Monthly Archives: September 2005

(The first in a weekly open-mic series, trailed here)

This week’s ranter: The Devil’s Kitchen is the lair of a graphic design agency MD, who blogs mainly about politics, economics, and — occasionally — science and computers, in an entirely free-flowing way. Occasionally, he even writes with a degree of informed opinion, rather than his traditional bile and guesswork.

Where does our money go?

We’re all paying more tax and yet services don’t seem to have significantly improved: so, where has all the money gone?

Here’s a little nugget from the NHS (necessarily vague, I’m afraid, to protect my source). A hefty amount was invested in creating a database of ideal projects. The person assessing the projects and compiling the database left before the job was completed. Enough data was collated and evaluated to publish without any problem.

So did it happen?

Several major restructurings later, the project appears to have been lost or forgotten. Then drive-scouring, after two major computer system crashes, threw the database up again; and it is, once more, of interest. So the manager of the department draws the Scottish Executive’s attention to it.

The Scottish Executive remember that they actually spent a rather a large amount of money on the project and are embarrassed that nothing happened. They throw it back, ordering it to be web-published (more cost).

But this is three years later. Some of the project examples, so promising in their infancy, might have subsequently failed. They might have evolved beyond all recognition. The whole database is effectively useless. Updating the contact details is the best that can be done.

By rights, the NHS community that this project was created for should be screaming blue murder. But no one is, and perhaps £100,000 of our money has been pissed up the wall; wasted not by malice, but by the natural incompetence inherent in bureaucracies like the NHS.

Remember, this is not “magic money” that falls from the sky: we earned that money. And it keeps being tossed into a public sector black hole. For how much longer?

This week I have been mostly watching programmes featuring ghosts. The sudden burst of supernatural series onto TV could indicate that world events are making people more inclined to look for spiritual answers, or it could just imply that enough time has passed since The Sixth Sense was released for TV executives to feel confident in raiding it.
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The Sharpener’s new weekend focus on kul-cha has left me in a bit of a bind. I can’t stand opera, loathe ballet and fell asleep the only time I’ve ever been to the theatre. (Macbeth, Stratford, fifth-form Shakespeare trip.) But I do like wine. Even better: free wine.

So, next month I’ll be going to the Wines of South Africa mega-tasting, in Old Billingsgate in the City of London. What does that have to do with you? Simple: this is a public service announcement to let you know just how easy it is to blag free entry to a “press and trade only” event. Read More

As the days get shorter and wetter, the cricket season draws to a close and people start spending more time watching things other than Andrew Flintoff on TV. So, ever alert to public demand, the TV companies decide this is the time to start throwing new programmes at us, which means this week is a good time to start my new regular Sharpener TV review. Because of a busy weekend, this one’s a little late, but future ones will be appearing at weekends.
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Lance Price, formerly Number 10’s deputy communications adviser, publishes his memoirs soon.

Among the fragrant stories, including Tony Blair’s love for the valleys (“Fucking Welsh”), we have this touching encounter:

Asking his assistant about his sexuality – Price is gay – the prime minister said: “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but when you see a beautiful woman, doesn’t it do anything for you?”

Isn’t that sweet? Parents, worried your son might be a chutney ferret? A night out with Tony down at Spearmint Rhino and a subscription to Razzle will sort him out.

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I knew this would be a night to remember soon after leaving the subway stop. Less than a block away, the queue started. From the entrance to Mason Hall, it twisted down 23rd Street and onto Lexington Avenue. Its sweaty torso, dripping in the clammy heat of a September evening, reached all the way down to 22nd Street, before snaking back almost as far as Third Avenue.

Mounting expectations

This was not the queue for people looking for tickets. No, those sad souls were soon put right as to the hopelessness of their cause. It was not the queue for people wanting to pick up their already-reserved tickets from the box office. That queue had its own, separate path. The queue that brought in mind Soviet food shortages from the early 1990s was merely the queue of ticket-holders waiting to get into the hall.

A rather desperate-looking young woman was offering $100 for two tickets (face value – $12). Leaflet-wielders made their rounds up and down the queue. Did I know that 9/11 was a conspiracy cooked up by the US government? That the workers should rise up and overthrow the evil cabal of Washington? That Galloway, the ‘toad of Damascus’, was a tool of vile dictators? Pavement debates about the merits of the war, the failures of Bush, and the anticipated entertainment, sprang up all around.

I joined the queue at 6.20pm. The event was due to start at 7pm. Such was the pressure for seats, so overwhelmed were the door staff, that the first words were not uttered until it was almost 7.45pm.
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For a little light, late-afternoon time-wasting, why not visit CitizenSpace?

Here’s their welcome note:

“Welcome to our consultation on the Future of Democracy. This consultation is being run on behalf of the POWER Inquiry Commission, and has been set up to explore practical ideas of how political participation could be increased and deepened in Britain. Input into the POWER Inquiry will be part of a process that will change British democracy for the better.

Issues covered in this consultation include:
– the role of the media in political involvement
– the idea of devolving power, and making democracy more “localised”
– the role of political parties and party activism
– ideas of creating a more participative democracy

This consultation is made up of 7 questions, all of which are optional, and to get the most out of it we suggest you donate at least 10 minutes of your time.”

It’s not just a survey, they ask you to enter your well-considered opinion (or hastily contrived opinion, whatever floats your boat, we ARE bloggers after all…) and may Change The Way We Do Government.

It says it closed a couple of weeks ago, but it’s still up and running and the organisers are still encouraging people to take part.

Go stick it to the Man.