Tuesday, 30 June 2015
Short of time? Well tonight there is no excuse. For the first time in 3 years we are all being given the luxury of time, or at least an extra second of it.
It seems that our planet is a bit tardy. All of these people, animals and plants living on it, those rocks bombarding it, the Moon perpetually pulling on it mean that it is running a little slow. Earthquakes have been known to slow down its motion by causing a slight wobble.
A day, that is the time that our planet takes to spin once on its axis, is supposed to take precisely 86,400 seconds. But the Earth, which after all defined days for us, has lately been a bit dilatory - although to be fair if you were 4.5 billion years old you might feel a bit lethargic from time to time. Anyway, in recent years days have been taking 86,400.002 seconds instead as measured by those oh so clever, oh so accurate but, let's face it, slightly smug atomic clocks. And so, every 3 years or so, we have to have a second added so that the Earth and the smug atomic clocks run in sync again.
That happens tonight. We get an extra second at midnight. Use it wisely. For the record here are a few things that take a second.
The Earth travels 29.8 kilometres around the Sun.
4.3 people are born and 1.8 people die.
Warren Buffett earns $402
11 trees are cut down in the Amazon rainforest.
The Large Hadron Collider collects 6000000000000000 bytes of data
The International Space Station travels 7000 metres orbiting the Earth.
$3.4 million worth of goods are produced.
There are 48,745 Google searches conducted
600,000 chemical reactions are catalysed by carbonic anhydrase, the world's fastest enzyme
2,393,470 e-mails are sent
A photon travels 299, 792 km
When Greece's prime minister, the puffed up, grinning imbecile, Alexis Tsipras, announced his plan for a referendum last weekend it was greeted with astonishment allied to weary sighs. But from the usual sort of suspects on the left there were cheers. At first it was assumed to be yet another stalling tactic - an attempt to take this game of high stakes poker into one last round. Or perhaps it was merely an attempt to salvage his own political reputation, such as it is, by handing a decision that should be his and his government's back to his electorate. It was, in short, a final act of irresponsibility.
But then his buffoon of a finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, started tweeting about how proud he was that the country whose ancient forebears gave birth to democracy, was consulting the people. Suddenly it looked like his belief in his supposed expertise in game theory was once again endangering his country's very viability.
And so another possibility now looms into view. Not only do Syriza believe that their referendum is clever politics, albeit one that is high stakes and which seems to be perfectly normal in the serially ungovernable Greece, they actually seem to think that if they win a no vote then it empowers them to recommence negotiations. Look at the question being asked, a long impenetrable piece of legalese that could be an EU directive. Look at the fact that they are putting No (the government's preferred response) first.
Most of all though, look at the words of the prime minister and those supporting him. They really seem to think that a referendum is a game changer, that victory will force the Troika back to the negotiating table. They seem to feel that the people of Greece voting to demand they be given more money by the rest of Europe means that, democracy being democracy, Europe will be obliged to acquiesce. As Evan Davis asked on Newsnight last night, should the Germans hold a referendum to ask the German people if they want more of their money to be given to Greece?
The response? It isn't actually the German's money, which must have come as a surprise to Angela Merkel.
But that seems to be the entire rationale of Tsipras, Varoufakis and co. And to be fair, at least in theory, they are correct. Europe is supposed to be about collective responsibility, collective action. Greece feels that it should be supported through its travails and is outraged that it is being denied. They are even, we learn this morning, planning on legal action.
The problem is of course that Europe is not all that its supporters claim it to be. When it suits the various members it works collectively. Most of the time it is everyone for him or herself and grab as much as you can for yourselves. That has very much been the Greek attitude. They liked being part of this club, they especially liked being part of the euro, so much so that they lied and cheated to get in. Then they went on a spending and borrowing binge, giving themselves entitlements that were unaffordable and irresponsible. Now they express outrage that Europe demands they pay their way and accuse it of blackmail for proposing sanctions if they don't do as they are told.
But this is a salutary reminder to we in Britain facing our renegotiation and referendum. This is the objection to Europe in a nutshell.
To some extent both sides are right in this argument. Greece is correct that the austerity inflicted upon it has been harsh and possibly counterproductive. But then it is reaping what it sowed. Other nations, notably Ireland, have accepted the harsh medicine and, having got on with it, are now emerging on the other side. Greece has complained, complained again, demanded changes, demanded more money and is now on the point of reneging whilst standing on its dignity. Yet it is a dignity that is perfectly happy to accept charity from the rest of Europe, including from countries even poorer than itself.
As this blog has argued all along, Greece should never have been allowed into the euro. It should have left when it had its last crisis. Instead it received another bailout. It then elected Syriza, a government of fantasists who promised what they could not deliver and who have behaved like petulant teenagers throughout, assuming, as teenagers are wont to do, that they are cleverer and more sophisticated than everyone else and sulking when others don't do what they want them to. Now, having failed to deliver, they are putting it to the vote. The country that invented democracy now uses it as a stalling tactic.
It is to be hoped, for its own sake, that Greece has the good sense to vote Yes to accept the EU package if only because then, presumably, Tsipras will feel he has to resign. But the real solution to Greece's woes is to write off part or all of its debt and for it to leave the euro. Europe doesn't want that though. Neither does Greece. Even this late in the game it is not clear that this most obvious and economically viable response will happen and so the crisis will be deferred yet again.
One final point. We on these islands are happily semi detached from this debacle thanks to our insistence on staying out of the abortion that is the euro. Those of us who argued vehemently for this have been vindicated so many times now it is becoming embarrassing.
But this time last year our politicians were forgoing their usual summer holidays in order to campaign in our own little referendum drama for the future of Scotland. During that debate, our own grinning Tsipras style buffoon, Alex Salmond, told his country that it would gain its independence but remain using the pound. Politicians in the rest of the country unanimously told him that they would not allow Scotland to do so. They took this eminently sensible approach for reasons we are seeing unfold in the euro area and Greece. The rest of the country was unwilling to be the lender of last resort to a country that wanted to be independent but without detaching itself completely from the security of English revenues. Once again, we are feeling vindicated.
