Friday, 29 April 2016
As referendum day draws rapidly nearer, the claims and counter claims of the two sides and their hangers-on defy political gravity. Every new ‘fact’ is claimed as evidence to simultaneously support remaining in the prosperous country of Future-Europe yet also flies the flag for farting in its face. The EU brings prosperity, the same EU hampers prosperity. Open borders are controlled by being in yet also remain gaping wide open. The level of cognitive dissonance displayed by some in the debate must surely warrant investigation or at least an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.
At times it veers into the comical with each side trying to outdo the other like some Eurovision Four Yorkshiremen sketch. In the latest televised debate, passions are running high as David Cameron finally takes to the stage to debate against Nigel Farage. He does so with trepidation, having resisted the call thus far and - wary of appearing weak - he launches into his time with a re-hashing of the Remainian mantras.
“We are stronger in Europe,” he repeats, for the thousandth occasion.” The EU lets us trade with the rest of the world and strengthens our home security. By cooperating with our European allies in a reformed European Union we can secure a more prosperous future for our children and our children’s children.” The crowd duly applauds.
Nigel Farage stands at the microphone and sighs. “You see, what we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a man who has nothing to lose. All the big names backing the Remain camp are wealthy individuals and businesses or political opportunists who see the EU as a means of feathering their own nests and keeping the little man down. We need to leave the EU, take control of our borders and be a free, independent confident nation again.”
Cameron rebuffs: “There we are again with the little Englander line. Mr Farage wants us to pull up the drawbridge and retreat from the world. I say again, leaving the EU would be a leap in the dark when the alternative – staying in the Union and driving meaningful reform – means we can have the best of all possible worlds. Britain alone would be powerless to alter the tides of history and defenceless against global movements of antipathy. The treasury report we commissioned last month shows that every household will be £4300 a year worse off if we leave the EU. Is this what his side wants?”
Farage “Outside the EU we will be free to make our own trade deals with the rest of the world. Free of the stifling red tape of Brussels, free of the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies, free to make this nation great once more. What Mr Cameron is proposing would make Britain just another subservient region of the super state called Europe.”
Cameron: “Again, what he says is simply untrue. We have obtained special status in the EU whereby we can control our borders, we will never adopt the single currency and we are exempt from deeper integration into a European Federation if – and here I find Nigel’s conspiracy theories quite alarmist – if, indeed, there even is further and closer political union. The facts are on our side. History is on our side and remaining in the EU is the right thing to do, the right thing for Britain and the right thing for the stability of the free world.”
Nigel steps back to the microphone and takes a deep breath: “Right. Britain has always been a strong, independent, trading nation. We can become so again. Outside of the EU we can rebuild our society, regain control, restructure our economy and compete against the best in the world. Everybody who needs work will be able to have a job, no child will leave school insufficiently educated, nobody will need to beg for food and we will protect our sick and helpless. A mighty new Britain will rise like a Phoenix from the ashes of our European misadventure and we will once more become a mighty, world-bestriding force to be reckoned with.”
Cameron stands up and interrupts: “Nigel, you are talking bollocks.” The audience gasps to hear such intemperate language from the PM. Nigel turns to look him in the eye, glances back at the audience to make sure they are with him and smiles. Cameron has walked straight into his oratorical trap. He replies, coolly, “Maybe I am, Prime Minister... but you started it.”
Thursday, 28 April 2016
A recent report found that the rate of dementia in men of a susceptible age is less than all the horror stories predicted. A decade ago we were told of the ticking Alzheimer’s time bomb that would devastate the state of old age and bring unbearable pressure to the NHS. Not only has that doom prophecy proven false, the onset of senile dementia is actually 40% lower than expected. Perhaps the wisest thing Nostradamus ever did was set his vague predictions in the distant future where the gullible of a certain bent could, by squinting and being selective with interpretation, fit a prophecy to an event.
How is it, people will ask, that the very best medical soothsayers were so wildly incorrect in a forecast that has been used to plan expensive intervention with public funds? How indeed. This is, of course, a perfectly regular phenomenon and relies for its efficacy on the general tendency not to worry too much about the truth; better yet to just let such sleeping dog predictions lie. We are, of course, still awaiting our colonies on the moon and the cure for cancer but most of the output of futuristic think tank thought is long forgotten.
But there is another option; fit the current ‘facts’ to the retrospectively adjusted past. They say the victor rewrites history to suit the narrative and this has been happening for years, but why be so blunt when instead we can use the current news to drive change? We can fit the future to the present, rather than fixing the past. Veteran reporter Martyn Lewis said recently that negative news is disempowering. We don’t want to hear bad news - it makes us ill – so we should instead be focusing on what has been called ‘solution journalism’. (Or, for Labour perhaps, 'final solution' journalism.)
Events, he suggests, should be reported more positively and constructively and instead of just laying bare the facts as they are known, journalists could offer helpful solutions to the misery inducing problems those tricky facts bring. So, hey, a tsunami may have just swept away hundreds of homes on a Haitian shoreline but on the positive side, watch out for some fabulous opportunities to buy seafront real estate at garage sale prices! Or, the economy is tanking but at least this should deter the number of immigrants who want to come to Britain... eventually. And the trains will only ever be late because of the right kind of leaves on the track.
As a commentator observed, this approach risks journalism veering perilously closely to becoming PR, media spin for the promulgation of centrally approved stories. In 1984 the chocolate ration is ‘increased’ by the ingenious device of altering last year’s chocolate ration figure to around half of today’s and presenting a decline as a doubling. Last year’s terrorists become this year’s freedom fighters and grubby events of the past are given a thorough hosing down and sanitised for current consumption.
There are no problems, only opportunities. You may be out of work but the jobless figures could be presented as a count of the growing number of optimists out to realise their true potential. Kids may no longer be able to read and add up but this is a good thing, preventing them from ever discovering the joylessness of critical thought. And now that Hillsborough has been disinfected and all traces of unpleasantness expunged we can see that everything we ever believed about the football supporters of the eighties was wrong. They were all blameless angels and you are a hater for thinking otherwise.
The next twenty years' headlines
Yes, the news of the future will only ever be spotless, scrubbed clean news. No more death or war or famine, just endless shining solutions for a brighter tomorrow. Dour, negative reporting of disasters will be consigned to the dustbin of history – and not any old rusty, fat-streaked galvanised dustbin hiding dirty secrets and surrounded by wasps, but the Brillo-pad scoured, gleaming wheelie bin of joyful past carnivals. They must think we are all going senile.
Tuesday, 26 April 2016
In science a theory is said to be true just so long as it resists attempts to disprove it. In politics it often seems the opposite is the case; where a scientist would yield to the conclusions of new evidence a politician would simply alter the evidence. Or, better yet, make the new evidence fit the old facts, or vice-versa depending on the current narrative. Thus, bizarrely, junior doctors are striking, but not over pay they say, even though the principle reason the union will not agree the new contract is in fact money.
Isaac Newton, on observing that the apple fell to earth set about formulating a theory to explain it. He noticed a relentless and unwavering cause and effect and determined to find out why. Had he discovered that actually the apple fell earthward only 95% of the time he would have to have concluded that his theory of gravity was incorrect and set about finding another. In politics, however, although you may still begin with a theory, that theory is rarely borne out of observation but out of prejudice, a gut feeling, a desire for a dream to be true... or possibly just plain old, common-or-garden insanity.
