Monday, October 15, 2012

Vodafone: What price customer service?

Hello.  Once again, I’m having to blow some cobwebs away from this Corner of the Blogosphere, but none of us has time for excuses. This time, Vodafone can take the credit for my triumphant return.  It’s about all they deserve credit for, but I nonetheless feel that the wider world should enjoy this email from their customer service team, explaining why they are increasing the price of their contracts mid-term.


Thank you for Contacting Vodafone Customer Services with regard to price increase.

I understand that you are concerned about the price increase. I apologies for the inconvenience caused to you as it effected the line rental.

I would like to inform you that the price increase is not in our hands. This is to be decided by the telecom companies. We have to increase the price to adjust with the competitors. The other telecom companies have already increased their prices due to inflation. The present inflation has affected many telecom companies and therefore to increase the price.

Please be assure that we are the last one to increase the prices in line rental. This inflation has affected the whole economy.

Furthermore, In order to resolve any customer issues we follow an internal escalation procedure. Once you have emailed us we endeavour to resolve your query in the first instance. If you’re not happy with our reply, the query would then be escalated to a Manager in the Email Contact Centre.

I trust the above information helps.

Kind regards,

Parth Mehta
Vodafone Customer Services

We hope you have found our Email Customer Service helpful and convenient.  To contact us please click  'here'.

Thank you for being a Vodafone customer and I hope you enjoy all that Vodafone has to offer.

Vodafone has logged your email address in case it needs to contact you about other matters relating to your account.  It may also be used for marketing purposes - you will soon receive an email explaining this and how you can opt out.


I am reminded of the infinite monkey theorem.  Hopefully the monkeys will get around to sending the email telling me how I can opt out of unsolicited marketing sooner rather than later…

Thursday, July 26, 2012

American French

One of my jobs for the next couple of days is to convert a paper I hope to submit for a conference in to U.S. English.  I have to begrudgingly admit that because the conference is in the U.S. I don’t have much grounds for complaint, but it seems like a bit of a tedious process for very little benefit (after all, are we really to assume that the international readership won’t understand use of the word “colour” in lieu of “color”?).  Hopefully it won’t waste a tonne* of my time.
Anyway, I saw a headline about the fast-food chain Chick-Fil-A yesterday and it has got me thinking about American English – or perhaps more accurately, American French – which is not as consistent in terms of pronunciation as one might expect.
For example, if I was from Maine, I might conceivably drive to Calais (pronounced “Callous”) in a coupe (pronounced “coop”).  I might then stop for some food – possibly some chicken fillets (“fil-ay,” apparently).  At some point I might also drink some herbal (“erbal”) tea – perhaps in the comfort of my hotel room.
C’est ridiculous, non?
I’m going to get back to weeding out the apparently unnecessary u’s in my paper.**   Meanwhile, if you’ve still got time on your hands, and have further questions about the important issues I have just raised, I’ll leave you in the capable hands of David Mitchell.

*for the purposes of this post, I am working in metric tonnes, where 1 tonne is 1000 kilograms (2200 pounds).
**more accurately, I should probably say “supervising Word as it corrects my apparent spelling mistakes”

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Thursday, April 12, 2012

British Broadcasting Corporation vs British Airways and British Midland

The BBC News Page is currently displaying this headline:

British Airways and BMI deal puts 1,200 jobs at risk.

Anyone reading this could be forgiven for assuming that any job losses will purely be as a result of the BA deal.  They could also be forgiven for having sympathy with the unions, who are showing signs of squaring up to BA.

But let’s stop and think about this, shall we?  Lufthansa is selling BMI, which is losing money.  Anyone buying it is likely to have to restructure it to keep it afloat, and if the BA sale were to have been impeded Lufthansa may have had no option but to cut its losses and close BMI down completely.

I would accuse the BBC of being biased again, although I struggle to think of a good motive for such bias.  One wonders if it comes down to giving the unions (and by association their bankrolling of the Labour Party) some credibility.  Am I really that cynical?

Here endeth the latest rant.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

On Jesus’ Virgin Birth

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have been following the on-going dialogue I have been having with some atheists, since I picked up on the statement that the Bible is “the biggest fictional tale ever told.”  If not, you might be able to look back past my recent bout of Twitterrrhoea about easyJet and see something of what was said.

