The news today makes this a little easier; I have struggled to keep it near 500 words as it is.
I’ve always loved Top Gear; I’m reasonably sure I watched it from birth. Angela Rippon is the first TG presenter I really remember, but I as I grew I developed soft spots for Quentin Willson’s eyebrow and the amazing Vicki Butler-Henderson. When it was reborn under the aegis of the brash-but-funny Clarkson in 2002 I mourned that they’d got rid of the large roster of presenters in favour of just three, but figured I’d give it a go. I didn’t like the initial lineup of the Clarkson series - the guy they’d got to fill Quentin Willson’s role as secondhand car expert really didn’t work, and it was all very stilted. You could see they were trying to up the comedy content, but for whatever reason it wasn’t quite working.
For series two, they brought in James May and the magic happened. Clarkson, Hammond and May are the testosterone-laden equivalent of Maiden, Mother and Crone: Young Risk Addict, Geek, and Middle-Aged Boorish Twat. I don’t like everything they did, I didn’t like all the jokes, especially not the racist/sexist ones, but they always made clear you were supposed to laugh AT the Middle-Aged Boorish Twat, that it was a persona, the real Clarkson ramped up to 11 and with all the safeties off… and thus I felt quite comfortable watching TG and even participating in online fandom because it wasn’t real. Every time Clarkson appeared on QI or HIGNFY, or did his occasional forays into WWII on BBC4, he showed that the Middle-Aged Boorish Twat was merely persona, Sun columns nothwithstanding.
Then he assaulted an underling for not getting him the food he wanted. And I felt a lot less comfortable… I think the beeb did the right thing in sacking him, and every pronouncement he has made since they sacked him (especially about transfolk) has only confirmed me in that view. I am sad that the other two decided to go with him, but not really surprised. They do work as a trio.
As for the new lineup? It does rather look like someone has been ticking boxes. Three middle-aged white guys (one ginger), two foreigners, one black guy, one woman… Plus The Stig, who is Schroedinger’s Diversity tickybox - the pose they hold in the photo of the team released today makes it impossible to even guess at gender, never mind race, sexuality, and so on. I’m glad they’ve confirmed Sabine, and am amused that the best actual driver (bar Stiggy) on the new show is going to be
My ideal lineup?
Vicki Butler-Henderson, Suzi Perry and Sabine treating James May as the Smurfette would suit me.
I've gone slightly over word count at 521 there, but I hope you can forgive me.
Are you one of those who believes that, when it comes to South African taxi drivers, road accidents are pre-destined, and not as a result of individual’s driving behaviour? If so, your beliefs could be erroneous – according to the results of a newly published study undertaken by Dr. Bright Mahembe (University of the Western Cape) and Professor Olorunjuwon Samuel (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg)
“We collected data from 203 conveniently sampled taxi drivers in Gauteng province of South Africa by means of a structured questionnaire. Our analysis, using Structural Equation Modelling, found significant positive relationships between agreeableness and positive driver behaviour, conscientiousness and positive driver behaviour, fatalism and extraversion, as well as fatalism and positive driver behaviour.“ [our hyperlink]
Following their investigations, the research team have suggestions for the South African road traffic authorities :
“Insights provided by this study could assist the Department of Transport and related Road Safety Authorities in designing road safety campaigns that addresses the erroneous beliefs by drivers that road accidents are pre-destined, and not as a result of individual’s driving behaviour.“
See: ‘Influence of personality and fatalistic belief on taxi driver behaviour’ South African Journal of Psychology, January 8, 2016.
Further reading: Taxi wars in South Africa
First, a definition: as far as I am concerned, blogging does not just mean “writing a blog”. That’s part of it, certainly, but just as vital are reading other people’s blogs, commenting and moderating comments, sharing links to interesting blogs written by other people, etc. If you just write without doing any of the rest of it, you’re Doing It Wrong.
That out of the way, there are several reasons why I blog.
I’ve been doing it for over 15 years, now. I started before the term “blog” was even a thing (yes, of course, on LiveJournal), and I continue now it’s old hat and out of fashion. Very often I get the thought “I must write something about that”, and almost a quarter of the time I actually get around to doing it.
