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Monday, 13 August 2018

How Should A Young Person Respond to Brexit?

It’s said that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. That’s a short summary of the main weakness of collective decision making when it aims at compromise rather than truth. Nobody gets what they want because other won’t let them, but the others don’t get what they want either. So everybody gets something they don’t want, a camel rather than a horse. So it will be with Brexit.

It’s also an unfortunate truth that, however much you may wish it, once you have dug yourself into a hole it may not be possible to dig yourself out. Once you have gone down a certain road, there may be no turning back. Maybe because others won’t agree to turn back and you can’t do it on your own. Maybe because newcomers won’t let you back – they’ve occupied the ground you once occupied. Maybe because you can no longer afford the reverse trip.

Brexit is going to cost one helluva lot of money down the drain and there won’t be any funds left for a reverse Brexit. And,anyway, no one will want to have us. We've proved ourselves first of all perpetual nuisances and then just very arrogant and stupid.

Amsterdam, Dublin, Frankfurt, Paris, Rotterdam, Vienna, Zeebrugge will have occupied the slots in aviation, banking, shipping that the UK once occupied and as yet unidentified cities will have the car manufacturing. 

The diehards here will be pressing for the reintroduction of pounds, shillings and pence just to complete the brave new world of Ruritania where a new royal baby will be born every week and the food banks will be named after them.

If you were born after about 1990 and have a bit of a brain, my advice is simple: Leave. Try your luck elsewhere, if they will have you. There’s not much of a future for you here in England, still less in Wales which is  death-wish territory. Maybe some future in Scotland and in Northern Ireland if it unites with the south, otherwise not.

The big obstacle for someone born in England after about 1990 is that in all probability you don’t speak any language other than English unless you have the good fortune to come from an immigrant background. But that obstacle is not insuperable. It’s true you could head for Australia or Ireland (the republic), though not the USA where things will also go from bad to worse. But it’s also true that you are young enough to learn a foreign language properly. You’ll have to take a low paid job, attend lots of classes, and give up social media in English (they should be given up anyway). It will take you a year to crack it, maybe a bit more if you head to somewhere where the alphabet is different.

But just Go and don’t come back. You won’t regret it. Spend an evening with the film Cinema Paradiso and think about it.

Friday, 10 August 2018

The Selfishness of Older People

Some figures appeared today on the BBC News website and were fairly rapidly hidden. Sir John Curtice introduced the figures produced by Survation and which averaged four polls taken between May and July 2018.

Asked how they would vote in a new Brexit  Referendum, 82% of 18 – 24 year olds would vote Remain, 68% of 25 – 34 year olds, 55% of 35 – 44 year olds, 43% of 45 – 54 year olds, 42% of 55 – 64 year olds and 33% of the over 65s. When summed, 52% of all voters would vote Remain and 48% Leave.

What the figures show  dramatically is the selfishness of older people. Two years on from the 2016 Referendum, they would still vote for a huge, untested upheaval in society, the effects of which will only be felt  when they are dead. Those who are still alive pretty much know by now that those policies will reduce the life prospects of those they leave behind. They couldn’t care less,any more than they care about the shortage of affordable housing they have insisted on as part of their birthright. And since the young seem unwilling to take to the streets, it seems that it is now too late to do anything about it

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Ruth Davidson and the Burqa

The Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson is usually credited with having more brain cells than the entire Westminster government front bench put together. But today she is reported as saying that for a woman to wear a burqa is in the same category as for her to wear a crucifix.

That is either breathtakingly mindless or insincere, or both.

Leave aside the fact that there are men who wear crucifixes, there is a big difference between something which in no way interferes with your everyday mobility and ability to interact with those around you (including your own children) and something which does. The burqa clearly does, which is one reason that women take it off the moment they get indoors (read the books about Afghanistan). And it interferes to a much greater degree than, say, wearing high heels – which some employers compel because there would be no voluntary compliance.