I have to say that it was difficult to engage in a reasoned discussion, but there have been some interesting questions and issues raised and I thought I would share some thoughts here.

It was suggested that I begin with answering the question “why do [I] think Jesus was in fact born of a virgin?” 

I’m not sure that I ever said anything about my belief in the virgin birth; however it was a correct assumption to make and I shall answer the question without further ado.

The bottom line is that I trust what has been written in the Bible.  I am not aware of any extra-Biblical references to the virgin birth (but I am happy to stand corrected), but in any case this is not something which can be proven scientifically.

However, the lack of scientific proof does not mean that it isn’t true.  Similarly, the fact that the Bible records extra-ordinary events does not mean that it cannot be trusted.  That said, I do not blindly trust the Bible.  I think that the books of the New Testament hold weight as historic documents, for example, and my worldview as a whole is coherent.

Of course, the more important questions to ask concern  the notion of the existence of God, and the claim that Jesus was God in human form.  Discussing whether or not he really was born of a virgin is potentially interesting but of no relevance to the bigger picture.  If theism is true and there is a god capable of creating the whole Universe then the notion that Jesus may have been born of a virgin is not hugely shocking. 

On the other hand, if you believe that there is no god, would finding out that Jesus was born of a virgin do anything to convince you otherwise?

Saturday, March 31, 2012

On blaming the government for this blog

I read on the BBC News Page today that “John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, Karl Turner, MP for Hull East, and Labour Lord Toby Harris are among those who have called for Mr Maude to resign if it turns out his comments contributed to the burns accident suffered by 46-year-old Diane Hill.”

Let’s get this straight.  Mr Maude – rightly or wrongly – told people to consider keeping a jerry-can of petrol in the garage.  He did not say anything about decanting it in the kitchen, with the cooker on. 

Furthermore, this was not a command, it was a suggestion.  Mr Maude did not say “citizens found guilty of not buying and storing extra quantities of petrol shall be fined or banged up in jail.”  We can argue to the cows come home about whether his advice was necessary, but if you went out and bought petrol in a panic it was entirely your decision.  If you were following the news enough to listen to the government’s advice you would also have known that no strike had been set.

I despair at the fact that people blame the government rather than taking responsibility for things themselves.  If you’re going to whinge and demand rights, which people often do, then you can accept that you have responsibilities as well.  Personally, I think that John Mann, Karl Turner, and Toby Harris should resign for encouraging people not to have their own sense of responsibility.

Mind you, I wouldn’t complain if in the face of the next crisis Mr Maude suggested jumping off a cliff.  Think of how much better things would be if we lost a few of those who are really too irresponsible to vote.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

On lighting the blue touch paper

As you probably know, I can sometimes be quite provocative.  My recent tweet linked to my last post certainly seemed to have that effect.  On the positive side, I have really enjoyed seeing people engaging well with the dialogue, both here and on Facebook, and I have to admit that my ego has taken a small boost from the record numbers who landed in this corner of the Blogosphere.

However, on reflection, I realise that some of you may have thought that I was being unnecessarily antagonistic – for which I apologise.  Hopefully if you read the post you realised that there was a context to it and that I am not casting sweeping aspersions on my atheist friends.

I was also reminded that to make bold statements about atheists needing to practise what they preach leaves me open to accusations that as Christians we don’t always practise what we preach.  Which – sadly – can be quite true.  So, whereas I stand by the statement I made, I should be the first to admit that as a Christian I don’t always get it right either.

I have really enjoyed the discussions which have been sparked, and will probably blog about some of the issues raised before long.  In the meantime, there is a whole community of people on Facebook talking about Jesus and if you enjoyed the discussions as well then you might want to take a wander in that direction.

Monday, March 26, 2012

On why atheists should practise what they preach

As a Christian, I often really enjoy engaging in discussion with atheists and agnostics about my faith.  Such conversations can be interesting, can broaden the mind, and can provide something of a challenge.  I feel that it is important to understand the reasons for choosing to be a Christian and to be open to questions.  Faith and worldview are two concepts which are very much entwined, and I adhere to the view that Christianity is – and needs to be to be taken seriously – a reasonable faith.

