Sunday, October 28, 2012

I have had this blog since 2004, but it has not been active for over a year now. When I started out, I was a 20 year old student and I wrote about what was happening in my life almost like a diary, but one I wanted to share with friends. Over time, I've also used it to write serious pieces about the news, politics and economics, and less serious comedy writings. It is, reading back, really interesting to see how I've grown up and changed over the past 8 years. It's now 2012 and life is good - I'm 28, in an academic job I like, with a wonderful wife and a busy schedule outside of work. However, writing about this is no longer something I feel motivated to do. Clearly, this blog has come to a natural, quiet conclusion.

I continue to use Twitter (@theblackwizards), so do follow me there. I like interesting people, so say hello and I'll say hello back. We'll work out the rest later.

The one thing that I do miss doing, and have recently resolved to get back into the habit if doing, is writing things I hope are funny. I have started a new blog specifically for that purpose, which I would love if you all occasionally had a read of and tell me what you think. It's a new one because I want to divide between writing comedy and my personal life, which this blog has always been rooted in.

The new blog is here:



Friday, April 29, 2011

The Alternative Vote referendum is on Thursday. In order of priority, I have collected all the arguments in favour of the existing first-past-the-post system.

1. Creates majorities.
2. Information not used.
3. Information not used.
4. Information not used.
5. Information not used.

If anyone believes that the most important reason has changed, please let me know and I'll delete what's currently there and update it.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A blog is a sort-of place where people write down their thoughts and then influence the world. I have been blogging for over seven years, intermittently, as we all do everything, being the multifunctional beings that we are. As yet, however, I do not feel I have enacted any particular global change, and I think this might be because I have never really had any clear objectives in that area. Therefore, my demands are:

1. Less wars. I don't know how many wars there currently are, but it always feels like too many. I didn't have a specific number in mind. Maybe zero? Lennon said 'give peace a chance'. But that's not the same as saying 'There should only be peace'. I mean, I gave Lost a chance, but I watched other TV programmes as well. Plus, if you say that we're going to stop all wars, but you overshoot, you're in danger of owing some people some war. So perhaps we should just aim to keep a few. Like maybe four? Four wars? That sound manageable, and pleasing. If shutting down the others proves difficult, we could just merge a few together. Is there really a need for separate insurgencies in Laos, Chechnya AND Yemen?

2. Something to be done about the environment/the banks/this oven (whichever is easier).

3. Smoking to be made more ridiculous. Cigarettes should be increased in diameter so they require two hands to hold. They should have a sad whistle built in which plays every time someone inhales. Would expect to see less smoking in films (whistle obscures dialogue, takes attention away from plot) and by musicians (to cumbersome to also hold instrument or play with hair).

4. Drinks to change temperature in the same direction when left in a room. Either hot drinks should get hotter or cold drinks should get colder, but the current system is an absolute mess and I can't believe we've tolerated it.

5. An end to 'less is more', and full reinstatement of 'more' to the role of 'more'.

6. You don't see many herons these days, do you? I'm not sure this is a demand, so much as an observation. A demand would be more along the lines of: I have to see more herons. But I haven't decided whether I think seeing more herons is desirable. Sure, to start with, it's all, 'hey, look, there's a heron', but after a while it becomes 'is that still the same heron?' and then finally 'who do we call about this heron?'. So maybe it's for the best.

7. Waiting lists to be made shorter, but deeper.

8. Everything else to be doubled.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I seem to have developed some followers. Thanks for popping by, and that. Do say 'Hello' of you get the chance.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I'm not sure if it's been noticed before, but, on occasion, the Internet is not the best place to go for measured debate. Arguments on message boards, across social networking sites and in comment threads often have an edge to them which you see less routinely in real life, almost as if people are emboldened by the anonymity provided.

To give a comparison, this post so far is the second most understated thing ever written on the Internet. The most understated thing ever written on the Internet was a email by Mr Arnold Timms of Rochdale, who, having been on the Internet for a day, observed that people seemed to waste a significant amount of their time watching and reading things that made them very angry. (The third most understated thing ever written on the Internet was: 'I will hide in your house and cut you with a blade whilst you sleep you faggot'. This was also Mr Timms, midway through day eight.)

