Friday, 14 March 2008

Mr Speaker! My DVD Player Won't Upscale to HDMI

Britain’s MPs are facing heavy criticism following the publication of the so-called ‘John Lewis list’ – the Additional Costs Allowance which reimburses up to £23,000 a year to fit out their second homes in London.

The list – published for the first time after a Freedom of Information request was upheld – includes up to £6,335 for a new bathroom, £200 for a kitchen blender, £750 each for a TV or stereo, £270 for a DVD player and £795 for a sideboard.

John Lewis is used as a price guide because it “came out top of all retail shops” in Which? magazine; but Matthew Elliott of the Taxpayers’ Alliance said: “It is hardly the cheapest place to purchase household goods. How many ordinary taxpayers spend £1,500 on a TV and stereo when there are cheaper deals elsewhere?”

MPs have been angered by the latest in a series of embarrassing exposures of their financial arrangements which, they say, make them feel like “crooks”.

The Nev Filter carried out some in-depth research of its own into the costs of household items. After leafing through an old Argos catalogue, we found that £750 would not even buy a 40-in LCD telly, while £270 was not nearly enough for a Blu-Ray DVD player, and the top-of-the-range 1000-watt Kenwood Chef was way beyond the means of MPs at £320. On the plus side, though, their priciest stereo cost under £750, even with the MP3 jukebox thrown in and a turntable for old times’ sake. However, MPs pointed out that Argos stereos were hardly hi-fi, and a decent Denon home-cinema AV receiver alone could easily set them back £2000.

Some deeper research at Cash Converters, however, showed that a used Sony DVD player could be picked up for under £20, sometimes even with the remote, and a telly with an old-fashioned, but perfectly good 28” tube could be picked up for under a hundred nicker.

“What’s a Cash Converter?” said one blank-faced Labour MP when we presented our findings. “Sorry, I’ve just had an email from my fridge on the iPaq, telling me the canelloni’s dangerously close to its sell-by date. Must dash. Pip pip, old boy!”

Hey, Dr Kawashima! Leave Those Kids Alone

Children at St Columba’s School in Dundee have been taking part in a pilot scheme in which they start the day with 20 minutes of Nintendo.

The ten-week trial - run by the curriculum body, Learning and Teaching Scotland - allowed one class at the primary school to begin their school day with ‘brain-training’ games on hand-held consoles, then compared their performance to an ordinary class. LTS claims the players were better-behaved and more co-operative in class, and improved their maths scores.

“We need to look at the educational experience of learners who are coming from a digital age, who have a cultural value of technology, of games,” said Derek Robertson of LTS. “It's important that school reflects this as well."

“Cobblers,” said a professor of cognitive neuroscience.

The government is planning a wider trial, saying that anything which engages children’s minds and produces apparent results must be a good thing, and the advantage of a gaming console over old-fashioned methods – or ‘teaching’, as it used to be known – is that the console doesn’t go on strike, doesn’t have to be bribed into the profession and probably lasts longer than two years before breaking.

It confirmed that it is also studying the possibility of allowing kids to play FIFA ‘08 instead of sport and PE, enabling them to sell off all remaining school playing fields to Tesco. World of Warcraft will replace breaktimes - and when the children leave school, they can spend the rest of their lives shut in a darkened room playing Sims 2, which is much less traumatic than real life. Except of course when one of your Sims accidentally sets the kitchen on fire and dies.

Three Pints You're Out

A doctor is calling on the government to introduce on-the-spot fines for people who are drunk in public, even if they are not causing a nuisance.

Plastic surgeon Peter Mahaffey, who works in Bedford Hospital, made his demand in the British Medical Journal after seeing the results of drunken fights. He suggested that police officers should carry breathalysers and fine people who are three times over the drink-drive limit.

The government rejected the idea, saying that the police already had powers to deal with problem drinking.

Doctors, however, are demanding instant penalties for all drivers, rugby players, people who own cutlery and anyone else who might possibly end up one day in a casualty department, saying: “The morons, sorry, the public have got to realise that everything carries some level of risk. We in the medical profession say that all risk is unacceptable. People cannot be trusted to do anything. We will not rest until everyone is wrapped in cotton wool at birth, securely strapped to a bed under heavy sedation and fed through a drip for the rest of their lives. Only then will we see a significant reduction in accidental injuries.”

