Friday, September 30, 2005

A weekend competition

Picture your sedate and contemplative Pedant-General, tucking into a nice bowl of pasta "a la Lady P-G" this very lunchtime and falling off his chair in astonishment at this. Open it and fast-forward to 4 mins 40 secs into the clip.

The verbatim quote:
Japanese cultural sensitivities make it difficult for the government to appeal for people to have more sex, but it has offered various incentives.


The mind boggles.

Suggestions in the comments please for the sort of incentives you would offer if you were unfortunate enough to be in the shoes of the Japanese Prime Minister (or even Emperor).

A catflap moment

In the field of Engineering, possibly more so than most, the modest primigravida of simplicity begets the triplets of beauty, completeness and robustness. It takes an extraordinarily rare mind to examine an everyday problem and produce an approach so simple, yet so complete and - with the benefit of hindsight - so apparently obvious, that all previous solutions, many of which will have been in use for some time, are entirely and permanently swept away.

Thus, and fired up by the recent deployment of Occam's Chainsaw, your reductionist Pedant-General was thrilled to be directed toward this. (Enormous, overblown curly bowing and doffing of peacock-feather hat to the Gorse Fox)

AC Adapter embedded in the carrying strap? Why didn't I think of that?
Heavy, power-hungry and delicate hard drives? Replace it with flash memory - it's dirt cheap and you are a fool if you don't back up your data anyway. Brilliant!

But the greatest innovation - the mark of an exceptional leap forward - is the price. Less than $100. £60! 2 seconds-worth of income for this lucky gentleman!

How do they do this? By using an open source OS. Take out the Microsoft component and the cost tumbles. That is pure genius.

P-G Advice: Dealing with the Public Sector

Andrew notes various reports on the amount of our hard-earned cash that goes to line the pockets of consultants to the various suckers on the ends of the various tentacles of the giant squid that is the "Public Sector" in this land of misrule.

He finishes by making a
Mental note: Harangue the boss about pitching to some of these idiots potential clients with budgets to burn.

As you are no doubt aware, your public-spirited Pedant-General is rather a polymath. Here, therefore, is my advice to the hapless Andrew in his question for a non-trivial solution.

Dealing with the Public Sector

Don't - whatever you do - have anything to do with the Public Sector.

Ok. Perhaps I ought to expand on this a little:

A little more detail on Dealing with the Public Sector

Your clients will despise you for trying to help. They will actively obstruct your work. They will then blame YOU for being late.

Any request for a decision about anything is endlessly referred upwards, sideways and often back down again, before being declared any entirely separate issue in its own right, requiring meetings, committees, steering groups, best practice sharing and involvement of everyone from the Chief Exec to the cleaning lady before any decision is made. (see here for a crisp analysis of why this happens)

This meeting will be scheduled (6 months away, because that is the first available slot for all the huge variety of people who must be consulted). The night before the meeting it will be cancelled because one of your laziest clients, who had been tasked with the production of some briefing paper for this meeting, has not done so and declares that he is "out of hours" - i.e. that he has used his 35 hours for the week - and the Working Time Directive forbids him to do anymore. Obviously, there is absolutely nothing that can be done about this and the meeting must be postponed. Your expenses budget will be charged for the cancellation fees for the meeting rooms, coffee, transport, etc. etc.

This is fine if you have:
  1. a cast-iron time and materials contract;
  2. skin thicker than a rhino;
  3. no morals or concern for the public good;
  4. no ability to feel disgust at the fact that the charlatans who are your clients have performance related pay that is not related to performance and an index-linked final salary pension scheme that is not remotely tied to their or their employer's contributions.

P-G Prescription:
Fire the lot of them. Big government is always bad government. Get rid of them: the consultants will still find something useful to do - they tend to be resourceful people....

Monday, September 26, 2005

Two things you need to know about..... (2)


Sometimes described as "our Apollo Project", the engineering challenges that were solved by the design team(s) were decades ahead of their time, which brings us onto our TWO THINGS:
  1. Concorde is the only commercial/civilian aircraft to use one of these. It is a Mach number dial. You only really need it if you are in the habit of breaking the sound barrier and....
  2. ...during its entire time in service, the Royal Air Force never had (and still doesn't have) an aircraft that could catch it...

Two things you need to know about.....

