Friday, 26 November 2010

Len McCluskey: Prick

I had been planning on retiring to Bedfordshire after watching a couple of poor hours of Test cricket. Then I leafed through today's (now yesterday's) Torygraph. No point going to bed now, my boiling blood would definitely keep me up well beyond when Australia pass England's paltry total for the loss of at most one more wicket. You may have guessed from the single entendre in the title, this is going to be a 'route 1' rant.

I shall go into more detail on Trade Unions in general and their recent behaviour, but this post centres on Red Len McCluskey. Here is a man so proud of his ability to fuck everyone over by convincing the dolts in his Unite union to strike again and again over totally ludicrous pay demands that he simply cannot wipe the self-satisfied look off his face. The face, incidentally, of a bulldog chewing a hornet's nest.

The moron has predictably suggested he will urge his lemmings to strike over the much-hyped 'Royal Wedding' next Spring. In typical fashion he suggest that Britons "don't go on holiday." He goes on to justify how one of his next planned strikes bizarrely falls again over a time when it will screw the maximum number of people the biggest amount thus: "I know where this comes from - never strike at Christmas, never strike at Easter, never strike in school - why don't we just not strike at all. Then we won't upset anybody."

Calm. Calm. Woosah. no, can't do it. What a total and utter prick.

It cannot have escaped many people's attention that Unite in particular and Trade Unions in general ALWAYS strike at the worst possible moments. Firefighters - Bonfire Night - pricks. BA - Spring Bank holiday/Half-term/World Cup (all 2010)/Christmas 2009) - pricks. I could go on, but you already know.

He even had the temerity to say "I never met a worker who likes strike action." Odd that - can't have met many workers. I could have sworn pictures were beamed worldwide of Unite members screaming for joy at finding out they had all voted to cancel Christmas last year. If you don't remember, it's on You Tube, BBC, everywhere. Why, oh why, is this lying, stupid relic of the 60s even given newsprint? Surely any mention of him and his comments should appear alongside signs saying 'never knowingly reasonable', 'a total liar' or indeed other shorter messages?

Oh, and he thought a bunch of hooligans smashing up Tory HQ, fighting and vandalising a police van is "fantastic" and that "the population [should] take a leaf from their books."

Prick. Total. More on Unions soon...

Target Practice

I have already blogged in part about my issues with the welfare state (here). I am increasingly tired of hearing how the worse off are "targeted" by the budget cuts. They are not "targeted", but that does not mean they will not be those most affected. That in itself though, does not make it an evil budget. I shall explain.

The budget is the plan of what to do with all the monies taken in taxes. This might come as a surprise to Gordy, Tony, Alastair, the Milibrothers et al. I assume in Labour HQ there is a dictionary that under "budget" reads, "enormous giveaway of cash we don't have to people to make them vote for us". Yes, it is indeed considered slightly dodgy economics to plan (if indeed there was any real economic planning other than the standard "hang onto power until the money runs out then wait a generation until everyone's forgotten" plan) to spend more each year than you are going to get. I blogged a little about this here.

Now those taxes come from the people; generally the more you earn the more tax you pay, and vice versa. On the other side of the budget come the public services, benefits etc paid for by these taxes. With the exception of the old rules for child benefit (which was universal and non means-tested), income vs benefits pretty much worked on an inverse sliding scale: the more money you earned, the fewer benefits you were entitled to, and the reverse.

So, if you earn very little, you are likely to be dependent on public services (NHS, welfare, state schooling etc). If you earn lots you probably aren't (BUPA, no need or entitlement to welfare, private schooling etc). Clearly these are broad brushstrokes. So, cuts to these services affects those dependent on them, and doesn't affect those not on them. Not exactly rocket science, or should I say rocketry?

Somehow, people are enraged that cutting these public services and benefits doesn't hurt these "better off fat cats". Yes, the shocking truth is that if you don't really use something, if someone reduces (or indeed increases) spending on it, it doesn't really affect them. At the same time, there is uproar at "the merciless targeting of the dependent classes".

