Archive | May, 2016

IN OR OUT?

28 May

I wonder how many of us who are to vote in the EU referendum next month really know what they’re voting for? Both sides of the debate throw statistics at us and both sides are not afraid of lying.
Don’t forget – lying can come in many different shapes and sizes, from plucking statistics wildly out of the air to assuming that the Britain of today is in any way similar to the Britain of yesterday. Things grow with time, and that includes countries. Our UK these days is a better place than it was and when I hear anti-EU people suggesting there was some magical golden age some time in the past, when the sun shone more brightly, when people lived their happy lives in chocolate-box cottages, I wonder what on Earth they’re on about.
I was born in England and much as I find a lot of pleasing qualities in the country of my birth there’s no reason to be proud of it. Being born here wasn’t an achievement, not something I did using skill and judgement and my innate intelligence to achieve, so I don’t need to be proud of it. No: being born here had nothing whatsoever to do with me and if it was anything it was like a number in a lottery, a casual touch by the finger of fate when it came to where my parents holidayed – though there wasn’t much chance to travel anywhere in 1943.
And if I look back there are quite a lot of things that were disturbing about life in this country. The twentieth century was riven by two gigantic wars in which millions were slaughtered and apportioning blame for those conflicts is far from easy because everything I have read about them was written by the victors and it’s long been said that such necessarily biased reporting skews the facts. Anyway, I’ve never understood why the First World War had to happen (and I seem to recall neither did Baldrick, so I’m in good company) and my teachers at school just about convinced me that the Second World War was part Two of the same conflict.
But wars aside, there have been other undesirable features of my country. Homophobia made the lives of many intolerable (how many good men and women had their lives wrecked by their very natures?). It was even written into law, when Victoria was on the throne, that intimate behaviour shown between men even in the privacy of their own homes was punishable by imprisonment – women, I believe, were excluded because nobody dared suggest to a sulky monarch that women were anything but perfect.
Then there was the way children were beaten – and in my life-time, too. Some schoolmasters were proud of the way they administered six of the best to boys quivering with fear because their school-issued pen had made a blot. Not today, thank goodness.
And have you read tales of small boys sweeping chimneys or crouched for hour after hour in mines, under the ground?
No, there was no golden age but bit by bit what was best about life has been whittled away by greed and the need for ever more wealth. During her time as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher set the ball rolling, selling off anything that was portable so that the “market” could be in charge. And the market was. In charge of telecommunications, electricity, gas, water, housing, everything, so prices went up in order for dividends to trickle into the pockets of those who could afford to buy wads of shares. Not me, you’ll notice. I’ve never been able to afford to buy wads of shares.
This week the utilities company visited us and fitted a “smart” meter. For free, they said. Free? Toenails! Wherever there’s a private company nothing is ever free. The cost will lurk somewhere, in price rises, in sneaky little ways that private enterprise is so good at finding.
So those who want to go back to those good old days, when were they? Did I blink? Have I missed something?
We had an empire once. Huge parts of the map were coloured pink (at least they were in my childhood atlas) and the pink denoted the British Empire. Or, to put it another way, the countries we’d stolen from their natives on whom we’d imposed a crown and a wretched religion. That wasn’t great, though the soldiers with their fancy hats and shining swords might have called it glorious.
If we leave the EU, though, it’ll be sad to lose the cheap booze at Calais and all the other perks we travellers find, and even sadder to have to join the queues at customs where they can decide how much tax we should be paying on this or that bottle of whisky, and confiscating it if we can’t afford it….

