Linux Saves The Day

For those of you who don;t follow my other blog, I’m in Barcelona at the moment. I’m here to learn Spanish and chew bubblegum. And I’m all out of bubblegum, etc.

Anyway, Linux let me get in touch with my dad. The short story is (if you want long walls of text, read my bit on the TV license, or any of the recent posts on my other blog), basically my dad had been sending emails from a semi-defunct email address. It could send, but not receive. So my replies were being blackholed.

Now, I don’t know about you, but the thought of my parents thinking I’ve cut off communication with them while I’m alone in a strange country was enough to make getting back in touch important. I should point out that while only one email address of his was defunct, I didn’t know that at this stage. So, email is cut off – what do I use? Phone. Tried a few times, but it went to answerphone each time. My mum likes to talk to a good friend of hers a lot – the line can be occupied for hours. I managed to exhaust my PAYG phone credit in this manner. Even phoning someone else back home didn’t work.

Right. Mail – out. Phone – out. So, what did I do? SSH into my dad’s machine, install tightvncsever, telnet into the router, add a port forwarding rule (after unsuccessfully trying to convince the webmin page to authenticate remotely), VNC in, type a message in gedit. Done!

For bonus points, I sorted the mail client out to use a working address, resent the emails that were lost to some hungry /dev/null somewhere, then verified their arrival.

Note: I’m not trying to claim this is a special use of Linux, in fact it’s pretty mundane, but to be able to get in touch over several hundred miles thanks to knowing how to go about things? Priceless.

Addendum – example code for setting up VNC port forwarding via telnet on my router, a SpeedTouch 585.

nat mapadd intf=RoutedEthoA type=napt outside_addr=0.0.0.0 ins
ide_addr=192.168.1.10 protocol=tcp outside_port=5900 inside_port=5900 mode=auto

Replace 192.168.1.10 with the internal IP, and the ports with whatever port you chose to run VNC on, and you’re good to go.

More Fail from the DM

I’m referring chiefly to this: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1224858/Yes-scientists-good-But-country-run-arrogant-gods-certainty-truly-hell-earth.html, which even had a picture of Hitler (now removed, but not forgotten) to go along with the comparison of Prof Nutt to Nazi scientists.

I’m also referring to this: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1224578/MELANIE-PHILLIPS-Fatuous-dangerous-utterly-irresponsible–Nutty-professor-whos-distorting-truth-drugs.html, in which Confused Spice Mel P (Melanie Phillips) says Prof Nutt is being unscientific.

So you know what? I’m going to take my cue from HIGNFY of 30/10/09 (I think, David Mitchell hosting) and ignore it. Normally I wouldn’t; I don’t think ignoring ignorance helps, and similarly burying your head in the sand is equally unhelpful. But really, in this case I don’t even know where to start. I’d be here all afternoon, and I have better things to do than correct such flagrant errors.

Look, if you don’t want drugs reclassified for personal reasons, or it goes against your gut feeling, or whatever, just say that. Comparing people to scientists under the Nazi regime is just tasteless, even for the Daily Mail.

Edit: Have the image anyway.
Daily Fail

If You Want Me To Take Green Energy Seriously, Include Nuclear

Short post, inspired by yet another Facebook group. This time, it’s “Scotland for Green Energy”. I’ll be as brief as possible. My point is this: we can reprocess fuel and significantly cut down on waste, making nuclear fission attractive ecologically (read up on it, some keywords: pebble bed, thorium reactor, breeder reactors).

However, I’ve still yet to see an ‘official’ green supporter advocate nuclear power plants. Instead, we get tripe like:

The UK government has decided the best way to “plug the gap” is just build a new generation of nuclear power plants. This will create targets for terrorism in this new age of anything-goes extremism, potential danger zones in the event of leaks/meltdowns, and the headache of hundred of thousands of tonnes of radioactive waste with nowhere to go for many centuries ahead.