Some people may appreciate the directness, of course. "It's pithy", they might say. And it is. It can be also be venemouth, inthidious and, if you know where to look, a bit rathist.

One of my favourite things to do on the Internet is read the Twitter feed of Joe Cienkowski. Joe describes himself as a Christian author who lives his life for Jesus, so it all checks out up to this point. However, from casual observation, this often takes the form of berating people who don't believe that creationism is the only truth supported by science and that the Bible is the exact history of humanity, for hours at a time. I just can't imagine that Jesus would be looking down, thinking to himself, "OK, FINALLY. All the hungry are fed and the homeless are sheltered and sick are being cared for. Now, has anyone thought to berate the unbelievers?".

Today, I was reading the comments left on a Facebook wall post by Nick Clegg, who, similarly, is the deputy prime minister. If you have ever done this, you'll notice that people get a bit abusive. People repeatedly say 'broken promises' to him, regardless of the topic. Maybe this is like someone shouts a band's biggest hit song title at a band whilst watching them play something else. I worried that eventually he'll get fed up of hearing it and not play it at all. I mean, I've got a recorded version, but it's better live, isn't it?

Anyway, one comment I read particularly stood out. It said: "Nick, you're talking out of your backside, you've got your head up your ass". (Obviously, it didn't use punctuation nearly as well, and it used the word 'arse'. I always wondered why people do this. Is there someone I can arsk?). Now, this has two interpretations. The first is that Nick Clegg does in fact talk using his backside, and that he has, rather foolishly, also got his head up their as well, essentially muffling himself. I can't imagine that anyone with even basic public speaking training would allow themselves to make such a fundamental error.

The second option, which seems more likely to me, is that Nick Clegg actually speaks with his mouth. His mouth is in his head, which is currently up his own ass, giving the impression that he is, in fact, talking out of his ass. But he's not! He's talking out of his mouth, from some point near his ass. An understandable mistake, but not a fair criticism. It would be like having a go at someone for being both blind and a reckless driver.

(And then at this point I probably say something smart like 'please leave a comment and tell me what you think'.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A thing happened today. A while ago, I signed a petition or something about a particular advert which essentially amounted to a lie and a fairly disturbing bit of fear-mongering, by the 'No to AV' Campaign. I'm someone who will vote Yes in May. If the country rejects AV in May, fine. But it would be nice to know it happened because of reasoned choices.

Anyway, at the time, I listed my profession as 'Academic'. I don't really ever know what to put. I'm a Research Fellow, officially, but the word 'Fellow' always sounds ridiculous when I go to say it and I balk, often simply calling myself a Research Fff. Something vague like 'I'm in research' or 'I do research' sometimes works in conversation, but in form-filling might be taken as a learning disability. (Name: My name is Craig. Age: My age is 27. Address: I live in a flat with a blue door. I keep all my secret things there. Ssshhh.). Basically, it's all linked to a guilt that I don't do a proper job with stone and grime and lathes, and no matter how much I want to call myself a 'fact welder' or a 'hypothesis foreman', there's no escaping this. 'Academic' sounds flouncy and pretentious, but I went with it on this occassion.

Which brings us to today, when I received an email asking whether, as an academic, I would add my name to a open letter type thing, urging people to vote Yes. This troubled me. Yes, I'm kind of an academic broadly, but I'm an economist more specifically. I have absolutely no academic credentials which should give me a voice of authority here. It would be like me signing a letter, as an academic, in support of stem cell research or tougher regulation on carbon emissions or the legal case for war. In all those cases, I have an opinion which I could argue for. But it's really just me (Craig, 27, yachtsman).

But tell me this, kind reader: am I being overly precious? Or is this kind of thing just as manipulative as a bad advert?