Science done properly should involve a willingness to change your mind when the facts shift; to adopt a different position when the weight of evidence goes against your early hopes. As it is impossible for humans to be totally dispassionate, many a favoured theorem must have been abandoned with a heavy heart in the light of more complete knowledge. Politics, however, adopts an entirely different approach; where science is about enlightenment, politics is about 'frightenment'. It is more like religion than science, seeking to bend opinion to a narrative regardless of any verifiable truth.
Had a political Newton seen, or thought he’d seen, an apple fall sideways just once and concluded this was the more desirable outcome he would have lobbied support for the legitimacy of the phenomenon, coercing people who had no opinion either way to support his view. Anybody objecting, especially on the basis of their never having seen sideways falling fruit, would be branded dissenters and driven from the forum. Apple trees would be uprooted to prevent anybody directly observing ‘unhelpful’ contrary events and should it be said that pears, for instance, invariably fell downwards it would be pointed out with a patronising sigh that pears were obviously different and that only the naïve could claim such a lazy equivalence.
Striking junior doctors, for all their professional intellect are political sheep, just like the teachers and other unionised masses. And just like the millions who will be driven back into the EU pen having been shown a fabricated lie about life on the outside. That grass, they will say as they point beyond the barbed wire, is a bit too green for the likes of us, falling for the EU ‘science’ that economic gravity only works if we all join hands. Like bad scientists the alchemists of the EU insist that those economic lead boots will become gold only if we keep on wearing them.
Onward, to Europa!
The more the electorate can be coerced to go along with the outlandish and unverifiable claims of those committed to a future where there is only one country called Europe, the closer we will get to shutting down all debate. UK government bad, Brussels government good. Real, undeniable facts are thin on the ground these days. But who needs facts when you have Euroscience? It ain’t brain surgery.
Sunday, 24 April 2016
At the turn of the century – oh what a long time ago that sounds – I was disappointed but hardly shocked to discover that the still fledgling internet had already spawned a collaborative enterprise in fraudulently reproducing scholarly work. American students in particular were setting up file-sharing sites where you could download an academic assignment and pass it off as your own. They say there is nothing new under the sun, of course and who amongst us has never copied their homework from a friend?
I found this little truism through a number of sources: In academia, to copy from one author is plagiarism, to copy from two is research and to copy from three is considered original thought. I’d credit this but wouldn’t you know it, I can’t find a reliable original attribution. And anyway am I just quoting, or am I copying? Online essay-writing sites have to foil anti-plagiarism software, which searches for matches in submitted work, but how much do you have to change before a passage passes as original? Such sites claim they are doing no wrong; they are not copying they claim, simply providing original work for cash. You may subscribe to the notion that, fair play or foul, the end result justifies the means, but it is still cheating.
How happy would you be that the surgeon with your organ in his hands cheated his way through school? Or that the engineers who designed the safety features of your car copied their way to qualification? In either of those cases, of course you would hope and expect their cheating to be found out and their abilities to be under constant scrutiny. In exacting professions you have to be pretty good to foil the system. The same is not true for all disciplines, however and in many fields of work you could fraudulently gain your status and never be found out. Economics, politics and the broad and unspecific field of social ‘sciences’ spring immediately to mind as mountebank-rich environments.
When marking student assignments it can be depressing to realise you appear to be marking the same work over and over again. Matching two identical submissions, in the same format and font is pretty easy to do. When they are crafty enough to change the original format and rearrange some of the words it is a relief that, although you know they are all copying from the same approved source, they have at least made some attempt to assist your collusion in granting them a pass grade and their signature declaring ‘all-my-own-work’ part-indemnifies you from blame;
Marking multiple submissions of largely the same material is the lot of educators at a level where independent thinking is neither expected nor necessary. But from the leaders of the supposedly free world? When Barack Obama was campaigning for re-election he was fond of saying to business leaders “you didn’t build that” insisting they acknowledge their debt to greater society and not claim all the credit for their work. Good line; I wonder who wrote it? Who knows, it may even have been Obama himself.
Tell us another...
But his little diatribe against a British exit wasn’t all his own work at all and the sticky fingerprints and marginal notes of the pro-EU establishment were clearly all over it. He sought to tell a fable of an imagined future outside a country called Europe; a sorry little tale of trouble and woe. I'll tell you a story about Jack a Nory... but whose story is it?
Friday, 22 April 2016
I see the man who wasn’t going to intervene has intervened. And he chose the Queen’s birthday to say that her days and those of her ilk are numbered. Can we get a big slow hand clap for Barry over here? Over here; what is that fool doing over here? While some are enraged by his interfering comments, many of just sigh as we hear and see yet another tool of the establishment doing what the establishment expects him to do. ‘Leader of the free world’? Obama is no more a leader than one of the Queen’s corgis; a lap dog for Europe, rolling over to have his tummy tickled.
‘Twas ever thus. One reason the president’s past is shrouded in mystery is a long line of faddish policy changes and kow-towing to the real powers behind the American throne. Sovereignty outdated? Only because you crave it but you can’t have it, pal. I wonder how much people like this are really paid to do and say things that ordinary folks hold in such contempt. Anyway, his time is over and soon he will be replaced by another willing dupe or democrat – same thing – who will do her best to emulate sovereignty while wishing the demise of others. Barry will be free to pursue other ‘interests’ and go where the wind blows him.
Talking of which as a follow up to Dreams From My Father, there are plans to release a memoir penned in honour of his mother and much speculation has arisen as to the revelations and juicy secrets contained therein. One such is the tale of the day he came out...
While in college the young future president had set out to experience all that life had to offer and his search had led him to try a wide range of sexual practices. During this exploration of self and others he had eventually decided he was gay; well, it sounded such fun. After a few exploits with other such broad-minded young liberals he decided to try another life-shaping experience, take the plunge and tell his mother. He found her, as was usual, in the kitchen cooking dinner.
Sitting at the kitchen table he let out an exaggerated sigh, and said: "Mom, I have something to tell you - I'm gay.” The temperature fell a few degrees and time stood still. His mother made no reply or gave any response save stiffening for a second after which she continued stirring the pot. The kitchen clock re-started and ticked loudly. An awkward silence reigned for a few moments and Barry cleared his throat, about to repeat his admission. Before managed to say another word his mother turned to him. “So, now you’re gay?” she asked and Barry nervously affirmed his predilection.
His mother turned back to her cooking. She stared into the pot of stew and continued stirring, then beckoned him to come closer. She held out the spoon for him to taste in a gesture of matronly understanding and Barry, understanding the ceremony of the moment duly took a taste. She turned to him. “So, you, what, make out with other guys?” He nodded, a little bashfully. She continued probing: “You put your thing in their... you know?” He nodded again. “And you put their thing in your mouth?” Again he nodded, whereupon his mother whirled around, whacked him hard over the head with the spoon and yelled, "Don't you EVER complain about my cooking again!"
Thursday, 21 April 2016
Greed is good? That’s so eighties. Now it seems fear is fantastic, terror is terrific and horror is... well it’s simply huge, darling. Every day another little drip, drip, drip of malevolent poison is trickled into the nation’s ears. Unemployment up a tick? That’s entirely the result of even discussing the referendum out loud. Value of the pound, the FTSE, the deficit? Up or down, either direction is bad and all of it is caused by evil Brexiteers saying they don’t believe that leaving the EU would end world trade. They have no comprehension of the damage they do to society.
