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Monday, 30 May 2011

The OECD Better Life Index: statics and dynamics

An article by Alice Miles in this week's New Statesman led me to the OECD Better Life Index, which is quite fun to study:

Quality of Life indexes as an alternative or supplement to GDP/GNP figures are all the rage. The trend-setter was Bhutan which tries to measure Gross National Happiness. (When the King imposed Democracy, GNH went down - people preferred the King to rule. Popular chap).

I think there is a further way of approaching Better Life issues and that is to put them in a dynamic framework: What changes would improve your Quality of Life?

Even more restrictively, What changes that only the Government could bring about would improve your personal Quality of Life?

And since we live in an Age of Austerity, What low cost changes (but which only the Government could bring about) would improve your personal Quality of Life?

Let me give one example of my own answers to the last question. In the past 18 months, there were three occasions when because of a health problem (now resolved) I had to access Accident and Emergency or Out of Hours services. On one of those occasions, I was probably inappropriately treated: given antibiotics when I didn't have an infection but a side-effect of surgery. Had I been able to access my own GP practice, I would probably have received more appropriate treatment: in fact, nothing more than the advice to rest and drink only water would have been enough.

Most GP practices now employ ten or twenty staff in total, and I don't see why they can't open on more days - Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays -using a rota system, just like any shop or restaurant.

Since A and E services and Out of Hours services are very expensive, it puzzles me why the Government hasn't demanded GP contracts which keep GP surgeries open on significantly more days than at present. It would be a Quality of Life gain for very many people, I am sure.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Malta's Divorce Referendum: from Papal Statelet to South Switzerland?

The Roman Catholic Church has never endorsed the separation of religious and state power. Like most versions of Islam, it has always laid claim to both. But over the centuries its state power has progressively shrunk. By the mid-nineteenth century, it was down to the Papal States (I want to read a book on them). Today's bogus Mussolini-created Vatican City Statelet, with its postage stamps and passports for fleeing criminals, is the rump of those States.

In the twentieth century, it picked up a few client states in Europe: the clerical-fascist Irish Free State, clerical-fascist Slovakia under Father Tiso (I think someone hanged him), clerical-fascist Croatia - you get the general idea.

And until today, the Vatican thought it ran Malta.

The most important thing is not that the Malts have voted to legalise Divorce in a non-binding Referendum - which risks that the government will cave in to clerical threats of eternal damnation - but that the government put the issue out to a Referendum in the first place.

That's how they do things in Calvinist individual-conscience Switzerland. It's not what you expect in a Roman Catholic fiefdom. The general idea in the Vatican is that they tell you what's Right and what's Wrong. You don't think about it for yourself. If you do, and you come up with the wrong answer, then they refuse you Communion (used by the Church as a weapon during the Maltese referendum) or even excommunicate you (unless you are Adolf Hitler, in which case they will make an Exception).

I hope the Malts get a taste for thinking and deciding for themselves. Soon there will be nowhere for the priests left to rule. They must be getting very envious of Iran's Ayatollahs. Expect conversions.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

"Bank Holiday Washout" - 18,100 results on Google

My local newspaper's website is predicting a "busy bank holiday weekend", but as I look out of my window here in Brighton, there is a strong wind, the sea is rough, it's damp, and indoors I have my heater on.

I can understand why people like the idea of a three day weekend. I just can't understand why they think it is only possible if they all take it at once, when Vince Cable's BISness tells them to. Wouldn't they prefer some choice in the matter? Is there really such a strong Herd Instinct? (I must read Trotter's The Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War).

Mr Cable's control over public holiday dates (there is no entitlement - it's your employer who decides whether or not to shut up shop)is a very mixed blessing for somewhere like Brighton. If the sun shines, the city does a lot of business; and if it doesn't, it doesn't.

Nearly everything is open here in Brighton, except banks and public services, with shops and restaurants crossing their fingers that locked-out workers will head for the city, whatever the weather. If the weather continues like today's, many will stay at home on Monday.

British public holidays are a demented system. They don't even give second-best to the workers they supposedly benefit.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Who is the First Minister of Wales?

