Dr. Dogg

To AV or not AV

So, tomorrow here, we have local elections and a referendum on whether to change the voting system from first past the post (FPP) where we vote to a single candidate in a constituency, to the alternative vote (AV) where the candidates are ranked in order of preference.

In all honesty, the outcome of the referendum (ie: which of the two systems of votes is used) is unlikely to make that much difference to election results. The debate has generated a fair amount of heat, but I've yet to hear a single good argument on either side. The AV arguments have consisted almost entirely of attacking FPP without explaining why AV is actually better (beyond saying a "yes" to AV outcome in the referendum could lead to further reform, but I don't know that I actually want further reform). But there seems to me to be no decent argument why AV is better than FPP in it's own right.

I can think of one good reason for AV- it reduces the need for tactical voting. But that reason does not seem to be particularly at the foreground of any pro-AV argument.

The arguments of the "no" to AV camp on the other hand seem at best to be misleading, and at worst to consist of things that I actually know to be untrue. There are other irritating "arguments" such as the general public being too stupid to understand AV. As the astute reader has probably gathered, the "no" campaign has rather annoyed me.

In fact, the "no" to AV campaign firmly convinced me to vote "yes".
Dr. Dogg

BP, the Budget, Liberal Democrats, and the Daily Mail

I'd initially planned my next LiveJournal entry to be about something of significance, and incredibly reasonable and well-argued.

But then I thought sod it. One of life's many minor tragedies is that when two people with opposed views discuss something, neither is remotely likely to be convinced by the other one's arguments. Politics is not mathematics.

Another problem was a complete failure to make my mind up what I wanted to talk about. So what you're going to get is a number of small rants. Here we go, in no particular order.

(1)How can anyone seriously think that BP should not have paid serious compensation? They screwed up and the effect was an environmental disaster.

The idea that the UK government should take steps to protect BP from the US is ridiculous. BP is a multinational company based in Britain with the word “British” in it's name. It is not a challenge to British national interests to attack it. BP is not a symbol of national pride. It's a multinational oil company.

(2)The Conservatives are using the current financial crisis to make cuts that they wanted to make anyway. The Tory philosophy favours a small public sector and lack of state intervention or control. People should be able to do what they want without the state interfering or helping. It doesn't matter if mass unemployment, increased poverty, and lack of opportunities is the price.

To repeat my main point, the cuts are precisely the sort of thing the Conservatives wanted to do anyway. The financial crisis provides a convenient excuse.

(3)I feel a little sorry for the Liberal Democrats. A little bit. A significant part of their pre-election campaign focused on their opposition to immediate spending cuts in public services and to a raise in VAT. And look what's happened. Not to mention the Forgemasters in Sheffield business. I'd be extremely annoyed right now if I'd voted for them. They're finished politically for a good few years- were there another election tomorrow, I doubt they'd even manage 10% of the vote.

So why do I feel sorry for them if I'm so hypothetically annoyed? Well, I think the current government would be more unpleasant under an absolute Conservative majority. The far right wing of the Tory party are frankly complete lunatics, and there's some control on them while the Lib Dems are needed.

(4)The Daily Mail has taken over from the Express as the newspaper I most despise. The number of headlines I've seen in the last few weeks that have been complete misleading bullshit is absolutely through the roof.

Obviously, what I've said about BP is as much in reaction to the Daily Mail as anything else. I won't bother commenting on the story about competitive sports finally being “allowed” again, or EU regulations that will stop us selling eggs by number- apparently, they'll instead be sold by weight instead. Like I said, misleading nonsense.

If you want my opinion on almost anything politically, look in the Daily Mail. Mine's the opposite.

(5)I'm very glad people have stopped using the phrase “new politics”. At least I hope they have.

That will do for now.
Dr. Dogg

Odious politics

For a while I've been thinking more than I used to about politics. My first reaction when I realised this was to blame the election, but it's not just that- interest has been growing since we moved back to Britain in 2007. That's a marjory and I `we' rather than a royal `we', in case you were wondering.

Along with interest come opinions. So I thought I'd restart my Livejournal initially by airing some of these. If that's not your thing at all (and apart from one small point I'm going to make at the end of this post, I honestly don't blame you), move along- nothing to see here.

