Friday, October 27, 2006

Visual Arts

Of all the visual arts, sculpture and photography do it for me. Only one of them works on a computer screen.

Check this moon over waterfall by Harry Reid.

The Trouble With Performance Targets

Good people work hard and care about what they do. They also understand what they do and why it is important. When some authority comes crashing down from above with performance targets, it invariably cocks things up.

1. Targets measure the wrong thing. In the old Soviet days there was a directive to produce so-many shoes. So the manufacturers produced that many shoes. They may have been hideously uncomfortable and all of them brown, but the targets were met.

2. Targets prioritise the management of the task above the task. In Britain the New Labour government introduced targets to cut hospital waiting lists. So the hospitals treated all the easy cases first - this reduced the waiting lists, but it increased the waiting time for anything non-routine! Think about it... the length of the waiting list doesn't matter a bit! It's how long you have to wait that counts.

So now our beloved leaders have introduced targets to cut waiting times. And now the quick treatments are prioritised to lower the average waiting time. The result - patents needing slower treatments need to wait even longer!

All along, the targets are there to get the government re-elected, not improve health care. In the health service, targets pervert clinical priorities. Good practitioners don't need targets. Government does.

3. Targets make the right thing damned inconvenient. Yesterday we heard the report that a Welsh police force had reached its targets on tackling violent crime. Good news? Only if you're a violent criminal. In response, the police have stopped collecting intelligence in the field because it would lead to a higher target the following year. So the target becomes an incentive to do a worse job.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Top Books for 5 Year Olds

Old Blue - The Rarest Bird in the World - Mary Taylor

This non-fiction account of the Chatham Island Black Robin brought back from the brink of extinction is a compelling tale. The real-life drama of setbacks and victories tell a memorable story.

Guess What Happened at School Today - Jez Alborough

A collection of fun poems about the trials of school life. Unless you're the model student, you'll identify with the characters in these verses.

Awesome Dinosaurs Giant Plant-eaters

Full of facts and illustrations. It's not a 'story-book' but it gets the imagination rolling. Adults and kids love these awesome critters, perhaps because we never met them!

The Dog That Dug - Jonathan Long and Korky Paul

This is one of my all time favourite children's books. This is also great with kids younger than five, but years later, the zany characters and ridiculous turns in the story still work brilliantly.

How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen - Russell Hoban

A cracking story of laughable adults outwitted by a mischievous rascal. You know it will be a happy ending, but it's better than that.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Top Books for 4 Year Olds

Hello Ocean - Pam Munoz Ryan and Mark Astrella

This book is stunning. Beautiful illustrations and a quietly intelligent narrative make it something special.

How to Catch a Star - Oliver Jeffers

The twist in this book got me - I never saw it coming. A gem for its uniqueness and for offering no explanation to distinguish between the real and imagined.

George and Sophie's Museum Adventure - Thomas Taylor

A detective adventure. A bit scary in the shadows... Good triumphs over evil, kid-heros save the day.

What Do People Do All Day? - Richard Scarry

Good question! I remembered this book from my own childhood, and even details of the illustrations had stayed with me.

Bible Story Book - Egermeier's

This is a big book of almost 600 pages. It's not dumbed down. Bible records are retold for children, and the outstanding illustrations will help shape the Bible reader's thoughts for many years.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Top Books for 3 Year Olds

Tiny - Paul Rogers and Korky Paul

Being an astronomy fan, I just love the scaling up from Tiny the flea to the universe! The illustrations are so gritty and full. This is a Dad's favourite.

My Grandson is a Genius - Giles Andreae

Thick with irony. Perfect for a grandparent's gift. The humour works from the perspective of each generation - young and old can laugh at themselves in these pages.

The Great Big Little Red Train - Benedict Blathwayt

So much to find and examine in these illustrations. Loads of trains and lorries - the belittled becomes the hero. Great stuff.

