Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The end of the line

Time to change the blog. Seeing as I've moved, and I haven't been motivated to blog here since, I might as well put a close on RMF. A new site might give me the motivation to blog a bit more often, but I can be incredibly lax...

Farewell, to whoever still reads this. And if you want to read more (assuming there is any), then pop over to The middle of the line


Sunday, January 18, 2009

New Way New Life

It's funny the way life works out sometimes.

My girlfriend is originally from Brum, and moved down to Crawley in 2001 to live with me. Since then, she's never been totally happy there, but as there is work and I am there, she's stayed but always maintained that at some point we (or she) would move up to the Midlands.

Last year, the contract I was working on took a bit of a knock. Nothing to do with the credit crunch, but our customer decided to outsource most of their IT development to Tata, and so over the last few months of the year those of us from other third parties were gradually moved off.

My employer does have other work around the country, but of course it is not easy to find work at the moment (and that is partly due to the credit crunch as much that I could do would be in the financial sector).

As it happens, the job I have been offered (and which I started at the beginning of the month) is in exactly the kind of work I have been trying to get into for a year or so - Business Analysis. However, it is based in Northampton, which is not too easy to get to from Crawley.

What this has done is present an opportunity to relocate to pretty much the area that Jas wants to be in, and so this weekend we have been looking for a place up in Rugby (25 miles from work, 30 miles from her family). And yesterday we found almost a perfect house for rent.

It's going to take a while before we are fully moved out of Crawley, but chances are I'll be up north rather than back there most of the time. I'm not sure what this will mean for a blog that has in large part been based on Crawley (and is named for a former Crawley Town player).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Optimism? Quick! Pile on!

Today saw a bizarre set of events...

A minor Labour minister, Baroness Vadera, has been pilloried because she apparently said that she had seen some 'green shoots' in the current economic situation.

What she actually said, in response to a question about when we would see 'green shoots' of recovery, was:

"It's a very uncertain world right now globally... I wouldn't want to be the one predicting it.

"I am seeing a few green shoots but it's a little bit too early to say exactly how they'd grow."

Which in context I think means that she can see some positive news, but there's no way that she's prepared to say that they are going to herald a recovery right now - they may wither away if things do not go well.

The positive thing that she sees, being involved in the banking side and trying to get banks to lend to each other and to the wider economy again, is that the bond market is opening up again. That is a good thing, it's what we need to happen - for banks to get the confidence to invest in bonds, which are a form of lending.

She's not a frontline minister, and is dealing in the back end of the economy, so yes, she may well not be totally in touch with the reality on the ground, but the glee with which the Tories have piled into her is disturbing. It's almost as if they only want bad news to be heard, and anyone making positive noises has to be shouted down.

Food retail has recently had a good set of results (Tesco's were the poorest, but they still saw sales grow from the previous year, while Sainsburys, Aldi and Morrisons all saw good growth and most supermarket chains are looking to create new outlets and so jobs). But you wouldn't know it to read the headlines.

What highlights the hypocrisy of the Tories is, of course, their leader, who today was stressing the importance of getting confidence back into the economy, while fueling the 'doom and gloom' mood. In what way does constant sniping and complaining that measures aren't working increase confidence? In what way does his colleagues slamming anyone who makes positive noises increase confidence?

The Tories are still determined that this recession should be as bad as the one they presided over in the 1990s, and will use any rhetoric to help their cause.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The wheels on the bus (probably) go round and round...

There's been a story bubbling up for a while, which has reached the public conciousness this week. So, instead of writing about the substantial imminent change to my life, or stupid wars in the Middle East, I will discuss the Atheist Bus Campaign.

Back in the summer Ariane Sherine, a comedy writer and Guardian blogger, wrote an article about an advert she'd seen on a bus. The advert was placed by a religious group, and directed people to a website which as well as proclaiming the existence of God and the advantages of becoming a Christian (fair enough, I see nothing wrong with them evangelising if they want to), also informed visitors of all the horrible things in store for unbelievers.

So, she suggested a bus advert to promote atheism. A few people took the idea up, and in the autumn the campaign was launched with a target to raise £11,000 (£5,500 of which would be a matching donation from arch-atheist Richard Dawkins). Within a short space of time, it had raised £100,000 from small individual donations.

