Sunday 31 January 2010

Ratty man

Ted Ellis was the epitome of the 'ratty man'. I don’t use the term in a derogatory sense, it’s more an explanation of his stature and mannerisms. He used to be on local telly in the East when I was younger. His specialist subject was wildlife and nature. A fascinating man that always reminded me of Ratty in The Wind In The Willows.

Ted was highly regarded in the East. There is even a train named in his honour.

Friday 29 January 2010

Wednesday 27 January 2010

Nothing is ever black and white

Be it political or religious, fundamentalism is the greatest philosophical danger to humankind. There are no one-word answers to the problems that beset the world. No simple solutions. Life is much more complicated than a gutter-press headline. But ‘public debate’ all too often sinks into polarised, lowest common denominator, narrow minded, sound biteable, tit for tat, verbal volleying.

Creating the Promised Land is never going to be as easy as electioneering slogans suggest. Creating the Promised Land is never going to be as easy and any religious teaching might suggest. Economics and indeed life are both complicated webs.

You don’t stop murder by having the death penalty. You don’t necessarily improve education by building more schools or improve health care by employing more doctors. Cost saving, the great mantra of the modern age, is probably a myth. Is it really possible to get something for nothing, or is a cost saving really just shifting the burden elsewhere, or a mixture of the two?

Nothing is ever black and white. There are invariably shades of grey. Right and wrong are only matters of opinion and not some kind of universal truth. Nothing is ever as easy as it seems. That’s not being glass half full or pessimistic about things. Life is complicated, and dealing with life is equally complicated.

As much as I’m in favour of the redistribution of wealth it would never be as simple as collecting up all of the money in the country and dividing it up equally amongst the population. It would never be as simple as everybody being paid exactly the same wage. Then there is the question about what we mean by ‘wealth’. Is it purely about how much money a person has? Could it be measured by how much knowledge or how many skills they have learned? Perhaps it is about someone’s health, life expectancy and/or quality of life. Or, as more likely is it a mixture of those factors plus a myriad of others? Wealth, whether it is financial, health or knowledge based, doesn’t always have anything to do with how much you acquire or are given, it is often about how you use what comes your way.

Culture, economics, education, health, law and order and many other aspects of life are so intertwined, so reliant on each other, that if you legislate or change one thing it will usually affect something else.

Just like the ‘Butterfly Effect‘, if you make a change in one place, it can reverberate and create change elsewhere often in unexpected places.

Nothing is ever black and white. There are invariably shades of grey.

Monday 25 January 2010

Up In The Air

In the middle of last week I went to see ‘Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll‘ at the pictures. An extremely well acted film about Ian Dury. Unfortunately I started to feel ill about half way through the film. I began to sweat and feel sick, but with true British pluck I removed my jumper, gritted my teeth at carried on watching. I was apparently as white as a sheet when we left at the end of the film. As a consequence I have felt unable to write about it apart from saying that it’s a good film, the music is great, it has some damned fine acting in it, go and see it!

I suspect it was just a bug I’d picked up or something I had eaten, but it was therefore with some trepidation that we returned to the cinema last night to see ‘Up In The Air‘. ‘Up In The Air’ is an amusing ‘RomCom’ starring George Clooney. It has somewhat ambiguous undertones that render it open to all manner of interpretations. Clooney plays a business man, Ryan Bingham, who spends virtually all of his year travelling the length and breadth of America for his job. Much of his time is spent flying, which is from where the film derives its title. He is a man with very few possessions who has developed a slick and efficient lifestyle to deal with the constant travelling. With very few ties he is happy with his lot (or so he thinks), to the point that he gives motivational talks about a life without ‘excess baggage’ preaching what he practices. All is going well with his world until two ladies enter his life and throw him off course in different ways. Clooney’s character is employed to visit businesses and sack people, or make them redundant. This is where the ambiguities kick in. Apparently some of those playing the bit parts of those losing their jobs had actually been in that situation. Is it right to ‘use’ people like this? Is it right to laugh at what is a sad and all too relevant situation? Is the film critical of the process? Is it overly critical of his lifestyle?

The film is most definitely a commentary on the recent financial unpleasantness. I think it is criticising the faceless way that American business deals with people as a commodity rather than living beings. Hiring and firing on an economical whim. Thank goodness I live in the EU. Other people could well see the film differently. Whilst I wouldn’t like a lifestyle like Ryan Bingham’s I must confess to wishing that my life was a little more uncluttered than it is. Perhaps one day!

Friday 22 January 2010

Are you free Mr Humphrys?

