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Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Democracy - Swiss-Style (2)

Tomorrow (14th December, 2011), the Swiss government will be elected.

 

The government (Federal Council) consists of 7 members.

 

They are elected by the members of the two chambers of parliament; the National Council (lower house) and the Council of States (upper house), which are jointly referred to as the Federal Assembly.

 

Elections are held every four years in December, shortly after the elections to the Federal Assembly.

 

Any Swiss citizen with the right to vote is eligible to stand for election to the Federal Council, and does not necessarily have to be an official candidate to be elected. The Federal Councillors are elected in separate ballots.

 

The Federal Councillors standing for re-election are voted for in order of their length of time in office.

 

The election takes place as follows:

 

  • The Federal Assembly votes by secret ballot in a number of rounds.
  • Any eligible person can receive votes in the first two rounds.
  • From the third round onwards, no new candidates are allowed to stand. If no candidate receives an absolute majority, the person who receives the lowest number of votes is eliminated before the next round.
  • The procedure is repeated until one person wins the absolute majority of votes, and is therefore declared the winner.
  • Federal councillors are elected for a four-year term of office.

 

All this makes for a very stable government, as the members are in office for 4 years, unless they choose to resign. As opposed to the British system where the cabinet is regularly ‘reshuffled’, so that ministers have no security of tenure; their office is at the whim of the Prime Minister.

 

If you are interested on how this all works in practice, watch in French, German, or Italian from 06:30 GMT tomorrow.

 

If you are interested in further reading, take a look at the Swiss Confederation website in English, French, German, Italian, or Romash ; the four national languages, as well as one especially for you!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Cameron's veto - or is it?

If you are totally convinced that the UK should be ‘in Europe’ (whatever that may mean), or that federalism is a dirty word, stop reading now.

That’s the bigots out of the way, now we can have a sensible discussion.

I had this crazy idea many, many years ago… we’ll come back to that later.

It’s been another strange week. A week that has seen David Cameron come back from an EU meeting proud to have used his power of veto, and the sight of independent examiners giving more than strong hints on exam questions. Totally unrelated I hear you say; maybe not.

The veto at the EU meeting in Brussels on Friday (9th December, 2011) has already had many column inches (yards) devoted to it, and no doubt many more will follow, as well as numerous hours of television reporting and pontificating.

The European Union consists of 27 members, 17 of whom are also members of the single currency, the Euro. The meeting was very much about saving the Euro (to which Britain does not belong). Unfortunately, the ten European countries that joined the Euro chose to ignore the (fairly loose) fiscal policies that had been put in place. The result was inevitable but, at least the need for harmony is recognised. It seems that the UK is confusing the Euro and the EU; they are not the same.

Enough has been written (especially by me) about the Euro, and that a single currency needs to be operated within a single fiscal unit. This ‘unit’ does not have to be a country (although it is preferable), but does need to have the same fiscal rules. History has taught us (… it’s pantomime season so … ‘Oh no it hasn’t’) that whenever a state has linked its currency to an ‘independent’ value, it ends it tears. South American countries linked themselves to the US Dollar, the US Dollar was linked to Gold, and The UK joined the ERM (Exchange Rate Mechanism)… every time it has ended in financial calamity, with substantial fallout for the country concerned, followed by a period of sustained growth.

Back in the day, French President Charles de Gaulle did not want the UK to join the EU (or the Common Market, as it then was). He was also against the United States, and the mighty Dollar, wanting, instead, to go back to the gold standard (where paper currency was underwritten by physical gold reserves). General de Gaulle did not think that he could trust Anglo-Saxons to be sensible. This, coming from the man who had personally been protected by the British during WWII and saw his country liberated from the occupying German forces by none other than the Allies (of which the UK and USA were very much a part). De Gaulle must have been very convinced of his opinions… having famously stated ‘I am France, France is me’, one could not underestimate his ego. History tells us he was right.

David Cameron says that he used the veto to protect the city of London. In fact he has, inadvertently, done exactly the opposite. In fairness, he was very much between a rock and a hard place but, when it came to it, solidarity flew out of the window, together with any expectation of solidarity from the UK.

Much of the world crisis of 2008 was blamed on the collapse in Sub-Prime instruments. These were effectively bundles of mortgages with better than average rates of return (they would be, as they were not being advanced to top notch credit risks; the clue is in the name) that were repackaged as safe investments. The theory being that, as there were so many individual mortgages, if a couple went sour, it would not unduly adversely affect the rate of return. This is very much like saying that the Titanic was a very safe place after it hit an iceberg; few people die on cruise ships so, after the first dozen, your statistical chances of survival are higher. Absolute bunkum but, said quickly, you might fall for it. These were a typical Anglo-Saxon tool; one that is merely illusory. Great while the illusion lasts but, when the children find out that Santa Claus does not exist (apologies if any bubbles are being burst here); they all shed a tear or two.

