Thursday, 28 February 2013

Pirates!

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Cuddly green pirates but still pirates:

“You don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch. When you ram ships; hurl containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be.”

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Paying more for less - Bradford Council's budget

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The Labour Party - backed by fellow socialists in the Green Party - pushed through a budget that will raise council tax by 1.99%. Now, setting aside the cynicism of this particular increase, the truth is that such an increase wasn't needed. Even if the Council chose not to take the grant available to Bradford to freeze the tax.

Give or take a farthing, this increase raises around £5 million. And to get this in the context of the whole budget (some £1.3 billion) it is about 0.4% of the amount that Bradford actually spends. This - however you look at it - is little more than a rounding error. Even as a proportion of the net budget (defined as the difference between what we need to deliver services and the amount of non-tax income) it amounts to just a little over 1%.

To get a still clearer understanding, Bradford Council has underspent every year for the last three years - by as much as £16 million in one particular year. Regardless of the debate about resources, cuts and priorities there was absolutely no need at all to charge the Bradford public more money to receive less service.

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Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Why the nannying fussbuckets are wrong...

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I wonder why those public health folk don't ever mention this?

The life expectancy of the UK population is increasing by five hours a day,

This is despite:

The obesity epidemic
Smoking
Binge drinking
Salt
Fat
Sugar

Not going to the gym
Processed food
Fizzy drinks

Or for that matter the best efforts of the NHS to kill us with incompetence and neglect.

So shut up will you and let us live our lives. We're doing OK!

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The Smith Institute (unwittingly) spots the North's problem...

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Amidst a turgid, dreary and special interest laden report, The Smith Institute, the world's last remaining centre of Brownite thinking, unwittingly nailed the reasons for the North's economic problems:

In the three Northern regions, in the boom years of 2000-08, the majority of the new jobs came directly or indirectly from public funds.

The Labour government, under Brown's chancellorship, borrowed money and spent it on creating public sector jobs. There were no "boom years" outside the public sector in places like Bradford. For a few moments it felt that way but it was a chimera.

Public sector jobs were better paid, had better pensions and (seemingly) offered better prospects. Voluntary organisations, charities and social enterprises were sucked into the government's maw where juicy morsels of grant and contract were served up. The private sector - unless it was simply delivering public contracts - stood no chance.

The North's economy is in such crisis because of that false dawn, because the Labour government conned us into believing that the solution lay in an ever larger and ever more inefficient (and ineffective) public sector. They were wrong and we're paying the price.

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Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Mash Beer Tax

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Yes folks the budget is coming and, unless something changes, your pint will be going up again in price. Here's a chance to do some lobbying - to try and get the government to stop killing the pub.

In 2008 the Government made a commitment to above-inflation duty increases on beer. Since then, while duty has increased by 42%, revenue has only increased by 12%

And also:
 
Beer is already taxed more in the UK than almost every other country in Europe. Britons pay 40% of the EU beer tax bill, but consume only 13% of the beer

Join the campaign here:


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The price of bad government..

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A price Italians are paying:

Italians born in 1970, who are about 43 now, will pay 50% more in taxes as a percentage of their lifetime income than those born in 1952, according to research from the Bank of Italy and the University of Verona. The research also found they will receive half the pension benefits that Italy's 60-somethings are getting or are poised to get. 

Sadly, we in Britain - so used to sneering at Italians and their revolving door government - will be paying a similar price. Paying more and getting less - that is the lesson of modern government everywhere.

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Bullies...

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Little bits of me crumbled reading this from Cranmer. These people are everywhere - certainly everywhere in politics:

Bullies manipulate, humiliate, denigrate, undermine, distort, fabricate, lie convincingly and then lie again to cover their lies. And then they project all of their inadequacies, shortcomings and inappropriate behaviours onto their innocent victims with ferocious psychological violence, just to avoid facing up to their own inadequacies and doing something about them.

Bullies are arrogant, audacious, and exert a superior sense of entitlement. They are practised in the art of deception, deflection and obfuscation: if ever they are called to account, they will flit from subject to subject without ever answering the question, and spontaneously fabricate further as the moment requires, knowing full well that further investigation of their additional lies is not likely. And so they continue their vile and vindictive campaign when any official internal process has been summarily dismissed. And they even lie on oath, perfectly convinced of the infallibility of their words and the untouchability of their person. They are impregnable, unaccountable and immovable; perfectly charming in public and before any inquisitor or judge but thoroughly evil in private.

They tend to be superficial and awkward in conversation, though possessed of exceptional verbal dexterity. Their laugh is forced, hollow and insincere. In any discussion in which they sense danger of exposure, a voice may be raised slightly to warn off, speaking may become ‘firmer’, or the conversation will be abruptly terminated. They will alienate the strong employees, often by overlooking them for promotion or recognition, and they will ‘look after’ the fawning and obsequious.

They tend to be emotionally retarded with a pathological inability to empathise; they may storm out of rooms or rant when they don’t get their way. They are prone to mimic, repeat and plagiarise in order to maintain their façade of working excellence and semblance of normality. They cannot be trusted with personal information or confidences, and are likely to use any employee’s weakness (like bereavement or illness) as a means of undermining and destabilising.

I could list a name or two from my experience that precisely fit this description. But I won't - life's too short.

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Five things to remember...

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From Counting Cats:

These are possibly the 5 best sentences you’ll ever read...

1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.

2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.

3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.

4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!

5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.

Absolutely.  There is no money tree, there is no magic wand. We are richer by exchange and richer still when that exchange is free. Government is never the solution if you treasure liberty.

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Monday, 25 February 2013

Brighton bids for nannying fussbucketry prize!

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Brighton, jewel of the south coast, is run by Greens so we should perhaps be less than surprised at the Council's penchant for offensive nannying. However, their latest wheeze is wonderful - not just weapons grade nannying but wholly pointless too:

Contracts to be signed by parents pledging not to give their children alcohol are being considered by authorities in Brighton and Hove.

These will be voluntary contracts making them wholly ineffective. Oh and unenforceable as well! This is because according to the local public health boss (and we know how crap these folk are with statistics) reports that 9% of Brighton's kids have been pissed in the previous month. So leaving aside fibs and childish exaggeration, let's guess at how many of the mums and dads of these young people give a fig about signing any contract. Or, having signed said contract, taking the blindest bit of notice of its strictures.

So the Council sound like officious nannies, a few parents (probably with sober children) sign up to these passive aggressive contracts and the city's feral youth (and their irresponsible parents) carry on as before. A real win in public health terms!

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Housing wibble - a comment on Bradford's housing need guesses

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Just escaped from a presentation on the Bradford Housing Study from the consultants to Bradford Council. It was, as ever, a very interesting presentation full of fascinating insights in to the things that lead in the end to houses being built in one place but not in another.

The presentation wasn't about where those houses would be built. And the layman watching would be left none the wiser as to Bradford Council's plans. The presentation was about housing 'need' - an attempt (a vain attempt, I would say) to predict the unpredictable. How many houses will we 'need' in and around Bradford so as to ensure that everyone has a home to live in? Not next year or the year after but way ahead - 2028 to be precise. It is the special planner version of hubris.

Now, it's not the Council's fault since clever folk down in Whitehall have determined the basis for the these planning processes and the Planning Inspectorate will make damned sure that such requirements are adhered to whatever local people might think.

So what did the consultants conclude? Essentially that Bradford's population will grow and, therefore, will need houses to live in. And that the reason for that growth will be natural rather than a consequence of migration - to summarise, we're going to live longer and people will carry on having babies. All this means - so the consultants say - that we'll need around 40,000 new houses by 2028.