Okay. First up, if you wave the terrorism flag, you lose, sorry. I can (and may) write a whole post about that, but suffice to say that if ‘terrorism’ is a reason not to do something, the terrorists have won. I say that very solemnly.

Secondly, leaks and meltdowns? With newer designs, highly unlikely to be a problem. If you looked up pebble bed reactors like I mentioned earlier (hardly a new design!), you you will see what I mean.

Thirdly, waste? Reprocess it! Suck all the useful radioactivity out of it (heeugely simplified, but hey, I’m keeping it brief) and you’re left with something with a relatively short half-life.

A little bit more:

Thankfully, the Scottish Government have pledged that there will be no such generation of nuclear waste in Scotland, simply because there is NO NEED in a country as rich in natural, clean resources. The best investment will be in Green Energy.

That’s a real shame. If we embraced nuclear power in Scotland we could provide a surplus of energy much more easily. Of course, we should embrace renewable resources. The sooner we do away with coal and oil the better. However, my ideal solution would be nuclear for the base load, with wind and tidal to top it up. Hydro as well, possibly, although I am a little concerned at the ecological implications of that. I think reducing energy usage by increasing efficiency would help too.

Basically, we live in a world where nuclear power could provide a glut of ‘green’ energy (well, if you mine properly, and do the plants properly, and do the rest properly…), but we find a lot of people uninformed about it. I would like to hear more from greens (and the Greens) about it – if they still reject it, they are entitled to that, but I want a more modern view.

I Support The TV License

Before anything, I want to declare my opinion so that you know where I’m coming from. I support the notion of a TV license. Not blindly, not so that I accept it in any form, but I am in broad agreement with the concept.

Now why should I care to defend it? Well, Facebook, that vanguard of public opinion (I’m half-serious) has a group called 10 Million for NO TV LICENSE, which calls for the abolition of TV licensing. I could call attention to the misleading name (the group has 545 352 members at the time of writing), but I assume it is a convention to name their target as opposed to any milestone. I would do it differently, but then again I am not doing it.

I am pleased to note that the blog / website linked from that group does in fact have posts and arguments in favour of keeping the license / BBC. That impresses me a lot. Sadly, it is somewhat spoiled by the unnecessarily heated tone employed in posts attacking the fee / the BBC. More on this below. I do congratulate them on allowing opposing viewpoints to be made, though.

I will go through the group’s list of claims and try and construct a rational argument for or against each item. It is somewhat of a pet peeve of mine for those that use needlessly inflammatory or emotional language to advance an argument as it all too often hinders discussion. I say ‘needlessly’ as there are occasions where there are grave abuses to man (or nature, I’ll concede) where hot language is needed, if only to spur action. However, an optional TV license is not one of these times, and by using such language they denigrate and detract from those occasions that do require such language. I think their claims would be better served by a measured explanation as some of them do have merit.

Like the Poll Tax, the TV License takes no account of your ability to pay, nor how much (if any) of the service you use. It hits the lowest incomes hardest by percentage of income.

A good point to make to begin with; there is little income-adjustment for TV licensing. I think it would be a great idea to give some scope to the cost of the license, although there is a danger of it falling into pseudo-tax status (even moreso), with exemptions, special deductions and all the rest. A simple change may work though: reduced fee for students, and perhaps a tax credit for those on the lowest income bracket. Wait, I’m sure I argued against making it tax-like just a second ago… Yes, it appears I did. I do however propose a tax credit as it would seem to be the simplest way to avoid giving another agency information about your income. Asking people to prove how little they make would only serve to generate further resentment towards licensing.

So I propose… say, a 60% fee for students in full-time education, and some form of tax credit given to those least able to pay -whether a graded scale, or a simple refund to the lowest-earners.

I must point out that there is a limited form of ‘taking account of your ability to pay’, in that over-75s automatically receive a free license.