But remember that as Greece goes through its agonies. Remember that as they wonder what currency they will be using next week. Remember that as they wonder what is happening to their savings. And remember that as the SNP demands more and more more powers for itself including full fiscal autonomy albeit it with a nice subsidy on the top. They once said they would achieve independence in just eighteen months. They are now talking of referendums once again and of the benefits of independence, without mentioning that they last week quietly downgraded the income expectations from their beloved oil and that they would run a £7 billion deficit and require tax rises or austerity. Greece may seem a long way off, but it resonates here at home.
Monday, 29 June 2015
I was watching a film at the weekend. Creation, starring Paul Bettany and the beautiful Jennifer Connelly, is about Charles Darwin and his struggles with his and his wife's faith as his discovery of evolution formed in his mind. It's available for the next couple of weeks on the BBC iPlayer if you are in the UK and only costs a fiver on DVD if you don't.
Darwin knew that evolution changed everything. His friends, fellow scientists, knew it too and encouraged him to publish, particularly Thomas Huxley who was to become such an evangelist for the theory. They really thought by then, entirely reasonably you would have thought, that the theory of evolution by natural selection would change the world, would end religion, would end its bizarre, arcane and backward practices and usher in an era of reason and rationality in which evidence was king.
Sadly they were wrong. There were plenty of objections, many of them furious at the time, about this new theory and Darwin's instant best seller. On the Origin of Species has never gone out of print. When it was originally published there were holes in the theory, holes that Darwin himself acknowledged. They have since been filled. Yet still, over 150 years later, there are people, millions of them, who prefer to ignore all of this accumulated evidence and prefer the Biblical account of creation.
Or there are those who take what they regard as the more sophisticated approach and theologise around inconvenient facts. We might call this the 'Yes, but' approach to religious belief. In essence this means that they dismiss arguments that their religious book of choice is full of inconsistencies, lies, evasions, cod history and examples of plainly outdated and plain wrong thinking and try to find a deeper message underlying it. In other words people usually see what they want to see and edit out mere learned theories and a wealth of evidence.
And this is why we should ignore all of those arguments about whether Islam is a religion of peace. It isn't. But it doesn't matter. Because religions are only as good as the people who believe in them. All of the major religions are full of vile, inhuman, medieval, asinine, brainless, unspeakably violent stories and exhortations. And of course there are plenty of loving, enlightened, erudite, revelatory and inspiring passages and stories too.
The point is that if you want to believe that this is the word of god, then you will set aside your critical faculties and you will believe that. And then, once you believe that, you will take what you have now assumed to be the word of your god and you will make your god tell you exactly what you want to hear. Anyone who wants to live a peaceful, normal life with just a smidgen of pompous, sanctimony and moral righteousness can find passages that they will read out with a smug smile on their face. Anyone wishing to find passages exhorting them to kill the unbeliever on beaches or on dance floors or anywhere else in between will find their book equally obliging. Often on the very next or even the same page.
This has always been why religions are so useful. Its so much easier to believe that there is some kind of guiding hand, some kind of grand scheme, some kind of rationale followed by a glorious after life that we ignore the endless daily proofs that such belief is nonsense. That is what has happened to religion in the 150 or so years since Darwin finally decided to publish because he knew he would only be damned by the religious. People have looked at reality and decided that they prefer the fantasy. That is how they get to the position that they tell us that their god of choice is still somehow in control but abdicates responsibility to us on a day to day basis. Yet at the same time he should be prayed to and is regularly responsible for miracles. Oh tens of thousands die every day or suffer terrible afflictions. He's not responsible for those; only the good stuff.
But what of the murderous fanatics? Well they want to believe all of those things too. Fervently. But they also want to be part of a powerful tribe. These are powerless and inconsequential people, ordinary just like you and I. And they hate it. They hate the state of being that most of us accept as being normal. They want to think that people fear them and that they will one day 'fly the flag of Islam above Downing Street,' as one has been known to say. Why? For the same reason that little boys knock on doors and run away. They want to make their mark, they want to be recognised and to be different. These are not sophisticated people. They cannot make their mark by writing a great work of literature, winning a Nobel prize, curing a disease, discovering something astonishing about the universe. They cannot even make a fortune by skilfully kicking or otherwise propelling a ball. But instead of just accepting that, they aim for notoriety instead. They are chippy inadequates. Most of them seem to be virgins too.
I know we are meant to believe that the murderous antics of IS are some sophisticated scheme to try and turn Muslims against Muslims and to make us all fear them. But they aren't. They just get off on murder and mayhem. They just get off on the idea that they will be revolutionaries changing the course of history and making the whole world as dumb, credulous and facile as themselves. The dim teenagers heading off from cosy Britain to Syria are going there because they want to be heroes. Oh and they want to get laid. The girls heading there? They want to be fucked. It's nothing more sophisticated than that.
Oh they all dress it up with words of piety. But they are heading to join an organisation that makes women dress from head to foot in black to show 'modesty' but rewards its fighters with sex slaves and apparently is treating the silly little schoolgirls from the west in much the same way. The boys are mere cannon fodder. They are fighting for a cause, but do they really know what it is? No wonder they have to invoke a deity. They're effectively saying God knows.
But none of this is to say that this has nothing to do with Islam. Of course it does. The majority of Muslims may not share the sentiments of these delusional maniacs, but surveys show that there is a substantial minority who have a sympathy with their views. There are many who believe that there is some justification to the notion that this is all thanks to Western foreign policy, or thanks to Islamophobia or maybe even because of Israel or the Jews in general. A third of British Muslims support the notion of a Caliphate. And the moment you start having those kind of thoughts, the moment you start feeling that rising tide of crusading anger you start to turn yourself into one of these monsters or at least to be an apologist for them. That is how it starts. That is how fascism and Naziism started and eventually prospered. Islam is being turned from a religion, of peace or otherwise, into a cause, a race even. The great advantage of doing this with religion is that it can protect itself from criticism and analysis the way that religion always does - with opaque language, sophistry, circular logic and if all of that fails with claims of offence, claims of Islamophobia, threats and outright violence. That is how religion always prospers. That is why the religious hate western ideas and culture. It disempowers them and tempts their young people with ideas of prosperity, nice homes, nice clothes, sexual equality and sex for all.
