1. A new series of slightly off-colour Flash movies, featuring a character akin to the illegitimate offspring of Cartman and the Cookie Monster:
...and the other stories linked at the bottom of that page.
2. If I ever have to spend Brewster's Millions, or otherwise find myself absurdly rich, I shall get married and hire Michael Buffer to issue the vows. Admittedly the guy is rich enough already (heck, he even has his own online casino) but when someone presses The Button, there can be no better voice than his to inform us all how to kiss our collective bottom goodbye. Crikey.
3. Have uploaded a couple of new pictures. This one was the least worst of a bunch I took when I couldn't sleep and started playing around with a digital camera and the mirrors on the bathroom cabinet. Might try it during daytime just to compare at some point.
(Would particularly appreciate cygnusfap's views on this.) Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, gave his Public Spending Review today. This is essentially the fun "£2 billion more for education" bit of the budget writ very large for coming years. The timing of the occasion is a little curious - an anonymous July Monday well away from all the elections (and even the next ones coming up are the Scottish and Welsh assemblies, about which Labour have been highly concerned in the past). However, I am led to believe that the next of these will be in about three years' time. Being cynical, it would tend to point to a very big spending review announcement in July 2005, with heavy emphasis on it being conditional on Labour's re-election, then the next General Election late in 2005. Possibly the Spending Reviews might then tend to move from a three-yearly to four-yearly cycle so that this sort of pre-election economic "big up" can be repeated. All assuming that Tony stays PM and Gordon Chancellor, of course, which doesn't look like too wild an assumption.
I have to say that I liked the Spending Review a great deal. Billions for education and health, good, good. Billions for transport, thumbs way up. Extra foreign aid, rising our contribution from 0.32% to 0.4% of GNP (GDP?), very nice, though I'd have liked to see some further statement on third world debt and an indication of extending this further (say to 0.5% by 2010 and the UN's fabled 0.7% by 2020). Billions for new housing is the interesting one; will we see something exciting and integrated like concentrating the development in new New Towns? Wouldn't that be the most efficient thing to do?
The one worry I have is that many of Gordon's extra billions have as a result of his fabled prudence, which translates to "paying back previous public borrowing and so cutting down on debt interest". However, paying for these increases, even if the UK economy does somehow expand at 2.5% per year (of which JKR is probably responsible for something like 0.001%-0.01%!) will require a substantial increase in public borrowing. Why the change in philosophy, Gordon?
A very interesting step was the guarantee of nursery places for all 3- and 4- year olds. When will we see the result of this? Theoretically we ought to see the impact of this in the Key Stage 1 (exams for 7- year olds) fairly soon - if it does have an effect, then this may be the single best move in the whole spending review.
Every now and again we hear that the kids in this country are doing x% better than they were y years ago. However, we never hear much informed commentary on why this is so; it would be nice to be able to point to specific reform X in 1998 and specific reform Z in, maybe, 1991 and argue that they had a significant positive effect which we're only seeing the benefits of now. Indeed, we may not truly reap the results of this Labour investment for ten or fifteen years and it would be a shame for it to have been forgotten; likewise, I wonder if there is some Conservative legislation that we should be thanking, rather than forgetting, now. (Should we be giving them credit for the vastly increased proportion of people going to university, for instance?)
Another very interesting consequence of this move is trying to figure what sort of effect it's likely to have on the social and behavioural characteristics of our five-year-olds. Is there evidence that kids who go to nursery at 3 and 4 are more comfortable at school than those who don't go to nursery, for instance? Are they better behaved? Will the move result in a year of students which are suddenly 5% better behaved than the year before because of this move? (I doubt it, as nursery teachers are probably less of an influence on behavioural standards than your parents and your peers. However, getting the right nursery teachers - even if they're just people with excellent morality-imparting standards and very modest teaching abilities - should surely have positive repercussions for years and years to come.)
I can't help wondering whether this is a move to try to improve educational (and social?) standards or whether it's principally to provide more work for nursery teachers and encourage stay-at-home parents of 3- and 4- year-olds to go back to work. All things considered, it looks like it's got to be fundamentally good for the nation in several different ways. By 2008ish, it will mean that almost every UK child is in education from 3 to 18, which is a Whole Lotta Learning - nearly 50% better than the traditional 5-to-16. (Of course, there will still be a good 40% of jobs around the country for which about 50% of this education will be completely useless - and maybe this 40% proportion will increase.)