Now I know one thing about housing need predictions - and those housing numbers. They are wrong. I don't know the right answer but I do know they are wrong - predictions of housing need are always wrong. Just as importantly these is real world evidence to say that the Council's consultants are wrong - nothing to do with cunning predictions of need but instead about what actually does get built in the City.

In the last ten years - and this is in the consultants report - the annual housing target proposed to meet these new housing numbers has never been met. Not once, not even in the mad rush to build hundreds of city centre flats were more that 2,100 homes completed in a year. Yet this is exactly what the planners will propose - an undeliverable target requiring swathes of green fields to be released for development. The market will love sites in Ilkley and Silsden - gobbling them up to cater for folk who can't quite afford to live in Wetherby or Harrogate. But the tricky urban sites will remain untouched, sitting there growing buddleia and fireweed.

A symbol of everything that is wrong with 'spatial strategies', 'plan-led development' and all the other wibble of the planning world.

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Sunday, 24 February 2013

Why a Conservative win in Eastleigh might be the worst thing for the Party's future.

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The most worrying thing for my Party is the prospect that we might actually win the forthcoming by-election in Eastleigh. Don't get me wrong folks, one fewer Liberal Democrat in Parliament would be a blessing for the nation but the Conservatives need to face the truth about their organisation, membership and structures.

This isn't about whether the Party wins the next election but about whether it survives at all. Or indeed deserves to survive. Everywhere I look, the Party's 'grassroots' are looking pretty parched and uncared for. This isn't about policy scraps over Europe, gay marriage or whatever but about the outlook of the London operational leadership.

There is no doubt - and the appointment of Lynton Crosby confirms this - that the brief from the Party leadership to what we used to call the 'professional party' is entirely tactical. The entire focus is on the 2015 General Election and the whistles, gongs and bells that must be blown bashed or rung to secure victory. And the concentration here will be on destructive politics - blackening the opposition, cat-calls and dog whistles.

It may work. Part of me hopes it does, for another Labour government - even a Labour-led government - would likely kill what small hope remains for the nation. But the Conservative Party has to look to the 2020 election and beyond. Has to ask how it is going to rebuild the supporter base that made it the world's most successful political party of the last century. For it wasn't any politician that made this party. It was two million active members - the Party's achievements, the rebuilding of Britain in the 1950s, the rescuing of the country in the 1980s, were possible because of those members. Without them there would have been no Macmillan, no Thatcher.

If we win in Eastleigh. Because of scandal in the Liberal Democrats, because of local anger over housing or because our whistles worked better than our opponents. If we win in Eastleigh the leadership will be vindicated in their disparaging exploitation of the Party's remaining members. Nothing will be done to build support in our big cities, no campaigns to attract new young members will be run and local control - mostly removed under William Hague - will remain a distant memory.

As Paul Goodman - who rather gets this problem - put it:

In the crucial Midlands and Northern marginals the Conservatives must win in 2015, councillors are losing their seats and membership is falling, as it is elsewhere: the national figure may be as low as 130,000. The Tories have made much during the by-election of learning from President Obama’s victory last year, but his triumph was achieved by a combination of computer-held data and boots on the ground.

One would have thought that Mr Cameron would make a priority of reviving his party membership. Instead, he has drawn the opposite lesson from the decline of political parties. Like Tony Blair, he has sought to define himself against his own party...

If we win Eastleigh on Thursday this lesson will be ignored - the grubby business of tactical campaigning will be seen as the way to proceed. And a little more of the Party's base will decide to stay home and watch telly rather than attend the branch meeting, deliver leaflets or run a coffee morning.

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Saturday, 23 February 2013

The Storm

The storm swept in from the North, cloud boiling in the sky, the dark band of lashing rain visible as it soaked the hills below. The wind, at first just a cold squall,  built up  - all howling and moaning - until its strength broke branches, raised the grit from the track and blew slates from the sheep pen.

The two men stood on the crest - one short, one tall. Boots firmly placed in the mud of a soil bank.

"We can control this storm," said the taller man, "it need not damage us, we have the tools."

The shorter man pulled his coat a little more tightly around him, raised an eyebrow and shrugged.

"We can," repeated the taller man, "we can divert the winds, capture the rain and guide the storm to benefit our lives. Great scholars have shown that this is so - we cannot waver from this path."

The shorter man smiled to himself and turned to face the storm.

"These powers to direct the wind, to catch the rain and to calm the storm," he mused, "did they not make the storm worse when last we tried to use them?"

The tall man snapped back; "that was 80 years ago! We have learned from the mistakes made then - we can turn this storm away."

The small man raised his hands, "if you are so sure then let it be - but might it be better to let the storm pass and repair the damage it does than risk it doing more damage because we intervened?"

The storm swept in the the North. The spells of control were cast.

And the wind ripped slates from the farm roofs, livestock were killed by falling walls and the floods swept through the town. People's lives were ruined and they turned to the two men accusing them of failing.

"It would have been worse if we'd done nothing," came the response from the tall man.

The small man stamped his feet to keep his feet warm, rubbed his hands together. And spoke:

"Did you really think men could stop the storm? We rage at the storm, throwing spells and curses its way because then we're seen to do something. Nothing changes. The storm still comes, the damage is still done. But we clever fools persuade ourselves - and you - that our actions will help."

"We are wrong. We cannot control the storm."

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Friday, 22 February 2013

When did it all go wrong?

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These are the people in change - no wonder we're in a mess with little prospect of escape:

The road to a job as a public intellectual now increasingly runs through a few elite schools, often followed by a series of very-low-paid internships that have to be subsidized by well-heeled parents, or at least a free bedroom in a major city. 

This accurately describes how nearly all our leaders arrived in their elite positions - and not just the political leaders but those in the media, in academia and in the world of think-tankery. But it is in politics that I worry most - we really need fewer bright young things who've done nothing and rather more folk who've worked for a living out in the hard old world.

Politicians are only ever "in touch" because:

1. The public seek their mercy and assistance to negotiate round the castle

2. Acolytes (low low-paid internships) provide them with briefings and cuttings

3. Others in the elite share stories about what the public are up to

4. Opinion polls

And the is little or no prospect of any political party being led by anyone not from this elite background so long as we have the education system we have and the political structures we're cursed with.

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More stupidity and ignorance from those folk at Joseph Rowntree Foundation

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In an article about the use of words - a po-faced little lecture from the word police - the author, one Gary Rae, says this:

That said, according to the Department for Work & Pensions’ own figures, last year we overpaid 0.7% of the welfare budget due to fraud. Compare that with an estimated £70 billion lost through tax evasion.


Note the two figures - the first one is an accurate and referenced link to information from the government. The second one - well it's a load of rubbish, deliberately misleading rubbish. Here's the truth:

The latest estimates show that tax evaders, including those operating in the hidden economy and those who undertake organised criminal attacks on the tax system, deprive the public purse of around £14 billion


Still a lot of money but not anywhere close to Mr Rae's figure. With one flutter of his typing fingers the author destroys his argument (albeit a very thin argument) and reveals himself - and JRF - to be just as manipulative and exploitative of language as the rest of us. That and misleading.

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Thursday, 21 February 2013

School friends, parties and a rock god: commenting on Katie Hopkins

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My best mate at primary school was called Richard Finnigan. He was the sort of kid who Katie Hopkins would dislike:

Call me controlling, call me ruthlessly aggressive. But I'm convinced one of the best things I can do for my children - India, eight, Poppy, seven, and Max, four - is to choose their friends for them.


