Friday 30 October 2009

Sign o’ the times

We had a fire drill on Thursday. The last one I remember, a year or so ago, resulted in approximately 30 employees crowding into a car park whilst waiting to be counted. Yesterday we numbered seven. Still, at least we all got out safe… and our boss is visiting us next week.

Also in the news; I read a book and I’m thinking of reading another. The one I read was Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I can see why its polarised opinion and those not liking the book make some valid points, but they also point to the reason I liked it so much. I’ve missed reading; I should do more, much more. So I bought another but starting will be the key. I need a few clear hours to open with and then some regular time to invest… now there’s the trick... and our boss is visiting us next week.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Equality to equals and unequal alike

Plato, through Socrates, described it thus;
...a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequal alike.
Or as I once remarked to a friend;
The thing with democracy is that ultimately it’s about allowing morons to vote.
Democracy boulders cartoon
Plato’s ideal system, an aristocracy led by wise men that are (crucially) reluctant to lead, seems inherently dangerous given our understanding on the ability of power to warp the best of intentions - not to mention the scarcity of wise men. So unless we subscribe to this utopian vision or perhaps the benefits of a benign autocracy (and I’m surprised to find there are many that do) we are, for all its perceived limitations, left with democracy; though are these limitations really a weakness?

One might think so since the BBC have invited Nick Griffin, leader of the BNP and a holocaust denier, to appear on Question Time; their most prominent platform for political debate. However such people are a fact of life whatever the system; brushing repulsive individuals under the carpet not only disenfranchises, it’s counterproductive. Who can be persuaded the error of their ways by being denied the right to speak?

I can think of few people who deserve to be ridiculed more but a more constructive act might be to engage them in debate or, to use language his party would understand, debate the sh*t out of them. There are undoubtedly dangers; putting Griffin in a civilised environment may result in some believing the participant himself to be civilised. In addition I would hope the other panellists can avoid indulging in a game of “who hates the racist the most”; it’s a trap the BNP would be delighted to spring.

Yet despite these risks we must engage in debate; not necessarily because we hope to change minds, though occasionally we may, but because this is how a society grows. If unwilling to face up to its more unpleasant members then how can it be worth fighting for? An unchallenged society is doomed to failure.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Pay peanuts...

Hypocrisy; there’s a lot of it about. I’ll bet there are a large number of people receiving benefits in kind that are completely unrelated to their job. Whether it’s a subsidised canteen or gym membership, being able to claim for a television is no different - it’s just a little more expensive.

The current MPs’ expenses scandal has rightly provoked anger on the issue of "flipped" homes and the dubious methods for avoiding capital gains tax. However this fury has impaired the critical faculties of many to the point that any unusual payment is seen as suspect. If televisions and furniture are part of your remuneration then you have every right to make a claim; whilst unusual, they are an inevitable result of paying our elected representatives such a comparatively low wage.

The basic salary for an MP is £64,766, if we allow for a ‘London weighting’ this equates to a little over £56,000 outside the capital. It’s a lot of money but is it enough? This is the salary of a middle ranking bank manager, not one for a person who represents the interests of over 68,000 people; someone responsible for policy that affects every part of our lives and those of our children.

The UK has a first-past-the-post electoral system. Technically we vote for the individual we wish to represent us, not the political party to which they may belong. A Member of Parliament however is still subject to two often competing forces; those of the electorate and those of his or her party. This situation is aggravated by the large number of junior ministerial positions available that naturally carry an additional salary.

If we want people who truly represent us then we should be prepared to pay enough such that politics is more than a vocational choice for the well off. If we want people who think of their electorate first then we should pay enough such that any threat to withdraw party privileges has relatively little financial impact. If we want a simple and more transparent expenses system then we should be prepared to pay the going rate.

But if we’re only prepared to pay peanuts, we shouldn’t be surprised at the result.

Friday 9 October 2009

Failure is your friend

I remember driving in to work one weekend to try and catch up, but on arriving hitting problem after problem; the result being that five hours later I appeared to have gotten nowhere. In reality of course I’d made progress since, come Monday and with all those failures in the past, I could move forward. I’m trying to use this as I wrestle, not always valiantly, with a VB script problem in Excel. I’m not a big fan of Excel, or rather VB script; it’s like being told to play with stickle bricks instead of Meccano. Why do the other kids get the cool toys?

rugby scrum
This isn’t what I meant to write about, at least not directly. I guess I was reminded of these challenges on reading a terrific blog on the spirit of scrum. I can’t say I know much about agile software development, let alone the scrum method, and in passing I wonder where or even if, rapid application development fits on the evolutionary path. Scrum would appear to exist beyond the confines of a software development methodology, though this is only part of its attraction. I suspect I should read more of Tobias’ blog, Agile Anarchy, before passing comment, but I will venture to say that what appeals is its... humanity. I could be way off the mark but I’ve read enough to want for more.

I will doubtless be plagued by the cynical voice that warns I’ll never experience it in practice. Perhaps not, but a good idea is a good idea and anyway, just this once I think I’ll aim high.

Monday 5 October 2009

Unpretty too

One of these pictures is of an ex work colleague and I outside his house, the other is a picture from the brilliant Norwegian comedy Elling; a film about two startled inmates released from a state institution and trying to make their way in the world. I am thus reminded in a most gentle way of how much I’ve aged. My hair used to be black you know.