Thursday, 13 March 2008

How The Budget Will Affect You: A Nev Filter Special

The Nev Filter's in-depth look at Alistair Darling’s budget.

- An extended family of seven chain-smoking Lithuanian alcoholics with a combined income of £20,000 and a 999-year fixed-rate mortgage, driving a Jag: £20,000 worse off

- A disabled single mother with a part-time job earning £20 a week, living in a cardboard box and looking to buy an articulated lorry: £950 worse off

- A lance-corporal serving in Afghanistan, driving an eco-Challenger tank, with a WAG at home spending his income on bling: £20 worse off

- A single centenarian with a state pension, living in a Band D underground bunker, running a Harley on biofuel: 99p worse off

- A non-domiciled chairman of a major high-street chain with a wife, two mistresses three children and a helicopter, living in rented council accommodation with a well-stocked wine cellar: £30m better off

The Chancellor has hit back at critics who say he delivered a bad news budget, saying: “It doesn’t really matter what I do. We’re all at the mercy of greedy corporations and stupid banks. We’re screwed.”

After being hit around the head several times by Gordon Brown, however, he issued a clarification, explaining that although the world faced a terrible recession, Britain was in some inexplicable way uniquely placed to prosper through, with record quantities of jam at some indeterminate point in the future.

Obama "Not White" Shock Rocks Democratic Campaign

US news and, in the battle for the Democratic nomination, one of Hillary Clinton’s senior aides has resigned after suggesting that rival Barack Obama might be black.

Geraldine Ferraro – who stood for the vice-presidential nomination in 1984 – gave up her honorary place on Mrs Clinton’s finance committee after saying: "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position” in a Californian newspaper.

Insiders say that Mr Obama responded with astonishment when he read Ms Ferraro’s allegations, and immediately asked his aides for a mirror. Several states which supported his nomination said they really hadn’t noticed his colour at all.

“Do people really come in a range of colours?” said one Mississippi voter we spoke to. “Well I’ll be damned. The things you learn. I wonder what colour I am?”

Mr Obama said he would not respond by stooping to the mud-slinging politics of the gutter, and is said to have flatly rejected proposals from within his camp to tell the American public that Hillary Clinton is a woman.

Whales and Dolphins, Whales and Dolphins Yeah

In a heart-warming story that briefly makes everything seem all right with the world, two beached whales have been rescued by a dolphin in New Zealand.

The pygmy sperm whales had stranded themselves repeatedly at Mahia Beach, on the east coast of North Island. Conservation teams, which had tried hard to rescue the whales, were on the point of giving up and giving them lethal injections when the bottlenose dolphin, known to locals as Moko, appeared and made straight for them.

"I don't speak whale and I don't speak dolphin," said Conservation Officer Malcolm Smith, "But there was obviously something that went on, because the two whales changed their attitude from being quite distressed to following the dolphin quite willingly and directly along the beach and straight out to sea."

Mr Smith may not speak Whale or Dolphin, but here at the Nev Filter we do, and our expert has been analysing hydrophone recordings of the incident.

The transcript shows the following exchange took place:

“Hello, sir, madam. Having a little trouble, are we?”

“You took your own sweet time.”

“I’m supposed to get here within two hours of your call, sir, and you called an hour and three quarters ago. Don’t blame me, the traffic’s bloody awful this time of day. What seems to be the matter?”

“It’s this water. It’s gone all hard underneath us, and we can’t seem to swim through it.”

“That’s sand what you’ve got there mate. Sand, that’s your problem.”

“Sand… um… that’s bad is it?”

“Well, guv’nor, it’s one of those things you get when you run out of sea. That’s what you’ve gone and done. Never mind, I’ve got a tow-rope, I’ll have you out of there in a jiffy.”

“Sorry about this. It’s the wife, you see, you can’t give her a map, she’s got no sense of direction at all. Sorry, dear.”

“Dave! At least I don’t swim like a lunatic.”

“Well, you want to get one of these here satnavs, mate. Absolute lifesaver. I wouldn’t be without it. Here we go - ladies first, whoops, ‘scuse me missus - right, heave-ho. There you go. Now you, sir. That’s it. Right, now where was you trying to get to?”

“Antarctica. We’re meeting some very nice Japanese people who found us on Facebook.”