Identifying and grouping people according to their beliefs is just another form of tribalism. It is us at our most atavistic whilst persuading us that it is the opposite, that it is appealing to our morality and to something sensitive and spiritual within us. We believe what we want to believe.
The maniacs who murder in the name of their idiot god believe what they want to believe.
Islam is not a religion of peace, it is a religion of violent conquest and of bigotry. But it wouldn't matter even if it were a religion of peace. Human beings, as we demonstrate constantly, are not at all peaceful. Religion just dresses up our savagery as something supposedly noble but which is in reality feckless, brainless, facile, dronish, witlessness.
But most of all religion is an excuse to be violent and aggressive. We can do this by telling others that they are sinners for worshipping the wrong god, having sex with the wrong people or at the wrong time, eating the wrong kind of food, dressing in the wrong way. Or we can attack people and cut off their heads. But it all amounts to the same thing.
God is in all of us. We made him in our image. Religion is never peaceful. If it were it would leave us all alone.
Sunday, 28 June 2015
The Bible: A Very Grim Fairytale - Genesis: Chapter 23 - Sarah Dies and, After Much Negotiation, Is Buried
Sarah finally died - several years after the events of the preceding chapter presumably, although you never can be sure because the authors are a bit confused - at the age of 107. Yes, 107. Mind you since she had had a child in her nineties she left behind a teenager.
This chapter is a long and entirely pointless narrative about Abraham burying his wife. God is not mentioned at all. He doesn't even offer to bring her back to life so she can have another unlikely baby. Then again this chapter doesn't mention even obliquely his grief for his aged wife. Indeed he wasn't actually with her when she died. A message had to be got to him (couldn't God have told him?) and he then went to her. Presumably she didn't smell too good by this time. But then she was 107, she probably didn't smell too good before she died. Maybe that was why Abraham kept going on his travels, even though he was in even more advanced old age.
No, this chapter is concerned, for no very obvious reason, with Abraham's negotiations to get somewhere to bury her. Now, given that he had supposedly been given so much land over the years by God and by various kings he had lied to, you wouldn't think that this was a problem. But no, Abraham was once again travelling in foreign lands, although note that he went to see Sarah who was also in foreign lands. Why? We're not told.
This chapter then concerns itself with a lot of tedious and pointless back and forth over the negotiations for a grave, or more specifically for a cave in which to put the body of Sarah. It's fair to say we don't need to dwell on any of this. It seems really just to be a way for the authors to show that Abraham was by this point a wealthy and well respected man in these lands and so the various kings and princes he dealt with were happy to accommodate him and give him a cave and he was happy to pay for it despite their protestations that he didn't need to. So he handed over much silver because he was now so wealthy.
And of course this is yet another long winded way for the Jewish nation to lay claim to the various lands they call their own. Sarah is supposed to be buried in the field of Ephron in the cave of the field of Machpelah before Mamre in the land of Canaan. This we are told, rather too many times, was made sure for Abraham by the sons of Heth.
Saturday, 27 June 2015
Friday, 26 June 2015
Yesterday, in between talking about the more pressing issues of immigration and the imminent collapse or fudging of Greece, Europe condescended to listen to David Cameron about Europe. That was it. There has been some listening, no small amount of lecturing, a few dodgy metaphors and not much else. Europe will no do what it always does: go into private session, well out of ear shot of the people they govern and whose interest they purport to be working for and do some deals.
Now to be fair the issues of Greece and of immigration are of more pressing importance at the moment. But they are symptomatic of the very problems of which Britain is complaining. Greece is a victim of the march towards a superstate that nobody has signed up to, which is ill advised, that is actually fracturing the very ideal it is supposed to advance and which, when push comes to shove, nobody is willing to pay for. If you have a common currency then you should have transfers from the rich parts to the poor parts. If you were willing to let Greece in then you should be prepared to pay the price. Europe isn't. It just talks the talk of solidarity without being willing to pay the price. It is always for someone else to pick up the tab. Its usually us and the Germans. Fortunately we had the good sense to stay out of the euro.
The prime minister has accepted that there will be no treaty change before Britain gets to vote. So he is planning on doing a behind the scenes deal which will be laid before the British people, very much like the Maastricht stitch up of the early 90s.
Yes he has succeeded in getting the idea of renegotiation on to the agenda. But that is all. The usual suspects are talking the usual language of narrow national interest dressed up as European solidarity. Various eastern European countries telling us that we cannot possibly deal with people from other countries differently to those of our own country when it comes to benefits, even though this is an anomalous consequence of the way our benefits system works on a non contributory basis as distinct from those of our neighbours. France has told us that we cannot have an a la carte Europe. Why not? They do. It's just that they are fearless in doing deals that suit France and that other members are usually more signed up to the notion of solidarity and compromise. That's why Britain ended up giving up part of our rebate in return for precisely nothing. Tony Blair showing the benefits of being at the heart of Europe and of being reasonable.
This is why Cameron's standard European approach to these negotiations is a mistake. Talking about this behind closed doors and appealing for the details not to be leaked for fear of his party's Euro sceptics is a bad idea. The only reason we are having this renegotiation and referendum is because of we Euro sceptics, so why keep us out of the loop?
What the prime minister should be doing is setting out his demands, asking for input to those demands, publishing them in a big glossy document like a party manifesto with its own website and then negotiating from there. That means there would be little negotiation to do. This is what we want. This is the Europe of which we are prepared to remain a part. Otherwise we may well leave and just have a trading relationship with you, which is what most Britons want anyway.
Indeed it is quite possible for Britain to accomplish this simply with an act of unilateral declaration of independence. But give them time to agree to it all first.
European solidarity is a myth. It is every man for himself and usually means we end up getting shafted thanks to our believing in the communitaire approach that the self serving EU has imposed on a reluctant continent. The EU is a racket and it is a racked perpetuated and extended by the very kind of backroom deals our prime minister seems intent on doing again. Let some light in. Its the only way to get the EU to reform.
