Bloody local newspapers

I’ve long been a fan of dogs, and I’ve long been a non-fan of stupid laws. Which means that I have fairly strong feelings towards the Dangerous Dogs Act, which is both a bad/stupid law in an of itself, and bad because of the way it treats dogs and their owners.

But worse that said stupid law is the way that people try and tell you that it’s bad because it’s not stupid enough. Like my local free newspaper, the Lewisham & Catford edition of the News Shopper. Which is currently running a really annoying campaign called SHOP A DOG.

News Shopper is running a series of features on dangerous dogs and we need YOUR help to get the law changed to make our parks and neighbourhoods safer for everyone.

SHOP A DOG is News Shopper’s new campaign to bring justice to the victims of dog attacks and help prevent further maulings across south-east London and north Kent.

According to NHS statistics, at least 163 people have been injured by dogs in the News Shopper area in the last two years, leaving some victims with horrific wounds while many irresponsible dog owners have got off scott free.


Don’t get me wrong; being attacked by a dog cannot be a good thing. But pressing for new laws is not the answer; the last dangerous dog around here was dealt with entirely legally: it ended up being shot repeatedly with a shotgun. If the law allows the police to shoot dogs that they have contained within a house in a residential street, I suspect that the law is probably tough enough.

But the News Shopper doesn’t end with wanting a harsher law, they want the following:

- Increase the sentence for owning a banned dog – in line with carrying a knife.

– Extend the law to include dog attacks on private land – therefore protecting workers such as postmen and carers.

– Increase the prison sentences for owners convicted of allowing their dog to attack humans.

– Force all Staffordshire Bull Terriers to wear a muzzle in public.

– Simplify the court process so that banned dogs can be destroyed immediately.

Shall I deal with those one by one?

  1. Part the first, the rules for carrying knives are ridiculous, so calling for other laws to match them marks you out as a bit of a fool. Part the second, the definition of a banned dog is so lax as to require a dog suspected of being banned to be investigated by experts, which can’t be done on the spot. So, twice foolish. Plus, dog racism. Me no likee.
  2. You can fuck off with extending the [bad] law to cover my dog on my premises. As a responsible dog owner, I take responsibility for my dog, but extending the law would require me to keep my dog muzzled in my own damn house.
  3. Increasing the prison sentence for allowing a dog to attack a human? Again, fuck off – if it’s serious and intentional, then the laws are plenty harsh and go all the way up to murder.
  4. I don’t like people who get down on Staffies. Considering how popular they are (they make up probably a third of the dogs I see on my morning walk), five attacks by them over three years in an area with a population of over a million is not justification for a new law. Especially when the damn News Shopper article says that 163 people have been injured by dogs in the last two years in the same area; that’s not exactly a massive percentage caused by SBTs, is it?
  5. Simplify the court process to allow all banned dogs to be destroyed immediately. Awesome. You have some instant test to prove that a dog is of a banned breed? You have a way of bringing the dog back to life if a mistake is made? Or are you going to compensate the owner in a sensible way? If the News Shopper is confused, might I refer them to the (still in force) Clause 29 of the Magna Carta.

In short, I think that each and every aim of their campaign is either stupid, abhorrent, or both. So I condemn their paper to being used for bedding for my beloved pooch. Which is not, by law, a Staffie, so she’ll be fine.

Fuck you, News Shopper.

Dear parts of Norn Iron

Grow the fuck up, please.

Two senior Ulster Unionists, including the leader Tom Elliot, are to face disciplinary proceedings within the Orange Order for attending the funeral of murdered police constable Ronan Kerr.

[T]he lodge, St Simon’s Church Total Abstinence LOL 821 from Sandy Row, has made formal complaints to the county lodges of Mr Elliott and Mr Kennedy in Fermanagh and Armagh.

It is understood the lodge alleges the two men “should have known better.”

Jaysus Christo on a bike. I’m all for a bit of tradition, and I’m all for people standing up for what they believe in. But some twazzock starting disciplinary proceedings because someone else in their club went to a funeral? Grow up, please. It’s just silly.

