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Crisis? What Crisis?

November 18th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Politics

I finally finished reading Crisis? What Crisis?: Britain in the 1970s by Alwyn Turner. It took a while. I would probably have read two or three novels in the time it took me to read it, even though it is a much shorter book than many other history books that often weigh in at 700 or 800 pages.

The reason is that history is not as compelling as fiction for me. With a novel I will, if it is any good, find myself speeding up as I get further through and want to find out what happens next. And I will also put more time aside for reading do I can get to the end. Almost by definition, with a history book you know how it ends, and with a book about the 1970s there is no rush to get to the end because it ends with Thatcher.

That said, I was taken by surprise when the book finished because it was only 70% of the way through according to the progress bar at the bottom of the Kindle. I had forgotten that history books tend to devote a lot of pages at the end to references and bibliographies and this is the first one I have read as an e-book.

Quick conclusion: it is a different perspective to the others I read and even with covering the same ground it came up with a few things to make me stop and think. Well worth reading. There were a few points in it that I will probably return to in the near future.

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Nothing Has Changed

November 17th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Music

Right now I am on Spotify, listening to Nothing Has Changed, the new David Bowie ‘Best Of’ album.

I shan’t be buying it for several reasons. Firstly, I don’t buy CDs any more at all, but even if I did I already have a 2 CD David Bowie hits collection and used to have quite a few of his original albums on vinyl. I have a few thoughts about this latest collection though: [Read more →]

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The Turing Test

November 17th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Technology

The concept of the Turing test has been cropping up a lot on the news lately, due to the current film about Turing and a competition hosted at Bletchley Park. For some reason it sparked off a whole bunch of thoughts. [Read more →]

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November 17th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Life

The last few months have seen the regular annual influx of new graduate joiners at work, which means two things: a temporary tendency for the building to smell of Lynx and a permanent increase in the number of people who start every answer to a question with the word “so”.

This habit used to be mostly limited to academics in economics, psychology and related fields, especially if they were American, but spread throughout humanities and social sciences and now is everywhere. I do semi-seriously wonder if universities actually teach this explicitly rather than just by example. Presumably someone thought it sounded better than saying “er” or “um” when they need a little while to work out what they are going to say, and it just escalated.

Unbelievably that is not the only way the word “so” is catching on. There is an even more irritating verbal tic, where people use it to end a spoken sentence. It is like they realise that what they are saying is utterly predictable and just let the though fade with “so…”. It crops up a lot with quiz show contestants on TV who might say something like “Well I enjoy reading and watching films and I have a 2-year-old daughter so…”

Is this new? I am wondering if it is one of those things that everyone (including me) does and has been doing for ages, but you don’t notice it, and then when you do consciously register it you can’t un-hear it.

Well that’s my audition for the next series of Grumpy Old Men sorted out, so…

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Commoners Knave

November 4th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Life

I think I stumbled across an infinite source of potential band names – crosswords. You don’t even have to solve them, just look at the answers for the previous day. All you do is look for a pair of answers on the same row that just sound right together. You do get some brilliant pairs. Today’s Times had ‘Carollers Knave’. If there is not a folk band called Caroller’s Knave there bloody well should be.

I’m sure it works with down answers as well.

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Cast the net wider

November 3rd, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Life, Politics

To adapt Oscar Wilde a little:

To lose one chair of an inquiry into historical child abuse, Mr. Cameron, may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness.

People have been asking whether the failure of the government to find somebody to chair this inquiry who doesn’t have some sort of personal connection to anybody who might be part of it, is down to incompetence by the government or civil service, or whether it is a deliberate attempt to delay proceedings, leading to all sorts of conspiracy theories.

There is another possibility. Perhaps the British establishment is such a closed shop that there really isn’t anybody in judicial circles who doesn’t have connections to at least one person who might be part of the inquiry? When a large proportion of the establishment went to a handful of schools and universities, especially in the 1970s and 1980s that has to plausible. Between the old school tie network and Freemasons it must be hard to find anybody both qualified and independent.

Lord Carlile has said that the government should look ‘North of Watford’ and find somebody outside the Westminster village. Perhaps it should go further and consider casting the net a bit wider and appoint a foreigner? You would have to be careful with Commonwealth countries since a lot of their establishment probably shared an education with a lot of ours, but how about an American? Or maybe somebody who was involved in investigations into similar allegations, maybe in Belgium?

Just a thought.

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Britain is a miserable sight

October 31st, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Life

I came aacross an eye-catching quote this evening:

Britain is a miserable sight. A society of failures, full of apathy, and aroused only by envy at the success of others. This is why we will continue to decline. Not because of our economic or industrial problems. They are soluble. But because the psychology of our people is in such an appalling – I fear irretrievable – state. Meanness has replaced generosity. Envy has replaced endeavour. Malice is the most common motivation.

I could easily imagine coming across it in some newspaper column (if I still read a newspaper) but it is actually from 40 years ago. Certainly the idea that ‘malice is the most common motivation’ rings true.

Yes. I am reading yet another history of the 1970s. Having enjoyed, if that is the right word, When The Lights Went Out by Andy Beckett and State of Emergency by Dominic Sandbrook I got tempted to download Crisis? What Crisis? by Alwyn Turner the other day while it was one of Amazon’s deals of the day. The above quote is from Harold Wilson’s policy advisor, Bernard Donoughue in (I think) 1974 or 1975.

The quote does continue with:

It is time to go and cultivate our gardens, share love with our families, and leave the rest to fester.

But, for whatever reason, Alwyn Turner does not include the final part of what Donoughue wrote:

And if it gets intolerable – because fascism could breed in this unhealthy climate – to emigrate if need be.

I think the overwhelming feeling while reading the book is relief that while all that was going on I wasn’t really old enough to worry about it. It really does make the seventies out to be a terrible time and I feel slightly guilty that I look back on them so fondly. It does help that all I had to worry about was whether Elton John would be on Top of the Pops, whether West Ham would get through to the next round of the FA Cup and whether I would get a snog after the school dance.

I’m feeling a bit tempted to download the Dominic Sandbrook book that covers 1974-79 for when I finish thisbook but since it weighs in at a hefty 992 pages I might postpone that a little while.

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First past the post explained

October 29th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Politics

This is a bit annoying, because I happen to think that proportional representation would be a good thing, but I thought of a good analogy to explain how first past the post isn’t necessarily unfair if a party gets fewer votes but wins more seats.

I should throw in the caveat that by ‘good’ I don’t mean good in the absolute sense, just better than my usual crappy standard of analogies. [Read more →]

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Everybody wins

October 27th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Politics

With all the doom and gloom around, it was nice to see some good news this week -  that one of our Tory councillors has been selected as a parliamentary candidate in Stoke-on-Trent. This really is one of those times when everybody wins. [Read more →]

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What’s in a name?

October 23rd, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Music

I watched a bit of the MOBO awards last night, but only about three minutes’ worth. As I tuned in there was a category where two of the nominees were Jessie J and Katy B which made it sound like they were not so much recording artists as child protection cases being granted anonymity.

It seems to be a bit of a trend. Look at the charts (*) and you can find Jamie T, Juici J, Charli XCX and Schoolboy Q which sounds even more like a child protection case than all the rest put together.

When did this become a thing? I blame Jay-Z


(*) Or don’t. Not if you are my age. I looked at the official top 100 singles and I reckon I only know about three of them. And that is only because Snow Patrol are inexplicably in there with Chasing Cars.

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