Thursday, 25 June 2015
The scenes in Calais would be shocking were they not becoming so normal. An undeclared war has been declared. Worse of all it is a war that we cannot properly engage in thanks to the sensibilities of the left.
Take the BBC. Could their reporting of what amounts to little short of anarchy be any more biased? Yesterday the BBC interviewed one of the hordes of young men currently queueing up to try to enter the UK. His name was Abdul Aziz. Quite a few of them seem to be called Abdul Aziz.
Now I'm not saying that the Beeb selected this man because he was sympathetic, but Abdul said he wanted to get to England because he desperately wants to educate himself. Education is a magic word if you are a lefty. It is like a panacea for all of the world's ills. If only we could all be educated all of the world's problems would disappear. They probably think that Toryism is something that can be educated out of us too, whereas in reality you tend to find that leftism is something that tends to be educated out of us by life and experience. But they prefer to ignore that. Education is a cure all. So if a man who is currently engaged in illegal activities to reach our country is doing so to gain himself an education then he is okay.
Of course this does open up other questions. Does France not have schools, colleges and educational facilities? Do the various countries that Abdul passed through on the way to Calais not have them? But the reporter, Lucy Williamson, didn't ask him that. They don't as a rule. They 'interview' refugees, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants but they are interviews along the lines of 1950s style political reporting in which politicians were asked if there was any other view they would wish to favour the nation with. Abdul Aziz was offered the opportunity to tell us why it is that he has travelled thousands of miles to come to Europe, but having got here, has chosen to keep going to cold, damp Britain. Education was his answer. I wonder if they coached him. Probably not. But I bet they interviewed 20 before they got the best answer. It's like the X Factor for illegal immigrants. Choose the one with the best back story and put him on the tele.
Other questions the Beeb never seems to ask is why these waifs and strays are predominantly young men. Surely if this was genuinely a consequence of terrible suffering, of war and terrible abuse then all of those things are equal opportunities issues and affect people of all ages and both sexes. And how is it that desperate people can afford to pay people traffickers and seem pretty well dressed and turned out for those who have travelled thousands of miles. They have remarkably short hair.
For those of us who live in the real world however the scenes in southern Europe and now in Calais are not a commentary on the excellence of our educational establishments - Abdul, even if he is in earnest, may have a shock there. They are a commentary on our once again being taken for a ride. Immigrants have discovered that, even though what they are doing is dangerous, feckless and irresponsible, if they make it then they are set up for life. Get on a boat to Europe and, if you don't drown, you will be given your dreams. Make sure you look sad and bedraggled if and when the BBC turns up with a camera and they'll probably give you food and some money too. Make it to England, the land of milk and honey and of free education, claim that you are a refugee and you will be given heaven on earth in the form of an open ended permission to stay made possible by bureaucratic inertia. Endlessly helpful lawyers who will first ask you sign a couple of forms to ensure they get paid can make your stay permanent and get you somewhere to live and some money too. Sign with an X if you wish. It will probably help your case. Oh, and if you can, get someone, anyone, pregnant. That's all. You'll never have to go home.
And don't worry what you have to do to get here. Just dump any identifying paperwork you have. Under no circumstances claim asylum in another country in Europe. Head north. England is best, but Scandinavia and Germany too if you can make it. England tend to hand out free stuff more readily though. The first words you learn in English must be refugee, asylum, terrible suffering, human rights. Oh and BBC.
What is the solution to all of this? Rescue people in the Mediterranean by all means and then take them back from whence they came. Oh and fingerprint them too. They are engaged in criminal activity and deserve to go to the back of the queue. Close down the camps that they are congregating in. Close them down permanently and move them on if they set up new ones. Stop giving them food. Before you close them down go into the camp and fingerprint all of those who are there. They have no right to come to England and claim asylum. They have already reached safety. Comfort, benefits and illegal employment are not part of the asylum package.
Does this sound harsh? Yes. But that is the only solution. This country and Europe in general does not owe the rest of the world a living. We have 300,000 people a year coming to this country legally as it is. We have a generous and tolerant attitude to people who are genuine refugees fleeing persecution or worse. There are legal channels for people to attempt to get a better life for themselves. Getting on a boat or climbing in the back of a lorry with the aid of a knife and menaces are not acceptable and should render them as permanent illegal entrants with no right of appeal. As it is they take the risks they do because they know that the rewards are massive. Remove the rewards and replace them with penalties and the problem will be solved overnight.
Britain is a draw precisely because people know that they can get away with behaviour that is or ought to be unacceptable. It is time to pull up the drawbridge and say enough is enough. This is not to say that we are full or that immigration is to be terminated permanently. It is that being a citizen of this country is a privilege and one that must not be won by behaving in this way. We are a nation that is a strong believer in fairness. We are also fond of queues. So stop indulging the queue jumpers.
Wednesday, 24 June 2015
What would these weekly sessions be like if they had to move to a different venue for a while? That of course is the very real possibility as was revealed last week. The Houses of Parliament are falling apart and slowly sliding into the river. At the very least MPs might have to share their corridors with workmen and scaffolding for a few years. Actually, if they decide they cannot leave and that the work must go on around them, it could be for 30 years. We could see hard hats in the chamber. Oh you English and your quaint traditions.
Dave is off to Germany later today to dine alongside the Queen on her state visit and schmooze Angela Merkel as he continues his quest to be allowed to govern the country as he and the British people see fit. Angela is of course more distracted at the moment by the small issue of the imminent implosion of the euro project and Greece.
And speaking of the Queen, it has emerged today that the SNP, which next year will be given custody of the Scottish portion of the Crown Estate, have refused to stump up their part of the bill for the monarch. You know how this blog hates to say we told you so, but we did. What would happen if Scotland were given full fiscal autonomy and then refused to stump up for other things they didn't like or didn't agree with but which were part of the deal of being part of a union? UK foreign policy? Nuclear weapons? Just last year they promised that they would pay for their part of royalty but are now reneging. Expect that to be a common theme in the coming months and years.