Richard's parents were separated and, since it was the 1960s and a Catholic school, this was a big deal. Moreover Richard's Mum, Mary, was a real hippy - trips to Kathmandu and everything - who famously lived with a rock god.

Breaking up with Farthingale shortly after completion of the film, Bowie moved in with Mary Finnigan as her lodger.  Continuing the divergence from rock and roll and blues begun by his work with Farthingale, Bowie joined forces with Finnigan, Christina Ostrom and Barrie Jackson to run a folk club on Sunday nights at the Three Tuns pub in Beckenham High Street.


So it's no surprise that, when Richard had a birthday party, only two of us - me and Andy Bower - turned up. You know - drugs, long hair, tut, tut.

The Finnigan's lived in one of those huge Victorian houses on Foxgrove Road (now mostly demolished and replaced with soul-less blocks of nice flats or twee little cul-de-sacs of town houses). The house had a huge and rather overgrown garden, a tangle of rhododendrons, self-seeded ash and sycamore and the vestiges of paths, statues and ponds that marked its former glory.

For us boys this was brilliant - we weren't interested in the presence of the rock god but in the prospect of jungle adventure, tree climbing and the discussion of those things that matter to nine-year old boys. And we were looked after in that slightly offhand but rather sweet way of hippies. Someone fed us - usually something slightly spicy and pasta-y, probably vegetarian. It might have been Richard's mum, or the couple with a little toddler called Siddhartha, maybe even the rock god himself, this didn't impinge on us - we just welcomed the food.

Parents who want to control the fun of their offspring or who think that somehow the thing we disapprove of in the parents will rub off on our children are telling us more about their own inadequacies than anything else. And, at school, children will make friends with who they wish to not who their controlling mums want them to be friends with.

Perhaps Katie should ease up a little - rather than taking the ridiculous view that consorting with thick children will make her children thick, she should perhaps consider whether her controlling nature might just be damaging them.

Mind you this is the woman who thinks that people who do things she disapproves of should pay more tax, so discovering she's bringing up her children to be ghastly little fascists like her shouldn't surprise us, should it?

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Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Manufacturing - no longer the place for cheap labour...

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And this is a good thing because cheap labour isn't just cheap it's dirty, unsafe and unpleasant - replacing the drudge with robots is a good thing:

Some might say that’s terrible: what are we going to do when there’s no more cheap labour? I look at it the other way around. When there’s no more cheap labour then there’re no more poor people, are there? For by definition people who are getting good wages just aren’t poor. So once we’ve run out of places where we can chase that cheap labour then we’ve actually solved one of humanity’s longest running problems. How in heck do we cure poverty? And we’ll have done it by the only logically sound method known: making everyone rich. Hurrah!


There will still be manufacturing jobs but they will look rather different - as I noted a while back:

I visited a manufacturer the other day. Part of a multi-national business in the electronics industry. Big plant in Chadderton employing about 360 people.

Of those 360 people, 54 have PhDs and over 70% have a degree of some sort.

Rather makes the point that, even if we have a boom in manufacturing, it is't going to provide jobs for 16 year olds who have scraped five GCSEs.


Manufacturing soon becomes a high skill, high value added business filled with society's elite - all graduates, many with higher degrees and all creating, thinking and developing the business.

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Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Why Sir Paul Nurse must be run out of town on a rail

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Of course it's political. Absolutely it's political. Everything is political when it comes to protecting and preserving liberties. As someone who is prepared to accept the idea that man's activity affects the climate (although I refuse to believe - and evidence supports me here - that we're the only cause of changing climate), I know it is political.

Which is why people like Sir Paul Nurse (why do they always mention his Nobel Prize - it wasn't in climate science and he's no more qualified to opine on the subject than I am, perhaps less so) need to be challenged:

A feature of [the global warming] controversy is that those that deny there is a problem often seem to have political or ideological views that lead them to be unhappy with the actions that would be necessary should global warming be due to human activity. I think that’s a crucial point. Because these actions that are likely to include measures which include concerted world action, curtailing the freedom of individuals or companies or nations, and curbing some kinds of industrial activity.’


Sir Paul's conclusion is that we have to stop people doing things - curtail freedom in response to climate change. I absolutely and completely reject this conclusion - we need to be prepared, we need to respond to the technical and scientific challenges of a changing climate. But we don't need to wreck the world's economy and condemn billions - and still more billions yet unborn - to a short, painful and grinding life of poverty.

You're all right Sir Paul, you've lovely comfortable jet-setting life. I'm pleased for you and your family.

And  I'm prepared to go for growth so the part of the world's population that isn't all right can enjoy at least a bit of your lifestyle. And I think that decency AND the interests of mankind are on my side.

You and your sort should be run out of town on a rail.

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Monday, 18 February 2013

Dear doctors, if you're going to be fussbuckets can you at least get the facts right

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The media is all afroth with the latest press release from "The Doctors" about us getting a little chubby. This is accompanied by images of podgy middles being manhandled and reams of self-righteous judging of other folks' lifestyles.

In a report spelling out the problem in stark terms, the academy says doctors are "united in seeing the epidemic of obesity as the greatest public health crisis facing the UK.

I mind greatly about doctors wanting new taxes, controls and so forth - nannying fussbucketry is not just wrong it's immoral. But I mind even more about the facts - and these doctors can't even be bothered to get these right.

Firstly there's the epidemic - well there isn't one. This is an epidemic:

A widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time.

These are doctors for heaven's sake, surely they care just a little about the precision in using medical terms? Or am I crediting the fussbuckets with giving a damn? Obesity isn't infectious - I'm not going to catch it from the fat person round the corner however hard I try. I'm going to get fat if I eat too much food and exercise too little - nothing catching at all.

Then there's the line that obesity is "getting worse". This too is wrong - here's the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (not a regular enemy of nannying fussbuckets) on the subject:

Over time, there is little sign of the inexorable rise in obesity that underlies some of the concern about the issue. Rates for children did rise and peak in 2004 but have since fallen and are now no different to what they were in the late 1990s.

So we're fatter than we were in the 1980s but not actually getting even fatter.

So those doctors have misused (quite deliberately) the term 'epidemic' and lied about obesity getting worse. They also ignore the pesky research showing that being a bit chubby isn't a problem - it might even be good for us:

Results showed that overweight people were six per cent less likely to die during the average study period. Mildly obese people had a five per cent lower rate of premature death.

The research showed that men and women hold an equal advantage when it comes to being overweight, and that the conclusion was not affected by age, smoking status, or region. 

Has anyone considered that what we call "normal weight" is, in truth slightly underweight?

Even if we accept the (plainly wrong) we're all getting fatter argument, the nannying fussbuckets are after the wrong targets - fizzy drinks and burgers:

Over the last 10 years, the consumption of soft drinks containing added sugar has fallen by 9%, while the incidence of obesity has been increasing. And 61% of soft drinks now contain no added sugar. 

Doesn't look like full fat coke's to blame - the burgers then?

 ...there was no significant association between increasing takeaway and fast food consumption and obesity as measured by BMI corrected for age and gender. This is not a new finding. For example, French and colleagues found no significant relationship between frequent consumption of fast food and being overweight in their analysis of a cohort of 11-18-year-old boys and girls. Similarly, Simmons et al found no correlation between increasing takeaway consumption and obesity measured by either BMI or waist circumference.

Blast - it's not the burgers either.

This is the problem - there is a problem but the doctors are too fussed about nannying us to ask why and what might be done. Here's our friends at JRF again:

There is also a difference for adults with a clear social gradient for women (with 31% of the poorest being obese compared with 19% of the richest) but pretty much equal rates for men across all incomes (between 24-29%).

