Wednesday, April 22, 2009

“Here’s More Money To Do Your Job. That We’re Already Paying You To Do…”

I know this isn’t the biggest story about the recently released UK government budget, but after catching the cover of today’s Times, and couldn’t pass up commenting on this ridiculous headline:

MPs to get extra £150 a day for turning up

What?!

According to the story, by Sam Coates,

“MPs will receive about £150 a day on top of their salaries for attending the Commons in an emergency package of anti-sleaze reforms to be rushed through Parliament.”

Quite how this proposal is related to anti-sleaze reforms is quite beyond me, but in the wake of the release of MP expense claims, and the clear evidence that a dishonest many are submitting expenses for everything under the sun without doing any (or much) work, this is unbelievable.

As far as I can tell, the taxpayers will now be paying their MPs an extra £150 per day that they spend doing their job. Which they are already paid handsomely for (£64,766, according to the same story).

Well, as always, there’s a little more to it than that. After I overcame my bout of populist-outcrying, I read on. Coates explains:

“His central proposal is to abolish the £24,000 second-home allowance that has caused dire headlines, most notably for Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary. The Prime Minister wants MPs to vote for a tax-free daily allowance to be obtained by ‘clocking in’ at Westminster. Members would not have to submit receipts and the allowance would come on top of their £64,766 salaries.”

Sounds pretty reasonable, no? (To me, it sounds rather like the system the Labour Government put in place to effectively bribe kids to go to school).

Dispensing with the need to submit receipts looks like a doozey for MPs, so I imagine this will receive a great deal of support. And, no doubt, we’ll see an up-tick of MPs present and correct in Parliament, tapping away on their Blackberrys, reading books and magazines, paying not a bit of attention to what’s going on. That, or they’ll clock in at 9am, collect their £150, and go home.

“If the daily rate is more than £150 the new system is likely to cost more than the current one, according to a 2007 analysis by the Commons. With the House sitting 150 days a year on average, many MPs could claim more than £20,000 a year.”

£22,500, to be exact. So it’s not more expensive, but it’s still a lot, and the difference is negligible.

The reaction from MPs? Well, another story by Sam Coates, entitled:

MPs aghast at clocking in, but set to back £150 attendance fee

Naturally.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Where does all the money go…?

Sorry to keep peppering the blog with loads of Daily Show clips, but this interview was great. It’s with Elizabeth Warren, who tries to make it clear where all the TARP money’s gone, and what’s been done with it. It’s very funny. And a little worrying. Anyway, watch on!

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart

M - Th 11p / 10c

Elizabeth Warren Pt. 1
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Elizabeth Warren Pt. 2
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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Holy S#@t!

Just saw the latest post on the White House blog. As it’s tax season, and because of the Obama administration’s commitment to transparency and openness, they’ve released the Obamas’ tax… things – not sure if they’re forms or returns. Anyway, saw this and it made my jaw drop:

“The Obamas paid $855,323 in federal income tax.”

And:

“The President and First Lady also released their Illinois income tax return and reported paying $77,883 in state income taxes.”

That’s a total of $933,206 in taxes. Which is frankly ridiculous – if ever there was a number that made me think that Ron Paul might be right, it was that one.

I also have a feeling that’s more money than I will ever see in my entire life.

The best reporting on Pirate Rescue

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M - Th 11p / 10c
Pirate Rescue Simulation
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Monday, April 13, 2009

Couple of things from this week

The White House Blog feed is going haywire, sending me the same 50~ feeds about three or four times a day. It’s rather irritating, and if it’s happening to journalists, I imagine they’re getting rather annoyed at the lack of newsworthy stuff coming out of it. Though, the photos of Bo, the “first dog/puppy” are kind of cute.

Having recently been introduced to Peeps (the marshmallow treats with a radioactive pallor), I was amused to find the picture below on the Foreign Policy website:

090410_peeps

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Honda Hybrid (In)Sighted

The new Honda Hybrid (“Insight”) has come to Durham! Saw it yesterday in the parking lot of Dragonville Tesco’s (pictured below). Looks a lot better than the Toyota Prius (even if the 2009 model is better than previous one). What’s more, it’s supposedly more environmentally friendly and is actually cheaper than the market leader. Hopefully, someday, I’ll be able to afford one…

11042009013

(Not the best photo – using Nokia N79, which doesn’t seem to take the best photos, even with a 5MP camera that’s supposed to be good!)

Real Meaning of Easter

12042009014

Ok, I know it’s not, but there’s something about chocolate eggs in mugs that always makes Easter for me.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Bruce on Daily Show

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M - Th 11p / 10c
Bruce Springsteen - Interview
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And the performance…

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M - Th 11p / 10c
Bruce Springsteen - Working on a Dream
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Sony eReader

So, I finally made a decision and chose an eReader. I went for the Sony (pictured below), as it is compatible with at least one ebook retailer in the UK (Waterstone’s). I must say, the machine’s fantastic. It’s small, light, and feels like a metal book. Not perfect, but also far from bad.

I’ve made a couple of interesting (ok, “geeky”) observations: eBooks from Waterstone’s online store have a slower refresh-rate than eBooks from the Sony store.

Waterstone’s uses Adobe’s eBook format, while Sony uses the BBeB format. I don’t really have any more technical information than that, but for thrillers and really gripping novels, I image it’ll be really annoying reading them on this reader, as the page turn speed can be a little… tiresome on stuff I’ve bought from Waterstone’s. The Sony store also has a much better selection of Politics books, and the special offers are actually special – Waterstone’s just has 20% off a price that’s more than a full-price paperback/hardback, which Sony’s store has comparable offers to Amazon’s Kindle shop, as well as some great deals. For example, I recently got Lee Child’s Persuader absolutely free, and Brian Ruckley’s Winterbirth for only $1. Waterstone’s? Not a sausage, when it comes to decent prices.

Some examples of pricing disparities (book/eBook, where applicable):

James Patterson’s Run For Your Life

  • Amazon US: $15.95/$9.99
  • Amazon UK: £9.53 (hb)
  • Sony: $11.99
  • Waterstone’s: £13.29/£17.47

Kristin Cashore’s Graceling

  • Amazon US: $11.05/$9.99
  • Amazon UK: £6.99
  • Sony: $11.90
  • Waterstone’s: £7.99/£14.86

Also, it must be said that the quality of the eBooks from Waterstone’s are nowhere near as good as those from Sony’s store – the pages aren’t justified, the cover artwork is either grainy or non-existent, and it all just looks either rushed or cheap, which makes the extra cost doubly annoying.

07042009009

(Pictured with Leslie Gelb’s Power Rules ready to read, purchased from the Sony Store)

Thursday, April 02, 2009

In the Press

Just wanted to point out a good couple of articles from The Economist about President Obama's administration, and how it's been rather disappointing for many, including his supporters. The articles discuss Obama's failures and his weaknesses so far in office.

Leader: "Learning the hard way"
  • "There are 23 slots at the [Treasury] department that need confirmation by the Senate, and only two have been filled. This is not the Senate's fault. Mr Obama has made a series of bad picks of people who have chosen or been forced to withdraw, and it was only this week that he announced his candidates for the two of the department's four most senior posts."
  • "Mr Obama has mishandled his relations with both sides in Congress... If Mr Obama cannot work with Republicans, he needs to be certain that he controls his own party. Put bluntly, the Democrats are messing him around."
  • It's not all doom-and-gloom, though, as the author points to some evidence that the administration is learning to properly address the issues it is faced with.
  • Interesting quotes pending... (I still need to finish the article)