Wednesday 21 April 2010

Brass trio

I figure I can get away with this on the grounds that I'm blowing other people's trumpets as well as my own. Anyhow, from Facebook:

Me: I don't know if there's an official term for people stranded by volcanic activity, but if there isn't I would humbly commend the phrase "Ash-strays" to your attention
Jon: For employers who are very relaxed about the impact on their business, and won't dock pay or enforce paid leave of stranded staff, might we call them magmanimous?
Tom: Incidentally, I assume Conservative supporters who are trapped overseas by the ash cloud and concerned they may not get back in time to vote in the election are blocked lavatories.

...I've just thought of one: if you're trapped by volcanic activity, that's a Pompeii circumstance.

If there any more entries in this narrow field of linguistics, please share them...

Friday 16 April 2010

I met a man the other day who told me...

...that Nick Clegg won the debate. So I suppose that makes that true.

That's a little unfair - he probably did win it. But now that everybody is telling everybody that he won it, he definitely won it.

In no particular order, here are the things that struck me about/during last night:

1) There are two more of these things to go. What will there possibly be left to say by the third?
2) Given that it was widely acknowledged that Vince Cable won the Chancellors debate because the Red and Blue candidates spent their time beating each other up and thus letting him rise above the fray, why did we get to watch the exact same thing happen this time? What price these debate strategists we hear so much about.
3) When Cameron was going on about "they'll waste your money to put up taxes", wouldn't it have been great for Brown if he had that very day had his position (i.e. thatCameron's plan threatened the recovery) endorsed by 55 leading economists? And had used those big guns to counter Cameron's pet business leaders, thus at least neutralising his opponent's Appeal to Authority? Sadly, he just didn't have that opportunity.
4) Some people can integrate pre-written jokes seamlessly into apparently extempore remarks. Brown can't, and should stop trying. I mean, seriously, read this transcript:

Now, there's been a 75% success in this project, so you can bring the reoffending rate down. But I do come back to this central problem that we face - I'm grateful, by the way, David, for you putting up these posters about me and about crime and about everything else. You know, there's no newspaper editor done as much for me in the last two years, because my face is smiling on these posters, and I'm very grateful to you and Lord Ashcroft for funding that.

What in Christ's name? Was it the word "face" that prompted him to abandon "the central problem" for an ill-constructed jape about Ashcroft and posters and ... stuff? You've only got a minute to answer, so don't waste it on laboured jokes. Play to your goddam strengths.
5) The challenge to provide guarantees on Education, Policing and Health. Apparently, it is Labour investment vs Tory cuts after all. It might work as a way to put Cameron on the spot once, on a question about the economy. Levering the police and schools into a question on health specifically just makes you look like you're not actually discussing the issue you've been asked about. What's really amazing is that it was Clegg, not Cameron, who walked through the open door of "being honest with the public" and promising big cuts and not just flannel. I suppose it's because Cameron is now being positive about the future and "Age of Austerity" stuff doesn't fit in with that - if so, that suggests that Labour are going back to the position that didn't work, while the Tories abandon the position that did.
6) Speaking of health, someone needs to hammer the Tories on the whole "making cancer drugs available" thing. For a man whose current mantra is the need for government spending to be efficient ("I think it's really important that we start focusing on what we get out of the money that we put in, because if we think that the future is just spending more and more money, we're profoundly wrong.") he seems strangely blind to the notion that some very expensive drugs are far from guaranteed to be effective and that there might be better (i.e. more effective i.e. making more people healthier) options to spend that money on. Such as MRI machines to improve screening services. Or a specialist nurse. Or a paediatric intensive care unit. It's almost as if these decisions combine fearfully complex cost-benefit analyses with agonising moral dilemmas. And I would give your eye teeth to see Cameron made to admit that.
7) Cameron's mum was a magistrate. I bet she was. Plenty of spare time and a firm belief that her judgement was what was needed to sort out the local riff-raff. She may even have been right. But this is where Cameron's Big Society leads - power flowing to people who are a) convinced of their own acumen and b) easily able to afford the time to run a school. This is not a random sampling of the population at all.
8) There are two more of these to go.

