Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Glasgow Betrayed By SNP Again

We are all familiar with the SNP's broken promises by now: no scrapping of Council Tax; no reduction of primary school class sizes; no writing off student debt; no 1000 extra police officers; no protection for A&E units; no grant for first time house buyers etc.

Now we can add to that list a complete reversal of their commitment to invest in public transport provision, particularly in the west of Scotland. Finance Secretary John Swinney's recent decision to axe the Glasgow Airport Rail Link (GARL) is another blow for Scotland's largest city, and yet more evidence of an Edinburgh biase from the Nationalists. After expressing his anger at the decision, the leader of Glasgow City Council Steven Purcell (Lab), was apparently told to "behave like a grown up" by the First Minister. Charming, but perhaps not out of character for Salmond.

The rail link has long been considered a vital compotent of modernising the west of Scotland's ageing transport network and injecting a huge boost to the wider economy. The scheme would have safeguarded thousands of jobs in engineering, planning, construction and environmental monitoring, as well as supporting the city's growing business tourism and conference destination reputation. 95% of users travel to Glasgow airport by road, with the only other option of getting into the city centre an expensive taxi or bus. Numbers through the airport are predicted to double by 2030, and with the Commonwealth Games in 2014, this was the perfect opportunity to at last improve travel choice and provide a modern, efficient and long term solution to infrastructure problems in the west of Scotland.

Laughably, Swinney has attempted to ease concerns by committing to a 'Fastlink' system, which is simply another term for an extra bus lane. It is quite depressing that, despite all the evidence from other European cities, successive administrations still cannot acknowledge the importance of an efficient, integrated transport infrastructure to the economic success of a region. Let's hope that the other main parties pledge their commitment to reinstating GARL and that this wretched party are removed from power at the next opportunity.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

The Casino Always Wins

In his final 'Event' on Channel 4 last night, Derren Brown narrowly failed to win £175,000 with £5,000 of stolen money at a roulette table in an unspecified casino somewhere in Europe. Or did he? The illusionist claimed to be able to predict which number the ball would land on by simultaneously working out the speed of the roulette wheel and the ball itself. He failed by one number. Leading up to the casino event, Brown explained which skills he would be employing through a series of stunts. In the first he selected two members of the audience, one extrovert and one introvert, and asked them to choose from one of two boxes, one of which contained £20. The purpose was to demonstrate that the extrovert could 'will' the £20 towards himself simply by adopting a positive attitude. As any amateur magician will know, this is one of the most basic of tricks. Prior to putting the money in the box he wrote an instruction to hand the note over to the other contestant. This is a fail safe mechansim. As it turned out the introvert chose the correct box and Brown instructed her to reveal the message. If the extrovert had chosen it, he would simply have neglected to mention the message written on the note.

In his next stunt he claimed to be able to guess the speed of a fast moving vehicle by employing some form of advanced trigonometry using surrounding signposts and trees to work out the relative speed of any given vehicle. Not only this, he then apparently guessed the correct speed purely by listening to the sound of the vehicle engine! Clearly this is absolute nonsense. In the next experiment, he demonstrated an ability to analyse the speed and trajectory of a small rubber ball thrown randomly inside a squash court, and predict exactly where it would finally settle within the court. Again, absolutely absurd. The idea was to generate in the viewer a sense that Brown could quite conceivably predict the speed of a roulette wheel and ball using these same skills, and subsequently cheat the casino.

Of course, the legal ramifications (for Brown and Channel 4) of conning a member of the public into handing over £5000 through hypnosis and then gambling that money in a foreign casino using supposedly underhand methods are fairly significant. All of which suggests that the whole thing, as with his previous 'Events', was almost certainly a hoax. It may have been that Brown really did hypnotise a member of the public into handing over £5000. But he probably did not travel to a casino in Europe. It was most likely a mock up of a casino in a London warehouse/studio, and the £5,000 was therefore never at risk. Essentially, Brown was in a no-lose situation. If he DID get it right, then it would have been further evidence of his amazing psychic abilities. However, by narrowly missing out, he showed that he is in fact fallible, thus preserving his enigma and a thirst for yet more events (and crucially another TV series!). Nevertheless, Brown is undoubtedly a great showman and it makes for entertaining television. Such hyped up shows are ideal vehicles for advertisers and a further platform for Brown to raise his profile and set himself up for a big money book deal.