Missing the point, somwhat…

I’m being entertained somewhat by the fun and games going on at Saint Paul’s in the last few weeks. It’s a pointless protest, sitting on land near the stock exchange and protesting against capitalism. Capitalism, of course, is not what cause the recent crises, nor is it what the people protesting think it is. Capitalism is probably the only thing that will get us out of the shite we’re in, but don’t let’s let that get in the way of a nice camping expedition.

Happily, it’s not just the protesters who miss the point of things. For example, the BBC has this to say: In an address Dr Chartres told protesters, who fear forcible removal, he shared many of their concerns on corporate greed.

Dear Dr Chartres: the protesters do not ‘fear’ forcible removal. They practically pray for it; their protest is totally pointless without being forcibly evicted. If they give up in a while and drift away1 then they’ll be forgotten in a fortnight; if they are dragged away kicking and screaming by the grownups then they can pretend that their message is so important that The Man must beat them to stop them. As opposed to the truth: they’re messy and noisy and don’t have much to say, and they’re getting in the way of the city.

1 – in a permanent way, not just going home for the evening.

And others should reflect as well

Ah, Norn Iron politicians and their need to talk bullshit.

The latest example: Mr Poots, of the DHSSPS.

The Health Minister Edwin Poots has said the Executive is determined to introduce new legislation to raise the minimum price per unit of alcohol.

Mr Poots told the Politics Show:”I am aware of one supermarket in the run up to Christmas not last year, the previous year, having a £20m loss leader on alcohol.

“I do think supermarkets really do need to reflect on where they sit in society.

“We shouldn’t have to intervene, but the irresponsibility of supermarkets and others is causing a situation where we do.”

Supermarkets should, indeed, reflect on where they sit in society. From what I can see, they only sell things to people if said people want to buy them. They do not sell things that the customer doesn’t want, and they don’t take away any money that the customer doesn’t give to them voluntarily.

Whereas the Northern Ireland Executive, and politicians in general, give people things they don’t want (in the form of services like intimidation and red tape), and take a chunk of money from people that never wanted to hand it over in the first place.

I put it to you, Mr Poots, that perhaps you should reflect on your position in society…

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.

So unfair

At the weekend, I visited a mate in a fairly remote part of the world. Shite was talked, beer was drunk, and dogs were compared. All well and good.

But what bothers me is this: I live in the biggest city in the country, and allegedly one of the finer cities of the world. He lives on a small island with approximately one percentage point of the population. I live in a road with thousands of people, he lives on a country lane with a few dozen houses along the length of it.

And which of us has a closer pub? Not me, because of some crusading food 100 years ago who covenanted the entire area against the evils of the demon drink. Bugger that he is.

Where’s the problem?

Another day, another little inter-coalition spat.

Yesterday’s was about universities. Again.

Prime Minister David Cameron has rejected suggestions the government is considering allowing wealthy students to pay for extra university places.

“There is no question of people being able to buy their way into university,” Mr Cameron told the BBC.

Universities Minister David Willetts said extra places could be funded by businesses or charities and not wealthy individuals.

Universities have always made money from getting wealthy students to pay their way through – in recent years it’s been foreign students that have been milked to subsidise the home students. Why not expand that, providing that the student paying can keep up with the course and that the number of state funded places aren’t lowered to make room. I see it as all-round winning, especially if you set the fees just high enough that it could help towards a bursary.

But because it involves people paying for something that others get for free, thereby giving the appearance of getting an advantage (as opposed to being shafted). And that won’t wash with some people at all…


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…

Things change when you have a dog

Not too long ago, the presence of the urban fox round these parts was only a little problem. They caused some noise, yes, but it was outside and could be ignored by those of us with two legs.

Now, however, there is a four-legs in the house. And the recent increase in foxy-screaming (or barking, howling, whatever it is they do) has sent our poor four-legs a bit potty. Barking is only entertaining when it’s outside and not during the hours of darkness – not when it’s inside at 0030 when you’re due to get up at six.

So, does anyone know of a hunt local to South East London that would be keen on bagging a few little foxies? I’ll meet their reasonable expenses if it means I get to have a good nights sleep and the little buggers stop shitting on my lawn…

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.