Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Winter visitors

Last weekend but one I saw my first winter thrushes of the season. Anyone in the U.K. or Ireland with a slight interest in birds will know what I'm talking about - the large, noisy, gregarious, nervous Fieldfare and the small, inconspicuous. less nervous or gregarious Redwing. Finns or Norwegians might be puzzled because they have these birds in summer and they nearly all leave in the autumn. Americans have the same kind of migration but different species.

Why's it so special? In spring a birder is looking out for masses of different species coming in and they all have their typical times - Wheatear from late March, Willow Warbler from early April, Cuckoo in the third week of April, Swift in the first third of May and so on. In winter the number of species arriving is smaller unless you count all the shore birds which breed from Northern England to the high Arctic, and they start coming as early as late July when we're still convinced we're in summer. Those two thrushes are the most obvious and numerous of the land passerines (perching birds) that act as a sign of approaching winter.

They arrive in urgent, hyperactive flocks, eager to feed. They spread out to favoured habitats and when winter comes, if there are harsh conditions they move on again or find a special source of food such as a garden with many berries, or they die.

I love the sense of change, of movement in autumn. Nothing represents that better than the winter thrushes.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Odanglesex Revisited: Vital Statistics (3)

The conclusion of the reposted adventure of Odanglesex County Council and the Statistical Unit. This is of course fiction. Fact is stranger than fiction.

FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Assistant Chief Executive and Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision
TO: Edelbertha Spengler, Chief Executive
cc: Conor O'Connor, Director of Human Resources Development


Transportation and Settlement are arguing, perhaps a little combatively, that our new Statistical Unit overlaps with the Statistical Services and Processes function currently placed in that directorate under Neville Potts. It is clear that our statistical work needs direction management and a coherent approach to deliver the Council's objectives.

Would you agree that the following would be the best way of resolving this little problem?

* A new post of Head of Statistical Strategy and Numerological Transformation be created on K2(P2), one grade above Margot Outforle's current post and two above Neville Potts', the position to be advertised internally;
* The current posts held by Margot and Neville to be abolished and a post of Assistant Head to be created at K2(P1);
* The two units be combined under the leadership of the new Head of SS and NT with the loss of one K2(MO3);
* The new unit to be placed in the Chief Executive's unit and to be line managed by myself in my role as Assistant Chief Executive and not as Director of TE&SV?

FROM: Edelbertha Spengler
TO: Kenneth Spotlessnob

Kenneth: Conor thinks we could shave off a K2(M4) as well. Otherwise, fine.

FROM: Conor O'Connor
TO: Edelbertha Spengler

Ed: Sorry you couldn't get back in time from the Local Government Excellence in Transformation Awards ceremony because of choppy water in the Solent. Just to let you know that the panel offered the post of Head of Statistical Strategy and Numerological Transformation to Margot Outforle and she has accepted. Neville Potts has turned down the Assistant post and is taking voluntary redundancy: we will need to reinstate the process to appoint to that post.

There wasn't much between the two of them on written applications or interview, but Margot won heads down on the presentational task. As you'll recall, it was to present a report on "Odanglesex in 2030: a Statistical Approach". Margot's demonstration of the implications of a continued increase at the current rate of golf courses was very well received. Neville, by contrast, lost marks by discounting statistics from Spamby Island on the grounds that climate change would have resulted in its disappearance by 2030, since Councillor Sillitoe-Heald pointed out that our official position is that climate change is a statistical blip; and his projection of the numbers of Bangladeshis leaving Wenham to settle in Odanglesex was vigorously disputed by Councillor Broadthwaite in terms he really had no answer to.

Councillor Broadthwaite was also concerned that Neville's calculation of his likelihood of being a car thief came out at 2.25%, 0.55% higher than the result from Scunthorpeshire. He asked, "Are you saying that if there were fifty Adam Broadthwaites, one of them would be a car thief?". Neville's reply was, "No, councillor. Almost certainly something in the region of nought to five, though." Enough said.


FROM: Edelbertha Spengler
TO: Margot Outforle

Margot - congrats on your new job! Could you do a guest blog next week - perhaps with some interesting statistics that would be meaningful to most of our employees? Say anything you like, starting with how excited you are to be taking on your new responsibilities and what a wonderful place to work Odanglesex County Council is.


Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Dying to speak

I've just finished reading a book about the European revolutions of 1989, when Communist regimes crumbled one after one in Eastern and central Europe. I lived through that period, albeit in a Western democracy, and the account revived memories. As a History graduate, it struck me very strongly that nothing like this had happened anywhere since the European revolutions of 1848, which were spread by railways above all else (and those of 1989 by TV and radio, while the "Arab Spring" was hugely influenced by the internet. The 1848 revolutionaries' successes were mostly very short-lived. While many of the new governments ran into trouble and people became disillusioned, none of the countries involved have returned to anything like the old system and in all of them except Romania democracy seems reasonably secure.

People faced hounding from their jobs (OK, not to unemployment, but a professor could end up as a cleaner), were imprisoned, beaten up and killed for their beliefs and their refusal to give up. Families were deliberately and insidiously wrecked.