Be under no illusion; the "better off" are taking home less money as a result of the budget. They are contributing to public services more than before. Their pain comes in many forms. Just because cutting the out-of-control budget of the social services they fund does not hurt them as much as it does the poor does not make those cuts unfair. It is a pernicious society that wishes the benefactors of the welfare state to be punished when its recipients feel pain. The "better off" are not proportionately affected by cuts in public spending because they pay for it but do not use it. If you can find moral injustice in there, good luck to you. Hand. Feed. Bite. Rearrange?

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Tricky Differentials

The word discrimination gets bandied about a lot these days. It probably gets a rather harsh press though. It has had a couple of meanings for well over a hundred years, but one has become far more prevalent of late. In particular, its meaning has become subverted in the last decade or two of political correctness. It is still correct to say "it is hard to discriminate between these two options" meaning just that it is hard to choose between them. That is, in essence, the meaning of the word: to choose or to differentiate. However; that is no longer common parlance, more is the pity.

With a casual glance at a newspaper, one would be forgiven for thinking that discrimination is a crime. That is, choosing one thing over another. Here we come onto the other meaning of discrimination - to choose between two options not based on merit but on the basis of the class or group to which they belong. As much as I would love to launch into the etymology, I highlight the change because I think it indicative of an error brought about by political correctness.

The crux of the matter is that I do not believe discriminating on the basis of class or grouping is necessarily wrong. Before you clap me in irons and declare me a bigot, I shall explain. The law has gone too far in discrimination in that it is a blanket law, not allowing dicrimination, or choosing at all. The law is there, and rightly so, to stop discrimination when it is motivated by a dislike of a particular class or group. It makes no allowance for when that discrimination, or choosing, makes perfect sense and the thrust behind it is sensible and not of malevolent origin.

A couple of examples will perhaps help to clarify the point:

1. An asian man applies for a job as an accountant. He passes all the tests and interviews better than the other candidate. The employer, who hates asian people, gives the job to the second candidate - a lesser qualified white man.

Clearly he has made a choice, he has discriminated and decided why he should choose the second candidate. His motives for employment are broadly: clever, good with numbers, not asian. No issue with the first two, but the motives behind the third make this illegal discrimination - it is unfair because of the motive behind the choice. Some would argue it is unfair because it is not fault of the asian man that he is asian. True, but to use that as the test leads us down a tricky road. See the next example:

2. An asian man applies for a job as an actor. He auditions fantastically well and is the better of the two candidates. The employer, who likes all races of people equally, gives the job to the second candidate - a black man who is a poorer actor.

Again, the employer has made a choice, he has discriminated and decided why he should choose the second appllicant. His motives are: easy to work with, good actor, black. No issue with the first two, but what about the third? Why does he have to be black? Ah, he's casting Martin Luther King. So, it's not the asian fellow's fault he's asian, so by the same logic as some, it is unfair to discriminate against him here. Is it? I think not - if you go with the motivation-based test, the employer's reasoning behind choosing (or discriminating) on the basis of class or group (in this case ethnicity), is not pernicious. It is sensible, as sensible as also wanting the actor to be good or easy to work with.

So, where does that leave us? Is discrimination ok if it is motivated correctly? I think so, but it is certainly a lot harder to legislate for that, but should that be an excuse for lazy legislation?

Other examples:

1. A bar manager runs a bar generally populated by young men. Is it right for him to want a young, pretty girl serving behind the bar to attract more punters? If the law says no and he loses revenue with reduced footfall, is that fair?

2. A foreman runs a working site. Is it right for him to want strong large men, not frail old ladies?

The point is, discrimination makes sense when it is stripped back to simply meaning choosing. The act of choosing always requires thought, subconscious or otherwise - it is one of the things that defines us as sentient beings. It is what motivates those choices that is important. Racism, sexism, bigotry, you name it - all wrong, because they represent sinister reasons behind choices - but don't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

This rather leads me onto a general rant about genetics and indeed positive discrimination, but I think I shall leave that for tomorrow...

Friday, 19 November 2010

Nanny Knows Best

Today, I have a cold. I am bunged up and am taking it like a man (skipping work and crying a lot). In a display of frankly superhuman effort, I managed to prise myself from the sofa to do 'the big shop'. I was, of course, very careful not to breathe on anyone or leave my lurgy on assorted fruits and veg.