You see them in the park, hanging about outside schools, waving their – and I can scarcely say this without feeling a little sick – Union Flags - about. Do they not see how it might affect the children? Spreading their reprehensible lies about how that nice Mr Osborne was economical with the truth, or how the lovable Dave C just wants us all to be friends. And even now when that honourable man (Oh, don’t you just want to hug him?) Mr Juncker has said how sorry he is for not listening all they want to do is spread their nasty nationalistic fascistic hate.
Don’t they understand the age we are living in? You can do and say whatever you like, so long as you don’t hurt the superior yet delicate feelings of others. You can hold any belief as long as it is on the approved list. And you may identify as any race, age, sexual proclivity, gender or faith, just so long as you avoid the proscribed combination of middle-aged, straight white man with Christian values. If you do so identify, you’d have to be mad, although if you were actually insane you may well be treated better than if you were rational about reality.
Insanity is not just a modern malaise but it is enjoying a resurgence in popularity in a world where personal responsibility may be abrogated at the drop of a hat. Addiction is another favourite affliction; an addict is a poor sufferer of an uncontrollable urge. The jury has recently been out on whether Anders Breivik is A) Evil, B) Insane, or C) a helpless victim of the urge to kill – addicted to rage. Madness and addiction; maddiction.
In our bright new brave new world of course, the charge that you should be held to account for your sins is largely confined to normal, well-adjusted white people. In a way it is not their fault that they suffer from capability and mental stability, but relief is on its way. Under the EU scheme of things, everybody understands that the cure for what ails you is more of what ails you. As Juncker has explained, the cure for EU incompetence is always more EU incompetence. The cure for fear then, must be more fear and so they are piling it on in large daily doses.
Vote for aaaaaargh!
Of course, every action has unequal and mostly opposite reaction before you get your satisfaction. What happens when we all go a bit mad and become addicted to fear; how will we live without our fix of fright? As we get closer to Midsummer Madness day, June 24th 2016, will we fear losing our new religion of dread and dismay? If fear becomes the new normal and the threat of disaster should we cancel our membership is the biggest provider of that fear, maybe voting to leave the EU will be an urge we cannot fight? Wouldn’t it be delicious if the reason we eventually left was because we were too scared not to?
Tuesday, 19 April 2016
Give a man a fish, they say, and he’ll eat today. Teach a man to fish, they reckon, and he’ll feed his family forever. But what if the man you gave a fish to swapped it for a starving man’s bicycle, pedalled into town and got a job? Or the man you taught to fish fell into the river and drowned? The world of fables is full of one-dimensional tales of aspirations fulfilled by hard work and sloth punished by failure. But the real world is far more likely to show you stories of unintended consequences.
When Margaret Thatcher’s government extended the right-to-buy scheme the intention was said to be to create a ‘property-owning democracy’ and thousands of old Labour supporters became capitalists overnight. They snapped up the chance to do something few of the labouring classes had been able to do before – to one day be potentially liable for inheritance tax by having something to pass on to their children, just like the toffs to whom they used to doff their caps. (Property is theft, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon wrote in 1843, but that’s easy to say when you have no hope of acquiring it.)
Did anybody expect it to end up enabling the now disdained buy-to-let market? Local authorities failed to invest in new social housing. Feckless or plain naïve new owners re-mortgaged themselves back into penury and home ownership became not a cherished British norm but a business, much of it in foreign hands. I’ve quoted William Goldman before and I do it again here because it’s truer than almost anything else you will hear in life: In Hollywood, he states, “Nobody knows anything... Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess and, if you're lucky, an educated one.”
Plenty of others have challenged Osbornes, not so much ‘educated’ as ‘deliberately misleading’ vision of a post-EU future for Britain. His principal deceit is to make forecast increases in national and individual wealth look like losses by comparing our expected growth on the outside with a guess at our possible growth on the inside. By a selective use and fundamental distortion of the guessed figures he portrays future wealth as future poverty. Please read this article by Fraser Nelson to see how.
But here’s the big problem, even if he did turn out to be right it would simply not be provable. Economists like climatologists, have a brilliant track record in explaining events in hindsight; their predictions, however, have turned out to be pure guesswork on every occasion. “Every time out it's a guess and, if you're lucky, an educated one.” Remember, this is the same continued administration – Blair and his heirs – which failed to predict and then recover from the 2008 crash; the same elites who keep on telling us immigration can only ever be good, even as Trevor Phillips, is belatedly realising just how wrong he was.
"But first, all passengers will vote on whether we step ashore,
or continue our luxury cruise."
Whatever happens after the referendum, life will continue. But it doesn’t matter how many times the Osbornes say ‘trust me, this is the truth’ it doesn’t make it actually true. What is likely, however, is that shackled to the oars of the EU galley we are going down with that ship when it sinks under the unnatural weight of its own ambition to end European nation states by creating another nation state called Europe. Whereas, on the outside, we may just have a chance to swim away from the wreckage. Nobody knows the future; nobody. But I’m hanging around by the life rafts just in case.
Monday, 18 April 2016
I don’t think I believe anything any more. I stopped believing ‘in’ things many decades ago – things like deities and the possibility of humans co-existing in everlasting peace and the like - but I was always open to facts and accepted truths. Later I began to judge all such facts – statements, statistics, reportage and the like through the microscope of my own widening experiences and disappointments. It turns out that most of it is a crock.
For instance, I thought science was the bedrock of all established understanding of the known universe. But then along came ‘climate science’ whose acolytes and adherents bear more resemblance to the faithful, bowing and scraping at the altar than the sceptical ‘prove it’ monkeys that rigorous research needs. And a whole lot of other fields of conjecture also queer the factual pitch by masquerading as ‘science’ – economics, psychology and pretty much the whole of the humanities.
In the end people believe what they want to believe and most of us come to trust our own nose before the nasal appendage of others. Right now the biggest field for fake science, guesswork and general mountebankery is, of course, the state of Britain post-June 23rd. Nobody knows what a post-Brexit world will look like, but we all know that, despite David Cameron’s feeble fiction about some specious ‘special status’, remaining a member of the EU will not satisfy a majority of the public; even many remainders are deeply suspicious of the EU’s direction of travel.
When the facts are absent the feel of the campaign takes on a greater importance and just lately it has been feeling dirty. The Remain campaign’s Project Fear is starting to yield returns and alongside their prognostications of doom is the belittling of those who wish to leave. How long will it be before they start referring to the Leave camp as fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists?
They say we are fantasists and dreamers who would put the common good behind some vainglorious hankering for a long gone Britannia. Little Englanders who would return us to some backwoods existence, grovelling for scraps from the world trade table. But we saw last week what sort of a man turns from a lifetime of opposition to grovelling subservience. Once dubbed a ‘Labour firebrand’ Jeremy Corbyn’s wooden performance in sackcloth and ashes showed a beaten man.
The beaten man of Europe
Forget about what ‘facts’ turned him. Corbyn’s lacklustre surrender to a hated higher authority had all the hallmarks of an orange-suited hostage forced to read statements on YouTube shortly before their bloody despatch. Convert or die, convert and die; I didn’t believe a word of it. If this is the true image of the new European count me out.
Saturday, 16 April 2016
Even God was made by God, according to Genesis, but how did he afford the materials? In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was Tax. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by God; and without tax was not any thing made that was made. In tax was life; and the life was the light of men. Lately there has been a return to the true religion of taxation as a metaphor for, I don’t know, all that is wrong with the world; if god created the joy, he also created the misery and there is nothing so miserable as the god-given feeling of envy.
