Wednesday, 31 July 2013
As I was watching Stella Creasy haranguing Toby Young on Newsnight last night on the issue of Twitter, I found myself rather fancying her; something that has only been reinforced by learning that she comes from my neck of the woods in the Midlands. Does that make me a sexist? In some eyes it probably does.
It should be noted that at no point have I felt the need to tweet her about this, and neither, even though her politics are very different to mine, have I felt the need to threaten her with violence, sexual or otherwise, because she has opinions with which I disagree. Yet for some my merely mentioning the fact that she is an attractive woman will be objectionable. Quite why is a mystery. It should be noted that part of the attractiveness package is her stridency, intelligence and and articulacy. Does that make it better? I'm not at all sure. It's no wonder men are so confused by this post feminist world in which women can feature in adverts for soft drinks leering at a male worker with his shirt off, but lads mags in the Co-op must be put in the modern equivalent of brown paper bags because a bunch of Stella Creasys object to having to look at them, and of course we must all kowtow to their Taliban like demands for women to dress in a manner with which they approve.
Ms Creasy's performance on Newsnight last night has garnered somewhat mixed reviews. I thought that she was actually rather impressive, although the jibe about one of Toby Young's tweets about a woman MPs tits was a cheap shot. Then again was this the kind of harassment that Stella believes should be stopped by Twitter? This, I believe, was Toby's point. Harassment is a potentially ambiguous term that is subjective. One person's harassment is another's forceful and assertive intervention. Given Stella Creasy's forceful and angry performance last night, I could easily see some of her interlocutors regarding regular contretemps with her as harassment.
But this raises an interesting point. The modus operandi of the Left is frequently to harass and otherwise berate those with whom they disagree. Look how climate change sceptics have been labelled deniers and called other names. Look at how anyone offering an opinion with which the bien pensants and Twitterati disagree will immediately be regaled with angry responses, many of them borderline or well over the line abusive. Is that harassment or just part of the cut and thrust of debate? And anyway, it serves us right for being Tories, eh?
This was the point Toby Young was trying to make, not particularly effectively, in the face of the Creasy hurricane of contempt. Stella made her points forcefully and with admirable style and conviction. But she was also wrong. I suppose my chances of taking her for dinner have just vanished.
Tuesday, 30 July 2013
I hope you have been enjoying the series Why Do People Laugh At Creationists I have been running the last couple of weeks. There are plenty of you watching it. I should point out that these are nothing to do with me. They are a few years old now and were produced by a gentleman with much greater scientific knowledge than I would ever claim. He calls himself Thunderfoot. He has a channel on YouTube. It's well worth a look
One of the reasons I have been running this series, apart from the fact it is summer and I wanted a bit of time off, is that creationists and god botherers in general do tend to spout the same drivel all gleaned from the same sources. If you get into a debate or argument with them, either in a pub or more likely in some internet forum, you need to be prepared for their spectacularly dishonest, illogical and unoriginal arguments. Seriously, they make the same tired arguments repeatedly, however often those arguments are debunked or disproved. You also need to be prepared for the fact that they frequently don't know their own holy books as well as atheists or agnostics. Point out to them that actually the Bible is not in close accord with real historical events and they will react with shock, horror and disdain. It's what they are told. They are being lied to.
Now I have a theory about this. I think we are being too damned polite and reasonable. Take a look at the videos above. Richard Dawkins, the man who is frequently held up as an exemplar of the new aggressive secularism, is calmness and reasonableness personified. His interlocutor, the cartoonish Bill O Reilly, is the exact opposite. Professor Dawkins does not react when he is repeatedly called Mister. He scarcely reacts when he is constantly interrupted and shouted at, and even when he does it is in the mildest of terms.
Yet the arguments of O Reilly are fatuous and facile. Furthermore they are the same tired old arguments we have heard time and time again. They are selective, illogical, scientifically ignorant and, let's be honest, moronic. Yet O Reilly smugly spouts this crap as if he is a debating colossus. The only reason he ever prevails is because he shouts, interrupts and uses non sequiturs his bovine audience don't have the brains to recognise all squeezed into a tiny 3 or 4 minute segment which he controls.
So let's go through his arguments and show them for the dishonest, rambling, incoherent, illogical, inconsistent, deluded dross that they are.
Right from the off he spouts the usual tripe about evolutionists needing greater faith than believers. Dawkins responds mildly but is clearly irritated because he has heard it all before. It's nonsense. What Dawkins says is true but he could easily have added: So, because you don't have the imagination and can't be bothered to do the reading you don't think our planet evolving the way it did could have happened. And that's your best argument? All of the evidence, that's real evidence gathered and tested, clearly shows that life has evolved because of the way our planet is. We didn't luck out and get a perfect planet as you describe it, we are the way we are BECAUSE of the way the tides go in and out, the continents drift, the climate changes, the seasons change. We have evolved that way and are shaped by the planet and all of those things take place for very well understood reasons explained through natural processes.
Then O Reilly comes up with the where did it come from line and the leap of faith allegedly required by scientists and rationalists. Dawkins, polite and reasonable as always, points out that the leap of faith is one he makes by choosing one god out of dozens to explain all of this.
O Reilly says he is throwing in with Jesus, he was a real guy. Well that is actually a matter of dispute. There is very little real proof that there was a man called Jesus, and even if there was we know that the gospels are not a historical account of his life because most of it is made up, borrowed from other religions of the time, or edited to make it fit in with Old Testament prophesies. He does concede that he's not positive that Jesus is god but says he prefers the supernatural belief in Jesus because 'you guys' cannot tell where it all came from.
Again the good professor responds mildly that we are working on it. This is wonderful for O Reilly. Well, he says triumphantly, when you can tell me come back to me. But he tends to forget that he can't tell us where it came from either. Presumably he doesn't believe in the Genesis version of events, and anyway, as he told us in that previous interview, he follows the New Testament not the old, because he likes to cherry pick his beliefs so that he can ignore all of that nasty stuff about slavery, killing people for adultery or not honouring the sabbath etc. So his religion has nothing to say about where it all comes from either.
And anyway, science has plenty to say where it all came from. There is evidence for the Big Bang. We have a decent understanding of where planets and stars come from and how they are formed. We don't yet fully understand the processes that get life started it is true, but then when Darwin published his theory there were many gaps in it, which he modestly and honestly acknowledged, gaps that have since been filled in with each succeeding generation as science and technology has advanced.
But this is what atheists are up against. This is the kind of mendacious, tendentious nonsense being spouted by believers who prefer their cosy beliefs to reality. They dishonestly exploit science's honest admissions of doubt and try to shoehorn their god into the gaps.
O Reilly says he doesn't believe in the Old Testament and yet claims to be a Catholic whose philosophy of original sin is based on the talking snake and us all being sinners because someone ate an apple. There is general consensus amongst those who have studied these things that Jesus, if he existed at all, was just one of many roving preachers of the time. The various gospels and books of the New Testament are just a selective and not very good editing job full of clues about their true intent. The Old Testament, derived from the Jewish Bible, is just a very obvious attempt by one middle eastern tribe to give themselves a pep talk and create a myth to convince themselves that they are special and chosen by a god. The famous figures of that religion, from Adam and Eve through Abraham, Moses, King David never existed. The stories of that Bible never happened. They are just good stories.
The Ten Commandments, often cited as something admirable and noble, are actually mostly about enforcing this new god they had invented. The items about not killing, not stealing, not coveting and not committing adultery are an after thought after not worshipping other gods, something that would not have occurred to people in subsequent centuries when the pagan gods had died out.