For reasons that will hopefully never become clear, I should stress that the above are all personal opinions and in no way a reflection of my employer's position.

Thursday 8 April 2010

Like Quasimodo, it's misconceived but it does ring a bell

So today's big idea is the National Citizens Service for 16 year olds, a radical plan for changing the lives of young people that will offer them the hitherto undreamt of opportunity to spend two whole months of their summer on:
  • a residential course,
  • "team building exercises"
  • local volunteering
Why hasn't anyone else thought about trying this before? Volunteering. For 16 year olds. With residential courses. To pick a name at random, the Duke of Edinburgh must be kicking himself. Or didn't they do that at Eton?

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Vote Tory or the cancer patient gets it

One of the really fun things about having a kid is that you get to see just how hard-wired some of our more irrational behaviours are. Take my first stab at a genetic legacy (please): having learned that he could use his hands to maneouvre slices of banana into his face all by himself, he (as we all did) started trying this trick with everything: breadsticks, bacon, chips (fine), olives (hilarious), pickled beetroot (messy but fun, in a "vampire baby" kind of way), spoons, wooden balls, rabbit poo and assorted choking hazards (panic inducing, primarily for obvious reasons and secondarily in a "can I clean this up before his mother sees him" kind of way). Similarly, he's learnt that crying is a good way to a) alert us to genuine pain or discomfort or b) get attention when he's mildly bored. The point being that once we find a trick that works, we'll keep reusing it until either we run it into the ground or someone's pulling a lego brick out of our throat.

As with my incontinent, wobbly, emotionally manipulative offspring, so with the Tories. This latest wheeze of not raising National Insurance after all seems to have struck a chord (surprisingly for a cynical pre-electoral bribe), and so it's being used to attack Labour not only on the economy, which at least makes a crazy kind of sense, but also on health, which is both bizarre and unseemly. It's bizarre because it seems we're now to rely on efficiency savings paying for both reduced tax reciepts and extra spending on healthcare at the same time.* It's unseemly because it makes a simplistic, populist billboard slogan out of the genuinely complex issue of how we choose to fund treatments on the NHS. To hear the Tories tell it, you'd think that the only reason cancer patients die in this country is that a coterie of evil bureaucrats and soulless beancounters won't let them near the medicine cabinet full of wonder-drugs that will cure their disease, grow their hair back and improve digestive transit to boot. In reality of course, there is no such cabinet - there's a number of drugs which have shown some success in some patients with some specific conditions. Their manufacturers are only too keen to trumpet their efficacy, but more disinterested observers are less convinced that we'd actually see any benefit for our money. In a time when efficiency is all the rage you might think the Tories would want to establish what kind of value for money they were getting, but apparently that's not the point.

Well no. The point is rather distasteful - to use the suffering of cancer patients as just one more improvised weapon in the ongoing bar-brawl that is a general election. It's hefty, it's near at hand, so break that Ming vase over your opponent's head and finer feelings be damned.

*As far as I can work out, the argument goes something like this: We fund the NI non-rise by finding cuts and "efficiency savings", but because NHS-as-employer isn't paying tax to the government, it can now spend that money on cancer drugs in its role as NHS-as-provider-of-state-funded-healthcare. Meanwhile the government has less money because it isn't getting that tax but the overall NHS budget hasn't changed. So effectively the NHS has become more expensive, especially as any savings made within the Department of Health are already ear-marked for funding front-line services, so the savings that are paying for keeping NI static and thus for more cancer drugs are being made by quite different departments. I can see that Paul's come out of the deal quite well, but Peter seems a little out of pocket. Now, if the Tories simply came out and said that they were going to increase spending to fund these drugs, that would be one thing, but given both the current situation and their rhetoric over the past 18 months, they can't. So we get this three-card trick whereby efficiency savings pay for both reduced tax reciepts and extra expenditure at the same time.