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THE INFLUENCE OF THE PRESS

20 May

When it will come to the forthcoming referendum concerning the UK’s remaining or leaving Europe, I wonder how many voters will consider the issues? And by issues I don’t mean the prejudicial and very skewed reporting in the popular press. I mean the real facts.
Everyone knows that Rupert Murdoch would love us to leave the EU even though he is not a Brit, but he does own the most popular newspaper in the country and can ensure that his own opinions get dripped out so that, over time, his more ardent readers believe that they are fact rather than opinion. After all, he has claimed that the influence of his vast media empire is so powerful that it can dictate the outcome of general elections. In fact, he can appoint governments using the grey world of print as a mind of private hustings. His readers are, of course, largely unaware that they are being influenced.
Then there’s Richard Desmond of Daily Express fame. Like Rupert Murdoch, he’s wary of the UK staying in Europe. Being a purveyor of pornography (the real stuff, not merely the lies that ooze out of his newspaper) he probably worries that a moral European burst of legislation might do something to curtail the highly profitable and explicit dissemination of boobs and bodies.
It is, they believe, in the best interests of their empires for the UK to retreat back into itself. Murdoch lends his support to the Conservative party whereas Desmond favours UKIP, and I dared say you’ll find that Sun readers vote for Murdoch’s preferred policies (get personally richer and stay personally rich no matter how poor the rest of us get) and Express readers adore UKIP (let’s go back to the good old shiny sunlit days of yore). Both lots might believe that they read the papers that they agree with, forgetting that it’s those very newspapers that have, over several years, shoe-horned those opinions into their heads.
And it might not be in their own best interests or the best interests of their country to follow them. If it’s all to do with returning to a golden age then I don’t think there’s anything glorious for our nation to return to. At best our forefathers abused the working classes, locking many of them away in workhouses in misery, separated from husbands, wives and children, and at best they tried to bully the rest of the world under the pretence that they were imbued with of some kind of artificial benevolence.
When it comes to the European referendum we’ve all got to think about what’s just got to be best for us as individuals and us as a nation and somehow I can’t see how shrinking into the luminescence of a non-existent bright and shiny past represents anything more than a rather silly pipe dream.

MONETARISM AND ALL THAT

16 May

Back in the days when many of us were gullible it was mooted by Margaret Thatcher that if utilities and a great deal of other stuff that was in public ownership were privatised then we’d all be a lot better off. It was argued, and without delving into the consequences of that argument we believed it, that we could all buy shares in this and that and the other and as a consequence be paid dividends that would put us among the moneyed classes.
It’s taken a few years for us to realise that her promise was meant only for the already wealthy to enjoy. The real idea was that if industries were sold off to shareholders then the shareholders would get richer whilst the rest of us paid a little bit more for the goods and services.
What we didn’t go to the trouble to work out was that is everyone of us bought shares in, say, the electricity supply industry, then we’d all receive dividends as a result of profits, but the profits would have to come from somewhere so we’d all pay a little bit more for our electricity, and in a perfectly balanced world that would mean we’d pay enough to cover the dividends plus the cost of administering them and thus receive a nice quarterly cheque that was slightly less than the increased charges we’d incurred every time we switched the lights on.
So what happened? I haven’t got any shares and, probably, neither have you. But they were issued in copious quantities and quite a lot of genuine ordinary people bought them only to see their value rocket almost straight away. And if what you hold in your hand seems to double in value over night you do what all the rich kids have done down the years, and you sell.
To those rich kids.
So the utilities, which once belonged to you, now belong to the men and women who bought all the shares when they were going relatively cheaply, those who were already rich and now are richer, and if they’re lucky the profits will be stashed away in some tax haven somewhere.
And our utilities bills seem to have grown somewhat. Rail prices are higher and the trains don’t run on time, nothing seems to be as good as it was and all the dreams espoused by the fortunately deceased Mrs Thatcher have come to nought.
A slightly different but equally monetarist story can be attached to housing, The big idea, again apparently (and I’d say cynically) was to let council tenants buy their own homes at a bargain price and to make sure that there wasn’t a glut of housing (that would send the prices down, which conservatives would never like) stop the councils from building new properties with the money they got from the sales.
Result: we now have a housing shortage and absurd house prices. Many of the homes bought by tenants have now been bought by private landlords who can rent them out for what they like and, you’ve guessed it, we’re all worse off. So there’s an upwards spiral because demand is exceeding supply, and don’t forget how a large part of the more desirable property in London is owned by foreign oligarchs and is standing empty for purely fiscal reasons.
We can blame the immigrants, of course. They weren’t here back in the sunny days of yore (but they were). We can blame other foreigners too because they’re notBritisih and it’s easy to blame them. We can certainly blame our membership of the EU (which has nothing to do with it and is consequently blameless). What we don’t blame is the cynical way conservative governments have manipulated us all into providing wealth for their chums and places at Eton for their kids with empty promises of riches for us.
And they’re still at it!
Which is why we need to remain European because Boris and his chums don’t want us to, though the Prime Minister, knowing he’s more unpopular than cockroaches or slimy sea monsters, says we should stay. But who’s going to do what he wants?
They’re at it again, trying to mislead us astray….