I have some good atheist friends for whom I have a great deal of respect.  Their beliefs are well thought through, and we often enjoy some reasoned debate.  However, it has come to my attention that there are atheists out there with whom it is harder to have a reasoned discussion.  Only the other day, I decided to respond to a tweet (by someone I didn’t know) suggesting that the Bible is the biggest work of fiction ever, and the resulting dialogue became quite interesting.

There were two others involved in the exchange of tweets, and I decided to ask whether or not they had read the Bible – after all, if you’re going to make a sweeping statement (for example, about the Bible being a massive work of fiction), you should probably have reason to justify it, and ascertaining what was known about the Bible was a good starting point here.

Initially, I didn’t get a straight answer.  One response was “I was bought up with the Bible,” which I took to imply that they hadn’t read the Bible per se but had some familiarity with it – especially in the context of the rest of the tweet, which included “I have read Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.” 

Of course, in this case, “I was bought up with the Bible” can mean anything from “I’ve always had one on my shelf” (in which case, I was bought up with the works of Shakespeare) to “I used to study it every day.”  Clarification was not forthcoming, so I should probably apologise to those concerned in case my assumption was wrong.  But whether or not I was right, the fact is there are plenty of atheists who are happy to make statements about the Bible (and about Christianity in general) whilst only having some familiarity with it themselves. 

I find it very strange that such people are happy to be condescending towards Christians, pointedly claiming that their own views are “based purely on fact and reason” whilst simultaneously appearing happy to make sweeping statements without doing their own investigations.  Ironically, you could argue that they have faith in what they think they know about the Bible, or in someone else’s opinion.

Additionally, I find it very strange that such people are happy to be quick to accuse others of not saying what they mean, whilst simultaneously using ambiguous statements such as “I was bought up with the Bible.” 

Twitter is probably not the place to beat around the bush unnecessarily, and a clear question – “have you read the Bible?” – can be met with a clear answer along the lines of “yes,” “no,” or perhaps “some of it.” At least both sides then know where they stand, and the discussion can proceed accordingly. To be vague leaves you open – fairly or unfairly – to accusations of hiding behind a smokescreen.

If you want to insist on fact and reason, great.  But please practise what you preach; there’s no point in being proud about your need for these things if you get uppity when someone questions the background to your own beliefs and claims. 

There are a huge number of interesting questions out there. My recent foray in to the Twittersphere touched upon such questions as “is the Bible reliable?” and “is there a creator?” and I think that it is good to explore these things.  However, if balanced discussion is the order of the day, then let’s have a level playing field.



Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why Labour & the Unions are bending the truth about London’s new buses

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I am well excited about the fact that some of the New Routemaster buses are now in service in London.

What is surprising, however, is the amount of negativity surrounding it.  Christian Wolmar, who styles himself as ‘Britain’s Leading Transport Correspondent’ tweeted yesterday asking if the new buses were anything other than a very expensive joke.

My response to Mr Wolmar is that they are anything but a joke.  Admittedly, I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing one but there are some good reasons to have replaced the bendy-buses with them.

As some of the passengers interviewed in this BBC Report noted, the bendy-buses were often known as “the free bus” because there were so many doors that it was easy to avoid paying and not get caught.  The cynic in me says that if Boris Johnson had made a thing about keeping these buses, Ken Livingstone would have run a campaign decrying the “Tory Free Bus Scandal.”  Prove me wrong, folks.

Secondly, the length of the bendy-buses meant that they were often unpopular with cyclists – as a cyclist, I can totally agree that it is not nice feeling hemmed in by such a long vehicle, and easy to get the feeling that perhaps the driver cannot see you properly.  Mr Wolmar is evidently quite in favour of cycling and I am amazed that he has not made more of this point.

Being more positive, there is a lot to be said for the new bus design.  I like the fact that they will have a conductor on-board and an open platform at the back.  I witnessed one of the major advantages of this when I was in London recently waiting for a Number 15 near Tower Hill.  One of the normal double-deckers turned up and the crowd waiting at the stop took an age to shrink as the driver processed everyone boarding.  After a while, an old Routemaster pulled up behind.  The conductor waved the remainder of the crowd, including me, aboard and in a moment we were speeding off, leaving the newer bus behind.  I also remember the days when the old Routemasters were commonplace and I could get off at a red traffic light by Paddington Station without having to wait for the lights to change and the bus to go along to the stop up the road.