The PM has let it be known that he considers the way we calculate child poverty in this country to be an absurdity. He is of course right. Poverty is a relative issue at the best of times, but when people can be defined as poor simply because the state pension goes up slightly, or when fewer people are defined as poor because the country is in recession there clearly needs to be a rethink.
All of this has come about thanks to one of the last ruses of Labour when in power. They passed a statute that set out a mandatory child poverty target. It was a Gordon Brown trap. Now the government rightly says that such mandatory laws on policy are wrong. Well, this one is. But then why is it right to sign up to a law mandating that the country should always run a budget surplus in 'normal times?' Why was it right to set in stone that we should always give 0.7% of GDP in foreign aid? The government is also right that the Human Rights Act has caused more problems and arcane issues than it was worth. Governments should resist such laws seeking to bind or at least embarrass their opponents or successors. But they can't pick and choose. We live in a mature parliamentary democracy. There is no need to set targets for anything. The government of the day should decide according to the needs of the day what should be spent, where money should go and what are the priorities. Anything else just hands powers to vexatious lawyers and foreign courts.
Even though he had an appointment with the Queen and his pal Angela later today, the PM did manage to squeeze in PMQs this week. And Hattie came along too, presumably having found that she had nothing better to do this week unlike last week.
First order of the day was the disgusting and anarchic scenes in Calais yesterday as marauding immigrants who have already made it to safety in France seek to make it to softer and more rewarding Britain. Some have reportedly been pulling knives out of the pockets of their designer jeans to try and get their way and were filmed yesterday strolling between lorries and other vehicles like supermarket shoppers looking for the best journey to their imagined land of milk and honey.
These first questions were largely consensual. This is an issue that all parties talk tough on even if they don't usually follow through. France is replete with unwanted immigrants and builds camps for them then wonders why they congregate and cause trouble. Of course they would happily wave them into the UK if they could, but there is the small issue of the channel in the way. Britain has contributed a fence that was once used to protect the G8. Now it is used to protect the whole country from the marauding hordes.
Then Hattie moved on to welfare. There have been reports this week that the £12 billion in cuts that the government refused to outline during the election campaign will fall mostly on tax credits. These were a little ruse dreamt up by Labour and Gordon Brown which handed more money to people who were on low wages or who had children. They have been used by unscrupulous employers to top up wages, meaning that they can keep employees on the minimum wage. It has also meant that people from the EU come to the UK and receive these top-ups too. Its a classic example of Labour's good intentions having unfortunate but entirely foreseeable consequences. The whole tax credits edifice should be abolished. It is ridiculous to tax people and then hand it back to them in welfare, although for Labour it served the purpose of shoring up their vote and creating lots of jobs in the public sector for all of those who have to administer it.
The last time Hattie and Dave met across the dispatch box Hattie sneered that Dave was gloating. This week she made a cheap jibe about his not having to budget unlike many people. There was an obvious riposte to this, but Dave didn't make it. Instead he made a doughty defence of his government's policy on welfare. Labour during the election were promising to be tough on welfare. Now they are reverting to type. Surely the real party of the working man should be outraged that employers are keeping people on low pay subsidised by the state.
The PM made the point that the only way to increase wages was to remove such subsidy, get more people into work and thus have a marketplace which would push wages up. Labour have no response to that other than their usual bleeding hearts. But, said Dave, if Labour want to spend another parliament defending welfare then let it. Look at what happened at the election. Hattie was out of questions and so couldn't accuse him of gloating.
And what did the SNP want to talk about? The Smith Commission and full fiscal autonomy once again. Except they don't really want full fiscal autonomy. But they say they want more powers. But not too many. What they essentially want to do is whinge a lot about broken promises all the way to next May and then they won't have to talk about what a hash they are making of actually governing. That's why so many of them were so keen to come to Westminster presumably. Lots of opportunity to make merry and complain but without the responsibility. Alex Salmond has never looked happier. Or chubbier. Perhaps they are spending the money they're not giving to the Queen on their bar bills.
It looks as though the EU, IMF and Greece are at last about to do a deal. In reality of course what they are actually doing is kicking the can further down the road. Greece remains stuck in a debt spiral and in a currency that traps it from doing any of the things an economy would normally do to make itself competitive and solvent again. Thus, in a few months time, we will be here once again, the euro will once again be in existential crisis and the brinkmanship will get ever edgier.
And that is if this deal even holds. Syriza is actually one of the mellower and more realistic parties in the governing coalition, yet even they have driven European leaders to distraction. Now they have to get a deal, a last minute one, past their more extreme coalition partners and indeed the more trenchant members of their own party. Its also possible that they have merely said what they felt needed to be said to buy themselves more time. They will most likely renege on this deal and blame democracy for it once the immediate crisis is over.
But it seems that the experts in game theory have been shown to know their stuff, or at least to have known their opponents. The idiot leaders of Europe really are so desperate to defend their brainless currency that they will pay any price, or at least they will allow their taxpayers to pay it.
How many bailouts can Greece be given before Europe realises that it cannot pay back its debts or survive in the euro? How much more money must be poured down the drain? The real issue will be if this emboldens other fantasist parties around the European fringes to attempt the same political and economic blackmail. If they do then it will be more than just a small fringe country in danger of expulsion from the euro. The whole tottering house of cards could come down.
It should surprise nobody that a deal will probably be done in the next couple of days. The leaders of Europe will then slap themselves on the backs and the leaders of Syriza will smile smugly. I don't claim any special insight here. We can all see what is happening, that Syriza and Greece sadly cannot be trusted. The Greeks complain bitterly about being robbed. In fact what has happened was that they joined a club they couldn't afford to join, kept up for a while with borrowed money and are handing the bill to everyone else whilst complaining about how badly they have been treated. A country that stands on its pride and refuses to admit that it must leave the euro is nevertheless happy to keep being given handouts by the rest of the continent, even by countries that are per capita poorer.