Spotted that - I'm sure you have on your high street. Let's call it the Jack Sprat Principle. But why? Why are working class women so much more likely to be obese - trying to understand this might be a whole load more valuable than banning advertising or taxing fizzy drinks.

This is the problem with public health - too terrified to target risky groups, our fussbuckets find it simpler to propose whole population solutions to problems that, in truth, affect only a minority of that population.

However, the biggest lie today is the idea that the solution lies in ever more draconian controls, more taxes and taxpayers money poured into unpleasant and aggressive "public health" campaigns. And all because - we're told without evidence or foundation - that slightly less than 3% of NHS resources goes to deal with the health problems contingent on obesity.

....




Can we have more BBC strikes please?

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I understand that the BBC's journalists went on strike today.

And there was a refreshing change to my morning listening. Normally the news is interrupted by Nicky Campbell's writhing, self-indulgent metroliberalism or overly aggressive interviews by Humphries.

This morning we got none of that - just news and interviews presented pleasantly and professionally. I felt informed and my annoyance was limited to the content of the news not the outlook of the news presenter.

Perhaps more strikes might continue to raise standards!

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Sunday, 17 February 2013

Free trade...just do it

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I gather that we're (by which I mean our EU overlords) going to be chatting to Barak over the pond about a "free trade agreement":

It is good news that the United States and the European Union have confirmed that they are going to start formal talks about a new free-trade agreement. That President Obama announced the move in his State of the Union address reflects a profound personal evolution on the issue. 

We should all get terribly excited at the prospect of (following tortuous and seemingly endless negotiations) a deal that will get the damned Yankees to lift their tariffs on our stuff. Indeed we're told that lifting those tariffs is great:

...removing tariffs is predicted to generate an extra £115 billion within five years for both sides.

Think of the economic growth, the jobs and the businesses that will come from this trade! Consider the wonders that a transatlantic free trade zone would bring!

It's all nonsense - pretending that somehow we should care about what we export to the USA. What we should care about is the reason we have trade - so we can buy the lovely stuff they make over in Yankeeland. We don't need negotiations all we need to do is scrap our tariffs to reap the economic benefit of trade. Goods that are currently made more expensive by tariffs will be cheaper, domestic producers will be spurred to greater efficiency and innovation once they're kicked blinking into the sunlight of a free trade world.

And it really doesn't matter a jot whether the Americans do likewise.

Go on EU - just do it. The people will benefit and, while there'll be a bit of grumbling from agribusiness, from textiles folk and other protected industries, the positive effect on the economy will be palpable. We don't have to sign a treaty to get that £115 billion boost. All we have to do is scrap tariffs and other protectionist measures. Simple really.

....

Guilty men...

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Over 1000 people died unnecessarily at Stafford hospital. We don't know how many others died without cause at other hospitals in England. We do, however, know who is responsible:


They knew there was a problem and did precisely nothing:

The Department of Health was handed three reports raising concerns about the quality of care in some parts of the NHS in 2008. The reports for Lord Darzi, a former health minister, found targets were being met at the expense of patient treatment and identified a culture of fear among staff afraid to raise concerns.

People were dying and, for fear of political scandal, these politicians did nothing - even after the deaths at Stafford were known they did nothing:

Up to 2,800 of these deaths came after alarms were sounded about the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal and three independent reports warned that not enough attention was paid to quality of care. 

That Andy Burnham is Shadow Health Spokesman is truly shocking - he'll be the first to crow about how much was "invested" in the NHS by the last Labour government. When will he put his hand up to covering up the scandal of these deaths?

....



Quote of the week...

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From Leg Iron:

You like to complain that smokers ‘cost you money’ but you are happy to pay for crap like this while your grandma dies of thirst in a bed caked in her own faeces because the NHS is too busy nagging me to bother with them.

Got that folks - it's closer to the truth than you dare admit.

....

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Sorry Joanna but the FSA has done a good job...

...even though it pains me to defend a somewhat nannying quango.

Ms Blythman's contention is that the UK's Food Safety Agency is in the pocket of "Big Food" and therefore not doing its job:

So, whenever revelations about our industrialised, globalised food chain surface, the FSA can be relied upon to pipe up like a parrot with its well-rehearsed script, designed to reassure us that we can have confidence in the food we eat. Boosting trust in the existing food system, irrespective of whether it is merited, by telling us that the latest scare poses no health risk, is the only language the FSA speaks.

But I would contend that the purpose of the FSA is to ensure that the food we eat is safe. And by this we chiefly mean, isn't going to make us ill. And what a great job that Agency has done - in 1998 there were nearly 100,000 cases of food poisoning in the UK (93,932 to be precise) but by 2010 this had fallen to just under 57,000 cases. Despite an increasingly globalised food system, we have improved the safety of the food we eat.

And the food processing industry that Ms Blythman hates is a big part in that improvement - even though the corrupt mislabelling of food is a problem (and more about regulation than authorities seem prepared to accept) and a safety issue, nobody has suggested that the current horsemeat scandal has made anybody ill.

There's no doubt that, if you want to know what's in your food, you should buy all the ingredients and make it yourself. But this doesn't reduce the safety risks - we know, for example, that poor hygeine in the home is a bigger cause of illness than poor hygeine in food businesses. And this is the chief point - the FSA's job isn't to make moral judgements about GM foods, to act as an advocate for organic produce or to close down food processing plants. The Agency's job is to ensure that the food we buy - from the organic biodynamic woo-laden goodies that Ms Blythman likes to the evil products of "Big Food" - isn't going to make us ill.

And the FSA has done just that.

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While people die from neglect, the NHS employs a 'life coach'...

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Really! A "life coach":

"...Jayne Morris, the resident “life coach” for NHS Online..."

A life coach who - talking about clutter - believes this:

Keeping something in the loft, garage or other part of the house, does not help because it is still connected to the person “by tiny energetic cords” she claims. 

Seriously! I'm all for being tidy (well some of the time) but for the NHS to employ someone who believes such arrant nonsense is appalling. Especially when that organisation can't manage its way out of a wet paper bag.

Says everything you need to know about NHS priorities.

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Friday, 15 February 2013

Thursday, 14 February 2013

The real scandal of today isn't about horses...

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Think for a minute of the hours dedicated to picking over the carcass of the horseburger scandal. Look at how every politician - left, right, loony and sane - has had a say on the matter. The worst example being the ghastly metroliberal love in between Mary Creagh and Nicky Campbell on Five Live yesterday morning - a veritable festival of bias, platitude and ill-informed judgement.

Don't get me wrong. It's a major failing of our food safety system (wait for the evidence of corruption - there's some of that involved) and the responsibility lies with retailers to ensure that they're supplying what they say they're supplying. However, no-one has died or been made ill and, since horse protein has the same nutritional value as beef protein, no-one is likely to die. It needs sorting and, so long as government's doesn't get involved (especially the EU with its corrupt entourage of special pleading and corporate interest), it will be sorted. Those big, rich retailers won't want to be caught out again.

However, while thousands of hours are spent about horses cropping up in the beef lasagne, there isn't the same attention to this:

The public inquiry was ordered after a separate report revealed that between 400 and 1,200 more people died than expected at Stafford Hospital over a four year period between 2005 and 2009.

Patients were left for hours sitting in their own faeces, food and drink was left out of reach and hygiene was so poor that relatives had to clean toilets themselves.