Of course, it will cost a bit to employ the conductors – but if the new buses reduce fare evasion (and possibly increase patronage) some of this will be offset.  In such economic times it is also surely a good thing to see jobs being created and I cannot understand why the Unions are bleating about the new buses.  I’ve never known Bob Crow to say anything positive, but surely he was one of the most vocal people to complain when the last set of bus conductors were made redundant. 

Another advantage of the new buses is that they are built in Britain, which the Unions should be thankful for (after all, they went ape when the order for Thameslink trains went abroad).  Being cynical again, I’d say that the Union stance has more to do with being pro-Ken and anti-Boris than any sort of reasonable argument.

Finally, I am concerned that those opposed to the new bus (again, possibly motivated purely by political reasons) are deliberately scaremongering about the cost of the new buses.  In this BBC Article, Labour MP for Tottenham David Lammy said “each new bus costs £1.4m compared with the conventional double-decker bus which costs about £190,000,”  but I would accuse Mr Lammy of not calling a spade a spade.

Dividing the development costs of a brand-new bus by the first run of eight units is ridiculous.  This is never done elsewhere in the industry, and I would be very interested to know how much the first eight “normal” double-deckers actually cost per unit on the same basis.

Maybe Mr Lammy, along with the other negative voices, assumes that we’re all fools.  Maybe most of you are, in which case I fear for the result of the mayoral election.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The truth is, I’m not a lesbian

I have to say that I quite enjoyed the sound bite from Radio 4’s Today Programme when Richard Dawkins and Giles Fraser were discussing religion.  I loved the delicious irony of Dawkins invoking the name of God, and the fact that Dawkins was caught out and blustered his way through quite an awkward moment.

However, at the end of the day, I do actually think that Dawkins had a fair point.  The “right to self-identification” – as championed by Giles Fraser – is in principle an important thing.  What Fraser seems not to have grasped, however, is that there needs to be some meaning behind it.  I’m sure that he would be very keen for me to have the right to identify myself as a lesbian, but whatever box I tick or whatever I say about myself, it clearly isn’t true.

In the same way, there are some definite truths about Christianity.  Yes, Christians don’t all agree on everything, but through the fuzziness there is a solid core. 

I fear that Giles Fraser is proud of his “inclusive” and relativist agenda, but the reality is he ought to be ashamed of himself.  It is pretty obvious that people in this country lack an understanding of what it means to be a Christian and the likes of Fraser, pushing an “anything goes” attitude rather than having the guts to stand up and proclaim the Christian message must surely take some responsibility for that.

Of course, people have a right to choose what they believe.  But as well as a right to self-identification they have a right to know the facts and an understanding of what people believe and why.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The ugly duck(ling) billed platypus

As a transport researcher, I have to accept that my job is not going to add to my sex appeal.  The fact that I spent some of Valentine’s Day reading about concrete probably says something, as does the fact that one of the more interesting things I was given was a National Rail Timetable (on loan for my work, I hasten to add, not as a romantic gesture).

Yet, despite this, it is not unusual for some forms of transport to be described as “sexy.”  By normal people, too, not just geeks.  I’d almost be prepared to bet that at least one of you (all 11 of you who read this) has described a car as “sexy.”

Believe it or not, High Speed Trains can apparently be sexy as well - I guess it’s all relative.  There is an article here entitled High Speed Trains as Sexy as Fast Cars, although as it comes from I’m not sure that I can suggest that it’s normal.  I’m also assuming that the writer had not been exposed to this:

My eyes!

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Lamenting the good old C of E

For those of you who know me, or who have been long-term visitors to this Corner of the Blogosphere, you will probably know that I am a Christian.  You may also know that although I don’t care much for denominational division that I usually attend an Anglican church.

There is lots which is good about the Anglican church.  Personally, I like the breadth of styles it encompasses, the structure of some of the liturgy it offers and the fact that a lot of Anglican churches are at the heart of communities.  People relate easily to them, even if it’s just for weddings and funerals and the odd Christmas sing-song and the opportunities to share the Christian message and make a positive difference to those communities are theoretically huge.