Well, duh

Captain Obvious alert.

Twenty high-profile economists have urged the government to drop the top 50p tax rate, which they say is doing “lasting damage” to the UK economy.

In a letter to the Financial Times, they say it should be axed “at the earliest opportunity” to boost growth.

What, it comes as a shock that the government taking over 60p on the pound (when you take income tax and national insurance) encourages people to make sure that as many of their pounds as possible stay away from the government?

It’s bad enough that people have to work Monday, Tuesday and a bit of Wednesday entirely for the benefit of the state; making them work the first hour of Thursday as well isn’t going to make people come here, is it?

Signs of a successful war

  1. It has a defined and measurable aim (end an occupation, remove x from power, stop a genocide, etc);
  2. It has broad agreement on that aim;
  3. It ends within a reasonable timeframe, to whit a decade or two.

Of course, these are just my own signs, but I think that they make a certain amount of sense. Now, let’s have a look at the War on Drugs against that, shall we?

  1. The aim is to try and stop the production, import and use of illegal drugs. Except that not all states agree on what is an illegal drug or how seriously they take the issue.
  2. Vast swathes of most countries use illegal drugs to some extent, and many leaders of countries have admitted to using said drugs during the time of the War on Drugs.
  3. It’s been going for decades and use is only ever going up.

Time to cut losses and stop fighting silly fights that criminalise people for enjoying themselves in ways that only cause harm because a part of it has been made illegal, do you think?

And there goes their one saving grace

Looking at the number of candidates for each post, I don’t think that Northern Ireland’s MLAs are too hard done by. The fact that their salaries haven’t increased in ten years clearly isn’t stopping people queuing to job the assembly.

So, among their many downsides ( there being too many of them, the tribalism, the comedy inept behavior of many), the fact that they cost less than most parliamentarians was a benefit.

Seems like that single plus point will soon go. How disappointingly predictable.


Sayeth the EU: lack of language skills mean that UK citizens are under-represented in the EU civil service.

Entirely possible; due to the fact that English is understood the world over, relatively few people take the time needed to really be comfortable in other languages.

That said, there are a good few people out there who have studied foreign languages, and are fluent in it. So there may well be another reason that people aren’t willing to leave London and work in Brussels with a bunch of squabbling folk in an institution that many here believe is, at best, a nuisance.

But I can’t quite think of what that reason might be…

So much missing of the point

In Norn Iron, the home energy market is pretty much closed. Electricity can come from one supplier, and mains gas can come from one supplier. To counter this monopoly, there has long been a fairly strong regulatory framework surrounding these two suppliers that put limits on how much their prices can rise. This is, probably, the best compromise that can happen just now; obviously a better one would be to bring in competition but that probably won’t happen for a while.

However, in bottled gas and home heating oil, there is considerable variation. Dozens of suppliers can be contacted and they’ll give you a price that will generally be quite competitive and will vary according to both the local market and the fluctuations in the international oil market. This means that it tends to match the oil price movements much more closely; rising when it rises and falling quite quickly when it falls. This is unlike the gas prices, which tend to rise more slowly and less steeply, but fall much more slowly.

It’s a good thing. But some people don’t get it.

The NI Consumer Council has called for the heating oil industry to be regulated as the price of 900 litres rose to £550.

John French from the council said regulating the industry should be a key priority for a new NI assembly.

“It is estimated that with rising fuel prices, the recent cold winters and the current economic climate, fuel poverty levels have risen above 50%,” he said.

Gas and electricity customers already benefit from a regulatory framework.

Mr French said that oil customers should too.

Fine, dude. You want to design a regulatory framework that can regulate dozens of firms and do it without costing a bomb. You design something that passes on the lows and mitigates the highs. And then please buy me a nice piece of beachfront property in Nevada.

The guy then ends on:

“Regulation of the home heating oil industry could provide consumers with transparency and reassurance that the price they are being asked to pay is fair,” he said.

