Thursday 26 August 2010

Education, Equality and Environment

I’d like to challenge the notion that the two sacred cows of schools and hospitals should always be the most important when it comes to government spending. Yes, they are very important but they are not always the most important.

If we are to create Jerusalem, the equal and fair society that those of us on the left hope and strive for we are not going to create it just through education and the NHS. Economic equality will not be achieved by throwing large wads of cash at education and health. You can’t build robustly if the foundations are made of sand. In my opinion there is an area that qualifies for just as much priority on spending as education and health if not more. That area is environment.

It must be some strange middle-class fetish, which I clearly don’t understand, that demands that ‘Education’ should triumph over nearly all else in the government priority spending stakes. If you are middle-class then education is important. If you are middle-class, spending on education pays dividends. If you are working-class it’s a bit more hit and miss.

As I’ve said before my approach to politics and my political beliefs are influenced by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s fundamental ‘Biological and Physiological needs of air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.’ need to be adequately met before a person can then be concerned with moving on to the next level. Economic equality for all won’t be attained until everybody has passed up through all of the levels.

If people are consigned to live in poverty and inadequate housing then their environment will never be conducive to learning and good health. If you have the misfortune to be born into a poverty-stricken, dysfunctional family then your chances of becoming a brain surgeon or a captain of industry are extremely remote.

I was brought up on a council estate in the fifties through to the beginning of the seventies. The only heat in our council house was a fire in the living room plus the odd electric fire when we could afford it. I was lucky. I came from a loving family and we were slightly more prosperous than many of my contemporaries, but it was still a struggle financially for my parents, who both worked full-time. In winter it was damned near impossible to do homework at home. It either had to be completed in the living room in the warm with the telly blaring or in the arctic temperatures of my bedroom. Concentration was an issue. Personally I think I did well to ingest and attain the level of education that I did. Going to university or getting a degree just didn’t feature on my radar. So when people harp on about ‘social mobility’ and how education is somehow going to single handedly increase it they are talking out of their arses.

Yes keep building schools and hospitals* but more importantly build social housing and lots of it. And, let’s spend some serious money so that we enable all children to be brought up in a stable and disciplined** family style environment. Only that way will you start to help break the cycle of poverty and facilitate true social mobility.

* fat chance of this with the ConDems in power of course
** discipline as in ‘structure, rules and responsibilities’ rather than some Victorian notion of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Yellow peril

If a law is deemed to be generally acceptable by society and a person breaks that law it would seem equally acceptable, if caught, for that person to be dealt with by the justice system. I have no desire at this juncture to go further on the outcome of being dealt with by the justice system as it is irrelevant to my argument and I have blogged on it here. Suffice to say that if you break the law and get caught there will usually be something referred to as punishment. As a procedure or process this doesn’t seem unreasonable to me and I suspect most people feel the same.

Are burglar alarms an affront to people’s individual liberty?
Are they evidence of the ‘big brother’ society?
To a burglar the answers are probably ‘yes’ and ‘yes’, unless of course you are Norman Stanley Fletcher, in which case it could be ‘yes’ and ‘no’. But to most of us they would seem to be a useful, if not occasionally annoying when they go off in the early hours near where we live, piece of crime prevention equipment.

Road safety experts say that “speed kills”. We have laws that say speeding is an offence. In general most people accept these arguments. So what is it about speed cameras?
Why are they seen as an instrument of oppression by the BMW driving, Daily Mail reading hang ‘em and flog ‘em brigade?
They encourage people not to break the law and they catch them when they do. Agreed they are more effective than your bog-standard burglar alarm, although the more sophisticated burglar/surveillance equipment is pretty good at ‘catching’ people. They are electronic witnesses to law breaking. What is wrong with that?

Now I know that some people object to speed cameras because they see them as an easy tax revenue raising facility, and I have some sympathy with this viewpoint. But I do think the use of the camera and the penalty need to be kept separate in the argument. Personally I’d like to see the emphasis put well and truly on rehabilitation. If people are caught driving dangerously then perhaps the answer should be re-training and education in the consequences of bad driving rather than a fine.

Monday 23 August 2010

Public service announcement

It’s a shit time if you are working for the civil service or local government. And, it’s going to get shittier by all accounts. The Tory propaganda machine seems hell bent on rubbishing the work of public servants, whilst the Con-Dem collaboration plans to make as many as possible unemployed. This government is biting the hand that wipes its arse.

As if that is enough to contend with our much battered public servants have to deal with members of the public!

Friday 20 August 2010

Everybody must get stoned!

There are a couple of lines in Moving On by the Oysterband that go:

“We asked the man for justice
Well, he handed us a stone”

Last week’s stoning by the Taliban was rightly condemned for the barbaric act that it was (although it raises so many other questions and comparisons) but we in ‘the west’ don’t really have grounds to criticise when we are guilty of acts of collective barbarism ourselves. I am appalled by the posturing, whining and intolerant belligerence (is that partial tautology?) on the part of the lynch mob that is the voice of the American Establishment. Their continued howls for the head of Abdelbasset Ali al-Megrahi are quite sickening. If ‘the west’ wants to criticise the behaviour of the rest of the world then we need to put our own house in order first. If we are to prove to the rest of the world that ‘our values’ are the best then they need to be so in reality. The Lockerbie bombing was a cowardly and evil act and we may never know if it was committed by al-Megrahi or not, but in many ways the issue of his guilt is irrelevant. We are also not to know at the moment if there were murky dealings regarding his release, and again in many ways this is not the issue. If we take what the Scottish executive and the doctor concerned are telling us at face value then what they have done in releasing al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds was the right, honourable and compassionate thing to do. Compassion should be always be one of the USPs of any civilised society. If we are to place ourselves on the moral high ground we need to act according to those morals. Something the loud-mouthed pseudo-Christian American establishment right-wingers should adopt. ‘Tit for tat’/’eye for an eye’ actions just perpetuate the downward spiral of the retribution cycle.