But how and what do you tax and how do you do it? Do you turn up at harvest time and say one bushel for you, one for the state? Or do you wait until the farmer has taken what he needs, sells the rest and tax a share of the money he makes from selling the surplus? But wait, says the farmer, I need to buy seed and pay the men to till the land and sow it. So, being a reasonable omnipotent state, you wait until all that’s been done and tax the rest. But, hang on, says Farmer Jim, I need a new roof and my daughter’s getting married next month; I haven’t any left.
The avoidance of tax is as natural as breathing. Maybe when you can see how your money goes into a community pot to help the less fortunate of the parish you are more inclined to participate, but when your tax seems to pour into the voracious maw of government it is much harder to see how it is spent and just as importantly why it is spent that way and who gets to decide. Without some sense of being a part of the common patronage it is difficult to see why, having already paid more than the man next door you should pay more still. Why should your prayers to the almighty be so much more costly than his?
If the law said you had to pay tax on all the money left in your house at the end of the year, most sensible people would stash what they have in the garden. If the law reacted by defining it as all the cash in your possession it wouldn’t take long for some enterprising souls to redefine possession. When the law must keep on changing to keep pace with the cunning and ingenuity of people who simply want to keep what’s theirs there is something wrong with the system. If a man pays £100,000 a year in tax is it any wonder he feels he is already paying far more than his fair share? I would be mighty pissed off – as I’m sure you would be – if after legally paying what was due, the begging bowl still hovered under my nose.
Maybe what’s wrong with the system is that it shouldn’t be the responsibility of the state to pay for everything. Too many have become too reliant on the government fixing everything and because of man’s opportunistic nature wants soon turn into needs and needs into entitlements. You don’t need seven children and the state certainly doesn’t want them if, like you, they believe they are entitled to do as they wish and let somebody else pick up the tab.
Not another penny... Oh.
Is it any wonder that those who can avoid tax do avoid tax? Would you, seriously, do any differently? And above our own, barely accountable administration, there is a supranatural omnipotent entity, the EU, which is beholden to nobody and will extract every penny it can to spend in ways in which we have no control over. In the beginning was the word? Insofar as ‘EU’ is even a word it doesn’t sound like a word we want to take too seriously.
Friday, 15 April 2016
It’s not been a good week for Jeremy Corbyn, really. Missing the open goal that was Cameron’s prevarication over his tax affairs, Jeremy’s difficulties were compounded by a poor PMQs on Wednesday and the subsequent revelation that not only was his own tax return late on two occasions – on submitting it and in presenting it to the house – but enquiries revealed he had failed to declare a third pension income. Not bad for a socialist, though, three public pensions...
At least after a hard day’s graft at the Ministry of Truth he could return to the bosom of his third wife to receive balm and succour. ... balm and succour, that is, for his travails. Long-time intimate partners, Jeremy married his exotic and ever-faithful Mexican companion, Laura Álvarez, in 2013. When she isn’t running her fair trade coffee import business Laura helps lick Jeremy’s.... I’m sorry, that should read ‘helps lick Jeremy’s wounds’, of course.
On their wedding day Jeremy and Laura vowed never to keep secrets from each other, except under their marital bed Laura keeps a shoe box, tied up with a red ribbon, the contents of which she had never vouchsafed and about which Jeremy had never asked. But it has been a long road since Jezzer’s election and a weary one at times and finally his curiosity got the better of him. He turned to her while they were watching Question Time – anything to avoid seeing the dreary Owen Smith’s feeble attempts – and said “My darling, in all our years of marriage I have never asked to see what you keep in that box under the bed. Will you show me tonight?"
"Certainly darling," she replied and led him upstairs. She retrieved the box from under the bed and held it out for Jeremy to take. As he held it she undid the ribbon and removed the lid. Inside, nestling in tissue paper were three hens eggs and a fat roll of twenty-pound notes. Jeremy stared. He had expected something exciting, something unusual but his mind could make no sense of this. "I'm grateful for your trust," he said after a few moments, “but I could never have imagined for a minute what I’m seeing now. Thank you for showing me... but tell me, why the three eggs?"
She drew closer to him and in a breathless whisper said into his ear, "Well, every time we made love, if I considered your performance below average, I would place an egg from one of our chickens in the box." Jeremy thought about this for a minute. Then he smiled, having done his calculations. "Well, that's good,” he said, “just three eggs in all the years we’ve been together. But where did all that money come from?” Laura looked him in the eye, paused a moment and said "Every time I got a dozen eggs, I sold them."
Thursday, 14 April 2016
There has been a lot of chatter about how disappointing social media has been as an agent for change. Some believed this new age of instant communication would be seized upon by free-thinkers, challengers of the status quo and world changers of all the rainbow colours of political thought. It would be a virtual melting pot of diversity and inclusion and wonder, where true democracy would finally bring about world peace and understanding and all those nasty enmities could be put aside for the good of free speech and love and understanding.
Really? I mean, you’ve met humans, right? Actually, given the reality that the internet gives a voice to everyone with a connection did anybody really expect it wouldn’t also be a vehicle for the worst of humanity as well as the change-the-worlders? The armour of anonymity does indeed confer a certain boldness of expression and much of the wondrous exchanges turn into bitter little battles between opposing sides, each with only simple understanding and appreciation of complex issues. It’s kind of pleasing that digital communication, being built on binary code, should reflect a largely black-and-white world.
Owen Jones has written in the Guardian (where else) about the trolls (everybody who disagrees with 'our kind of people' is a troll, by the way) who ruin online debate. And the same Guardian has done an extensive survey into its online comments and who gets targeted. From playground taunts, to personal abuse, to actual death threats it has come to the conclusion that women receive more abuse than men and that those who despite their massively inflated online presence still represent only the margins of society get more abuse still.
Here I sit, in my binary world, where you fit in or stick out and I wonder if maybe, just maybe, the views of those targeted for abuse are actually considered offensive by those who oppose them. While I have no sympathy for the truly vile and nobody should have to put up with some of the genuinely distressing messages posted, the effect of reacting to the mob is often to enrage it further. There are offenders on both sides of our generalised left/right divide but I find the love and peace brigade are often just as quick to rise to anger as those who jeer at them.
I get called a Nazi every day for disagreeing with morons and I’ve found that the easily offended are like little Duracell Trolls, electro-mechanical monkeys that go on and on and on; perpetual moaning machines filled with anger and frustration... which I sort of enjoy fuelling by replying calmly and offering sympathy and medication. They really don’t like that so they resort to the ultimate sanction... and block me. Most of the morons fold pretty quickly but if they don’t I can always choose to ignore them.
I have the odd, more persistent detractor, but maybe my views are just not far enough from the mainstream right to be truly offensive. I also choose not to take anything too seriously. The Guardian is concerned that its preferred people – the oddballs, the misfits, the minorities – are being bullied off the media, allowing what they see as extreme views (what enormous numbers of ordinary, inoffensive people actually think) to take over.
But isn’t this just what happens with real territory – the weaker, less confident species surrendering to the more successful invader? Maybe it’s just social Darwinism in action? And if so, I’m sure I’ll soon have somebody pop up to tell me that Darwin was a Nazi. There’s always the off switch, cupcake.
Wednesday, 13 April 2016
From the other side of the channel all we hear is bad news. The Eurozone lurches from one crisis to another. Greece is threatened by Germany on an almost daily basis. Every country will be compelled to take in ‘its fair share’ of angry young muslim men of fighting age. The EU project is in danger, so let’s have more EU, etc... From our side all we have heard for forty-plus years is complaints about every part of the EU you can mention; farmer, fishermen and factory worker numbers have tumbled and much of it blamed on the European Commission, or was it the European Parliament, or the European Council... or the other one, the Council of the European Union?