I woke up this morning with the thought that I do not know the name of the First Minister of Wales. This must have something to do with yesterday reading Private Eye's Dumb Britain - in case you don't know, a regular feature cataloguing the woeful ignorance of TV quiz contestants.

Of course, I have an excuse: he's new in the job, isn't he, because in the May elections Labour just about ousted the Lib Dem-Plaid Cymru coalition ... But then I don't know the name of the last First Minister of Wales either.

I do know the name of the First Minister of Scotland (Alex Salmond), the President of Ireland (Mary Macaleese - but have I spelt it right?), the Taoseach (spelling?) of Ireland, Enda Kenny, and I think that Peter Robinson is First Minister in Northern Ireland (with Martin McGuinness at Number Two).

Anyway, the government of Wales is not much more than a County Council and no one expects you to know the names of County Council leaders. So that's all right, then.

I grew up in a boys' culture where General Knowledge was regarded as up there with footballing abilities: you practised it and you showed it off. In primary school, I was once the only boy in class who could spell Czechoslovakia.

Of course, what counts as being good at General Knowledge is relative to a culture. I would be hopeless nowadays in any kind of Quiz because I know nothing about TV personalities (I don't watch TV), footballers ( and someone had to tell me yesterday that the Cup Final is tomorrow and I still don't know who between), and only a very little about recent films and music ...

But I do know who wrote The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (clue: a Scotsman) and I knew it in 1968 when I was the Reserve player for my college's University Challenge team - and I had to sit in the audience desperate to put up my hand when they couldn't answer that question.

The United States of America alarms me not because of its military might but because poll after poll shows that its voters have a World Affairs general knowledge score in minus numbers, and some of its Presidential wannabes no better. It's scary.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and it may be that being good at General Knowledge is an example of that. But when voters in a democracy get enthusiastic for their country dropping bombs on another country, I do rather feel that they should at least be able to pin point it on the map.

Finnish Schools and Finished Schools

Back in 1964, I worked during my summer holidays in a Swedish hotel - the Hotel Siljansborg in Rättvik. In the staff rest room, a favourite TV programme was Bonanza. This helped me understand why Swedish people spoke English as if born speaking it: though Bonanza was sub-titled, the English sound track was left intact. The same was generally true.

(There was once a hilarious short film - I forget the title - an Ingmar Bergman / Seventh Seal take-off. The characters speak English with up and down Swedish accents and the film is sub-titled in English).

From Richard Garner in today's Independent, writing about the Finnish education system, I learn that Finland bans the dubbing or sub-titling of foreign TV programmes. So Finns have no choice: learn English. After all, no one is going to learn Finnish even if it was learnable.

Finnish Schools consistently top world performance leagues and everyone goes to Finland to study them. This includes our Minister of Education, Michael Gove.

Given a choice between doing as the Finns do (they don't have school uniform) and paying a Deputy Head in every school a large salary to do nothing but police school uniform, we know what Mr Gove's choice will be. Where it all leads was illustrated in my recent Blog about Dagenham Park [Church of England] School. Finnish Schools are doing very well. Don't expect ours ever to challenge them in the world performance league. When you have God, the Queen and School Uniform, who needs to be able to read and write?

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Brighton to Paris in under 6 hours ....

I had work to do in Paris on Monday, viewing an auction, and I decided to drive. I like driving if I know that with any luck I am going to be on relatively open roads. And my car, a fuel-efficient Skoda Octavia 1.9 TDI is also very comfortable for a long drive. I never end up with a stiff neck or a sore bum - at 63, I understand that such things are possibles.

Up the A 23/M23, down the M25 / M20, onto the Shuttle, out of Calais and turning off down the A1 to Paris.

French motorways are, of course, expensive toll roads. Twenty euro each way for the Calais - Paris stretch. But they are generally uncrowded and therefore a pleasure. If you want to travel First Class, then the Supplements for speeding are quite modest. However, I do keep at the back of my mind that Don't Drink and Drive has never really caught on in France: watch out for beetroot-faced drivers wandering between lanes.