I’m back listening to the Today Programme on Radio 4 of a morning. I’ve been driven back by Chris Evans. For my sins I was a Terry Wogan fan. I know he is a reactionary buffoon, but he would amuse me in the mornings. In many ways Chris Evans is a much better DJ. His professionalism and quick witted approach is streets away from those dire days of Radio 1. He is the epitome of the slick DJ, but he, like so many radio presenters, has one fault a need to talk to real people. When I turn on the radio I either want to be educated or entertained. I don’t want to listen to phone ins. I don’t want to listen to some moronic member of the public blathering on about their pointless existence. Terry Wogan didn’t need it, so why does Chris Evans? You don’t need to have a phone in to have audience participation. The joy of email over the phone call is that it is subject to editorial control and a polished delivery. I don’t want to listen to some illiterate moronic nobody gain a portion of their 15 minutes. For this reason I have deserted Radio 2 in the mornings.

To my knowledge there is only one show that just about manages to pull off the talking to a member of the general public thing, and that’s Radcliffe & Maconie. Even then it is sometimes a borderline experience. Quite honestly the world would be a better place if ‘people’ were kept off the radio.

So I have returned to the Radio 4 fold, back listening to John Humphrys and crew. I will get irritated, and I will shout at the radio, but at least I won’t have to listen to Joe Public.

Thursday 21 January 2010

A glass of sherry vicar?

Also over on my RealAleBlog recently I’ve been writing about the issues relating to the current concern with the high levels of alcohol consumption. Unlike a number of beer bloggers I accept that there is an alcohol problem in this country. I agree with most that data is mixed and inconclusive, and I also agree that it shouldn’t be used as a way of raising the price and/or raising extra tax revenue. But alcohol is a problem in this country.
It was good to hear the Home Secretary acknowledging that introducing minimum unit pricing would hurt those responsible drinkers on low incomes. I just hope his cabinet colleagues feel the same. They are acting on ‘All-you-can-drink pub offers’. Not sure what good this will do.
I don’t know how bad, or not so bad, the problems of alcohol are in this country. The figures bandied about in the news do so often seem to conflict or not make sense. But you only have to wander through a town or city centre from about 9.00pm onwards on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday and now sometimes and Sunday night to witness behaviour that has clearly been induced by large quantities of alcohol. Long term abuse of alcohol I think is well known to be not good for people. So, too much alcohol is bad for you, significant numbers of people are abusing it, what do we do about it?

As always the answer is never simple, but I think that before we can seriously do something about it we need to understand why people abuse alcohol in the first place. Again there will be no singular reason. It would seem that the further north in Europe that you travel, more alcohol is consumed. This could be due to environment, including long dark nights, it could be down to culture, or more likely it could well be a culture vastly influenced by environment. From culture we move onto peer pressure. Large groups gathering in places where alcohol is served are almost going to drive the alcohol consumption of the members of that group. Peer pressure from within the group will encourage many members to drink more than they normally would and fuel a collective self perpetuation of the drinking group. This next reason might seem a tad patronising but there will truly be people who don’t realise what they are doing to their bodies is harmful in the short and long term. Education is important for this group. Then there is the one really big reason as to why people drink to excess, and that’s life. So many people’s lives are just so fucking awful that it is little wonder that they drink to oblivion. Life is the biggest cause of alcohol abuse. Despite my morbid obsession with real ale I like to think that I’m a moderate drinker yet I normally end up ‘needing’ a drink on a Monday evening just to give me the strength to carry on and I’m one of the lucky ones. If your life is shit, you have a shit job (or you have no job at all) and little prospect of changing it and with retirement being put further and further out of reach for most people why not drink? I feel for anybody that is unemployed, a job for all that wish to work should be a goal of any caring government. The only problem is that those of us that have jobs know just how shitty they can be. If you work in the public sector the likelihood of cuts and the fact that your department is no doubt under resourced and over targeted will make your job stressful and soul destroying. If you work in the private sector you may well have not had a pay rise for a year or two, you will probably also be working in an environment that is under resourced in an organisation where those right at the top don’t appear to have tightened their belts, instead they’ve just tightened yours. Your job will be stressful because you will be expected to do more and more in less and less time and with no real incentive, save that of ‘like it or lump it’. So many jobs these days are so lacking in meaning or direction, that they just become a drudge. Taking pride in ones work is also never encouraged, so that know that particular trait is all but extinct. Then there are the conditions in which they might live, housing problems, relationship problems, I could go on. There are those amazing souls who have the grit, the optimism and the outlook to rise above the shit, enjoy life and work regardless, but they are the exception rather than the rule. If people are miserable they will look for comfort somewhere. Alcohol is cheap and readily available so it does that job. If this option was taken away another opiate will take its place. Cause and effect take away the cause and the effect will disappear with it.