Thursday, February 03, 2011

There is a lady who works at a place where I work called Chloe Sparrowhawk. This would be unremarkable if she were, in fact, a sparrowhawk, and more or less mandatory if she were a cartoon sparrowhawk. But she is not. I wondered if that surprises many people when they meet her. I wondered this in part because, as I knocked on her door, reading her door plaque - Chloe Sparrowhawk, Human Resources - as I did so, part of my brain started to consider whether, on the other side of this door, would be an actual sparrowhawk. (The remainder of my brain was busy, of course, with knocking on the door and opening the door. And you may scoff at how relatively easy it is to occupy my entire brain, but I'd like to point out that this technically counts a multitasking). And it's comforting, I find, when you begin to suspect that you've managed to set up a meeting and exchanged numerous emails with a bird-of-prey, to know that you're not alone.

I realised at that moment (now well over the door's threshold) that if she did, in fact, turn out to be a sparrowhawk, then while her name would not be of any interest, any more so that other species-appropriate names such as Donald Duck, Rupert Bear, Kermit T. Frog or Eli Oystercatcher, her chosen profession certainly would be. How would a sparrowhawk end up working in human resources, I began to wonder. Surely the rigourous and unimpeachably scientific practices of human resources would have been too difficult to master by all but the most gifted of sparrowhawks?

I briefly considered the possibility (whilst closing the door behind me) that perhaps she had worked her way up from a previous job in Sparrowhawk Resources. But, of course, I had noticed no other sparrowhawks working at the place where I work, so the office of Sparrowhawk Resources would only have been necessary to deal with the working issues of the sole sparrowhawk employee, who worked in Sparrowhawk Resources. In fact, the only way I could imagine a sparrowhawk working in human resources is if the sparrowhawks had risen up and enslaved the human race, then given in to an as-yet unrealised tendency towards inventory control. But in that case, the conditions of enslavement would have contradicted sharply with the invitation to pop by the office "whenever I was free".

Anway, by that point I was entirely in the office, and able to see that Chloe Sparrowhawk was distinctly human. She was seated, and did not offer me a field mouse, as well as other clues. On the plus side, this allowed me to focus on the purpose of the meeting (mental wellbeing) without really mentioning any of the thoughts I'd just been having. In fact, I realised that in all the human resource meetings I'd ever had, the reality of the meeting was always fair less interesting than how I imagine it might be in the few minutes beforehand. And I also realised that perhaps the reason for this was that the meeting was always with a human, and that a human working in human resources now borders on a cliché.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I haven't had such a long gap in blogging for a while. I have no idea how the past two months have gone by (chronologically, I would imagine), but here we are, December 15th, and as far as anyone knows, I could be dead.

But I am not! (Of course, I would say this). I have been simply been drowning in a sea of thesis writing, teaching, working, holidays, films, meals, sleep, watching live comedy, performing in live comedy (not dead) and swimming pools. All of which is pretty standard fare, particular for those of us who write theses, teach, work, holiday, watch film, eat, sleep, watch live comedy, perform live comedy (not dead), recycle jokes and swim. So here's a brief snippet of each.

1. My thesis nears completion. It looks and sounds very much like a thesis - earthy and well researched.

2. My teaching has been fun. I hope one day to be good at it.

3. My work has proceeded. I have research papers and journal submissions and I think I'm due a minion.

4. I went to Egypt! I walked like an Egyptian - that is to say, near some pyramids and sand. This was a very good time.

5. I have watched many films. I'm unlikely to reach 100, as I've lulled for much of the year, but I've got through a lot in the past month. Donnie Brasco is absolutely my new favourite film. I like Johnny Depp playing lunatics and the weird, but Johnny Depp playing hardman undercover agent is far better, and Al Pacino's performance? Forgedduhboutit.

6. I have ate and slept. Not dead, you see.

7. I saw Mark Watson - here's a comedian who you should go and see if you want five hours of comedy delivered in under two hours. I failed to see Josie Long.