And yet, quite by accident, this motley collection of stories about as relevant to moral philosophy as the tales of the Iliad, and nothing like as entertaining, became the foundation of three world religions, and more if you count all of the schisms. They did so mostly through violence or the threat of it. Yes there are some fine examples of decent morality in there, but the famous sermon on the mount is largely lifted from eastern philosophy.
It should also be noted that the whole resurrection story was a common one during the period when Jesus was supposed to be around. There were many alleged gods coming down to earth, dying and then coming back to life again. Virgin birth was something they all did too. The Jewish and Christian religions are just myths that somehow got lucky and, thanks to the Romans, gained power and influence until they could force themselves on a world through violent coercion. Thus, after the passage of time, these myths become 'the truth,' something to be defended to the death, even when we learn how flawed and ridiculous they are. For centuries these myths held back humanity by proscribing science and executing those who questioned their teachings.
And what of the foundational notion of Christianity, that Jesus supposedly came to Earth and died for our sins? What sins? Well we're back to Adam and Eve and that snake again. And what kind of loving god has to sacrifice himself to himself to appease himself to pay for sins that he himself is angry about? Why didn't he just forgive them? Why the bloodlust, why the sacrifice? Don't tell me there is none of that in the New Testament.
And it is this kind of inconvenient nonsense that the likes of Bill O Reilly ignore. You cannot debate him properly in a 3 minute segment on his show for morons.
Debating with the likes of O Reilly is like trying to nail a fly to the wall. It is to the credit of Professor Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, Sam Harris, the late Christopher Hitchens and many others that they bother. Why do they do so? If it were really, as O Reilly dishonestly claims, just about his private beliefs, we wouldn't need to bother. But it's not. Religion has always been about power and religionists always want special privileges and the right to tell their silly stories to our children. They want the right to veto other people's private lives and dictate who can marry based on their special kind of morality allegedly sent to us by their imaginary friend. They are welcome to believe whatever they want. The problem with religion has always been that it is about much more than that, about much more than providing succour to people at times of need, of giving them hope. Throughout history they have demanded respect for their beliefs and threatened or committed violence to ensure it. That is still happening in many parts of the world. Here in the increasingly secular west they can no longer do that and so they demand we respect them and stop ridiculing their beliefs. As history has shown, ridicule is the very least their beliefs deserve. It's fortunate that most atheists are a good deal nicer and more tolerant than believers have been down the centuries. It's more than they deserve.
Monday, 29 July 2013
There has, quite rightly, been a lot of fuss in the newspapers, the bloggersphere and on Twitter itself over the weekend about the abuse meted out to Caroline Criado-Perez, the woman who last week celebrated the success of her campaign to have Jane Austen put on our banknotes. You might imagine that a campaign to have the image of one of our greatest ever authors on banknotes, in the same place that other luminaries such as Dickens have been, would be entirely uncontroversial, even welcome. And so it was for most people.
But for some this was the spark for their peculiar, probably psychopathic, misogynist rage. Ms Criado-Perez has been targeted with the most appalling, vile tweets, including threats of rape and other sexual violence.
This of course is the drawback of Twitter. There are very many people out there with very many passions and rages who, safe behind their smart phone or computer, feel that they can vent these passions and rages without any consequences, and certainly without any thought for the feelings of those who are on the receiving end. Most of the time this manifests in simple name calling. Occasionally a certain kind of low life descends to the kind of vituperation we have seen here. And over an 18th century novelist. It says a great deal about the abuser. One can easily imagine that the sort of sad inadequates who write this kind of thing would fit a stereotype we all know: of men in dark bedsits, playing video games and seldom interacting with people, let alone women. It might be a way of spotting potential rapists and serial killers.
But, though such sort of behaviour is indefensible, there are laws against it already, as we have seen since police have arrested a 21 year old man. As usual though we have seen various people jumping on this particular bandwagon and calling for controls and better regulation. Have we already forgotten the Twitter joke trial? Have we forgotten already the long and farcical trial of Paul Chambers, arrested and made into a criminal for a Twitter joke about blowing up an airport?
Social media is mostly a wonderful thing. It has democratised us, opened up society, freed up information. But it is not for the faint hearted. If you use it to advance a cause or disseminate a message, you have to be prepared for people who will disagree, or for people who simply take exception to you personally. I have got involved in long arguments with people simply for expressing an opinion. At times I have overreacted, although never to the point of making threats. But it is very easy to become angry, or at least irritated.
I have been called names by people, even by celebrities, simply for holding an opinion with which they disagree. Only a couple of weeks ago I wrote something satirical about Chukka Umunna and immediately received a response from someone calling herself Rosie R who made a point about Tories that was plain wrong and had been contradicted by Newsnight moments before. When I pointed this out she flounced off calling me 'a thoroughly unpleasant person.' On another occasion I was called an idiot by Graham Linehan for daring to be sceptical about climate change.
These things happen. One has to laugh them off. This is not an excuse for people to make threats, but we have to be robust in the face of the usual cut and thrust. Generally those who make such threats will be rounded upon by the rest of the Twittersphere as are those who make stupid points or who resort to name calling. But the language of Twitter is often robust in a way that some might find offensive. That is no reason to try and censor it. We all have control over who we follow and what we choose to Tweet about.
That is why we must resist those who are calling for controls on Twitter and similar social networking. We already have enough in the form of the criminal law. We just need the authorities to be sensible about enforcing those laws.
But we have to be on our guard against those who with one breath claim to be in favour of free speech and yet with the next demand that those with whom they disagree or whose views they find offensive should be controlled or silenced. Take this remarkably stupid blog by Tim Stanley on Telegraph Blogs. He does precisely that. He's in favour of free speech but doesn't like it when people write nasty things about his religion on Twitter.
He calls it aggressive online atheism. Oh, and as is the fashion, he says that those who write things he doesn't like, people, inevitably, like Richard Dawkins, are trolls. Trolls is becoming a catch all phrase now to describe anyone who annoys you on Twitter. It means nothing of the kind. Trolls are people who are essentially wind up merchants. They write things intended to annoy, upset or otherwise anger other users. This is how they get their kicks. It is probable that the sad men who wrote about raping Ms Criado-Perez thought they were doing nothing much wrong, or perhaps got carried away. This is not to defend them.
But people who write about the idiocies of religion are not trolls. They are people who feel strongly about something and wish to write about it. If you do not wish to read the Tweets of Richard Dawkins then you have the choice not to follow him. It is irredeemably pathetic to try to label him as a troll and use the activities of low life criminals to try to silence someone who has millions of followers, has sold millions of books and whose atheism has inspired millions simply because you find his views offensive or hurtful.
Stanley writes that he finds it amazing that people can 'casually mock' the spiritual and emotional convictions of others. Why? What is wrong with mockery? Are your beliefs so fragile they cannot withstand such treatment? The reason such beliefs are mocked is because they are palpably absurd. More than that, as we are seeing on a daily basis, blind faith in these bronze age myths is doing real damage and causing much much worse than hurt feelings on a daily basis. This is why atheists do what we do. We want to make the world a better place, a more tolerant place that does not allow misery to be heaped on innocents in the name of a fantasy.
Stanley then goes on to tell us that such insults to his faith goes to the very heart of what makes him the way he is. Then why is it so fragile, Tim? Is it perhaps because you have doubts that you have pushed to the back of your mind and this mockery brings them to the forefront, which you find uncomfortable? Well that is what discourse is supposed to do. It is how humans progress. For centuries religious belief was protected through threat of violence and look at the progress mankind has made ever since. Now that they are unable to threaten us, the religious whinge about having their feelings hurt instead. They prefer not to think about the inconsistencies and absurdities of their beliefs and of the damage it does to society because it makes them feel good.