So there we have it, the reasons for people drinking too much are many fold but include:

• Environment
• Culture
• Education
• Peer pressure
• Life

I’m not suggesting that these are the only reasons why people binge drink, just some. But if many of the social ills are addressed, a positive attempt is made to make people’s lives happier, these measures coupled with an education programme based on accurate data about the harms of alcohol eventually you will eradicate much of the alcohol abuse. Laws aimed purely at alcohol might on the face of it solve the alcohol abuse problems but the underlying social problems won’t go away. Unhappy souls will find solace and or an escape in the cheapest and most readily available substance. The next drug of fashion could well be more harmful than alcohol.

Tuesday 19 January 2010

Bragging bankers

You can always rely on the Bard to kick up a fuss about the morally indefensible. Billy Bragg has said that he will refuse to pay income tax if the government do nothing to prevent RBS staff receiving huge bonuses. Read about Billy’s campaign here.

Monday 18 January 2010


A while back on my RealAleBlog I referred to a beer brewed in honour of Thatcher, and called ‘Iron lady’, as a ‘fuck-awful name for a beer’. Some ‘commenters’ couldn’t understand why I hated her so much:

A lot of lefties will cite the miners’ strike as one of the many disasters of the Thatcher era. I don’t get quite as emotional as many about what on one level was indeed a human tragedy, but on another level was an example greed and gross stupidity. I felt quite sick when Thatcher came to power, sick and betrayed. I didn’t understand how working people could effectively cause self-harm by voting that way. No doubt some will argue, citing the popular vote, that the working class didn’t vote for her, but they did. I was there, and those Sun reader types were just so behind her.

Thatcher’s legacy is quite pronounced, and whilst it is difficult to fully comprehend what His Vagueness the Shallow David Cameron means when he talks about ‘Broken Britain’, he is clearly referring to that section of society written off by Thatcher’s work. A part of Britain is broken it is a section of the population that might well be best described as the disenfranchised white out-of-working-class. Those second and third generation Burberry wearing no hopers who can trace their creation back to Thatcher’s reign when their forefathers, and mothers, were consigned to the scrap heap as the Tories laid waste to vast swathes of British industry. Thatcher didn’t believe in ‘society’ but just in case it existed she put measures in place to see that it wouldn’t survive past her Reich. Those measures were most successful.

It is so sad that we have a defined underclass that has no manners, no idea about social responsibility, considers unemployment to be the norm, reproduces from teenage years onwards, is poorly educated, poorly housed and with no doubt very few if any aspirations. It may sound patronising and belittling to say that they can’t help it because they don’t know any better, and I’m probably guilty of that, but they really don’t seem to know any better. You could even say I’m making excuses for them in a condescending middle-class liberal valued woolly and judgemental way from my safe ivory tower. But think about it. If you were brought up in the same sort of run-down area that your parents were brought up in and your grandparents lived in. Received the same sort of education as your parents. Had the same sort of job ‘opportunities’ as your parents and grandparents, were subjected to the same cultural deficiencies generation after generation, then it is little wonder that we have spawned these communities of ‘broken’ individuals. Then to have that all reinforced by the professional classes, with their self-centred, money grabbing, the ‘individual is king’ attitude, along with the ‘do as I say not as I do’ approach, just seals it.

Many people never twigged what a cultural change the Thatcher administration brought about. It was quite a fundamental and seismic shift. The Britain that I was born into ten years after the Second World War ended was a society where Britons were culturally individual but economically collective. A society where people had a sense of neighbourhood and community. Where people took pride in the work they did. Post Thatcher and it’s all about looking after number one and screw everybody else. The attitude, ‘I’ll do as little as I can, take no pride in doing anything well, and expect loads of money for it!’ pervades. We are now a nation that is culturally collective and economically individual. This is why bankers and captains of industry continue to get richer and richer whilst at the same time pissing on the little people below. The little people are mostly anaesthetised by ‘celebrity’ worship, Big Brother, East Enders and the X Factor, so they don’t notice that they are getting wet. They’ve got us exactly where they want us and there is no easy way back!