Most of us will never know the difference between the institutions, which is sinister in itself, but suddenly, now the damaging effects are starting to be recognised by a wider audience – there is a popular rejection in many countries against this central diktat – suddenly they’re saying it’s not so bad. Yesterday the one-man political superpower known as David Miliband bleated like a five year old pleading for an ice cream “But if we leave we won’t have any power!” But, of course all the power is in the hands of the institutions – I forgot to mention the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the European Court of Auditors (although there is no actual evidence the last one even exists.)
This is the EU as a spousal abuser – ‘when did you stop beating your wife?’ is of course a fallacious question; they have never stopped. But now in typical victim fashion the beaten partner pleads for the abuser – but what would we do without him? Where would I live? Think of the children!
Cue the concerned but sanctimonious relatives – in my day we’d have stuck it out, divorce is the easy way out, a union is for life – and an avalanche of advice which is meaningless without the facts of the abuse. The IMF’s intervention sounded like the herald of the apocalypse – How selfish of you! Think of the effect on the extended family! What about us? – they cried, with a rending of garments and a frankly demented list of the travails of Hades that await. On the one hand they have been saying outside the EU, Britain will have no power and become an insignificant, side-lined nation. On the other our leaving will send shockwaves round the world and wake even Job’s Behemoth from the depths.
Consistently cancerous and consistently wrong in its predictions, the IMF is a meddler a supposed big gun brought in to bolster the campaign – who’s all in this together now? – in reality it is just another faceless, unaccountable body. But it is time for this battered wife to wake up, leave and find refuge away from the harm and strike out for her own, regardless of the consequences. The life coaches always urge you to do what is right for you.
Think of the children!
As for the IMF, they are as relevant and wrong as MFI and if we buy now we will most certainly pay later; believe now pay nothing for a year but then keep on paying and paying and paying... until the bailiff turns up. Nope, I’m not buying their special offer, even if it finally is the Closing Down Sale.
Tuesday, 12 April 2016
There’s danger in the woods; the wicked witch and the big bad wolf live there. And whatever you do, don’t go scoffing bits of gingerbread houses. Trolls hide under the bridge, giants live in the clouds and a whole host of night terrors keep you clinging to your bedclothes. We love a good fairy tale and the creepier it is the better. Fairies, or better yet ‘faeries’, in ancient folklore were often portrayed as powerful mischievous beings who could wreak havoc on the lives of humans. In modern times the softer ‘fairy story’ is still a cipher for the lies, big and small, we use to influence others.
There are the little lies, of course, such as ‘the cheque is in the post’ and ‘I emailed you but it got bounced back’ which we should be wise to by now; prevarication and mischief which probably harm nobody and colluding with which helps to smooth the daily course of business. But society invents what it must surely know are pure myths, such as ‘eat yourself slim’, breeding the vain hope that such a thing as the chocolate and red wine diet actually exists. And many are the fabulous but nonetheless fictional tales of human equality; of simple goodness winning over actual bankable ability.
The world of politics has its own stock cast of bogeymen, such as the evil Tory who lives in a castle (don’t they all?) and dines on suckling baby while plotting to literally grind the bones of the poor into the dirt for no other reason than he can. Denis Skinner – the Beast of Bolsover – obviously swallows all this, as evidenced by his furious performance in the Commons yesterday. In Labour folklore, of course, the beasts are kind and warm and cuddly and like the Kinnocks would never dream of profiting by the ordinary man’s taxes. In that shadowy faerie world there is good money (Labour) and evil money (Tory).
Thus Evil Tory money is acquired by toil and sweat and the creation of wealth, which is taxed and turned into hospitals and roads and justice. Whereas Lovely Labour money is donated generously by kind benefactors who only wish to see us happy and leave all that horrid reality to others. All our kind uncles want in return is our love... and lifelong interest; one of the biggest political fairy tales is the one where we spend our way out of debt – but just in case you are suspicious they call this debt ‘investing in the economy’. It’s about as believable as ‘I promise I won’t come in your mouth’.
Go on... you know you want to.
As for acquired wealth, is it genuinely the case that there is a good way to be rich and a bad way to be rich? Or is the simple mundane truth that those who are able will confer benefits on their children one way or another? To get upset over legally passing on wealth as tax efficiently as possible is to try to deny to some the possibility to live happily ever after just because not everybody gets to live that fairy tale. The politics of envy are just as ugly as the politics of avarice and both leave a nasty taste... but do you spit or swallow?
Monday, 11 April 2016
Lately, I have been curious about clever people. They are everywhere and being very clever they like to teach us many things we stupid people are just too sluggish to figure out for ourselves. Clever people are better than not-clever people and I, for one, am grateful that we live in a world where we have clever people to show us the way. But one thing I have noticed about clever people is that when we stupid people don’t understand their point they get angry and call us ‘scum’ and other not-nice words. I think this might be because they believe this is the only language we understand. They are probably right; after all, they are much cleverer than we are.
For instance, clever people know that the earth is warming. Or that it is cooling. We stupid people lack the intellectual capacity to hold these two opposing views simultaneously, so the clever people try not to burden us with facts which, to the untrained eye sometimes appear to be more speculative than real, evidence-based observations. I have probably already over-stretched my limited mental capacity by using the long word ‘speculative’, without understanding properly what it means. I expect a clever person will point this out to me as ‘an end to the argument’.
Clever people are much nicer than stupid people. This is why almost all clever people are left-wing types who understand that the rich must pay for everything. In this way they can dissuade people from becoming rich people because that makes them hateful. In fact many very clever people have been demonstrating against one particular rich person this weekend. They understand – in a way that I never possibly could – that rich people paying tax is disgusting, especially because they pay so much more tax than poor, stupid people.
I am grateful this has been pointed out for me because without the clever people I would have gone on believing that rich people paying all the tax the law demands was a good thing, when clearly it is not. Clever, rich people – those on the left, for instance – are allowed to reduce their taxes, apparently, but I am not clever enough to work out why. I have, however, deduced from all this that paying tax is wrong because the more tax you pay, the more the clever people hate you. People like Polly Toynbee. And they should know.
Cameron must go... and publish his tax details. Oh...
Clever people know that the world is binary – you are either one of them (clever) or else stupid. The stupid are too stupid to accept this and believe that there are grades of cleverness. But we are wrong; one is either clever or not. You see, we didn't think David Cameron's tax affairs were particularly interesting but we were wrong. Clever people knew better and as a result of them saying so, it seems we will soon be able to see how much tax everybody else has paid or avoided. A lot of Labour MPs will now be doing a lot of shredding and rewriting history as a result. Sometimes I wonder if the clever people are really as clever as they think they are.
Saturday, 9 April 2016
I listened, incredulous (as is often the only way) when I heard a reporter on Radio 4’s Today programme announce that a study had discovered (‘discovered’ mind - no doubt by some Pulitzer-level miracle of investigative journalism) that over fifty percent of young people ‘drift’ into work without (gasp) a degree. She sounded astonished that such denizens were capable of breathing, let alone earning a living.
Drifting? As if the only way you could get to stack shelves, sweep up leaves or fuck about keeping people waiting for a cup of coffee – no, drawing a heart in the froth does NOT make you a barista – was if you had paid your dues at the altar of higher education. When the economically illiterate Tony Blair made the fallacious deduction that as graduates earned more than the hoi polloi, forcing 50% through the degree sausage machine would somehow increase everybody’s wage, those of us out here in the world of work were screaming “No!”