Which annoys me; the home heating oil market is the only place I’ve seen where it is pretty transparent. Yes, the prices change daily, but with a single phone call a person can find out exactly how much 900 litres of oil will cost; try that in the beautifully regulated gas or electricity market.

In short: it works, don’t break it.

Long term planning

I’ve always meant to go and visit the Public Records Office. There are a few things I’d like to look up. And if I’m honest, the idea of all that information being stored in perpetuity would appeal to me even if there wasn’t anything in particular that I wanted to know.

Several years ago, PRONI decided to move from its old location (on Balmoral Avenue, surrounded by houses and no parking) to the Titanic Quarter (surrounded by wasteland and flats that nobody can afford). And the spec for the building seemed to be very long term oriented – lots and lots of protection for the documents and lots and lots of improvements in how said documents are both stored and accessed. Fit for decades, it would be.

Unless the dreaded climate change occurs, of course, and sea levels rise a bit. Not even that big a bit; if they rise 5 metres then the whole area is underwater, and all those documents will be done for. The old location could have waited until the sea rose 20 metres, after all.

It’s almost as if someone was told that they had to go to a new development area because it needed some more life in it, without any thought as to why it might be a bad idea…

This assumes that you believe that the sea levels will rise; personally I’m not that sure that they will. But the government keep trying to scare us into believing that they will, so why aren’t they taking such things into account?

There’s a surprise

I don’t like politicians, I don’t like taxation, I don’t like spending more money than I need to.

Hence, I don’t like Budgets. Because they almost always leave most people worse off than they were before it. And worse than that, they pretend otherwise.

Such was the case yesterday, wherein TLW & I discovered that we’re going to be worse off by a couple of hundred quid. Which is vexing.

That said, there are two things that give me a little cheer from yesterday’s budget: scrapping the fuel escalator (which has always struck me as unbelievably blatant theft) and starting the ball rolling on joining NI and income tax – it’s long past time when NI was anything other than another income tax going straight to the pool of general taxation. Not giving thieving bastard lying politicians1 the opportunity to raise the NI rate while claiming not to be increasing tax is clearly an improvement.

1 – Some redundancy in the previous four words, obviously. And if you can think of a better example of a thieving bastard lying politician in this regard than Gordon Brown, you’re a smarter person than I.

Not really a windfall

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery.”

These words by Dickens have been trotted out by many over the last hundred and fifty years to show the common sense of living within your means. Most people tend to recognise the wisdom of them and do their best to make sure that they don’t end up in the red all their lives.

Not so government. No, they think entirely differently. Not only do most Western countries seem to be entirely content to run with a permanent debt but they’re more than happy to add to it every damn year. And then crow about only adding to it by an unimaginable amount, as opposed to by an incredible unimaginable amount.

The government appears to be gaining control of the public finances and could benefit from an £8bn windfall this year due to higher tax revenue and lower spending, a report suggests.

The Ernst & Young Item Club forecast public borrowing for the year to the end of March to be lower than expected.

The club said it expected public sector borrowing for the financial year to come in at £140.2bn, compared with the £148.5bn forecast by the Office of Budget Responsibility.

Yes, it’s a movement in the right direction. But clearly if you’re borrowing £140,200,000,000 you’re still spending far too much relative to your income. Time to avoid celebrating and balance the damn books…

Nonsense upon nonsense

If the government is fully convinced of the evils of smoking, then why aren’t they banning the production, sale and consumption of tobacco? Because either (a) they’re not convinced or (b) they can’t afford to live without the tax revenue.

All the rest of it, the ban on advertising, the warnings, the massively funded “stop smoking” programmes and the new ban on showing the product1 is just nonsense. People know the risks and if they choose to smoke then it’s their own damn choice. Stop with all the rest of the shite and let people get on with it.

1 – Because hiding it from view and making retailers use plain packaging eradicated the porn industry nicely, didn’t it?

