Thursday, 29 June 2017

The Blame Game

I had an interesting Twitter conversation yesterday, with an electrician. Typical of many in the building trades he seemed like a solid, reliable type, unwilling to cut corners, certain that he is good at his trade. In the course of the conversation he revealed, unintentionally, that his knowledge of the Wiring Regulations – as opposed to acting on third party advice (e.g. what other electricians say) – was at best limited. He was similarly unaware of the name of the qualification his own company’s apprentices were currently undergoing. Naturally he felt his years in the trade meant that, compared to the current intake his own training had been superior to theirs

This is a common theme in all the construction trades; regulations are constantly under review and legislation often serves to sweep aside what was current thinking a moment ago and usher in yet more regulation changes. It can be hard to keep up to date. It is also true that in recent decades there has been a tendency to excise much of the academic rigour from training in order to get earners onto the books as quickly as possible. Qualifications appear to be valued above actual competence, so there is a drive to water down the requirements and really get that sausage machine cranking out certificates.

Along with the new-age goals of diversity at any cost and an insistence on the bizarrely anti-human notion of equality, the dreaded blight of Human Resources has been felt in all quarters. Ticking boxes as they go, stuffing quotas and slapping each other on the back, competence, pride in your work and aspiration take a back seat in many industries in favour of pursuing the politics of business, rather than the business itself.

As a result, many working people – and this is as true of architects, engineers, surveyors, specifiers, designers and yes, regulators themselves - are rewarded not so much for a job done well as, well, a job done. If it carries the right signatures, conforms to the correct protocols and ticks the politically expedient boxes it is considered to be legally beyond reproach. If you can stick an EU emblem on it as well, then all to the good.

This is the cause of Grenfell. Not any political party, not any one piece of legislation, not any single person on a single committee. Nobody is to blame because nobody has done anything outside of what their jobs required them to do. If, as seems likely, the guilty party is the flammable cladding itself, there will be nothing to gain from pursuing restitution from those who were only doing their job, as specified, in a world united by global mediocrity.

Cheapest, fastest, first to market policies; catchiest, zeitgeist-driven, catch-phrase fuelled non-jobs; quick fixes, ‘solutions-driven’ marketing and the placing of personality ahead of reliability. No wonder they say modern life is rubbish. Our schools churn out cookie-cutter replicants with the same casual attitudes to life – anything goes, all must have prizes, forget merit; meet the criteria, tick the box and collect your reward for turning up.

Who is to blame for Grenfell? So many people involved, across so many years and so many administrations make it nigh-on impossible to say. A lengthy and costly inquiry may point the finger of blame but I have little faith in a genuinely satisfactory outcome. Calling for ‘justice’ is just another manifestation of the idea that somebody else is to blame, somebody else must pay. Lessons must be learned, they say; when will that lesson be that sometimes shit happens?

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

In praise of choice

Phillip Hammond recently said of the Brexit vote; ‘People didn’t vote to be poorer’. Well, of course not because that wasn’t what the referendum was about. I thought we, narrowly, voted to leave the EU for richer or for poorer and to take our chances in the wider world. It should be cause for excitement and opportunity. Instead, those wanting to remain are still rending their garments and pointing at poverty indicators, both real and imaginary.

But what is poor, anyway? There seems scant evidence that – despite all the politicised weaponising of foodbanks – people are actually starving, save through the neglect of those directly charged with their care. For the price of a packet of cigarettes you can feed a family; choose. Through choice people continue to thrive despite all attempts by governments of all hues to ‘improve their lives’. The best thing a government can do is provide basic infrastructure and then keep out of the way.

The second coming at Glastonbury demonstrated the friable nature of popularity; for months JC was derided as unelectable then suddenly, as if by command from on high, they chose to worship him. And lo, he came among them and foretold that all would be well, that one day we will all be given good jobs and good pay and we shalt live off the fat of the land. The people’s choice, for a few hours at least, was to bask in the glow of his glory and imagine he spake true.

But the entire economy – economics itself – is driven by choices.  In the allocation of scarce resources it is the daily decisions we make that determines how the pie is divided. A vote for socialism is to take much of this choice off the menu. In the planned economy, in state provision of every essential need, it is the state that decides what we buy, what we pay for it, what we eat, where and how we live and what work we do. And this always leads to rationing and shortages because the government cannot possibly make those decisions in a timely enough fashion to satisfy your needs.

Choosing to take away choice leads to a lack of competition which leads to a reduction in productivity - the real engine of wealth. And what about the coming of the robots? If many low-end jobs are automated, which they will be to counter the lost productivity of human labour, how and on whom will taxes be levied to pay for the expanded welfare bill? Or would the government then have to actually seize everything just to make ends meet? Some left-field thinkers even believe we should abolish money and let the state decide who needs what and when.