Where are the special Newsnight reports, the queue of politicians calling for heads on poles, the in-depth Guardian reportsand the calls for "something to be done"? Why aren't the politicians responsible for this system dragged kicking and screaming into the studio to account for how they managed to create a system so useless that it resulted in over a thousand deaths at one hospital and untold numbers at dozens of other hospitals?

Why is no-one - no think tank chap or academic - popping up on the telly or the radio saying that the NHS has failed and continues to fail ordinary folk? And why is no-one asking whether there's a better system - one that doesn't kill thousands of people with bureaucracy?

And finally, no-one asks how those "caring" nurses and doctors walked past patients starving, thirsty and lying in their own waste - and did nothing.

Forget about the horsemeat - this is the real scandal.

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Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Potholes...

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Every Councillor needs to be on top of the pothole issue and pointing out how the council needs to act and act now to do something (specifically fill in the pothole being pointed out). We are assiduous in performing this vital task, keeping highways maintenance folk busy filling in said holes.

Then we troop into the council chamber and vote for budgets that cut spending on that vital task of highways maintenance. Local council's spend less than 5% of their revenue budget on looking after roads, pavements and footpaths. Which is down from 11% (and in actual cash terms more) in 2008.

This reflects the priority of government - national and local. The idea that looking after roads is an important function of government has long passed - even in the transport field the focus (and the spending) has been directed to railways. While we subsidise heavy rail to the tune of over £13 billion, national revenue spending on roads languishes at a mere £9 billion. And this priority - as ever - is reflected in the choices of local councils.

The odd thing is that most people, most of the time simply don't use trains. Even in London. Yet we all - whether we're drivers, bus users, cyclists or pedestrians - use the roads. Perhaps we have (in our obsession with hating the motor car and disliking the lorry) simply forgotten that it is roads that carry the lion's share of freight, that allow us to get from our front door to where we wish to go and that are the real lifeline of our economy.

That our roads - suburban, urban, trunk and rural - are riddled with potholes represents a colossal failure in government priority. We've allowed ourselves to be lulled by those green dressed sirens into accepting the wholly false premise that railways present any kind of solution to the transport needs of a modern economy. Railways merely take us from one place we don't want to be to another place we don't want to be - it's the roads that complete the journey.

Potholes are a symptom of misplaced priority not a failing of any system. We simply stopped spending money on roads. New schemes are evaluated on the basis of unwarranted environmental impact assessments meaning that, in almost every case, new roads don't meet criteria. And councils faced with tight budget settlements choose to spend on social services for the minority of residents rather than roads for everyone. And there's a reason for this of course.

Those social services carry an enormous risk - whether we're speaking of the terrible child death or the dreadful story of elderly neglect this always trumps you or I getting a broken car as a result of a pothole. So we pour money into social services - as it happens nearly all of the grant we get from central government (education aside) ends up being spent on social services. And the result of this is that we spend less and less money on looking after the roads we all use.

With the result being potholes that us councillors can point at, take action about, get sorted!

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Tuesday, 12 February 2013

So why all the fuss then?

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I would like it scrapped - inheritance tax, that is - but despite this the "it's a tax on aspiration" or "attack on the middle class" arguments appear not to hold much water:

Of the roughly 560,000 deaths in 2009-10, inheritance tax was paid on the estates of just 14,600 — or 2.6 per cent.

And tax was paid on just 4,700 estates worth between £325,000 and £500,000 — each of which paid about £27,000 on average. In fact, 68 per cent of inheritance tax receipts came from estates worth £1 million or more.

The 14,600 estates that did pay inheritance tax were, on average, worth £875,000 (including £329,000 in residential property, £253,000 in securities and £190,000 in cash) and paid, on average, £163,000 — an effective tax rate of just under 19 per cent.


Why make it a big deal?

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So the BMA prefers people to die...

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Or so says its nannying fussbucket in chief, Vivienne Nathanson:

"I would either take them off the shelves or I would very heavily regulate them so that we know the contents of each e-cigarette were very fixed,"

Dr Nathanson would, of course, prefer people to die.

Not everyone agrees:

"Nicotine itself is not a particularly hazardous drug," says Professor John Britton, who leads the tobacco advisory group for the Royal College of Physicians. 

"It's something on a par with the effects you get from caffeine.

"If all the smokers in Britain stopped smoking cigarettes and started smoking e-cigarettes we would save 5 million deaths in people who are alive today. It's a massive potential public health prize."


As I said the anti-tobacco fundies would rather people died.

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Monday, 11 February 2013

On the cult of public health...

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The transfer of public health from the clutches of central government and the NHS presents a real opportunity. An opportunity to appraise what it is we mean by ‘public health’ and how those considerable sums - £31 million in Bradford’s case – should be spent. Sadly, this won't happen.

Some while ago public health was captured by an aggressive, new puritan cult intent on using government funding to change the way people choose to live. This attack on the lifestyles of ordinary people is founded on a few principles:

  • Denormalisation – the idea that those making certain choices should be ostracised since this will force them (assuming they want to be ‘part of society’) to change their wicked ways. This strategy is most advanced in the case of smoking (and anything that even looks like smoking) but the template of denormalisation is now applied to drinking and to eating certain sinful foods
  • Government health spending is for the good not the evil – sinful people who smoke, drink and eat burgers, who might be a little short of breath or a couple of stone overweight represent a burden on health services meaning that the righteous do not receive the care they need. We should stop people smoking, drinking and eating burgers – not for their own good but for the ‘good’ of the NHS
  • The poor can’t help it – far from the choice to smoke, drink and scoff Gregg’s sausage rolls being just that, a choice, it is in fact the fault of the makers of these products – “Big Tobacco”, “Big Food” and “Big Drink”. The poor are like helpless sheep thoughtlessly trotting into oblivion, responding to the sirens voice of advertising and the manipulation of faceless, besuited men
  • Medicalisation – smoking, drinking, eating the wrong stuff – even sex – can be treated with medicines. And the pharmaceuticals industry has spent a great deal of time – and money – creating new illnesses and new conditions that require drugs. Thus conditions such as “female impotence” arrive following pharma funding and their capture of researchers and clinicians. This medicalisation underscores denormalisation by making lifestyles an illness rather than a choice.

And the application of these principles has now spawned a vast industry:

‘The NCD Alliance, a global advocacy organization representing a network of more than 2,000 civil society organizations led a major lobbying campaign, and mobilized its network to ensure this target was secured.’

These aren’t noble volunteers we’re speaking of here but committed campaigners paid by these ‘civil society organisations’ to lobby government and international organisations such as the World Health Organisation. And much of that funding comes from either the very governments being lobbied or from those who benefit from the medicalising of normal conditions.

Public health long since stopped being about great programmes such as building sewers, immunisation and clean air. Instead it has become a bitter little profession dedicated to finding fault with the choices that ordinary people make, with punishing them for enjoying a few simple little pleasures and with hectoring us about our lifestyles. None of this is really about our health. Rather it is about sin - about disapproving of what we do, of believing that the focus of our lives should be the search for eternity. Not in the afterlife but here on Earth.

And the believers in the public health creed say that this is done by a purposeful life dedicated to well-being - to the rejection of hedonism and its replacement with the comfort blanket of a false contentment. But worse these believers whip up hatred and disapproval of anyone who rejects their search for eternity, who believes that we only get a short time living and that our first duty is to have as much fun as we can in that short time.

This dreary and depressing cult is enough to drive you to drink!

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Labour's plan - tax the poor to pay for the care of the wealthy.