In his final paragraph Tim Stanley claims that he is not trying to get Dawkins and his ilk banned and claims that he is thick skinned enough to ignore the Tweets of atheists, despite his claiming only a few sentences perviously that we should consider his feelings for his deep faith. But then, once again, he contradicts himself. We are having a conversation, he claims, about what is and isn't offensive. Can the religious be involved or is it only secularists who can claim offence he asks pompously. It's neither, Tim. People claiming the right to censor others by claiming offence is something we should all be against. If your faith is so strong it should be able to withstand a few Tweets you don't even have to read. If my belief that climate change is nothing to worry about is strong enough I should be able to withstand being called an idiot by Graham Linehan. It's all part of the cut and thrust. Indeed it goes some way to proving my argument that those who resort to name calling rather than debating the evidence are losing that argument.
Ideas should be debated. If possible they should be debated with civility, they certainly shouldn't resort to threats. But trying to close down that debate because of hurt feelings is or ought to be a non starter. My next post, about some of the things believers say as part of this debate, will show how important that debate is and who exactly are the ones resorting to lies and name calling.
Sunday, 28 July 2013
As if timed to coincide with silly season when there is no news, a grateful media alighted on the story of a royal baby with all of the delight of a paparazzi photographer on a girl with a billowing skirt. The Daily Mail in particular gushed in uncontrollable rapture about the event and printed page after page of a royal baby special even before he had been seen or emerged from hospital, or before his name was known. They then managed to take themselves irredeemably beyond parody by asking if the BBC's coverage of the event had been over the top.
Kate finally had her baby on Monday afternoon at 4.24. And, since it was a boy, all of that preparation for amending the rule of primogeniture was a waste of time. Now they have another 30 years to get it past some of the more recalcitrant members of the Commonwealth. Within a couple of days his names had been announced and we were left wondering why it had taken them so long. He will be Prince George. His other names are Alexander and Louis. How they must have gone back and forth and torn their hair out over those. Or maybe that was why they were chosen, after all his father cannot really sustain losing any more hair.
And was it a birth by royal command? After all last week the Queen had expressed the hope that they get on with it quickly so that she can go on her hols. It's well known that there are certain ways doctors recommend for getting pregnant ladies to start labour. Spicy food is one recommendation. But apparently sex is best. So was this a case of F.U.C.Q?
And it is just a baby. An act of procreation has taken place. You would think this was the announcement of the establishment of world peace, or the discovery of the meaning of life. But no, it was just a nice young couple having a baby and hoping against hope that the lad hasn't inherited his dad's baldness gene and that his grandfather doesn't propose homeopathy as a cure or blame it on global warming.
The rolling new channels were largely unbearable for most of the week. In addition to extending Monday's 10 0 Clock News - how long does it take to say a baby has been born, he is a boy, he is healthy and both mother and baby are fine? - they were still wittering on about it for days. The band at Buckingham Palace playing Congratulations is not news. Worse, it might encourage Cliff Richard.
In the end Buckingham Palace accepted the realities of modern media and issued a statement about the birth in the usual way. The news was then put on an easel outside the palace for reasons few can really understand. Those who had spent weeks waiting outside the Lindo wing of St Mary's Hospital were delighted, as the ever entertaining Simon McCoy of the BBC revealed.
44 year old Nicholas Jacobs was charged with the murder of PC Keith Blakelock during the Broadwater Farm riot in Tottenham, north London in 1985. The police officer was hacked to death as he attempted to protect some firemen tackling blazes started during the riot, but was surrounded by a mob, allegedly shouting 'kill the pig.' He was stabbed dozens of times before being rescued by colleagues, but died of his injuries in hospital. Investigators have spent more than a decade reviewing evidence before deciding to charge Mr Jacobs. They did not bring charges against four other suspects who had also been arrested in connection with the notorious killing.
Violence erupted once again in Cairo this weekend as the army continued its crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and deposed president Morsi. There were conflicting reports of the number of deaths. The Muslim Brotherhood said that the army had shot 120 people, while the health ministry put the figure at 65. The Brotherhood claimed that the army had opened fire on protesters, whilst the army counter claimed that they had used only tear gas and that the violence had been instigated by Islamists. The clashes began after the army had called the people out to show their backing and a popular mandate for their intervention. Backers of Morsi responded in kind. This week has seen a clear escalation in the army's campaign against the Muslim movement as they announced a further inquiry into its activities.
78 people were killed and 130 injured, 20 of them seriously, when a train approaching Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain left the tracks resulting in a scene of carnage. Initial reports suggested that this was an accident and probably the result of the train travelling much faster than it should have been. It had been running late and might have been trying to make up time. According to the driver, Francisco Jose Garzon de Amo, who survived the crash and was treated for minor injuries, the train approached a bend that should be taken at 50mph at more than double this speed limit. He has been arrested and is being investigated for reckless driving and manslaughter.
As you can see in this terrifying video footage, the train approached the bend and flew off the tracks tipping on to its side. Most trainlines in Spain are long and straight, allowing high speeds. But this was an older piece of track approaching the city and should have been the cue for the drivers to slow down. Garzon de Amo has boasted on Facebook of driving trains at high speed, and posted pictures.
Stuart Hall, the former BBC presenter and commentator, had the sentence he was given for sex offences against under aged girls doubled from 15 months to 30. The case was presented to the court in person by the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve. So, if you were a fan of It's A knockout, the show that made Hall a household name, Grieve essentially played his Joker.
The British economy grew by 0.6% during the second quarter, a sign that UKPLC is starting at last to recover and is edging towards more normal levels of activity and growth. The best part of the news was that the growth was reported across all sectors, including those like construction which have been struggling.
And Tories were in jovial and celebratory mood after several weeks of good news stories for them, terrible ones for Labour, narrowing opinion polls and now a royal baby. Michael Gove and Boris went out for a drink or two to celebrate and emerged looking, well see for yourself. They insist that they were not the worse for wear, that their good spirits were entirely natural and not imbibed. Oh and it was hot, hence the flushed red faces.
David Cameron is very very angry about porn. What is it has offended him? Is it the bad scripts and poor acting? Are they making him feel inadequate in the trouser department? No, apparently he is worried that children may be accessing porn too easily. This would explain why most children these days seem so terribly well informed about sex, rather better than we were when I was struggling with my urges and trying to figure the whole thing out. Even had the divine Lisa Crocker felt the same way towards me as I did to her, I'm not at all sure I would have known what to do about it. With the aid of the internet I would have not only known what to do but would have known for certain whether she and her friends were LOLing about it afterwards or were in awe.
Anyway, Dave feels that the big internet giants need to do more, especially about child porn. He wants default parental guards on computers. In other words we will all have to opt in to porn. You might call it the brown paper bag law. The Daily Mail was pleased. It's had a great week, the DM. Royal babies, sporting success and a moral crusade. If only it could have found a way to sneak in mention of benefit scroungers and immigrants stealing jobs against the backdrop of celebrities in bikinis it would have been perfect.
In last week's review I wrote of a man who had wanted to be mayor of Moscow but who offended Vladmir Putin and so is now not allowed to be mayor on account of his being convicted on trumped up charges of corruption. That's how they deal with errant politicians there, even when they are inerrant.
Contrast that with the land of the free, where a man called Weiner has a disturbing habit of waving his private parts around on the internet, but apparently still fully intends to be New York's next mayor. Presumably if he ever comes to London he will be pixellated by Dave's new anti porn system. But, although Weiner clearly takes his unfortunate surname as an excuse to willy wave to women who for some reason find him impressive, that is not his worst offence. Just take a look at this man being interviewed on US television. We're used to politicians not answering the question, he takes it to an arrogant new level. The man literally is a weiner, or an arrogant ****.