Even uncrowded, France's motorways clearly generate a vast income for the state proprietor, SANEF, some of which is spent on self-congratulatory roadside advertising and quite a bit on keeping the verges immaculately manicured.

Arriving in Paris, you come off the A1 and straight on to the Périphérique at Porte de la Chapelle. That's eight lanes, four in each direction, which encircle the whole centre of Paris at close range - imagine the North and South Circulars as unbroken motorway . It's ugly but brilliantly functional. You turn off and you are in Paris.

I exited at Porte de la Champerret and straight into the vast maze - it's a bit scary - of the Da Vinci car park.

Out of bed in Brighton at 06.00, I was sitting down to lunch in the open air of Levallois Perret at around 12.30UK time with under six hours driving and Shuttle in between. Had I gone up to London by train, taken the Tube to St Pancras and caught our only High Speed Train service to Paris, I would not have done it any quicker.

Eurostar is all right but it's often a sardine experience in rather beaten up rolling stock to which is now added the herding through the airport scanners. Are they really necessary?

They make a pretence of Security at the Tunnel, but if you time it right, you can often go through without so much as having your Passport stared at. Of course, they have your vehicle number and can check you in advance which may be more difficult at St Pancras. But it is a small mercy not to have to pick your own pockets for the benefit of a machine and any traveller nowadays is grateful for small mercies.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Ryan Giggs and Mr Justice Eady. God's Way of Telling You That You Have Too Much Money?

I remember where I was when the Moon Landing took place, when Kennedy was assassinated, when the Twin Towers went down.

At the moment, I remember being told The Name I Wasn't Supposed to Know on Tuesday 17th May around 8pm over dinner in The Goring. I won't tell who told, since they may yet decide to convert the Isle of Wight into a prison camp and lock everyone up. I am not even sure I should name The Goring, though it seems the sort of place where many secrets have been exchanged over dinner (it's a jolly good dinner, too).

Unfortunately, the Name which was whispered in my ear means very little to me - well, nothing, to be honest. I no longer follow football and I have never followed footballers' lives.

The story which I am not supposed to know about seems rather ordinary though I have not read the details - it seems the footballer went to bed with someone who wasn't his wife. If so, it's in the Small Earthquake in Chile. Not Many Hurt category. But when I was on my way back this morning, picking up my paper at the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais, it was all over the front pages.

The real loser at the moment is surely Mr Justice Eady. I have followed his career avidly in Private Eye which (if I understand correctly) credits him with having made London the world capital of the very lucrative trade in Libel Tourism. If the Government privatised his Court, the proceeds would pay off the deficit.

Well, I guess, not any more. Mr Eady is a larger than life character, but now it seems his writ doesn't run very large.

Either Mr Eady locks everyone up in the Isle of Wight (don't say they haven't been warned) or he and the Law he has conjured up is an Ass.

The man who is all to blame, John Hemming MP, appears to be an Untouchable, protected by Parliamentary Privilege - but I am sure there are lawyers passing their time today trawling the statutes and the interpretations to see if this disgraceful fellow can be locked up in Westminster's own cellars.

Some politicians do seem to have grasped the point. There is obviously a very good case for some kind of Privacy law and obviously a situation now in which there isn't one. Mr Eady, injunctions, super-injunctions, super-super injunctions just don't do the trick. Mr Giggs spent a lot of money to avoid publicity and all he's got is super-super publicity.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Alex von Tunzelmann, Indian Summer

Alex von Tunzelmann's Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire (2007) is an extraordinarily well-written account of how between 1946 - 1948 Britain parted from 400 million out of the 500 million subjects of the British Empire and how the two new Dominions of India and Pakistan - independent states with a Commonwealth fig-leaf - came into being.

I read through its 370 pages with ease and absorption. That I read it in the week of the Queen and Prince Philip's visit to the Republic of Ireland added an unexpected twist.

On 27 August 1979, the IRA blew up a private fishing boat, Shadow V, at Mullaghmore, Sligo - in the Republic of Ireland. The explosion instantly killed three people in the boat: a local man, Paul Maxwell; a teenager, Nicholas Knatchbull, son of Patricia Mountbatten and her husband Lord Brabourne; and Nicholas's grandfather(Patricia's father), Earl Mountbatten of Burma. Lord Brabourne's mother died later of her injuries and Patricia Mountbatten spent weeks on a life support machine (von Tunzelmann, pages 365 - 366).