This is a deal that will have ramifications every bit as bad as what they now think they are avoiding. It is a deal, even if it can be delivered, that will only make the Greek economy worse and hasten the day when they come back for their third bailout with all kinds of undeliverable promises and bluster. That inevitable day just got a little closer. The politicians have seized on the Syriza offer when it should have been dismissed. It is not worth the paper it is written on. Desperation has got the better of them, just as Syriza always knew it would.
Greece should be told that the end has now come, that their debts will be written off but that they will have to leave the euro. That is what will happen eventually anyway. Why postpone the agony any longer?
Tuesday, 23 June 2015
What has happened to the great British sense of humour? Seriously, when did we lose the ability to distinguish between jokes and statements deserving of anger, fulmination, outrage and Twitter storms?
Last week we had the great storm over the Nobel winning scientist, Tim Hall, who made a joke about women. The response in some cases was with humour from women themselves. This was the best and most admirable way to respond. Take the piss. It's what the British do. But of course then there were those who got angry. Or ANGRY. They tweeted. They protested. They got the man sacked. Sacked for a joke about women which said little more than that women can cause romantic complications and have been known to cry.
In response to this we all felt obliged to say that the joke was inadvisable but it was just a joke. But really the worst thing about the joke was that it wasn't terribly funny.
Jeremy Clarkson, remember him? has been known to get into trouble for jokes. The difference is that his are usually funny. Say what you like about his crack about lorry drivers murdering prostitutes, but it was damned funny and delivered with exquisite timing and great aplomb. It was jokes like that, irreverent, daring, slightly controversial, that made Top Gear worth watching. It's why it now won't be.
And that of course brings us to the BBC. David Cameron is reported to have made, shock horror, a joke at the expense of the BBC. He said, during the election campaign, that he was going to close the Beeb down after the election campaign.
This was a joke. It's not a rib snorter admittedly, but then it wasn't meant to be. It was a disarming piece of humour designed to deflect attention from a question about Nick Clegg and his assertion, ultimately inaccurate, that Cameron wouldn't win a majority. We all do it all of the time. Politicians have to be adept at it. Even Yvette Cooper told one last week about her hubby. He will not be appearing on Strictly Come Dancing this autumn she confirmed as this would conflict with filming in the jungle. Quite funny and disarming. Although actually, Yvette, what you should have said was that he won't be appearing on Strictly Come Dancing this year, but he has been signed up to play the piano for them. Boom boom!
Now the BBC at the moment is hypersensitive about itself and that was why so many people reacted with horror to David Cameron's joke. This is because, like all of the best jokes, there is some truth behind it. The BBC's charter is up for renewal and, when Dave made his joke, there was an assumption that he would have his instincts tempered by coalition. Now the Tories have a majority. Thus the BBC is suddenly having a sense of humour failure about his joke because the Tories are in charge and the BBC is feeling vulnerable.
But let's analyse their reaction a little more shall we? The BBC is accustomed to being under pressure from politicians. They were under much more pressure last year from the SNP for instance.
But the fact is that the BBC's election coverage was actually appallingly biased. Newsnight, Today, that notorious Radio One debate. There were numerous examples and they were at it up to the election and beyond. Their coverage of the protests in London at the weekend were out of all proportion to the scale of them. Incidentally, the scale of them was only about 20,000 people and not 250,000 as reported. Or there was the classic example of an expensive opinion poll they commissioned asking the public what it thought of public services in the wake of spending cuts. The public response was that they hadn't really noticed. The BBC didn't report this. They commissioned a survey expecting an outcome and when they got the wrong outcome it suddenly wasn't news. If that's not bias then what is it?
And the BBC has acknowledged from time to time that it does have a metropolitan, liberal bias. Roger Mosey, a former high ranking executive, has acknowledged it in a book just published. Indeed he even gives an example of the Beeb's approach to stories such as immigration in which white people with opinions that were unhelpful to the message were edited out. Or take the reporting of the Mediterranean refugee crisis. It never occurs to BBC reporters to ask questions about the motivations of immigrants and to look beyond the inevitably distressing pictures. That is not reporting. It is left wing propaganda addressing an agenda.
But the BBC's touchiness is essentially a product of it having had a series of PR disasters in recent years coupled to that charter renewal process. There has been a series of mishaps, of appalling examples of waste, of huge salaries including to a Director General only in the job for a matter of weeks. There was the Jimmy Savile scandal, the Newsnight backlash.
But most of all there is the simple fact that the BBC is on borrowed time in its present form and it is in denial about this. The licence fee cannot possibly be sustained. If this were any other kind of tax then the BBC would be making programmes detailing with its iniquities. Comedians would be making jokes about it. By now lefties would have come up with a clever alternative name for it like Bedroom Tax or Poll Tax. Instead it is ignored, although may I suggest the couch potato tax?
And none of this is to ignore the fact that the BBC is a fine and estimable organisation full of dedicated and talented staff who make superb programming. It is however to ignore the fact that the same is true of all of our other broadcasters and that the best dramas of recent years, the shows that we all watch on box sets and rave about, have come from America, funded by advertising and subscriptions. Perhaps this could be the way ahead for the BBC?
And they missed an opportunity just last week. The whole Top Gear farce was a perfect opportunity. Jeremy Clarkson and team should have been offered the chance to continue making the programme loved by millions around the world for the BBC's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide. Here was a chance to launch a new service, a service that will one day replace the BBC in its existing form with a programme that people want to watch and would probably be willing to pay to watch. Instead Clarkson, May and Hammond will take their show elsewhere. They could have helped it launch a new subscription service, a service for the future.
The BBC has the ability to do this already. Instead of closing down BBC3 make it subscription only. It could then be the service that the BBC can broadcast sports it could otherwise not afford to show. Put BBC shows on the iPlayer for free for a week or a couple of weeks and then charge for access. Put the entire BBC back catalogue on there too which people can access for a few quid a month. This is a successful and increasingly viable way of making and distributing programmes. It is the way ahead.
The BBC in its present form cannot survive. People are ready and willing to pay for services via subscription. Some of the present services could be put to subscription only. Others can be made commercial. And what is wrong with the BBC accepting commercials too? Channel 4, which also has a public service remit and is publicly owned manages somehow. Why not the BBC? Especially the parts of the BBC that make dance shows, quiz shows and talent contests, has a bodice ripper on Sunday nights and the most watched news service.