“Righto, no problem, let’s punch that into the old satnav… here you are. Go round this New Zealand bit here, miss that thing called Australia, straight on up the Atlantic for a couple of thousand miles to this little crinkly bit called Norway. Now mind how you go, sir! And watch out for plastic bags in your blowhole around that bit called Britain.”

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

The All-Purpose Budget Form

Unfortunately Alistair Darling didn’t finish blathering in time for the Nev Filter, so the detailed budget analysis will have to wait until tomorrow. However, we can reveal that the Chancellor cheated in his budget planning by using the little-known HM Treasury Form 1: All-Purpose Budget (Draft) (Emergency Use Only).

The form – a copy of which fell out of William Gladstone’s traditional red case on the doorstep on Number 11 Downing Street – runs as follows:

“It gives me great pleasure to present my Budget to the House.

“Firstly, Income Tax will remain at the same levels. This is a result of this government’s fiscal prudence during this term of office. / Income Tax must, regrettably, go up by (insert random number between 1 and 5) per cent. This measure was forced on us by the imprudence of the previous government. (Delete as applicable.)

“This government is very concerned about the environment. (Note to reader: look serious.) It is my intention to raise: a one-off tax on petrol-guzzling cars / duty on fuel / a levy on electrical goods with stand-by modes / the issue at an international level (tick all that apply).

“In order to stimulate / reinvigorate (delete as appropriate) the housing market, I propose a new tax on housing purchases, to be called (insert name of random household object) Duty. I promise that this will not be a great burden on purchasers / vendors / lenders (delete any that apply).

“The business community continues to thrive in Britain. (Note: socialist alternative deleted – G.B., 1997.) I do not (socialist alternative deleted) propose to increase the burden of taxation on the business community, which is / is not (delete as applicable) largely responsible for the state of Britain today.

“The National Health Service is a cherished British institution, and I have no plans to abolish it. (Note to reader – pretend to be sincere.) I am happy to announce an increase in the overall NHS budget of (insert any large figure here – it doesn’t matter). I also propose a new method of handling finances within the NHS, in order to make it more transparent and accountable. (Note to reader: this is a traditional Treasury joke, to be delivered with a straight face if possible.) The Health Service is safe in our hands. (Ditto.)

“The Social Security budget continues to absorb an unacceptable proportion of GDP. I propose to crack down on the feckless unemployed, while ensuring that the genuinely needy continue to enjoy the safety net of a caring welfare state. (Pause for comic effect.) That is why I am funding a new initiative for the (insert current name of department for doley-bashing) in order to get the unemployed into work. Benefits will rise by (insert lowest inflation figure from previous twelve months, less 0.5%) across the board. It is this government’s fervent desire to eradicate the spectre of child poverty forever by (increase date given in previous budget by one).

“Finally, I should like to reaffirm our commitment to the security of Great Britain by announcing an increase in the defence budget of (insert figure demanded by the Americans). This will ensure that our troops remain the best in the world, fully equipped to handle the current situation in (insert locations of main current conflicts).

“This is a prudent budget. A budget that will ensure prosperity for the British people. A budget for business (Note: socialist alternative deleted, 1997). I commend it to the House. (Note to reader: sit down - look smug.)

Soldier of Small Fortune

The Commons Defence Committee has reported that the cost of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is likely to nearly double this year, bringing the estimated cost of the conflict to £3.3bn, or 1.5% of the entire UK gross domestic product.

The government says the money is needed to pay for better troop protection, although some critics point out that 12,000 British personnel are currently serving in the region, and it would cost considerably less than £275,000 each to simply bring them all back to the safety of the UK. However, the government responded by saying that this was far too simplistic a view of the complex Middle East situation, and that furthermore the Americans would be very upset.

A Show By Any Other Name

A Chinese TV station has announced plans to make a domestic version of US hit series ‘Ugly Betty’ – itself a version of the Columbian original Yo Soy Betty, La Fea, or ‘I am Betty, The Ugly One’.

The Chinese version will be shown on Hunan Satellite TV, and will be called ‘Invincible Ugly Woman’.