Earl Mountbatten of Burma ("Dickie") was Prince Philip's uncle and had always been close to him, as also to Prince Charles who treated him as an Honorary Grandfather. When Mountbatten was born in 1900 he was 49th in line to the Throne (von T., page 40)

This was the closest the IRA got to killing members of the Royal Family.

But in killing Mountbatten, they killed someone whose extraordinary life not only included war time service against Nazi Germany (much sympathised with in the old clerical-fascist Republic of Ireland) but who was also entrusted by the post-war Labour government of Clement Attlee with transferring Imperial power in India and Pakistan to local governments. Mountbatten - and his wife Edwina even more so - was an anti-colonialist.

He was also a remarkably brave man, and his wife, [the Countess] Edwina Mountbatten, at least equally so. Extraordinary bravery also distnguished the principal Indian figures with whom they engaged, Gandhi and Nehru.

These were people (Gandhi excepted) who thought that the way to deal with a riot was to commandeer a jeep, head for the riot, drive into it, stop the jeep and climb on its bonnet and tell people - thousands of them and often armed - to go home. Von Tunzelmann's book is full of stories of the Mountbattens and Nehru doing things which no modern politician or official(Mountbatten was Viceroy of India) would even be allowed to think about. If they did, they would be strong armed away by their security detail.

The only modern equivalent I can think of is that of Prime Minister Boris Yeltsin standing on a tank in Moscow rallyng opposition to the attempted coup against President Gorbachev.

Edwina Mountbatten is the heroine of von Tunzelmann's book. Anecdote upon anecdote piles up the case for secular sainthood. (And - Gandhi apart - these were secular people: Nehru was adamant throughout his life that the secular path was the only one which could protect India from inter-communal strife).

I have not really engaged with modern Indian history before, thinking it rather dull. But von Tunzlemann tells a riveting story.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

1950s Slade Green: Playing in the Road

This is autobiography.

When I shave in the morning I navigate a V shaped scar over my upper lip. Girl friends used to ask me about it - it's noticeable only in close up.

David Lynch did it. He was a boy next door in Lincoln Road, Slade Green, where I spent the first seven years of my life 1947 - 53. I used to play with him and with David Jessop from across the road. I don't remember the names of other playmates.

We played in the road and sometimes in the disused industrial sand pits behind our houses. In David Jessop's garden we began to dig a hole which would take us to Australia.

There were few cars. Bread was delivered in Groom's horse drawn cart; the rag and bone man also had a horse cart: sometimes I walked behind, shovelling horse droppings into a bucket for Uncle Ben's allotment.

Playing in the road was a real possibility.

David Lynch scared me and sometimes chased me back into the safety of my own garden. One day he took up position behind the flint wall of a house opposite mine, and I did the same behind my own wall. We threw stones at each other. One of his hit me.

There was an awful lot of blood; I remember bleeding into the kitchen sink of someone's house (not my own - my mother must have been somewhere else). I recall the tap running (sinks had only a cold tap then) and cotton wool. My memory is that the stone had cut right through, but I doubt it did.

Nowadays, I guess I would have been taken to A & E and stitched but since there were no cars and no phones to hand on Lincoln Road, it was Make Do unless he doesn't Mend.


Added 24 July 2018: I have now published a memoir of my childhood, I Have Done This In Secret (degree zero 2018), freely available from Amazon, Waterstones and other booksellers

Friday, 20 May 2011

Dagenham Park School - Barking Mad?

Yesterday at the airport they were giving away The Daily Telegraph free with a bottle of water. Or maybe the other way round, but it was the water I wanted. Still, I read the paper.

A 12 year old boy had been kept in isolation for a whole day at Dagenham Park School because he wasn't wearing his blazer - and there was an OFSTED inspection in progress. But 12 year old Robin had a reason for not wearing his blazer - his arm was broken, encased in a plaster cast which would not pass through his blazer sleeve. His mother had previously written a letter to explain the problem ( clearly, she already realised some pretty disturbed people were in charge of this institution).