Getting a sixteen-year old to learn about getting to work on time, every day and actually, you know, working, is hard enough. Trying to do that with an endless succession of twenty-five year old graduates (MA in intersectional gender and social butt-hurt issues) who can’t yet tie their shoelaces and wear their sub-standard scholarship as an entitlement gong, is just a waste of everybody’s time and energy. Education isn’t about ‘things’ it’s about life, which includes finding out how everything actually works.
Maybe a lack of general common sense explains why so many people are over-excited about the ‘scandal’ of the Panama Papers. (Notwithstanding David Cameron’s clumsy handling of his own involvement) If only those nasty rich people who legally avoid paying more tax than the governments ask them to would voluntarily pay more tax – then we could have a universal basic income... they think.
“You didn’t just make that money.” they bleat, “Society let you make it.” Society, they say, built the roads, made the energy and bred and cared for the workers, all for those hated capitalists to exploit with their greedy ideas. I have news; put everybody on a universal basic income and watch that income get redistributed really quickly, right back to the people you took it from. In any case, if everybody started out with something, that something would soon become the datum level... that is, two-grand or ten-grand, everybody would still, effectively, start out with nothing.
Every time some social justice type bangs this particular drum they assume that all the money that the people they hate have access to is unfairly gained, that it is liquid and that it can be effectively taxed. They assume that it can be equitably distributed at no cost and with zero corruption. They also imagine that if this is done, the people being fleeced will be happy to keep on generating more. Possibly the ultimate aspect of their naivety is the belief that everybody else – you know, the ones who are not capable of creating wealth – will spend it wisely.
Not funny... because it's true.
But here’s an idea. Maybe if they chose a vocational education early on, learned to become somebody useful, then went out to earn their own money not at 23 on some extended graduate trainee-ship, but at 16 when they should be perfectly capable of picking up a trade or other useful work skills; maybe then, by the time they come to have an interest in other people’s tax they will have paid plenty of their own and be very cautious of enabling the heavy hand of state to pick their pockets. Just a thought.
Friday, 8 April 2016
I have been intrigued this week on hearing of the work of Harvard professor Michael Puett, who for some years has delivered a class in ethical reasoning based on texts such as Confucius’s Analects, the Mencius, and the Daodejing, urging them to put the ancient teachings into daily practice. His lectures aim to allow students to figure out how to be good human beings, how to create a good society and how to have a flourishing life. One who needs such guidance right now is David Cameron, but lacking the time to undergo such ground-up remodelling he ought, at least, to read Dale Carnegie’s seminal work ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ – he is, after all, in the business of selling.
Right now he is trying every trick in the book to flog the seedy, second-hand package that is the European Union to a few million people who really don’t want to be his friends at all; if he can influence them enough to say yes to the whole sorry deal it is strongly believed he will be rewarded in the afterlife. I say afterlife because few now believe, win or lose, that he has much of a future in British government after the forthcoming EU Referendum. But Samantha and the kids need not worry, Brussels will provide.
Imagine, if you will, the day after a vote to remain in this Woolworths of world organisations, the bargain basement of bureaucratic tat, the Ratner’s of ratification, when Cameron and his cronies are called to an audience with Jean-Claude Juncker to collect their pieces of silver. The European Commission, never one to uncomplicated simple things has, as is its wont, come up with a remuneration formula based on factors entirely unrelated to the matter in hand. Dish face and Co. are to be paid €1,000 for every centimetre measured in a straight line between any two points on their body.
First to present himself for payment is the lanky turncoat Eurosceptic Philip Hammond who is well pleased to find that at six-feet two he can request to be paid by height. Standing exactly 188 cm tall he collects 188,000 Euros simply for changing his mind and betraying his principles. He knows he can look forward to a gold-plated life of Kinnocking, having achieved nothing else in his political life but to turn his back on the country of his birth.
Next up is the rather more diminutive Theresa May, another turncoat but nevertheless now a beloved comrade of the Mother Europa. Lacking Hammond’s vertical inches she thinks hard for a moment. ‘Between any two points’ is the criterion, so she lies down, strikes the pose of a starfish and asks to be measured from the tip of the outstretched fingers of her right hand to the pointed big toe of her Louboutin-clad left foot. She grins as 215cm is measured and duly collects €215,000 for her back-stabbing.
Finally, it is David Cameron’s turn and he calmly requests that his measurement be made from the tip of his penis to his testicles. The others are surprised; although he is known in Westminster as a massive cock, they hardly took that literally. Or maybe he was seeking only modest compensation for his efforts – he probably has a mountain of cash stashed offshore? Either way, a doctor was summoned to take the measurement and Cameron duly dropped his trousers around his ankles.
The doctor donned his latex gloves, took out the tape measure and dropped to his knees. He gently pulled Cameron’s underpants down and gasped. “But, Mr Prime Minister, where are your balls?” Cameron shifted uneasily, cleared his throat and said, “In Berlin. Mrs Merkel has them in a jar.”
Thursday, 7 April 2016
The non-story of the week has to be the pension projection and its non-too subtle accompanying scare message. Most of those who won’t qualify for the full state pension in the relatively near future will be those who have made insufficient contributions for one reason or another, often because they were unaware of the need, sometimes through part-time working, or working only until they could afford not to, supported by a partner. The lifetime unemployed need not panic of course; their ‘stamp’ is full paid up... by you.
But the bit that kept being headlined was the prediction that three quarters of people currently in their twenties will lose out on around £19,000 over the course of their retirement. Firstly, given that they are expected to live to a hundred and therefore spend about 30 years in retirement that amounts to around £12 a week in today’s money. But, secondly, will there even be such a thing as a state pension by the time they retire?
The parlous state of the country’s finances – successive governments paying for bread and circuses with borrowed money - suggests the universal state pension may be on borrowed time. Anybody who has the means and foresight will not rely on future state provision, besides, isn’t it about to become compulsory to be enrolled in a company pension scheme? If the government is truly serious about retirement planning it should stop taking National Insurance contributions as current income and let workers divert that directly into their own future. We’d be able to fund fewer maternity units, sure, but babies are so last year.
But we're talking another 50 years here. Nobody knows what the world will look like post-June 23rd. Will people even retire in the way we think of it today? They could have cured death by then. We might even, finally, have sorted out those hover boards. To expect what is increasingly looking like a failed socialist big-state welfare model to survive until then is fanciful. To rely on it is bordering on lunacy; we’ve only had any form of state pension for around a century and it used to be a pittance that few lived long enough to claim.
But we're talking another 50 years here. Nobody knows what the world will look like post-June 23rd. Will people even retire in the way we think of it today? They could have cured death by then. We might even, finally, have sorted out those hover boards. To expect what is increasingly looking like a failed socialist big-state welfare model to survive until then is fanciful. To rely on it is bordering on lunacy; we’ve only had any form of state pension for around a century and it used to be a pittance that few lived long enough to claim.
A child of the nineteen-fifties could expect to go into a job their grandfather would recognise. A child of the twenty-teens could easily end up in employment that their nineteen-nineties parents may not even be able to comprehend. We have come through the astonishing revelation that you could even make a fortune by being Jade Goody – thanks for that, Max Clifford – to a world where children can become millionaires by simply having an idea. A penny for your thoughts has become reality for some.