I cannot sidestep the question of usage; however I can point to the Digital Britain report, which may pave the way for ITV to receive funds collected from licensees. A BBC report on the debate; PDF of the report therein. I fear that means to assess usage would encroach too far on privacy, but the point remains.

When it started, there was only one use for a TV set, and only one broadcaster so a kitty type setup was fine, this has fragmented so much now that the BBC are a minority entertainment service that you can’t unsubscribe from.

The latter part of this argument is most telling. I cannot tell if the author is being deliberately misleading when he claims that the BBC is a “minority entertainment service”, or whether that reflects the reality in his or her head. There may be more players in ‘entertainment’ now than ever, but the BBC play a large role in it; primarily in TV and radio, but they do feature films as well. They are a minority only in a very strictly technical sense, when you include ‘entertainment’ as a whole: games (both digital and ‘real’), books, live shows, etc etc. However, in this way News Corp is a minority in publishing, as many more words have been written by others. This is absurd, let’s move on.

It’s nothing short of a legally enforced extortion racket.

This line makes me sigh, shake my head and reach for a bottle of hard liquor. An extortion (or protection) racket is where money is obtained by coercion under the threat of violence – which will often come from those extorting the protection money. When TV licensing officers start smashing up TV sets, computers and laptops for someone not having a license, then this makes sense. For now it is silly childish hyperbole.

A note on this theme though – there have been reports of Enquiry Officers demanding entry, and giving misleading statements about their powers. A frequently-asked question is “Can TV Licensing Enquiry Officers enter my home or property without permission?”. The answer is (mostly) no. I urge people not to let them bully their way into a home. They do not have police-like powers, and need a warrant to enter property without permission (hence the ‘mostly’). Liberty have confirmed this. However, this may only apply to England, it may be out of date or it may be plain wrong. If in doubt, contact TV Licensing directly. If you do, be sure to post the response!

The BBC forces itself onto the airways and we are required to pay for its upkeep regardless of whether or not we watch it.

Again, needlessly inflammatory language. It is true that if you only watch ITV (I’m scratching my head as to why you would though) you would still be paying for the Beeb, however. On the other hand, ITV funds itself with adverts, so if you do watch it, you will at least be funding it. And let’s not get into things like BSkyB and cable TV (Virgin), where you pay for channels and then get advertised on top of that.

If we want to watch ANY TV channel we are forced to pay for a TV Licence, I only watch the movie channels but I still have to pay for the BBC channels that I DON’T USE.

What ever happened to free choice?

Must you SHOUT SO? There are those that get by without a TV license. I am not advocating the “all or nothing, take it or leave it” arguments, because that just encourages silly stand-offs that usually end up with someone saying “WELL, if you HATE the country SOOO-OO much, why don’t you LEAVE?”, which gets us about as far as transport by a legless camel.

However, in your scenario of films, might I suggest ditching the movie channels and going with lovefilm.com (Amazon’s parter, or at least someone heavily advertised on Amazon.co.uk’s site) or Blockbuster? Alternatives exist, although they may not be perfect.

The BBC is a public broadcast service but it competes for viewers as if it were a private company. This is its biggest downfall. 20 million for Ross is a Joke. £850,000 a year to the guy who runs it Mark Thompson is appalling.

Grammar aside, the second part of this particular argument is worthwhile. I’m not sure what they mean by competing as if a private company – indeed, other arguments later on make a case for it to be run like a private company. I think there is a culture of overpaying those at or near the top; I’m not sure if it is endemic, such that even the sound man is overcompensated for his hard work. The BBC have embarked on a campaign of wage-and-cost-cutting, to their credit.

Also, putting “20 million for Ross” next to “£850,000 a year” is misleading, as people may conflate the two and think Jonathan Ross is earning £20 million a year. His contract is £6 million a year, which over three years is £18 million. Too much perhaps, but he does attract millions of viewers and listeners, the merits of which… can be debated elsewhere. Also, it is speculated that Ross may have his wage cut (link), which – although speculation by The Mirror, no less – would be in line with cuts elsewhere in the BBC.