I stocked up on various things. Firstly there were pizzas and crisps in sufficient quantity to suggest to the cashier that I was off to binge eat until I became morbidly obese. The cashier said nothing. Secondly there was enough wine to keep the town drunk happy for a fortnight, or to drink myself to death in 24 hours. Again, not even a raised eyebrow. Thirdly though, I tried to purchase two packs of 16 tablet Beechams 'Cold & Flu' and a pack of 8 Nurofen.

Klaxons went off. There were flashing lights. Navy Seals rappelled in through skylights. Attack dogs were unleashed from somewhere behind the bakery section. The long arm of the law was stretching for me. I froze, adrenaline pumping, working out how best to make my flight look like fight. Sort of.

Actually I was simply informed by the charming cashier that I was not allowed to purchase all of my drugs. Not allowed. It's the law, I am told. Drugs, it appears, are bad, mmmkay. What the deuce? Before I launch feet first into this one, let me add the crowning turd in the water pipe. If I wanted, I could buy one pack of Beechams and one pack of Nurofen, type in my PIN, pocket them, walk to the medicine section and repeat. Ad infinitum. Yup, as long as each separate transaction only contains a couple of packs in total, I could buy all the cold and flu drugs in the store. Not only is there in existence this ludicrous rule, but it is in practice totally hollow. It doesn't even work in its misguided quest.

Why on earth can I not buy two packs of Beechams? I know that just to get me through my man flu will probably take 4-5 days. That's 8 tablets a day. So, I have to go back to the shop at least once to re-stock. Some people probably take longer to convalesce. Many people will have far larger households than mine and are likely to infect their families with their germs. If we had had this barking rule in place when I was growing up in a house of 8, assuming we all had a cold, someone would have had to pop to the chemist twice a day.

Is there a raging epidemic of slightly poorly men throwing in the towel, succumbing to man flu and deciding to end it all in a hail of phenylephrine and paracetamol? It seems a rather odd way to top yourself, and rather pricey too - Beechams ain't cheap. Perhaps it's the preferred suicidal route for people who don't want to jump off Beachy Head but failed in their bid for the afterlife with a gallon of Junior Calpol.

Either way, what a totally ridiculous rule. If fatties aren't limited to the number of bags of pork scratchings they can buy, or Withnail-esque students limited to the number of cans of cider they can buy (or lighter fluid), why on God's green am I not allowed to buy enough cold medicine in a oner to make me stop dripping snot on my shroud of pyjamas, blanket and despair? I've read the papers and I'm almost entirely sure the Government has more important things to worry about - like declaring Bank Holidays or voting for Wagner.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The 10th Level of Hell

Today, I have no urgent desire to pour forth about student protests. I might say something later about them, but it's not what is gripping me at the moment. Right now, I have one enemy in the world, one faction to fight. I hate this lot more than the lecture-skipping window smashers hate Clegg (odd they smashed up Tory HQ not the Lib Dems), more than Sisyphus hated his boulder and more than the Daily Express editor hates a day without more news on Diana. Who, you might wonder? This morning (and most mornings), I hate coffee drinkers.

What vexes me is not their dominance on the high street where one can purchase 17 different flavours in 13 different sizes (starting at large - there is no regular), frozen, whipped or sprinkled in fairy dust. It is not the pretentious nature of coffee snobbery which dictates that said large coffee must in fact be called a "grande". It's not even their honking breath. No, the combination of all that is wrong with them manifests itself in their preparation of a cup of coffee at a communal kitchen.

Why, oh why is it necessary to fill the sugar bowl/tin/shoe/receptacle with instant coffee grounds to create a coffee/sugar mix of a ratio of roughly 1:1?

When I make a cup of tea, I pour hot water into a mug into which I have placed a tea bag (we shall assume I have no friends and therefore have no need to make a pot - sad but true). I let it brew for a time, perhaps pass the time of day with a colleague or nearby indoor plant. I then add some milk and some sugar. Sometimes I take the tea bag out first, sometimes between the two additions, sometimes after both. Often I sugar before I milk. There are many ways to skin this particular cat - variety, after all, is the spice of life. Every now and again, to really put the cat amongst the pigeons, I shall pre-milk and then add the tea bag, hot water and sugar after.