Short version of most of what I'm going to say- there's a lot that makes me angry. But however angry I get about such things (and I'm aware this sounds pompous), there's one important thing I try and bear in mind- there's a difference between odious political opinions and ones I merely disagree with- however strongly.

I'm friends with plenty of people who hold opinions I disagree with. Obviously I'm right and they're wrong, but we're friends nonetheless. On the other hand, I cannot be friends with someone whose views are actually odious. That's my personal definition of what an odious political opinion is.

Examples? Glad you asked. BNP- odious. Religious extremists- odious. "Britain should leave the EU"- something I disagree with (it's isolationist nonsense and potential economic suicide) but not odious (although it sometimes comes with baggage that is odious). "The UK was in a mess in the late 1970s and Margaret Thatcher sorted it out." - in my opinion, either highly misleading or delusional, but not actually odious.

All of this brings me to something that was incredibly topical a few weeks ago - the importance of voting. I don't care if you can't see much difference between the main parties. I don't care if a party you disagree with has an overwhelming majority in your constituency.

Remember those adverts back in 1997. They were entirely correct. A low voter turn-out does risk more influence for extremists. Would you really be happy living somewhere with a BNP MP for example? And if not, why are you relying entirely on others to prevent this happening.

Like I said, it was topical a few weeks ago. These things take me a while to write sometimes...
Dr. Dogg

More reviewettes

After my last reviewettes post, I thought it's time for another, but this time I plan to look at books I've read over the last few weeks rather than films and TV series. Here we go then.



  • Ian Rankin: Exit Music (4/5)


  • It's an Inspector Rebus book. Basically a police procedural set in Edinburgh, but that doesn't really sum up the Rebus series. The best thing for me to say about the series is that I like them, and I'm not normally a fan of crime fiction. Characterisation is tight, but focused on the case or cases considered in the book, and there are generally nasty plot twists. If that sounds interesting, I'd probably suggest starting where I did, with Black and Blue, rather than here.

    Anyway, this book is a fairly typical, and possibly the last. Rebus is a few days away from retirement. He's investigating the murder of a Russian expatriate poet. The book's dotted with references to current events at the time it was written, including the Polonium poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, which I found a nice touch.

    As usual, Rebus manages to annoy the establishment and get suspended, but is still obsessed with the case. He's more obsessed than ever with the Edinburgh crime overlord Ger Cafferty.

  • James Blish: Cities in Flight (3/5)


  • Let's start with the good stuff. I loved the imagery of cities `going Okie'- flying through space to do odd jobs on various planets. I love like the atmospheric use of depression-era slang and imagery. I like the grand scope- cities flying through space, and eventually the colonisation of another galaxy.

    The initial set-up is also good- planet Earth is drained of resources, and the West is locked in a permanent cold war with the Soviet Union, with both civilisations equally authoritarian.

    Now for the bad stuff. It's dated. It's full of technobabble, especially in the fourth book, and too many problems encountered have a purely technobabble solution. This is a tendency of some science fiction that I absolutely cannot stand.

    Like most classic science fiction, the book is about ideas rather than characters, with the result that the characterisation is fairly weak. And finally, it's pretty sexist, although arguably this is what one would expect from the time it was written.

  • Clive Barker: Imajica (2/5)


  • Not too much to say here actually. I loved this book when I first read it about 17 years ago. Now I'm really not so sure.

    My main problem is that I dislike all of the main characters, partially because of some fairly obnoxious sex scenes, and the attitudes pretty much all of the characters have toward such things.

    It's not all bad. I like the idea of the Five Dominions, four of which are shielded from Earth by a hostile void. I like the fantasy horror aspect and the feel of the magic. And I like the complete changes in focus as the book moves along.

    But I'm definitely no longer a fan.

  • A.M. Homes: This book will save your life (4/5)


  • This is a fun book. It features divorcee Richard Novak who has drifted into a life of complete isolation. After being hospitalised with inexplicable pain, he tries to reconnect with the world.

    Part of this reconnection is Novak performing good deeds. Part of it is him being plagued with strange events, such as a huge hole appearing in the hill outside of his house.

    It's fun. There's a fair amount of humour- mainly in the form of satire. It's set in Los Angeles. It's written almost entirely in the present tense.