Your bookish and learned Pedant-General is always delighted to be able to add to his store of important knowledge.

This weekend's entertainment found him engaged in the most enlightening conversation with a nice gentleman from the Game Conservancy Trust.

What did he have to tell us? The two things that we all need to know about Grouse Poo. Obviously.

They are:
  1. Grouse poo is green when freshly laid (dropped?), but changes to Orange over time, as the grass component dries out. Interestingly, in this state they look remarkably like Wotsits.
  2. Grouse produce exactly one pellet of poo every 20 minutes.
Armed with this knowledge and coming across a little grouse refuge containing, say, 6 pellets of poo, one is able to discern whether one is looking at the resting place of 1 grouse, who idled away 2 hours thinking about whatever it is that grouse think about, or perhaps a brace, engaged in conversation (or something else) for a hour, or indeed whether there had been a veritable party, but for only 40 minutes.

Gripping stuff, eh?

Friday, September 23, 2005

Sociology, Derrida, Bollocks and Curmudgeonry

Your self-effacing Pedant-General - ever the "shrinking-violet" - is loathe to draw attention to his spectacularly good judgement. However, there are times when one's idle musings are just SO brilliant that, frankly, it would be rude NOT to point them out. (Note the carefully avoided split infinitive there...)

I refer, of course, to my categorisation of the unutterably excellent Deogolwulf as "Grammatically Unimpeachable". He is on spectacular form again today:
If you have ever awoken in the morning and thought, “in order to be an active subject, I have to get rid of — and transpose onto the other — the inert passivity which contains the density of my substantial being”, then most likely you are an inveterate gobshite or a professor of sociology; — though it would take a man of rare perspicacity to tell the essence of the one from the other.


I am reminded of a wonderful conversation with an old chum of mine - a graduate of Philosophy, from a VERY respectable Oxford College - following the death of Jacques Derrida. I had forwarded this superb Times leading article to him, with a tentative request for an explanation.

He responded, pithily:
Hmmmm... I had to study Derrida for my mods and didn't understand a word of it. But at least I knew that I didn't...

... and that put me miles ahead of most people.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

String em up!

Just for once, those stout gentlemen charged with management of this great land have done something good. They have examined a part of the daily life of the ordinary man and the interaction that he has with the agencies of the state. They have examined it with a beady eye, declared that there is room for improvement and have acted upon that declaration. They have seen an unnecessary trail of paper, the handling of which occupies equally unnecessary operatives of the state, causing an unnecessary drain on the funds extorted from the honest taxpayer.

That's right: they have actually made something easier.

You don't have to dredge out your (now invalid, due to blasted EU harmonisation) V5. You don't have to trudge to one of the ever-decreasing number of post offices and wait in a queue for someone to issue your tax disc. You don't have to worry about your carefully completed application form being rejected because it was filled out in blue ink, not black*.

However, your ever-vigilant and beady-eyed Pedant-General must temper his effusive praise, for all is not well at Direct.Gov. You have the option to furnish the nice people at DVLA with the current reading of your odometer, for the purposes of frustrating "clockers" should you come to sell your vehicle. You can also elect to forgo this pleasure. All well and good, but the fule what rote the page stuck this in as "To not notify your mileage..."

Altogether now: STRING HIM UP!

* I have had this happen to me and it is simply infuriating. I was so cross that I managed to browbeat the poor woman behind the counter to such a degree that she forgot to charge me for the "checking service" which had just unearthed the error.

Thankfully, the inestimable Mr Seat was on hand to sign the newly - and very blackly - completed form.

Standby for a Monumental Public Sector Failure

The Bagged Bear is frightfully excited about this, but I'm afraid he is set to be rather hugely disappointed.

Hang on, you say: this looks jolly encouraging.
Education Minister Peter Peacock said:

"Linking every school, every teacher and every pupil via a single intranet accessible from any computer means learning will no longer end at the school gate.

"Pupils will be able to do more meaningful work at home and parents will be able to take a much more active role in their children's learning."

Fantastic. Laudable. Marvellous. A visionary project that will be a fine - nay, exemplary, prudent, even - use of public funds. But then he lets the cat out of the bag: this is just to be another dismal failure, like everything else that the Executive touches:
The executive said the national intranet will be the final piece of the secure online environment. [my emphasis]

Secure? SECURE? With every single pupil having access to it? FROM HOME?