Not once, though, have I lifted my spoon from the cup (or mug), and whilst retrieving sugar, thrown my tea bag into the sugar bowl. It never crossed my mind as something I might like to do. It certainly never seemed sensible, practical or polite. Yet day in, day out, my coffee drinking comrade (for we are all in this together) does exactly that with his coffee. He lifts the spoon out. A cursory glance confirms that the hot water has not removed all of the coffee grounds from the spoon. He (or she) then plunges the spoon into the sugar as a handy way of getting rid of those pesky coffee grounds. Sometimes the abandoned gounds are dry, sometimes moist, but always, they are left in the sugar.

I don't want coffee in my tea. I wouldn't expect a coffee drinker would want tea in his coffee. That's one of the many reasons why I don't throw random crap in the sugar bowl. Is it too much to expect coffee drinkers to act the same?

Dante was wrong. Below the wrathful and the violent, below heretics and fraudsters, below even traitors is a special 10th level of hell. It's for coffee drinkers.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Sweet F.A. Responsibility

The trials and tribulations of British society, be it Big or otherwise are well documented. We are 'broken' we are told. One can easily over-simplify these things but the breakdown of the moral fabric of society is perhaps most obvious in the comparison of the attitudes of youth towards figures of authority today with those of yesteryear.

We only have to go back one or even half a generation to a world where teachers being verbally let alone physically abused was almost unheard of. There have always been scallywags who care not a jot for the long arm of the law, but there has been a seismic shift in the confidence of youth to confront and disobey the police. Parents, adults in general - any figure of authority has taken a nosedive in how they are treated. There are changes across the social cross-section but none so obvious as those displayed by the lower echelons of society.

So to what can we attribute this change, what on earth has this to do with sport, and what can we do about it?

Well, there are undoubtedly many factors, but I'm going to pick one. It probably isn't the main reason but it's an easy fix and I'm spoiling for a rant.

Week in, week out, the nation watches in rapture some of the worst behaved people in the country; foul mouthed louts with no respect. Nope, not Eastenders' own Mitchell brothers (I am told it is just 'brother' now but I didn't know who else to use), but the Football Association's finest Premier League players. Watching the likes of Wayne 'Morality' Rooney and pals, you would have thought the referee was there to count to 90 minutes and to be used as a verbal punchbag for 22 angry men. He couldn't possibly be in charge of them all, or else he wouldn't tolerate the torrent of verbal abuse that wends its merry way to him every Saturday afternoon. If he's in charge, why when awarding a penalty does he sometimes feel the need to perform the back-pedalling Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy? You know the one - pretending he wanted to go for a backwards jog whilst actually running away from the vile mob screaming at him (of whom he is of course in charge).

The way that the F.A. allows referees to be treated is a disgrace. It is a disgrace to a once fine sport - however its pernicious grasp goes further. To many youths, top footballers are Gods. They are who they want to be. They want the blonde bird with fake boobs, the Bentley convertible, the monogrammed wrought iron electric gates adorning the entrance to their MTV 'crib'. They might not even mind the skill, but most importantly it's the trappings. The problem is, they see these men act like vile children, not get in any way reprimanded and then payed a bucketload of cash. This must be the way forward.

For many young people, the referee might be one of the most important figures of authority in their lives. The F.A. has a responsibility to see that figure of authority respected. It does no such thing. Is it any surprise if children see reward in the disgusting behaviour of Rooney & co. that they replicate it? I feel it no coincidence that the antisocial endemic that has spread through this country has varied directly with the maltreatment of football referees by players and its acceptance by the powers that be.

How can it be solved? Simple - have a look at rugby. Oh and don't give me any tosh about football being a passionate sport as an excuse for screaming "Are you f***ing blind, ref, you f***ing c**t!". If you think football is more passionate than rugby, a game where you literally put your body on the line, spend 80 minutes on a rugby pitch. Then tell me how many times the players talked back to the referee. If it's above once, how did it go for them?