When I got out of the habit of blogging for a while when my depression was really bad, it made things far worse. I lost some of the web of connections which strengthens my feeble grasp on sanity. This was not a good thing. I am glad I have reaquired the habit, if not quite as prolifically as at some points in the past.
2, Mental Health
It helps me, a lot of the time, to get things down. Sometimes just writing it helps, sometimes posting it publicly helps; often it’s the easiest way to tell loved ones what I am thinking. For example: this morning I have been turning the nightmare I had last night into a fic which may or may not get posted publicly later; the nightmare is now less scary because I’ve pinned it down to the screen and made it squirm.
Additionally, like Andy has, I have found that my friends tell me that my blogging helps them; both in understanding where I am coming from and in clearing their own thoughts, or even just so that they know they are not alone in thinking or feeling X or Y. Every time I think I have overshared, someone will post a comment or send me an email or a twitter DM saying “thank you for posting that, it really helped me to deal with a similar thing”, or words to that effect.
If I didn’t blog I wouldn’t have such a strong and diverse friends group full of interesting people. I reckon 90% of the friends that I really value I met through blogging, and a further 5% on top of that are people I met online before ever blogging. My attitude to blogging and it’s component parts is shared by a lot of others, and thus a little overlapping set of communities are formed, and it’s genuinely the biggest, most lifechanging thing I have ever been involved in. I met all my current partners either directly or indirectly as a result of blogging. I joined a political party because of blogging. I can’t overstate the importance of blogging to me, really.
and I think you'll find that's exactly 500 words ;)
The BBC say that the petition claims there is "no coherent plan" to fight the campaign and "no effective leadership" in Wales. Apparently, more than twenty members had signed the petition, six of whom were general election candidates:
"It is understood by all that UKIP in Wales is operated on the basis of mutual respect and understanding," the petition states.
"In light of the extraordinary circumstances prevailing and indeed, as a last resort, to prevent further harm and disharmony within 'the party' it is necessary to censure and remove those responsible forthwith."
The petition accused Mr Gill of showing "a lack of leadership in all aspects pertaining to this matter".
It said that "through his inactivity or unwillingness to resolve the prevailing circumstances, [he] has exacerbated the situation to the point where members no longer have faith in his ability to lead UKIP in Wales in any effective way".
UKIP general election candidates backing the petition were Joe Smyth (Islwyn), Darran Thomas (Brecon and Radnorshire), Ken Beswick (Torfaen), Blair Smillie (Alyn and Deeside), Nigel Williams (Delyn), and Paul Davies Cooke (Vale of Clwyd).
Nigel Farage is due in Llanelli this evening for Question Time. Assuming he can find the M4 this time perhaps they should ask him about this increasing dissatisfaction in the ranks of his Welsh branch.
1 CMBC Working Parties
2 CMBC Annual Budget Consultation
We are continually being informed CMBC has so many issues to be fixed. One resident asked us to look at CMBC Working Parties whilst a Councillor recently told us there are about 100 things that need to be implemented before CMBC staff absenteeism can be reduced. Thus our thoughts on 2 issues follow, all data used was supplied by CMBC
1 CMBC Working Parties (FOI request, response 26th March 2015) we quote,
Not all working parties have written terms of reference Another example of CMBC’s unprofessional, amateurish management
The Terms of Reference which exist are attached There are three working parties with written Terms of Reference. Transport Working Party meetings are held in secret not open to the public, we quote No business can be transacted unless two councillors are present. Yes just two this is just not democratic!
The following working parties report to Cabinet
- Transport W P
- Markets W P
- W P Local Development Plan W P (**)
- Capital Programme W P
The following working parties report to the Governance & Business Committee
25th Feb 2015, this committee agreed, we quote there seemed little benefit in the recording of member’s apologies for absence in council minutes this is an example of councillors taking advantage of CMBC’s smoke and mirrors policy, disgraceful!
- Constitutional matters W P (**)
- Member Training & Development W P (**)
(**) No written Terms of Reference equals no accountability, no democracy!
CMBC Working Parties, what is the point other than to tie down Councillors with bureaucracy, red tape. Keeps them out of the hair of the Senior Officers in charge!