The suspicion which I think most of us have is that women in the UK who wear the burqa do not do so of their own free will. They do so because they are compelled by men in tee shirts and jeans and trainers who basically think they own the women. In a British high street, the burqa is not a sign of religious piety; it looks like a sign of modern slavery. And sorry, very conservative Ruth Davidson, that is something which should be investigated before we give the burqa a clean bill of health.

The big problem is that we are not really prepared to find out whether our suspicions are well-founded. It is quite hard to find out. The women who wear burqas are not all available for interview; it seems that some are prevented from learning English. The men may not be reliable sources of information. The idea of “freedom of religion” blocks proper investigation  in this case just as it does when it comes to child abuse by Anglican or Catholic priests.

The feelings people in the street have are little to do withe their feelings about Islam. People who are very uncomfortable about the burqa have no similar feelings about the hijab, and nowadays are all used to having  perfectly ordinary, everyday conversations at supermarket check outs and so on with women who wear the hijab. 

Am I really to suppose that women who wear burqas in the UK never feel disadvantaged by the rules they follow?

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Universal and Compulsory Sunday School

There was a time in my country when lots of rough children got sent to Sunday School where the teachers tried to make them a bit more respectable. The teachers were often young and literate but not educated. They conveyed a sense of what was Nice and what was Not Nice but they had no real understanding, no coherent theory of what it was that placed one thing on one side of the divide and one thing on another. In this situation, teachers did not all agree with each other and it is most unlikely that their pupils really understood what they were trying to achieve anyway. There would have been some common ground, nonetheless.

It was Not Nice to fart loudly and appear delighted to have done so. Ideally, one should not fart at all but, if needs must, then an apologetic and shamefaced demeanour was required. And the audience should at least endeavour not to titter. In this way, Sunday Schools undoubtedly contributed to the cultural reproduction of local farting etiquette.

There were words a child should definitely never use, at least aloud, and in some cases they were words which adults should not use either. There were words which no children or women should use, but which might be tolerable when used by a man. And there were probably words which no child might use but all adults might. I will hazard that bloody was most definitely not available for use by children as a curse word, but that some uncertainty and disagreement surrounded words like ruddy and perishing and a range of other adjectives which might in context sound like code-words for an underlying, unvoiced bloody. The same would apply to exclamations like Jesus! and Christ! and Blimey!  and Crikey!, though the last was all right because it was used by posh children.

There was no unity of view about the punishment due to offenders against language etiquette – whether, for example, they should simply be reproved or whether they should actually have their mouth washed out with soap.

Nowadays, those Sunday Schools - which in any case only took up an hour a week - are thankfully a thing of the past. In their place, we now have the universal, compulsory and 24/7 Sunday school known as the social media. Here young and literate (or semi-literate) but not educated (though sometimes with a worthless degree) teachers call out the Rough and point them towards the path to the Respectable. They don’t use those words, but that is the general policy direction. If you don’t conform, then a variety of punishments are available, from social ostracism to loss of your job and even, potentially, imprisonment.

Where there is face to face contact over time, a modus vivendi may get established which departs in some ways from original policy on both sides. An idealistic young Sunday School teacher may end up allowing to pass a quiet fart and a restrained titter.  

But where there is no face to face contact, just individuals bunkered down with their smartphones, there is also no pressure to search for a way of getting along with your neighbour. Indeed, in practice the demands of the new Sunday school teachers are free to escalate to the point where those who were once regarded as feminists become mysogynists and those who championed gay rights become homophobes. If you get off on calling people out, then the higher you set the threshold for Niceness the more people there are to convict of Not Niceness.

The zealots of social media are well on the way to creating a world in which no one dares to breathe or achoo. There are just so many ways in which offence can be given and even more ways in which offence can be taken. For the present, people get by with grovelling Apologies which simply feed into someone’s lust to watch you swing.

But it only a matter of time before people rebel against the claustrophobia of it all and  decide that they will fart as loud as they like and you can just Fuck Off  if you don’t like it. They have nothing to lose but their Twitter accounts.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

My Political Prediction for 2018: Boris Johnson is Finished

On my Blog for 31 December 2010, I made the following Prediction:

 Dr Liam Fox will not be Secretary of State for Defence by the end of 2011

He was sacked in April 2011, basically for using his official position to further the economic interests of Adam Werritty, and did not get back until  Theresa May had to give him a job.

