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Thursday, December 27, 2012

We need a megachange

In "Megachange: The World in 2050" from The Economist, the authors interestingly (to me) say that they think that the gap between rich and poor will actually shrink. They cite two reasons for this: first of all, the reduction and means-testing of welfare benefits (which tend to subsidise the middle class anyway) will reduce state spending and therefore taxes and secondly those taxes will be spread more fairly because governments will target tax evasion. To my mind, there are two rather obvious ways to do this: start taxing wealth rather than income (which means non-evadable land-value taxes rather than direct taxes that the rich can evade with ease) and start replacing cash transactions with electronic ones so that people pay their fair share. One of the reasons why my tax is so high is that heading towards a third of economic activity is "black" and none of the participants are paying their share. So it falls to PAYE slaves like me to cough up for everything.
So will there be a megachange in the way taxes work? No. The people "in charge" of the economy haven't a clue what to do, and I'm certain that one of the reasons for this is their lack of real-world experience. Take a look at the example of our Chancellor, Baronet Osborne.
Osborne's first job was entering the names of people who had died in London into a National Health Service computer. He also briefly worked for Selfridges, re-folding towels. He originally intended to pursue a career in journalism, but instead got a job at Conservative Central Office.
[From George Osborne - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]
So, astonishing as it might seem, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has never had a real job. If we were to ever have a constitution, this should be against it. It should be a rule that to assume any ministerial office with any power over taxation or regulation of business, a candidate should not only be more than 40 years old but should have had a real job in the private sector (not some make-work with Central Office or a Trade Union) and, preferably, been responsible for paying someone else wages for some time. You shouldn't be allowed to make decisions about spending public money until you've made some of it.
In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.

[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Age concerns

I read in one of today's newspapers a complaint that elderly homeowners may have to downsize in order to fund their care bills. This is ludicrous. It is not the function of the state to maximise the value of landowners' legacies. Given that two-thirds of our already unaffordable welfare spending goes on pensions and that a substantial proportion of health spending goes on the care of the elderly, we have to get realistic about the new age. The ridiculous pronouncements about pensions and pensioners by people without a rudimentary grasps of economics, demographics and arithmetic (e.g., MPs) must stop.

The pain that quantitative easing has caused pensioners and savers should be offset by government compensation, a report by MPs has said.

[From Compensate pensioners for savings lost to QE, say MPs | Money | The Guardian]

This twaddle comes from the same Treasury Select Committee that went medieval on the Payments Council for suggesting that they might end cheque clearing in a decade. A decade! So now we're all going to have to pay so that Joan Bakewell can carrying on writing cheques to her gardener instead of sending the money online like everyone else.

The reason for this reactionary nonsense from MPs is clear. Amongst the catastrophic impacts of universal suffrage is the age time-bomb. Old people have all the money and old people vote. So of course they mobilise against the young. The ring-fencing of elderly welfare means massive cuts in other areas. This is why the age riots of 2025 will make the Watts riots look like a picnic.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Proof that the UN is a complete joke

There's a fun game out there on the interweb, stimulated by the Chinese media's inability to distinguish satire from news, called "Real or Onion".

Quiz: Are These 2012 Headlines Real Or From “The Onion”?

[From Quiz: Are These 2012 Headlines Real Or From "The Onion"?]

Fun game. Sadly, it won't work in Britain because our degraded society is so far beyond satire than it cannot even see it in the rear-view mirror. I cano no longer distinguish between "The Thick of It" and "Today". We're through the looking glass, people. If you don't believe, try and convince yourself that the following headline is satire.

Gordon Brown has been appointed the new United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education.

[From Gordon Brown takes on UN education role - Telegraph]

It isn't. In common with every other ludicrous and ridiculous and absurd action of the UN, this is an appointment that no rational person could hear about without laughing. Under the Blair/Brown junta, Britain's edukashun system collapsed.

Our blistering debut was the OECD survey of 2000, when we ranked 8th for maths, 7th for literacy and 4th for science in the thinktank's Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).