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Fresh from championing recipients of housing benefit earning over fifty grand, Labour is now planning to be the hero of the relatively wealthy. Apparently, the proposals on social care - where how much we might have to cough up is capped at £75,000 and people with £125,000 or less in assets will receive state help - still mean that people will have to sell their home.

I'm fine with this. What possesses people like Andy Burnham to believe that the taxes paid by people on minimum wage should go to pay to care for someone sitting in a house worth hundreds of thousands? Does he really think it justifiable - I mean morally - for a struggling family to pay taxes so someone else can inherit mum's house? Is it really OK that government borrowong climbs through the roof - taxing future generations of children - so someone can leave their "life savings" fructifying in some investment fund?

If there's one thing that makes me cross it's the assumption that these assets, these savings are simply there so people can inherit the cash. Surely those assets and savings are precisely there to look after mum or dad in their lifetime - to provide comfort, to secure care and to provide a little pleasure.

So rather than talking rubbish about family homes and nonsense about life savings, sit down with your parents and talk about how to use that money to make the last years of their lives less or a worry, more of a comfort. And stop counting the money in their bank and expecting the poor to pay higher taxes so you can inherit that cash.

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Saturday, 9 February 2013

Quote of the day: "Capitalism is the greatest..."

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Via the Whited Sepulchre I discovered this quotation:

Capitalism is the greatest creation humanity has done for social cooperation. It has lifted humanity out of the dirt. In statistics we discovered when we were researching the book, about 200 years ago when capitalism was created, 85% of the people alive lived on $1 a day. Toady, that number is 16%. Still too high, but capitalism is wiping out poverty across the world. 200 years ago illiteracy rates were 90%. Today, they are down to about 14%. 200 years ago the average lifespan was 30. Today it is 68 across the world, 78 in the States, almost 82 in Japan. This is due to business. This is due to capitalism. And it doesn’t get credit for it. Most of the time, business is portrayed by its enemies as selfish and greedy and exploitative, yet it’s the greatest value creator in the world.

Absolutely - you can see John Mackey of Whole Foods Market saying this and more here.

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Wanting an e-cig ban: is it tax revenue, ignorance or stupidity?

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Here's a reference to a literature review in the journal, Addiction, on the subject of e-cigs:

...“removing e-cigarettes from the market or discouraging their use could harm public health by depriving smokers of a potentially important option for smoking cessation.” It would “seem misguided,” the authors argue, “to ask people to discontinue an approach that is working in favour of an approach that has already been ineffective for them.”

Yet Canada bans e-cigs and the EU intends to (unless we can stop them). Why is this? Some suggest:
 
By dismissing this technology outright, the anti-smoking crowd is showing their true colours. Their actions show a deep-seated antipathy toward smokers and anything that resembles a cigarette, rather than a concern for overall public health.

It is the smoker who is bad not the cigarette. And there's some truth in this argument - the success of 'denormalisation' has been to turn smokers into evil pariahs. But is there also an argument that support for the ban is driven by ignorance and stupidity (things that are well represented in public health circles).

Plus there's this - the UK government generated £12.1 billion in duty and VAT from smokers last year. Imagine if, say, the smoking rate dropped from it current rate of about one in five adults to the rate in Sweden (about one in seven adults). That would see some £3 billion less revenue for the government - revenue they'd have to make up in other taxes or cuts to services.

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Why we need immigration...

This isn't a plea for no rules or no controls but a reminder that the "we're full, stop anyone coming here ever again" brigade want to cut their nose off to spite their face. Here's why:


Low-fertility societies don’t innovate because their incentives for consumption tilt overwhelmingly toward health care. They don’t invest aggressively because, with the average age skewing higher, capital shifts to preserving and extending life and then begins drawing down. They cannot sustain social-security programs because they don’t have enough workers to pay for the retirees. They cannot project power because they lack the money to pay for defense and the military-age manpower to serve in their armed forces.

You have got that haven't you? Although the article is about us not having babies, it applies as well to us not letting people come to live here. If we are to suceed - to grow, to prosper, to keep up with the international Joneses then we need immigrants. Or more babies. Or both.

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Process or people?

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Surrey County Council let an old lady starve to death:

Officers from Surrey Police have begun an inquiry following the death of 81-year-old widow Gloria Foster.

She passed away at Epsom Hospital on Monday (February 4) after being found abandoned, starving and dehydrated at her home in Banstead.

Mrs Foster was left alone at the property in Chipstead Road after the Sutton-based firm that cared for her, Carefirst24, was shut down following a raid by the UK Border Agency and Metropolitan Police in January.

I don't know the details of the case so can't say whether anything criminal was done. But I have a question - was Mrs Foster killed by the process or the people?  And it's an important question because it impinges on the failings in our National Health Service as shown by the enquiries into various hospitals and hospital departments, most recently Mid Staffs NHS Trust.

If it's the process - or the system or the "culture" - then we must ask how it is that repeated reorganisations and restructures have affected our care provision. Has each revolution in NHS or Council organisation merely, in Kafka's words, resulted in "...the slime of a new bureaucracy"?

Or is it the people - should we really be asking how someone - or worse still several people - can leave an old lady without the care she needed to live for nine days? That's nine days turning up to work with the request sitting on the desk, nine days to make a phone call and arrange some care, nine days to do something so Mrs Foster can live.

Is it the people? Those altruistic nurses passing by a bed where an poorly woman lies in her own urine and faeces - was it the process, the system, the culture that made them neglect her needs? Time and time again, not just in Stafford but across the NHS and in Council care provision, we read of this neglect, this failure to do basic, civilised acts of caring.

Can we ask again - is it the process or the people?

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Friday, 8 February 2013

Why does this need to be said?

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Charities should make sure they thank their donors and "say it very quickly", according to the international art dealer and philanthropist Frederick Mulder.


You won't keep many donors if you don't thank them.

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Adrian Naylor & a bad case of logic fail!

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My erstwhile colleague, Adrian Naylor, is very keen to talk about planning. Sometimes he seems to hate it (because it wants to build more houses in Silsden) while at other times he seems to love it (because it can stop more houses being built in Silsden).

And his latest piece of illogicality is this:

Coun Naylor does not believe relaxing planning rules will provide much-needed schools for the district.


Now we know that one of the barriers to free schools - and other schools for that matter - is that land simply isn't designated (under our absurd planning system) for this purpose. So those wishing to develop schools - especially secondary schools - have to do battle with the planning authority. If Adrian had bothered to look at the planning difficulties faced by all Bradford's free schools, he wouldn't be saying that relaxing planning regulations was a bad idea.

I can only assume that - in Adrian's world - these schools will float on little clouds so they don't interfere with his little myth-bound wonderland.

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David Ward MP keeps on digging...

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Now it's the great Jewish conspiracy - the "machine":

"There is a huge operation out there, a machine almost, which is designed to protect the state of Israel from criticism. And that comes into play very, very quickly and focuses intensely on anyone who's seen to criticise the state of Israel. And so I end up looking at what happened to me, whether I should use this word, whether I should use that word – and that is winning, for them. Because what I want to talk about is the fundamental question of how can they do this, and how can they be allowed to do this."


Saying that atrocities in Gaza were down to "the Jews" was anti-semitic. Saying that the only reason he got into trouble was because of some vast machine compounds David Ward's 'mistake'. The truth is he got into trouble for saying that "the Jews" hadn't learned from The Holocaust.

I'm pretty sure David doesn't mean to be anti-semitic but the effect is the same - maybe he needs some awareness training?

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Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Some Council Monitoring Officers are pretty dumb....