I'm all in favour of a some kind of extranet of this sort, but even to dream about making it secure is a classic public sector over-statement of requirements of the most epic proportions.

First plan for it to be completely open then ensure that all content is acknowledged/submitted/treated as such (in the same way that no fool would ever send a password to someone via email).

This is:
  1. Not possible - the human element is always the weakest link, and my goodness they will come across some weak links if it is to be open to the entire cohort of teachers in Scotland (let alone the pupils)
  2. Entirely logically inconsistent. A system is secure only if one can secure its mode of access. How do you do this when a) your users are members of the general public and b) you have 800,000 users?
  3. Unnecessary. If all that you are sharing is video clips, it doesn't need to be secure. Particularly not if you are distributing as widely as this. The stuff is going to get out on the public internet within seconds anyway.
  4. Probably illegal. It only needs to be secure if you are storing (or allowing access to) sensitive information. How they would intend to get this past the Information commissioner I do not know.
  5. redundant. Haven't they heard of google [this last item is only mildly flippant].


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Libby and Ritalin, Mice and Knuckles

Libby Purves is on fine form again today:
"... One woman interviewed about the marvels of Ritalin complained that before it her three-year-old was always asking questions, and going on to another as soon as one was answered, which drove her mad. Well, it drives us all mad: 'Why is the moon? Can sheep fly?' But if we are wise, we rejoice in it."

I can relate to this. The three year old middle master Pedant-General floored us all the other day with:
Do mice have knuckles?

Well? Do they? And if so, what for?

Blog rolling for Curmudgeonry

Your garrulous and sociable Pedant-General awakes this fine autumnal morning with a spring in his step and a new resolution: BLOG ROLLING

There can be no finer and more innocent joy than that of curmudgeonry.

I do it myself every morning three times before breakfast, but never as well as Deogolwulf.

Here's to him anyway: you will now find his link in the side bar.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Mathematics and Sociology

According to this article at Tim Worstall's excellent little boudoir, I would appear to be a functional psychopath.

Given that the test in question is staggeringly simple*, I suspect that this is just sociologists being jealous of those who have invested the time and effort to get a proper degree.

* You are invited to gamble £1 against the toss of a coin. If you guess correctly, you win £2.50; if not you forfeit your £1. You can choose not to play. Now in my book, I would play every time for winnings of anything over £2 against odds of exactly 2 to 1, no?

Political Correctness and the Dreaded Lurgi

The weekend finds the youngest master Pedant-General beset with the DREADED LURGI and, consequently, the grace and favour apartment is, in the immortal words of the PG sister-in-law, "awash with snot".

What better time for the entire household to retreat to the Drawing Room, curl up under a "duvet" and enjoy a good dose of the unsurpassably beautiful Audrey Hepburn, taking another starring role in "My Fair Lady".

I must admit that, never having seen the film before, I was rivetted and not only by Miss Hepburn herself.




Hmm? Oh yes, where was I?

You see, it occurred to me, about 10 minutes into the film, that Political Correctness has advanced so far that this film would now be impossible to make. Yes, yes, yes, we have plenty of gloopy, syrupy Disney candy-floss confections of the "rags-to-riches" type, but just imagine the dent in the scriptwriter's head if he (she? it?) were to produce dialogue with anything approaching Rex Harrison's disdain for the lower classes. I suggest that it would, today, be impossible to produce this film, because its setting, its basic assumption, does not compute: the audience could not comprehend its fundamental premise and therefore it would not "ring true".

Whilst no-one in their right mind would wish to return to such a calcified social order, we have almost reached the point where it is not possible to admit that such an arrangement - for good or ill - EVER EXISTED.

Of course, every now and then, some berk sticks his head above the parapet, but the speed, certainty and vigour with which he is inevitably machine-gunned makes one wonder....
The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible.


Friday, September 16, 2005

The Devil is in the Detail

Our benign dictator is in rather in need of some gentle instruction in the correct use of our exquisite language.

No doubt it is feverishly hot in his kitchen, but that is hardly an excuse for the litany of split infinitives and other unforgiveable transgressions that have required a firm intervention on the part of your doughty Pedant-General.