England's difficult second album was Pisa 2006, when we fell to 24th for maths, 17th for reading and 14th for science.

And when the results of the 2009 survey came in, we risked parting ways with our record label. England's 15-year-olds ranked 28th for maths, 25th for reading and 16th for science.

[From Top of the flops: has England really tumbled down school league tables? | Education |]

Let's hope Gordon can weave the magic on countries such as South Korea. Unless we can make them stupider really quickly, we're never going to catch up.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Yes, democracy, but...

I've often wondered why democracy works the way it does in the UK. If we accept that, to deploy the old maxim, that it's the least-worst way of running things, that doesn't then mean that our particular current version of it is the Platonic ideal. The discussions about voting for the devolution options in Scotland have once again led into the absurd situation where the votes of 16-years olds are going to count. I think this is ridiculous. But, then again, why is the franchise restricted to 18+? Why not 16 indeed? Or 13+? Why have any age restrictions? And if there are going to be age restrictions, why is there no upper limit? Why not cut it off at 75? Maybe age shouldn't be the determinant: perhaps the qualification for the franchise shouldn't be age, or property or anything else, but the ability to understand any of the issues and make a rational decision?

Does every citizen really deserve to vote? If so, why? This issue has been explored by Jennifer L. Hochschild, Professor of Government at Harvard. In 2010, she published a study entitled If democracies need informed voters, how can they thrive while expanding enfranchisement?, which suggests that “as democracies become more democratic [by giving the vote to disenfranchised groups], their decision-making processes become of lower quality in terms of cognitive processing of issues and candidate choice”.

[From Why should all citizens be allowed the vote? – Telegraph Blogs]

The is self-evidently true and hardly worth academic discourse. A fifth of the British population is functionally illiterate. Why on earth should they be allowed to make the choice as to how the country and, more particularly, my family should be governed?

Apparently some people in Britain think that Buzz Lightyear was the first man on the moon. What is the moral imperative behind allowing them any influence over public policy on anything? I’m outraged that these people are allowed to vote

[From Grumpy old reactionary | 15Mb: yet another blog from Dave Birch]

There is no ethical edge to this at all in my mind. It's not even close to being an ethical debate. There is no reason at all to continue the universal franchise with the current model. It's time for a re-think, and I'm pretty sure that I know what the outline of the new franchise should be.

According to Jason Brennan, a professor of political philosophy at Brown University and author of The Ethics of Voting, it would be better for society if the ill-informed do not vote.

[From Why should all citizens be allowed the vote? – Telegraph Blogs]

I have consistently argued this, and even come up with a simple 2-out-of-3 system to make it work.

make voting machines that are bit like the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” machines in the pub. Voters come in to the booth and have to answer three questions (they get one 50:50 and one “phone a friend” — it doesn’t make sense to ask the audience in this context) randomly selected from categories such as politics, economics, history, that sort of thing. “Who’s the Chancellor of the Exchequer”, for example.

[From Votonomics | 15Mb: yet another blog from Dave Birch]

This could work pretty well, as it would give the election night studios some extra graphics to play with and a terrific new statistic for the subhead in the morning papers: "And this is what the result would have been had the stupid votes been counted".

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Monday, August 27, 2012

It's Loony O'Clock at last

First, an historical note for our foreign readers. The Official Monster Raving Loony Party is a real British political party and not simply a colloquial term for Tony Blair's "New Labour" party when in power.

The Official Monster Raving Loony Party is a registered political party established in the United Kingdom in 1983 by musician and politician David Sutch (1940–1999), better known as Screaming Lord Sutch.

[From Official Monster Raving Loony Party - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

A few years ago, in a blog post about the stupidity of minting 1p coins, I noted that:

When the Monster Raving Loony Party was first launched in 1964, two of its policies were votes for 18 year-olds and all day opening for pubs (both of which are now law). The other one was putting Parliament on wheels and taking it round the country. Give them time.