So, this week, instead of 30 adverts on buses in London, the slogan "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life" adorns 200 London buses, as well as another 600 across Britain.

So far, so good. The 'probably' was added in because they were advised that just saying "There is no God" would be more likely to lead to complaints, but as it goes, it does satisfy the broad atheist creed as far as I understand it - we do not believe in a god, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we believe that there is no god (and logically it can never be proven that no god exists anyway).

But yet, the complaints have come in. over 50 so far to the ASA, led by the stalwart religious nutter, Stephen Green of Christian Voice. Green claims offence, and yet he's not above being very offensive towards Islam. He also claims that the ad makes an unsubstantiated claim, but the 'probably' means that it makes no hard claim in reality.

So, I was watching from the sidelines, until the Christians who seem to be able to take offence at anything stuck their oars in. Now, I have donated to the campaign.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Edukashun, Edukashun, Edukashun

Every year, we go through a familiar cycle. Exam results come out, and they are usually better than the previous year's. The government hails them as an example of increasing standards. The opposition pooh-poohs them as an example of easier exams.

So who is right? Certainly in the national conciousness, the apparent view is that the Tories are right. But is this view backed up by the facts, or is it just a collective set of prejudices based on tabloidism and nostalgia?

Well, the US based International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement has report that comes out every four years - The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timss). The latest report covering 2007 has just come out, and it compares 60 countries around the world for 10 and 14 year old students' ability and the standards used.

So where is England?

In the top ten for both science and Maths for both age-levels, ranging between at 5th and 7th places. Above Germany, Sweden and the US in each case. The top five are dominated by Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, with Latvia, Russia and South Korea doing well.

Was this better than last time?

Yes. Last time (2003) England came 18th for Maths at age 14. This time England came 7th. What is more, the previous years were even worse - in 1999 we cam 20th and in 1995 we came 25th. So clearly there is a trend of improvement over the past 12 years, accelerated in recent years.

But guess what, the Tories are claiming that it's still a failure. That's right, we've moved up from 'mid table mediocrity' under the Major government to the top ten, and Michael Gove calls us 'Second Division'. Just as with the economy, the Tories will talk down the country in order to attack the government.

(hat tip: Bob Piper)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

So, what would you do then, Dave?

Do the Tories care?

Well, I still have no answer. They do want to hold an election (because they think they'd win it), and Cameron today has launched an attack on the Government's policy to spend money and give tax breaks to combat recession.

Thing is, if the Tories want an election over the economy and the recession, they could do worse than to tell us what they would do.


In the meantime, a couple of weeks ago the Tory Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley wrote the following on his blog:

"Interestingly on many counts, recession can be good for us. People tend to smoke less, drink less alcohol, eat less rich food and spend time at home with their families."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Lie detectors?

James Purnell (Secretary of State for Work and Pensions), is talking about bringing lie-detectors in to help find people who are lying in order to get benefits.

Problem is that lie detectors don't work (last item). They tend to give many false positives, which means more work for people to do to investigate claimants (and despite the idea that the benefits agency won't take a failed test as evidence, the suspicion will likely be there for some time) but they can also be beaten by people who look up a few ways to do it. More info here.

EDIT 5 Dec 15:33 - I saw a very interesting (and far more detailed) analysis from Unity today. Essentially he's saying that lie detectors can 'work', but for detecting stress, rather than for detecting lies (honest people can be stressed under questioning, and liars can be ice-cold)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Do the Tories care?

A little history first. In the 1990-1, we had a recession in the UK. It was pretty bad, and it was the first one to seriously affect white-collar workers and middle management rather than just the manual trades.

The John Major government, through the genius of Norman Lamont had the job of seeing us through this period, and it was from these two giants that the following phrases came:

"If it isn't hurting, it isn't working"

"Unemployment is a price worth paying" (for low inflation)

As a result of their careful stewardship, the 1990s recession took us years to recover from. You can see how compassionate they were about the effects of their policies.

So to today, and have the Conservatives changed? It appears not. While the government is taking action to reduce the threat of recession and to help those affected (rescuing banks, extending lines of credit so that they can lend, reducing VAT, increasing income tax allowances and tax credits, restricting repossessions, assisting small businesses with their tax bills, investing in public services etc etc etc...), all the Conservatives can do is to oppose.