My Mum and Dad Make Me Laugh - Nick Sharratt

Oh, yes they do. Whether kids are interested in colours and patterns, or the eccentricities of the family are beginning to dawn on them, this book is a real chuckle.

Winnie the Pooh - A. A. Milne, Illustrated by E. H. Shepard

It'll take another 30 years for kids to get the characters and humour of this great book. Inseparable from Shepard's line drawings, this one's a masterpiece.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Top Books for 2 Year Olds

Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs - Ian Whybrow and Adrian Reynolds

Good characters hold together a blend of reality and imagination. Especially worthy if you like dinosaurs.

The Jumblies - Edward Lear

A nonsense classic. Their heads are green, and their hands are blue, And they went to sea in a Sieve. If it doesn't work for you, that's probably a good thing.

Fix-It Duck - Jez Alborough

We had this on CD also, so now everyone knows the story off by heart. You'll love it if you know someone like Duck (or the Frog).

Horton Hears a Who! - Dr. Seuss

Great children's books have to work for adults. This speaks to anyone who's swum upstream, defended an unpopular cause.

Hairy Maclary's Caterwaul Caper - Lynley Dodd

Not for bedtime! The kids love making the animal noises. And yes, the moral is not lost.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Top Books for 1 Year Olds

Goodnight Moon - Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd

A quiet book with a beautiful rhythm. Great for settling the little ones to bed. Unspoken extras, like - find the mouse on every page.

Monkey Puzzle - Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

The humour and unexpected turns work well. This book is exceptional for reading out loud.

Guess Who? - Pam Ayres

Pam has class. I can't tell you why this book works so well. You can hardly find a copy on the Internet. Simple, but with a puzzle on each page.

Diggers - Usborne Touchy Feely

This book makes the list because the big heavy pages and rough textures match the subject matter. It's rugged.

Counting Kiwis - Kevin and Andrew Ward

An imaginative implementation of the classic 1 to 10 counting book with a New Zealand theme throughout ... Seven kiwis sail in a Cook Strait gale...

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Saturn, the Sun and Earth

This magnificent photo from the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn shows a view looking back at the planet with the Sun emerging at the bottom. The Earth is visible just left of the bright rings (in the large image). This view is possible because the Cassini spacecraft is protected from the full glare of the Sun.Click on the photo for the full size image. (And make sure your browser is showing 100%) It's worth it.

From the NASA site: "Interior to the G ring and above the brighter main rings is the pale dot of Earth." A full explanation is here.

Big Brother is Watching

National and local government seem to be winning the argument that they are watching us for our own good. You can hardly step outside your front door in Britain without being photographed. Congestion charging in London means every car's movements are logged.

Michael Reeves in Swansea was fined £200 because "a green recycling bag was found outside his ground floor flat ... containing both paper and bottles and cans." This is what our magistrates and courts are doing?!?!?

Mr Reeves received his first warning notice from the council when he put his bin out a day early as he was going on holiday. What the f#%*? Why are councils spending our money to spy on what day we put our bin out?

A one-off silly local council prosecution? Well, not really. Exeter City Council spent £6,000 procecuting Donna Challicea for putting ordinary rubbish in with the recycling. The court action failed as they were not able to prove beyond doubt that she put it in there.

So how are councils responding? They're installing electronic bugs to monitor bins on the sly. As one MP said, "This is nothing more than a spy in the bin and I don't think even the old Soviet Union made such an intrusion into people's personal lives."

All very trivial, you may argue. Well, how long before the bug is inside your house?

My prediction - soon after the bug is installed in your car.

Elbow Through Picasso

An American casino tycoon has put his elbow through a crappy painting by Picasso. Why do I find this funny?
'Boy With a Pipe' was up for sale at a record $139m. I like the seller's pragmatic, "Thank goodness it was me!"

Go on Mr Wynn, just finish the damn ugly thing off.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Ender's Game

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card is the the first volume in the Ender Saga, and it lives up to its great reviews. Classic science fiction, as in Dune or Rendezvous With Rama, tends to be expansive in ideas, taking in the vastness of space and thought. Whereas Ender's Game is focused and moral. The human ethics are intriguing while the space travel is matter-of-fact.