[From Digital Money: Extending debit]

Well, it looks as if the time has come. The Houses of Parliament are falling down so MPs need to find somewhere else to "manage" the country from. Personally, I think it might be better to put Parliament into abeyance for five years while Parliament gets its makeover and then have another election, but if not going to do that, then we're going to need a plan for a temporary talking shop.

Other moves being considered include leaving the palace for good, selling it off and building a new parliament - possibly even moving out of London.

[From Houses of Parliament could close for five years under £3bn plan to repair crumbling Palace of Westminster | Mail Online]

Now would be the perfect time to implement to Loony proposal: put them on a soon-to-be-surplus-to-requirements Virgin train and they could spend a month in each major city of the nation on a rotation. Problem solved. It wouldn't do them any harm to spend a bit more time in Barnsley (if Barnsley has a railway station - I was just using it as an example).

Remember, another of the Loony manifesto commitments for many years has been to abolish income tax. Give them time.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Woking Way

Although I only smoked marijuana once and I never inhaled, I am an acquaintance of people who do. People who, I might add, hold down very responsible jobs and pay a large amount in tax. When last in Amsterdam, I went to a "coffee shop" with a friend of mine. I stuck to beer, but my friend bought a pack of pre-rolled joints and smoked one. Absolutely nothing remarkable. There were plenty of other people in the coffee shop at that time of night, many of them American to judge from the accents, and the street outside was packed with people going to and from bars, clubs, restaurants and so forth. Unlike Woking on a Friday night, no-one was fighting, vomiting in the gutters or walking around dressed as a prostitute (in Amsterdam, the prostitutes have their own retail area). In every respect, the coffee shops represent a pragmatic solution to the management of recreational self-medication, which is why it is completely bizarre of the Dutch to institute the new system of residents-only grass.

The plan is that starting from January 1, 2013, people without a special ID will not be allowed to make purchases of cannabis in the city Coffee shops. ID in the size of the credit card with the picture of the owner would be issued at request to all adult inhabitants of Amsterdam, while tourists and visitors to Amsterdam would be excluded from applying for this permit.

[From Amsterdam Coffee Shop News 2012 |]

I'm surprised that they are allowed to do this under EU Law (what happened to the Single Market?), but even before this moronic edict takes effect, it is already having the entirely predictable consequence.

Unsurprisingly, what has happened is that drug dealers, who previously had dealt only in hard drugs, are now also selling marijuana illegally.

[From Freakonomics » Drug Dealers in the Netherlands Now Selling Marijuana]

Why the Dutch want to make Amsterdam more like Woking is completely beyond me but anyway I will make a prediction about it right here right now. Next year, some drug dealers will make more money selling bogus ID cards than they do selling the grass. I sometimes wonder if drug dealers don't have the most effective lobby in Parliament.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Friday, July 27, 2012

More modern eqtiquette

I'm working at home because I don't feel very well - since I can't think imaginatively, I'm doing mundane catch up work, like filling out my expenses form, replying to some e-mails I'd put to one side and sorting out a bunch of Powerpoint. Oh, and upgrading my laptop to Mountain Lion.

Phone rings. A pleasant sounding woman asks to speak to Mr. Birch.

"I am Mr. Birch", I tell her and she starts to ask me something about my energy supplier. So I say "Can I put you on hold you on hold for a moment" and put the phone down and go back to work. I always do this when I get an unsolicited commercial call. After a couple of minutes the phone beeps because the call centre has hung up. I put the phone back in the cradle.

My wife thinks this is rude, but I think if you just say "no thanks" and hang up, you are not costing the culprit enough money. They'll just hang up at their end and a few seconds later their outbound call distribution software will connect them to next call that's been picked up. If you get them to hang on for a minute, you are wasting their time and money and if enough people did this then the economics of their call centre would tip - they'd need three times as many staff. But my wife thinks I'm being rude to the people who work in the call centre, people who are just doing their jobs.