The boy's mother, Mrs Button, phoned the school to protest at the boy's day-long isolation and so for the next two days of the OFSTED inspection he was released from the slammer but required to carry a blazer over one arm - the bad arm, since he needed the good arm for books and so on.

If The Daily Telegraph report is true (Google shows that the story has been widely reported) then OFSTED should fail Dagenham Park School and put it into Special Measures. On what grounds? It is clearly run by people who are barking mad - and, if not, so cowed that they will stop at nothing to pander to Education Minister Michael Gove's fantasies that all will be well in the world so long as children look like advertisements for a 1950s Prep school.

As it happens, I was flying to Geneva when I read this story. I was working but during an afternoon break, sat outside in the sunshine. Lots of children were passing - there must have been a school nearby. I guess they were 9 to 13 year olds. All of them had back packs, many were using little scooters, none were wearing school uniform of any kind whatsoever. Clearly, a country on skid row.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Children: the Case for Light Touch Regulation

"Children are Representatives of Paradise" , wrote Walter Benjamin - thus placing himself in the opposite camp from those (and there are many) who think of children as the work of the Devil, creatures whose Will must be broken and Spirit cowed.

Children emerge into a world which is entirely new to them, and which they have to face all at once. It makes them a bit nervous and they need the reassurance of food and love, available on demand, if they are to be able to investigate their world with confidence.

Given the chance, they will explore in ways which to adult eyes will seem either charming or pointless. Children are not little adults and that which to the adult seems delightful or perverse may have a quite different significance for the child. They have their own world and it's not yours.

Children, of course, change and develop but not in a simple linear fashion: they go through phases and stages and sometimes they seem to go backwards as they make some internal readjustment to their understanding of the world. Relax, dear Adult, they are on target just as much as a caterpillar turning into a chrysalis is on target to becoming a butterfly.

In general, they should be allowed to get on with their lives with little interference. There are only a few rules needed ("Don't put it in your mouth"), very few penalties, but lots and lots of stimuli. The most important? The one-to-one bedtime routine of cuddle & spoken or sung lullaby turning into cuddle & bedtime story.

Children are easily interested in drawing, in singing, in learning to read, in numbers, in nature study and in other creatures, to which they seem to feel an affinity at least as strong as that to other children. But I think they lose interest if their interest is channeled and disciplined too soon. They should be free to do things their way until they grow bored and need fresh stimulus. This may involve putting up with a lot of their junk around the house.

I could go on, but just one more point: Babies like bath time, provided they are permitted to splash - and I mean splash, not pat the water politely.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Lord Hanningfield: the case for smaller government

There are,it seems, 800 members of the House of Lords, none of them elected. It's a good job they don't all turn up at once. It would make the Club terribly overcrowded.

It is a Club, no more than a Club, a home for has-beens and dodgy-dealers. (Don't give me that stuff about The Great and the Good: they are in a tiny minority).

One of our Peers of the Realm, Lord Hanningfield, is up before the beak right now. Fiddling his expenses. I feel sorry for him. There but for fortune (or, in the case of Baroness Uddin, the Director of Public Prosecutions) could go many of his lordly chums. How many do you suppose are honest? The majority? I doubt it.

It does rather prove the case that British voters are not ready for democracy that they have never insisted upon an elected Parliament, clearly being quite ready to settle for one House elected and one not.

In retrospect, Tony Blair appears to have been an awful Radical in kicking the hereditaries out of the House of Lords and that must be one of the reasons why William and Kate didn't invite him to their wedding. They aren't on the side of democracy either, which is why they are so wildly popular.

So it's another Lost Cause to suggest that the best thing to do with the House of Lords is abolish it altogether. The only way I can make this idea remotely attractive is to suggest that the Taxpayers' Alliance might favour it in pursuit of the ideal of smaller, balanced-books, government. Lord Hanningfield has cost us a lot of money already and will cost us even more if he goes to jail. Close down the House of Lords, remove temptation, save money, annoy Lord Prescott.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

More Motorway Madness: Creating Road Rage on the M40

Yesterday I drove from Brighton to Worcester, setting off at six am for a small stamp fair where I had taken a table. It was sunny even at six, the road was clear and I was happy: I could have been on the Autobahn.