Shrien Dewani, the man accused by South African authorities of ordering the killing of his wife Anni, will be extradited to the country to face trial, Westminster Magistrates Court decided. Dewani has been receiving treatment for depression and post traumatic stress disorder since his wife's murder, but the court decided that he is now well enough to face extradition, even though he is not currently fit to plead. He can continue to receive treatment in South Africa. Lawyers acting for Dewani intend to appeal this latest judgement. So far three men have been convicted of the murder of Mrs Dewani in November 2010.
Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, led his Liberal Democratic Party to victory in last weekend's elections in Japan. Abe, who has been pushing through radical and aggressive economic stimulus policies over the last few months, now has control of both houses of the country's legislature. Abe would like to push through constitutional change to make the country more militarily proactive as it faces the rise of China. The constitution has been pacifist since the end of the Second World War. For now the results were not quite good enough to give the prime minister the majority he needs for such constitutional change.
NASA released the above picture sent from their Cassini spacecraft in orbit about Saturn. It is Earth from 900 million miles away. Apparently, however, the spacecraft could still hear all of the cretinous speculation about the royal baby, but then the same is true of the Voyager spacecraft and they are on the cusp of leaving the solar system. If we are ever contacted by ET it will probably be to ask the Daily Mail and Nicholas Witchell to shut up about the bloody royal family.
The Moon is clearly visible alongside the Earth in that NASA photograph. And the Moon and its alleged effects on us was the subject of another one of those vital scientific studies we all pay for with our taxes. Researchers at the University of Basel found that Full Moons can have deleterious effects on our sleeping patterns. We sleep less, find it harder to go to sleep and have pronounced desires to shave less and dance in step with recently awoken zombies. Okay, I made that last bit up.
North Korea, fresh from threatening the world with armageddon just a couple of months ago, began its annual Mass Games, a kind of vast coordinated dance routine singing the praises of their revolution and the leaders who fail on a regular basis to keep the lights on or provide sufficient food to stop their people becoming malnourished. It is, admittedly, quite an impressive sight, but only in the same way that all of that goose stepping is quite a feat. This year's games are celebrating the 60th anniversary of their alleged victory in the Korean War, which they started and had to get Chinese help to even reach a stalemate. There was then a parade of lots of cardboard missiles and old tanks in Pyongyang on Saturday. Still, pretty costumes, and the girls look great in that pose I am sure you will agree.
The Second Ashes Test came to an end last Sunday teatime, just managing to avoid going into a fifth day. Unlike the previous match, this one was an England walkover. The Aussies were beaten by a resounding 347 runs, with a whole day of play left but unnecessary. The worry for Australia will be that this did not even look like an England team at their best. Whilst they bowled well, their batting left much to be desired. But the Aussie capitulation made it look better than it was. It will be a long hard slog of a summer for them. Their best hope against further even worse humiliations might be that the weather may return to normal and deliver them a draw or two.
And British sport prevailed in France too, as Chris Froome followed in Bradley Wiggins' tyre tracks and won the Tour De France. Like with cricket against the Aussies, British dominance of cycling is starting to become habitual. After the heroics of Wiggins last year and our cyclists in the Olympics, Froome was the dominant figure across the 23 days and 2115 miles of the Tour, but his team mates, including Richie Porte, performed superbly too.
It is now exactly a year since the Olympics got underway in London last year. The stadium has been hosting an anniversary games to commemorate it, with a 100 metres race won, once again, by Usain Bolt, followed by Mo Farah repeating his Super Saturday heroics with victory in the 3000 Metres. And what a year it has been. British sportsmen and women have continued to excel. Indeed the only part of that wonderful 2 weeks we may now look back on with slight introspection is that paean to the NHS. The principle may be a wonderful one, but in practice?
There is a blue cock in Trafalgar Square, and no this is not a further reference to Boris's night out with Michael Gove. I have no evidence they ever made it to Trafalgar Square. No, this is the Germans' idea of a joke. Specifically this is the work of artist Katharina Fritsch, who thought it would be a jolly good wheeze and appeal to our legendary sense of humour, or maybe inspire us to make some more of those terribly funny Carry On Movies, or a further series of Allo Allo with the big boobies. Anyway, it is, by common consent, a bit of a cock up, although it would still make a better mayor than Anthony Weiner and is all round a more impressive kind of cock.
Saturday, 27 July 2013
Friday, 26 July 2013
The ground really is falling away from Labour, and in particular their pudgy nodding dog of a Shadow Chancellor, famous for his pantomime dame expressions during PMQs and now redundant flatlining gestures.
Yesterday's news that GDP has increased by 0.6% in the last quarter was greeted by one of Labour's characteristic changes of heart. Ah, they said, but what about people's standard of living?
Well, what about it? Once again Labour try to pretend that this has nothing to do with them, that, had they been free to spend as they wanted to, the economy would have been enjoying growth throughout the last few years and we would somehow, despite their even more precipitous mountain of debt, be feeling better off.
One of the reasons that our standards of living have declined is that we have been willing to accept lower pay as a consequence of the recession Labour created. Indeed, given the levels of immigration they actively encouraged, this was something of a fait accompli. For them now to try to make political hay of the consequences of their own cynicism and arrant stupidity dressed up as principle ought to beggar belief if we didn't know them so well.
The fact is that, during Labour's time in power, we all lived through an unsustainable boom funded by excess borrowing. It was fool's gold and we must all pay the cost, in much the same way that the country had to pay the cost of Gordon Brown's decision to sell much of the nation's real gold reserves at the bottom of the market. We paid ourselves too much and must now start the slow and painful process of evening things out, of making ourselves competitive again. This is austerity. It is not just about government cuts, it is about us all tightening our belts and paying the price of the Labour boom that was never a real boom.
It's no good Labour complaining about the cost of living and of the fall of our standard of living. This is the culmination of their policies. This is what happens when you spend money we don't have, and when you allow the labour market to expand creating a downward pressure on wages. Balls is supposed to be a brilliant economist. You would think he would know about the law of supply and demand.
There is no painless way out of our predicament. We have to accept that the way ahead is going to be hard and tough and will mean us all learning to live within our means. The British economy has many problems, a lack of skills is a key one. Under Labour we simply chose to import those skills and papered over the cracks with higher benefit payments and a vastly expanded public sector. We are now suffering the consequences. Yet Labour and their paymasters in the unions refuse to see this. They believe that more borrowing and a 'wages led recovery' will magically create a more vibrant and competitive economy when we have seen already that the opposite will happen. As ever, with Labour, their only answer is tax and spend, oh and of course borrow. Balls is too polite a word to describe the policies of the Shadow Chancellor.
Thursday, 25 July 2013
David Cameron and his government are on a roll at the moment. The good news just keeps coming. In quick succession we have had the deportation of Qatada, record low crime figures, the bill to ensure a European referendum that Labour hadn't a clue what to do about and so were reduced to trying to undermine in committee, this morning's encouraging growth figures, not to mention Labour's union problems, which they have desperately tried to distract everyone from by trying to turn the focus on to Lynton Crosby with stunningly little effect.
Even non political news is adding to the feeling of wellbeing. We keep winning in various sports we used to be hopeless at. The weather has been good. There is a royal baby to make you smile and be happy and glad about if that is what does it for you.
Downing Street must be sorry in a way that they are headed off on their holidays. If only they could have had a couple weeks more of Dave railing at Wallace across the Dispatch Box they might have made him cry.