Lots of devils in the details, though; if school teachers have a terrible job being able to afford housing in the SE on their wages in order to cope with the increased demand for education in the area, think how much worse it has got to be for nursery teachers. Theoretically there are things you can do if you have pots of money but few bodies in a junior/senior school, but they won't work at a nursery.
Yes, this is different to point #4. Hush.
a) How about a professional good influence? They work with a serial convicted offender, in prison, to try to get to their psyche and try to redefine their moral standards - to try to get them to think harder about their existence and learn lessons and standards of behaviour which they will apply upon release which do not result in reoffending.
I am sure that this is what the remand services currently do, but I have a gut and completely naive feeling that much as we are keen on getting the pupil:teacher ratio down in schools, there is much to be said for getting the recidivist:social worker ratio down in prisons - possibly to something like 4:1 levels. These social workers would be paid something like minimum wage but earn a fat bonus for results, measured by people who they have dealt with who do not reoffend for a year after coming out of prison. Further bonuses for persuading people to stay clean for two years, three years, four years and so on. The costs and social benefits of crimes avoided would surely pay for successful workers' excellent bonuses several times over. It would also provide something responsible for people who are only motivated by job adverts saying "On Target Earnings £100K" to do.
b) The government are very keen on schools becoming specialist in some field or other (which is, evidently, an admirable idea for schools in larger cities - though less successful for schools in smaller towns where students effectively do not have choice in their educational destination). This means that there are, possibly, a few hundred schools in the country which are specialists in teaching mathematics.
How exactly are these schools specialists in mathematical teaching and what is the bonus that they get from the government for this status being spent upon? It seems to me that there is a scope for someone to go into business writing challenging but targeted extra-curricular mathematical material for students at such schools. I'm sure that there are people doing such things already, but this is a job which seems very interesting indeed to me - a job for a puzzle book writer and game organiser. I shall look into this. (If I can't get such a job, I might be able to get a job in one of the government's many inspectorates ensuring that such funds are being properly spent... mmm...)
Former BBC political editor John Sergeant is a real wit, though his job at ITN isn't giving him much chance to show this to the nation, and his replacement Andrew Marr is a pretty talented smiler as well. Of course, there's dear old Peter Snow, who is the 1990s version of Johnny Ball. (Aside: has anyone ever seen the two of them in the same room at the same time?) However, this exchange today - coming immediately after the Conservative response to the aforementioned Public Spending Review - is a classic.
Huw Edwards (anchorman): "So how excited are we?"
Andrew Marr (economics editor): "We're as excited as we're paid to be excited. Which is: a bit."
Five years ago, this would have come directly from Digitiser! Ten years ago, the sentences would have not looked out of place in Your Sinclair! At last, Generation ZX humour is hitting home - and, of all places, its new home is some of the highest-level political coverage in the land! Who'd have thought it?
8. The British - OK, the English - have a long-standing and bigoted view of the relative moralities, ethic backgrounds and sensibilities of the English as compared to the Europeans. However, in all the recent "dubious economic reporting" scandals, we haven't heard a whiff of scandal about the reporting of finances of businesses on the continent. OK, there have been things which have plain gone bust and/or needed major government support, but they have been for straightforward reasons, not due to cooked books. Why should this be so? Will the English opinion of public life on the Continent become more moderate at all? (Hey, I've got to ask you one easy question!)
9. Much as football clubs pay each other transfer fees when their contracted talent moves from one club to another, the "brain drain" should be regulated by compulsory similar inter-governmental compensatory transfer fees that apply when researchers and similar top boffins move from generating income for one country to generating income for another. Discuss. (I suspect Britain would end up being a net financial loser under such a scheme.)
10. In my very long essay on Sunday 7th, I said "I have a suspicion that, in a few years' time, LJ will be primarily regarded as a good source of raw material for the ultimate dating service."
On Sunday 14th, LJ launches http://www.livejournal.com/singles/ and says "Let the romancin' begin".
Now do you see why there are so many idealistic social reform schemes posted in this message? This time next week they'll all be functionally implemented thus making the world a 74% better place. Damn, I'm good!