Saving Frustration

National Savings & Investments’ new home page

NS&I has a new website and the home page features a very strange image for a savings bank. It’s a photograph of a screaming child wearing striped pink overalls standing in, and splattered with, mud. She is either absolutely terrified or very, very angry about something. It’s hard to tell which.

I just can’t imagine what the designers were thinking. Is the screaming child frustrated by our abysmal interest rates? Is she angered by the shabby treatment savers have received in our debt-obsessed economies? Is it an expression of contempt for the apparent futility of saving, or a declaration of war against the bank?

What is the meaning of this image? It stopped me in my tracks, and if I wasn’t already a parent, I’d be thinking twice about becoming one now. Very frightening…

Code to Joy

I reckon that I’ve learnt enough to build my app. But then something extraordinary happens. I look at my blank code editor and my head empties. I look longer and – by some strange quantum effect, I assume – my head seems to empty further. With the training wheels off, I suddenly feel that I know nothing and am panicked by the sensation. FreeCodeCamp’s Larson chuckles when I tell him about this phenomenon.

“The thing that gets lost,” he says, “and which I think is important to know, is that programming is never easy. You’re never doing the same thing twice, because code is infinitely reproducible and if you’ve already solved a problem and you encounter it again, you just use your old solution. So by definition you’re kind of always on this frontier where you’re out of your depth. And one of the things you have to learn is to accept that feeling – of being constantly wrong.”

Which makes coding sound like a branch of Zen Buddhism.

From Code to Joy by Andrew Smith, 1843 Magazine, June/July 2018.

A Poetic Valediction

I’m sure some people think that The Economist must be a boring and staid publication, but this final paragraph from the magazine’s departing Bagehot columnist is sheer poetry:

Beyond the headlines and TV studios, Britain’s everyday impressions are mostly those of a homely and mingled place, not a bitter and binary one. The blare of pop songs on shop radios, the church bell across the marshes, the simian whoops and cackles on market-town high streets of a Friday night. The shared shrugs and sighs after a train has waited too long at a station for some misery-unleashing fault not to have materialised. The vinegar-haddock-urine smell of seaside towns; the perfume-booze-sweat crush of commuters travelling home from booming cities. The saris, shiny suits and waxed jackets, the hipster moustaches and old-school mullets. The emergence from a car park or railway station to be confronted with a scene of architectural horror—or unprepossessing and unexpected gorgeousness.

How Brexit damaged Britain’s democracy

Ever tried a Soiled Kimono?

Here’s a clip from A Very Murray Christmas (recently released on Netflix), which stars Bill Murray and several other celebrities (NB—both George Clooney and Miley Cyrus sing, although perhaps that’s putting it politely).

Murray’s unique brand of deadpan humour can be very funny, and there are some laugh-out-loud moments in this short (56 minutes) film. At one point, Maya Rudolph hands Jason Schwartzman a cocktail asking simply “Soiled Kimono?” I gather that joke has been used before on Saturday Night Live, but it made me chuckle.

This light-weight musical entertainment might just be the perfect accompaniment to wrapping presents on Christmas Eve.

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Elections Compared 

There’s a general election tomorrow in the UK, and for some reason I haven’t received a poll card. It’s no big deal. It’s not required to vote. However it did make me look up the location of my nearest polling station.

At the same time, I checked the candidates standing for election in my constituency (Brentford and Isleworth). One of the interesting changes from 2010 is the total number of candidates running for office — it’s exactly half. There were 10 candidates five years ago, and only five this time (see the screen shot from Wikipedia).

I’m not certain what this decrease implies about the state of political ambition in the country, but perhaps it’s indicative of the widespread political apathy that gets reported so often in the press.

Screen shot from Wikipedia showing the Brentford and Isleworth candidates for election in 2010 and 2015.
Brentford and Isleworth candidates for election in 2010 and 2015.

By far the most interesting difference between these elections, however, is the absence of anyone standing on behalf of the British National Party (aka BNP). The BNP is a far-right political party that according to Wikipedia advocates “voluntary resettlement whereby immigrants and their descendants are afforded the opportunity to return to their lands of ethnic origin”. As well as anti-immigration policies, the party advocates the reintroduction of capital punishment and opposes same-sex marriage, multiculturalism and what it perceives as the Islamification of the UK. The BNP’s ideology has been described as fascist or neo-fascist by political scientists, and in the years leading up to 2010 it gained a reputation for racist, skinhead violence.

Five years ago, the BNP was perceived as a viable threat to the political status quo and was often compared to France’s Front national, despite never having anywhere near the same degree of popular support. In 2010 it stood 338 candidates for election across the UK. This year there are eight. That’s a decline of more than 97% and, although immigration is still an important election issue for many, the demise of the extremist BNP can only be considered a significant change for the better in an increasingly fragmented “United” Kingdom.

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