But I would argue that things are even better than they appear as everyone heads off feeling chipper, and Wallace plans his autumn conference speech in which he will tell us that no, really, he is going to do something about the union connection, honestly, even if it does look as though his last big speech on the subject has unravelled faster than a Gordon Brown Budget. The majority reacted with scepticism towards that speech and that scepticism is being thoroughly vindicated. Wallace owes his position to the unions. Labour would be bankrupt without the unions. And, whatever you think of McCluskey's absurdly outdated politics, he is a much better leader than Wallace and much better at fighting for what he believes in. The fact that he does it as leader of a union, and that less than 10% of members voted for him instead of having the honesty and integrity to stand for parliament is testimony to how broken and undemocratic the politics of the left is.
But it's even worse for Labour and the Left because they are losing the argument on everything at the moment. Their policy positions, such as they are, are as hopeless as their organisational and institutional problems. They look and are clueless. The world is a big confusing place and they had retreated to their comfort zone waiting for the rest of us to come to them. Instead, on everything from welfare to the economy, from the NHS to education, they have got themselves into positions that look and are deluded, purblind and are often plain ridiculous.
Latterly Cameron and his government seem to have realised what an opportunity has been presented to them by this situation. They have realised that the problems with the NHS, its failures and culture of reverent secrecy enable them to show what a bad return for our money we are getting, that money is not the answer, that a centrally driven service by central government diktat has demonstrably failed. They still shy away from the kind of radical reforms being attempted in welfare and education of course but that is because the NHS remains, for no very obvious reason, protected and revered despite its demonstrable failures. It needs radical reorganisation, it needs a change of culture.
For this to happen though there are certain other recent big news stories of recent weeks we need to bring to the attention of the public in order to illustrate a central theme of public sector failure. Here is another revered national institution, awash in taxpayers money which we fondly imagine is admired around the world. Yet can we honestly say that the BBC is delivering value for money? Or is it, like the NHS, providing a decent service that really ought to be an awful lot better? Is it wasting our money on endless legions of management, refusing to come clean until under relentless pressure about its waste and profligacy? Does it engage in a culture of secrecy and has it at times looked the other way when outright criminality has taken place within its corridors? At a time when the world is thrilling to genuinely superb, groundbreaking television series like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Borgen, Mad Men, what is the BBC's contribution? Well they can't afford such programming because they prefer to spend £100 million on a digital editing system that didn't work or moving thousands of staff pointlessly to Salford, or on redundancy payments for extremely well remunerated managers. And the BBC remains grossly overstaffed. It is a bureaucracy with television and radio stations tagged on. It often feels like a branch of the civil service, not a broadcaster.
And the BBC and NHS are just very visible symbols of an attitude to the public sector and our money that Labour helped create, encourage and 'invested' in during their splurge whilst in government. It is this kind of spending that the unions, who benefit from taxpayer funding for their officials, wish to see expanded despite our vast debt mountain. Labour and the Left, and indeed much of the BBC are wedded to the idea that everything the public sector does must necessarily be noble and selfless. That is why they react with such incomprehension and fury when this assumption is questioned.
But it is an assumption that must be questioned because it is demonstrable nonsense. The unions, personified by Len McCluskey, and the Labour Party they own, want their own particular version of Britain to become ingrained. It is a vision of Britain run by them, for 'workin' people' so long as those workers are members of their trade unions and do as they are told. They want services delivered by state run, union dominated, reactionary corporations and authorities with plenty of well paid positions for their acolytes and placemen so as to entrench and make permanent their power. Theirs is a vision in which the sort of scandals we have seen in the NHS, the BBC and numerous other public services would never happen again - but that's because nobody would be allowed to commit the treachery of speaking ill of their utopian world.
The country is in the process of rejecting this vision even when Labour and the unions are trying to sneak it in under the cover of Wallace and his policy lite party. The economy is recovering despite the damage they did, despite their warnings that the cruel cuts and attempts to make work pay would make this country less civilised and ungovernable. This autumn teachers will mounts strikes in protest at attempts to pay them according to whether they are any good at their jobs rather than how long they have been doing them. That sums up the attitude of those who dispense their noble services via the public sector. It cannot be challenged too much or too often.
Wednesday, 24 July 2013
According to the wittering cretins in the media, the last king to have the name George was George VI. Except it wasn't. I'm a republican and even I know that. The man who became King George VI was actually christened Albert Frederick Arthur George. Kings get to choose their titles when they become sovereign. George VI's predecessor, Edward VIII, was actually called David.
And when you think about it this makes the choice of George particularly witless and stupid. The poor little sod won't be king for at least half a century barring disaster, why not give him a decent name, an imaginative name? Why not give him a name that gives him a fighting chance of not becoming a prematurely bald, slightly dim bore?
This is the peculiar thing about royalty, other than the fact we are all quite happy to bow and pay allegiance to a family based on the accident of birth. They have their ridiculous traditions and then every once in a while reality intrudes and they are forced to change, usually in the face of public antipathy. So they have saddled another member of their family with the name George, presumably because they didn't bother reading their own happy history full of dull but dutiful men, men who went mad, men who were gluttons and spendthrifts. Both William and Charles can choose to have different names if and when they ascend to the throne they have done nothing to deserve. I would suggest that this news today suggests they don't even have the imagination to do that.
Tuesday, 23 July 2013
So, we have a royal baby, the 3rd in line to the throne. Everyone move down a place, the future king has arrived.
Royalty is on a bit of a roll at the moment. I don't mind admitting it. After all royalty is all about image, tradition and PR. So, if they can't make the best out of a bouncing baby boy there is no hope for them. They even had the good PR nous to time the birth for during the summer when there is no other news around. The down side however is that now we will be subjected to hours of the idiocies of rolling news coverage, despite the fact that nothing is actually happening. Why were they camped outside the hospital? What did they expect to see?
And it should be noted that the major reason for the current popularity of the royals is that they recently brought in new blood, in the person of the lovely Kate. She is not of aristocratic birth. Indeed she has a bit of the blood of a coalminer coursing through her veins. Her family are middle class. They earned their money from trade, which would have been anathema only a generation or two ago. I suppose that is a sign of progress of sorts.
But let's analyse what the nation and large parts of the world are celebrating this morning. We are proclaiming the fact that, yesterday, a baby was born who will one day become king. A child has been born and, before he is even able to support the weight of his own head, his whole future is mapped out ahead of him. He will one day be our head of state. We know this because it is the law of the land. It is set in stone. The only way this can now be avoided would require a further act of parliament and the agreement of the rest of the Commonwealth. Is that a sensible way to choose a man who will exercise real power, see state secrets, meet foreign dignitaries, represent his country around the world?
The boy who will be king. We know nothing about him other than his parentage. Of course he will want for nothing. He will get the best education, the best nutrition, the best health care, he will be surrounded by lackeys, servants and advisers.
But there is nothing whatever to say that, despite all of these advantages, this as yet unnamed child is suited to the role that tradition and our laws decree are inevitable but for a constitutional crisis. This is especially the case before he can even walk and talk.
Of course children following in the footsteps of their parents is not unheard of outside the world of royalty and aristocracy, but even in that world it has frequently caused problems. It's not so very long ago that we had to force a king out and turned to his stammering brother. Various dukedoms around the country have been put in severe jeopardy by the wild behaviour of those who were born first and thus stand to inherit. And the present spoilt, petulant, selfish and actually rather dim Prince of Wales has frequently jeopardised his own inheritance with his behaviour. Thanks to that gilded upbringing and the privilege it affords him, he now imagines that he is an expert on architecture, the environment, education and has lobbied for having homeopathy provided on the NHS, an NHS that he doesn't actually use.
We are fortunate that his son seems to be rather more level-headed than his father, if not particularly intelligent. But he did have the good sense to marry for love rather than to look for an aristocratically connected virgin for the sake of tradition. Instead he met a girl at one of our best universities and eventually married her. She has been the single best thing to happen to the royals in a century or more. She's a commoner. She seems to have taken to the role you apparently need a lifetime of training for like a natural. Interesting that, eh?