Then I joined the M40 and very shortly the overhead gantries were flashing orange, reducing speed to 50 mph, and warning us "Animals Loose in Road. Slow Down". This went on for a couple of miles (there are overhead signs every few hundred yards now - there is always money for road signs).

Were there animals in the road? Of course not. Had there been animals in the road? Perhaps. Were there going to be animals in the road? Perhaps. Did we need to be warned of a possible world in which there might be animals in the road? Probably not.

Would they have set off flashing lights and warnings on the Autobahn? No: for the simple reason that Germany hasn't yet been cowed and tricked into spending vast sums on signs which flash up false information.

Calm down, dear, I said to myself. But then they started up again. For the next twenty miles I had to endure Thought for the Day: "Check Your Fuel Level". At this point, I discover that over a lifetime I have acquired a colourful repertoire of obscenities.

Even more infuriating, in the full knowledge that I had filled my tank only the previous evening, I checked my fuel level. This is how Nanny gets to you, undermining your self-confidence and hold on reality.

I bet you other drivers react to the fatuous Nannying on these gantries as I do, maybe even more so, so that the net effect is to make us worse drivers than we would otherwise be.

Switch them all off. I am sure they cause accidents.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Benefits of a University Degree: £100 000. Is that all?

Different sources give different figures, but today the BBC is reporting Vince Cable's Department of Business Innovation and Skills (the BISness) claiming a £100,000 lifetime benefit from a degree. That's the additional lifetime gross income attributable to degree possession once account is taken of loss of earnings during University study and cost of study. Other sources (like PWC in 2007) give a higher figure, around £160,000.

Three thoughts occur to me.

First, it's not a lot of money. Over a forty year working life (25 - 65)you need only add £2500 a year to gross salary to arrive at the £100,000 total.

Second, the total benefit - whether £100,000 or £160,000 - is derisory. It is no more than many 18 or 21 year olds can expect as an upfront, modest inheritance from Grandma or Uncle Fred. The benefit from University education is simply not strong enough to create a financial meritocracy.

Third, the claimed benefit anyway involves the fallacy post hoc ergo propter hoc. Think about it. Suppose that those who go to university are marginally more talented than those who don't. Then had they been denied access to university education, they would probably have done better in life anyway. It's not implausible that they would have topped up their salary by £2,500 a year simply for being a bit better at their job. The problem is that we have no control group which allows us to factor out the contribution made by the talent of the students as opposed to the talents of their teachers.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Universities for the Rich or the Talented or Everybody?

University expansion over the past few decades is a bit like the expansion of disability benefits. It solves one problem and creates another.

Disability benefits massaged down the unemployment figures but shunted some perfectly employable people into a class of permanently unemployable.

University expansion created a class of students with no interest in studying. At worst, it did no more than raise the school leaving age and though the pupils were leaving with degrees those degrees were not much better than no qualifications at all.

University courses are very dissimilar but we pretend they are all alike and all suitable for the average 18 year old. It makes counting and costing easier if everyone is doing the same thing. The system is monolithic when it should be much more diverse.

There should be fewer standardised university places and more vocational and part-time provision. The core of university provision should be in mathematics, the hard sciences, engineering, technology, medicine, languages and it should probably be free at point of use. Entry should be very competitive and very meritocratic.

A great deal of provision in the arts and social sciences could be offered on a part-time basis and charged for as a consumer good. It need not be credentialised. The Internet makes it increasingly easy to study at home in subjects which do not require access to laboratories and such like.

Vocational provision ought to involve companies paying apprentices and interns to learn, not the other way around. Maybe there should be an option to do two or three years' National Service, military or otherwise.

Difficult areas include things like music which require both dedication and equipment. Music could be put with core university provision or provided within privately endowed conservatoires enjoying charitable status against a commitment to meritocratic enrolment.

