Archive for November 2011

It is only someone else’s money…

As we know tomorrow sees a nationwide strike by many members of the public sector. As a consequence of this those that do strike will lose their wages for the day, leaving their employers – us – with a small windfall of cash.

What then to do with it?

Oh come on, you didn’t really think we were going to get a refund, did you?

Instead those who steal the money from us will spend it themselves and we can only hope it gets plough back into ‘services’. I won’t hold my breath though.

Still, at least I’m not living in Newcastle. The council there has, in an astounding lack of concern for those who pay their way, decided to give the money away to local charities:

Newcastle Council has pledged to hand over the wages it saves as a result of Wednesday’s national strike – potentially up to £100,000 – to good causes.

Typically this throwing away of other people’s money finds favour amongst rent seekers and unions.

Brendan Barber, TUC:

Other public services employers up and down the country should now consider following their example and direct savings from next week’s strike to help those hit hardest by the government’s policies.

Clare Williams, Northern Public Services Alliance:

It is a sign of trade union members’ ongoing commitment to helping the most vulnerable that they’ve led the way with this groundbreaking initiative in Newcastle.

Jo Curry, VONNE:

We encourage other public service employers in other areas across the region to follow Newcastle’s lead.

*speechless*

On the difficulty of buying booze

Hello, my name is MG. I’m 33 years old and I need to tell you that sometimes I like to buy alcohol from my local Tesco supermarket.

In a country populated by grown-ups that had a government with a relaxed attitude to the drinking habits of the citizenry such a confession would obviously be unnecessary.

However as we all know the UK has none of these things which is why I find myself confronted, with increasing regularity, with demands from the checkout assistants that I produce ID to confirm that I am indeed old enough to purchase the wine or beer that sometimes falls into my shopping basket.

You would have thought that it should be fairly easy to realise that I am clearly an adult, even if you are unable to say exactly how far beyond the currently minimum legal age of 18 I am. Sadly this is not the case as my local store operates a policy of asking for ID if you don’t look over 25.

Yes, the first time I was asked I was flattered. However as I do not habitually carry ID with me – UK law not yet requiring me to do so – this quickly turned into irritation and these days I save time by just going straight to irritated.

On the first few times I argued but you quickly learn that arguing with a checkout assistant is like arguing with a brick wall (and their supervisors are no better) so I no longer bother and instead start unpacking any goods I have already placed into my bags back to the checkout before picking up my (now empty) bags and walking out of the store.

This inane idea of challenging anyone who might be under 25 is the follow up to the ‘Challenge 21′ policy and is the brainchild of the Retail of Alcohol Standards Group (RASG) and it is co-ordinated by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA).

It’s purpose? To reduce the amount of alcohol sold to under 18s. It’s members? Most, if not every, supermarket chain operating in the UK.

Why does it exist? Because following a meeting with Charles Clarke, one of the many authoritarian Home Secretaries this country had to put up with under the last government, the retailers apparently mutually agreed to sell out and get into bed with government, rather than to stand up to them and live with the bullying that would have probably otherwise have followed. Thus ‘Challenge 21′ was born.

However as those blessed with half a brain cell and an understanding of history know, surrendering just means you get to spend a good long while being someone else’s bitch. In the case of the RASG this means that their work is supported by the Home Office, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Health.

This is apparently evidenced by the newer ‘Challenge 25‘ scheme:

However, with levels of sales to minors still not low enough and the personal consequences of illegal sales for the member of shop staff more severe, retailer employees requested a program which gives them a greater backing and a higher margin of error in challenging customers for proof of age.

Yes, when it is your paycheque on the line, you want to do your damnedest to ensure that you don’t get screwed over. Sadly it also means that common sense tends to go out of the window at the same time.

However how much did the RASG fight when the government of the day looked to start imposed these harsher penalties – or did their previous lack of doing so mean that they had no corner to fight?

I think it is probably safe to say that it was the government which decided that the level of alcohol sales to minors was still too high, although what that figure is I do not know – but one suspects that any figure above zero would be considered too high. Given that the utter elimination of alcohol sales to children is impossible, will the industry wake up to the situation they have found themselves in or are they now, like CAMRA, completely suffering from Stockholm Syndrome?

I meanwhile have decided that the time has come to find another supermarket to spend my money in.

Thoughts on the National Minimum Wage

According to news today, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is to offer bribes subsidies to employers of up to £2,275 to employ some of the estimated 1.163 millions young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs).

Doing some back of a fag-paper calculations using a 40 hour week for 52 weeks a year (a total of 2080 hours) as a guideline:

Age Group 18 – 20 21+
National Minimum Wage (NMW) (£) 4.98 6.08
Yearly Wage (£) 10,358.40 12,646.40
Employers NI (£)* 453.52 769.27
Total Cost to Employer (Year) (£) 10,811.92 13,415.67
Total Cost to Employer (Hour) (£) 5.20 6.45
6 Month Cost (£) 5,405.96 6,707.84
6 Month Cost after subsidy (£) 3,130.96 4,4323.84
Hourly Wage after subsidy (£) 3.01 4.26
Difference between pre and post subsidy Hourly Wage (£) 2.19 2.19
Percentage of pre subsidy wage (%) 42.12 33.95
Percentage of post subsidy wage (%) 72.75 51.41

* Figures obtained via Listen to taxman

If the government is having to subsidise employment for some people by at least a third, the only logical conculsion surely is that the NMW is too high?