Why does the monarchy endure? Because it is a fairytale form of celebrity in a celebrity obsessed world. It is not a better system of selecting a head of state. We got lucky with the present Queen. Let's see if we feel so lucky when her son takes over. For now the present royals will probably endure and retain their undeserved privilege. Their indiscretions will be covered up as far as possible and, when they come out, the PR machine will roll into action.
The British remain peculiarly attached to this antediluvian throwback to our history. But it's all something of a lottery. They are trusting their and our futures to a little boy who will from now on never escape the spotlight and will be part of one of the most peculiar and dysfunctional family units you could possibly imagine, one in which he is now entitled to be bowed and curtsied to by his own uncles, aunts and 2nd cousins at family get togethers. It's a peculiar way to run a country.
Monday, 22 July 2013
They're putting the news of a royal baby on a golden easel? They've definitely missed a trick there. This is the nation of pomp and ceremony, of pointless parades, silly costumes and arcane titles.
There should be marching bands, a royal nappy warden, a 21 gun salute done quietly so as not to wake the baby. They could have Brian May on the roof of the Palace playing Happy Birthday. They could have fireworks, the RAF could fly past. They could have a mass gathering of nannies come in to land Mary Poppins style. Where's their sense of adventure and of shameless tourist harvesting? Last year we had the Olympics, this year the world's largest baby shower. If the royal family is worth anything it's supposed to boost tourism. Honestly, do they want our economy to recover?
The only good thing about all of this is that, as it's a boy, there need be no more talk of primogeniture until the middle of the century. That's solved that problem for a generation.
On Friday Dave went along to Lords to attend the 2nd Ashes Test. As part of this he met with the TMS team, among them Geoffrey Boycott. The following day Wallace went and did the same (although he went without a cake) he told the nation, via TMS, that Geoffrey Boycott is his hero.
Now does anyone believe that? Take a look at the big nosed dork above. Does anyone believe that Wallace likes and appreciates cricket and, if he did, that his hero would be Geoffrey Boycott? I am of a similar generation to Wallace. I can honestly say that, though I find the whinging old curmudgeon and bore often amusing when in his double act with Aggers, I have never thought of him as a hero. And I like cricket. I doubt that Wallace does. Wallace would find the whole thing a bit elitist.
Thus this was a sign of Labour desperation. England are doing well against a hopeless Aussie team. The summer is going very well. Labour are panicking.
Sunday, 21 July 2013
It's been hot. This has been the central story of the week. There have been multiple opportunities to print pictures of girls in bikinis, children playing in fountains, ice cream vans and rip-off prices. The only downside, if you are of a certain frame of mind, is that there have been no opportunities to have journalists standing by dry reservoirs and rivers talking about a drought. There has been advice about drinking water, wearing sun block, not swimming in inviting looking lakes, even keeping your shoes on if you are deputy prime minister. It's now been hot for a number of weeks: since Wimbledon and beyond in fact. This has given us cause to moan about the weather. This makes us happy.
Oh and there have been grass fires because the ground is so parched. Yet there is plenty of water because of last year's lousy summer and the wet and wild autumn and winter. This week it is going to get even hotter. Newspapers will be able to talk about what new level the mercury is rising to. There will be more girls in bikinis. What a glorious country it is we live in.
And a royal baby has failed to arrive. This is news apparently. The non birth of a baby requires rolling live coverage in various newspapers. I suppose they have to justify to themselves, if nobody else, the fact that, since early this week, they have had people camped out in a dreary street in Paddington waiting for a baby to be born. What do they expect to see or hear? Will the world have beamed to it pictures of a lady in labour? Will Kate arrive and give them a bulletin about how far apart her contractions are? Will the birth be piped out to the waiting press and those ultra sad royal fans who follow them bedecked in union flags?
America held its breath with a palpable feeling of dread as it absorbed the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman who had shot dead Trayvon Martin claiming self defence. Zimmerman was acquitted, but the case became a cause celebre for both sides of the perennial argument between gun toting vigilantes and a left that immediately cries racism regardless of the truth. The truth has been actually quite hard to discern, but probably lies somewhere in the middle. Trayvon Martin was not the wide eyed innocent that has been painted, and George Zimmerman is not the racist shoot em up vigilante that has been assumed. It's all become political, and the truth was lost long ago.
A report from the EU's banking authority revealed that Britain has 2,436 bankers earning in excess of €1 million a year. The usual suspects denounced this as scandalous for reasons that are a mystery. It's unfair they whine. How is it unfair? These are people working in a tightly regulated part of the economy, in the private sector and contributing hugely to our balance of payments which sorely needs it to help us pay our way in the world. If this were 2400 people earning that kind of money from say the BBC that would be a scandal. It means Britain has 10 times as many high earners as our nearest competitor, Germany. This means not only that Britain is a world leader in a key industry, but that we have many high earners paying high taxes. The top 1% of earners in Britain contribute 28% of all income tax. Unfair?
Another report into NHS failings was published amid bitter rancour between the political parties who are in a fight to show how much they love an institution that keeps killing people and making them drink out of vases. David Cameron accused Labour of covering up hospital failings while they were in power. The report, by Sir Bruce Keogh, found that thousands of patients died needlessly due to fundamental breaches of care. The government is sending in 'hit squads' to sort out the worst performing hospitals, and pressure is piling on Andy Burnham who was Labour Health Secretary while much of the worst care was going on.
In a blow for those who prefer her on television for obvious reasons, Mishal Husain is to join the BBC's Today programme later in the year. This made big headlines in all of the newspapers in a way that it probably wouldn't have done if Mishal was a Michael.
The government announced that it is abandoning plans to introduce minimum alcohol pricing and plain packaging for cigarettes. Is this a sign that the government is easy on vice and the causes of vices? Is it because Lynton Crosby, the Tories strategist, lobbied them? Or is it because Mr Crosby has advised Dave and co to dump extraneous policies in the run up to the election? Or is just because they decided both were bad ideas?
But it was a good news week for the government yet again. In addition to sticking it to Labour on the NHS and putting them on the defensive on 'their' issue - this made them very very angry - they got to boast about crime figures being at an all time low. Crime fell by 9% year on year and is at half the level it was in 1995. This despite the fact that police budgets have been cut. And there is probably more that could be cut without having an effect. There have been two coppers on duty outside the Linden Wing of St Mary's Hospital all week policing the press waiting in vain for a royal baby to arrive.
Gay marriage became legal in the UK as the bill passed its final stage in parliament, and received royal assent. The first gay marriages are expected to take place next year. Meanwhile the forces of political correctness are moving on to their next target: clubs that exclude women. These are private clubs that decide to restrict who can and cannot join in the same way that you and I can decide who can and cannot cross the threshold of our front door and enter our homes. What business is it of the state? The principle of private members clubs is actually rather similar to that of gay marriage if you think about it: if you don't like the membership rules of an institution then don't try to join it, or don't try to marry someone who is the same sex as you. Golf's a stupid game anyway, and those trousers?
At this point we should perhaps mention that there has been a golfing tournament at Muirfield, one of those clubs that excludes women. Various politicians jumped on this bandwagon and condemned the club, including the increasingly desperate Alex Salmond. Somebody is also going to win the British Open. I can't bring myself to care, not because they exclude women but because it's golf.
A 34 year old accountant died whilst attempting to swim the channel to raise money for charity. Susan Taylor collapsed while in the water and had to be dragged out and rushed to the shore for medical attention. And the hot weather was said to be a factor in the death of a soldier undergoing a trial to join the special services in the Brecon Beacons last weekend.