Take our local Tory councillor-blogger Duncan Crow. He's quick to tell us that everything is the fault of Gordon Brown, but a little reticent to actually come up with any concrete proposals. It's easy to sit around pronouncing doom and gloom, and using the benefit of hindsight, but surely our 'natural rulers' have some actual ideas for how to best deal with the current economic situation.

What is it that the Tories would actually be doing now, if they were in power? Doing nothing didn't work very well last time, but I seen very little, other than to say whatever the government does is either bad or would have no effect.

For example, when the government announces a cut in VAT by 2.5%, the Tories tell us that it's insignificant. Yet when they think that VAT may have been going up by 1% it would have been a disaster. Surely it would have less of an effect, being a smaller change, but I don't suppose such logic comes into play when you are on a mission to oppose the government at all costs

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Social Services

Again, the UK seems to be falling under the spell of hysterical moral outrage. A few weeks ago it was Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand who had roused the ire of the public (not that they are in any way excused, but what on earth possessed thousands of people to add their complaints to the already lodged ones?)

Now it's Baby 'P'.

Some of my friends have joined the Facebook group " Campaign to get justice for Baby P". I'm not sure what the point of such a campaign is to be honest. The only reason we know about the case is that the mother and the two men involved have been tried in a court of law and found guilty. There are at the last rough count three enquiries into the situation, not to mention the whole media circus which has led to the calls for sackings and all-but lynching of anyone who was anywhere near the family.

There are some islands of sanity in this deluge - notably the eloquent Unity at Ministry of Truth, and Aaron at Tygerland - but I'm just glad that I'm working at home this week instead of having to put up with inane chatter about the whole thing from anyone I have to avoid shouting at.

I have never had to deal directly with Social Services myself, but I do know people who have. In one case that I know about (not in West Sussex), Social Services were overly cautious about taking a child into care. Two years after they backed the abusive parent in a custody hearing, they have removed her after incontrovertible evidence came to light. In another (also not in West Sussex), a child was taken into care and the parents spent a long hard battle to show that they were not guilty of abuse.

Social Workers are damned either way. If they are too cautious, then it only takes the odd case to make them look complacent. If they are too protective of children, then they are accused of 'stealing' kids in order to make up imaginary quotas for fostering or adoption. The main problem with their job is that it's rarely black-and-white. A child can be accident prone. A seemingly respectable parent can be a sadist behind closed doors. Children can lie, and they can also be unbelievable when telling the truth. It's all very subjective and there must be many marginal cases all of the time.

It's not a job that I could deal with, as most of my day-to-day work involved precision and clear yes/no decision-making. Even politics as a profession often comes down to a more objective view than a lot of the tough situations that Social Work involves.

What makes the job harder, of course, is that it is unpopular and difficult to recruit for. Areas with known problems have an even harder time, and those with unfilled vacancies are going to end up with backlogs and high stress. The pay is hardly fantastic, and if you make a mistake either way you could end up on the cover of half-a-dozen tabloids. Unfortunately, of course, we need social workers because there are a large number of children and vulnerable adults who are at real risk and who need some kind of intervention.

However, let's not get facts involved. Let's not try to understand how the real world works, or even consider for one moment that hindsight is a lot clearer than prediction. Let's just have a media-inspired national panic and collective howl. It'll make us feel better, even if it solves nothing (apart from declining circulation figures, of course).


Monday, November 17, 2008

It's the Economy, Stupid

Is George Osborne an idiot? Or does he just think that the voters are all fools?

Over the last few weeks, the Tories have been demanding tax cuts, saying that they are the best way to release cash into the hands of people and spur consumer spending and company investment to help take us out of recession.

Then at the weekend, Osborne was saying that we can't cut taxes because it would cause a run on the pound (which is is bit odd, because the currency rate is not directly related to the government's finances, it's to do with the value of the overall economy and predicted returns compared to other nations, and is more likely to be related to the interest rate).

It sounds to me like opposition for the sake of it. You can't credibly go around contradicting yourself in the space of a few days and expect people to think that you have a clue about how to run the economy. Of course, if your plan is to attack the government for political gain at a time of national uncertainty, it might just work - as long as people don't have those inconvenient memory things.