    Actually, this sort of book is not normally my type of thing at all, but I enjoyed it.

Dr. Dogg

I don't rant.

I've said I don't rant, but that resolve is currently being tested. There's two things that have vastly irritated me at the moment.

Firstly, our former German electricity company. I found out fairly recently that although I had cancelled everything with the contract, 85 Euros per month has still been going out of my account since we left Germany. In the middle of September last year. One strange German rule is that I can't cancel a direct debit myself with my bank when the money goes out to a utility company; the company has to do it.

The good news is that I got a letter yesterday. The situation is now resolved, and lots of money has been paid back into my German account. My current irritation is with the way they handled it. No response whatsoever to my letter and e-mails over the last couple of weeks. The letter I got yesterday was simply a statement indicating a credit to my account. No sign whatsoever of an apology- which is something I'd learned in my time in the country that I shouldn't expect from German companies, even when they've truly f*cked up. Oh well.

My second problem is more recent, and something that has caused me to completely waste two days. My computer at work was infected with something nasty called "AntiSpyware Master". I've no idea how it got there- there could have been some sort of Trojan sitting on the computer, or something- but it suddenly popped up, ran an obviously fake scan and reported lots of viruses and spyware. An option then popped up telling me I could send $50 to buy the full software to get rid of these.

A scam of course, and a quick google search told me that I could be in a lot of trouble. Then the computer slowed down to an absolute snail's pace- to the extent that even opening a window took over a minute. The first couple of scans I ran did not even detect the bloody program. I contacted the computer officer at work before doing anything else.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, we've both been in my office for the best part of two days running scans and manually removing all sorts of rubbish that I suspect was produced by "AntiSpyware Master". A total of six assorted pieces of spyware, trojans, and viruses, some of which were pretty tricky to get rid of. A truly evil program.

Last night the computer seemed to be back to normal speed, and a complete scan found nothing further. After that it was sufficiently late that I was locked in the building.

I hope things are better today.

Well- still not a rant. But I feel happier now I've got that off my chest.
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    aggravated aggravated
Dr. Dogg

Reviewettes

Earlier this week, Marjory and I reached our thirteenth anniversary. To be completely honest, I'm not sure of the exact date (I know- shame on me), but we deem it to be the 13th of June. Marjory has already written about that.

This morning I visited the dentist for a scale and polish. Was told I needed to spend more time brushing my teeth. But all in all better by far than my last visit.

But what I want to write about now is some mini-reviews of a few DVDs we've seen over the last couple of weeks. In order, from the most to least recent.



  • Pan's Labyrinth (5/5)


  • Basically a dark fairy tale set in early fascist Spain. The main character is a young girl uprooted to a military outpost, where her new step-father is captain.

    The film is surreal, very bloody, and strange. The villain- the step-father- was so sadistic and out of control that I found myself really hoping for his undoing. Anyway, the best film I've seen this year. I cried at the end. Highly recommended- assuming you like the dark fairy tale angle, and don't mind a Spanish film with subtitles.

  • I Am Legend (3/5)


  • Warning: I can't really talk about this without giving away a few spoilers. Read at your peril.

    My basic verdict is summed up in one word: Disappointing. The basic set-up of the film was different from the novel- instead of `vampires', the bulk of humanity was converted into mindlessly aggressive monsters. The change had a scientific explanation. Actually, all of this was great- I'm a little bored by films blindly copying books and making sure they just `tick the right boxes'- the Golden Compass and the last Harry Potter film spring to mind as examples.

    I amaze myself by writing this, but Will Smith was great as Robert Neville, and I enjoyed his slow and then more rapid slide into insanity.

    My disappointment was with the ending. To explain why, I'm afraid there are yet more spoilers- both for the book and the film.

    Anyway, the book's ending was ironic- Robert Neville was the true monster. The set-up of the film prevented this ending, but nonetheless, some sort of incredibly bleak ending would have been the most appropriate. Instead, Robert Neville sacrificed himself to save humanity. Yawn. Made the rest of the film almost pointless.