Im [sic] sure there are plenty of qualified people who would do this job for a fraction of the cost.

That depends on two things: what fraction, and what you think the job is. The sad fact of the matter is that people watch Jonathan Ross because he is Jonathan Ross. His job is as much to attract a decent viewing audience as it is to interview people on his show. Sure, you could get someone to say the same words for a fraction of the cost, but would people watch? Would celebrities turn up to be interviewed by Frank Haden, who works in a Post Office in Basingstoke?

Actually, that might not be a bad idea for a telly programme, get a random member of the public (so to speak) in for a week’s training, then have them interview Hugh Jackman or Simon Cowell or Daniel Craig. A different member of the public each week. And of course there would be interviews with the family saying “how proud we are of our Frank”, along with footage of people watching his performance from his local pub, and a brief debriefing from the celebrity du semaine saying what they thought of the whole thing. I’m going to phone up ITV and pitch it to them after I’m done throwing up.

All the shows on the BBC have premium phone numbers to call for competitions and the like. Shouldn’t those calls be covered in our service charge?

Apparently not. I can only imagine they go with whichever agency does the vote-tallying and it’s pretty damn expensive. Partly because many of them use shady tricks… but I’m not getting into that. Phone calls cost on a per-phone user basis. Alas, it is very difficult not to fall into a trap by saying “Well, people who want to vote can damn well pay for it!” which only encourages the retort “Well, people who want the BBC can damn well pay for it!”. I will deal with why I think having a publicly-funded broadcasting organisation is in our interests towards the end.

The BBC sell advertising space on all their sites, all you need to do is visit the bbc website using a proxy from a different country and you can see links to buy advertising space. They make money from selling DVD’s, Books, The BBC Magazine goes out to 88 million people a year, they must make a fortune.

Yes, and they make no secret of it. They also sell the BBC World content, and some other things I’m sure neither of us has mentioned. I think the idea is to defray costs to the license payers, and I’m all for it. Content costs to produce, it costs to distribute, and it costs to archive. Selling advertising space on BBC websites? Bandwidth costs money, and BBC websites are well set up and run given the sheer number of concurrent users it has. Also, online advertising doesn’t pay so well (by that I mean they probably make less than you or even I think), especially for news items.

This is a complete monopoly.

Please explain – a monopoly on what? They cannot be an “entertainment minority” (as stated previously) and a monopoly; these are mutually exclusive.

You wouldn’t pay £140 a year to tax a car that you dont use would you?

I know it’s bad form to answer a rhetorical question, but… If you want to be able to use a car on the road, you have to tax it. Even if you only intend to use it once, or have it in case of an emergency. Otherwise you file a SORN.

At £139.50, The Tv licence is a joke.

I disagree. Funding an institution that puts out both high-quality programming and news so that it is free of bias from companies or the government (well, nominally) is a good thing, and cheap at twice the price – adjusted for students and low-earners of course.

Every other channel funds itself by advertising, so why can’t the BBC do the same. They are already screwing us over by showing BBC programs on Dave and the UKTV Network. Where shows are 40 mins apart instead of the usual 30 mins.

I have two arguments against funding the BBC with advertising. Firstly, it is nice to be able to watch a show all the way through without interruptions for ads for things I don’t want. It being free of advertising is a positive, at least in my opinion. Secondly, and more importantly than this writer’s humble opinion, is that advertising can and does harm impartiality. Example – (in)famously, several car manufacturers have written to the production team of Top Gear threatening to pull advertising over unfavourable segments, to which they replied “Uh, you don’t have any advertising with us”.

To put it simply, being free of advertising is being free of worry over what sponsors think, which gives them freedom to take people to task without the worry of pissing the wrong person off and decimating their budget. I cannot stress how important this is.