One joins a club to be amongst people of similar interests, beliefs, aspirations. The UK has always wanted to be different… whether it’s driving on the left (unlike the rest of Europe), hanging on to imperial measures (remember the outcry when Brussels ‘dictated’ that supermarkets had to price food in metric units). The UK has always been a reluctant member of the EU, and the EU has always only just tolerated UK membership, with its endless demands for exceptions. The apocryphal Times headline “Fog in Channel – Continent cut off” shows the attitude of a proud and insouciant nation, just as King Cnut did when he commanded the tide to halt and not wet his royal feet.

The UK has become a service economy, with wealth being created by financial institutions and their ever more sophisticated (read as unintelligible to mere mortals) instruments. To simplify, the Germans build motor cars, the French farm; the interests are almost totally opposed to those of the UK.

So, the Cameron veto will merely serve to put further distance between the 26 other members of the EU and the UK. The European majority will welcome this with open arms; it is the excuse they have been waiting for to say that the UK are unwelcome intruders, cannot be trusted when times get tough, and have no further active role to play in the EU.

So what now for the UK?

Here are three impossible alternatives:

Remove the veto, join the Euro, and play a full part in modelling the new Europe. This involves altering the national psyche so has absolutely no chance of success.

Battle with Europe every day and become more and more miserable, especially knowing that the UK has lost yet more friends amongst the 26 ‘other’ nations.

Leave the EU and ‘go it alone’, hoping that an economy built on smoke and mirrors can survive without friends.

So we are left with the ‘crazy idea’ I had so many years ago. Watching Sky News the other day reminded me of why it had originally struck me as being so obvious. The presenter had a couple of people reviewing the morning papers and the story of examiners effectively divulging questions was discussed. The American lady present said that she saw it as ‘teaching to the question’. She is of course entitled to her view. People in Europe see it as cheating, Two irreconcilable opinions.

This then leaves us with the only viable option… ask the UK’s de facto friend and ally, the United States, to become the 51st State. They speak the same language (well, almost), have very similar ideas, fight the same wars side by side, and are both not in the Euro. If you think that distance is a barrier to this idea, remember that Hawaii is also in the United States.

Mr Cameron could do me one favour (please); appoint the current Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, as European exit minister. I can’t wait to write the headline ‘Danny da Veto’.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

UK Strikes 30th November, 2011

Back In the days... before Margaret Thatcher broke the stranglehold the unions had on the UK, the wildcat strikes, let alone the 'official' strikes gave the country a 'reputation'. The British disease, as it was called throughout Europe, reflected this seemingly suicidal attempt at destroying an economy which was already fragile. It also destroyed the majority of the goodwill that had been gained by the UK's involvement in the Second World War. There was a genuine admiration for the sacrifices made by so many, including all those who made the ultimate sacrifice. There was even a tendency to 'buy British', obviously after favouring their own nation. This lasted until the era of strikes, when Europeans became disaffected with lateness in deliveries and shoddy workmanship; this new Britain did not impress people the other side of the Channel. The collapse of the UK manufacturing industry followed. A country famed for its plethora of car manufacturers rapidly became bereft of any British-owned and UK assembled vehicles.

The UK reinvented itself as a service economy, with financial services being a substantial element. The risks inherent in relying on a service economy are for another day.

Civil servants are going on strike tomorrow in order to make everyone aware that they are not happy. This displeasure is because their extremely generous pensions will require more funding. They will, in general terms, be required to save more of their income into their pension; a concept which is somewhat familiar to the rest of the population.

In this age of transparency, I have attempted to research exactly who voted for this proposed strike. To my astonishment, the information is not exactly easy to extract. I am indebted (in a non-financial sense, that is) to the Socialist Worker for the results of individual ballots. The intention was to establish the percentage of civil servants who had actually voted to strike... shouldn't prove too difficult. In order to establish the figure, all we need is the size of the 'electorate' and the number of people who voted (either for or against).

The members balloted by individual unions include the mentions "estimated, around, nearly and over"... unbelievable. There are also a number of unions where the turnout is not disclosed, so it is impossible to know what proportion of members actually voted for a strike.