So those of us who never had to risk death or disgrace to speak our mind or vote in a free election shouldn't take these things lightly or say they are of no value.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Odanglesex Revisited: Vital Statistics (2)

Continuing reposted Odanglesex adventures with a few tweaks.

The story so far: Councillor Broadthwaite has been enormously impressed by the Statistical Unit in Scunthorpeshire County Council and has persuaded Kenneth Spotlessnob to set one up in Odanglesex.

FROM: Hamish Carpenter, Transformational Excellence Manager

TO: Silesia Jones, Equality Consultant

Silesia - I see you got the same e-mail I did from someone called Margot Outforle, Head of the Statistical Unit. Did you know we had a Statistical Unit? Seems it's in Neil's empire. I'll ask Kenneth, but wondered if you were more in the know. Seeing that you and I already do a lot of statistical work, as do some members of my team such as Mike Hicks, I'm puzzled Kenneth thought this necessary. Also puzzled by her statistics. Seems very likely that the high proportion of deaths in Moat ward, Oldchester is down to the fact there's an acute hospital there. Not that hospitals kill people, of course, not most of the time.

FROM: Neville Potts, Statistical Processes and Services Manager

TO: Margot Outforle, Head of Statistical Unit


Don Warne copied me an e-mail copied to him by Dan Ahmed about meetings of a Statistical Priority Directional Signposting Working Group which it appears you lead. Can I check the accuracy of the following:

(1): You're Head of the Statistical Unit in Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision;
(2): This unit's remit covers all the Council's work;
(3): The purpose of the Working Group is to set priorities for all the Council's statistical work;
(4): The Working Group has held three meetings and is about to hold a fourth;
(5): The Statistical Unit in Transportation and Settlement, which I head, and which was given responsibility for cross-council statistical work in September 2009, has not been informed of or invited to the meetings?

FROM: Margot Outforle

TO: Neville Potts


Sorry about the delay. Can you make the Working Group meeting tomorrow at 2:30 in ES12A? Delighted if you can come.

To be continued and concluded...

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Odanglesex Revisited: Vital Statistics (1)

Thanks to Kenneth Spotlessnob having momentarily sat on his multi-enabled phone, enabling a recording device, and then later his slight mistake in copying the recording to an ex-employee, we are able to eavesdrop on a conversation between men of power and standing.

Councillor Broadthwaite: "Ah, Kenneth. I want to talk to you about my visit to Scunthorpeshire. They have some absolutely amazing stuff there."

Kenneth Spotlessnob: "Oh, right. Excellent. What's that, councillor?"

Cllr Broadthwaite: "Fantastic security-controlled car-park, for a start. But they've got a Statistical Unit that can do just amazing things - makes us look like cavemen. And cavewomen, of course."

Kenneth Spotlessnob: "Oh, right. Like what?"

Cllr Broadthwaite: "Councillor Butterfield, I suppose."

Kenneth Spotlessnob: "No, excuse me, I was unclear. I meant to ask what statistical functions they could do."

Cllr Broadthwaite: "Ah. Well, for a start, they showed me how they could feed a lot of information about me into the computer and out came a prediction in less than a minute of how likely I was to be a car thief!"

Kenneth Spotlessnob: "Gosh. How likely are you?"

Cllr Broadthwaite: "Only 1.7% with some twiddly bits."

Kenneth Spotlessnob: "Parameters of significance."

Cllr Broadthwaite: "It was very reassuring, I can tell you. Now just imagine if we could do that for every resident of Odanglesex, not only for being a car thief, but being a good parent, needing home helps, reading dirty books, voting Conservative...and other stuff too. Why don't we have a unit like that?"

Kenneth Spotlessnob: "Interesting, but...."

Cllr Broadthwaite: "I'm going to speak to Bill Wayneflete about it."

Kenneth Spotlessnob: "By all means, councillor, but I can take action on this with your approval."

Cllr Broadthwaite: "Wonderful. Fancy a beer?"

So the Statistical Unit is created. In Part 2 we will see the consequences...

Sunday, 14 October 2012

The true meaning of words

The internet is well-supplied with useful, clear and sometimes witty explanations of what words mean. Some of these concentrate on distinguishing words with similar spelling or sound but different meaning. Most of these sites seem to be American. This could be because most wise English language wordsters are American or because most people making silly mistakes with English are American. Probably both, given the population.

Well, here's my contribution.

SPECTACULAR: Wearing spectacles or possessing spectacles - "She looks spectacular".
UNSPECTACULAR: Not needing or not having with one a pair of spectacles - "I am unable to read this document because I am unspectacular".
MALEFACTOR: The certain something that defines masculinity or distinguishes the male from the female; the male pudenda - "Those running shorts won't hide your malefactor".
DISEMBARK: Remove the outer covering from a tree - "The deer are disembarking the trees".
RATIONAL: Restricted to small portions - "Food is rational here".
RATIONALIST: Someone who believes in restricting things to small, defined portions - "If you were a rationalist you wouldn't eat so much".
RECTITUDE: Having a posterior - "The Bishop is a man of enormous rectitude".
ALLEGATION: A group of crocodile-like reptiles - "That allegation will not go away".
ALLEGORY: A suitably-prepared place to keep crocodile-like reptiles - "You don't find dragons in an allegory".
SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION: Growing breasts naturally - "Anna was delighted she had spontaneously combusted".
FRIABLE: Suitable for cooking with oil - "Eggs are not friable unless you remove the shells".
MARINATE: Put something through a sailor - "Don't eat that - it's been marinated".
FASCINATE: Tie something up; become obsessed by uniforms, strong leadership and militaria - "Italians were fascinated by Mussolini".