One could probably replace rugby with many sports, certainly hockey from my experience, but it's the easiest comparison. Football is unique in its incredible mistreament of referees. If you talk back to the referee in rugby you are penalised. If you persist, you get sent off. Introduce that to football and see how valuable you star players are when they spend half the time on the sin-bin. It would make football no worse a game, and in my view definitely a better game, if there were the same laws applied as rugby for conversing with the referee. I defy anyone to put forward an even half-baked argument to keep the current system. More importantly though, it might actually provide young fans with an idea that to get on in life, respect for authority actually helps, rather than the opposite.

They won't change though - maybe they just like being able to scream at 'the man'. Perhaps this is their way of being anti-Establishment - a great social demonstration against tyranny that I'm not clever enough to get. Hey ho.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Curiouser and Curiouser

What is the obsession in this country with "full public enquiries"? It seems if anything at all happens more significant than someone severely twisting an eyelash, someone will demand said full public enquiry and the Government of the day accedes. It's like a reality TV version of the news or daily politics. Are there half public enquiries? Incomplete public enquiries? Full private enquiries?

It's not to suggest that a review process isn't necessary to learn from mistakes, it just seems to me that we're going a little over the top. Perhaps we should think of the sometimes extravagant costs of these enquiries. From which budget are they funded? Despite the dire state of the national finances there appears to be no slaking the nation's thirst for the British Inquisition...

Friday, 5 November 2010

Classic Harperson

On Phil Woolas' conviction for spouting total bollocks in election propaganda, dear Harriet said "It's no part of Labour's politics to try and win elections by saying things that aren't true".

Just wanted to point out she said that. I just find it amusing. I had rather thought that was the core of Labour's politics. Literally far too many examples to list, but I might try...

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Middle Classes

Quite a large topic, and probably one that we shall have to return to at some point, because I'm just planning a quick rant here…

I read and hear a lot about the middle classes. It is certainly a point of debate even more today than it was when John Prescott declared that "we are all middle class now". Who are the middle class? Or is it classes? Is it anyone who watches Downton Abbey? Anyone who claims no benefits? Anyone who doesn't wear hob-nail boots to work? Anyone who has attended school beyond 16? Anyone who earns a certain amount?

Realistically, there are as many ways of determining what middle class means as there are types of Ford Transit - or as Terence put it slightly more eloquently, quot homines tot sententiae. I'm going to go with a fairly popular one - those who pay the 40% tax rate.

The problem is, until very recently that was the top tax rate in this country. Hand in hand with being considered middle class was being considered affluent - represented by paying the top tax rate. However, it has been a very long time since paying the 40% tax rate really meant you were well off. Don't get me wrong, £40,000 a year is a lot better off than £15,000, but it still isn't well off by old school 'middle class' standards.

Now if one says "middle class", one might picture mothers-who-lunch pushing their babies about in Maclaren buggies, loading them into their Range Rovers, collecting the 2.4 kids from a private school and returning to the mansion for riding lessons before father arrives home from the hedge fund in his Porsche.  Or Tories. The problem is, that is really towards the top end, financially. You can probably have the buggy, probably one of the cars second hand, certainly no mansion and no chance of private education on £37,500 or so.

Yet we are happy to saddle aspiring university students with a debt of some £65,000 for their £30,000 university debts (largely fees based) to be paid over the course of 30 years. The threshold for this high repayment rate? Yup, if they go on to earn just around £40,000 - the 40% rate - the middle classes. Compare that to about £10,000 repaid for the same debt if the graduate earns £25,000. Progressive taxation is not a bad concept, we are just getting the levels at which we ramp up the rates totally wrong. They seem to be based on what £37,500 would have bought you in 1980 or so as successive Governments have allowed more and more people to slip into the top brackets. It is not a sign of success that more people pay the top rate if you simply refuse to let the tax brackets keep pace with inflation.

There needs to be a drastic re-think on taxation policy in general, and university fees in particular. The middle class used to be synonymous with being comfortably well off. That simply isn't true today for all of the now wider middle class, but we are still taxing all of them as if it was.