2 CMBC Annual Budget Consultation (CMBC Press Release 17th Nov 2015) we quote
The “Your Council Your Voice” public consultation launched in September 2015 to help the Council clearly identify savings of £9.6M which must be made by 2017/18 (to be followed by another £20M! by 2018/19?)
Another “new” way to “consult” with ratepayers, how much was wasted, spent developing this “new” methodology? Did this new method encourage the imagination of the responders’ or was it as usual limited by a set of pre ordained suggestions, the favourite CMBC ploy?
This largest ever budget consultation resulted in 4,300 formal responses 4.48% from an electorate of 95,000. Hardly impressive, not a statistically meaningful percentage!
Cllr Tim Swift leader of the Council said, we quote we are delighted by the responses [we received] he went on to say what people told us: giving a list of 12 points the final one blatant political point scoring (involving CMBC challenging the Government) can be ignored. This cabinet cannot sort out CMBC let alone change Westminster!
Of the remaining 11 points there is not a single one, thinking Councillors who we have elected to do this work, could not have written down themselves, if asked.
1 The financial cliff rapidly approaches, quoting CMBC £29.6M per annum to save in the next 3 years, scare mongering perhaps? The Council leaders still have no plans in place to save anywhere near this sum! They need to start now, prepare the ground to get a grip, yes before the May elections.
Cllrs read Council Leaders potential CMBC Savings Check List 6th Feb 2016. Take your heads out of the sand, just ask confidentially, persons in the know your employees where the easy savings that can be made are, those hidden in plain sight!
2 CMBC’s “budget” is not a management budget it is just a simple device to ensure CMBC does not overspend the money it has, a political decision a cabinet responsibility.
To reduce current wasteful spending (£12.8M? pa), releasing money for essential social services, CMBC needs a modern top down management budget control system enabling every manager (officer) responsible for expenditure to be held to account.
Problem is, council leaders and the majority of councillors have no experience of recognising let alone managing an over sized organisation such as CMBC. Senior officers being well aware of council leader’s inexperience benefit from this having an easy life, no top down pressure. Thus these senior officers, for obvious reasons have no intention of adopting modern management practices even if they knew what these might be!
My latest focus groups looking at how other Europeans see Britain and its place in the EU took place in the capital of one of our closest neighbours. It is sometimes said that the Dutch are more similar to the British than any of the other inhabitants of Europe. How much did our Amsterdam participants think the two countries had in common?
“Well, they drive on the wrong side of the road.” Actually, everybody else does. “But we have the same ideals. We think the way they do.” “It’s close by, and London feels like Amsterdam. It’s multicultural.” Some argued that “we have more equality here… in Britain the gap between rich and poor is very big. If you have a lot of money you go to a private school, if not you go on social security.”
The British were also more attached to their traditions: “Have you seen how they vote in their parliament? ‘Ayeeee!’ It’s like a hundred years ago.” Also “they’re drunk as hell. They’re always getting kicked out of hotels.” Still, at least the British were not like some others: “They are polite and welcoming. So it’s different from France.”
“They’re drunk as hell. They’re always getting kicked out of hotels.”
A cosy country
Our groups’ view of domestic prospects also largely mirrored that of many in Britain. Though the economy was undoubtedly recovering from the crisis, growth sometimes seemed more evident in the figures than in people’s day-to-day experience: “You hear it’s getting better but when you talk to people you don’t hear that positivity… People have debts, they don’t have money to save.” Another refrain was strangely familiar: “They say we’re doing well, but they always do before elections.” Though more jobs were available, security and long-term opportunities, especially for young people, seemed harder to come by.
Asked what was the best thing about the Netherlands, people in both groups instantly said “freedom”. There was also a feeling of “cosiness – I think it’s a cosy country.” Though generally optimistic in outlook, some felt that these things were at risk. There were concerns about both the refugee crisis and migration from within the EU (“they all live together in holiday parks. You only see Polish men, the families are back in Poland. You’d rather see them integrate”). But for our groups, the threat did not come from these things directly as much as from the political response to them: “Wilders [founder and leader of the Party for Freedom] is going on about Muslims. He just shouts, there is no content, and he doesn’t have a solution. Even if I agreed with him I wouldn’t vote for him. I’d be scared he’d start a war. He’s like Trump or Le Pen;” “People are making extreme choices. They are fully to the left or fully to the right. I hope we will start thinking together again in the future.”
