Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The man who sued the Pope and invented the banana slicer ...

... and did lots of other things too. Read about him here.

All I can really comment on is his legal strategy: you should always think about how you are going to enforce a judgment before suing unusual defendants. Still, he had a prima facie meritorious claim, albeit not against the Pope.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

UKIP - losers everywhere except in the polls

There is plenty to say about UKIP, and no doubt there will be plenty more after the results of the Euro-elections. For the moment, I am interested in why the onslaught it has suffered has had so small an effect. Even that topic makes this a long post - more after the break.

International healthcare comparisons

I've found a series of short talks about different healthcare systems that it really quite interesting.

For those of you who know about the NHS and want to know if the presenter knows what, here is the (English) NHS. Seems right to me. Cheap and cheerful - even with the co-pay on outpatient drugs (not a phrase that is commonly used in England).

Here's an explanation of the French system, perhaps the best one in the world and hard to fault on any measure.

Finally, although it is first in the series, here is the US system. (You can also find Canada on the website if you want.)

What is interesting is to have the same person describe the different systems. So, if you want to know what the co-pay is on outpatient drugs in England compared with France, this could be

Friday, 16 May 2014

Noah - the movie!

Sounds dreadful, according to Alex von Tunzelmann.

"Noah, meanwhile, is modernised as a kind of militant vegetarian, militant heteronormativity-enforcer and psychopathic religious fundamentalist, ready to bump off everybody in the world because some of them occasionally eat a sort of badly animated armadillo-dog thing and have admittedly somewhat flubbed their environmental management. He is grossly unsympathetic, even when he adopts an injured orphan girl. "I want my daddy to sing to me," she coos to him. We don't, because some of us have seen Les Misérables and remember how Russell Crowe's singing went last time.

Plus there are rock-monsters.

The world's greatest juggler

The subtitle to this article is "Why did Anthony Gatto, the greatest juggler alive — and perhaps of all time — back away from his art to open a construction business?" It's a good read and I recommend it.

The piece prompts some rather Elegy-in-a-Country-Churchyard-ish thoughts. Mr Gatto, by means of a great deal of effort since childhood, and no doubt immense native talent too, has become perhaps the greatest juggler who has ever lived. He is to juggling what Bradman is to cricket or Tiger Woods to golf. His standing in the world of juggling is higher than Picasso's in painting or Pavarotti's in opera. And yet being the greatest juggler ever amounts to, well, what?

There's no real reason (is there?) why juggling ranks below other entertainments like acting, singing or telling jokes - but this man doesn't have the fame or fortune of Bob Hoskins, Bono of Jimmy Carr. If, when we are all dead, all the money flows from golf, pop songs and Damian Hirst spot-paintings to juggling instead, would Mr Gatto be a mute inglorious Miltonm (or almost, saved by what remains on YouTube)?

Equally, perhaps your builder or plumber is the world's greatest ever conker-player or whistler or footballer with tiny bits of stone or constructor of models out of sweet-wrappers, or the equivalent in some other art, entertaining enough in its own right, but somehow not valued by the world. Perhaps he's the greatest-ever plumber.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

" So indifferent are academics to presentation, it seems, that the PowerPoint slide which announced the existence of the Higgs Boson was partly written in the font Comic Sans."

Time spent reading Rory Sutherland is, in my experience, always time well-spent. Here he is on, well, Rory Sutherland-ish stuff, mainly behavioural economics. The only man who can make me want to park in two parking spaces for political reasons, and perhaps to steer with my nose too.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The non-baby-eating Bishop of Bath and Wells

If you are one of those people who know why the Bishop of Bath and Wells might be described as 'baby-eating' and precisely what one is doing (and where) when reading Greats in Peckwater Quad, and if you want to know which club to lunch at in order to get an appointment as a bishop (spoiler alert - it's the Athenaeum), then this might be for you. It is an interview with Rt Revd John Bickersteth, the oldest living former bishop of Bath and Wells, and will provide much assistance for whoever it is at the Telegraph who will be assigned his obituary. For example, it is harder to think of a sentence more likely to appear in a Telegraph obituary than this: "His appointment as Her Majesty’s Clerk of the Closet, soon after he was made Bishop of Bath and Wells, was entirely due to his shooting prowess".

Monday, 12 May 2014

What you can see

Here are five things you might want to see:

(1) St Petersburg from above.

(2) Strange sights in Eastern Europe.

(3) How clever a man is just by looking at him. But you can't tell how clever a woman is just by looking at her: "Both men and women were able to accurately evaluate the intelligence of men by viewing facial photographs. ... No relationship between perceived intelligence and IQ was found for women." Is it because men wear glasses but women might be wearing contact lenses? Is that comment offensive to bright people with good eyesight? Is that a category of person to whom one mustn't insult nowadays? Or is it just sexist?

(4) The Book of Kells.

(5) What has happened to Shanghai.

"In Iceland, police have fatally shot just one suspect. That's one guy in the entire history of the country."

More on policing, and some interesting and entertaining international comparisons here. Some excerpts:

"in America 120,000 or so full-time law enforcement officers rack up the same number of homicides as about 24 million Canadians"

"in 2011 the German police fired 85 bullets. That's all of them. The entire police force. The whole country. Eighty-five bullets in one year. That's seven bullets per month. One bullet for every million German citizens. The same year - 2011 - the Miami Police Department blew through the German Polizei's annual bullet allowance on just one traffic incident ..."

"Are American civilians so different from Europeans or Aussies or Kiwis or Canadians that they have to be policed as if they're cornered rebels in an ongoing civil war?"

Steyn ends by quoting a policeman writing about how to handle stopping someone driving a car and comments "This guy would sound faintly nutty outside America, and his superiors would probably recommend psychological evaluation."

Iceland "ranks 15th in the world in terms of legal per capita gun ownership", says the BBC.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

"In routine encounters with law enforcement, a citizen should not have to weigh the likelihood that the officer will decide to shoot him dead"

The headline is a quotation from this piece. It is another sobering read about utterly misguided American policing.

The stories themselves are worth reading. Take, for example, this: "the young man, who, according to his parents, was suffering from schizophrenia and had failed to take his medication [...] was shot to death by a police officer whose last words before pulling the trigger were: "We don't have time for this."" You couldn't make up that "We don't have time for this".

But the context should also be remembered. These accounts are collected and published by right-wingers (note the link in the piece to the Daily Mail, for example). The article itself is written by someone who is so much a fan of America that he chosen to make his home there and take US citizenship. This is not left-wing anti-Americanism.

Friday, 2 May 2014

"What if, instead of being born into a life of privilege, power and political opportunity, Sir Winston Churchill had been a bicycle?"

The headline is taken from a recent Spectator competition, for which the challenge was to "compose the most off-putting book blurb that you could muster". The quotation comes from my favourite entry, which concludes:

"How might the Great War have been different if fought by varying lengths of 5B graphite pencil? Concentrating on persuasive timelines and cogently argued political and economic analysis, Snigg uses these and other scenarios to shed fascinating sidelights on human history unlikely to be unearthed through study of the mere facts. If you’ve ever wondered whether Stalin’s second Five Year Plan would have increased steel production more consistently under the direction of British comedian ‘big-hearted’ Arthur Askey, this book will prove an indispensable aide."

The lipogrammatic novel which is "situationist aesthetics with a twist" is also highly tempting.