Saturday, 30 June 2012

Beliefs

Beliefs should be held in moderation. Strongly-held beliefs - Beliefs with a capital "B" - are too often connected to desires to harm other people. When I read that someone has "deeply held Beliefs", I hear it as a Health Warning. Of those to whom "deeply held Beliefs" are attributed, only Quakers come to my mind as lacking any desire to do harm.

Young men with Beliefs are particularly dangerous and governments should think more about how they might keep the boys away from such dangerous toys - for example, discouraging religious seminaries or encouraging young men "at risk" to take a greater interest in sex and relationships, the satisfying experience of which generally makes men better disposed towards their fellow human beings.

The recent reports from Kabul told us of young men storming into the grounds of a hotel shouting, "Where are the prostitutes?" whose presence they had fantasised and who they intended to kill. Finding none, they killed other men and then blew themselves up. The reports I read were describing a madness charged by sexual frustration.

I don't know what to do about old men with Beliefs, especially those who have built their worldly careers on those Beliefs.

But it is one of the small mercies of life, that strongly held Beliefs often fade with age and cease to provide a perverse barrier against the expression of ordinary human desires and sympathies.

So it is always a small triumph for humanity when the Bishop is caught with the Actress, as has happened only this last week and as a result of which Fernando Bargallo is no longer an Argentinian Bishop. He now has the chance to be a happier man, something for which they will hate him in the Vatican.


Friday, 29 June 2012

Ambition



As an undergraduate, I encountered only two really inspiring teachers.Neither tutored me but they lectured publicly in the University and drew enthusiastic audiences. Isaiah Berlin pulled in hundreds for his inspired, noteless and flawless oratory. A J Ayer drew a smaller crowd for what he called "Informal Instruction". Designed for postgraduates, undergraduates could also get into the class. Ayer marched around the room demanding questions from his audience and accepting answers from the brave.

Born in 1910, Ayer had published Language, Truth and Logic in 1936 before his 26th birthday. I had the book in hardback. It wasn't in any sense one of my favourites, but at some point the biographical detail inspired an ambition: I wanted to write and publish a book before I was 26. That gave me until July 1973.

I didn't make it. At the end of Language, Truth and Politics I dated it (following the fashion created by Althusser) "April - September 1973". I had been working up the material for the book more or less since my graduation in 1968 but I missed the deadline of July 1973 because, making the final-final version, I fell ill (Hepatitis A so Proper Ill).

I had a publisher to whom I duly delivered the typescript (I typed it myself). Then the terrible wait began. It got longer: the publisher said he was seeking to set up a simultaneous American edition. I couldn't wait any more and, in the end, withdrew the book and self-published it with my partner, Jean Stroud, in the summer of 1975. It didn't do any harm: there were lots of reviews and the print run of 2000 sold out quickly. Last time I looked, second hand copies were freely available on the Internet for the usual $0.99.

The ambition I had (almost) achieved was, no doubt, naive and vain and arrogant. But it did provide a structure for my reading and writing which always tended to lose focus and go off in all directions. I was never an efficient worker, someone who made each book they read yield some written output. That's probably still true, though I have just this year started another Blog Cover to Cover where I review the books I read, provided only that I manage to read them cover to cover.

All ambition spent. I Googled that phrase but it doesn't appear to be an Author Author expression.

Quite often recently, as my 65th Birthday approaches, I have tried to focus an Ambition - say, one which would have to be fulfilled within five years. I don't think it's going to happen, even if I widen the range of possibilities beyond the idea of writing One More Book. I have toyed with trying to become a millionaire (surely not that difficult?), or making things right with all the people I have fallen out with during my life (surely difficult), or learning something new and properly (I don't think it can be done).

I am not discontented and that may be one reason it's not going to happen. The Pateman who wrote Language, Truth and Politics was an angry young man, sometimes unpleasantly so (I think especially of my time as a postgraduate student in Richard Wollheim's Philosophy Department at University College, London).