  • Life on Mars (4/5)


  • Earlier this year, I really enjoyed the series Ashes to Ashes- where a policewoman was transported back in time to the early 80s after being shot. Ashes to Ashes was a sort of sequel to Life on Mars- an earlier series where a policeman was transported back to 1973 after a car accident. Or perhaps he was just hallucinating while in a coma.

    I had thought Ashes to Ashes was a brilliant original idea. I was wrong- Life on Mars was a brilliant original idea, and Ashes to Ashes was just a slightly more polished version of the same thing. The main colleagues of the time traveller were the same people in both series (obviously deliberately), just slightly changed to reflect stereotypes from two different decades. Incidentally, the main policeman in the other time, Gene Hunt, was brilliant in both versions.

    Life on Mars is basically a retro-seventies cop show with the time-travelling twist. It wasn't perfect- my main criticism is that there was very little character development over the series, but that could have been part of the point. But it was very good indeed. The fact that the second season of Life on Mars brought the series to a firm conclusion was fantastic- I wish more shows had the courage to do that sort of thing.

Dr. Dogg

Dazed and confused

We're thinking about buying a house. I'm terrified!

After fifteen years or so of doing it once a week, I still can't put a duvet cover on in anything less than about fifteen minutes. It's a good job I don't work in a hotel.
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    confused confused
Dr. Dogg

An irrational rant

I still maintain that I don't rant. It's just that I'm not sure what else to call this post.

At work my office is on the 7th floor. Actually, that's not strictly true- my office is on K floor. Ground floor at my end of the building is D floor. It's B floor at the other end of the building. There's no A floor. Sheffield is all hills.

Most of the time, I take the lift to my office for obvious reasons. Sometimes other people take the lift. For some reason I get really annoyed when a person uses the lift to travel three or fewer floors (assuming said individual is young and fit). People who do things like that delay my journey for entire seconds. It's a good job I don't have a car really.

On the other hand, using the lift to go four or more floors is fine. I said it was irrational. My feelings would probably be entirely different were I based on a different floor.

I thought I'd feel better getting all that lift business off my chest, but I don't. Just a little embarassed really.
  • Current Music
    Futureheads- Hounds of Love
Dr. Dogg

Nonecdotes

I admit it. I have an extremely bad habit that annoys those around me. Or rather, as I'd better say before Marjory someone points it out, I probably have several annoying habits, but for now I'm just going to focus on one.

I think I'm a pretty funny and entertaining person. Sometimes I like to tell anecdotes. The problem is, by far the majority of my anecdotes are like this.



  • This morning, I nearly missed my bus on the way to work, but I didn't.


  • Today I walked past a huge puddle. A car came past and almost splashed me.


  • There wasn't any sushi left in the shop, so I had a sandwich for lunch.




For some reason, my little stories drive Marjory mad. It probably doesn't help that I inadvertently build them up. A typical exchange is along these lines.

"I've got something to tell you...oh hang on a second, I can't tell you that."

"Just tell me."

"No, it's boring."

I think a part of me can't really see the difference between the above and an anecdote like this.



  • My flight was 24 hours late. The first plane had to turn back an hour into the flight due to a loss of cabin pressure. I thought I was going to die.




Maybe I'll expand on the above story one in a later post. The thing is, interesting things like that don't happen to me every day. Fortunately.

Anyway, I thought that one small silver lining was that I thought I'd invented a word to describe my special little stories. But quick internet search told me that I'd been beaten to it.
  • Current Mood
    embarrassed embarrassed
Dr. Dogg

Good news and bad news

My good news is that I was wrong in my last post about the process involved in obtaining a Habilitation. Stage (4) was unnecessary, and I've completed stage (3). So... I've got it. I'm pretty chuffed.

The short version of my bad news is that I've lost a tooth. During lunch after my talk, I pretty much felt it dissolving. I ended up going to the dental part of the hospital in Göttingen, and paying for immediate treatment. They drilled out the nerve of the tooth (which was exposed) and put on a temporary cap, advising me to have the tooth out as soon as I was back in Britain.

It wasn't quite straightforward finding someone to do the job on Friday morning. I know Marjory has written more about the process, so suffice to say I eventually found someone, and the tooth is now out. Now I'm ready for a day of saline mouthwashes.

Does it say something about me or about human nature that I've just written more about my dirty old tooth than I have about my shiny new qualification?