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‘Some council monitoring officers are informing their councillors that being a council tax payer is a disclosable pecuniary interest in any Budget debate. Councillors are then informed they would be committing a criminal offence if they speak or vote in that debate unless they obtain a formal dispensation.’

Yes folks, the "Standards" nonsense continues.

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Green means poor and greener means poorer

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The Centre for Cities reports on how economic misery is saving the planet - at least in terms of reducing those pesky carbon emissions:

Between 2005 and 2010, total CO2 emissions in the UK fell 10 percent, with the most dramatic shifts coming since the recession began in 2008. Industrial emissions, which account for 44 percent of all UK CO2 emissions, fell 15 percent since 2005.

And to illustrate this, the writers cite Middlesborough - where of course they closed down steel plants and chemical works. With the result that:

However, the vast majority of the reduction in CO2 emissions came from industrial decline. Anecdotally, the closure of major manufacturing plants like Corus Steel in 2010 and Croda Chemicals would have had a large impact on the emissions of the city. Overall, employment in manufacturing fell in Middlesbrough by roughly 20 percent since the onset of the recession.

Saving the planet comes at the expense of human misery. The losers aren't the better off but those on the margins, poorer people. The whole point and purpose of green economics is to make us poorer - and that means more of that human misery. Just as Oxfam wants poor Africans to stay as poor Africans, the green movement believes economic growth is wrong - and this means poor people staying poor, or worse getting poorer.

These greens should be driven from the land.

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Tuesday, 5 February 2013

A point about the equal marriage debate...

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It's just that I'm a stickler for these things. The debate - and the decision of parliament isn't about marriage it's about the institution of marriage. Let me explain.

Imagine that my partner (of whatever gender) and I decide to get married in the ancient pagan Armenian style by leaping over a fire. Maybe that good old Saxon way of jumping over a broomstick. Or a thousand other ways including wearing a big white dress and walking down the aisle.

At the end of this ceremony we are married. All the bits that we talk about - love, commitment, eternity - can be included. We can throw a bash - lashing of grub and gallons of good ale.

Except for one small detail. The government doesn't think us married. So all those privileges granted to married folk simply because they are married aren't granted to us. Jumping the fire won't suffice. We have to sign a register in front of witnesses and collect a piece of paper from the representative of government that says we're married.

The gay marriage thing is about this bit of bureaucratic procedure not the love, joy and commitment bit. If there were no privileges granted in law to married people then there would be no need for the piece of paper and no need for the debate. And no need for us to be bothered about who exactly is getting married to who.

And because it's about a piece of paper rather than love, commitment or eternal partnership, there is absolutely no justification for witholding the privilege that paper grants simply because the couple are both women or both men.

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Representation...

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You hear the cries about politicians:

"We elect them to do what we say!"

And a host of variations on this theme.

These cries are wrong. And it is important that we understand why they are wrong - it's not because we aren't democratic or that it's anything to do with the modern idea of the political party. No, it's because we choose a representative - someone to go down to Westminster (or in my case Bradford City Hall) and make decisions on our behalves.

We don't instruct such a person (although he would be wise to listen and on occasion consult) nor is he a delegate, sent there with a limited mandate. What we have done is entrust the politician with our votes - the votes we would have had in some sort of 21st century agora. And we cannot know at the point of choosing our representative quite what all those votes will be, we are unable to predict every bill, every amendment and every committee debate or discussion. We have to trust that the person we choose will act in our interests - or in what he honourably sees as our interest.

None of this is about spending time in the constituency (although time spent there when parliament is in session is time the MP spends not doing his job), nor is it about the whip or the manifesto. It is quite simply that no system could be created that allowed all of us to "have our say" on every little item before MPs or to vote in every division. Even in these days of whizzing technology, of the Internet and the smart phone, the idea that all the thousands of votes - let alone the work on committees - could somehow involve us all is a nonsense.

In describing this situation - one that has been the case since Simon de Montford's first parliament - I have been careful to avoid the word democracy. Indeed, in the strictest of senses our system is not democratic, other than at the moment when we chose the men and women who will represent us. People try to pretend that democracy is about more than debating and deciding together - it is not, that is absolutely the whole point of democracy.

I am a representative. I vote firstly according to my conscience, then on what I understand to be the interests of those who chose me and lastly in consideration of the advice given me by my Party. And, when the day of democracy comes, those I represent have the chance to chose someone else should that be their wish.

In the meantime I will say what I think right and vote accordingly.

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Monday, 4 February 2013

Merge in turn....a rant

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Each day I drive down the A629 Calderdale Way from the M62 towards Halifax. It's a fine clear dual carriageway (somewhat inevitably ruined by speed cameras enforcing a ridiculous 50 mph limit) that becomes a single lane as you approach Halifax.

As you drive along the dual carriageway towards the point at which two lanes become one there are a series of signs. The first says:

"Use both lanes"

Pretty straightforward - yet day after day there's a mile-long queue in the inside lane and a quarter-mile long queue in the outside lane. I, of course, use the outside lane (but more of this later).

The second sign says:

"Merge in Turn 200m"

Again pretty clear - the sign advises us to be prepared to merge in turn.

The third sign - just shy of the final dying of the second lane - says:

"Merge in Turn Now"

Pretty clear again.

So tell me why it is that, more often than not one of the following things happens:

1. A car (or more commonly a van) that has waited in the inside lane - presumably because they don't understand what "use both lanes" means - 'drifts' into the outside lane, straddling the centre line with the intention of preventing people in the outside lane passing

2. Rather than merging in turn, a vehicle (usually a car) in the inside lane squeezes right up to the car in front so as to make the instructions "merge in turn" impossible. Last week I witnessed a woman so eager to prevent this merging in turn that she ran into the car in front.

What is it with people that they cannot understand simple advice set out in simple English? If these drivers did what the signs said - used both lanes and merged in turn - the traffic would flow much more smoothly and everyone would get home safely and cheerily.

It seems that those of us who enter the lane with the least traffic and seek to follow the advice so kindly set out for us by Calderdale's highways engineers are not appreciated by the drivers who ignore that advice (I assume they aren't illiterate or blind). To the extent that these people deliberately drive badly.

What exactly is it about the concept of "merge in turn" that these drivers don't get?

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Sunday, 3 February 2013

Sir Terry Leahy is right about supermarkets...

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About supermarkets:

Asked if seeing boarded-up shops made him sad, Leahy said: "It does, but it is part of progress. People are not made to shop in supermarkets, they choose to shop there.

"High streets– some of them are medieval and the way that we live our lives now is very different, so what you have to do is make sure the benefits do outweigh the costs, and I think that they do."

It pains me to agree with Sir Terry since I like those independent shops. But he's right - there is no doubt that, on balance, society has gained from the success of supermarkets like Sir Terry's beloved Tesco. Just as we no longer have to pound away washing clothes by hand, bash at carpets with a big stick or get on our knees to scrub the hearth, we no longer have to spend hours each week traipsing from small shop to small shop merely to get the things we need.

Instead we can read, we can sing, we can enjoy a bit of leisure - make the most of all the good things progress (and I mean real progress here, the fruits of capitalism, not the fake progress socialists offer) has brought us. Television, computers, games, foreign holidays, thousands of songs on one little pod.

Our lives are richer than they've ever been and the supermarket has played a big part in creating those riches. Rather than a limited selection at the shop on the corner, we've access to thousands of different products under one roof. We don't have to walk round in the rain, snow and sleet but can make our choices in the warmth and light of indoors - choosing vegetables and fruit throughout the year, flown in from Peru, Kenya and Sri Lanka. We can experiment with odd foreign grains, with twenty types of rice and a hundred different teas and coffees.