Edit: Meant to comment on this the first time around but forgot. I thought perhaps the BBC sold the broadcast rights to Dave or some such. Looked around and found that Dave (and the rest of UKTV) is a joint venture between BBC Worldwide (the commercial arm of the BBC, charged with making money outwith the license payers I suppose) and Virgin Media. The presence of advertising on the UKTV network seems to be a way of getting money for old rope. Not sure how the Beeb justifies getting advertising for reruns. I suppose it reduces the license fee, but not quite in line with not advertising during BBC content. Hmmm. Might ask them for a comment.

They can’t have it both ways

They don’t. British people pay for BBC content through the license fee, people from other countries pay for it through advertising (eg on the BBC website) or through subscriptions to BBC World, for example. Otherwise, as I probably don’t need to point out but will anyway in case someone is skimming and missed it… Otherwise, the license fee would be higher and you (and I) would be (quite rightly) incensed that we are paying for other countries to get free high-quality programming and news.

Im [sic] not saying get rid of the BBC, I just want them to fund themselves or allow us to opt out of their service.

And I would argue that you are cutting off your nose to spite your face, or at least being short-sighted. Fix the problems with the license, such that they are, don’t get rid of it altogether.

[Note: rational arguments are finished, the rest is my opinion. I will support it with rationality insofar as I can, but there will be those that disagree with my points as they come form a different point of view. I merely offer my views so that you can see where I come from, and perhaps be persuaded if you are on the fence.]

I am going to have to compact my argument for a public institution for producing content, as my word count is pointing out that I am already approaching 2500 words (I had hoped for 8-1200). Basically, it comes down to reasons I have already alluded to. The BBC is nominally free of pressure from advertisers, sponsors or the government. In practice, companies or the government may be able to put some pressure on the BBC, but this is nowhere near the amount of clout these potential detractors would have should they make up the budget of the BBC. Why should we all pay for it? Well, I liken it to paying for a fire service, or police, or health. All of these things serve the public interest, even if I never make use of them.

I will use fire as an example: even if my house never catches fire, it is good to protect all residences as it may mean the difference between a relatively minor disruption in someone’s life as compared to completely wiping out someone’s home, causing disruption not only to them, but to their work (which may have some impact on me) and perhaps their life. It costs us more – as a society, not individually – when we do not protect and care for each other. Right, so what does this have to do with producing content?

Well, the BBC’s public funding allows (arguably demands) that they act in the public interest. They must point out flaws in the government; regardless of who is in power. They must point out harmful actions made by companies, no matter how big and powerful they are. They produce educational content, and content for those who might not otherwise be served. They provide content in minority languages of the UK, so that interest in a part of our culture may be preserved. They produce some very high-quality mainstream content too. And by doing these things, they raise the bar for other content or news providers.

This last point is very important. Without the BBC, we may lose out to the lowest common denominator. It is easy to argue that we may not, but the race to the bottom is a hard one to go against. I would argue that we do not want to end up as things are like in the US, where content is produced to sell adverts; instead of an art culture there is an advertising culture. And the news situation? Dire. I don’t want to be drawn into a debate about this, so I will say no more. For now.

Unfortunately, we seem to be slowly falling under the sway of those that would stir up emotion for the sake of it, or worse, to confuse the public. Tabloids are happy to gravely distort or even invent information to suit their agenda. It has been said that in the UK those who get elected are those whom Rupert Murdoch supports. If true, this is not something we want.

The BBC is not perfect. There are issues of secrecy, hypocrisy, misfunding and bloat. I support those that wish to take the BBC to task over these issues, as it will inevitably make it a better institution. The Beeb should definitely be more open and honest, and it can be argued that it is overreaching in some of its services and should make some cutbacks.

In conclusion: Keep the fee, but make it fairer. To get rid of the license fee would be to completely replace the BBC with something toothless, something vulgar and something completely mediocre.

Sleep Matters

Once again, the BBC is running a story about how if you value your mental health, you should sleep apart from your partner. Link.