The BBC doesn't need to be abolished as per David Cameron's joke, it just needs to be told that it cannot continue the way it was when there were only 3 TV channels. That is a statement of the obvious. The licence fee should be renewed for a maximum of five years and frozen at its present rate. The BBC needs to be told to slim down, do less and do it better. It needs to be given the remit to change itself and to wean itself off taxpayers cash. There is no earthly reason why the BBC needs to be given money direct from the taxpayer except for programming that is obviously and clearly public service. There is just about an argument for that for some of the cultural programming like the Proms, for educational programmes and for some but not all of the radio output. Most of it can survive perfectly well in the commercial arena. It is time it did. That's no joke.
Monday, 22 June 2015
One of the most amusing things about lefties, okay one of a long and growing list, is their absolute, iron-clad belief, not only in their moral superiority, but their belief that theirs is the intelligent and independent minded approach. They come to this conclusion, presumably, because they consider that they have managed to avoid being brainwashed by the banks, big business or the Murdoch press. That's why so many of them, who would no doubt call themselves liberals, were signed up and remain signed up to the whole Hacked Off agenda of state control of the free press. Hint: liberal and state control is an oxymoron.
Speaking of morons, take the marching morons of anti austerity over the weekend led by the likes of Russell Brand and celebrity airhead Charlotte Church. Charlotte informed the crowd and the world that the need for austerity is 'the big lie.'
Quite what her reasoning is for this is unclear. There are some who believe that austerity is economically unwise, although they have been somewhat confounded by the fact that Britain has enjoyed the best growth and best employment record in the G7 despite the very mild austerity we have endured since 2010. The marching morons came out when all of this was announced last time if you recall. They predicted similar depredations then too. We seem somehow to have got by. So what do they think will happen this time? The same things that they predicted but which failed to materialise five years ago? New depradations?
Here's the thing though Charlotte. All of the parties, all of them, even the SNP, were signed up to some extent for some form of austerity. Okay the Greens weren't. But the Greens think that people who cage bunny rabbits should be locked up. Oh and the Greens also think that economic growth is bad because it is bad for the environment. Thus they would end economic growth. Thus the Greens, even though they are opposed to austerity, are actually arguing for permanent austerity - not just for a couple of years, but forever. The Greens, I hardly need point out, are the party recommended by those economic ingenues Russell Brand and Charlotte Church. Let's hope these two never get together and breed. The gene pool couldn't take it.
You see all of the proper parties were agreed that we had to balance the books. Okay some were less than honest about this and were unwilling to say how it would be done, but they accepted that you cannot simply go on forever spending more than you earn. This is something not at all difficult to grasp, even if you are a celebrity dimwit. This country currently borrows close to £100 billion a year. We have a national debt of £1.5 trillion. That's £1500000000000. If you keep borrowing you have to pay it back. That means that the interest we are paying eats into the money we could otherwise be spending. It is lost money. That's why we have to have austerity. Austerity is just a way of saying you have been spending too much and need now to rein it in. The party has to end sometime. Think of it as being like your career Charlotte. You are now in permanent austerity.
So you see, Charlotte, austerity isn't a big lie. It is a clear, easy to understand consequence of not having enough money to pay the bills. It's really not complicated. People do this for themselves all the time. You take your income, be it from your record sales or from your investments made some years ago when you were younger, cuter and less sanctimonious, or from some other form of earned income like a salary. Once taxes have been deducted - you are of course free to send extra back to the government if you really really wish you were being taxed more - then you have your spending money. Now most people, those who didn't become rich at the age of 12, have a mortgage or rent to pay. Then you might have to pay for a car. Then you have groceries. You might have payments for loans or hire purchase or credit cards too. There are items like council tax, TV licences, vets bills perhaps, subscriptions to pay and so on. People generally write all of this stuff down, Charlotte. Then, at the end of it, if all goes according to plan, they might have a few quid left to buy some musical entertainment. Maybe they might go out for a drink, a meal. Hopefully they will also have a few quid to set aside for a rainy day. Clue: this is called saving. You did a lot of it when you were 12. Most people do it more gradually and worry about money a lot.
And the process is not so very different for government. Every year the Chancellor - he lives down that road you marched past yesterday, Charlotte - he works out how much he needs to spend and then asks parliament for permission to raise that money in various ways through taxation, excise duties and so on.
The only real difference is that people who think they are very clever but who are essentially telling a big lie, tell us that governments don't need to do what normal people do because governments have a magic money tree. For a start they can print money - which is sort of like a magic money tree. But the problem with this is that it makes our money worth less and is extremely damaging if you keep doing it. Then you end up with money like this:
And these sophisticated liars use all kinds of complicated language and tell us that they aren't spending but investing. But essentially what they are doing is saying that governments can ignore the basic rules of sound finance and keep spending and that there will be no consequences.
But this is the big lie. Because there are consequences. Governments can run deficits - that's spending more money than you earn, Charlotte - and sometimes that is the right thing to do such as during a recession. But you cannot keep doing it because if you do then you have no saving to fall back on when there is a recession. If you do that then you are loading the country up with debt. You are spending more and more money on paying that debt and do you know what that means? Are you following this Charlotte? That means cuts. Yes, it means austerity. It's not a big lie. Austerity is the inevitable consequence of not paying your way.
People can do it too. They can run a deficit by having a big credit card debt, or an overdraft. But if you go to your bank manager or your credit card company and say I'm not paying you back and I'm not going to spend less because this is all a big lie they will not be sympathetic. Then they will take your house off you.
We can't take houses off countries but we can stop lending them money. Have you heard of the problems in Greece, Charlotte? That is essentially because they have gone for years spending more money than they earn and are now being told that, far from this all being a big lie, it is the cold hard reality and they had better decide what they want to cut. They have no choice. Ultimately even countries have to pay their way because if they don't then people stop lending to them. Socialist countries that think the way you do, Charlotte, always, always end up with higher unemployment and the inability to deliver the basics. In socialist Venezuela, Charlotte, a country with lots of oil, they have nevertheless got rampant inflation and cannot even provide their people with toilet paper.