Basic education is a right but three years at university allegedly doing Media Studies probably isn't. We need doctors and we may need PR men, but the latter don't need universities. The Bullingdon Club exists because lots of rich young men go to Oxford but not for the education it may offer.

And some 18 year olds would do much better going to work and then, when they know what they want from life, going back to study. It's hardly rocket science to figure that this might work better for lots of young people

Their Protests and Ours: the Middle East and Middle England

It's many years since I went on a demo and I'd find it hard now to mobilise the mixture of indignation and exhibitionism which used to make it possible.

I never got arrested and never tried to, though it seems that is now something you are supposed to do. It's what makes the difference between a protest and a parade, though both are nice little earners for the police. So much so that the police busily encourage them all. This should be investigated: there is clearly a conflict of interest between the police's duty to maintain public order and their regard for their payslips.

If I'm to be honest, then I have to say that I despise the annual (September) charade of French street protests, and that I don't have much more sympathy for the bog standard UK protest. Ask yourself the question, What is the ratio between positive results achieved and expenditure of energy (and police manpower)? In the recent past, only Tax Uncut can give an upbeat answer to that question. But spoilt brat demonstrators simply don't care about success.

An objectionable remark by one Canadian police officer has now given indignant exhibitionists everywhere an excuse and we now have Slut Walking. Whatever.

Our protests are not like those in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Bahrain - even Saudi Arabia. We don't live under despotic and cruel regimes. We can vote but most of us can't be bothered, though if we do we vote for the status quo, give or take a bit.

It would show a bit of solidarity with those taking real risks in the Middle East if we gave them a clear run for the world's attention and suspended our own demonstrations, let's say for a year.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Yes to Mr Salmond's Scottish Referendum. And Yes to an English Referendum

Suppose only women could initiate divorce proceedings. Everyone would think that unfair. Suppose only men could. Most would think that unfair too and those who don't aren't nice people.

I very much hope that the Scottish National Party in government will be able to hold an Independence Referendum and I hope that the vote is Yes.

But I think it would be jolly unfair if no parallel Referendum is held in the rest of the UK, asking voters if they wish to remain in Union with Scotland. It would be a good idea to do everything at once, so that English voters would be asked:

Do you wish to remain in Union with

(a) Northern Ireland Yes / No
(b) Scotland Yes / No
(c) Wales Yes / No

I don't know how English voters would feel about divorcing Scotland or Wales, but I think they would be delighted to dump Northern Ireland.

One of the oddities of the Tory position on theses issues is that whilst they are viscerally attached to England's Union with three loss-making subsidiaries, they are entirely happy to have the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man operating as rogue statelets with no function other than to deprive the UK Treasury of tax revenues. I wonder why ...

Friday, 6 May 2011

The AV Result: A Crisis of Falling Expectations

Read my Blog posted on 30 December 2010 and you will see that I predicted a NO vote in the AV Referendum, giving reasons. At that time, the outcome did not seem a foregone conclusion.

What we are seeing is a crisis of falling expectations. The vote is for Old Coruption and Business as Usual.

God Save The Queen - especially as the Royal Wedding orgy of reactionary values probably swung many waverers into the NO camp.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Where to Hide? Osama bin Laden and The Purloined Letter

There is an Edgar Allen Poe story, The Purloined Letter, which has a quite simple plot (and moral): an important letter goes missing, people hunt everywhere for it - in the cupboards, under the mattresses - but all the time it is sitting, visibly, among the bric à brac on the mantelpiece.

The psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, gave a seminar ( sur La Lettre Volée) on Poe's story. It's many years since I read it, but I am probably not far off the mark if I say the general idea is that the truth is often staring us in the face. This is something Freud had realised when during a famous analysis he began to observe what the reclining female patient was doing with her hands.

So I am not surprised that Osama bin Laden was living well, rather than holed up, and doing so a mortar's throw from the top Pakistani military academy. I don't think it even points to Pakistani complicity in hiding him. It was just a shrewd choice of location.

Sir Anthony Blunt, one of the Cambridge Spies for the Soviet Union, rose to become Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures, but no one would suggest he was being harboured by Buckingham Palace.