I've also noticed that the majority of the calls I've picked up recently seem to come from people with bizarrely vanilla Anglo-Saxon names like "Christine Peters" but noticeably South Asian accents. And when they tell you that they are from the "Maintenance Department of Microsoft Windows" and that "your PC is sending us warning messages" they know that they liars and conspiring in a fraud to get hold of your credit card number. So I'm unsympathetic - when people start a call by lying, I'm released from any moral qualms.

Hhhmmm… well?

By the way, if you would like to talk to Christine Peters from the Technical Department of Microsoft Windows, she's on 033 3000 11234.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Innumeracy in the headlines

England's greatest living poet, the Bard of Salford, John Cooper-Clarke sagely observed a couple of years ago that "mass illiteracy is a comparatively recent phenomenon", a reflection I'm sure on 13 years of New Labour Edukashun policy. He might have added that mass innumeracy is now so rampant as to form an irreversible block to national progress.

The win is the sixth time this year that a Briton has taken a slice of the jackpot and is the fifth highest EuroMillions prize ever won by anyone from the country.

Bizarrely, this was reported in one or two media outlets here as evidence of British "luck", when it is, of course, evidence of British innumeracy. No figures were published, but I'd certainly wager that the reason more Euromillions winners come from Britain is because more Brits buy tickets, and the reason why they buy so many tickets is that they don't understand rudimentary arithmetic and basic probability. I know this to be true, because I also saw in the newspapers here that some retailers were, rather disgustingly, to be honest, allowing their dimmest customers to waste money on another betting scam.

Cable slams casino tactics after shops offer 'disturbing' £1 bets to win purchases instead of paying

I'm sure this sort of thing must be related to the general decline in IQ in the UK.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, June 03, 2012


I have to say that it's not terribly often that I agree with things I read in The Guardian, but Julie Burchill's anti-monarchist rant contained an entirely accurate snipe at one of my growing hatreds.

The spectacle of some smug, mediocre columnista who would definitely not have their job if their mummy or daddy hadn't been in the newspaper racket advising working-class kids to study hard at school, get a "proper" job and not place their faith in TV talent shows is one of the more repulsive minor crimes of our time.

[From Once we had anarchy in the UK. Now all we have is monarchy in the UK | Julie Burchill | Comment is free | The Observer]

One of the reasons why I still consider myself a working class Thatcher Tory is that she believed in meritocracy and had a suspicion of embedded privilege, whether at the stock market or anywhere else. It seems to me that over time, meritocracy makes a nation stronger. I think that's true at an individual level as well as at a Darwinian social level.

If my next door neighbour makes more money than me because he's better at something than I am, then I don't hate him. But if my next door neighbour makes more money than me because of some regulatory capture or market dysfunction or government nonsense, then I feel angry and resentful. This isn't conducive to the social order, and I think I'm noticing it more and more in newspaper report, blogs and media from the US at the moment. Americans in particular, and more so than the Brits, are happy to see someone make it so long as the game isn't rigged. But when they see the 1%, the banksters and the oligarchs floating free from the rest of us _because_ of the rules of the game, they feel that society is broken.

This explains why people feel so differently about different kinds of "rich" today. If some film star gets $50m for a movie, I might think it's sick and tragic, I might think it's an insane waste of resources and I might think it's a revolting commentary on our degraded values. But I don't really care about it. Good luck to them and good luck to David Beckham and good luck to Alan Sugar. They made their way to the top by being better at something than their peers. David Cameron didn't, of course, and neither did Baronet never-had-a-job Osborne, which is why I suppose I have so little respect for them.

Of course, this doesn't apply to all actors, because the establishment are working hard to make acting an hereditary profession, but you get the point.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Stupider means poorer

The bad news is that not only has it been scientifically measured that the English are getting stupider, after about 30,000 years of steady progress from the simple use of tools in Kent chalk pits up until David Blunkett took over at the Ministry of Edukashun, Edukashun, Edukashun. Since when...