I don't have as much energy, though I don't think that is a main reason. In terms of health, I did worse in my twenties.

I want quick results, as I always have done. That may be a more significant factor: I do like Blogging for that very reason. It's like getting more bangs for your bucks.

Bang!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Brighton and Hove: Two Wheels Good, Four Wheels Bad?

English local government authorities have very few real powers, even when they administer quite large populations like Brighton and Hove's 250 000 inhabitants. Most of what they do is directed and funded by central government and local authorities must simply do as they are told.

One of the few areas where they do have some power is in relation to local transport. If they are lucky, they also have funding for transport-related ventures from parking fees and fines. In Brighton and Hove, they are very lucky.

So the political parties puff up their importance by dividing over Transport Policy: the Conservatives are pro-Car; Labour is pro-Bus; and the Greens - who run B&H - are pro-Cycle. No one is pro-Feet and the pavements are a disaster zone but leave that aside.

So whereas in many European cities cars, buses (more likely, trams), cycles have been accommodated side-by-side over decades, here it's all new and ideologically-conflicted. Cyclist Fundamentalism (like Dog Lover Fundamentalism) is quite a force and the Greens reckon to pick up the Fundamentalist vote.

So we get Cycle Lanes. (And Dog Friendly Beaches. No Child Friendly beaches here!) But the pot of money is so big we get other things too.

Basically, we get Minor Road Works. First off, we get more Street Signs cluttering the pavements. Then we get "improvements" to traffic junctions which have a fifty-fifty chance of increasing congestion or making life more hazardous for pedestrians.

That's not off the top of my head: one of the junctions I regularly use has been converted from a "Merge in Turn" junction to a "Strict Filtering" junction. Not many cars use one of the Filters but on the other traffic is heavy so that queues build up, adding to the pollution of local front gardens. The old system got rid of the cars more quickly and with less pollution. Chances of this change being reversed? NIL

At a couple of other junctions, money which had to be spent somewhere has been spent on new Green Man lights to guide pedestrians. Unfortunately, they are out of phase causing problems for foreign students and tourists who dutifully wait for the lights to change only to find that they change back when they are half way across the road. Chances of this being corrected? NIL.

Why? It's all about getting rid of the money in the pot, not about improving traffic flows or road safety. And since everything has to be turned around on an annual basis, the chances of getting anything MAJOR done are also NIL.

For example, this city of 250 000 people has a prolific bus service but no bus station. Instead, the main shopping centre (Churchill Square) has become the de facto bus station where people both disgorge into the shopping area and change buses and so on. Now, I like to think myself fairly indifferent to HelfnSafety concerns but I have to say as a pedestrian that I find crossing the road at Churchill Square scary, scary. Maybe because fatal accidents in the city centre habitually involve large buses and small pedestrians.

The Green Council is probably the least worst we can have. The Tories were brain dead and New Labour gave a good impression of being crooks. The Greens are probably nice people. Only time will tell if they will avoid the Fundamentalist embrace of the Cyclists and the Dog Lovers.

Postscript: I don't usually Comment on Comments, but in response to the "Buy a Bike" below: I bought myself a bike, a really nice one, for my 63rd birthday. On my second outing, on a quiet Sunday morning along the seafront cycle lane, I was knocked off by a cyclist hurtling out of a side path. Fortunately not into an oncoming car, there being no cars about. But still quite a lot of cuts and bruises. It has deterred me.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Should We Abolish The Idea of Retirement?


On the 28th July, a computer will begin to pay £117.07 per week, in arrears, into my bank account. This is my State Pension, kicking in nine days after my 65th Birthday.

Another computer will take back 20% of my pension in tax, since my personal allowance has already been used up against an occupational pension. So I will be left with £93.66 a week which I didn't have before. Thank you very much. But what am I supposed to make of this?

There was a time when men (real men) worked continuously from 14 to 65 and then, one day, just stopped working and shortly thereafter died. In this short period in which they had no earnings from employment,the Old Age Pension kept them going until it was all over.