All this isn't just available to the elite. Everyone has this choice on the doorstep. And it enriches our lives in a hundred ways. Yes, Sir Terry, supermarkets are great!

....

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Haringey Council - fussbucket central!

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Although I fear that Councils elsewhere will be rubbing their hands in glee at the opportunity to fuss and bother over petty regulation:

Cllr Nilgun Canver, Cabinet Member for the Environment at Haringey Council, said: 'We will continue to work closely with our partners in the police and the courts to tackle illegal activity around vehicles, especially looking out for unlicensed waste carriers that are responsible for so much dumping in our borough.
 
Now I'm pretty sure that this nannying politician didn't write that quote - it was crafted by a well-staffed press office and approved by layers of bureaucrats. I could launch into a rant about so-called "unlicensed waste" and the obscene targeting of tradesmen in vans going about their everyday business. You know why the carpet fitter won't take you old carpet away? And you have to take your own waste to the council tip?

It's because councils have a nice little earner ripping off tradesmen and the Environment Agency has some expensive regulations for people moving "waste" about. Most of these regulations are not there to save the planet, to promote recycling or any such noble aim - they are there to protect primary manufacturers, they a simply protectionism via regulation.

Cllr Canver (or rather the jobsworth who wrote the quote she approved) assumes that Fred the plumber with some household waste in his van is going to do some "dumping in our borough". Rather than take it home, transfer it to his private vehicle and then take it to the tip - thereby avoiding tipping charges from the Council.

The report - understandably - focuses on the utter nonsense of fining a non-smoker driving a brand new van for:

Clipboard-wielding council officers then, however, spotted that he didn't have a 'no smoking' sticker on his gleaming van and he was given an on-the-spot fine of £200. 

And Cllr Canver (without thinking because she probably didn't) had this to say:

We will continue to protect those workers who are forced to sit in smoke polluted environments because their employers don't comply with the law which bans smoke in company vehicles.'

The mind doth truly boggle - this was a brand new van, pristine and shiny, being driven by someone who had never smoked.

However the real lesson of this is that the authorities had no good reasons at all to stop this vehicle. Councils and police have adopted an aggressive and illiberal approach to anyone who has the audacity to use a van for work. I've no issue stopping a van if it's being driven badly, seems unsafe or might have been involved in a crime. But stopping every van that passes and trying to find things to fine the driver for - this was a deliberate and targeted attack on people going about their daily business.

Finally, the Council claims the caught "several fly-tippers" - given the location (Wickes DIY) and the presence of a load of hi-viz clad clipboard-wielders, this is almost certainly not the case at all. What they found were people without a waste licence - not the same thing at all. One is dumping stuff by the roadside, the other is not complying with an expensive piece of petty bureaucracy.

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The brave among you might care to check out Cllr Canver's CV - it's a paen to left-leaning fussbucketry!

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Saturday, 2 February 2013

More on the death of journalism

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With our breath bated we waited, What could it be? What terrible act would bring down the minister - departmental failure, corruption or...what's this? Ah, Twitter!

The newspaper that likes to think of itself as that little bit more right-on than all the others has chosen as its lead story - emblazoned across its front page - a sad little tale about Twitter:

An anonymous Twitter account called @toryeducation* is regularly used to attack critical stories about both Gove and his department. It is often abreast of imminent Tory policies, suggesting it is coming from close to the centre of government. However, it is also used to rubbish journalists and Labour politicians while promoting Gove's policies and career. 

There was a time when newspapers reported news, when journalists wrote about wars, dug into real scandal and investigated actual corruption.  For sure there was plenty of gossip and, to serve the market for this stuff, the newspaper would have a diary column tucked away somewhere in its bowels. Now, it seems, stories that merit a couple of lines in that diary now run on the front page.

We are, I fear, watching the death throes of journalism. It is being killed by two things - firstly the economics of publishing newspapers means that real story-finding is too expensive and secondly, political journalists now see themselves as players rather than observers and reporters. Newspapers are filled with a mix of rewarmed press releases and tittle-tattle. The comments of other journalists are reported creating a  purposeless and news-free circus.

Is it any wonder that each year fewer people bother to buy newspapers when they don't report on the real world  but on the land of pine-scrubbed kitchen table make-believe that these London-based "journalists" occupy. While there are wars, terrorist attacks, banking crises and much else besides, The Observer deems that a snarky little Twitter spat is more important.

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Bel and the nationalisation of marriage




AT BABYLON the imposing sanctuary of Bel rose like a pyramid above the city in a series of eight towers or stories, planted one on the top of the other. On the highest tower, reached by an ascent which wound about all the rest, there stood a spacious temple, and in the temple a great bed, magnificently draped and cushioned, with a golden table beside it. In the temple no image was to be seen, and no human being passed the night there, save a single woman, whom, according to the Chaldean priests, the god chose from among all the women of Babylon. They said that the deity himself came into the temple at night and slept in the great bed; and the woman, as a consort of the god, might have no intercourse with mortal man


OK, it’s perhaps not wisest to begin discussing marriage by quoting The Golden Bough but this begins with the debate about “same sex marriage” and the Government’s proposal to change its definition of marriage so as to encompass partnerships that have no procreational purpose (rather like sleeping with Bel). In the context of today’s society this is a right and proper thing to do - although proving less simple that it seemed at first.

In the ancient world, government and religion were one and the same thing. Here’s Finer, in The History of Government speaking of the world’s first state - Sumer:


“The king of a city, nevertheless, sat on his throne specifically to order the people’s service to the gods and on him depended not only the routine business of the city, or even its safety and independence, but its well-being and the bounty of Nature itself.”


Every action was a matter for the gods – not least those occasions that Arnold van Gennep coined the term ‘rites of passage’ to describe: birth, puberty, death and, of course, marriage. For a Sumerian to separate marriage from religion would have been impossible. Indeed, the Sumerian believed that everything – every minor act of his life – was only possible because the gods allowed it. So it was with each ancient society – hence the holy prostitute sleeping in Bel’s bed.

So marriage became a thing of the state – especially in record-obsessed places such as Sumer. And it became a thing of the state because religion and the state were inseparable. For the peasant this mattered very little since that peasant owned nothing and marriage merely recognised a partnership. But for the landowner, the rich and the powerful it really id matter.

However, even beyond the bounds of civilization, marriage was still a thing of religion – whether we look at Beltane fires or bride-snatching, we still see belief in spirit as a justification of these actions. It simply wasn’t sufficient for marriage to be celebrated by the village, by society. Marriage required the endorsement of a higher authority – god or government or both these things combined.

And, since marriage became a factor in who owned things, the government gradually pushed religion aside – the concerns of mammon triumphed: money, land and business were more important than the blessings of god. The rite of passage remained but the institution of marriage became wholly nationalised – a creature of laws not a blessing of god.

And so it is today. Trooping down a church aisle is no more a marriage than holding hands and jumping over a besom. Instead we must go to a room, sign a book and get a certificate from a representative of government. Only then can we say we are married. And this is what the debate is all about – marriage is a thing of the state, a nationalised institution. And government says that its institutions must not discriminate on the basis of sexual preference.

Maybe marriage shouldn’t be such an institution – one granted specific and defined privileges in law (that may yet be extended to new tax privileges). But so long as it is such an institution – and this has nothing to do with god – then the state’s rules on “equality” must apply. If religious folk wish to reclaim marriage for the gods then, given that government and religion are no longer inseparable, they should be campaigning for all state recognition of marriage to be ended, to privatise marriage and return it to the religions that created it.

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