In fact the consistency with which bloggers insist on mis-spelling this simple word is so staggering that I feel that a P-G tutorial is in order.

Repeat after me:
Nouns usually end in "ant".
Adjectives usually end in "ent".
Very simple.

Thus, the following are adjectives:
  • consistent
  • independent
  • dependent (adjective, as in "dependent upon", not to be confused with "dependant" which is a noun, e.g. your children or wife who lunches or whatever)
  • incoherent
  • insolent
Whilst the following are nouns:
  • claimant
  • defendant (yes, DK, that's you, that is)
  • dependant
  • litigant (bl*mmin lawyers)
  • Pedant (that's me, that is)
Now. Let's have no more of this nonsense. Class dismissed.


Tim Worstall is on fine form, echoing some sentiments of mine, regarding lower commanders' ability to "take the initiative".

If it means getting the Army Corps of Engineers to lay a pontoon bridge, whatever, just get on with it.

This is just basic stuff: we know that the work will be funded eventually. The trick is getting it done NOW so that everything else can happen. Money will sort itself out later and, as Tim so eloquently points out:
Simply get the causeways and bridges back up, get the transportation system working, so that the citizenry are indeed able to work on that small scale.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Hideously White Middle Class values

Your muddled, hand-wringing and hesitant Pedant-General has been struggling with some thorny issues as he contemplates his brief at the Home Office.

In particular, the single biggest thorny issue is that the state is largely powerless to correct some of the major failings of society as a whole.

It would appear that I am not alone in pondering this weighty topic.

Go and Read it all.

And the comments.

And the rest of the blog.

UPDATE: This moron says it all. By way of a rebuttal to the argument that poor decisions (choosing not to finish school, choosing not to work hard, choosing to commit crime, etc.) have bad consequences (being poor), he suggests that being poor CAUSES you to make bad decisions.


And now in the real world....

Aside from DK's current obsession with ruling the world, I have one very concrete suggestion to make:


You may think that this is a departure from the unassuming and apologetic style of your measured and understated Pedant General. However, this is as close to be being so completely spot as one can care to get:
If the Orange Order parades were really Christian, their organisers would meekly route them to avoid offending neighbours; if the “Catholic” side were Christians, they would refuse such chivalry and welcome their Protestant brothers, drums and all. So if we are having all these “tough” new laws against inciting religious hatred and backing terrorism, we may as well deploy them evenhandedly. A plague on all their wicked houses: militant mullahs and self-righteous Orangemen, video braggarts on al-Jazeera and Gerry Adams flattering mass-murderers.

There are tens of thousands of decent people trying to get on with their lives in Ulster. Government’s sole duty is to those who do not bomb or riot or encourage it. World leaders have better things to do in dangerous times than to waste time placating and featherbedding the vanity of gangsters.

Hurrah for Libby! She has been suffering from a slightly wonky approach lately, but this is a remarkable return to form.

More thoughts on Governance

The Devil, in his kitchen, has brewed a potent cocktail of policies for his forthcoming bid to overthrow this shambolic and mendacious government of failed social workers and assorted morons.

There is certainly one recurring theme in the collected policies of his cabinet ministers. It can be summed up in word: "Liberty". More precisely in four words: "the Desire for Liberty". I can think of no stronger binding principle than this in the formation of any government policy.

But, to paraphrase the cat in the hat*, that is not all. Oh no, that is not all.
It is to my inestimably brilliant colleague at the Home Office,
the great Jarndyce, that the credit must go. His analysis of the org chart at the real Home Office is commendably lucid. What, I wonder, would be the result if we were to apply this method to ALL government departments.

I wonder, indeed...

* I mused in an earlier posting, rather as an aside, that a little more mathematics and slightly less sociology would do this country a power of good. My search for "The Cat in the Hat" revealed this, which is a perfect case in point. I wonder how many applicants to the post of Department Head of "Confidence, Customers and Communications" would be able to solve this succintly and elegantly (if at all)?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Supping with the Devil

Long spoons out everyone: The Devil seems to agree with me.

I shall just have to take comfort that at least Mr Seat will be accompanying me downwards when our time comes, as indeed it must...

