.

He writes,

The concern [in the Home Office] is that intercept evidence might be more helpful to the defence than the prosecution. Where communication intercepts are used, as in the USA, the laws of evidence are that the prosecution must make complete disclosure of all the wiretaps made. The defence can then search this for evidence that points to innocence.Compare this to the situation that operates with control orders, or indefinite house arrest without trial. Here the prosecution just feeds to the judge (no jury) an isolated snippet of information from “intelligence”, reflecting not a whole picture but just the security services’ interpretation. Judges tend to be impressed by this “Top Secret” stuff.

To let the defence at raw intercepts threatens the intelligence services’ greatest lever of power – their monopoly of interpretation of raw data. Even Ministers, or Ambassadors as I was, don’t get the raw data, but a “Report” summarising, interpreting and selectively quoting.

In criminal cases in general, there are pretty complicated rules on ‘disclosure’ that are supposed to make sure the defence gets to see anything that may be relevant to the case, and in particular anything that may strengthen the defence or weaken the prosecution. And, most of the time, the defence can ask to see — and often insist on seeing — anything that’s been turned up during the investigation even if the prosecution don’t think it’s in any way relevant.

Now, according to Craig Murray, he’s been told by a friend of his who’s still in the senior civil service that

the proposal being considered by the Home Office is this – that the defence should not be allowed access to all the material from wiretaps of the accused. The prosecution would have to disclose in full only the conversation, or conversations, being directly quoted from. The security services are prepared to go along with that, and the Home Office believe that the public demand for wiretap evidence to be admissible will drown out any protests from lawyers. We will be told the Security Services are not staffed to cope with fuller disclosure.You read it here first. As my friend put it: “You see, in the minds of the Home Office, justice equals more convictions.

If this turns out to be the case, then it’s really rather sinister; it’s the equivalent to the defence only getting to see those witness statements that support the prosecution or, indeed, not getting to see the complainant’s past history of making false allegations. A good recipe, in other words, for miscarriages of justice.

Murray also raises the possibility that, slightly further down the line, doubts will be raised about the propriety of letting juries see some intercept evidence because of its security classification and that, a year or so from now, we’ll be seeing a move to introduce Diplock Courts in terrorism cases.

I don’t know about this, but it’ll certainly bear watching carefully when the detailed proposals are finally announced.

June 3, 2007

The Weird Converter

Filed under: Uncategorized — notsaussure @ 11:53 pm

People will doubtless be aware that you can do conversions using the Google Calculator,and some rather strange conversions it’ll do, too; the speed of light, for example, is apparently 5.36493304 × 109furlongs per hour (a useful piece of information, as I’m sure most people would agree).

However, Google does have its limitations. Until now, people wanting know, for example, the weight of an average Blue Whale expressed in terms of average African Elephants or the weight of a male Polar Bear expressed in terms of average American women* have found little assistance. I am delighted, therefore, to have discovered The Weird Converter, via Boing Boing, which which will perform these, and many more, strange conversions. It does some equally surreal ones with length.

*One Blue Whale = 28.8649690480 Elephants; one Polar Bear = 6.0773480663 American women.

EU considers banning smoking in the open air

Filed under: EU — notsaussure @ 4:58 pm

Blimey! OK, it’s only a proposal ‘signalling a first move,’ which presumably means they hadn’t got anything better to do with their time than dream this up to consider it at length before rejecting it, and even ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) think it’s unnecessary, but really...

If European officials get their way, the beleaguered smoker’s last refuge – a useful source of office gossip, though decidedly chilly in winter – will be swept away under the expansion of smoking ‘exclusion zones’.The EU is now considering a proposal signalling the first move to limit smokers’ right to puff away outdoors. It states that, as well as a ban on lighting up in all workplaces and public buildings across Europe: ‘Restrictions could also be extended to outdoor areas around entrances to buildings and possibly to other outdoor public places where people sit or stand in immediate proximity to each other, such as open air stadiums and entertainment venues, bus shelters, train platforms etc.’

I wonder if whoever in the Commission who came up with this is, in fact, a closet Euro-sceptic who wants to make the organisation as unpopular as possible.

Stats and moral panic

Filed under: Panic, Spin, Stats — notsaussure @ 4:05 pm

This, I’m afraid, repeats a discussion we’ve been having at Casa Worstall, but I thought it worth rehearsing here as an example of how statistics get twisted. I’m not trying to minimise the problem at all — we deal with it in the courts with depressing frequency — but it seems to me that there’s no point in exaggerating a problem by misreading what a report actually says.

Tim quotes Minette Marin in the Sunday Times:

Incredible though it may seem, there are hundreds of thousands of paedophiles living among us, perhaps next door or on the next floor. That, at least, is the estimate of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and nobody has seriously questioned its research. According to the NSPCC, 16% of all women and 7% of all men interviewed said they had been physically sexually abused before they were 12. That would amount to one in nine children.

