How To Haggle

There\’s negotiation and then there\’s negotiation:

But the potential rewards are enormous and anyone doubting the power of haggling should take inspiration from the story of Mohammed Shafiq, an Asian off-licence owner, who, when faced a couple of years ago with a raider wielding a 12in knife and a demand for £500, remarked: “I can’t afford that; how about £10 and a drink?”

According to reports, the disoriented raider responded by saying he would accept £50 and as Mr Shafiq considered the figure, Mrs Shafiq sneaked up and whacked the robber with a rolling pin. Mr Shafiq then clubbed him over the head with a brass-handled walking stick before calling the police, the exchange having cost him not a single penny. That’s what I call a deal.

Insane Environmentalist of the Day

Err, please, can someone tell me what this nutter is on about?

Whether it turns out to be He-3, solar energy, or some as yet unknown technology that draws humanity back to the moon, there\’s an irony here. In 1968, Apollo 8 brought back the first shimmering image of an "Earthrise" as seen from the moon. Four years later, Apollo 17 came home with the famous whole Earth picture. These new views of our fragile, heartbreakingly isolated planet are often credited with having helped to kickstart the environmental movement – even with having changed the way we see ourselves as a species.

At present, nations are forbidden under international treaty from making territorial claims to the moon, but the same has hitherto been true of Antarctica, of which the UK government is trying to claim a chunk. Earth\’s sister has played a role in teaching us to value our environment: how extraordinary to think that the next giant leap for the environmental movement might be a campaign to stop state-sponsored mining companies chomping her up in glorious privacy, a quarter of a million miles from our ravaged home.

Mining up there for our energy will reduce the damage we do here mining for our energy. No?

Or is he worried we\’ll deplete the soup mines and wipe out the Clangers?

Claire Verity

This is interesting about Claire Verity:

Channel 4 has launched an investigation into the qualifications of Claire Verity, the nanny who appears on its television series Bringing Up Baby, in which she advocates a 1950s-style approach to parenting.

A spokeswoman for Channel 4 yesterday confirmed that an inquiry into Ms Verity\’s qualifications was under way after indications from the awarding bodies where she is said to have received her accreditation that they had no records of her attendance. The spokeswoman stressed that a maternity nurse did not need any formal qualification to practise.

The techniques used by Ms Verity, 42, originally from Harrogate, North Yorkshire, have caused concern among parents and children\’s organisations; they include instructions to leave babies to cry, or outside "to air" and limiting cuddling time to 10 minutes a day. The NSPCC said her methods were "outdated and potentially harmful", while the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said her recommendation that babies sleep alone in a separate room contradicted official guidance on reducing the risk of cot death.

The channel\’s spokeswoman added: "We are looking into them [the qualifications] … We got her background information from her agent and we realised some of those were erroneous soon after we released information about Ms Verity. As soon as we realised this, we withdrew the information … we would like to make it clear you do not need any formal qualification to practise as a maternity nurse."

Most interesting, don\’t you think?

Let There Be Light!

This is the image The Guardian uses to launch a new site promoting a reduction in carbon footprints.

It creates quite a feeling in me I have to say. I\’ve been sent a similar image in the past and told that some 50% of the light that can be seen in such satellite photos of the earth at night comes from halogen light bulbs. As we are suppliers of a vital ingredient (scandium, if you should care to know) to some 80% of that part of the light bulb market, that means that we are involved in providing 40% of the light you can see in that photo (assuming that the first assertion is true).

It\’s extremely gratifying to know that, however a minor cog one is, one\’s business life contributes so visibly and vividly to human civilisation.

Michael Henderson on Little England

A quite excellent column, quite excellent:

Contrary to those who use the terms "Europe" and "EU" as synonyms, there is a difference between the two that even the bigots of Middle England recognise. Most English people are perfectly happy to acknowledge the existence of Europe.

After all, it is this island race that saved the continent from Napoleon and Hitler, so it could be said we have done our bit to maintain order.

But — and this cannot be stressed strongly enough — Europe is not the EU. One is a physical entity that has developed over centuries, and has given the world its greatest civilisation; a civilisation to which the people of this country have contributed in full measure.

The other is a sclerotic bureaucracy run by pen-pushers for the benefit of their own kind. To point that out is to exercise the scepticism that we expect from our elected representatives, who, in this case, are letting us down.

Both read it all and it\’s something of a cut out and keep piece I think.