Undaunted by the lack of information provided by the unions representing civil servants... perhaps even more surprising, given that they are people one would associate with administration, I made a few assumptions. This basically revolves around the qualified votes, which have been assumed to be accurate. From a statistical point of view, the benefit is very much being given to the "yes" vote (won't bore you with the details here).

If you're sitting comfortably, here is the result: 26.12% of the people balloted voted for a strike tomorrow, or if you prefer very nearly three quarters of those entitled to vote did not vote to go on strike.

So the gun is being held to the head of the UK by 26.12% of civil servants. These people are paid by the tax payer (in whatever guise it might be). They only exist to service the nation, which we have already established is based on services; somewhat flimsy foundations. These people are worried about their pensions; a relatively long-term concept. They would be better advised to concentrate on the job in hand and hope that a pension will be worthwhile having.

The gun is indeed being held to the head but, it is suicide. Who wants to pay more taxes to fund the pensions of people who hold one to ransom? Do you?

The only thing history teaches us is that we don't learn from our mistakes.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Creating Consistent Images/Icons

When you want to use a logo somewhere (iSignature, documents, websites, button...), there is no problem if it is a one off. You simply find the logo you are looking for and adapt it to your needs. The problem really comes when you want multiple logos but you also want them to have a similar look and feel. They will be different sizes, different file types and a lot of work for you to make it look good. The workaround is to use a process where you add them all at the same time.

 

This started as an idea for creating uniform buttons for Filemaker databases but, its application is actually much wider.

 

Start by making a list of all the logos/icons you want. Create a folder on your PC named Icons (or of course, anything else you fancy, as long as you can find it).

 

Now open a browser window (hopefully you already have Firefox, as this is so easy to use)*, and go click here, then, once you are on the site, click on click here to load button. Restart Firefox and you will have an in your tool bar. Now open each of the websites where you want to use their logo (from the list you created). You will notice that each tab also has a little icon for the site (known as a Favicon).

 

The following steps need to be repeated for each site:

 

Select the tab

Click on the  and select save icon

Rename the file something you can remember (the default is favicon and save it to the Icons folder you created earlier

 

Once you have done this your Icons folder will be filled with all the favicons of the sites where you want to use the image, with an appropriate name.

 

The next stage is to get these favicons into a format that you want to use. The format depends on exactly how you are using them, as does the size. As examples, a jpg file for the twitter would look like this, and a jpg file for the Facebook logo would look like this  . You can convert the favicons to JPEG, BMP, TIFF, GIF, PNG file types.

 

The next, and final, part to the exercise is to translate the favicons into a consistent image format that you can use throughout any given project. I suggest that you choose one logo to work on to get the look and feel as you require, and then repeat the identical operation for all the others. Doing this sausage machine factory style, one after the other, will not take long at all. The way to do this does not even involve downloading any software, and it does not cost you anything either.

 

Go to www.coolutils.com and carry out the following steps for each logo/image, after you have established the size and file type (use JPEG if you are in any doubt) that you need for your particular application:

 

Click on Browse and locate, on your computer the favicon you wish to convert.

Set the conversion options (file type and size)

Click on Download Converted File; the file name will automatically be the same as you had set for the favicon (hence the importance of using an appropriate name).

 

Once this is done, you have all the images you need.

 

Obviously, the use of the system is not to violate copyright but, to enhance the display of your site/iSignature/database/document.

 

*If you do not already use Firefox, you can download it for free here.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Interest Rates and UK Servicemen

There’s something very odd about interest rates. I had great difficulty believing the content of an article in the Daily Telegraph on 11th November (very appropriate for Armistice Day). In fact the article confuses two separate situations.  It did however alert me to something quite extraordinary.

 

At a time when interest rates are historically very low, there seem to be some amazing variations.

 

Even more astounding is the attitudes of the US and UK governments towards their troops. If you’re confused as to how these two items go together, read on.

 

The U.S. have a bill, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) which, amongst many other things, limits the interest rate that may be charged on loans to servicemen, which were taken out before they are on active duty. The exact wording is that “interest in excess of 6% on pre-service debts is forgiven and not deferred”.  It is also illegal to affect the credit rating of the serviceman as a result of the application of this provision.

 

For the avoidance of doubt, the 6% is per year… the reason for the perhaps pedantic clarification will become clear in a moment. This is the situation for loans which were taken out before active duty commenced. If the UK has any similar provision, I challenge you to find it.

 

After deployment, the rules are different. It is illegal to charge a US Serviceman more than 36% pa interest on a loan (again enacted in the SCRA). There is no similar protection for UK service personnel. Very cursory research on the looking for  ‘Loans for Members of HM Forces’ found interest rates of 1,410%, 1,737%, even 2,222.46% (obviously, not on the first page of the site). These are not typographical errors; they are the annual percentage amounts being charged.