Ender is the extraneous third child in a population controlled world. His brilliance is too precious to be left alone. The Buggers are an alien race who has attacked before, and those with the ability to fight have an obligation to defend their own. Decisions need to be made, choosing between the individual and the needs of all, between us and them.

This book reads so well that it's over all too soon, but it keeps you thinking after you put it down. This is a thoughtful and thoroughly enjoyable book. I will order the next in the saga.

European Union to Turn 50

The celebrations are a wee way off yet, but the utterly useless monumental waste of money called the EU is spending our money on a 50th anniversary logo. If they just stopped embezzling our money that would do a lot to improve public relations.My favourite line from the BBC article is: "The winner was named amid reports that the EU is scaling back celebration plans, fearing public ridicule."

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Untouchable Dalits Had Enough

This is the religious equivalent of sticking two fingers up at the establishment. The lowest Hindu caste, Dalits (or untouchables) are telling their Hindu masters to screw themselves. No doubt throwing off generations of family history, they are converting en masse to Buddhism and Christianity.

I'm sure this means something different to each individual involved. But I'd imagine they all agree that if you're in something that's wrecking your life, then get out!

To me, Christianity is liberty.
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

(KJV - Galatians and II Corinthians)

Dalit Christians
National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Moral Compass is Spinning

Years ago I learned (the hard way) that just because something is a good idea, it may not be a good idea for everyone.

There is not just the question of whether it was right to invade and attempt to liberate Iraq. My question is: Did we have the moral fortitude to pull it off?

The head of the British Army said there is a moral and spiritual vacuum in Britain. He says, "the decline in Christian values in Britain that has allowed Islamic extremism to flourish."

From the interview:
Our society has always been embedded in Christian values; once you have pulled the anchor up there is a danger that our society moves with the prevailing wind.

In other words, we haven't a clue why we are in Iraq, we don't know what we have to offer. We don't even have the fortitude to support our troops, let alone pay them a living wage.

There is an element of the moral compass spinning. I think it is up to society to realise that is the situation we are in.

We can’t wish the Islamist challenge to our society away and I believe that the army both in Iraq and Afghanistan and probably wherever we go next, is fighting the foreign dimension of the challenge to our accepted way of life.

We need to face up to the Islamist threat, to those who act in the name of Islam and in a perverted way try to impose Islam by force on societies that do not wish it.

It takes the breath away to hear someone at the top speaking honestly. Here is a write up of the interview with General Sir Richard Dannatt.

Cows, Garlic and the Environment

Burping and farting cows are the UK's single largest cause of the green-house gas methane. Methane is 23 times worse than the vilified carbon-dioxide. Apparently the problem is getting worse because cows don't chew their food properly anymore.

Among the solutions may be feeding them garlic to reduce the methane output. That's not my experience of garlic.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

French, Genocide and Fatwa

I was considering the new French bill to criminalise denial of the Armenian genocide when I came across this succinct post on a forum by (unknown to me) Tara Rene of Tokyo:

Nothing more than a "secular" version of FATWA. France has long lost its prestige as the beacon of liberty. This will degrade that position even further. Let's face it this is not even truly about what happened to Armenians 90 years ago and rectifying its history. French PMs -as ignorant as their Turkish counterparts but more arrogant with a superiority complex- acted like radical imams issuing fatwas: an expression of looming French racism and neo-fascism, and of giving in to powerful lobbies.

Meanwhile, Turkish politicians are considering a law that would make it a crime to deny that French killings in Algeria in 1945 were genocide. George Orwell called it thoughtcrime.

This is all part of a row over Turkey's entry to the EU. I say disband the bloody thing.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Muslims As Victims

New research by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published in The Lanset sets the death toll in Iraq at 655,000 since the US lead invasion in 2003. This is a massive increase even on other 'anti-war' estimates such as the Iraqi Body Count who put the figure under 50,000. Either way, that's a lot of corpses.