And there is simply no way around it but to spend less. Raising taxes to generate that amount would be difficult and hugely damaging to the economy. Why? Because people don't like paying taxes and feel, hardly unreasonably, when a government starts helping itself to more than half of their money that they would be better off going somewhere else. Now we know that you, Charlotte, claim that you would be fine paying 70% tax. But you didn't say that when you were earning all of your money were you? Then you were not so keen even on 40% tax. But there is nothing to stop you paying more. Just send the taxman extra. Will you?
And have you heard of France, Charlotte? Well they put taxes up to 70%. Do you know what happened? People left. Many of them came here. The economy turned into a basket case.
Clearly Charlotte has been doing some reading of economics for dummies because she spoke at the weekend of the need for stimulation. But that was what the celeb dimwits were saying five years ago. Actually we don't need stimulation. We need to be running a budget surplus because the economy is growing and doing well at the moment. Yes, Charlotte. The last thing that a healthy and growing economy should be doing at this point in the economic cycle is running a deficit. But we are. Even after all of this austerity the likes of know nothings like Charlotte Church are complaining about, we are still spending more than we are earning. That means less in the long term to spend on schools and hospitals and the things she claims to care about.
Because, and here I really want you to concentrate Charlotte, despite all of this talk of austerity and cuts, overall government spending has not been cut. Not once since this government came to power. This has enable spending on schools and hospitals to keep increasing or at least not to be cut.
Because sometimes, Charlotte, you are partially right. Austerity can be bad. The sort of austerity being demanded of Greece is bad because it will shrink the Greek economy. But that is not the case in Britain. Try to understand this, Charlotte.
Ultimately though, Charlotte is just another Brand style dilettante who just wants to give her career a boost by shouting a bit and pretending to care about things she doesn't actually understand. We can tell this because she claimed that the Tories are going to sell off our schools and hospitals.That is a brainless, cretinous, pig ignorant thing to say and betrays her basic, asinine, juvenile stupidity. Oh and she also claimed that we have to save ourselves from decades of 'yuppie rule.'
Perhaps we should be charitable and put this down to her lack of education because she spent her childhood singing instead of studying. Either way it exposes Charlotte, like Russell Brand, as a past it, ignorant, virtue signalling, patronising bimbo. She's mad as hell and she's not going to take it anymore apparently. So stand for parliament, Charlotte. Or pay some extra tax. Do something. Stop talking about things you don't know anything about. You may once have had the voice of an angel, now you sound like what you are, a rich fat girl with no career who is so desperate for the limelight she fancies herself as a female Bono from the valleys.
Sunday, 21 June 2015
The Bible: A Very Grim Fairytale - Genesis: Chapter 22 - God Tells Abraham to Kill His Son as a Sacrifice
As we have already seen, God, given that he is supposed to be perfect and omnipotent, omniscient and so on seems to be remarkably flawed. He's more like those Roman or Greek gods that this god was supposed to replace. He is jealous, peevish, vengeful, capricious, irrational, despotic and irrational.
Now we are about to see all of that in one of the Bible's more notorious stories.
Remember that God had only recently given Abraham and Sarah a son, Isaac. This despite the fact that they were both into advanced old age. Abraham had reached 3 figures and Sarah was in her 90s.
Despite all of this, God now told Abraham to go to a mountain, three days walk away and to take Isaac with him. Once they were there he was to offer Isaac, his son, whom he loved, and who was his favoured son over Ishmael who had been banished with his mother, he was to make a sacrifice of this boy, a burnt offering to God.
And Abraham, we are told, the same man who a couple of chapters earlier had bargained with God over the sinners of Sodom, offered no objection to this plan. He simply got up the next morning, saddled his ass and took Isaac and a couple of his servants with him along with some wood to do the burning and the offering.
Bear in mind that, for a long time now, God had been promising Abraham that he was going to make him and his offspring more numerous than dust, that he was going to be the father of a great nation. Then he wants him to kill his son? Did I mention the irrationality and the capriciousness?
So they walked for three days and finally Abraham saw in the distance the mountain where the act of barbarism, butchery and murder was supposed to take place. So he left his servants behind and told them that he was going to go with Isaac on to the mountain to do his act of worship and then would return to them.
At which point Isaac noticed that they were going to give a burnt offering (why does God need any kind of burnt offering of any animal by the way? He's very insecure for a god ) but that they didn't actually have anything to burn. But Abraham said that God would provide. Now anyone else would have asked: so God wants a burnt offering from us, but he will provide it? What's the point then? But he didn't and they went on their way.
Once there Abraham built an altar to his God and then prepared to slaughter his own son, it never having had occurred to him that there was something wrong about all of this. And once the altar was built he tied up Isaac and put him on the altar ready to kill him for his peculiar God. But at the last moment an angel called upon Abraham and told him that he didn't need to slaughter his son because he had shown that he feared God. Well of course I think we all would fear a God capable of this kind of thing. But not in a good way. After all this was supposed to be a loving and a caring god, better than those other gods, those warring, jealous sort of heathen gods. They all wanted burnt sacrifices and virgins and that sort of thing. But this god was no better really was he?
Anyway, Abraham looked up and found a ram that had got caught nearby and so he slaughtered that and offered it as a burnt offering to his nasty, unpleasant, evil, vain and jealous God. And Abraham named the place Jehovahjireh, which means the Lord will provide. Perhaps it has a subtitle - and if not he'll ask you to kill your loved ones.
And then, because Abraham had been prepared to do this spectacularly disgusting and evil thing to his own son and without question, God was pleased. So he promised him again all of the things that he had promised him before anyway in previous chapters - that succeeding generations would be more numerous than the stars and blessed against his enemies. All of this would now happen because Abraham had been prepared to do as he was told.
So Abraham and Isaac went back to the servants and then they went to Beersheba. And soon thereafter, it is rammed home less than subtly, God's promise started to come true because all kind of his relations started having lots of babies and offspring.