 

Back in 2006 a certain gentleman by the name of Gordon Brown signed a statutory order limiting to 2% (admittedly per month) the rate of interest that could be charged by Industrial and Provident Societies (The Credit Unions (Maximum Interest Rate on Loans) Order

2006)).

 

If I were a UK serviceman, I would find it difficult to justify putting my life on the line for such shysters.

 

Is there a current, or past, UK serviceman out there who would like to add an e-petition to limit the interest rate charged on loans to UK servicemen to 36% p.a.? I would be pleased to help with the drafting.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

iSignature (Step 4) – start using it on your iPhone/iPad


If you have followed the previous suggestions, you should now have a saved document on your PC that represents the iSignature file you wish to use on your iPhone/iPad. It can already be used with your PC mail software but there is just a little more work required until you can have a decent signature for your Apple device.

Please remember that this is a workaround so, if it does not look as elegant as it should (the solution, not the signature) then, please feel free to let Apple know!

Here are two different suggestions for how to implement your iSignature.

Website based
If you have a website where you can transfer your signature then, this is a simple solution. Transfer the iSignature you have previously created from your PC to a blank webpage on your site. Then simply browse to the appropriate webpage on your site (on your iPhone/iPad) and just copy the iSignature elements and then paste it into your iPhone/iPad email as you type. Thats all it takes.

iPhone/iPad based
Start by sending an Email from your PC to yourself. Make sure that you do not collect the email on your PC but now go to your iPhone/iPad and receive the email there. You should have an email which contains just your new iSignature.
The next part is straightforward but, you might like to think back (if you are old enough) to the days when a printer (thats a person and not a machine) supplied you with headed paper with your logo, address, telephone number once you ran out you were in deep, deep trouble. Well, you would be in a similar situation so, we will prepare a stock of iSignature emails so that we do not run out at an inopportune moment.
Copy the signature on the iPhone/iPad that you have sent yourself then hit the new email icon. Paste your iSignature into the body of this new email (you do not need to enter anything in the To or Subject fields. Now press Cancel and then Save Draft. Repeat this operation as often as you want; you are just creating your stock of emails.
Now, when you want to send an email just go to your Drafts folder and touch on one of your stock and you have a beautiful email, preprepared with your iSignature to do with as you please.

Enjoy using your new signature and remember that you can have as many as you want just repeat the process.

Monday, 7 November 2011

iSignature (Step 3) – prepare the document

If you have followed the previous suggestions, you should have a piece of paper in front of you that has the basic layout of how your iSignature is going to look.

We now need to get that into a format that will display exactly what you want.

Open your favourite word processor (well assume MS Word for the moment) and start with an empty page. Now enter the various items from your sheet of paper. The instructions are given for each heading but, of course, just skip any that you are not using.


Complimentary close
Type the text in the font that you have chosen.

Signature
Add the sig file you created in Stage 1. This is done as Insert/Picture/From File. If you are going to be hyperlinking your signature to a website then, highlight if and then Insert/Hyperlink and enter the exact address in the form http://www.xxxxxxx.com

Name
Type the text in the font that you have chosen, either as your signature itself, or the text version of your sig file.

Company
Type the text in the font that you have chosen. If you are using a logo then add this as Insert/Picture/From File..
If you are going to be hyperlinking your logo to a website then, highlight if and then Insert/Hyperlink and enter the exact address in the form http://www.xxxxxxx.com

Email
Enter your email address and if you do not wish it to automatically open an email message if clicked then, right click the address and choose remove hyperlink.

Phone
Type the text in the font that you have chosen.

Web
Type the text in the font that you have chosen then, highlight if and then Insert/Hyperlink and enter the exact address in the form http://www.xxxxxxx.com

Address
Type the text in the font that you have chosen.

Logo
Find your logo and Insert/Picture/From File..
If you are going to be hyperlinking your logo to a website then, highlight if and then Insert/Hyperlink and enter the exact address in the form http://www.xxxxxxx.com

Facebook
Type the text in the font that you have chosen then, highlight if and then Insert/Hyperlink and enter the exact address in the form http://www.xxxxxxx.com

Twitter
Type the text in the font that you have chosen then, highlight if and then Insert/Hyperlink and enter the exact address in the form http://www.xxxxxxx.com

LinkedIn
Type the text in the font that you have chosen then, highlight if and then Insert/Hyperlink and enter the exact address in the form http://www.xxxxxxx.com

Skype
Type the text in the font that you have chosen.