I don't make many predictions because it's a hazardous business, but the tea leaves are now speaking so clearly that I have to tell you

Boris Johnson is finished

Since that is too much like The End of the World Is Nigh I will quantify it:

By the end of 2018 Boris Johnson will not be either Foreign Secretary or Prime Minister.


9 July 2018: Boris Johnson resigns as Foreign Secretary

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Naz Shah's Vote and the Labour MPs who did not step up to help

Because of a breakdown of the usual convention, Labour MP Naz Shah had to vote yesterday after discharging herself from hospital and arriving in a wheelchair. Normally, such problems are dealt with by finding an MP intending to vote the other way who would sign-up and agree not to vote. Ms Shah could then have stayed in hospital as her doctors advised.

Since Labour MPs voted on both sides for yesterday's division, then even if the evil Mrs Leadsom's Conservatives refused to co-operate, Ms Shah could have been paired with a Labour MP intending to vote the other way. It would have left the gap between the Ayes and the Noes unchanged.

There were four Labour MPs who could have stepped up to the plate: Frank Field, Kate Hoey, John Mann, Graham Stringer.

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Sunday, 17 June 2018

Tackling the Statue Problem: What Goes Up Should Come Down

In the United Kingdom, it is a convention that all postage stamp designs include a portrait of the current monarch. From 1840 up until now, not one stamp has been issued without the monarch’s head. But when the monarch changes, so does the portrait and no one seems to think this disrespectful.

Banknotes change in the same way but, in addition, their designs have to change within the reign of one monarch to cope with inflation and the needs of maintaining and enhancing security against forgery. In my country, when banknotes change the opportunity is also taken to change the great or good personage now conventionally represented on the back of every note.  But those personages don’t last forever; it is soon the turn of someone else. We will swap the critic of slavery for the friend of slavery, and so on.

In contrast, we are stuck with the men on plinths – even more so now that we have started to big up women on their own plinths. Once a statue has been put up, it is supposed to stay up, and any attempt to take it down would be met with fierce opposition – not that anyone very often even tries. As a result, we have cityscapes where a great deal of pavement and park is given over to monuments to the temporarily-reckoned great and good of the past few centuries.

The atavistic stone and brass works on plinths are one or two steps removed from embalmed corpses or effigies, but for the most part they aim to be copied from life, perhaps larger than life size but otherwise naturalistic. In artistic terms, nearly all these monuments are without merit nor are they really intended to be with merit. This is as true of Gillian Wearing’s Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Sqaure as of the men around her. Nonetheless, it is partly because they are seen as works of art that the totems on plinths are safe from being toppled. If we could get away from that idea of work of art, it would begin to make the task of de-cluttering our cityscapes that much easier.

Who gets to be monumentalised is partly decided by governments and partly by Public Subscription. The latter creates its own problems. When people contributed their shilling towards a brass or marble statue, they expected the result to stay where it is put. They expected long-term value for their money. It’s not for some future generation to declare some person unworthy of a statue in public space; the subscribers have already settled the matter for eternity.

This is a bizarre line of thought. Public cemeteries are full of the work of monumental masons paid for by the grateful inheritors of some dead person’s property, but the cemeteries fill up and decay, the monuments topple over, and eventually the whole lot is bulldozed. Nobody much minds. No one cares who paid or how much or why for some drooping angel.

Most Londoners who pass around Trafalgar Square on their way to work could no doubt sketch Nelson’s Column on the back of an envelope and supply the name of the monument at the same time. But how many could sketch the men on horseback on the three plinths around Nelson, or name them? I leave you to do the necessary search to discover that they are not particularly meritorious individuals, unless you have a very rose-tinted view of our Imperial history. But just imagine what an exhausting business it would be to get those statues off those plinths and shipped off to some horse sanctuary or knacker's yard willing to take them. But that is what should happen.