When I was in my late twenties the internet was still a decade away, ‘white European’ wasn’t a derided racist minority and most people worked at a place, with colleagues, for a boss; the idea of working from home was for a very few lucky people with quite special skillsets. Now it is possible to telework, for machines, with virtually no direct human interaction at all – this suits a surprisingly high number of people, who would far rather work at a screen than have to deal with pesky people all day long. How this freelance work-hopping would provide a company pension is hard to see.
If you don't look after the pennies, the government will.
But what is perhaps easier to image is a world where you squirrel away your savings, out of the reach of governments and deny them the access to funding via plundered tax and national insurance. You decide how you spend now and what you save for your future. No wonder the government want to scare you about pensions in a future they have no control over – they must be absolutely shitting themselves.
Wednesday, 6 April 2016
Monty Python, for all that much of its content looks dated now, had an unerring knack of subverting reality and brought incisive intellect and a little madness to issues both contemporary and timeless. Once seen, who could forget the Piranha brothers and Dinsdale’s prickly nemesis, Spiny Norman, a caricature of the Cray’s ‘Craysy’ world? “...and then he loses his temper and nails my head to the floor... Well he had to, didn't he? I mean, be fair, there was nothing else he could do. I had transgressed the unwritten law.”
Take a reality, turn it upside down and make it funny. In this classic about-face a feted northern poet resident in London is exasperated at his soft son, who has run away up north to be, of all things, a miner. (Watch it, it’s very funny.) ‘Ampstead wasn’t good enough for you was it? You ‘ad to go poncing off to Barnsley.” shouts the father. His son replies “One day you’ll realise there’s more to life than culture. There’s dirt and smoke and good honest sweat!”
I thought of this when I read a ridiculous polemic in the Guardian yesterday, by Paul Mason, blaming Thatcher for the current parlous state of white, working class boys. I mean, Thatcher? I know it’s the Guardian and all that but if three decades, including thirteen years of Labour government, isn’t enough to address the problem, then what’s the point of even trying? And as somebody on Twitter posted “The left complaining about cultural vandalism is a wee bit rich.”
Because it’s always somebody else’s fault, isn’t it? Prior to the left’s imaginary prickly nemesis, ‘Fatcha!’ [exclamation mark required for correct spelling] it was the multi-layered class system. Before that it was rich noblemen versus the peasants. If anything the Thatcher era heralded a breaking down of the class structure which many on the right bemoan for allowing oiks into positions once held by scions of notable families. But the social mobility engendered by the grammar schools and aspiration sank to new lows under Blair as English kids were written off in the name of diversity. (Or are we calling it vibrancy now? It changes so often it’s hard to keep track.)
Monty Python once portrayed the Silly Olympics, with such events as the 3000m steeplechase for people who think they’re chickens, the marathon for the incontinent and in the pool, the 200m freestyle for non-swimmers. No doubt this entire sketch would be unbroadcastable today, the sound of offence-takers drowning out the guilty giggles of an audience spoon-fed political correctness.
But what people like Paul Mason fail to recognise is that it is up to you, not the state, to sort out your life. If his father could be self-educated under the old class system, via the public libraries and meeting with like-minded souls, think how much greater the possibilities for education the internet brings today. One of the Python events was the ‘fifteen hundred metres for the deaf’, the punchline being that they don’t hear the starting gun. It sounds like those who complain about their start in life are maybe cocking a deaf ‘un. You have to laugh, don’t you?
Tuesday, 5 April 2016
The pursuit of happiness and the quest for the Holy Grail are lauded as the endeavours of ordinary and honourable men. The fight to survive is built into all of us but the drive to succeed is bequeathed to relatively few. One alpha dog in the pack, one full-maned lion; the leader emerges as the one with the best credentials while the losers either fall in line or slope off to become lone wolves. Not only are we no different from the animals, we use animal analogies all the time and our folklore is filled with tales of derring-do in pursuit of riches. We even sing about the fight for supremacy:
It's the eye of the tiger
It's the thrill of the fight
Rising up to the challenge of our rival...
The current media-fest around the so-called Panama Papers is typical of a society smelling blood. We think we’ve found a weakness and we’re trying to mount a challenge. With quite spectacular naivety the press pack is circling the prey and imagining that here is the answer to... something. If we can only slay the monster Grendel the villagers will be able to live in peace. But Russia and Pakistan seem to be bored with it all already, or at least accepting it with a shrug. And while David Cameron’s family tax avoidance affairs come under scrutiny, there will be little enough to gloat over when he leaves office, soon after the referendum.
Corruption is part of the make-up of people who are ruthless enough to gain that level of success. Few and far between are the business giants without metaphorical blood on their hands, so much so that the very few who do appear to be spotless are held up as shining examples of a rare breed. Backstabbing, elbowing aside and teaming up against rivals are human traits you can see in any child until it is
beaten trained out of them. But some are so driven
they ignore it and succeed anyway. It is a trait we applaud in athletes, adore in leaders, yet abhor in businessmen and politicians. Given the shitty ride those who stride the corridors of power experience only the driven survive, let alone thrive.
Left entirely unchecked of course, the apocalyptic prophecies of tyranny by a cruel ruling elite could come true – it already does in some regions of the world. This is why we came up with democracy which, on the face of it, would appear to be rule by the majority for the majority good. It just so happens that the greater good is often served by letting wealth creators actually get richer still because this, no matter how much you pooh-pooh ‘trickle down economics’, does actually provide employment, incomes and hope for those of us on the lower rungs, even if it is only the crumbs. The alternative may be no crumbs.
But these occasional coups and cries of conspiracy provide mere entertainment. It’s the mob, baying for blood and in the aftermath, those who can will simply take their tax avoidance elsewhere and carry on as before. If they can’t do it in Panama, some other haven will spring up to serve their hoarding needs. Squirrels hide nuts for the winter; we put aside money for the rainy days. This is just the same but with bigger beasts. To imagine you can end corruption is nothing but a pipe dream – it is a part of our nature.
Beowulf in sheep's clothing...
Which is why the limited form of democracy we have, with its limited ability to force real, revolutionary progress is perfect. We muddle along fine until a few people take the piss. We temporarily bring them down and then everything goes back to normal. Corruption thrives, however, where there is no democratic accountability. I wonder what we will uncover when the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists turns its searchlight beam on the European Commission?
Monday, 4 April 2016
If you found a community where everybody believed the same limited number of unvarying things and where to challenge those beliefs resulted in harassment, threats and outright indignation that anybody could think otherwise, you would soon realise you’d encountered a cult. Believing unquestioningly in a single narrative of the world has to be a form of collective madness; the Branch Davidians, North Korea, the Moonies and hard-line religionists all fall into this category. As do certain political fanatics.
Although there are cults on ‘the right’, the phenomenon appears to be far more prevalent among ‘the left’ including as it does, young people, idealists, old revolutionaries and many of those who fly the flag against ‘white privilege’, believing in narratives that portray simple success through hard work and ambition as sinister plots to subjugate the masses. The masses, of course, are the masses by a simple numerical fact – by definition only one percent will ever be in ‘the 1%’; to believe otherwise is folly. To demand otherwise is a delusion which tempts many of the hard of independent thinking.
I work with ‘workers’ – I always have done – people who expend their time and energy for one purpose, to provide for their families. In the main they don’t own second homes and many run their own businesses at their own risk. Self-employment is common. In the main they are strugglers and strivers and in the main they want government to let them get on with it. For most of them politics is a peripheral thing but, in the main, they fear the many-tentacled thing that the EU has become. They want out and I don’t think they are mad to do so; they are no dreamy-eyed cult members, they just want independence.