Like Switzerland, but an island
Where our groups did see a difference between Britain and their own country was in their respective approaches to Europe, or at least that of their leaders. “I wish we were more like the UK. We’re just following the crowd;” “David Cameron has made a fist at Europe and is clear about what he wants and is ready to fight. Rutte [the Dutch PM] is just so meek. He just does what they say in Brussels;” “You have the feeling that Rutte is like the manager of the Netherlands – Europe decides and he just pushes it down our throats.”
Though they admired Cameron for his stance (“finally there is someone who stands up and gives the right example”), many felt his approach was characteristic of Britain: “they are self-willed, they just do their own thing. They’re like Switzerland, but an island”.
“I wish we were more like the UK. We’re just following the crowd… David Cameron has made a fist at Europe and is clear about what he wants and is ready to fight.”
The view that Dutch leaders did not seem to stand up to EU institutions was connected to memories of the 2005 referendum in which the Netherlands rejected the proposed new constitution (even if some had only a hazy recollection of what they had been voting on): “We had a referendum and voted against and suddenly we were in. We don’t have much of a say in this country.”
Though many were looking on wistfully as Britain set about negotiating and deciding, most in our groups wanted us to stay. As a big, rich, powerful country, the UK was an asset to the EU (“Britain is the only European country with an army!”), so its departure could only damage the Union’s standing in the world. More to the point, it would make the EU a less desirable club to be part of. “If they leave, we’ll be left behind with all those losers. Belgium!”
“If they leave, we’ll be left behind with all those losers. Belgium!”
Nobody blamed Britain for trying to win a better deal, and most expected other leaders to compromise: “if you look at the efforts they made to keep Greece, they will make an effort to keep the UK.” Few objected to any of the UK’s specific demands – though as elsewhere, some thought the desired exemption from ever closer union gave the game away (“see, they don’t want to be in”). In our groups, the main concern was to ensure that any more favourable terms for Britain applied to them too.
The best behaved boy in the class
Most of our Amsterdam participants did not think their country’s EU membership was a bad thing – easier trade, open borders and a potentially bigger influence for the Netherlands were all mentioned as benefits, along with the convenience of the euro (though on the downside, “you don’t get that holiday feeling any more. When I went to Italy I had so many lire I thought I was rich”).
But it seemed to them that the Netherlands was more committed than other members to sticking to the rules, and that they had little to show for their diligence. “It’s like a classroom. You need rules. But one of the richest boys in the class, who knows the teacher, can pass with a lower grade. And the poorer ones with criminal parents get let off. We’re the best behaved boy in the class.” Sorry, which one is the rich boy? “France didn’t meet the budget deficit rules, but there was no cost. But we always hand in our homework on time.” Though the criminal parents reference is opaque, the poorer student is Greece, whose expensive failure to meet the rules to join the euro in the first place still rankled. The extended classroom metaphor also explains our participants’ reservations about new countries joining, especially Turkey: “If I thought they’d stick to the rules after they joined, I’d agree. But I don’t have that feeling.”
“France didn’t meet the budget deficit rules, but there was no cost. But we always hand in our homework on time.”
Go on, now go
Suppose that on referendum day, Britain votes to leave. Should the other members try and persuade it to stay with a sweeter package, as some Brexit campaigners suggest it will? “No. That would be kneeling too much. Forget about them;” “I’d rather they stayed, but not at all costs;” “If they want to leave, that’s fine;” “It would be very weak of the EU to say ‘oh no, we hadn’t expected this, let’s give them better conditions’.” Instead, for some, the question would then be about their own country’s position: “If they go, we should leave too”.
And so to the time-honoured final question: if Britain were an animal, what would it be? “An elephant. Reliable, peaceful, calm;” “A rhino. Powerful but dirty;” “A tiger. They bite into things and don’t let go;” “A bear. They’re strong, and make some noise;” “A unicorn. They’re unique, they can’t be compared to anything;” “A cheeky monkey. They don’t allow themselves to be ruled by anyone;” “A cat. They crap all over the place and do what they like.”