DIETARY THOUGHTS

5 May

There’s quite lot of criticism of mankind and the harm he’s doing to his planet, and I dared say some of it is completely justified. But my beautiful wife and I have recently returned from a trip across a great deal of Europe, covering seven countries as we went, and there’s one thing that’s clear. Ninety-nine percent of the continent (or that part of the continent that we saw) is beautiful. There are more trees than you could count if you’re given a dozen lifetimes in which to do it. There are crystal rivers and sparkling streams. There is absolute and true beauty, even in some of the works of man. A bird’s nest may have a beauty of its own, but a Swiss/Austrian/Italian Alpine Chalet has, possibly, more.
Europe has been inhabited for millennia. Mankind has trawled his way, fought his way, murdered his way, across this pristine place and in my opinion not done much to mar most of it.
He started in Africa, of course, and maybe he would have stayed there had it not been for his increasing intelligence, a consequence of him having to use his brain as a survival tool in the eat or be eaten primeval prehistory that he had to survive. And without one thing, one small thing, he might never have succeeded. And that small thing was his diet.
Animal life (and we’re animals, don’t forget) must feed. Herbivores feed on vegetation – nuts and fruits in season, but that season is very short. Mostly they eat grasses, and that food takes such a great deal of digesting and replacing by constant grazing that there’s precious little time to do anything else but eat – and, of course, breed. If mankind had evolved to survive on a diet such as sheep enjoy then he would never have left the savannah and probably never survived. Wild dogs and big cats would have seen to that!
But he did survive, because he adapted to consume an omnivorous diet, and that provided him with extra time to evolve beyond the most primitive of stages in the long road that has led up to today.
And in this today it is possible for him to choose to limit his food intake out of an unrealistic sympathy for the creatures he eats before they eat him. Food without the taint of flesh can be manufactured and stored for long periods in refrigerators or tin cans. Even animal products that don’t involve the demise of the animal (dairy foodstuff) can be rejected in favour of synthesised food.
A corner can be turned.
But mankind can only turn that corner because of the long, millions-of-years long, struggle in a world that was frighteningly a matter of eat or be eaten. His body has been keenly honed by his diet, and any change he might choose to make for moral reasons should bear this in mind.
Without a long, long ancestry of eating what he could find, of surviving on seeds and flesh, sometimes on the very edge of starvation, he might still be on that old savannah and, on his knees, spend day after day sucking nutrients from the grasses left for him by the carnivores, big cats, wolves, bears, all licking their lips and waiting for him to get that bit more meat on him before they pounce.
And that’s the reality of the long struggle. It’s all very well for those with the time and expertise to dismiss the traditional diet of their own species, but when they reject it they should also bear in mind the story of how they earned that right.

LIFE FOR SALE, DIVIDENDS HUGE

3 May

I blame a great deal of what’s wrong in many societies one way or another on education.
If you live in underprivileged parts of the third world, the poor parts that comic relief envoys visit in order to show us what’s really going on, there isn’t education and that absence means there’s a huge gap between hoping, dreaming and reality.
But we don’t live in those parts of the third world, we live here, in the relatively affluent UK, and like a secretive shadow in Hell parts of our education service have been sold off. They’ve been renamed Academies and slipped into the private sector where one of the factors governing their very being is dividends for share-holders.
And what’s more, the present government wants ALL schools to be owned and run by private companies with shareholders.
Now let me slip back a bit, to my own childhood. I went to a moderately good school (though one or two of the teachers were allowed to use excess when it came to punishment of the more brutal kind), but I learned the most important lesson, that it was a good school. We were told it daily, in assembly and in throw-away comments by most of the staff. It became ingrained in us – we go to a good school, and as I say I still think it was moderately good.
But let’s be honest – there were despicable things about it. Yet the over-riding mantra of educational goodness tended to push thoughts of those aside and my mind accepted that it was a good school.
You see, if we are privileged to be taught in schools then we tend to have our attitudes and beliefs formed by the teachers. It’s how religion ridiculously still exists even though the basic notion of gods and heavens and angels is all arrant nonsense. And it’s the very kernel of the nut we take with us through life.
And if all of education is provided on the basis of profit and dividends then praise and worship of the wealthy and their off-shore bank accounts will become the songs that get sung in our hearts as we travel along life’s already tone-deaf path.
What they’re doing is pre-forming a future society so that there’s no room for anything but capitalist dogma. And capitalist dogma, my friends, stinks.
Now then, to save me time repeating myself you can pretend the above is about health and the National Health Service. It’s exactly the same thing. Private enterprise is very enterprising if there’s profit to be made. It tends to asset-strip when there isn’t.
And we’re sleep-walking, courtesy of the mindless morons with a vote who believe every word they read in a press owned almost exclusively by billionaires living glorious off-shore lives, into a nightmare world wherein we merely provide the dividends for faceless shareholders. Wherein that’s our only role. It scares the shit out of me.