We all know that things are no longer like this but,in some respects, we have not adjusted.

Apart from a few years of childhood and a few years (or less if we are lucky) of senility, I favour a culture in which there is an expectation that everyone should be economically productive at all stages of their life - when they are still in school, when they are in university, when they are over 60 and over 70.

I think I had my first Saturday job, earning money, when I was 11. I hope to have my last Saturday job in my eighties and just hope I don't live into my nineties.

All along the way, there should be a cultural expectation that everyone insures against really bad luck which renders them unable to work productively at all. Not only an expectation: the State should make life time membership of lifetime insurance schemes compulsory. And it does, though it is not transparent enough about the relationship between Contributions and Benefits: to be honest, I have little idea how much of what the State offers me by way of Benefits is based on Contributions that I have made to a Scheme and how much comes from taxing other people to pay me Benefits (or vice versa).

All along the way, there needs to be a cultural understanding that ability to work productively does decline: that the airline pilot may one day have to take a desk job at lower pay and then an even less demanding part time job at less than a living wage. In these circumstances, no one has any excuse not to try to plan their own personal future and to make provision to ensure themselves an adequate income at all stages of their lives. In other words,they need to save and invest. The State can assist here too by setting a minimum level of foresight.

But it should also encourage the notion that providing for the future can be done more modestly if there is an intention to keep working into the future. In some cases this will not be credible: if you smoke, drink too much, are obese and take no exercise - then there is no credible intention to keep working. You won't be up to it when the time comes - and you know it.

I don't look on my State Pension as a Retirement Pension. It simply provides me with some reassurance that I don't have to keep working as hard as I have done previously and that if I find myself getting too tired or too muddle headed or too sick, then I can ease off and still have some income. Of course, in reality my occupational pension is what provides this reassurance.

What is shocking is the thought that for many people £100 per week or so from the State is the core of what they are going to have to live on. Somewhere along the line, neither the state nor individuals were planning for the future.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

What Did You Do in the Diamond Jubilee, Daddy?

French motorways are a World Heritage Site for traffic cones. The smallest piece of road maintenance spawns at least a kilometer of them. Fortunately, the roads are underused - because overpriced - so most of the time the cones cause little inconvenience.

Overpriced and overstaffed. French motorway maintenance is the world's largest grass cutting organisation. If you think the English are obsessed with mowing the lawn, try driving along a French autoroute.

I look at this way: the expensive tolls are the price of travelling First Class into Germany. If I am feeling mean, I take the lorry route via Belgium but there is a severe risk of delay when you get to the Brussels Ring. And in terms of maintenance, Belgian roads are the bottom end: expect a bumpy ride.

And so into Germany. I had thought of making a visit to the Queen's ancestral homes - Saxe, Coburg, Gotha: a niche market for a coach tour, perhaps? - but instead I headed south to Lake Constance, the Bodensee.

I quite like German motorways. Once you have mastered the art of keeping your eye on the rear mirror for the cars approaching from behind at 200 kmph - I limit myself now to 160 kmph; age and wisdom - they are pleasant. Though massive roadworks are a permanent feature (it's called Building Infrastructure)the roads are so far mercifully free of looming overhead electronic signs nannying you on your way.

My cheap (Ibis) hotel in Konstanz was well located for walking beside the lake. On a wet day, I took the train down to Zurich, a city I like. I was struck by how sturdy and big are the Swiss trains, some of them double-deckers, and also how smooth the ride. I guess this is track maintenance.

No one checked my Passport as I entered France, Germany or Switzerland (which though not a member of the EU has signed up to the Open Borders Schengen Agreement). Back at Calais, of course, I was screened for re-entry into the UK but fortunately it wasn't my turn to be put through the rigmarole of Where Have You Been? How Long? What were you doing? Do you go there often? Is this your Car? What is the Registration number? Yes, all those questions get asked when it's your turn to be fingered as a Brit who has had the temerity to leave the country.