Conflicting thoughts

Back when I were a lad, in the dark days of the pre-millennium, I was a new driver. Being a young lad, in Norn Iron, and only having had a licence for fifteen minutes, insurance was an absolute bitch. And to complement that, I bitched about the unfairness of it all, and the blatant discrimination against men that was the difference in insurance premiums between male and female.

Yes, I was a simple soul back then. What of it?

After not too many years, though, I saw the wisdom of it. Myself and many of my male friends and acquaintances did serious damage to cars, while few females did. Our accidents were more frequent and more serious, so it became clear to me why insurance premiums might be so different. It’s all about playing the odds. There is less of a risk insuring women, and therefore it’s obvious that women should pay less.

It’s with this thought that I am pretty solidly against yesterday’s European Court ruling.

Insurers cannot charge different premiums to men and women because of their gender, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled.

The decision means that women can no longer be charged lower car insurance premiums than men, and the cost of buying a pensions annuity will change.

This is, on the face of it, lunacy. If the costs of insuring men are so much higher to the company, should they not be to the customer as well? Why should women subsidise men on this? Sheer, bureaucratic, EU nonsense.

There is more to it, of course. I’m sure that there are certain ethnic groups that are more risky to insure than others; should ethnicity be taken into account? Disabled passengers cost more on flights and ferries, should this cost be borne by the customer alone or factored into everyone’s ticket prices?

Clearly, it’s never going to be as simple as “there shall be no discrimination” or “all discrimination is to be allowed”. In insurance there’s clearly a need to discriminate in some ways, otherwise there’d only ever be a flat fee for someone to be insured and it wouldn’t do anything to reward good drivers while penalising poor drivers. But what is an acceptable discrimination; I say gender, occupation, relationship status and all that are fine, whereas ethnicity probably isn’t.

What say you? Where would others draw the line?

Obviously, it goes without saying that this is also a mass over-reaching of the state into private business and the like, but that ship has sailed…

Just catching on?

I understand the point of recycling. I really do. Some things can be taken, broken down, and reused, and for a profit. It’s a brilliant idea. You could opt in if you wanted to, either to minimise your wastage or to save Gaia. Or because you liked the sound it made when you started an avalanche inside the bottle bin1.

Of course, government being government, that’s not where it stopped. Now you are forced into recycling, and you’re often forced into sorting it, and the list of things to be recycled includes many things that aren’t profitable to recycle.

I must say, where we’re living it isn’t to bad. You get a small refuse bin and a large general recycling bin. Yes, the order is the wrong way round but we have simple needs and we have a large enough driveway to store both. Back in Belfast, it was slightly more complicated: three bins, and only a very small yard to store them in. Honestly, when the local spides set fire to the garden recycling bin, I wasn’t exactly disappointed – there was now room in the yard to turn around.

But it could still be worse: Newcastle apparently has nine separate containers, which is just mental. I can’t even think of nine different classes of recycling, let alone where to store nine containers.

One quote I particularly dislike:

Trevor Nicoll, head of recycling and fleet services at Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, said the local authority had launched an improved recycling and waste service and saved £500,000.

“Residents choose to what extent they recycle, if at all, but they have embraced it as rates have shot up from 27% to 50%,” he said.

They have embraced it? I’m sure they have, but dude is forgetting to mention the sticks hanging over people: the bin wardens with little red tags and the prospect of non-compliant bins hanging round for an extra week stinking the place up. Which just makes a community feel that much more friendly, don’t it…

What they said

It’s nice when someone else pries a thought from my head and puts it down in writing better that I ever could.

Worst of all is the combination of the two. The other night fans of another club, Bolton Wanderers, remembered their hero, Nat Lofthouse, the “Lion of Vienna”. He did, mercifully, get the silence he deserved. Done well – and this was – a minute’s silence can create real gravitas as a sudden, reflective stillness descends on thousands of people. But, confusingly, as the silence ended, it was announced that he would also get a minute’s applause, an act with no gravitas which only served to spoil the moment. It was as if the club felt it somehow had to dilute the one with the other. The result was tepid water.