Here’s the thing; people are fallible. In fact, we’re known for it. If anything, we are possibly more fallible in a group than when we act alone, in our own self-interest. Crowd-sourced group-think can cause people to actually act against instincts and urges evolved over millennia to keep us alive. In the echo chamber it is discordant to sing against the choir. Some speak of fear of letting anybody know they voted for the Tories, or for Brexit and students, who live in a world of peer-group conformity, are particularly driven to compliance. Rebellion, they cry... in perfect harmony... in perfect irony.

Meet the new boss!

Today Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour are dangling carrots they can’t afford to pay for as the Queen’s Speech is challenged. Seriously, who do you think most capable of protecting you, feeding you, educating you and seeing Brexit through: the overgrown hippy with a gleam in his eye and an adherence to a kindly-sounding doctrine which has failed over and over again, or the rheumy–eyed ancients who promise you nothing except to steer this ship as many before through the stormy seas ahead? Your choice.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Got your number!

A week and a half on from the Grenfell Tower fire (And how many unchecked variations of that name have been used across various media platforms?) and still the same old politics-as-usual. The Corbynistas have been in full flight-of-fancy mode, variously blaming the conflagration on Tory cuts, Tory councillors, Tory contractors, Tory planners, Tory specifiers Tory procurers, Tory cladding erectors and no doubt,  Tori Spelling, Tori Amos and the elusive Vic-Tory too.

As a brief respite from the opportunistically manufactured national grief, John McDonnell’s clenched-fist ‘Day of Rage’ turned out – thankfully – to be a soggy squib of an affair as a few of the unwashed persuaded themselves they would somehow ‘overthrow’ their new Thatcher hate-figure, placard by placard. Inside the chamber Jeremy Corbyn piled into the Queen’s speech, claiming it was a meagre affair, thin gruel, insufficient, on the grounds that too few radical changes were proposed. Is this, then, the duty of government, to consistently lay down law after law? Or is it rather to create an environment where individuals can flourish and people can improve their own lives?

Talking of individuals, it turns out that a further 500,000 of them were added to the population in the last year; the pace of population growth far outgrowing our ability to accommodate them, feed them and continually subsidise the lie that we need them. Actually, that figure is only what is known; the Grenfell fire has revealed that we don’t even know how many, or who, were living in the tower block, legally or otherwise; one of the challenges of the coming days is to quantify the political mileage available from the unknown unknowns.

To this end Sadiq Khan’s team have assembled a panel of experts to gather information and form a strategy for extracting the maximum embarrassment from government and the maximum funding possible from the public purse. One of the first tasks is to work out how many lives were lost, how many displaced and how much compensation could be due. Part of the process was to recruit analysts to crunch the numbers, to which end a mathematician, a statistician and an accountant were interviewed for the job of leading the task force:

At the interview the mathematician declared that with, say, 127 flats and an average occupancy of 3.4 people per flat we were dealing with a potential total number of fatalities of 431.8, minus those who had been accounted for and thus a precise figure could be arrived at for both living and dead. He was asked to take a seat in the waiting room while they interviewed the next candidate.

The statistician took a slightly different approach, based on the fact that a number of flats were thought to have been sub-let multiple times. Let us suppose, he said, that 40% of the flats had been let out to unregistered tenants and let us suppose that, typically these would be immigrant families who were on the whole the vanguard for large extended families intending to settle in London. We can take a ball park estimate, based on the probability that at any one time 50% of these apartments contained people in transit, that somewhere in the region of a 1000 people would need to be accounted for and adequately compensated.

The hiring committee was impressed with how easily the statistician had dispensed with hard facts and plucked a number from thin air which suggested they could ask for twice as much as they had originally imagined. They asked the statistician to take a seat while they interviewed the accountant. The accountant took his turn, listened carefully to the question the committee posed and answered, simply, “How many do you want it to be?”

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Let he who is without sin...

Forgive me, Blogger, for I have sinned. It is five days since my last blogfession. I don’t even offer any excuse, although plenty spring to mind. In fact, excuses seem to be very much the thing right now. Excuses for inaction, excuses for past actions, excuses for possible future actions; the hardest bit of politics seems to me to be getting your excuses in early, ideally before any blame has been apportioned. Meanwhile the show must go on. The show today being, of course, the subdued state opening of Parliament.

It’s like the worst kind of scripted reality show; mindless fodder for the lumpen masses, where wooden characters act out pre-ordained plots as onlookers agitate from the side-lines. Did I say agitate? Of course I meant – John McDonnell meant – peacefully demonstrate their kinder, gentler opposition; not in any way engage in a Day of Rage to bring down the government; oh no, that would be inflammatory, nobody meant that, did they, John? Hedging his bets McDonnell first called for insurrection then yesterday pretended he really meant ‘a bit of a march’ with a few mild placards.

And over on the other channel everybody is watching the Grenfell Game, wondering who is going to scoop the big prize. The various cheerleaders are whipping up the audience into a frenzy in an effort to ensure that as many as possible leave the game with more than they owned when they arrived. Compensation has gone from being the provision of relief from loss to a system of reward for giving the best depiction of entitlement. Playing the helpless victim of greater powers has become a new career for some and facilitating that victimhood is a full-time occupation for others.

