An assortment of indigestible things

Category: politics

Another reason to dislike my MP (as if I needed one)

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Conservative MP for The CotswoldsThis is a picture of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, my MP. There are several reasons why I don’t like him. First—and most obvious—is that he’s a Tory, and just about the only thing I have in common with Conservatives is that we both like the colour blue. Secondly, he’s an archetypical Tory[1]: he’s related to the 1st Viscount Ruffside, went to Eton, receives an income from properties in London and Norfolk, ‘flipped’ his second home to Gloucestershire, and of course he likes firing guns at things. Finally—and most annoyingly—I’m stuck with him. He’s been an MP continuously since 1992, and in 2010 he polled a majority of over 12,000, making him pretty much untouchable.

If the Church of England wants to be sexist, it should walk away from the Lords

The Lords Spiritual remain all male

Despite blanket coverage in the quality media, most of the British population did little more than raise a puzzled eyebrow at the decision of the Church of England’s General Synod to reject proposed legislation which would have allowed for the consecration of women as bishops. The majority of the population has little contact with the church, and it’s easy to dismiss the recent news as a curious anachronism: a decision which is plainly at odds with our progressive society, but only affects the Anglican church and its members. Most religions, after all, have sexism built into their doctrines at some level.

Unfortunately, this misguided decision affects us all.

Cotswold District Council’s finances laid bare

A couple of weeks ago (when I was supposed to be revising), I added some code to Armchair Auditor, a great bit of free software by Adrian Short. He wrote it to ingest spending data from Windsor and Maidenhead and present it to the public in a form that’s easily used for analysis and general poking around.

Recently, Cotswold District Council announced that it would start including all payments to suppliers without a lower limit (previously this limit was £500). My addition to Armchair Auditor allows for the processing of CDC’s spending data (with all its formatting idiosyncrasies) so that it can be presented in as useful a way.

I’m no data analyst, but perhaps there are interesting things to be found in the data. Have a look at the Cotswold District Council Armchair Auditor, and see what you can find—and please do leave a comment if anything interesting turns up!

Metered estate lock-in: an update

This article was written in 2012.  I no longer live in the area and don’t have any more up-to-date information.  I’m leaving it here for reference only.

My previous post about supplier lock-in and metered estates generated a modicum of interest, both in the comments and in messages I’ve received directly. It seems that there is a small but significant number of medium-to-large metered estates where the consensus necessary for switching suppliers is rendered impossible by the inevitable turnover in fixed-term contracts. The Competition Commission’s order requires that all residents on a metered estate must be free of fixed-term contractual obligations before a switch can be made.

Rather than updating the original post again and again, I’ll summarise what I’ve found out so far.

Leafing through the Marxist-Leninist press

If you’ve arrived here expecting a cache of Marxist-Leninist newspapers, I may have misled you. I am neither a Marxist nor a Leninist (although I do have a soft spot for Imagine), and if I’m completely honest I don’t really know the difference. The title of this post is actually taken from a c1990 programme schedule for Radio Tirana, the English-speaking Albanian equivalent of the BBC World Service. As someone who heard that programme first hand, I can tell you that it was exactly as interesting as it sounds. We’ll get back to Albania shortly, but first a little context.

No gas exchange allowed: Calor cynically locks in an entire village

This article was written in 2012.  I no longer live in the area and don’t have any more up-to-date information.  I’m leaving it here for reference only.

For the majority of the UK population, it would be unthinkable to live somewhere untouched by the mains gas network. Most of the country benefits from a pool of aggressively competitive energy companies offering dual-fuel discounts, assorted tariffs, smart meters and other nice things. A plethora of price comparison websites plead for your business as the different companies jostle for position in this crowded market.

Surprisingly, one doesn’t need to venture too far from large towns to leave the mains gas grid behind. Take a drive into the country and you’ll see plenty of houses with their own bulk fuel tank, whether LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) or heating oil. There’s competition here, too; not as much as for the mains, but there are still quite a few companies offering tank rental and filling services. It works pretty well: they just turn up every so often and top up the tank.

There is a third category: so-called metered estates. These are typically new housing estates, built outwith the reach of mains gas, where the developer has arranged for a bulk LPG supplier to install large tanks that will feed the whole estate. Generally (although not always), the householders will have individual contracts with the supplier. Clearly this is an uncompetitive environment, as householders can’t switch suppliers, no matter what happens to their bills.

TASS coverage of the attempted coup in USSR, 19th August 1991

In August 1991, Gennady Yanayev led an attempted coup and seized power in the USSR, temporarily deposing Gorbachev. The Russian news agency TASS started sending a loop tape of statements and rhetoric as events unfolded. I was lucky enough to have left my receiving equipment running, and captured the TASS tape below.

State-sanctioned child abuse: a response to Sean Faircloth’s interview with Liz Heywood

It’s not every day I sit in front of my computer and talk to it. However, yesterday I watched something that affected me so strongly that I made my first ever piece to camera. I have now joined the countless thousands on YouTube who speak their brains through their webcams into the void.

This is an interview with Sean Faircloth (of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science) talking to a woman called Liz Heywood. Ms Heywood had the misfortune to be raised by Christian Scientists, who over a long period of time failed to treat her osteomyelitis, leaving her in excruciating pain and eventually necessitating an amputation. Ms Heywood demonstrates a remarkable capacity for perspective. I do recommend you watch the whole thing (17 minutes; alternatively, here is an embedded version on the RDFRS website).

I have seen and heard such stories before, so I was naturally horrified but not overly surprised. What I found most shocking, and what prompted me to make this little video, was the fact that in the majority of US states it is legal to neglect your child in this way if you claim that you are providing ‘faith healing’ instead. Here aresome specific details of the laws involved.

This gets a bit ranty, so if you’re only going to watch one video today, please watch the interview rather than my ugly mug.

Further reading

Friendly Atheist’s blog post on the subject, including a statement from Liz Heywood which was read by someone from the Secular Coalition for America in a meeting with White House officials.

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