A study in 2009 led by James Flynn himself and published in Economics & Human Biology compared IQ scores obtained by British teenagers in 1980 and 2008, using the same test. The average had declined by two points on average, but by as much as six points among teenagers in the top half of the IQ scale… a six-point decline in IQ would equate with a 0.3 per cent fall in GDP.

[From Received wisdom | Prospect Magazine]

It's the second point that's even more disturbing than the first. In the olden times, stupid people could contribute to the economy by farming and such like, but those days are over. We now have an economy where stupid people are unemployable, and that's a real problem for society. I suspect when we look back on this era from the perspective of the distant future we will be genuinely perplexed about the "design" of society. A welfare state that's gone horribly wrong -- leading to an overproduction of stupid people -- and an education system optimised for jobs that vanished a generation ago. There's probably no way back -- the English will vanish like the Easter Islanders, having created an environment that cannot support them -- but we may be able to launch a rearguard action if we take immediate steps. I don't know what these might be -- it's hard to think of ways to reduce the number of stupid people without veering into eugenics -- but one place to start might be to stop stupid people from voting. The political process is undermined by stupidity as it is, and as the population continues to get stupider than state actions will become further deranged.

One defence worth considering is immediate action to reduce the size of the state, so that there are fewer aspects of society for it be deranged about. If sectors such as health and education were not run by the government it would be much more difficult for stupid people to obtain control of them, and this would be much to our benefit I'm sure.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Back chat

I hate chat shows. Former chat show host Paul O'Grady -- famous for creating the comic drag character "Lily Savage" -- made an acute observation about the nature of such entertainments.

I felt I was part of the PR machine. There was so much interference. They’d want this guest or that guest. Every question had to go through the lawyers. I was just another plug for someone’s book or film.

[From Paul O'Grady: Why did I give up the chat show? I couldn't stand the guests! | Mail Online]

This is why I don't watch chat shows, even Graham Norton who can be very funny on occasion. They should be banned from the BBC completely and only shown on ITV with an OFCOM warning that you are watching advertisements disguised as programmes.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sticks and stones

A few weeks ago, I happened to glance at the Motoring section of the Saturday Telegraph. I can't remember why, because I normally just chuck it into the recycling with Travel, Gardening, Vienna—Gateway to the East and such like. But anyway, I remember thinking it odd that noted left-wing BBC-style comedian Alexi Sayle was writing a column about motoring.

I called the president of Malawi a name he certainly wouldn’t hear at the Court of St James’s as he shot across my path.

[From Alexei Sayle: what your car says about you - Telegraph]

Well, sticks and stones, as they say. But hold on. Later I read that

The government of Malawi has officially confirmed the death of the country’s president, Bingu wa Mutharika. Government officials said Mutharika suffered a heart attack on April 5

[From Banda Sworn In as Malawi's President | News | English]

Coincidence? You be the judge. Personally, I found Alexi Sayle's swearing on his first album to be wonderful and expressive and listened to it many times, but I'd never realised how deadly his vernacular could be.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Transparency next step

I read in today's Telegraph (but can't find it online) that the average farm in the UK had an income of £25,000 last year and that four-fifths of this income comes in the forms of EU subsidies (that rob taxpayers in two ways: by spending their tax money and by artificially raising the price of food). If you want to know how much your friendly local Farmer Giles gets from this racket… you can't.

European rules forcing the publication of details of the people who received farming subsidies and how much they received breached those people's rights to privacy, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled.

[From Farming subsidy database 'breaches privacy rights' • The Register]

So now farmers can keep their looting of the public purse to themselves. This seems wrong, especially when the terms for applying for these handouts clearly state that the amounts will be published. The right solution is, naturally, to abolish farm subsidies at the earliest opportunity, but, failing that, we should at least be allowed to see where the money is going.