The white American Christian establishment right (WACERs) need to answer the following questions honestly:

  • In the case of al-Megrahi what would have been the Christian response to him being diagnosed with terminal cancer?
  • Why do they think Lockerbie and for that matter 11/9 happened?
  • When are they going to stop supporting injustice?

As an atheist I accept that everyone has a right to follow the religion of their choosing but I despise anyone who hollowly wears a religion as a badge and uses it to oppress others.

Thursday 19 August 2010

Ziggy Stardust Came from Isleworth

There was a great little programme on Radio 4 today about Vince Taylor. I knew of Vince Taylor and his fantastic Brand New Cadillac but very little else.

I was weaned on Rock-a-boogie. Six Five Special and Oh Boy were required viewing by my parents when I was a toddler. I don’t remember too much about the acts on these programmes but I absorbed the music. I don’t remember anything of Vince Taylor from that time though. My first alert to his existence was a song on the B side of a Golden Earring single entitled Just like Vince Taylor. Next up came the Clash with their version of Brand New Cadillac (equally as good as Vince’s version), sheer brilliance! Now I’ve been a fan of David Bowie since Jean Genie but until today I had not realised that Vince Taylor had been the major inspiration for David’s erstwhile alter ego Ziggy Stardust. The Radio 4 programme explains all. Give it a listen, but hurry you only have 7 days to do so.

Be there or be square.

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Can clothing really be offensive?

Why should it matter what someone wears?
I suppose it matters for a number of reasons. I’m not saying that it’s good or bad but it matters because clothes have become badges. Clothes invariably speak volumes about the person wearing them. Like it or not they are a statement about the type of person we are.

Can clothing really be offensive?
I don’t have a problem with the human body. I felt sorry for that poor chap who attempted to hike from Lands End to John O’Groats naked and kept being arrested. If people want to walk around naked or in various states of undress they should be allowed; subject of course to necessary public hygiene measures. The human body, or exposed parts of it are only offensive if you let them offend you. By the same token if people wish to cover up then there is nothing wrong with that. Offense based on aesthetics is a baseless and shallow reaction. Clothing per se, by its very inert nature, fails to be offensive. What tends to cause offense is the meaning that people attach to clothing. Usually it is a political or religious in meaning. I suppose when clothing manifests itself as the representation of an ideology then it ceases to be clothing and becomes a uniform. Then it is what the uniform represents that is or is not offensive, depending on your point of view. If people wish to dress in a peculiar or idiosyncratic fashion, or be swayed by some magic man with a beard then so be it. The only time it become unacceptable is if it’s used as a means to oppress. But again that has little to do with the clothing as such. I do not believe that the law should be used to proscribe clothing, and the countries that have gone down this road are misguided. Equally people and organisations should be allowed to choose not to ‘do business’ with individuals that refuse to show their face. I think it is fair to say that face to face transactions should be face to face.

Essentially what I’m saying is let’s just relax about what people wear; after all there are much more important concerns to focus on.

Tuesday 3 August 2010

BT Poster

BT has a poster campaign at the moment offering Sky sports channels via the BT delivery system at a discount. I’ve no idea if it is a good deal as I have absolutely no interest in watching sport therefore have no concept of how much these things cost. But I would have thought that if they had something good to shout about their ad agency could come up with something a little bit better than the poster they have produced. I’ve no idea who the four geezers are but they appear to have been chosen on the grounds that they are probably the ugliest bleeders in all of Christendom. I don’t think you’ll sell much that way BT!

The world’s economic woes sorted in a nutshell

Keynesian economics dictates that it is better to pay someone a living wage to dig a hole, and then fill it in, than to have them sitting around on a pittance with their soul slowly being destroyed and their thumb up their arse. Thus money circulates quicker, generating greater prosperity.

Monday 2 August 2010

Crime and punishment

I made a comment recently on a friend’s Facebook wall, or whatever it is called, stating that I was against punishment. It occurs to me that this stance might horrify many people, and I’m not just talking about Daily Mail readers. It might well be just a question of semantics but I truly am against ‘punishment’. Punishment is the action of a bully. Without getting into the rights and wrongs of certain laws, if a person commits what is judged to be a crime by the society that they live in then punishment is not the answer. Punishment is essentially driven by the destructive emotion known as revenge. Revenge has no place in a civilised society.

There are two ways in which our approach to crime is wrong. The first is the revenge aspect that manifests itself as punishment, and the second is that we consistently fail to address the root causes of most crime; those causes being poverty, social deprivation, mental illness etc etc. If someone is convicted of a crime the emphasis should be on rehabilitation. If for their own safety or the safety of the community it is considered necessary to withhold their liberty for the duration of their rehabilitation or part thereof then that is not unreasonable. But removing someone’s liberty should not be seen as punishment. Punishment achieves nothing. Every time someone commits a crime it must be seen as a failure, and it is my belief that it is rarely failure of the individual but a failure of society. Society fails so many people. Rather than dealing with crime in a reactive way we need to prevent crime from happening in the first place. No to “tough on crime” but yes to “tough on the causes of crime”. The solutions are clearly is not as simple as a few slogans. Changing the makeup of society won’t happen overnight. Reducing the gap between rich and poor is never going to be easy. The need to do this has so far eluded the mindset of the majority of the electorate. But that is no reason not to try and persuade them to believe in it. If people could grasp that by significantly reducing the gap between rich and poor that everybody would benefit then perhaps the vast majority might start to come round. You can’t have justice whilst there is injustice.