The prescription, in my mind, is simple. Minute’s silences are for national disasters, royal deaths and the passing of bona fide sporting heroes (the latter just to be observed locally). Applause should be reserved for great jazz solos and sliding tackles only.

I am very much in agreement. I’ve never liked the minute’s applause; to my mind it’s an easy out. We are social animals, and we don’t much like proper silence, it makes us uncomfortable. So observing a full minute’s silence is something that requires an effort because inherently we don’t like it. Clapping as a herd is what we’re good at, and therefore isn’t any sacrifice at all.

Also: grief inflation is getting out of hand. As the correspondent says, keep national acts of remembrance for national events; keep local ones for local events; and keep private ones to yourselves. It’s the only way to stay sane.

Pointlessly awesome

I have a lot of time for people who do things that aren’t safe but just get on with it.The fact that what they’re doing for fun has a risk attached isn’t going to stop them; in a way, I do something similar with helicoptering. But the attitude is pretty well displayed in this guy:

A climber who survived a 1,000ft (305m) fall from a mountain peak says he is planning to return to the hills soon.

Adam Potter, 36, from Glasgow, plummeted down the near-vertical eastern slope of Sgurr Choinnich Mor near Ben Nevis after losing his footing.

Asked if would go back to the mountains soon, he replied: “Yes, hopefully very soon. I was hoping to go again next weekend but I think that will be cancelled. But maybe in a few weeks – I’ll see how the injuries go.

“It was just a little slip which led to a lot more slips… but I could slip on the doorstep at home,” he added.

Well said; yes, he could fall and injure himself again, but he could do so at work too. And lets be honest, who would have the best story to tell in the broken-leg ward of the local hospital?

Trust you to make a decision? Not likely…

Fresh on from yesterdays education of the UK by the stupider side of the Irish state, today we have another example.

A Dublin restaurant has had to pull rare and medium-rare burgers from its menu after it was threatened with legal action.

Jo’burger in Rathmines has been warned by the Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) to serve only well-done burgers or prove they can serve undercooked meat without the risk of contamination like E.coli.

That’s a shame, isn’t it? Not being allowed to provide what the customer wants without proving that it’s free of risk of contamination. Which, I’m guessing, requires the filling out of dozens of forms, one or two inspections of each step of the journey from being born to being grilled, and no discernible reduction in risk but makes the bureaucracy happy…

Or your could let people make up their own mind, and accept the risk of illness that goes with undercooking meat. It’s called ‘informed consent’, and it’s a wonderful way to live. And even better, doesn’t require the filling out of any forms at all!

The policies of coalitions

It’s very strange, this coalition government. Under the last lot, I’d often hear a headline and get mildly irked by it; but by the time I’d finished reading their actual proposal I’d be livid. With the current lot, I read the headline and get pissed off, but by the time I’ve finished reading the proposal I’m not as annoyed. Welfare reform? Something needs doing and most of what has been said seems to fall into the category of ‘least-worst’. Student financing? If the status quo isn’t sustainable, then the ConLib proposals are better than most I’ve heard. NHS reform? Who the feck knows; when the government actually firm up their proposals we’ll get to decide if they’re good or not.

The same almost happened today again, with this story.

Minimum alcohol price levels planned by coalition
Plans for a minimum price for alcohol in England and Wales are to be announced by ministers.

Shops and bars will be prevented from selling drinks for less than the tax they pay on them.

The minimum pricing would work out at 38p for a can of weak lager and £10.71 for a litre bottle of vodka.