Disclaimer
Type the text in the font that you have chosen.

Post Script (P.S.)
Type the text in the font that you have chosen.

Spell-check
Just to make sure, run the spellchecker on the document (F7).

Save
very obvious but, just in case, save the document to a place you know where it is.

Before we go on to the next, and final, stage, feel free to test out your new iSignature on your existing PC mail account… it’ll work just as well there.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

iSignature (Step 2) - decide what to include

The next stage in the creation of your signature is to decide exactly what you want to include. Get a piece of paper and write down exactly what you want included, and where you want it placed (order and position).

Here are some ideas (and that is what they are, ideas). Feel free to use only those that are appropriate for you and add anything that is good for your individual circumstances.

Complimentary close
If you finish all your emails with yours interestingly (or whatever), you might as well include it in your iSignature.

Signature
This will either be the sig file you have already created, or you will be entering your name as text. There are various fonts (Bradley Hand ITC) being an example, which allow you to display something approaching handwriting.

Name
A bit obvious but, choose whether or not to have your name entered in type, as part of your iSignature.

Company
This is obviously only relevant if you are sending emails on behalf of a company. At the same time decide whether or not you want to include a logo with this section.

Email
You could enter your email address, especially if you are sending from a different address.

Phone
Fairly obvious, and if you include this, consider entering numbers in their international dialling format, and include as many different numbers as you want, specifying whether they are mobile or fax, as well.

Web
Your website address (es).

Address
A physical address which you want to share with your interlocutor.

Logo
This could already have been displayed with your company name or, could be used on its own. I would highly recommend that this is hyperlinked to a website. If you wish to do this, ensure that you have the exact URL (in the style http://www.xxxxxxx.com).

Facebook
Your Facebook homepage. You can get this by going to your Facebook page and clicking on the info button on the left and then scrolling down to Contact Information; your homepage URL is listed here.

Twitter
Your Twitter username.

LinkedIn
Your LinkedIn URL address.

Skype
Your Skype username, so that people can contact you directly on Skype.

Disclaimer
This is a statement in the style of 'we take no responsibility if you don't like what has been written'. In all seriousness, this tends to apply more to companies and you will no doubt already have received communications including a disclaimer. If you want to use one, use these as an idea for a template.

Font/Colour/Style
Decide which font(s) and colour(s) you are intending to use for the various parts if your iSignature. Just a suggestion (design isnt my strongpoint) but dont have too many different fonts or colours, as this tends to look messy. No doubt someone will prove me very wrong.

Logos
Apart from the company logo, decide if you are going to use any others.

Post Script (P.S.)
This could contain anything you wish. I tend to have one that states "Click on the signature to access my blog"

Now take your time getting this little lot together… Stage 3 will be with you shortly.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

iSignature (Step 1)

The introduction of iOS 5 would seem to have been (another) ideal moment for Apple to improve on the email services offered on their iPhone/iPad products. Unfortunately, the opportunity was not grasped. As so many people have been clamouring for an improvement, and Apple are undisputed leaders in usability, perhaps something is afoot.

 

The release of a free messaging service between iOS 5 equipped products might lead one to believe that Apple is attempting to force us all down this route. Can you really imagine a world where messaging is restricted to Apple products… I can’t.

 

A long-time bugbear of mine is the default ‘signature’ on Emails that is ‘sent from my iPhone/Pad’. Whilst accepting that this is perhaps good publicity for Apple, it is also irritating.

 

This default signature is easily changed by going to Settings/Mail/Signature and then entering any text you want. At the moment I would suggest merely deleting the free advertising. Over the next few blog messages, I will show you, step by step, how to create exactly the signature that YOU want.

 

Again, somewhat irritatingly, there used to be a workaround for this to enable the creation of a signature but, with the advent of iOS 5, it no longer functions.

 

So, here we go with the first step.

 

You need to decide whether or not you want to have a real hand written signature as a part of your iSignature or not. If you do not want to have a handwritten signature, you do not need to read the rest of this message… relax and come back for the next stage tomorrow.

 

Decide on how you want your signature to look, using a piece of paper (that stuff we used before the world became iEverything). I would suggest that, for security purposes, your signature is not the one you use to sign cheques. After all, you will in due course be broadcasting this on the Internet; you have been warned.

 

This signature can now either be scanned on your printer, or photographed on your phone, and then saved on your PC (name the file ‘sig’… which is the name we’ll use later).

 

There is also an App called Autograph which you can use to create your signature. Again, transfer this file to your PC and name it ‘sig’.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Greece? Where's that?

