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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Andrew Mobbs' LiveJournal:

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Tuesday, September 1st, 2015
12:14 am
Last week I poured the cremated remains of my father into a river. From there, that material will flow through the town he lived in, into the sea, and mix with the world ocean. The atoms that make up that matter began in the heart of a star, for a short time they were part of my father, next they will be sand, in time some may be taken up by plants and algae, some may go on to become part of some other creatures, some may be locked into rock.

In relatively few years, on the scale of history, the last living memories of my father will be lost as his grandchildren age and die. He won't be known for anything, his name won't live on in story or legend. However, his thoughts, his influence and his personality have flowed on into me and all others who knew him, and will be distributed, diluted to an undetectable, infinitesimal degree, for the indefinite future through humanity, for as long as that lasts.

It's not even a simulacrum of a mythical everlasting life; he's dead, his life has ended and conciousness ceased, there isn't a soul to live on. However, as the physical remains will distribute through the world, so will traces of who he was, even if nobody will ever know or be able to tell.

That's enough.

Bill Mobbs 1944-2015
Monday, August 12th, 2013
8:57 pm
Moving house!
We're moving house soon… details to follow in a less public post, or email me.

However, we're getting rid of some bits and pieces of furniture that we hope not to have to take with us. Some of it isn't needed in the new house, some of it is still kicking around as duplicates since we moved in together 5 years ago.

Specifically:
Two assembled flat-pack pine wardrobes both in decent condition; one three-door fairly budget Argos, one reasonably-good-quality Ikea two door.
Ironing board.
Russell Hobbes cyclonic 2200W Vacuum cleaner.
Twoone used but serviceable electric lawn mowers. (One B&Q with a grass collection bucket, one low-end Flymo hover mower with plastic blades… it's small and light at least.)
Computer desk - assembled flatpack, multiple shelves, on wheels.
Black office chair.
White melamine bedroom flat-pack (several wardrobes, chest of drawers) - wardrobes disassembled, "fitted" sized wardrobes with a single chest of drawers.

All free, or next best offer.

If you want more details, ask.

If anybody can suggest a charity that'll take flatpack, that'd be great too.
Sunday, January 20th, 2013
3:41 pm
Yesterday, I made sausages. This was sufficiently exciting to cause me to actually write something on LJ for once.
Sausages!Collapse )
Wednesday, June 27th, 2012
1:25 pm
Married
I suppose I should say something in this largely neglected Livejournal. Alison and I got married last weekend, and it was a fantastic day. Thanks to all of you who came and helped us celebrate. We're currently sitting basking in the sun in the South-West of France (in the Corbières).

The day went mostly to plan, with only the slight glitch with coaches in the wrong place, dresses too long to do the first dance we practiced, coffee slightly hidden, and a wild over-estimation of the amount of beer that would be drunk. However, mostly it was great, the meal and venue were everything we hoped for, the cake was stunning, the rain held off for the reception at least, and I've ended up with a beautiful and clever wife (though to counter that, she is stuck with me).

Given we've been living together for the past four years, and are both keeping our names, it won't really mark a major change in day-to-day life. It does feel like it marks some sort of moment in a grander scale though.

Photos sets from
Tom:
http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151047742607429.486179.783247428&type=1&l=2827d886aa
Richard:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/32798409@N02/sets/72157630268276026/with/7434115824/
James:
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150859815091846.395100.587106845&type=3&l=19b5cf76dc
Thursday, April 12th, 2012
9:25 am
This post will probably come across to SNP supporters as an attack on the party; it's not really intended as such, it's a reality check for non-Scottish idealists. I'm getting increasingly irritated by the frequency of comments that seem to view the SNP as a party who do no wrong. More often than not, these aren't from pro-SNP Scots, but from English disaffected by the discovery that the Lib Dems aren't going to deliver a Social Democratic utopia overnight.

There's a trend on the net of using the term "LibLabCon". If you think those three parties are the same, you may as well add SNP to that list. They're as much part of the Social Liberal consensus of British politics as any of the main UK parties, and that's not a bad thing. The SNP favour a regulated free market with social security, healthcare and education provided by the state, just like the Lib Dems, Tories and Labour ¹.

It's the Green supporters that particularly confuse me by considering the SNP to be on their side in a way that LD/Labour/Conservative aren't. The SNP favour strong economic growth, low levels of business regulation, investment in road infrastructure, investment in the oil industry, and the EU. The Greens er… don't in all cases. About their only common ground is investment in renewable energy, which is not all that radical considering Scotland's potential there.