The City of Detroit, long a post industrial struggler, declared itself bankrupt. The city had the highest per capita income in 1960, but fell victim to its over reliance on one industry and the refusal of unions to compromise as the motor industry faced foreign competition and eventually competition from other more flexible parts of the U.S. The city has creditors to whom it owes $11 billion, much of which is pension and health insurance liabilities to public sector workers.
As The Catholic Church prepares for elevating a couple of former popes to sainthood for alleged miracles they performed from beyond the grave, they are also offering time off from purgatory to those who follow the latest Pope on Twitter. Quite why men who are capable of curing people even after death need to communicate via Twitter is a mystery. Of course this does smack rather of those indulgences that so enraged Martin Luther and led to protestantism. One wonders what would be on offer in return for an annual subscription to a TV channel or magazine. Do they sell sainthoods?
Last week Russia convicted a dead man just to show him that he cannot escape Putin even when he has been sent to swim with the fishes. This week Putin's Russia started that same process for another of his enemies, Alexei Navalny, who became a critic and was then mysteriously found to be corrupt. Strange that, how all of Vlad's critics are corrupt. How lucky Russians are to have such a leader. Navalny, who had hoped, purely coincidentally, to be the next mayor of Moscow, was sent to prison for five years.
Following Malala Yousafzai's triumphant speech to the UN last week, the Taliban clearly feel they have been losing the propaganda wars. Accordingly one of their commanders, Adnan Rasheed, wrote to the 16 year old schoolgirl to explain why she had been shot. He did express regret for the action, but essentially blamed the fact that Malala had said nasty things about these misunderstood murderers and bullies. Sticks and stones (and bullets) will be used to break your bones, because your words they really hurt us. Malala told the UN last week that the pen is mightier than the sword. So, said Rasheed, she was attacked for her sword. It seems then that Rasheed needs a bit of education himself. Mightier than the sword, you obscurantist, credulous, dimwit. It's a metaphor. If that's what a religious education does for you perhaps best to just get an education and make up your own mind about religious claptrap.
Missile components were discovered buried in sugar on a ship heading through the Panama Canal and heading for North Korea. The ship was searched by authorities who suspected that there were drugs on board. North Korea has long been trying to improve its missile technology and earlier this year issued a series of blood curdling threats to the rest of the world that ultimately came to nothing. Perhaps they were waiting for this delivery to commence armageddon, although later Cuba claimed that the parts were in fact theirs.
It was revealed that a debut crime novel by the author Robert Galbraith comes in fact from the pen of Joanne (JK) Rowling. The book, The Cuckoo's Calling, had been well received by critics and sold moderately well for an unknown author, yet had shifted fewer than 2000 copies, or fewer than 500 according to which reports you believe. Many shops didn't stock it. Neither did Amazon.
But The Sunday Times revealed the true identity of its author and it rocketed immediately on to the best seller lists. Publisher Little Brown ordered 140, 000 copies to be printed following the convenient news story which of course was not leaked delibately. Perish the thought. It's an excellent way to boost sales. Indeed I can exclusively reveal that my forthcoming book is based on an idea I had whilst stuck in a lift with Joanne Rowling, Michael Jackson and the ghost of Elvis Presley. Oh, and there's sex in it.
The first Ashes Test came to a suitably dramatic ending after one of the best and most enthralling games in recent memory - right up there with Edgbaston in 2005 - I know I watch it on DVD regularly. In the end England prevailed, but by a mere 14 runs. They did so thanks to the review system which showed the slightest of touches by Brad Haddin and caught behind off the superb bowling of Jimmy Anderson. Cue lots of Australian whinging. He barely touched it some said. But he did touch it. It's out. What a cruel game it can be.
The Second Test, under more blue skies and the blazing sun (are we sure this is England?) has not quite matched the First for drama, although it did receive a royal visit as is traditional apparently. She's Queen of both and was admirably impartial, probably because there are no horses involved. And it is at Lords, which is always a splendid occasion. England had a dodgy start, fought back, had a dodgy middle and end. Those hoping for an Australian victory though had to contend with the appalling batting collapse the Aussies suffered on Friday, a day in which 16 wickets fell overall. Their first innings ended ignominiously for a mere 128 runs, giving England a lead of 264 before they had batted a second time. By the end of Saturday they still had 5 wickets in hand and a lead of 566, Joe Root finished on 178 not out.
There will very likely be yet more British sporting success, and a second win in two years for our cyclists in the Tour de France. Chris Froome has done all of the hard work and it is now a mere formality. More of that next week.
The comic actor Mel Smith, best known for cult series like Not The Nine O Clock News and Alas Smith and Jones, died of a heart attack at his home in London on Friday night. He was 60, but had been suffering from ill health for some time.
In addition to his appearances in these shows, he was responsible for directing films such as Bean and The Tall Guy and set up Talkback Productions, which was responsible for a number of other cult comedy shows during the 90s and into the 21st century.
You've heard of it raining cats and dogs? Well what if it rained sharks? That is the ludicrous and very very funny premise behind a new cult TV show in America that has taken TV viewers and the internet by storm. Sharknado is based on the not terribly credible or scientific notion that the creatures would converge in their hundreds in one part of the ocean and then be sucked up into the air by a tornado before pouring down on unsuspecting city dwellers. It makes snakes on a plane look subtle and clever. What ever did we do before CGI?
I usually finish these reviews with a funny moment. But that's above. Instead I thought I would finish with an awwwwww moment. This is Rosie, the orphan fox cub. Her siblings died at the paws of her father. The whereabouts of her mother are unknown. But she was taken in by Richard Bowler, and has befriended Maddie, the terrier.
Saturday, 20 July 2013
Friday, 19 July 2013
The other day our prime minister was criticised for using a helicopter to travel to Lincoln rather than taking the train or a car. We have a peculiar attitude to our politicians in this country. We object to them being given a payrise, even though this is recommended by a body that is independent and created by them to try and appease us. We object to the fact that parliament has so many holidays, even though of course there are many aspects of being an MP other than being in the chamber of the House of Commons.
The prime minister is a busy man. He puts in a long day. Is it really objectionable that he should seek to maximise his productive hours by using the quickest method of travel?
Soon there will be stories about the fact that Dave and Nick are having holidays at the same time. Who is left running the country? Well, the rest of the cabinet. This is the 21st century, we could always give one of them a ring in the event that they are needed. Trouble is if they were needed in a hurry would we object to them using anything other than Ryanair to get home?
Today Dave is at the cricket. Good luck to him. And I hope he enjoys his forthcoming holiday. The rest of us will be enjoying this weather and the fact that we have plenty of water too.
This blog is taking a slight break too. There will still be posts every day but they may be a bit thinner. The Video Diary returns in the autumn. My Review of the Week will remain throughout. Let's chillax.
Thursday, 18 July 2013
Governments get lobbied. We all know this, right? Well it does seem to be coming as a revelation to some parts of our media and the Left. It is, or ought to be, a given that, just as you or I would write in strong terms to our MP, and perhaps even stand outside parliament with a placard if the government threatened our homes or livelihoods with their actions, that the same is true of businesses. Why shouldn't tobacco companies defend themselves?
Our newspapers are filled every day with lobbying. Lobbying from charities, local government, local communities, special interest groups who commission 'surveys' predisposed in a certain convenient direction, self appointed experts, unions and pressure groups masquerading as impartial purveyors of the scientific fact. The BBC, even the sainted BBC, lobbies constantly to maintain its privileged position. So why is it a matter of contention and controversy when businesses attempt to protect themselves from government intervention by doing the same?