The Greek issue needs to be handled differently now. Mr Papandreou needs to be told in Cannes tomorrow "accept the deal or Greece no longer exists".

Which would make his walk (no flights) back somewhat unpleasant. Also difficult with no mobile (no contact) and of course his passport would not be valid (as it would have been issued by a non-existing country).

Might concentrate the mind somewhat.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

PM shoots himself in the foot... others follow

I tweeted yesterday (#munificus) that UK Prime Minister David Cameron was naïve in his handling of the debate on a potential referendum on UK membership of the European Union. Last night's performance in the House of Commons will probably be seen as a pivotal moment in his career.

It really was a case of shooting himself in the foot, an injury which is rarely fatal... but the political consequences could be.

Shot one:
By resorting to a three-line whip for the vote, Mr Cameron alienated a large part of his party. He seems to have forgotten that nearly ten percent of MPs will lose their job at the next election. This is simply a result of reducing the number of members of parliament from 650 to 600 at the next election. These people will have to be selected as candidates by their local party. Showing that they actually listen to the will of the electorate (remember that over 100,000 people wanted the issue of a referendum on membership of the European Union debated) can only enhance their chances of selection. So the most likely candidates for selection will be the 81 members who defied their 'leadership' (is the first lemming to jump over the cliff a leader?). These selfsame 81 must now be disciplined for having defied the three-line whip; failure to do so will undermine any semblance of authority. The only good news in this for Mr Cameron is that Messrs Clegg and Milliband also called a three-line whip so they have 1 and 19 recalcitrants respectively to 'punish'.

If politicians have any intent of representing their constituents then, there must be a large proportion of the members of parliament, who having voted against a referendum (483 from all parties) must now be wondering about how good a memory their selection committees will have when the time comes. Who would wish to put forward a candidate who has already shown that he will ignore the will of the people.

Mr Cameron wakes up today as a weakened leader of his party.


Shot two:
The rationale put forward for insisting that the proposal to offer the people a referendum on membership of the European Union be defeated was "now's not the time". The somewhat facile solution was to arrange for the debate to take place at a more propitious moment. The alternative was to allow a free vote. The outcome of the vote was of no great political consequence in itself as it was not a government motion. A vote to hold a referendum would have actually reinforced Mr Cameron's negotiating position vis à vis his European partners. He would have been in a position to negotiate from strength by telling his European colleagues that the British electorate need 'concessions' before the vote on membership.

Instead of this he has tied his own hands. Other European countries know that there will be no referendum and that the government is prepared to risk everything to remain in the club.


Shot three:
It is reported that, at a meeting on Sunday, French President, Nicolas Sarkozy told David Cameron "You have lost a good opportunity to shut up. We're sick of you criticising, us and telling us what to do. You say you hate the euro. You didn't want to join and now you want to interfere in our meetings". All this could well have been provoked by an impression that Mr Cameron is confusing the 27 member club (European Union) with the 17 member club (Euro). The United Kingdom is a member, even if a reticent one, of the former, the UK has not even applied for membership of the latter. Mr Sarkozy's outburst would therefore seem quite justified. Mr Sarkozy is also due to seek reelection as early as next year. Scoring points on the international stage can only be good for his chances.

Groucho Marx probably had the right idea about clubs. He said "I don't want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member".


Shot four:
It is being reported that Mr Cameron's advisors were saying, after the vote last night that "the Prime Minister is standing firm on his policy. He doesn't have any regrets". This really is a case of the emperor's new clothes. When your advisors try and convince you that a mistake made is an illusion... beware. Apparently nobody challenged the spokesman to define the 'policy' to which he was alluding... ignoring the wishes of voters?

In conclusion, it looks like the first shot was an accidentally self-inflicted flesh wound to the right foot, probably caused by lack of training. The cause of the second shot is identical but to the other foot. The third shot was fired by an enemy; the exact damage is not known. As far as the existence of an enemy is concerned, one hopes that forewarned will be forearmed. The fourth shot should give the most concern; this type of fire tends to be in the back. Massage of the ego will not prove to be an adequate cure.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Democracy - British-style

Tomorrow, Monday 24th October, the British parliament will debate whether the country should remain in the European Union (EU). This debate has been prompted by an e-petition receiving the required 100,000 electronic signatures. So far, this would appear a reasonable example of power being given back to the people, albeit in a very modest way. Unfortunately, this is a mere illusion.