This story concerns two talks, both given as part of the British Science Festival (Sleep After 60: Changes and Challenges in Later Life). The first part is a study done by a Dr Rob Meadows of the University of Surrey (sociology dept). It included 40 couples, and concluded that there is a 50% chance of disturbance if “one [partner] moves in [their] sleep”. In the BBC article there is no mention of time or grouping, and my Ovid-fu has yet failed to return me the article in question. Perhaps it is yet unpublished.

The other half of the article concerns Dr Neil Stanley of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (and somewhat attached to the U of Surrey, as he set up his “sleep lab” there). He reiterates his point (made here, and no doubt elsewhere) that: sleeping together is bad for you, we didn’t do it before the industrial revolution, the Romans didn’t do it, etc.

Without seeing the study methods I cannot comment on how well it was done, although Dr Meadows has been published several times in this area before. Dr Stanley also seems to be well-published, although his focus seems to be more on the urological side of things (disclaimer: this opinion is based on some Ovid / Scholar searches…). However, the 2006 BBC article concerns itself with 8 couples over 10 nights. 80 data points (or 160 some might argue) may be enough, but I’d need to see the statistical analysis to be sure.

My point is, the BBC seem to be taking it as read that it is a good idea to sleep separately, with no more justification than “people did it before the Victorian era”, on the word of a ‘sleep expert’. We need to be given the data, not taking people’s word for it!

A Contentious Matter Indeed

The Scottish Executive – the government, MY government, the government representing everyone eligible to vote here – have decided to release the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, on compassionate grounds. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/south_of_scotland/8197370.stm.  Reactions have been mixed.

In typical fashion, the BBC have statements from relatives of victims on both sides of the fence. Twitter is also all a-tweet  with reactions. One in particular caught my eye:

The Lockerbie bomber walks. The Scottish government should not get off lightly. Boycott Scottish products and travel for 1 month.

(http://twitter.com/bobharp/status/3427704605)

We shouldn’t get off lightly for taking a soveriegn decision? Interesting. I understand 189 Americans were on board that flight, but the reason I take exception to this kind of remark is that it does more (collateral) damage to independent businesses. Back when my parents were running a B&B they lost quite a number of bookings due to “British involvement in the Iraq war”.  There are better ways of getting your message across, although if you are going to boycott a nation for the actions of the government, please actually write to the government to explain that you are doing it.

Anyway, enjoy your month of no golf, burgers from BK, penicillin, etc.

Other tweets are fun:

Lockerbie bomber released. Scotland, YOU SUCK

I’m sorry.

Obama could have stopped the release of Lockerbie terrorist if he really wanted to stop it.

“My fellow Americans, I regret to announce that a state of war exists between our two great democracies…”

Actually, a lot of the tweets are reasonable (dang!). Some even make mention of the dubiety of evidence presented against him.

Anyway, as a Scottish citizen here is my completely-official real-FOR-SURE deal to all Americans who are unhappy with al-Megrahi’s release. Are you listening, Hillary? If you all (*all* of you) apologise for calling our lovely NHS evil, uncaring, killing poor helpless ill people and “a terrorist breeding ground” (Fox News I think, look it up) then we’ll divert his chartered plane to the nearest CIA extraordinary rendition camp and call it square. Fair’s fair!

For real.

George Orwell on politics and the English language

Please take the time to read George Orwell’s 1846 essay, “Politics and the English Language”, available here.

Orwell takes us through a number of the bad uses of modern English. I don’t want to go into the details as he put it far more clearly than I could, but he states that we are (essentially) too careless with our words, in that they don’t mean what we intend them to, or they are too vague, or too pretentious, or that they are simply meaningless.

He created an apt example, contrasting a well-recognised excerpt from Ecclesiastes with a passage that has the same meaning (or slightly less), written in ‘modern English’.