Any additions?

Friday, 12 October 2012


This'll be a short post. WARNING: THIS POST HAS PARTY POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS. I have posted about what I understand it to mean to be a Liberal and explained that I'm an active member of the British Liberal Democrats, but most of the time I prefer to post about political and moral issues in the broad sense (or satirically) rather than talking party politics or indeed Christianity or Quakerism.


If you look at the history of dissidence and nonconformism, you'll find it often suggested that these strange and awkward people, by deliberately taking a route different to that taken by most of their countrymen and women, are unpatriotic. Of course, if they oppose what they say is an unjust war (or war in general) that leads to more accusations of disloyalty to country.

If while participating actively in a political party, you raise criticisms, that can also be seen as disloyal. Blairite Labour had a particularly insidious concept of being "on-message" or "off-message", implying that there was one necessary message and if you dissented from it in any way, you weren't suggesting a slightly different path, but dropping off the right path.

Of late the Liberal Democrats in Britain have faced a lot of criticism for sustaining and joining in a Conservative-led coalition making cuts to reduce the deficit at a time of recession. I don't want to get into arguments about what they or the government have done right or wrong except to say that in 2010 after the election there was really little choice. Labour plus Liberal Democrat added up to less than a majority and the markets were ready to panic at a weak government.

But I am critical of some aspects of the leadership. Nowe here's my central point. I see some activists who do a lot for the party raising criticisms - and others reply with comments like, "Stop wingeing and get out on the doorstep." Now this seems to me a bit like saying, "Stop polishing your shoes and learn Spanish." While it may be difficult to learn Spanish at the precise moment when you are polishing your shoes, there is actually no conflict between being devoted to polishing your shoes and successfuly learning Spanish. Similarly, Liberal Democrats who are critical of the direction of the party are in no way prevented from getting out on the doorstep - and in fact many who are critical are amongst the hardest workers with continuing local successes under their belts.

So they may be wrong in their criticisms, but to criticise is not to stand aside.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Odanglesex Revisited: Some are more equal than others

After a break while I was holidaying up the East coast of England and (just) Scotland from Flamborough Head to St Abb's Head, here's another reposted Odanglesex adventure, this time on government pronouncements on equality law.

FROM: Edelbertha Spengler, Chief Executive
TO: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Director Of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision


Could your people cast an eye over this excerpt from a speech by the Secretary of State and see if there's anything we need to do?

"...and another thing. It's about time we stopped poncing around burbling on about equality and human rights. People in the Isle of Brent aren't bothered about that highfaluting nonsense any more than they are in Heckmondwike. Get the streets cleaned. Get the milk put out. Put vandals in prison. Those are the things that count. If I find any local authority wasting money on political correctness like equality monitoring I'll bloody have them tarred and feathered, and if my colleague Ken Priestley hasn't announced that last bit yet, he will, or my name's not Fred Lardly".

FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob
TO: Neil Balderson, Senior Transformational Excellence Manager

Neil: Please look into this asap for Ed.

FROM: Neil Balderson
TO: Kenneth Spotlessnob
cc: Hamish Carpenter, Transformational Excellence Manager


Street cleaning is a district responsibility and milk transit pathways sit in the private sector. Imprisoning vandals is a matter for the police and the courts. So I think we're all right on this one. but I'll check with Hamish we're not doing anything the Secretary of State could judge to be politically correct.

FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob
TO: Neil Balderson

Or politically incorrect.

FROM: Silesia Jones, Equality Consultant
TO: Neil Balderson; Hamish Carpenter


"Politically correct" is not a precise term. I certainly cannot reassure you that we aren't doing anything towards equality or human rights: for example, Councillor Wayneflete recently approved the reversal of a decision not to grant-aid the Isle of Brent Domestic Abuse Crisis Centre after lobbying by the Right Hon Fred Lardly, PC, MP, and also wrote a supportive foreword to our Equality Action Plan.

Fred Lardly's remarks should be put in the context of his speech four days earlier to a meeting of university vice chancellors:

" if you think that standing up for fair treatment for everyone irrespective of whether they're black, white, yellow or bloody purple with orange bits is a luxury that we can do without in hard times - think again. It's essential to the Big Society, civilisation and business efficiency, and that means knowing what's actually going on, so you'd better be able to tell me, or my friend Liz Fluffstone will be round, and let me tell you, she's pretty serious for a Lib Dem and a woman."

FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob
TO: Edelbertha Spengler


I've made exhaustive enquiries concerning your query about the implications of Fred Lardly's speech, and there does not appear to be anything we need to do, especially in the light of his remarks in the House last night about "letting local authorities get on with the job and not interfering, not like that other bloody lot".