It appears that the major parties are all enforcing a three-line whip on their members. A three-line whip is a strict instruction to the parliamentary members of a party to not only attend but more importantly vote on a debate; it is the most draconian instruction available. Again, this would seem to be a good thing for democracy... the people want you to debate the issue, therefore you must attend. Unfortunately, again, this is more as sleight of procedure, as the three-line whip also includes the instruction of how to vote. Failure by an MP to comply with a three-line whip can lead to exclusion from the parliamentary political group, and even from the party (that's as in political party, not a knees up).


An explanation for this dictatorial behaviour is that "now's not the right time". If this were true, anyone with an ounce of common-sense would therefore suggest having a debate in the (not too distant) future, when the time is more propitious. One can only assume that the preconception of the result will be blamed on the timing, and that then the debate will not take place again in the future because renegotiation (or exiting) EU membership has already been discussed. It is also reminiscent of the parent telling the child that "now is not the right time" to be asking for whatever it might be. "Ask me later", hoping that the youngster will have forgotten. It must be wonderful to understand that you have to be an adult to be entitled to vote, and that the people you elect will then treat you as a child.


So parliament will follow the will of the people in debating an issue but has already decided on the outcome. Still, one should hardly be surprised as it comes from the same people who agreed to a referendum, on whether or not to adopt a system of alternative voting, (see yesterday's article on Swiss democracy)... and did their best to convince the voters that it was far too complicated for their simple minds, so they should vote against.


Three-line whips are normally reserved for use in critical situations, such as a vote of confidence. Perhaps they are right after all, this will have been a vote of confidence, and the government and opposition will have lost it overwhelmingly. The electorate already sees MPs as greedy opportunists, adding dictatorial should seal their fate; vote of confidence lost.


All this from a country which claims to be a democracy. A democracy which, in common with most, boasts two houses of parliament. One is elected by the people (but then takes scant notice of them until election time comes around) and the other is constituted of a mixture of people who are there as a result of male-preferred primogeniture, the rest have been appointed as a result of donations to political parties, in one form or another... which seems the same as buying the seat.


Libya, having got rid of its dictator will hopefully not be influenced by Britain in how to establish a democracy. In a democracy it is the dog that wags its tail and not vice versa.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Democracy - Swiss-style

Tomorrow, Sunday 23rd October, Switzerland votes to elect its members of parliament, to the two houses, the National Council (lower house) and the States Council (upper house). In practice, the vast majority of electors will have voted beforehand by use of the postal voting system (the weather is therefore not an excuse for absenteeism). So far, I’m sure that everyone follows this simple example of democracy... and now is where it might tax your intellect a bit more.

Each State has two elected States councillors. Every voter therefore has two votes which may be cast for any of a multitude of candidates. Any candidate receiving over 50% of the votes is elected in the first round. As the requisite vote is over 50% of the vote, it is impossible to elect the requisite two States Councillors in the first round (and frequently no individual receives over 50% of the vote in the first round). There is therefore a second round of voting which takes place subsequently. In this second round the two candidates with the most votes are elected, unless a candidate was elected in the first round, in which case it is the winning candidate from the first round and the winner from the second round.

The number of National Councillors to be elected varies by state, as the number is proportional to the population of the state itself. Taking as an example the state of Vaud, there are 18 National Councillors who will be elected on Sunday. This means that every voter has eighteen votes. The voter uses as many of these votes as he pleases, voting for individual candidates, even with the possibility of voting for any given candidate twice. The method of apportioning votes at the ballot is then made through a proportional voting system. The votes for each candidate are totalled (nothing very special there) and then the votes for each party are aggregated. The number of seats (in this case 18) is then shared proportionally to the party vote. It is only after this that the successful candidates are known. For example, a party obtaining 50% of the vote would receive 9 seats and these would be attributed to the 9 candidates from that party having obtained the highest number of votes.

So this is the democratic system used to elect members of parliament but, the real power in Switzerland remains with the electorate. For Federal (country-wide) matters, obtaining 100,000 signatures will trigger a referendum on the subject. This is a common occurrence, there being one date per quarter attributed to such votes. The dates are fixed for the next twenty years.

These referenda (such a better word than referendums) can be on any subject. Examples of two recent fairly recent ones are increasing VAT and the building of minarets. The former was a vote to increase VAT by over 5% (from 7.6% to 8%) for a fixed period of 7 years (from 1st January 2011 to 31st December, 2017). The proceeds are to be used to provide additional funding for the incapacity benefit fund. The Swiss voted for this proposition, thereby increasing their own taxes. The latter vote was on the forbidding of the building of minarets; the people voted to refuse the building of any new minaret. These decisions are final and binding on parliament. The people have spoken... or at least put a cross in a box, there is no appeal.