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Versus:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

Aside from being slightly humerous if applied to corporate-speak, he makes the political implications clear. When we are unclear on words, we are unclear on concepts. The example given is if we do not understand what Fascism really means, how can we be against it? and that Fascism now refers to something that is simply ‘bad’. I’m slightly paraphrasing here, but the point is well-made.

We are taught in schools that fancy or rarely used words are better than plain or common words. We have grown up surrounded by Orwell’s ‘modern English’. The sad thing is, we would be more comfortable writing Orwells ‘translation’ than the original Ecclesiastes.

What does this mean? It means that English is more readily abused by those wanting to distract or deceive. The word ‘terrorism’ is being distorted to justify increasingly severe laws against our freedom. Much as we, the common public, didn’t (and probably still don’t)  understand the meanings and implications of the word Fascism, we don’t understand terrorism. Worse still, we have a war against terror. We have a war against an emotion, an abstract concept.

What worries me is we will get to the situation described in 1984, where there is a new form of English that doesn’t allow for the description of unprescribed concepts. Our language shapes our thought, which in turn further shapes our language (Orwell describes this in the essay). If we would rather be circumspect and verbose in how we describe things, our thinking will become circumspect and it will be harder to think about and discuss concrete concepts and thoughts.

Unfortunately, this was not the well-thought out analysis I intended it to be. Partly due to time constraints, and doubtless partly because of my inability to express my thoughts directly. I’ll leave you with the guidelines Orwell left to avoid perpetuating the abuse of our language:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never us a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

"Don't touch property with a bargepole for two or three years"

Recently, I’ve been thinking about buying a flat. I figure if I would struggle to afford renting a place, it would be easier to buy somewhere. Specious logic I’ll grant you, but I figure that with renting all you can really take away is memories, and as fun and good and useful as memories are, I don’t really want to spend several grand on them.

So buying it is.

The problem is that here we have fairly inflated house prices here. In fact, it was considered standard practice to add a minimum of 30% to the listing price (unless the property was fixed price of course). Whether this is still true after the mooted imminent-or-already-occuring property price crash remains to be seen. Regardless, this of course makes buying somewhere in a reasonable area currently unfeasible for me.

Which is why it faintly amused me to read a piece on the BBC entitled ‘Bring on the property crash’. It documents the laments of people like me, trying to get on the bottom rung of the property ladder. Choice quotes include this article’s title, and:

“I went to see a one-bedroom cottage in the country – it had no water, no electricity, no kitchen, no bathroom, no drainage and no sewerage,” Sebastian says. “The asking price was £125,000”

and

“It’s the buy-to-let owners I blame – not people who rent out the odd flat, but the handful of portfolios that own most of the properties around here.”

I guess the latter has a ring of truth to it – if you buy to let a whole bunch of properties, that’s going to reduce availability and drive up prices. But I guess that’s the way they make money…

In any case, it would appear that now is not the time to buy for investment reasons, although if I do somehow manage to raise enough money to buy a place and I see something worthwhile, I might just buy it. After all, as Izzy Miyaghi says (quoted) in the article:

“I’m not looking for an investment. I’m looking for somewhere to live.”

Yobettes

Let me set the scene for you. It was a picture-skew spring’s day, one where you leave work and marvel at the way it’s still light outside. There I was on the bus, oblivious to the world, with Brandon Boyd singing in my ear. I was on my way to my girlfriend’s.

A few stops along (or roughly towards the end of Pendulous Threads) and a gaggle of (well, three) girls gets on the bus, sitting themselves at the back. Irritatingly, I can hear them over the blare of my (fairly loud) music. I pay their obnoxiousness as little heed as possible, which is somewhat of a feat. Well, not too great a feat – I’m busy texting my girlfriend.

Minutes pass and we get to the ladies’ stop. They make to leave. The last one grabs my phone.

Yeah, I was surprised too. Plus, I didn’t have the benefit of a narrative to point them out.