What a shame, therefore, that these opportunities are so often lost.  Admittedly, I don’t necessarily think much of the BBC’s standard of reporting, especially on this sort of issue, but I thought it sad that the headline for the Archbishop’s Christmas sermon was the fact that he was “lamenting” something or other.  Where was the positivity of the Christmas story?

On New Year’s Day, Rowan Williams used the opportunity he had to address thousands of people to tell them not to give up on young people.  Not a bad thing to say, of course, but this man is paid by the church and in nothing which I saw reported did he talk about the core beliefs which should be at the heart of the organisation.  Again, what a shame that the opportunity to get across the message of Jesus Christ to a population who are largely uninformed and ignorant was wasted.

As C.S. Lewis put it, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”  Here in Southampton, I am really excited by the various initiatives currently going on to help people see the importance of Christianity, and the idea that it is not blind superstition but reasonable faith.  The Christian Union at the University are putting on a series of events on campus to encourage people to engage with Christianity and this also excites me.  As a Christian, I believe that Christianity is true and not only important but something which is hugely positive – it is therefore great to see people investigating it for themselves.

So, don’t get me wrong – there is some good news and I’m not really that much of a grumpy old man.  But it does frustrate me that the Anglican Church, for all its strengths, often appears to see Christianity as nothing more than “moderately important,” squandering opportunities to make a difference.

You reap what you sow, of course, and the decline reported on this blog saddens me but doesn’t surprise me.  I do however like the point made that “General Synod has 4 debates coming up on women bishops, and none on church growth/decline. I'm sorry but that's bonkers. Anyone who thinks women bishops is the biggest issue facing the church at the moment hasn't woken up or inhaled the coffee. There is no point re-arranging dog collars on the Titanic.”

The irony is, of course, that a lot of the problems in the church stem from the fact that a lot of the current bishops lack balls…

Monday, February 06, 2012

On losing beauty sleep

On Saturday afternoon, I travelled on a South West Trains service to London.  I put my headphones in, turned on my MP3 player (The Verve, if you are interested) and fell asleep.  I`d not been asleep long when I was tapped on the shoulder by the guard, who wanted to see my ticket.  Of course, I obliged, but as he disappeared down the train I was not happy that my sleep had been disturbed.

At one level, this was not unreasonable.  After all, it is my duty to have a ticket, and the guard`s job to check it.  But it was not a busy train and the guard passed back through the carriage several times during the remainder of the journey, so I question whether it was really necessary to ruin my nap at that point in time.  After all, I have often been on trains and watched the guard leave those passengers sleeping well alone.  I have also been on trains where it has been announced that "because the train is busy, if you wish to sleep please leave your ticket visible" which is not a bad idea and would have been possible if South West Trains had spent some of my ticket money on giving me a table.

But, flippancy aside, and ignoring the curtailment of my nap, I do think that South West Trains lack an understanding of good customer relations, particularly when it comes to ticketing.  For example, if I get a train on the South West network, I invariably see an aggressive poster telling me that if I don`t have a ticket I`ll be fined a lot of money; I can`t help wondering if this is really necessary.  Southern, for example, also operate a penalty fare scheme, and would - presumably - also fine me a lot of money if I evaded paying for my journey.  But their posters are polite, unobtrusive and they (thankfully) do not adopt the attitude of making me feel like a criminal until proven innocent. 

In the past, with another rail company, when I have needed to travel beyond the limits of my season ticket, I have generally had no problem buying the extra fare onboard the train (I can`t generally buy it from the machines before I travel because they are not that flexible).  But South West Trains seem to think it reasonable for me to break my journey at the limit of my ticket, and buy the extra fare at the station before proceeding on the next train.  Whenever that may be.

And what is it with the grumpy staff at Southampton Central station?  Despite having a growing pool of unemployed people to choose from, South West Trains have seemingly been unable to find anyone who knows how to smile.  I did get an apology (of sorts) on one of the occasions I was mistakenly accosted at the barrier despite having a valid ticket, but the attitude of their staff could be a lot better. 

I don`t have a problem with South West Trains` desire to minimise fare evasion.  But they need to learn that those of us who do willingly pay for tickets also pay their wages.  A smile, some respect and an understanding of what makes for a pleasant journey go a very long way - as Southern have become quite good at demonstrating.  Not only does it improve things for us as passengers, but if staff are less grumpy with us then chances are we`ll be less grumpy about them.  It`s not exactly rocket science, is it?