For the sake of argument, let's say the 2003 invasion and subsequent war has been a terrible mistake. Let's say Bush is a war-mongering numb-scull and Blair is his poodle, and we're looking to blame them.

But surely first we must ask: Who is killing whom? Overwhelmingly Muslims are killing Muslims. Ah, but that wouldn't have happened if Bush and Blair had not invaded.

Ok, for the sake of argument, let's say that Iraq was a picture of tranquility and serendipity before the war. It all went wrong when we invaded.

Still I must ask: Who's killing whom?

Overwhelmingly Muslims are killing Muslims, and if Muslims are saying it's someone else's fault, then I think it's time Muslims took a little responsibility. As long as the Muslim community view themselves as victims and blame someone else for their plight, they will have bombing, murdering, psycho, maniac, crazy-eyed shit-heads running around killing for Allah. But as we learned in Northern Ireland, when the public says, "Enough!", the violence will end.

Why Run Linux on a Home PC

1. It's promoted by users, not marketing executives.
2. You get software written by people who love writing software.
3. Security vulnerabilities are fixed within days of discovery, rather than waiting months before the software company admits they exist.
4. You don't need anti-virus software and you don't get viruses.
5. You don't get spy-ware.
6. You can buy a better machine for half the price.
7. You get literally thousands of pounds worth of enterprise level software free.

Here are a few more thoughts on why you might choose to use Linux at home.

By the way, did you know that computers hardly ever crash? It's software that crashes. But Linux typically runs for years without crashing.

Paramedic Called to His Own Emergency

You've gotta love this stuff. Roger Flux was paged to attend his own cardiac event in the middle of the night. His heart was fine, and he had a sense of humour. So he's alright on both fronts.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Islam Perpetually Offended

There is a running battle between the French authorities and Muslims. Since the Paris riots last year, 2500 officers have been injured.

Just this weekend, dozens of churches, homes and businesses were destroyed in Nigeria. There was some supposed insult to Mohammad. At times like this, I really don't give a shit what offended the Muslims. I just don't want them here. If anyone wants to understand Islam, move to Yemen.

National ID Cards

There are two reasons I oppose a national system of ID cards in Britain.

1. The government has no right. Even if you are naive enough to think the government can be trusted with a database of your personal health, spending and movements, do you trust the next government? Once governments seize power in an area, they don't often give it back.

2. The government has no competence. They've just announced the scheme is to cost an eye-watering £5.4 billion. Show me one government project of this scale completed for less than double it's budget. And worse, show me one I.T. project even a tenth this size that the government has successfully implemented.

It will be years late, astronomically over-budget, mercilessly hacked and hopelessly inaccurate.

Could ID cards help fight fraud? Perhaps slightly, by centralising the critical system. But ID cards themselves will be counterfeited, and the central system will be hacked. Remember, most security breaches are on the inside. Your neighbour may have authorised access to your details.

Could ID cards help fight terrorism? No.

Could ID cards help fight illegal immigration? No. They won't have ID cards when they arrive, and whether they get a fake or go underground, there will be little difference from the current situation.

ID cards help very little with the alleged reasons the government uses to promote the idea. But the information will give the government much greater control over the law-abiding citizens. The greatest impact of a national ID card will be the surrender of liberty and privacy for citizens.

But if you still want one, you can make your own here.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Disability Sport is Not Elite Sport

I was torn to shreds the other day for daring to suggest that disability sports don't belong on TV. They're boring. The athletes are just not that good.

I mean no disrespect - I'm not that fast either. See Carl Lewis? I'm just not built like that. In my mid-thirties, I took up soccer. I'm pretty good for nearly-forty, short and slow. Against my peers, I hold my own. But I'm not asking you to watch it on TV.