TV industry leaders on both sides of the Atlantic are rushing to sell other Western hits to Chinese producers. ‘Doctor Who’ – offered to China as ‘Anonymous Heroic Surgeon’ – was originally based on an Albanian series called ‘Guess The Consultant’s Name’, while ‘Coronation Street’ becomes ‘Meaningless Reactionary Imperialist Festival Residential District’ and ‘Wire In The Blood’ translates as ‘Supreme Aortic Metal Filament Contamination’. Chinese plans for remaking ‘Lost’ have been shelved, however, as all Chinese airlines have a 100% safety record and anyone saying otherwise is a subversive criminal element in need of immediate re-education.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Gordon Brown - Is He A Dummy?

Today’s big story is the news that a row has erupted between 10 Downing Street and Madame Tussaud’s, after the famous wax museum claimed it had no plans to display a replica of the Prime Minister.

"At the moment we have no plans to make Gordon Brown,” said Tussaud's public relations manager, Ben Lovett. “We are going to wait for a general election to see what will happen because that's the ultimate test of public opinion.”

However, a spokesman for Number 10 said they had received a letter last week, inviting the PM for a sitting.

Commentators have suggested that Number Ten might have declined the invitation, fearing that the waxwork would display considerably more human warmth, personality and animation than the Prime Minister.

I Vow To Thee, My Country

Lord Goldsmith has provoked a storm of protest over proposals to make school-leavers swear an oath of allegiance to Queen and country, in a report arguing that a citizenship ceremony would give teenagers “a sense of belonging”.

“Research does tend to show there's been a diminution in national pride,” said the former Attorney General.

Graham Smith, an obvious traitor speaking on behalf of dissident anti-monarchist group Republic, called the plan "offensive to people who do actually cherish democracy and who actually cherish the sorts of liberties we've fought for for centuries.” Meanwhile the treasonous Baroness Kennedy, a leading human rights lawyer, said: "The symbols of a healthy democracy are not to be found in empty gestures, and I'm afraid I see this as an empty gesture."

Lord Goldsmith pointed out that he had not called specifically for an oath of allegiance and - although he personally favours an oath to the Queen - it could take the form of a pledge of commitment to the country, a statement of citizens’ rights and responsibilities, or simply saluting a portrait of the Prime Minister in the classroom. After the ceremony, the teenagers might be presented with a memento - such as a Gordon Brown shirt, a nice pair of leather boots or two years’ compulsory national service in the Middle East.

However, some patently un-British individuals have questioned what the idea is leading to, asking what happens to those who refuse to take the oath, or are deemed at some point in the future to have breached it.

Lord Goldsmith said he had examined similar procedures in other countries. He didn’t, however, say whether those included totalitarian regimes once thought to have been safely consigned to the dustbin of history.

“Look on the bright side,” urged the Labour peer. “I’m also recommending dropping the less-familiar verses of the national anthem - i.e. all bar the first one - and removing certain archaic treason laws such as punishing those who sleep with the wife of the heir to the throne. Because if half of what we’re hearing at Mr Fayed’s inquest show is true, we’d need a whole new prison.”

Warning - Contains Maths

Business Secretary John Hutton has delivered a speech saying that people in Britain should “celebrate the fact that people can be enormously rich in this country.”

Affirming Labour’s “fundamental” commitment to business, he said that “Aspiration and ambition are natural human emotions. The same applies to the natural human emotional need of the haves to step on the faces of the have-nots and rub their noses in the dirt. This is what the founders of trade unionism and the Labour movement struggled for a century ago, although perhaps they may not have thought so at the time.”

The Business Secretary, who said that “more millionaires” were needed, also claimed that defeating poverty – which would be achieved by shifting taxation from corporations onto ordinary wage-earners – would lead to “a society where no child lives in a family whose income is below the poverty line - 60% of median average income - but where there are also people at the top who are very wealthy,” adding that: “In fact, not only is it statistically possible - it is positively a good thing.”

A statistician armed with an outdated ‘O’ level and a calculator, however, pointed out that, since the media average income was defined as the middle one if every income in the country were ranked in order, adding more wealthy people at the top actually had the effect of shifting the median – and the poverty line - significantly upwards. Therefore, if more people were wealthy, more people would be defined as poor.

“Try it with two sets of sample data,” said our business editor. “If two people are on £100 a day and three receive £10, then the median is £10, the poverty line is £6 and nobody is impoverished - that’s Mr Hutton’s so-called statistical possibility. But if we follow his argument, and say that now three people get £100 and two get £10, the median is now £100, the poverty line is £60 and therefore 60% of the population are now living in poverty - proving that John Hutton is either incapable of simple arithmetic, or just a bare-faced liar who cynically assumes the public and the press can’t count.”