On the other side however, a collective madness can often be seen; a belief in a loose narrative that says to leave would be perilous. I listened for a while to an LBC phone-in on the subject yesterday. Admittedly there were a few tin-hatted crackpots in the out lobby, but oh, the delusions of the Inners. Like collectivists everywhere they were almost universally scathing about the Outers – calling them fools, dupes, inadequate and unintelligent – yet they had only the same flimsy set of beliefs to support their own stance.
Their ‘facts’: 1. if you want out you are a racist, xenophobic Little Englander who wants to retreat from the world. 2. Travel will become nigh-on impossible for Brits and expats will all be deported back to Blighty. 3. Outside the EU we will have zero trade, our children will starve and we will be powerless to defend our streets. 4. The only way to have influence and prosperity is to be subsumed into a borderless conglomerate under one flag. 5. The ultimate aim is one-world government, a thing to be hastened, not opposed... otherwise you’re a racist or something. (I’d drifted off by this point)
You would have to be mad – or Mandelson - to believe in one world government. You’d have to be crazy – or Cameron – to be wedded to the concept of a United States of Europe. And you would quite clearly have to be barmy - or Barack Obama – to imagine Britain, with its teeming millions, to be insignificant outside that ugly entity. Call me insane but if I have to choose between the madhouse that is Europe or the open sea it’s the open sea every time.
Sunday, 3 April 2016
An article in the Guardian on the new-age phenomenon of Climate Fear raised the question about the morality of bringing a child into a doomed world. Well, let’s face it, snowflakes, we’re all doomed anyway, so another millennium of human misery isn’t going to amount to hill of beans. As a basic assumption the author had this to say: “The decision whether or not to have a child is one of the bigger ones a person will make in life – often the biggest.” Ah, me, the delusions of the Guardianistas. Not only is this incorrect, it defies simple human nature, which is not to think at all about such trivial matters.
For many in this blighted land, any decision over whether to have children is less important than whether or not to order a second KFC bargain bucket. At least insofar as the bucket decision will be considered before the fact, not mulled over afterwards. Humans, as has been observed many times, are fundamentally poor at making big decisions. Small ones, yes – some will agonise for weeks over a frivolous purchase – but big ones, such as what to do with one’s life, or whether to create another, just because you can, are often the result of simple inertia, a failure to resist the gravity of events around you.
Fortune favours the brave they say, but one man’s courageous stunt is another man’s chip wrapper, which mention of takeaway food cues up nicely this story about airborne curry. This was an obvious April Fool’s Day hoax, except it dates from last November. The owner of a Milton Keynes curry restaurant wants to get a licence for drone-delivered dupiaza. This is a classic example of how human planning so often ignores human nature. Imagine, if you will, a low-hovering, curry-toting quadcopter coming within range of the arsenal available on the average estate where much of this mid-air madras may be headed. Air pistols, rifles, shotguns, catapults or just a good old close-range stick - when the shami hits the fan, make sure you’re not wearing white.
Climate change? What WERE they thinking?
Of course, the likely culprits, not being the brightest, will probably be well within spatter range, but curry stains can be got rid of – unlike the future generations of scrupulously, spotless-minded, green-leaning kids born to Guardian columnists, indoctrinated from birth to view the human mission as the saving of a planet that couldn’t care less if you save it or not. At least the unplanned progeny of the lower orders is capable of having a laugh; as the Shameless character Frank Gallagher opined: “...the most vital necessity is this life is they know how to throw a PARTY! Heh heh... Scatter!”
Saturday, 2 April 2016
The big wee man of comedy, Ronnie Corbett, has finally shuffled off this mortal coil. And without a title too, cried the commentariat, while every honours list today is packed to the rafters with donors, stoners, chancers, cronies and outright crooks. To Ronnie’s family, consider it the highest honour that he was thought too good to join their distasteful and hypocritical ranks. To those of us who grew up with the Two Ronnies, you were a better night-in than any knight-errant.
But we grew up in different times when, despite the failings of our stubborn, stiff upper lip demeanour, and rigidly observed protocols, British people had far more about them and far greater opportunity for expression and advancement than the Frost Report class system sketch betrayed. “I know my place” said Ron, as the lower class oik at the end of the line. How would that attitude go down with those on the bottom rug today?
I am Upper Class. I like to pretend, however, that I am Middle Class, to ingratiate myself with him. He is Middle Class and he pays the taxes that pay the grants that maintain my family seat. Otherwise I rely almost entirely on charity. I no longer look down on him, but I still despise him.
I am Middle Class and I still look up to him because he was born into riches. I am aware, however, that he relies on me and my fellow taxpayers to foot the bills, but I do wish he would stop dropping his aitches. I preferred it when I was happy to believe he was better than us. [TURNS] I look down on him though, because he is The Most Vulnerable in Society.
I am The Most Vulnerable in Society. I don’t look up to anybody but I do call those who pay my benefits, ‘Tory Scum’. I don’t know why I feel this way, but it is expected of me and I like to do my bit because we’re all in this together.
I am Upper Class. I only look up to royalty. I envy him though, because he is Middle Class and he still has aspirations.
I am Middle Class. I do all the work. I envy him because he is where I want to be [TURNS] but I fear him because he is the alternative.
I am The Most Vulnerable in Society and I don’t give a damn. I used to be Working Class but now you work for me. Now and again the Middle Class try to make it difficult for me, but I’m not afraid of them. I am, however, afraid of... him.
I am muslim class and I am untouchable.
Friday, 1 April 2016
They say there’s nothing new under the sun. Every generation discovers for the first time the hitherto unknown activity [whispers] ‘sex’ and every generation metaphorically re-invents many wheels. Human society – its morals, its sins, its hopes, dreams, crimes and calamities - and every social phenomenon has its echoes in times past. I was reminded of this last week when I heard on the radio, in the early hours of the morning, the short poem by Bertolt Brecht: Everything new is better than everything old:
How do I know, comrade
That a house built today
Has a purpose and is being used?
And that the brand new constructions
Which clash with the rest of the streets and
Whose intent I don’t know
Are such a revelation to me?
Because I know:
Is better than everything old.
It is satire, of course, a play on the plagiarism of novelty and much like reading Dickens today and discovering that the human race has evolved not one pace forward since the days of Victorian squalor. Indeed Dickens wrote at length of the plight of slum dwellers in those unlit streets. The average height back then was around five-foot-five (165cm) Today it is more like five-foot-ten (178 cm). But this simple statistic ignores societal variations; those in deprived areas are more likely to tend to the Victorian average and as social mobility has been lost, whole inner-city boroughs are made up of people for whom six feet in height is a freak of nature.
Everything new is better than everything old. But an old plan in new clothing has resurfaced to take advantage of this disadvantage. The government's Technical Housing Standard requires floor-to-ceiling heights to be at least 2.3 metres, a requirement that has been in place for half a century or more. But developers have realised that with inner-city humans being shorter, housing being in desperate demand and building heights restricted by the planners, a 10% reduction in ceiling heights would allow a whole extra floor in a ten-storey block of flats.
In the guise of something new, the London borough of Newham has been quietly resurrecting an old plan from the early nineteen seventies. Despite the recent tragedy at Ronan Point, planners came out in favour of a trial scheme: In the 'interests of humanity' the developers of Harlow New Town proposed a restriction in the height of inhabitants for precisely this reason so that in the words of Mr Gabriel, a spokesman at the time, the genesis of the idea was the possibility tat they could 'fit twice as many in the same building site'. They said it was all right. It seems that some things old are just as good as everything new.