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Transparent Benefits?

There is an interesting article on the BBC News this morning about a family on benefits and how they will be worse off under the proposed benefits cap.

At first glance, it is very easy to feel sorry for the family.  He is unable to find a job (and it is fair to assume that he has been trying to do so) and she is unable to work.

But then I read some of the comments and looked at the breakdown of spending in detail.  £15 a week on Sky TV? A substantial amount of beer and cigarettes?  Now, maybe I shouldn’t be so judgemental about what people spend their money on, but the comment about “eight people having to choose between eating and heating” doesn’t exactly hold water.

I’d also speculate that some of the teenagers have a part-time job.  Additionally, although we’re told that some of the children are from previous marriages, we’re not told anything about how much time they spend living with the other side of the family, nor what “maintenance” they might receive from them.  I don’t feel that we have been told the full story, and there is a lack of transparency in the report.

At the end of the day, there will be some people who are worse off under a benefit cap.  The important thing is to make sure that those who genuinely need the support are still provided with it and sensationalist reporting such as this article from the BBC only serves to cloud the issue.  To imply that this particular family are in danger of starving or freezing is not right, and could ultimately be quite irresponsible.  One of these days there will be a report about a family who don’t have the money to spend on copious amounts of beer, cigarettes or television and – not unlike the boy who cried wolf – they will be ignored by a population who have become understandably cynical.


Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Big News

I have just read the leading paragraph of a BBC article on the new Bond film.  Apparently, the first official image from the film has been released and “actor Daniel Craig is shown wielding a gun and sporting stubble.”

How is this any more news-worthy than the fact I brushed my teeth this morning?  Honestly, I’d almost be prepared to bet that more people have commented on my own facial hair in the last month (I had a beard, which I have now shaved off) than care about the fact that Daniel Craig has been photographed with stubble.

In the same way that “the name’s Bond” is usually followed by “James Bond,” much about a Bond film is fairly predictable.  There will be a villain, a fast car, a girl who is hopefully quite attractive and Mr Bond won’t die.  Sorry if I’ve just spoiled the new film for you, but the point is that it is probably quite difficult to come up with some truly surprising news about the new film.  However, someone somewhere could surely have said something other than “he is seen wielding a gun.” 

The only surprising thing is that this made it on to the BBC News in the first place, even with my ever diminishing opinion of its standards.

Suits you, sir!

I am intrigued by the debacle over Fred Goodwin and his knighthood, or lack thereof.  There is an interesting article in The Telegraph which suggests that it is nothing but a political game and a “capitulation to mob rule.”

I am equally intrigued by the farce over Stephen Hester and his bonus.  At one level, I don’t disagree that the bonus seemed a bit outrageous in this time of recession, but we need to get some perspective.  Firstly, like it or not, it is true that if you want the best people you have to pay for them accordingly.  I’m sure I can hear voices of disagreement, but if you’re not going to object to the fact that football managers get paid several times what Mr Hester was paid and most clubs will pay handsomely for their players then you’re not being consistent.  Similarly, I have no time for those Union bosses who whine, without even suggesting that they should cut back on their own six figure salaries.

Secondly, whereas we may be right to acknowledge the fact that there have been some terrible mistakes in the banking industry, the way in which it has become popular to vilify anyone remotely connected is deeply concerning.  Toby Young, in the aforementioned Telegraph article suggests that if such vilification continues, “the consequences for the British economy will be catastrophic,”  but there is more to it than that.  To point the finger squarely at the bankers, and to enjoy blaming those who appear to have more than us (“in the interests of fairness,” perhaps) is to subconsciously or otherwise absolve ourselves of all responsibility.  Yes, some people may have done more to damage the economy than others, but would you have done anything differently?  Would you turn down a large bonus?  Do you think that you have a right to buy what you want when you want?  Have you got a good rate on your mortgage and a large credit card bill?