8. I have done the Imps, and that. There were new Imps who are a delight to be around and old Imps who get better and better, and a director-assistant director team who are doing a lovely job. A student of mine saw a show, which I imagine was strange for her. But that's me, shattering preconceptions about lecturers and their non-participation in improvised comedy shows. In some ways, this carries over into tutorials (no preparation, polite applause, rock music between each section).

9. I continue to Twitter. Follow me on Twitter. This is where you get everything you might expect from this blog - mystery, intrigue, preconception shatterings (bring you own!), jokes about the News and what we should do about it - but shorter (less than 140 characters) and more regular (more than 0 characters in two months).

10. I have continued with swimming. I am svelte. I am doing an exercise class on Saturday mornings. My abs glean in the midday sun. I am getting faster in the pool. My biceps bulge. I take my hands and place them on your hips, pulling you close.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

I find myself asking the question: "what is work?" I have narrowed it down to two definitions:

1. Raising ten kids in one house on benefits.

2. Writing an article for a tabloid newspaper about how the parents raising ten children in one house on benefits "have never worked a day in their lives".

Friday, October 01, 2010

Because I had some rudimentary training in economics, people often ask me about questions about areas of economics I do not know a huge amount about. I know more than, say, my parents, or probably the average Oxford PPEist (concerning, given the education of most of the front bench of both government and opposition, so let's hope experience counts for something). Large swathes of macro policy often fall into this category.

So when people ask me about the current government's deficit reduction plan, I tend not to have a definitive answer. As far as I see it, the basic argument for deficit reduction now (rather than in two years, say) is that the size of our debt has created an atmosphere of uncertainty in the UK amongst consumers and business, maybe about the timing of future tax hikes, possibly about a Greek-style default (although this is silly). Anyway, confidence is low, so reducing the deficit and (eventually) the national debt in a transparent way may restore some certainty and allay the worst of these fears and get people spending again. Government spending, if too large, may "crowd out" private sector spending, which may be undesirable - there is no guarantee that government spending is the best (most efficient, most wealth-creating) type of spending.

To me, the flip side always seemed to be more tangible. A spending cut (which isn't one of those politically convenient efficiency savings) takes money away from somebody - either an employee of the government, or someone who sells something to the government. That's somebody who goes out and spends less money, either because they no longer have a job, or their business has lower profits. Less spending has a knock-on effect - if a large group of government employees are laid off, and all of them reduce their spending, that's leads to other business earning less revenue. Maybe some of those businesses have to let some staff go because they just don't have as many customers as before. And so on. It's called the multiplier, and it's been known about since Keynes.

The reason that I dither is that evidence is limited and, even if there are lessons from the past, they may not apply to this particular moment in time as easily. This recession is special, both in origin and in depth and length. However, the Economist this week drew my attention to two very different recent papers giving some indication of the possible effects. The first they describe as the intellectual justification for many government's programmes of deficit reduction - published by two Harvard economists, it finds adjustments to the structural deficit lead to short-term growth (increases in the national output). This is great news for Mr Osborne and Mr Cameron, who were also boosted last week by the IMF's backing of their "bold" deficit reduction plan. This approval is all the more surprising when you see that the second paper picked out by the Economist this week was written by the Fund itself. They have severe criticisms of the methodology of that Harvard study, which, when corrected using their own data on deficit reductions, reverses the conclusion.

Firstly, they find deficit reduction of 1% leads to a 0.5% fall in national output, and a 0.3% increase in unemployment. Secondly, deficit reduction by spending cut is less severe - however, this has usually be accompanied by lowering interest rates at the same time. It's worth noting that in the UK's current situation, there is ZERO scope for doing this, as the base rate is, to all intents and purposes, as low as it can go.

As I say, the current set of circumstances are special, so this is by no means conclusive, and actual answers will only be known looking backwards. In fact , if you ask me about it at some point down the line... well, I'll still dither. But I'll have a more pessimistic face on.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Swimming update. I've been going three times a week since June. I've gone from managing 2km to well beyond two miles (3.2km) in a session. The coach has worked out a programme for me for the next year, and he's timed a couple of swims to get a bench mark of where I'm at. This is the cool bit (for me). I managed 1:11.0 for 100m backstroke and 1:03.8 for 100m crawl. For some perspective, my best ever was about 1.04 for the backstroke and 58 seconds for the crawl (with a dive), so I'm pretty pleased with that. Friday I'm doing a 1500m time trial - that used to be my best event. I'll be delighted if I can do it in 19 minutes.