These alarming figures come from Cawson et al., 2000, Child Maltreatment in the UK: A Study of the Prevalence of Child Abuse and Neglect, NSPCC. This isn’t available on-line, but an executive summary is, so let’s see what they have to say about Sexual abuse:

Numbers of respondents recording sexual activity with relatives which were against their wishes or with a person 5 or more years older, were very small: 3% reported touching or fondling and the same proportion had witnessed relatives exposing themselves. The other categories of oral/penetrative acts or attempts, and voyeurism/pornography were reported by 1%. Much larger numbers had experienced sexual acts by non relatives, predominantly by people known to them and by age peers: boy or girlfriends, friends of brothers or sisters, fellow pupils or students formed most of those involved.

The money quote, really, is right at the end of this section of the summary:

When respondents with experience of sexual acts as defined above were asked if they considered their treatment to have been sexual abuse, 6% of the total sample considered they had been sexually abused. There was overlap with the research defined abuse for those abused by relatives but much less so for others.

So that’s 6% — which is one in 16.7 rather than one in 9 — who actually ‘said they had been physically abused’. Still alarmingly high, perhaps, but not 1 in 9.

Furthermore, that’s 6% of the whole survey group — children up to the age of 16. I’m not completely certain, but I think what Minette Marin’s done is misunderstood the figures given in the section on ‘prevalence of abuse’, which is admittedly rather confusingly written, since it’s not at all clear when the figures refer to abuse in the sense of sexual activity between someone under 12 and someone 5 or more years older, whether ‘consensual’ or not, and when they refer to non-consensual sexual activity with ‘age peers: boy or girlfriends, friends of brothers or sisters, fellow pupils or students,’ and I think that to get 1 in 9 you have to do some double counting.

As I say, though, it’s clear from the summary overall that by far the greatest amount of ‘abuse’ as reported here comprises non-consensual sexual activity and sexual assaults by children of roughly the same age; and while there are all sorts of terms one might justifiably apply to a 14-year-old boy who sticks his hand down his 13-year-old girlfriend’s knickers without her permission, or grabs hold of a class-mate’s breasts, ‘paedophile’ isn’t one of them.

BlogPower Awards

Filed under: Blogroll — notsaussure @ 9:45 am

Via James Higham, the first BlogPower Awards. Nominations accepted for, and from, everyone — you don’t have to be a member of BlogPower to nominate or vote and, apart from obvious categories, you can nominate whoever you want to — BlogPower blogs, non-BlogPower blogs and MSM blogs and columns.

James writes:

We came into being as Blogpower precisely because we were sick to death of major bloggers swamping awards ceremonies, where the nominations for those awards were slanted and anything but transparent.Not this time! Every day until Tuesday evening, at 21:00, London time, a revised ‘state-of-play’ will be posted on how people are thinking about the nominations in each category.

Categories — with a couple of pleasingly bitchy ones, I see — are

  • Best Britblog or Column
  • Best North American Blog or Column
  • Best Blog or Column outside North America and the U.K.
  • Best Fisker
  • Best Ranter
  • Best Political Blog or Column
  • Best Blogpower Blog or Column
  • Best Layout and Style
  • Best Blog Name
  • Best Little Blogger [i.e. under 100 uniques a day]
  • Most Articulate Wordsmith
  • Most Under-rated Blog or Column
  • Most Over-rated Blog or Column
  • Most Politically Incorrect Blog or Column
  • Most Sadly Missed Blog or Column
  • Most Consistently Entertaining Blog or Column
  • Prettiest or Tastiest Blog or Column [refers to food or domestic bloggers]
  • Award for Services to Blogging
  • Best Post of All Time
  • Most Unintentionally Humorous post

List of current nominees, plus instructions on how to nominate, at BlogPower.

Thank you, James, for organising this.

June 2, 2007

A low-cost president for Great Britain?

Filed under: Uncategorized — notsaussure @ 5:47 pm

Via Tim Worstall, the news that Peter Tatchell wants the UK to become a Republic (hold the front page, I know) and that, anticipating the objection we’d end up with President Blair, Mr Tachell writes,

But a US-Style president is not what most republicans want. I favour a low-cost, purely ceremonial, elected president, like the German and Irish presidents

For some un-earthly reason, Tim thinks this means we’d end up with President John Prescott, which rather implies the term ‘low-cost’ can’t mean quite the same to a member of the international scandium oligopoly as it does to the rest of us.

Who would we have, though, as our low-cost, purely ceremonial, elected president? Tim’s obviously disqualified, because low-cost and keeping him in the style to which he’s clearly accustomed wouldn’t be compatible. David Beckham is, presumably, ruled out on similar grounds.

Off the top of my head, I think it would have to be either James Higham or Alan Bennett, two very different but both very British chaps, either of whom would do a fine job, at, I’m sure, very reasonable rates. I’m open to other nominations, though. Possibly the Flying Rodent, as a sop to the Scot Nats. Welshcakes Limoncello would be another obvious choice, but but she’d have to live here to do the job and I doubt we’ll get her to return from Sicily.

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