To assist in upping the entertainment value, a bevy of modern-age virtues are brought to the front line: selective outrage, moral equivalence, the race card, the muslim card... along with a whole entourage of faux facts, from mangled statistics to downright lies. He said, she said, they did, we didn’t; the war of words is rapidly becoming a well-rehearsed soap opera in which everybody knows the format. Shit happens, everybody mucks in, politicians on all sides try to spin it as a triumph for themselves and a ‘sad indictment’ of the supposed motives of all the other competing sides. We’re all sinners now; casting the first stone is nothing to do with conscience, it’s merely a matter of timing.

Meanwhile, the world still turns. Those who pay for everything will still pay for everything. Those who have only ever taken will continue to take. And the poor sods in the middle scrabble for the safety and promise of salvation of the few scraps of flotsam from the wreckage. The ideologues’ multicultural, rainbow-nation dream has been a disaster and the disparate forces of malcontent, jostling to put their special interest centre stage at the expense of others threatens to tear it still further asunder. In pursuit of a world in which everybody wins, against nature itself, we are instead in a place where, with few exceptions, everybody loses.

Ask not what your country can do for you...

Whatever happens today, peaceful or otherwise, it has to be hoped that common sense and common decency prevail and the process of governing the country is allowed to begin again. Instead of demanding from society yet another slice of a finite pie of money, police, emergency services, ‘justice’ and so on, look to the other side of the Grenfell disaster. Follow the example of those who freely gave of their time and resources to help each other out. Margaret Thatcher said there was no such thing as society – and she was right. People conveniently forget that she went on to say: “There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours." Why, she was practically Jeremy Corbyn!

Friday, 16 June 2017

Amateur Hour

There’s a lot said on both sides of The House about immigration. In the wider world people adversely affected – and they are many – find it hard to comprehend how their circumstances have come about, while in other areas – usually those who have known little else – they refer to vibrant diversity and all its wonders. There are valid arguments on both extremes if they could only be heard above the clamour of political correctness, typified by the image of a politician, any variety, clasping knees to chest, rocking to and fro and loudly humming so as not hear any incorrect opinions.

Last night’s ‘comedy’ spot on Radio 4 was occupied by Paul Sinha's History Revision and jolly interesting it was too... were it not for the fact that this son of immigrants was banging one particular drum and banging pretty loudly, too. The tune was, ‘nothing good would ever have happened in the world without immigration’. And he had the history to prove it. Now, I know Sinha is a clever lad and I’m sure he would make for invigorating and stimulating company, but this trope is over-wrought and fundamentally flawed.

‘We are all descended from immigrants’ is irrelevant. ‘The NHS relies on immigrants’ is irrelevant. Immigration, in and of itself, is not the source of all things good, it is merely one of several facilitators. It is the individual, inspired by place and experience, that creates; his or her ethnic origin is often incidental. Sinha’s thesis, inspired by his love of history – literally an ‘amateur’ historian – was based on an acceptance of the innate ‘goodness’ of immigration.

Inventure Place, in Akron Ohio, is referred to as the American Inventors’ Hall of Fame and its exhibitive niches are mostly occupied by immigrants who came to The New World, did good and invented stuff; the USA is proud to adopt them as great American inventors. But there’s a bit of a chicken and egg game going on here – did the immigrants make it happen, or did America provide the means and opportunities? Or did they do their inventing elsewhere and bring the goods over on the Mayflower’s successors? Beware the easy conclusions wrought from a non sequitur.

Anyway, we’ve always had movement of people. One traditional mode of casual migration was the regular cycles of itinerant traders, slavers, tinkers and circus folk, the inspiration for many a running-away-from-home. A friend of mine disappeared one day, some years ago and much gossip ensued. But a decade later, when the circus came to town, there he was, in full carney slap, parading round the ring, an array of ironmongery hanging from a specially designed belt.

As the crowd watched he took from his belt a small hammer, such as are used by piano tuners, which he swallowed whole. The watchers gasped. Next, a toffee hammer disappeared down his gullet, quickly followed by a veneer hammer, a small ball pein and a much larger claw hammer. The applause rippled around the big top but then we were quelled to silence as the lights dimmed; for the finale he took up a six-pound sledgehammer and after some business twirling it around, tossing and catching it he struck a pose and then, with his head tilted far back, he slowly swallowed the hickory shaft until only the steel hammer head remained visible. With a gulp, this too was gone; the audience went wild!

The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd!

After the show, I caught up with him as he signed autographs and congratulated him on his remarkable achievements. He told me of his life and the wonderful people he had met, from all over the world. I remarked on his unconventional performance and asked if he had ever tried to swallow a sword, a much more familiar act. He shook his head. “No,” he said “that’s a job for the professionals... I’m strictly an ‘ammer-chewer.”