Sunday 17 January 2010

An Englishman’s castle

The pseudo-libertarians make a lot of fuss about the law favouring the criminal over the householder. They will complain that people don’t have the right to beat the shit out of any ne’er-do-well that breaks into their house. They complain that people should have the right to protect themselves and their property. Whilst I have some sympathy for this viewpoint it doesn’t actually solve anything. Yes it’s expedient because it dispenses rough justice in an immediate manner, but any change would leave the law open to some terrible abuses. There would be nothing to stop a householder leaving all their doors open and hiding in the darkness with a 12 bore. A little extreme and hardly an everyday occurrence but I think you know the message I’m trying to get across. You would only need a few sensational stories of have-a-go heroes dealing pain and suffering to intruders to encourage would be intruders to start ‘tooling’ themselves up. My post of the first of January sums up how I feel.

We live in an unjust society. We have people that earn and own obscene amounts of money, whilst at the other end we have great poverty and deprivation. How unjust is that? Until we have a fair society we are never going to solve issues of crime like burglary and violence. History has proven that extreme punishment doesn’t prevent crime. You could bring back hanging for petty larceny, as no doubt some pseudo-libertarians would love, but it wouldn’t cut crime. We live in an unjust society. A society of double standards where the rich get richer by fleecing the rest of us, and get away with breaking the law by hiring the best legal people. Where the middle classes think that it is perfectly acceptable to break the law by tax evasion or speeding and where everybody is part of the Me, Me culture.

It is a well worn cliché, but I believe it to be true, if you eradicate the causes of crime you will eradicate crime to a very large extent. Of course you will get some people that will no doubt have criminal tendencies regardless of their circumstances, but I believe those to be a small minority. If we have a fair and just society we will largely have a law abiding society. The hard bit will be to elect a government that is capable of bringing it about because it is the will of the people.

Thursday 14 January 2010

Sunday 10 January 2010

Mumbo Jumbo

When faced with mumbo jumbo of any sort, (mumbo jumbo being the believing in angels, fairies, horoscopes, god, ufos and other assorted new age nonsense) it is always good to remind oneself of this excerpt from Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

Sir Bedevere: "...and that, my liege, is how we know the Earth to be banana shaped."

King Arthur: "This new learning amazes me, Sir Bedevere. Explain again how sheep's bladders may be employed to prevent earthquakes."

Why is it that people would rather believe cranks with farfetched theories than science-based fact?

Green ostriches

Climate change denial would seem to be very fashionable with people politically on the right at present. It a fad that started in the good old US of A and is now festering over here. Despite evidence to the contrary they will state that it’s all lies, a left wing conspiracy and that what is currently happening with the world’s climate is within the parameters of normal climactic fluctuation. These are the sort of people that would have denounced Galileo and Darwin as crackpots and charlatans. They see danger in new ideas and anyone challenging their world order.

I’ve followed green issues since the early 1970s, a time when it was very fringe and had very little mainstream appeal. Now that it is taken much more seriously by mainstream politicians, those on the right are very worried. The whole raison d’ etre of the right is exploitation, and if they see governments wanting to curb this they resist, hence this current aberration. The denial won’t end until they have found lucrative ways of making easy money in an ‘environmentally friendly’ way.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

Marching misogynists

The trouble with free speech, and of course living in a democracy, is that you often have to listen to stuff you don't like. The one thing that you must always keep in mind, when faced with someone else's unpalatable viewpoint, is the strength of your own convictions, whilst trying to understand their position. I didn't like the idea of Nick Griffin being on question time, but I recognised the importance of allowing him to be on, even though I had no desire to watch it. I also don't like the idea of Muslims marching through Wootton Bassett, but not for the same reasons that the Daily Telegraph/Mail lynch mob might object. Highlighting the absurdity and futility of war is very laudable. Thousands of innocent lives are being lost and for no good reason. It is right to protest against the carnage and doing so in a place like Wootton Bassett will have maximum impact. But will it do any good?
I don't think so.

Islam4UK doesn’t seem like a very friendly organisation, unless you are some kind of mentalist, and whilst I disagree with their aims totally it’s not my main reason to object to what they propose. I object to what they are doing because they are doing it as a religious ‘collective’. To me a person’s religion is personal and not to be shoved in another person’s face. Marching in the name of humanity would be so much more preferable. These Muslims are missing two tricks here. One by identifying themselves by their religion, and in such an extreme way they guarantee to alienate a vast majority of the population, and secondly if they wish to take as much public opinion with them as possible they would be better off doing it within a secular political framework. Anti war groups are always going to be able to draw on more support and opinion than narrow overtly partisan organisation. Inclusive is always going to have more political success than divisive.


Friday 1 January 2010

Thought for a new year

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

Mahatma Gandhi