Kevin Rudd: Earwax Gourmet

Here\’s the video of Kevin Rudd eating his earwax in the Australian Parliament:

 

As Sam Leith points out:

For at a stroke, a microsecond nibbling earwax threatens to eclipse a lifetime of hard political graft. Is this fair? Is this reasonable? No. Mr Rudd has experienced what could turn out to be his Neil-Kinnock-falling-in-the-sea moment.

There are certain mistakes you can make as a politician that do not, in the long run, scotch your standing as a statesman: cheating on your wife, starting a war, crashing the economy, illegally bombing sovereign states, selling landmines to despots, public assets to private entrepreneurs and influence to crooks.

But there are certain mistakes that seem to prove fatal: disco-dancing; appearing on internet sites in your underpants; and being exposed as an earwax-eating farty like the rest of us. Outrage, you can face down. Sniggering, you cannot.

I\’ve said this before and no doubt will say it again, but I\’m convinced that such sniggering was one of the things that helped to stop Sir Oswald Moseley and his Blackshirts before WWII. From the pen of PG Wodehouse we got Roderick Spode:

The trouble with you, Spode, is that just because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of half-wits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you\’re someone. You hear them shouting "Heil, Spode!" and you imagine it is the Voice of the People. That is where you make your bloomer. What the Voice of the People is saying is: "Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher?"

The owner, as we know, of "the emporium in Bond Street known as Eulalie Soeurs".

Given the incredible popularity of Wodehouse at the time (he was getting $200,000 a time in 1930s money for the serialisations of each novel in a magazine) that sort of giggling couldn\’t fail to have hurt.

Disaster Apartheid

In those California fires:

Elsewhere there was anger over the superior fire protection enjoyed by rich homeowners, thanks to insurance companies that dispatched private crews to tackle blazes threatening multi-million dollar homes.

American International Group, an insurance company, offers its richest customers protection through firefighting firm Firebreak Spray Systems.

The policy is only available to residents in California\’s wealthiest communities, including Malibu, Beverly Hills and Newport Beach, whose premiums exceed $10,000 a year and homes cost at least $1 million.

This week, the company sprayed foam retardant on more than 160 homes in Malibu, Lake Arrowhead and the hardest-hit areas of Orange and San Diego counties, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Sounds pretty sensible to me, that if you\’ve got the money you might spend it on such insurance.

Social commentator Naomi Klein described it as a "disaster apartheid" in which the affluent were better equipped for emergencies. "Survival shouldn\’t be a luxury item," she told the Los Angeles Times.

Err, a few things occur. Firstly, this isn\’t about survival: it\’s about the protection of property. Secondly, there are really only two options here. That either these rich should be barred from spending their own money as they wish…or the same protection should be governmentally funded for all. As the premiums are $10,000 a year, that doesn\’t look all that sensible. To say nothing of the moral hazard. If people wish to live in a desert liable to catch fire, just as if they wish to live in a flood plain, on a beach subject to storm damage or in an earthquake zone, of course, they\’ve got every right to live somewhere so stupid. But that\’s no reason for the State to subsidize their doing so.

On Brown and Balls

*

 

Both Brown and Balls are profoundly weird. They may be clever. But they are also undeniably emotionally stunted. Neither possesses an ounce of charm or any other characteristic that makes people likeable. They bear an uncanny resemblance to Edward Heath.

 

Jack Weatherill Tribute.

Iain Dale\’s got a copy of the tribute to Jack Weatherill and it\’s this line that strikes a chord for me:

Jack told his closest friends that if he was to be remembered it was that his word was his bond.

A couple of decades ago Bernard Levin wrote a column in which he asked, how would you like to be remembered? As the young officer buried in some corner of the Raj whose headstone read "He always kept his word"? Or would you prefer "He always acted from the best intentions"?

Levin came down firmly on the side of the former.

Then some time after that but before Levin\’s death there was an interview with Weatherill in The Observer (I think it was) in which he used that very same story of the headstone. I clipped it out and sent it off to Levin via The Times along with some note about how at least one person shared his views. Got a nice note back as well.

No, nothing important, just one of those little memories that pop up, that I associate with both Weatherill and that phrase.

Another Environmental Report

Grrr.

The speed at which mankind has used the Earth’s resources over the past 20 years has put “humanity’s very survival” at risk, a study involving 1,400 scientists has concluded.

No, that isn\’t what is beiong said. Rather, that the use of environmental services is greater than capacity. We are not talking about "resources" such as fuels, ores, metals. We are talking about the ability of the environment to supply us with services….like clean water, like recycle CO2.

It\’s a very important distinction and one that I\’m suprised The Times does not make.