The Social Democrat faction are also somewhat naive in their view of the SNP. They focus on the lack of student fees² and prescription charges. However, they tend to ignore the SNP's proposals for lowering corporation tax, reducing business rates and reduce business regulation; which are really not that different to the Conservative's. Until 2008 Alex Salmond was pushing Scotland's future as a low tax, low regulation finance center in Edinburgh, looking to Iceland and Ireland and strongly supporting RBS's disastrous take over of ABN Amro.

All that said, the SNP aren't particularly bad, but like other parties they exist in a real world of compromise, dodgy lobbying, and past cock-ups. Other than their clearly distinctive policy on Scottish Independence, they're very similar to the general UK political consensus. Like the other parties they have their own distinctive set of emphases, but they're not fundamentally all that different to the others.

¹ Yes, I am saying that all major parties believe this, even the Conservatives. The Coalition haven't privatised the NHS, higher education is still available to all subject to exam grades rather than wealth, social security spending is currently at an all-time high and forecast cuts will take it down to 2009 levels, not eliminate it. That's all also annoying me, but not the real point of this post.

² The credit for that one is shared; in 2000 the Lib Dems in coalition with Labour initially replaced student fees with an endowment to be paid after graduation. The SNP abolished the endowment in 2008.
Wednesday, January 25th, 2012
8:20 pm
I've been reflecting on Scottish independence, and decided that my experiences relating to prejudiced nationalism in Scotland have been instrumental in shaping some core political views.

In general, I oppose nationalism and dislike the concept of the Nation-State. If there was a federal European state for Scotland to join as an semi-autonomous region, I'd almost certainly be in favour of it doing so. However, the alignment of the state with the nation is a poisonous anachronism that has no place in a modern globalised society ¹, and virtually any move toward that in a free state seems regressive. By all means hold onto whatever regional history and customs inform your identity, but don't make that part of your governance.

For the avoidance of doubt; my internationalism is firmly based on democratic free association. People living in a reasonably definable region² have every right to choose their association and governance, it shouldn't be enforced on them. I'm entirely happy with the idea of a Scottish independence referendum being held. I just think the vote should be "No".

¹ Where the larger state doesn't offer a good degree of freedom, it is probably better to be a free nation-state than part of an unfree federation. Free Tibet! (with every hackneyed joke).

² …obviously, that's the detail containing many of the devils.

(If anybody feels like playing a game of asking me what I think about many other national independence situations around the world and in history in the hope of catching me in an inconsistency with the above position, please don't. You probably will succeed but it'll be dull and take more time than I want to spend in the argument.)
Wednesday, September 7th, 2011
5:05 pm
My previous post was, quite obviously, born out of irritation at the way political discourse still hasn't managed to get to grips with the idea of coalition.

The Lib Dems, after years of having no say at all in government, are making changes to policy. If anybody on the left of the spectrum doubts that, just go and read the screams of rage from the Conservative press and blogs, from both activists and MPs, about the Lib Dems. To get any policy though, they're voting for a lot of largely Conservative policies. That doesn't make them liars, traitors or stooges; it simply means they're working legislators who are trying to do what they can.

On the other side, the Conservatives didn't win the election, and really need to learn to live with that. They're not going to get everything they want, and have to compromise to get anything at all through or it won't happen. That means accepting Lib Dem influence in every bit of legislation they want to pass. In particular, it means living with the fact that the Right of the party doesn't have as much sway as they would in a narrow majority government.

On both sides, I suspect there's a fair degree of the grass roots keeping pressure up to ensure their side fights their corner hard.

I can appreciate the emotional view that would prefer the Lib Dems to just say "no" to everything they didn't like. However, that would likely have disastrous consequences for the Lib Dems in the long term, especially if they started doing it now after they've managed to get themselves blamed for the whole of the higher education funding changes. (Despite managing to reshape them into something close to the graduate tax that was policy all along. Shame it's a tax with a lifetime cap, but that's the compromise.)

Anyway...