Sunday, September 11, 2005

DK's Cabinet: P-G's Policies

Assuming, brightly if perhaps naively, that the Devil in his Kitchen aims to win power by exclusively peaceful and democratic means and that your law-abiding and respectful Pedant-General is not getting himself muddled up with some serious skullduggery, we must take the lucid advice of His Honour B C Maddocks in this Thursday's edition of the Torygraph.

We need Principles to underpin any Policies. We must have coherent Policies in order to win Power. Principles, therefore, are the order of the day.

Ahem. [Clears throat. Looks pensive. Strokes beard that is growing longer and longer as we wait for inspiration. Twiddles thumbs. Hopes audience will stop looking at me and go away for a moment.]

Considering then things that are important to the Home Office, we have, in no particular order:
  • The role of the family in instilling a sense of right and wrong. i.e. turning out self-disciplined citizens;

  • An hour of a beat policeman's time spent filling in a form is almost precisely one hour of a beat policeman's time not being a beat policeman;

  • Welfare state and compensation/Health and Safety culture that penalises risk and denies that individuals are responsible for their own actions;

  • Apparent inability of Government - and especially its parliamentary drafters - to anticipate the most ludicrously obvious bad side-effects of their shoddy legislation;

  • Total failure of almost everyone concerned - excluding, of course, your entirely infallible Pedant-General - to recognise that foreign nationals of all stripes are only ever in this country on condition that they don't screw us around. To suggest that a non-UK national who is regarded as a threat to the nation or generally not conducive to the public good has the same right to reside in the UK as a UK national is entirely mind-bogglingly obvious insanity of the highest order;

  • Forgiveness is very strictly contigent upon acknowledgement and REPENTANCE of sins committed;

  • All cannot have prizes. At least, not if the prizes are to mean anything worthwhile;

  • Life is unfair. But it is pretty much equally unfair for everyone, if you allow me that rather natty little paradox.

But what does all this mean? Well, first of all, it means that we must all, individually be responsible for our own actions. Your hooded sneering teenage vandal may well be a victim of those elements of society that have failed him (starting with and primarily because of his parents) but he is still a moral agent. If he knifes an old lady in the street, that is HIS decision alone. In this action he is NOT a victim of circumstance. Equally, if I trip on a dodgy piece of pavement in the road and break my ankle, the council is very unlikely to be ENTIRELY responsible for my misfortune. Did I, for example, really look where I was going?

To be honest, and far be it from your stalwart Pedant-General to shirk responsible and fail to step up to the plate and all that - the Home Office appears to be there primarily to do the fire fighting and dirty work. The things that really need to be done to make this country a better safer and nicer place are the responsibilities of others...
  • Instilling a sense of right and wrong: Parents - struggle to see where state can help at all here;
  • Encouraging people to take responsibility for their own lives: Tax system mostly
  • Discipline in schools: Education Dept. If I had my way, I would institute a rule that it would be the parents that would be expelled from a school, not the child. Thus, they cannot simply move the child to a new school: they would have to prove to any new school that they had changed and were prepared to deal with their child. (if we don't just string the whole lot up from lampposts and be done with it)
  • Also Judges to be gently reminded that Foreign Nationals, and in particular those who are judged to be not conducive to the public good, are errr...., foreign nationals and have some markedly different rights to UK nationals, in that they have no right of abode. If they have burnt their bridges that is their problem, not ours. This is probably in the Lord Chancellor's dept?

All in all, this is very, very tricky. We will see, no doubt, in due course what the benign dictator makes of all this...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A busy day

Yesterday was a momentous day at the Grace and Favour apartment. News arrived from our antipodean outposts of the arrival of a friend's baby, Lady P-G and I had a little something to celebrate ourselves and, most importantly, it was the first day at school for the eldest master Pedant-General.

Here he is, looking extremely smart.

I expect that, before long, the little chap will be required to account for his time during the long summer break (on which topic, more later).

Indeed, he may even be asked to suggest what he might do if he finds, unexpectedly, that he is charge of the country. Oddly enough, your just - yet merciful - Pedant-General finds himself in almost exactly the same position.

Although I will admit that my appointment to the Cabinet of a would-be Dictator has come as something of a surprise, my getting a post of this sort and in this manner is not exactly without precedent....

I would appear to be in really extremely good company.

The precise brief within the Home Office remains vague, which I suppose presents opportunities in itself. I shall keep you posted so that you may all adjust your behaviour to stay on my side of the law....