Here's a positive suggestion though. I see today that the government is proposing to send taxpayers a pie chart of where the money went with their tax demand, a bit like the pie chart you get from Woking council with your enormous council tax bill. Not a bad idea - at least people can see where their money is going. But why not put this on food too: you're Waitrose bill could tell you at the end: you spent £35.45 of which £1.41 went on VAT and £24.21 went in EU subsidies and £2.91 went to Waitrose profit and…

What's wrong with some transparency?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Mary Portas hasn't a prayer

Remember last year, when retail expert Mary Portas published her report?

Ms Portas outlines plans for cutting regulations for High Street traders and the launch of a national market day. But council leaders have criticised her for not consulting them

[From BBC News - Mary Portas unveils report into High Street revival]

Now Mary Portas is a smart cookie. If you've ever wondered why the stars of the BBCs "Absolutely Fabulous" went on about Harvey Nicks all the time, it was because Mary promised

writer and star of the show Jennifer Saunders the run of the store for research in return for Saunders namechecking the business

[From Mary Portas - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

Smart, as I say. I haven't read the report, but I can tell you right now she's wasting her time. Yesterday I needed to buy a phone for a relative, so I called two local mobile phone shops to see if they had the particular handset in stock. Neither of them picked up the phone and in both cases I left messages asking them to call me back because I wanted to buy something. Needless to say, neither of them did.

Driving home from the station, I did think of popping into a store to pick up a couple of things, but to park outside the Tesco Metro and Co-Op costs money which, even if I was prepared to pay it (I'm not) I don't because I can't be bothered to find to walk down to the machine and find coins to feed in to it. I was dying for a coffee, and I thought maybe I'd pick up a Starbucks but there's nowhere to park and I can't be bothered to go into the town centre and park in a multi-story just to pick up a coffee to take home. I thought this then I was driving through Weybridge the other day: I saw a Caffe Nero and I just fancied a large latte with an extra shot, but there was nowhere to park so I just drove on.

In the end I drove home without a coffee, bought the milk from the petrol station and ordered the phone online, just as I order everything else online. The UK High Street is as dead as the Dodo.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Power to the people, oh no

Why should be people be allowed to vote? We think of it as a right, but I'm not so sure. Rights have related responsibilities, and presumably one of the most basic responsibilities associated with voting is a basic level of intelligence and a minor smattering of actual knowledge about the real world.

Almost one-third of Americans believe the ancient Mayan prediction of global calamity this December are “somewhat true,” according to a recent National Geographic poll.

[From America, the Beautiful (And Nutty): A Skeptic's Lament | Wired Science |]

Democracy has no future. The electorate have voted themselves into a cultural cul-de-sac from which there is no escape beyond destruction. The levels of ignorance are so great as to make public opinion meaningless on almost all topics.

Some 70% of Americans believe in some aspect of the paranormal — ESP, devils, ghosts, homeopathy, and spiritual healing. More than 25% believe there are humans who can “psychically” predict the future. About 20% believe it’s possible to talk to dead people (and that the dead talk back).

[From America, the Beautiful (And Nutty): A Skeptic's Lament | Wired Science |]

These happen to be the figures from America, but I'd be surprised if the UK was much less nutty. It's certainly as ignorant. And don't fool yourself that things are going to improve. A third of UK students don't know that milk comes from cows. (And as an aside, half of them couldn't name a single ingredient of bread and 42% didn't realise that social security payments come out of taxation, which explains a lot).

What I can't figure out is why it is that the race to the bottom is accelerating. I can see that post-war governments might at some level have concluded that an ignorant electorate might be easier to control and manipulate, but surely the malaise runs deeper. Perhaps, though, the answer lays in the rise of the stupid as well as their growth in the numbers.

It is not difficult to understand how social, political and institutional power enhances the damaging potential of a stupid person.

[From The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity]

What has changed in recent years is not that there are more stupid people (although I'm sure there are) but that stupid people have more and more power over us.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The new jazz?