As suggested by pseudomonas (obviously this is just an arbitrary and subjective quantification, but it might be amusing):

How much influence are the Lib Dems exerting on government (where 0 is none of their policy, 13 is pure Lib Dem policy)

Mean: 3.75 Median: 4 Std. Dev 1.92
0(0.0%)
0
0(0.0%)
1
1(12.5%)
2
1(12.5%)
3
1(12.5%)
4
4(50.0%)
5
0(0.0%)
6
0(0.0%)
7
0(0.0%)
8
1(12.5%)
9
0(0.0%)
10
0(0.0%)
11
0(0.0%)
12
0(0.0%)
13
0(0.0%)

How much influence should the Lib Dems be exerting on government (where 0 is none of their policy, 13 is pure Lib Dem policy)

Mean: 7.56 Median: 7 Std. Dev 3.30
0(0.0%)
0
0(0.0%)
1
0(0.0%)
2
0(0.0%)
3
1(11.1%)
4
0(0.0%)
5
2(22.2%)
6
1(11.1%)
7
2(22.2%)
8
0(0.0%)
9
1(11.1%)
10
0(0.0%)
11
0(0.0%)
12
0(0.0%)
13
2(22.2%)


The Lib Dems have 15.7% of the seats in government, 57 out of 363; and nationally got 39% of the votes cast for the Coalition parties, 6,836,824 out of 17,540,578. That's 2.04 and 5.07 on my scale, which goes to 13 to make those close to round numbers. I was going to make the scale go to 11, but thought that Spinal Tap references were more amusing than helpful.
1:31 pm

The Lib Dems are

simply enabling Tory policies.
14(73.7%)
exerting a massively disproportionate influence over government policy.
5(26.3%)



Radio buttons because those are the only two options I see in most blog and twitter posts.
Monday, June 13th, 2011
3:15 pm
Lord, grant that Marshal Wade...
"The Jacobite Rising of 1745–6 proved to be the last attempt by the Stewart dynasty to regain the British throne from the Hanoverians. Following Culloden, fought just 8 miles (12km) from Fort George, the government introduced ruthless measures to prevent such a Rising happening again. Fort George was one of them
[…]
Fort George is the only property in the care of Historic Scotland still serving its original purpose."

http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/propertyresults/propertyabout.htm?PropID=PL_136&PropName=Fort%20George

(It's a stunning place to visit if you ever find yourself up in those parts.)
Thursday, June 9th, 2011
12:06 am
Rather than a rant that's building and may eventually get posted, I'll post a bread recipe.

So, since getting a breadmaker a while ago, I've been experimenting in how to make good bread with it. Not just the ordinary fresh baked goodness that the recipes produce, but something that really tastes of Bread, with nice chewy middle and crunchy crust. I'm far too lazy to go out of my way with obsessive artisan baking rituals, so the following is a decent compromise being only a little more faff than normal breadmaker bread, but sufficiently tasty to warrant the hassle.

Start 12 hours before you want the bread to be baked (i.e. usually in the evening).

Put 210ml water in the bread pan
Add 1tsp salt
Put 300g of bread flour on top of the water.

In a separate bowl:
Dissolve 1tsp dried yeast in 100ml water
Add 150g flour
mix to a thick dough to form a pre-ferment

Put pre-ferment on top of flour in the bread pan.

Use French Bread programme (5 on the Kenwood). Set timer for 12 hours (± an hour or so doesn't seem to hurt).

That's it, no oil, no sugar. The yeast will work on the pre-ferment for about 8 hours before the kneading/baking programme starts, breaking it down into all those tasty complex sugars, and there will be enough active yeast in the pre-ferment to let the whole loaf rise. The recipe seems fairly sensitive to hydration levels, a 10% error in the amount of water seems to lead to Bad Things.

If anybody with one of the Panasonic bread makers feels like trying it, I'd be interested to know how well it works there.
Saturday, May 28th, 2011
12:54 pm
A belief that things are better left unchanged, or even that they used to be better in some distant golden age before it was all ruined, are pretty much the epitome of conservative views.

In contrast, people with progressive views are usually those who want to move society forward, believe that the best is yet to come, that things can be improved through reform. "Progressive" is a term adopted by those with liberal, leftish, social democrat views.

Why then, when it comes to the public sector, are many "progressives" being so damn reactionary? The prevalent view on blogs, twitter, LJ, The Guardian and so on seems to be completely conservative in analysis of the UK public sector. It was all better before it was ruined, it shouldn't be changed other than possibly to go back to the way things were, all that's needed is more money…

What happened to a belief in reform, in improvement and building a future rather than attempting to relive a golden age? Instead we only hear the constant cries of outrage being replaced by a muted rumbling of begrudging support from the gallery when a reform is halted.