So I jump up. I like to think I leapt heroically to my feet, my manly frame calling to mind Ajax, Agamemnon or Achilles, but it was probably closer to a Startled Glaswegian than a Great Greek. I shouted something along the lines of “hey” or “oi”, and ran down the bus. As I strode I said – as firmly as I could – “Give me my phone back,” in a tone that definitely implied something Hellenic, while I resisted the urge to add, screaming “you FUCKING BITCH”. She turned to make good her her escape.

Luck had it that I used to be a goalkeeper for my school team, and was as such blessed with (or developed out of critical necessity) good reaction times. I grabbed her wrist. Unfortunately, it was not the one attached to the hand that possessed my phone.

What then ensued was an odd, awkward dance. Her twisting, keeping her other hand as far away from me as possible, all the while shouting various threats and obscenities; me trying to keep ahold of her, reaching for that elusive hand, repeating in ever-louder, ever-firmer tones, “Give me my phone back.” I heard her friends telling her to “jist leave it” and “gie ‘im it back” but she was having none of it. No, she would rather make me out to be the attacker. Mind you, I did have a long dark coat on, and to be honest, the rest of the bus was either bewildered or trying to pay no heed – an even greater feat than mine. They were reading their papers furiously.

In the middle of our grim dance down the bus, she shouts “Let go or I’ll smack ye”. And she did. Several times, as it happened. She caught me once (or twice) in the face with my phone. I did my best to ignore the ignominy of being struck with my own device.

Very quickly we were at the front of the bus. This presented a problem – should she escape I would face a dilemma: pursue her and retrieve my phone, or stay on the bus with the rest of my gear. Luckily, there was one good Samaritan on the bus. A guy who had been waiting with me at the bus stop. He grabbed her arms, which achieved two things: displeased her no end, and allowed me to finally wrench my phone from her grasp. He then let her go and she scurried off the bus to catch up to the rest of her coven.

To him, I am beyond grateful. Unfortunately, I walked back my seat without thanking him, and he got off the bus. I’ll be watching out for him, and I won’t forget his face.

So, I had my phone, and other than a few very minor cuts to my face, no real damage had been done. My question, ladies and gentlemen, is why? Did she not expect me to respond? Or to give up once she started shouting or hitting me? Was she drunk? The yobettes’ behaviour had certainly been slightly odd. Who knows. I’d like to use it as a data point to add to the set of “the decline of British society”, but truth be told, I have a hard time accepting it is as simple as that.

It’s a nice theory and all, that we’re getting worse. It makes for good tabloid articles, and we can all nod in agreement at how Britain is going down the tubes, and how people drink too much nowadays and take part in loutish behaviour, and how there is no respect for neighbours, the community, the police, etc etc. But within this story comes the counterpoint. Someone leapt to my defence. Someone else put their neck on the line (female or no, a headbutt does damage. Just ask any recipient of a ‘Glesga Kiss’. Or anyone who has been kneed in the nuts…), not to mention taking a risk legally – if she’d gotten hurt, you can bet it would be difficult for me (or him) to prove it wasn’t the 6 foot dangerous man that was at fault, but the wee 5′ 6 lass.

He helped a fellow human being who was being wronged. As long as we have those kind of people, Britain will survive. We’ll get through 24 hour drinking, happy slapping, vandalism, and even gangs. As long as we don’t get afraid, or worse – apathetic, we’ll get by just fine. Don’t get me wrong, people need to take more responsibility for their actions. If they eat unhealthily, they’re going to get ill later in life. If they smoke, they’ll increasse the liklihood of getting cancer. If they drink, they are going to stupid things. I don’t have a problem with people doing any of these. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, people can do just about whatever they like, so long as it doesn’t impinge on other folk. And with things that have an increased chance of stupidity (drink, drugs, I’m looking at you) there needs to be *more* responsibility, not less. Or none, like there seems to be for a few people.

I charge everyone to act like the man that helped me. Instead of reading your newspapers as hard as you can, intervene. That is all.