I remember reading in the Daily Telegraph -- although a quick google fails to recover the link -- that rock is the new jazz, a niche, a minority industry. I suspect this is true. Who remembers Mott the Hoople, Free or The Shadows now? Of course, when I was a kid, one of the attractions of rock was that it was (superficially at least) anti-establishment but that ecological niche is now filled by what is generically referred to as "rap", although even an old codger like me knows that "rap" is really a portfolio of youth genres and they aren't really that rebellious. The songs are no longer about reshaping society but about accumulating cash, having sex with lots of women and drinking champagne and so forth. This isn't rebellion, this is aping the establishment not remaking it.

The rock rebellion didn't last long: it turned out that the goal of English rock stars, such as Cliff Richard and Mick Jagger, was (essentially) to become part of the establishment: to buy a big house in the country away from the oiks, to divide their time between London, the Caribbean and Los Angeles and to amass enormous piles of cash so that their descendants would never have to work. Fair enough, good luck to them. Although I am militantly opposed to their sociopathic exploitation of establishment status to enshrine their advantages through regulatory capture.

And as if to prove that they have become members of the establishment, they have set about pulling up the ladder. If you want to be an actress or a model or a TV presenter and you're not the child of celebrati you'll have your work cut out. Like all establishments, they've done everything they can to perpetuate: just as the political establishment were able to fight back and destroy the grammar school system that had (albeit temporarily) breached their defences, so the music/media/celebrity establishment have reinforced the battlements.

I was therefore stunned to read in the newspapers that Noel Gallagher, who was once in the Manchester pop group Oasis may well turn out to be Britain's last rock star by actually doing something rebellious.

'It was all better under Thatcher': Noel Gallagher on Britain's glory days, turning his back on drugs and the end of Oasis

[From Noel Gallagher: 'It was all better under Margaret Thatcher' | Mail Online]

Good lord. In the article he goes on to lambast Britain's rioting youth and says that he will send his kids to private schools with the children of oligarchs so that they are not forced to mix with the underclass and rants about the "de-education of masses", a subject on which I almost certainly agree with him. I never saw Oasis and I only ever had one of their albums (which was, I have to say, pretty good although I can't remember what it was) but I will go over to PirateBay and download something of theirs today.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, January 28, 2012

School reform

While at state school parents' evening recently, I happened to be chatting to a friend who is a teacher at a nearby private school. At the state school parent evening, you get a five minute slot to chat to each teacher. This stops it from being boring, but it does make things chaotic because some of the parents run over and the timetable doesn't last more than the first few minutes. Then it turns into a weird survival of the fittest, whereby the parents with the most tattoos and piercings, get to jack the queues and you end up having to wait for ages. Anyway, he told me that he has to prepare for every child at his school and all of the parents show up (of course, because they are paying something like £18,000 per year for each child) and they have 20 minute slots, during which the parents grill him about why the children aren't achieving A* in everything because a mere A isn't worth the money. (I once met an advisor to a hedge fund, someone considerably richer than me -- he has four kids at private school -- who told me, entirely seriously, that if his kids didn't get in to Oxford or Cambridge then he would get them in to a foreign university and help them to emigrate because they would have no future in the UK.)

Anyway, my point is that my friend who is a teacher was bemoaning the fact that he couldn't afford to send his daughter to the private school he wanted her to go to, and said that she was now going to get worse GCSEs. I didn't ask why, but maybe the discipline, rather than the teaching or the facilities is the key. I remember one of my sons complaining to me about the poor discipline at the state school I had condemned him too. I tried to comfort him by explaining that it made perfect sense to let the less academically-minded smoke pot on the far playing field instead of bringing them in to disrupt lessons, but he wasn't persuaded. This is why I've decided to lend my support to the Archbishop of Canterbury's campaign to bring Sharia Law to Britain after reading about the 13-year old Saudi Arabian girl who was sentenced to 90 lashes and two months in jail after she was caught using a mobile phone at school. This is the sort of clear and direct policy that would have a very positive impact on most state schools.