I'm not saying that all change is good and should be supported regardless of intent or outcome. However, it seems that there's no appetite for reform at all. There's no desire for looking at comparable systems around the world and choosing the best features, or performing our own experiments and measuring the outcomes. The only view is of our own past, and a belief that it was better.

That's not progressive politics, and it is not helping anybody.
Wednesday, March 30th, 2011
9:36 am
Johann Hari wrote another anti-cuts article yesterday. I hate to admit it, but having read that, I'm finally beginning to have some sympathy with the phrase "deficit denier" (usually found in frothing comments posted to newspaper and BBC websites), in analogy with "climate change denier" being somebody who is ignoring an inconvenient truth in the hope that it will just go away if they pretend it isn't happening or doesn't matter.

He extensively relies on Keynesian economists like Paul Krugman, who are arguing that the UK¹ shouldn't cut spending now because that will depress the economy. Hari entirely ignores Krugman's statement "there's no question that Britain will eventually need to balance its books with spending cuts and tax increases.". Krugman isn't arguing against cuts, he's arguing against cuts as immediate and as deep as the coalition has implemented.

¹ (well, mostly the he argues about the US economy, but he occasionally mentions the UK)

Hari's argument that the national debt has been higher for 200 of the past 250 years is just silly. Even ignoring the obvious changes in technology that means it no longer takes months to get a message to Shanghai, or the economic reforms of Adam Smith throughout the 19th century it's still silly. He entirely ignores that for 155 of the past 250 years the debt has been cut; i.e. there hasn't been a deficit for most of the arbitrary period Hari is arguing about.

Even the coalition's cuts, which are both criticized and lauded for their severity, won't cut the debt for a while. The forecast is that the UK debt will continue to rise over the next 4 years. After years of these painful cuts, the result will be that the debt isn't going to get any worse.

Krugman might be right, I'm far from being qualified to judge which group of economists are correct, those advocating deep immediate cuts or those advocating delaying cuts and softer cuts. As far as I can see though, the common theme from the economists, also agreed by all major political parties in the UK, is that there have to be cuts.

It would have been nicer for everybody if the Keynesians were listened to and had turned out to be right. They weren't listened to though, so in a sense I hope that they're wrong and the cuts being implemented are necessary.
Friday, February 25th, 2011
4:39 pm
I won't be voting Yes to AV in May. AV is a miserable little compromise, it isn't what anybody wants, it isn't particularly proportional, it doesn't do away with tactical voting, it doesn't give a 50% mandate to candidates.

What I will be doing is voting "No to FPTP", because it really is the most dreadful electoral system that anybody has seriously proposed for the UK, and even AV is an improvement. Hopefully after a relatively short time of AV we can move again, this time to something worth voting in favour of.
Monday, February 14th, 2011
2:02 pm
Have a few polls for interest and entertainment:
Long pollsCollapse )
Friday, December 10th, 2010
1:15 pm
So on one hand we have a party where 28 MPs, including the leader, did exactly the opposite of a direct personal promise, and another 6 broke the promise by abstaining (2 broke it by having duties that meant they didn't turn up, but that's more understandable).

On the other hand, what else is there?
party political musingCollapse )
Tuesday, November 30th, 2010
6:09 pm

Forward
[…]it is simply not possible to promote healthier lifestyles through
Whitehall diktat and nannying about the way people should live.
[…]
2.26 There are also some activities that it makes sense to do once at national level[…] [t]his includes […] legislating to ban some types of drugs.
3.38 […]The Home Office is committed to implementing the ban on selling alcohol below cost without delay.
3.42 Public health professionals will work locally to prevent people from taking harmful drugs
3.44 Central government will sequence social marketing for public health through the life course [ed:What on earth does that mean?] so that, at each stage in a person's life, there is a meaningful and trusted voice.

Public Health white paper

It's not that I object to the broad approach of the white paper (after an initial skim through, but reserve the right to object to individual items); an increased focus on public health seems to make sense, the claim that it's going to be evidence led is good, the localism is good (in theory, I'm skeptical that it can be made to work, but hope to be surprised).

However, the tabloid rhetoric in the forward really wasn't necessary, especially when some of the policies could easily be seen as "nannying" (possibly justified and beneficial nannying, but nannying all the same). It's pure political posturing that detracts from the content of the policies.
Thursday, November 25th, 2010
2:02 pm
I worry about the reading comprehension skills of people who teach, or at least used to teach until recently. The education white paper contains the paragraph:
When young people compete for jobs and enter the workplace, they will be expected to communicate precisely and effectively so we think that changes in the last decade to remove the separate assessment of spelling, punctuation and grammar from GCSE mark schemes were a mistake. We have asked Ofqual to advise on how mark schemes could take greater account of the importance of spelling, punctuation and grammar for examinations in all subjects.