I am very strongly against the idea of minimum pricing for alcohol; I think that it’s ridiculous, puritanical and petty for the state to suggest that the vast majority should be chivvied into a form of behaviour because a very small section of society act contrary to society’s norms. But reading the detail, wherein the suggestion is only that drink can’t be sold for a price lower than the tax due on it, seems almost sensible. And if you can judge the quality of a man by the quality of his enemies, perhaps you can do the same for government policy. Look who’s against it and what they say:

  • The nannying arm of the BMA: “It’s not minimum pricing, it’s not really going to make that much difference,” said a spokeswoman. “What we’re calling for is tough action.”
  • Alcohol Concern1: “Duty is so low in the UK that it will still be possible to sell very cheap alcohol and be within the law2. The government needs to look again at a minimum price per unit of alcohol. That is the only evidence-based approach that will end cheap discounts once and for all.”
  • Drinkaware: “As supply and price are not the only factors driving alcohol misuse, it is imperative that we challenge people’s relationship with alcohol as well,”

If all those lot are against this, then I’d naturally align with those supporting the proposal.

As it is, I’d prefer to leave well alone. But if something has to be done – and clearly it does not – then the above is the least worst option I’ve seen.

1 – Alcohol Concern being a perfect fake charity.

2 – he is, of course, having a laugh. Duty is not low, and it hasn’t been low in my lifetime.

Times, they’ve changed

Back when I were a young lad, there was a simple distinction between the two main UK parties. The Tories were all for economic freedom but were big on very strong police powers. Labour couldn’t understand economic freedom but used to be against giving too much power to the police.

How times have changed; the Tories are raising VAT and Labour disappeared into a fog of Big Brotherism. To me it looks like both parties have pilfered the worst aspects of the opposition while keeping hold of their original bad habits, so we end up with two parties both wanting more control over the economy and both wanting people locked up for any reason possible.

And it’s not just locking up that they like, they also like making it easier to lock people up. Like, fer instance, taking DNA from everyone in an entire city to rule out involvement in one murder.

MURDER squad detectives were last night under pressure to order a mass DNA screening to flush out Joanna Yeates’s killer.

An MP led the call for all men living in the same city as the landscape architect to give saliva samples to the police as their investigation makes slow progress. Kerry McCarthy, Labour MP for Bristol East, said the need to catch Joanna’s killer overrides the questions of intrusion and invasion of privacy in a mass screening.

Three things:

  1. No, it doesn’t – casting such a wide net is entirely unjustified.
  2. British police have shown repeatedly that they cannot be trusted with DNA that they should have destroyed, so volunteering to give them any isn’t exactly smart.
  3. There has been no news from police that they are hunting for a male suspect, has there? Yet this MP is only encouraging the DNA testing of men. Either she knows something we don’t (which she shouldn’t about an ongoing investigation) or she’s just assuming that only men could be doing such a thing.

I’d like to hear from Ms McCarthy about her reasons for this. Does she know more than the rest of us; is she revealing too much about an ongoing investigation than she should; or is she just a rampant sexist? The public need to know…

Excellent comparisons

Since September 11th, we’ve all been ‘protected’ by enhanced security at airports. And several ludicrous plots later, that security has only gotten worse.

And since I’ve always flown quite a bit between London and NI, I’ve often had to enjoy the pleasures of this security. This has included lots of the usual queuing, regular pat-downs, and even half hearted comments about getting arrested.

Of course, it’s not even the UK that insists on the worst flights. Back in 2003, I got to go through the usual UK security, and then the extra security mandated by the US before boarding a flight to Washington. That was pretty invasive.

Recent experience in Germany has been pretty sensible, given the stupid rules they work within. Special ire is reserved for the French, who seem to quite like picking on very elderly and infirm people in wheelchairs while ignoring more likely people.

But go to somewhere like Morocco, and the security is pretty sensible. And if you go all the way to Malaysia, the security is excellent. More like what they had at Aldergrove back before the ceasefires than the monstrosity that is called security there these days1. Liquids? No problem. An occasional bit of metal? It’ll do…

But, as always, the US gets the final word in security. And boy, do they enjoy that privilege. Numpties.

1 – yes, at the hight of the Troubles over here, security was much lighter than it is now. And I’d wager that it was probably more effective too.