With rights come responsibilities and it’s amazing how many people appear to ignore that.  If you answered “yes” to any of the questions above then I suggest you think twice before opening your mouth and blaming the bankers.  Take the speck out of your own eye first, and all that…


Friday, January 27, 2012

On the right to bear arms

We currently have an American guest in our house, which is always fun.  Amongst other things, I very much enjoyed the excuse to be a tourist in London at the weekend, and it is quite fun to mock her.

One of the things which seems to have surprised her is the fact that most of our policemen are unarmed.  At one level, this makes me proud to be British, and I am proud of the fact that arming our policemen is not deemed necessary.

Somehow the system works – we never hear of situations where hindsight would suggest that having more armed police would have been a good thing.  This is presumably partly because gun-crime rarely happens in front of the police and so whether they are armed or not is irrelevant.  But there must also be an element of being able to control a situation so that it doesn’t get out of hand.  Certainly we tend to have a strong objection to taking a “shoot first, ask questions later” attitude, even when it is arguably unavoidable, such as when Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead at Stockwell Tube Station.

Of course, I have so far overlooked a key factor here, which is that the general public are not allowed to carry guns.  We do not need to arm every policeman when the risk of them confronting someone with a gun is potentially comparatively small.

Thinking about this led to a conversation over a plate of haggis earlier in the week, when I asked our American friend why, if the US Constitution encompasses the right to bear arms, US citizens stop at arming themselves with guns.  Why don’t they have rocket launchers, or small nuclear devices?

The reason I was given is that the constitution is apparently more specific, permitting citizens to bear *legal* arms.  Which begs another question.  Why is it always touted as being “unconstitutional” to suggest banning guns in the US?

The way I see it, if the constitution makes a distinction between legal arms and illegal ones, it is not unconstitutional to make guns illegal.  The constitutional right of US citizens to bear legal arms would remain unaffected.  It’s just that said arms would then have to be knives, or sticks, or something.

Clearly I am neither a US citizen or a lawyer.  What have I missed?  Does anyone have any light to shed on this?





Tuesday, January 24, 2012

High Speed 2

I have been asked quite a bit recently about what I think of the plans for a new high-speed railway line between London and Birmingham, and so I thought that I would blog about it.  I appreciate that this may not be of interest to everyone, but then when is that ever the case with my contributions to the Blogosphere?

As a Transport Researcher, I should probably know more about some of the hard facts than I do, so I apologise in advance if you think that you’ve got a more educated opinion than me.  However, on the basis of what I do currently know, I am not hugely in favour of the scheme.  My reasoning can be broken down as follows:


The biggest argument for building High Speed 2 is capacity.  It is argued that the current transport links (chiefly the West Coast Mainline and the M6) are overcrowded and are not going to cope with predicted future travel demand.  This is probably very true, but is all of the predicted future demand necessary?  In an age when we need to be thinking about our energy usage and environmental impact, would it not be better to try and reduce the amount we travel?  Additionally, I fear that HS2 risks falling in to the old trap of ‘predict-and-provide’ transport planning; in the past, transport schemes have been built to cater for demand and ease congestion, and have ended up becoming congested themselves as demand soars.  In other words, if HS2 is built, will we still have a congested transport corridor in 20 years time such that we need yet another new link?

Link to Heathrow

I think that if HS2 is built it should have a proper link to Heathrow, as a stop on the mainline and not as a spur.  The eco-weenies amongst you will doubtless complain at this point, and tell me that I shouldn’t be encouraging flying like this, but I will simply say “get real.”  The lack of access and capacity at Heathrow has not, as some might proudly try and tell you, reduced demand for aviation.  Instead, let me point out that Emirates can now justify flying several of their large a380s in and out of Manchester each day.  KLM and Lufthansa also have good connections to the UK regions. 

We need to accept that, for the time being at least, people are going to want to fly long-haul to reach Africa, America, Asia and Australia.  So rather than give away the business to the foreign hubs in Dubai, Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt (possibly increasing the amount of flying and CO2 emissions in the process) we should be following the example of the Germans (Frankfurt), Dutch (Amsterdam-Schipol) and the French (Paris-Charles de Gaulle) and having good high-speed rail links to Heathrow with through ticketing.  That way, the amount of flying is reduced (those travelling long-haul from the UK regions only take one flight, not two) and we keep the business in the UK.