Katharine Birbalsingh seems to have understood this to mean:
Children now have to know how to spell and use grammar properly to pass their GCSE exams.
Tuesday, November 16th, 2010
4:41 pm
Coincidentally, the Guardian has a CiF post on the 50p tax rate, commenting on its popularity with voters.

From what I read this morning, it's rather debatable how much the 50p rate is likely to raise in tax revenue, and it is plausible that it would even cause a net loss. However, I suspect that many people would support taxing the rich more, even if it cost them money.

The Treasury estimate that the 50% rate will gain £2.4 billion, the IFS forecasts suggest it could be as bad as a £800 million cost. The Taxpayers Alliance claim it could be as bad as a £4.5 billion cost (though I think that very unlikely). In context, overall government receipts are £548 billion (after the June budget), so these figures are a fraction of 1% of overall income either way. Taxing the rich a bit more, or not, isn't going to either save the country from ruin or give us a land of plenty. On the other hand, the difference between IFS worst-case and treasury could pay for the whole Legal Aid program (as it was before yesterday), so it isn't completely without real relevance.

So, a poll, within the bounds of above expectations of the amount raised or cost being relatively small:
Poll #1645240 50p tax for people earning > £150,000

Would you support 50p income tax rate for the rich if it raised money overall? (i.e. increased income or services for everybody in the country).

Yes
21(100.0%)
No
0(0.0%)

Would you support 50p income tax rate for the rich if it cost money overall? (i.e. reduced income or services for everybody in the country).

Yes
3(17.6%)
No
14(82.4%)
12:03 pm
Eat the rich
A few days ago, I tweeted a criticism of a Spectator article. Specifically, the article stated:
The Taxpayers’ Alliance did the figures for us, and put the cost of the 50p tax1 at £4.5bn.

I've since looked into the detail of this claim.
cut for economicsCollapse )
In summary, it seems very unlikely from published research that the 50% tax rate will cost £4.5 billion, and it's disingenuous of the Spectator to base an article on such an extreme value. However, I've now a better appreciation of the considerations around raising money by increasing tax on the rich, there does appear to be a rather delicate balance to strike to optimise income, and relatively little hard data to make this decision on.

Of course, none of that takes into consideration any social effects of higher rate taxes for the rich. I can imagine that some people may act in an economically irrational way and support higher taxes for the rich even if it cost everybody else more. Obviously, there will be opposing views to that too, and the overall social effect of all that is rather unknowable.
further referencesCollapse )
Monday, November 8th, 2010
9:09 am
"Shelter, the housing charity, today produced research showing that almost a third of councils outside the capital will have households facing losses of more than £50 a month following the cuts.[…] Of 283 local authorities outside the capital, 81 will see two-bedroom households in their area lose an average of £50 or more[…] Some of the worst hit live in the south-east. The loss in Cambridge is estimated at £100 a month[…]"

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/nov/08/housing-benefit-north-south-divide

I'm no supporter of the housing benefit cap, but that figure surprised me. I've some awareness of Cambridge private rental prices, and didn't think that the average rent for a 2 bedroom flat was anything like £1247 per month (£290 per week cap * 4.3 weeks per month + £100 loss). The most expensive 2 bedroom rental property in Cambridge I could find in a quick web search was £1150 pcm.

I can't find all the details of Shelter's research, but a press release that Shelter published today, that appears to be related says:
New analysis by the housing charity shows that 17 councils in the East of England will see two bedroom households in their area losing between £50 and £100 a month from next October when the changes come in, including Cambridge, Welwyn Hatfield and Rochford.


Have I misunderstood something about the housing benefit cap which means it's not as simple as comparing the weekly cap published with rental value?

Edit: Ah! I have utterly misunderstood how Local Housing Allowance works, and the caps are misleading. People in Cambridge qualifying for a 2 bedroom flat currently get up to £155.34/week according to https://lha-direct.voa.gov.uk/ ; and the criteria for qualification for house sizes appear to be quite strict.

I feel quite dim now, but the reporting of the issues has concentrated on these headline cap figures. I didn't realise quite how irrelevant they were outside London.
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