This is not the only improvement that might be imported. Apparently under Sharia Law schoolchildren can get between 300 and 500 lashes for assaulting a teacher. Not only "can", in fact, but "do".

Three years ago 16 schoolchildren, aged between 12 and 18, were each sentenced to between 300 and 500 lashes for being aggressive to a teacher.

[From Saudi girl, 13, sentenced to 90 lashes after she took a mobile phone to school | Mail Online]

I can see why the Archbishop said (a year after his initial call for this much-needed reformation of our legal system on religious lines) that, despite all of the whinging from the Liberal media, public opinion is coming round to his view.

"So I think there is a drift of understanding of what I was trying to say, perhaps I like to think so."

[From Archbishop of Canterbury: Society is coming round to my views on sharia - Telegraph]

The obvious next step, in my opinion, is for the Archbishop to introduce Sharia Law into Church of England schools. This farsighted move would simultaneously drive up parental demand for places at those schools and deliver significantly better exam results for the community. Using the new structures set up by Michael Gove, it ought to be straightforward to begin setting up the first Sharia-based Academy Schools and put this country back on its feet again.

Incidentally, if you're curious as to why I was reading a two year old newspaper article about girls being lashed at a Saudi Arabian school, there is an innocent explanation! When I was pottering about in London last week, I found myself on a tube station platform. On the opposite platform was a party of schoolgirls with a couple of teachers. The girls looked to be about 11 or 12. I suppose about half of them were wearing Muslim headscarves, but there were a small number (three or four) who were actually wearing full burkhas. I couldn't stop myself from wondering… how does anyone know that they are schoolgirls and not agents of a foreign power about the kidnap the daughter of some British PSP (politically-significant person, a phrase drawn from anti-money laundering legislation), perverts who had sneaked into the classroom or illegal immigrants who were operating incognito until such time as they could get a pet cat and use this in order to obtain the right to say in the UK.

This gave me a great idea for a book, and so I googled to find out whether girls where burkhas to school under Sharia Law.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Honourable mention

As the only person in Britain, apparently, who genuinely doesn't care whether Russell Brand gets divorced or not, I ended up buying the Sunday Times at the petrol station on the way home. It is full of depressing stories -- HBOS bad debts approaching £60 billion while the guy in charge of racking them up has retired on a £344,000 per annum pension, and that sort of thing -- but the one I settled on was the one about the New Year's Honours.

David Cameron faced an honours row today after it emerged at least four Conservative Party donors were given awards in the New Years list.

[From Cameron faces New Year honours row as four Conservative donors are given awards | Mail Online]

I'm using the Daily Mail link because the Sunday Times link is behind a paywall. But the point is that it's time we had a more open and transparent Honours system instead of the current system of handing out honours to speculators who correctly guessed "heads" and then split the loot with the governing party, near-randomly selected "ordinary people", some deserving cases of people who've done a lot for charity and celebrities who are friends of the elite. So I propose setting honours tariffs. A tariff of X means that you have to either have paid X in income tax or donated X to registered charities to qualify. But where to set the thresholds?

I think it was P.J. O'Rourke who said that the biggest contribution that the average person can make to society is to get a job, and he is surely correct. So therefore, the honour tariff should be set so that the first step on the ladder of honours should be above this basic threshold. Fifty years at work on the average salary means about a million quid of income, so let's say £300,000 in tax and national insurance (i.e., tax). So set the first rung on the ladder, the CBE, at £500K. Once you've paid £500K in tax or donated £500K to charity, then you get a CBE. Say a million for an OBE.

Obviously, at higher levels, the number of honours should be smaller and the club more exclusive, so it should take £100 million to get into the House of Lords.

The merit of my system is that everyone can see exactly where they are in the great scheme of things and that if property developers or currency speculators or famous actresses want to get honours then they will have to pay the tax or make the donations in the UK and then we call all applaud them for their contributions. I'm not sure why someone should get an honour for being a dinner lady or whatever for 50 years, because having a job for most of your working life should be the minimum we expect from people, right?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]