However, by this point all our readers had either fallen asleep through boredom, or logged out in search of something more interesting.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Storm 'Worst Since 2007'

What has been described as “the worst storm to hit Britain in the history of the world, ever” has been wreaking havoc across southern Britain since Sunday.

The terrified population were advised to stay indoors –in a cellar, preferably, or hiding under a table – as 3,000mph winds blew high tides over sea walls, reversed the flow of major rivers, and hurled aircraft and high-sided vehicles into space. The Isle of Wight has been washed ashore and is currently pushing Southampton northwards, while the Scilly Isles are reported to be surfing a giant wave up the Bristol Channel.

All over the south, electricity lines have been blown down, leaving them lashing around wildly, shooting out bolts of electricity at random, while tall buildings have been uprooted and flung into the stratosphere, where employers have been forced to ban workers from taking smoking breaks outside – although the lack of oxygen at such extreme altitudes made the chances of lighting up fairly remote anyway.

Structural engineers were this morning called to the south Devon coast, which has shown worrying signs of lifting. If this happens, according to experts, the whole of Britain could be sheared from its rock bed, creating conditions where ground effect could send it skimming at tremendous speed across Northern Europe like a giant, uncontrollable hovercraft.

The storm was expected to abate in the evening, with scattered showers and sunny spells on Tuesday.

High Life Now Ever Further Out of Reach

Research conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research on behalf of the National Lottery suggests that Britons now need £5.8m to retire and live the millionaire lifestyle - a dramatic increase on the £2.6m required two years ago.

The increase is blamed on rising house prices, inflation and rising consumer demands.

The CEBR report also states that a staggering £108m is now necessary to enter the super-rich category, characterised by a playboy lifestyle of yachts, multiple estates and a fleet of luxury cars.

The news has warmed the hearts of Britons struggling to make ends meet on a minimum wage of £5.52.

“This has really given me something to aim for in life,” said our office cleaner. “If I’m careful with my spending, in only 1,923 years I will be able to afford to retire in comfort on the money I save. On the other hand, in 33,000 years I could really live it up. It’s got to be worth thinking about. Then again, if I keep spending all my spare cash on Lottery tickets, surely it can’t take that long before I win a huge sum of money!”

Research conducted by our office calculator, however, showed that it would probably take almost ten times as long just to win the weekly National Lottery outright. Buoyed up by these encouraging results and a typical lack of understanding of the laws of probability, however, we decided to buy an extra ticket this week, just in case.

Star Truck

The European Space Agency has successfully put the Automated Transfer Vehicle - its largest ever spacecraft - into orbit around the Earth. The giant ‘space truck’ was launched from French Guiana using an Ariane 5 rocket, on a mission to resupply the International Space Station.

The 20-ton vehicle, must, however, wait for the space shuttle Endeavour to uncouple from the space station before it can complete its mission. It is currently reported to be looking for a lay-by somewhere near the A21, after a satnav routing error sent it through several narrow village streets in Kent.

HM Customs and Excise are also keeping an eye out for the ATV, as several illegal immigrants were reported to have been ejected from the vehicle’s cargo bay as it hurtled through Dover at 12,000mph.

Listen Carefully, I Shall Knock This Only Once

The long-running French Resistance sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo is to be aired in Germany for the first time, all 83 episodes having been bought by the ProSiebenSat1 channel.

The tediously repetitive catalogue of infantile double-entendres, silly accents and lame catchphrases - which the BBC inexplicably ran from 1982 to 1992, before audiences finally twigged that every hopeless episode featured the same feeble so-called ‘jokes’ in a slightly different order - will be dubbed into German. It is not clear, however, whether the Germans will also be able to replicate the irritating barrage of mad cackling hoots which accompanied every last damned episode.

A spokesman for the BBC said that the original canned laugh-track was made in the 1960s in a lunatic asylum, and that care in the community meant that it was now impossible to find so many insane, easily-pleased people together in one place - with the possible exception of parts of Somerset. Recording expeditions sent there in the early 90s had all been lost without trace, he added, probably due to the effects of the local scrumpy.