The government would have done itself a massive favour this week had it simply told the world: actually, smoking remains legal, if inadvisable. There isn't anyone in this country who doesn't know that smoking is unhealthy, probably lethally so. But we think, given that it remains a legal activity, that plain packaging is a step too far. Companies are already obliged to print large health warnings and pictures of tumours on their packets. We spend millions every year on advertising, public health campaigns and advice and help on quitting smoking. Supermarkets have to faff about with covers over their tobacco stocks now. Smokers are not allowed to smoke in enclosed public spaces anymore and have to shiver outside in the cold and rain for most of the year. They pay through the nose in taxes for their bad habit. We think that all of the measures already in place to combat smoking are enough for the time being. We don't see how it will help anyone by making all cigarette packaging look the same. It will stymie consumer choice and will make counterfeiting easier with all of the potentially disastrous consequences for public health that could create.
It should also be noted, by the way, that the reasons given by this government for not imposing plain packaging are exactly the same, almost word for word, as those given by the last government. This alone suggests that this is a decision made for genuine reasons. If there has been some industry lobbying on this subject what of it? The fact that Labour and certain media outlets are using this as a stick to beat Lynton Crosby with shows how they are afraid of him. They used to behave in much the same way towards Lord Ashworth prior to the last election.
I do not smoke and never have. But you can go too far in penalising people who are making a legal choice, and a ruinously expensive one. But it is their choice and their money. Ultimately, the only way we will ever stop people smoking is by making it uncool. The health advice has had as much impact as it will ever have. Plain packaging would have very little impact other than to make it easier for counterfeiters. It's time to lay off smokers and cigarette manufacturers. They are regulated enough. Unless of course we want to ban smoking altogether.
Wednesday, 17 July 2013
And so we came to the last PMQs before the summer recess, except I didn't. I was receiving treatment at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, where our future monarch will be born one of these days. Thus my usual review is not available sadly. I didn't get to see it.
Our hardy MPs, who have been turning up week after week now for well over a month, are in need of rest and recuperation away from the travails of the nation and well away from IPSA who will keep trying to force them to take more money from the hard pressed taxpayer. Better to skip out of town.
It's been another interesting political week. The IPSA furore is only just dying down, and that's only because MPs are getting furious about the NHS. This is true in particular of Labour MPs who reacted with apoplectic fury at suggestions yesterday that the NHS is failing. Quite how they explain all of those needless deaths is a mystery if they are unwilling to admit it. It's so much easier for them to just blame Tories. It's why Labour, by and large, are much happier being in opposition. It enables them to get all self righteous about things without having to take tough decisions.
And it's not just that people died on their watch. Oh no. They managed to screw up so many things. George Osborne, in addition to revealing that he wears a wristband to monitor his health, revealed how Labour set things up on a PPI scheme for the Treasury building so as to lavish more cash. It means that having a couple of ducks in the courtyard at the Treasury building amounts to an insurmountable difficulty that all of the brains of our most important department cannot solve. The ducks eventually got bored and left. People often say that, instead of Quantitative Easing, we should simply have dropped money over cities from a helicopter to boost the economy. They might as well have done that under Labour too. It would have been more efficient.
Last week's PMQs was a riotous affair as a consequence of Labour whips exhorting their troops to scream abuse at David Cameron as often as possible to prevent him scoring another easy win over Wallace. It sort of worked. We are probably going to see more of this sort of behaviour, especially as the opinion polls tighten. Labour are heading off to their summer neck and neck in one poll this week. And, with the economy on the up, the sun shining and there being a strong likelihood of lots of sporting success on top of Andy Murray's win, the feelgood factor may be about to work its magic. It's no wonder Labour are looking so angry about anything and everything.
Unfortunately, owing to the fact that I was in the tender embrace of the NHS and then our railways network I didn't get to see today's PMQs. My golden rule is that I only review it when I get to see it live. However, thanks to the miracle that is the internet you can watch it the same way that I will now do. Feel free to review it yourself.
PMQs is taking a break for summer. It's back on 4th September.
Meanwhile I am just down the road at the same hospital waiting to see a consultant. I have just had the traditional rude greeting from the receptionist: 'Got a letter'? she asked brusquely after ignoring me for two minutes. Presumably this will not be the experience of a duchess and baby.
Oh, and in a clear sign of the stresses and strains staff experience, my consultant just strolled in at half past ten in the morning. He hasn't even started yet and they are already running 15 minutes late.
Tuesday, 16 July 2013
We are, or at least are about to, have a debate about the NHS at last. Indeed they had one on Newsnight last night. What a pity that 13, 000 people had to die unnecessarily to prompt us to question our assumption that it is the envy of the world. What a pity we had to have 13 years of Labour waste before we were willing to have a rethink. Even then it was a close run thing. Had the cover ups succeeded we might still now be in denial about the failings of the NHS. After a few years of Tory government, Labour would have just gone back to blaming them, and of course claiming that it is all down to lack of investment, their glorious panacea for all of the world's ills.
Andy Burnham has been doing the rounds of the studios this morning in a desperate attempt to try and shift the focus away from him and his party and on to the Tories. Yet the scandals and the poor outcomes were happening on his and Labour's watch. They were happening at the end of ten years of record 'investment' in the NHS, when they brought our spending on health up to and in fact beyond the European average. If Labour truly believed, as they tell us, in evidence backed policy making, that ought to make them have a rethink. But of course it doesn't. Instead they just created quangos and ever more management posts to police targets that created outcomes designed for political boasts rather than patient care.
Labour's attitude to the NHS was typical of its attitude to everything. They threw money at it, built lots of shiny new facilities to boast about, set a few nice shiny targets to do the same, and then spun the outcomes regardless of the facts. The Department of Health became less about managing the NHS and more about telling us how marvellous it was.
As an example of this one only has to look at the surveys that many hospitals routinely ask patients to fill in. All very open and accountable you might think. Except of course that they get to choose the questions and the terms of those questions. If you have a specific area that you feel is poor all too often this is not catered for. Then you have to go through the lengthy and frustrating complaints process. I have done it. Only dogged persistence prevails in the end. Even then the best you can hope for is an apology with the likelihood that nothing will change.
For reasons I could not understand, the Tories did not use the opportunity of the appalling Mid Staffordshire scandal earlier this year to finally put Labour on the spot over the NHS. Instead they watched in naive amazement as Labour simply continued their age old lines about lack of investment and continued to be held up as defenders of our beloved NHS. Indeed the public seems to have arrived at the notion that the Mid Staffs scandal was the fault of the Tories, so ingrained are attitudes.
This is why these reports must be grasped. Our health service needs the kind of hard nosed reforms currently being forced upon a reluctant education system. If anything the need is more urgent. Money is not the answer as has been demonstrated. All that Labour money brought was a fatter service, replete with staff and particularly managers presiding over poor standards but enjoying the better equipment, plush new buildings and higher salaries.
I have used the NHS extensively over the last 5 years. I have seen how good it can be. But the poor experiences have far outnumbered them. It isn't a lack of staff. It isn't a lack of funding, equipment, the latest IT. The problem is systemic and attitudinal. The problem stems from a centralised, bureaucratic top down system that has been captured by its producers to the detriment of the people who ought to be regarded as customers but all too frequently are not. The NHS must be broken up into a system of providers competing for patients and willing to go the extra mile to gain their custom. So long as it remains free, or mostly free at the point of use, why should we care who provides care?
We keep seeing that the current lavishly funded system is failing. We are part of the reason because we believe in the hype and sentimental drivel we have all been force fed about our marvellous NHS. We use it and abuse it and it does the same to us. It has to be changed. But it's going to be a long, wearying and frequently dishonest debate before we get to that point. How many more people will have to die needlessly before we admit that it is broken and needs fixing?