Polly\’s a Bit Confused Today I Think.

Talking about abortion:

Mammaries are the favourite target of all religions, not mammon.

?? What do tits have to do with it? Ovaries, gonads, uteri, perhaps, but mammaries?

As to the larger debate going on over abortion I think she doth protest too much. Much too much. For we can see what\’s going to happen here, as in fact happened last time the issue was debated. There will be screaming and ranting about how a woman\’s right to an abortion is under threat, whatever final agreement there is will be regarded a a betrayal of such rights: and abortion will become easier.

What happened last time is that the limit was dropped from 28 weeks to 24. Or so everyone tells us. The bit that is left out is that at the same time the limit for foetal abnormality or danger to the health of the mother was dropped altogether. As there were almost no abortions in the 24-28 week time period for "social" reasons, what in fact happened was not that the limit was lowered: it was raised, up to the point of birth.

So too this time. There might be a lowering of the limit: but it will be a limit on "social" abortions, not on all such. So in effect we\’ll still have the system where there is no time limit on abortions at all.

And as a price for this we\’ll end up without the requirement that two doctors sign off on an abortion. That is, we\’ll move from the current system to one of abortion on demand…and this will be , is being, portrayed as a restriction on a woman\’s right to have one.

My own view is well known to regular readers: I\’m agin\’ abortion except in cases of immediate danger to the life of the mother….making it an act of self defense if you wish. But leave that aside for a moment please, let\’s not let this descend into a screaming match over the rights and or wrongs of abortion itself.

Instead, look at the political dynamics here. The screaming is that there will be further restrictions placed upon a woman\’s right or ability to get an abortion. The actual outcome will be, as we all know, that abortion will become more easily available. Because it will become on demand.

Stupid Filter

It works you know. Tried it out, as recommended here.

However, a couple of unknown geniuses have come up with a shield for tender minds. They are building Stupidfilter, an application of spam-fighting algorithms to the problem of stupidity. The heart of modern spam technology is Bayesian filtering. This uses statistical analysis to pick out spam by its resemblance to other known spam and its dissimilarity to real mail. All you need is a sufficiently large corpus of email to start with, and a human to sort through it the first time. Once a Bayesian filter has been trained, it will go on learning all by itself, requiring only the occasional adjustment by a human operator.

I\’ve added it to my browser now.

The solution we\’re creating is simple: an open-source filter software that can detect rampant stupidity in written English. This will be accomplished with weighted Bayesian analysis and some rules-based processing, similar to spam detection engines. The primary challenge inherent in our task is that stupidity is not a binary distinction, but rather a matter of degree. To this end, we\’re collecting a ranked corpus of stupid text, gleaned from user comments on public websites and ranked on a five-point scale.

It works too. I can no longer access The Guardian.

Eco-Wibble

Gaaah! When this sort of wibble turns up in The Telegraph then we know we\’re doomed:

So, where do we go from here? In the end, surely it is the job of the government and supermarkets, not the Soil Association, to work out what an acceptable level of food packaging is.

No it isn\’t you mad bint. It\’s your job to work out what an acceptable level of packaging is on the things that you buy! What is acceptable to you. Get that? You\’re the consumer, you make the choice!

The same applies to the "eco-footprint" of what we eat, and ensuring that farmers (in all countries) get a fair deal. That\’s not something that I, as a consumer, can easily influence when standing in front of the shelves.

Of course it bloody is something you can influence. Look, does this have to be described in Janet and John terms for you? Everyone in this game except you is trying to make money out of it. You are spending your money in order to maximise your utility. All those other people make money by pandering to whatever you think will maximise your utility. If you want less packaging? They\’ll provide it. You want local? They\’ll get it for you. You want organic? Ditto.

Look, why in fuck do you think that the shelves are groaning under the weight of organic products? Because you and millions like you buy them….the farmers, the supermarkets, make money out of providing what you\’re willing to flash the cash on. You are the only person they\’re trying to influence, it\’s your money they\’re tring to get ahold of and thus, you are the person in this whole system who actually has the influence.

I\’ll agree though that supermarkets do still sell products that don\’t meet your standards….that\’s because there\’s an awful lot of people who don\’t share your standards. Most of your fellow Britons could not give two hoots for your wibbles about food miles, eco-footprints and excess packaging. What you\’re actually saying here is that everyone should do as you say, not as they would wish. And that, my dear, is as useful a definition of food fascism as we\’re going to get.

Could you please bugger off to the Indy or the Groan, where you belong?