In recent years disability sport has sky-rocketed in profile and coverage. We hear terms like 'elite athletes', and I appreciate that the guy with one leg trains hard, but he doesn't move like Carl Lewis either.

The Paralympics is about competitions for people who don't run so fast. Now, I'm all in favour of competing against people of your own level. It's more fun that way. That is participatory sport, not elite sport.

I think what really upset my colleagues was when I suggested having a chess competition for thick people. You could have a category for prefrontal lobotomy elite competitors, and another for those who could just never tie shoelaces. How about a beauty contest for the ugly? Get those people who don't look so good to compete against each other - and get government funding. No one could quite explain why the Paralymics are so wonderful and my suggestions cruel.

Disability sport is participatory sport, not elite sport. Give the athletes respect for having a crack at it, and let them hire the facilities. It is not world class and it is not worth watching.

One possible exception is wheelchair rugby.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Muslim Women Told to Consider Removing Veils

The British Labour Government leaders have thrown us critics off-balance with an unexpected and radical change of direction. They've started talking sense!

The MP, Jack Straw, said that he asks his visitors with full face veils to consider removing them. The following comments from Jack Straw seem entirely reasonable and self-evident. He said:

"Muslim women in the UK who wear full veils make better, positive relations between communities more difficult." - Blindingly obvious.

"those people who do wear the veil [might] think about the implications for community relations." - A gentle and wise suggestion.

"in our society, we are able to relate, particularly to strangers, by being able to read their faces, and if you can't read people's faces, that does provide some separation" - Sometimes you have to spell it out.

The Muslim Public Affairs Committee is quick to assert that no one has a right to criticise anything Islam. "Who is Jack Straw to comment on negative symbols within a religion that is not his own?" demands Halima Hussain missing the point entirely.

Hussain and Islamic buddies might well be concerned that someone has the courage to even politely question them. They feel much better when any dissent is entirely unacceptable. Last month another cabinet minister, John Reid, asked Muslims to be vigilant that their children not be misled by terrorist groups. (A little patronising I'll grant, but not unwarranted given recent comments by police that they are watching hundreds of young Muslims suspected of involvement in terrorism.) "How dare you come to a Muslim area...?" and "John Reid go to Hell" came back the characteristic refrain.

Jack Straw's description of the face veil as "a visible statement of separation and of difference" is welcome honesty. We are not quite up to the frankness of Australian Prime Minister John Howard who declared, "if you want a country which has Sharia law or a theocratic state, then Australia is not for you."

Mind you, having looked around for an image of a veil, this one's quite nice.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Getting Away With Murder

In 1985 French agents bombed a ship in a New Zealand harbour, sinking the ship and killing photographer Fernando Pereira. Bear in mind the thousands of New Zealanders who gave their lives on French soil to liberate that spineless country in WWII and you get a sense of the anger felt by New Zealanders at the time.

The New Zealand police successfully apprehended two of the agents who were convicted and sentenced to ten years. The cowardly French govenment refused to acknowledge responsibility, though it emerged later as we knew all along that the agents were acting on orders from the French president, Mitterrand.

To the shame of New Zealand, the feeble Labour government (lead by David Lange) handed the the two agents back to the French after serving just one year. Another French suspect was arrested in Switzerland in 1991, but New Zealand dropped extradition proceedings.

Now, twenty years later Segolene Royal is running for the nomination of France's opposition Socialist Party. One of her brothers, Antoine, has said that another brother, Gerard bombed the ship. These bastards are laughing. They've apparently judged that New Zealand is utterly invertabrate. They must be right.

New Zealand prime minister, Helen Clark says, "Were New Zealand now to endeavour to re-open the case, it is likely the French government would consider we were acting contrary to earlier undertakings... The advice I have from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is that France was held to account for its actions at international law"

In other words, "We've already promised to lie down and let you bomb us whenever you want. We got no justice, but we will say that we did because we don't have the self-respect to take a stand anyway."

Damn these cowards piss me off.