This system of representation and decision taking may be thought to be onerous and costly but, it has proven to lead to two ends that seem to elude most countries: stability and consensus.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Primogeniture

David Cameron, apparently with the blessing (or, according to some sources,
even encouragement) of his monarch is intent on abolishing primogeniture
(sic). This may have something to do with his newly discovered notion that
half the electorate are female.

For those of you not familiar with this concept (and who were not force fed
Shakespeare's Henry V), it is an adaptation of Salique (or Salic) law as
used in Gaul (France), part of which enshrined succession laws. The main
tenet was that land property could only be passed to male successors

The British monarchy, as regards title succession, works under the principle
of male-preferred primogeniture. This means that the title of monarch passes
to the first born son of the monarch (primogeniture on its own merely
implies the first born), and then through that lineage.

The suggestion is that the rule be changed so that primogeniture is
maintained (notice that this is exactly the opposite of what is being
advocated!). This would mean that the first in line would remain Prince
Charles (being the eldest, and coincidentally a son), followed by Prince
William (again the first born and again, coincidentally a son). The change
would take place when Price William fathers a child; that first born would
be next in line to the throne, regardless of sex.

Is this of any importance? It probably depends on your choice of tradition
over fairness. Nowadays, The monarchy only exists through tradition (it's
difficult to imagine the queen having recalcitrant subjects beheaded on a
whim), so equality (of the sexes) seems to be more important.

Equality is, of course, quite another matter. The monarch can be of either
sex and of any religion except if he or she is, becomes, or even marries a
Catholic then he (or she) is debarred from succession; so much for equality.

I suspect that this is really just an act of political expediency,
instigated by what was seen as a sexist gaffe in the House of Commons. Mr
Cameron was labelled a chauvinist after telling Angela Eagle, in a
'winneresque' outburst, to "calm down, dear, calm down". Had this been
directed at a male member of parliament it would have been laughed off.

My advice: don't get your undergarments (this sex equality thing seems to be
catching) in a twist and don't change tradition, there's not much of it
left, or to paraphrase, heritage ain't what it used to be.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Head in the iCloud ?

The iOS 5 update and access to iCloud could be leading us in a dangerous direction.
Apple's new iOS 5 seems to be living up to expectations but, is it a step in the right direction?
 
In the good old days (alright, maybe not good but, in the past, anyway), information was stored on large mainframe computers and people had access to that part of the information to which they were entitled via 'dumb' terminals. Then came the PC (Personal Computer) which put processing power in the hands of the individual, and since then there has been an inexorable diminution in size, increase in power and especially enhancement of versatility (as in iPhone, for example); we haven't looked back... or at least not until now.
 
The ability to write a note on your iPhone and have that same note immediately available on your iPad (or any other device connected to your iCloud) is great. It saves having to email yourself the note to later collect and copy and paste onto the other piece of kit. There is however also a small security risk as, unless you have immediate password protection, it also implies that the iPad on your desk will give access to the latest brilliant idea you had on the train (or wherever) and your idea is no longer just yours (as an example). Even more worrying is that if the note is deleted on one device then it is gone, as the note is deleted from your iCloud as well and when the other device(s) is updated to the iCloud the copies are also deleted.
 
The Apple community has been quietly sniggering at that other fruity piece of hardware, the BlackBerry. As you will no doubt be aware, Research In Motion (RIM) ‘the company behind the BlackBerry product line’ has been having problems with ‘massive service outages’ which has resulted in their customers having no access to their messages. The RIM messaging system is hosted and managed by them, rather than the distributed system employed by all other manufacturers. Or to put it another way, if their system is down, you don’t need to worry about the colour of your paddle; the wet feeling you’re experiencing is being caused by the lack of a canoe.
 
The point of this is that the Apple iCloud is blowing in the same direction. Although at the moment the data stored ‘centrally’ is limited both in content and size (5GB Free and up to a further 50GB for an annual fee), the model is moving, slowly but surely, towards central storage.
 
So we have almost come full circle, except that the world has changed a lot since the behemoth mainframe was king. Terrorist cyber attacks are not science fiction any more and we are putting ourselves at inordinate risk by going back to a system of central storage where one well targeted attack will bring down the data systems of millions of individuals.
 
I suspect that the agenda is far more loaded than it appears as the middle man in the ‘i’everything universe is the humble PC, and he seems to be being gently edged out of the equation.
 
Amazing, but true, having written this article, you will not be surprised to learn that the iCloud synchronisation of notes between two of my devices is not working at the moment. Blasted clouds, it never rains, it pours.