Let me put it this way.  Suppose you live in the north-west and want to fly to South Africa.  Do you a) board an a380 and fly via Dubai, or b) pay more for a rail ticket, and struggle with your cases amongst the commuters at the Cross-Rail Interchange on your way to Heathrow?

Economic Benefit

Much of the predicted economic benefit from building HS2 is based on the fact that time = money and if you save someone time on the train they are more productive elsewhere.  I, however, am sceptical about this.  If you allow someone to get from London to Birmingham in less time, are they really going to spend that extra time at work? Or are they going to have a lie-in, at no economic benefit to anyone?  Perhaps the bus connections at each end are such that actually, the time “saved” is spent waiting in the cold for a bus.  Or perhaps some people will even move further from the office and commute for the same amount of time.

Additionally, no-one seems to have taken too much notice of the fact that time spent on the train can be productive.  Chiltern Trains have picked up on this with their new Mainline Service, with a real emphasis on an onboard environment which is conducive to working/catching up on emails etc.  I like this approach, and have long argued that “airline style seating” works on a plane because you don’t have to spend very long sitting in it, whilst on a train passengers would rather not feel like they are on a plane.  Instead, space to work, or just to stretch out, is much more beneficial.  Train designers have ignored this fact for a while though.  Richard Branson, the King of Gimmicks, may proudly point out the power-points on his trains, but what’s the point in being able to charge my laptop if I don’t have the space to use it?


Finally, I am also quite sceptical about the environmental benefits HS2 may bring…but I’ll save that for another post.




Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Easy on my soul

According to the BBC, “Work-averse students, corner-cutting journalists and people who simply enjoy wasting time online are in for a testing day.”

I’m sure that there have been times in the past when someone could have argued that I fitted all three categories, but let’s gloss over that.  I’ve not blogged in a while and you’re bored because Wikipedia is on strike, so let’s just try and make the best of a bad situation.

I should probably comment on said strike, just because it would be rude not to.  If I’ve had the pleasure of your company in this corner of the Blogosphere before, you may well think that I have an aversion to going on strike, as if saying the word to me is like waving a red rag to a bull – and it is fair to say that I’ve not had much time for some of the recent strikes.*

Perhaps surprisingly, however, I’m in favour of the stance Wikipedia is taking, despite the irony that I had intended to spend some time on it this morning brushing up on some basic concepts from a report I read yesterday.  I am, after all, very much in favour of free speech and thought it bad enough when the BBC censored a whole show just because Jeremy Clarkson had announced that those who went on strike “should be taken out and shot.”**

Anyway, let’s move on before you think that all I ever do is whinge about strikers.  I should probably pass comment on the new High Speed Rail Line (HS2) given that my research is concerned with it, but I’ll come back to that later, as it sometimes seems that if I’m not talking about strikes I’m blogging about trains.

Instead, I’m going to refer you to this BBC Article about a student who “rejected Oxford.”  After all, it was reading it which was the trigger point for opening Windows Live Writer just now, so I may as well continue to say something about it.  However, I’m going to cut corners in my journalism at this point and tell you to read the article for yourself, rather than regurgitating some choice quotes here.

My first comment is that Ms Nowell would have had much more weight to her argument if she’d been accepted to study there in the first place.  Any fool can put on a brave face and say “oh well, I didn’t want to get the place anyway” if we feel the interview has gone badly.  I also find it fairly ironic that she complains about it being “elitist” but was too narrow-minded to actually experience it for herself.

Having been an Oxford student myself, I can’t deny that I encountered a few people with an elitist attitude. But I actually enjoyed four years amongst some down-to-earth, broad-minded people and made some great friends.  On the other hand, from my experience of other universities, it would seem that not going to Oxbridge isn’t going to stop daddy from buying you a pony and paying for your crashed car.

And on that note, I’ve been work averse and wasted too much time this morning.  So I’ll love you and leave you – if you’re still missing Wikipedia I’m sure you can occupy yourself with the archived posts on the right.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the title of this post, I don’t have time to procrastinate any longer so I just nabbed the title of the song I was listening to.  Have a bonus point if you can name the artist.

*Does anyone actually have any time for them when they demand triple pay and the Union bosses have massive salaries anyway?

**Interestingly, they didn’t censor the union woman who in all seriousness compared Clarkson to Col. Gadaffi.