Monday, September 13, 2010

For a few years now, I've tried to be a part-time vegetarian and have just one meat-based meal per day (usually dinner). It doesn't always work out - sometimes, I just fancy a chicken baguette or someone else is spontaneously cooking me a chicken baguette or it turns out my pasta salad contains chicken baguette - but I would say I have, at most, between six and nine meat-based meals in a week, which is a lot less than before.

It's a simple thing relating to overconsumption. My substitute for meat often involves cheese - OK, fine, cheeses - so it's really not a health thing. Also, I have no ethical problem with our position in the food chain, I just try to avoid the worst parts of the production process and pretend I never stop at motorway service stations. I believe our current level of consumption is too high, and that this has a huge impact in terms of the inequity of global nutrition, the destruction of natural environments and on climate change.

For some clarity on these vague points, I would point you in the direction of George Monbiot's latest piece on the myths and realities about meat production. Don't worry, it's actually a argument against the need to give up on all animal products on ethical grounds, but to change our methods of production away from the inefficient use of grain feed. This suggests we would have less meat, but not zero. It also suggests that some claims about environmental damage have been overstated. They are still real, of course, so moderation is still worthwhile.

And now, for some cauliflower cheese. OK, fine, shut up, some cauliflower cheeses.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Today I took an old cat carrier to the recycling centre. "Where does this go?", I asked one of the men, holding it up in my right hand. He looked at me slightly suspiciously before checking it was empty, then pointed me in the direction of 'Landfill'. Which I suppose is better than not looking to see if it was empty, then pointing me in the direction of 'Unwanted Animals'.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I can't remember if I've talked about swimming before, but when I was young, I swam a lot. I qualified for National championships on two occassions, and when I stopped just before my 18th birthday, I would regularly do eight session a week, every evening after school and three mornings sessions before. I was in pretty good shape.

Then I quit. Then I got fat.

Alright, shut up, I know I'm not enormous or anything. But I barely went above 9 stone (too small for a 17 year old, 5'9 male) when I stopped, and today flirt dangerously with 13 when on the scales (just pushing me into the overweight range on the BMI scale). So I could be better.

I've got back in the pool on several occassions since I stopped, for a decent run of time before falling out of the habit. Since we moved to Cowley, I went to the local baths once. Then, in May, Cath joined the David Lloyd gym, and we got a couples membership after I tried the pool a few times and enjoyed it. So I started going a couple of times a week and then found out they had a weekly club session, so I've starting going along to that as well. The guy who runs it asked me if I had a goal, so I told him the abridged version of the above story ("I was in pretty good shape. Then I quit. Then I got fat.") and he wondered if I'd think about doing competition again. In a burst of overenthusiasm I looked around to see what the university-level competition was like and, well, they apparently import huge Americans to swim over here, so the competition is faster than I ever was in my prime, so that was out of the question.

But there is a thing called Masters events, which are competitions for older swimmers who don't spend all their life training or are an imported American. Amusingly, the first age group is 18-24 years old. In golf, Masters starts at over 50s. In darts, Masters is over whenever it is you die. Anyway, there are some competitions I'm eyeing up for next year, because training is going well - I'm feeling faster in the water each week, and my stamina is building up and even though I'm carrying 4 extra stone, I think I could get within a few seconds of my best ever times over 100m. So, all very exciting and I'll probably put up occassional updates.

Update 1: I have lost no weight yet.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

I have a Twitter. I have no plans to update anybody on my whereabouts, nor to send messages to others, nor to pass on anyone elses thoughts. It is solely to write (or reproduce) a joke (or something) every day. It'll be like the Month of Puns (remember that, Facebook friends), only never-ending.

Anyway, follow me.