The blame game

I’m sure that we have all by now seen the letter that an illiterate and unrepentant taxpayer money sink attempted to send to some* of his victims:

“I don’t know why I am writing a letter to you! I have been forced to write this letter by the ISSP.

“To be honest I’m not bothered or sorry about the fact I burgled your house. Basically it was your fault anyways.

“I’m going to run you through the dumb mistakes you made. Firstly, you didn’t drow (sic) your curtains which most people now (sic) to do before they go to sleep.

“Secondly your (sic) dumb you live in Stainburns a high risk burglary area, and your (sic) enough to leave your downstairs kitchen window open.

“I wouldn’t do that in a million years.

“But anyways I don’t feel sorry for you and I’m not going to show any syhmpth (sic) or remoers.(sic)

Quelle surprise: our thief doesn’t feel that he is to blame but that his victims are for making it so easy for him. This is an attitude apparently backed by courts in sentencing (12 month intensive supervision and surveillance plan), West Yorkshire Police who released this waste of dead tree ‘as a warning to householders to secure their properties’ and insurance companies who don’t pay out to those who they feel don’t make adequate attempts to secure their possessions.

Is this reasonable? How about we turn it around a bit…

You are a woman, dressed for night out and some despicable thug rapes you. In court he and his defence team blame you for the act, saying you were attired in such a way as to invite it.

Cue outrage.

We rightly consider blaming the rape victim for the fact that they were raped as outrageous. Why then this apparent acceptable of blaming the burglary victim for the burglary?

* I say some because I assume it is fairly likely that this oxygen thief has committed plenty more crimes.

Another day, another ban

The latest piece of bansturbation comes from the Association of British Insurers (ABI), the trade body representing much of the UK insurance industry.

In a statement released on Tuesday the ABI called for:

The ABI wants to see for learner drivers aged under 25:

  • A minimum one-year learning period before taking the driving test. A minimum learning period applies in many other countries.
  • A ban on taking intensive driving courses where this is the sole means of learning to pass the driving test. This would enable learner drivers to gain experience in a wider variety of road conditions.

For newly-qualified drivers aged under 25:

  • All new drivers should hold a graduated driving licence for two years, at the end of which they should be required to pass a second test to ensure that they are safe to drive on all types of roads.
  • The graduated driving licence would contain restrictions on the number of passengers that could be carried. This reflects the significantly increased accident risk when other passengers are in the car. It would also include restrictions on driving between 11pm – 4am, albeit with certain exemptions, such as where driving is necessary due to work.

Which is a long winded way of saying that new drivers from the younger end of the spectrum lack experience and so should have restrictions placed upon them. I’m sure though that their wish to only target these measures at the under 25s probably falls foul of age discrimination laws.

But why is the ABI proposing such changes? It can’t be that they are rent-seeking on behalf of themselves, seeing as a) not having car insurance is illegal and b) insurance premiums are rising year on year anyway*. Perhaps it simply is as Nick Starling, their Director of General Insurance and Health, says: “We must act to reduce the tragic loss of young lives on our roads”.

Will these proposals help with that though?

As we all know the only way to gain experience in a field is to spend time doing something so asking that learner drivers spend more time driving under supervision is perhaps a sensible measure albeit somewhat of a blunt instrument as some are quicker to learn than others. My concern though would be that it would simply delay the age at which the irresponsible subset hit the road unsupervised. If it were to happen though, then the intensive driving course would vanish, being no longer a viable idea. Also, isn’t helping learner drivers to pass their driving test the point of driving lessons, whether done in a week or over several months? The only people who are going to benefit from this are driving instructors as the poor bloodily wannabe motorist will havie to pay a lot more in start-up costs.

What about the restrictions on newly qualified drivers then? Limiting passenger numbers, banning them from the roads for certain hours of the night and, as the first line of the statement says “young novice drivers should not be allowed to drink any alcohol while driving”**.

As usual these do at first appear to be sensible but then you start thinking about them.

The passenger limit is obviously designed to stop carloads of teenagers and the accidents which have happened due to the drivers showing off to friends but will undoubtably hit more that just the intended targets. My brother, being a tee-totaler***, found himself being the designated driver of the family when out for meals once he was on the household insurance simply because it allowed the rest of us not to have to worry about how much we were drinking. Under these proposals such a thing wouldn’t be possible but is anyone really going to drive like a nutter with their parents in the car?

Similarly, the ban on night driving, whilst well intentioned, throws up questions. Are those who are working or going to/from work going to have to carry letters from their employer certifying that this is the case? What about those who intended to be home before curfew but get stuck in jams or break down? No doubt some women’s groups will protest that such a measure will make it more likely that some women will be attacked on the way home.

And as for the alcohol limit, well drink driving is already illegal anyway – as is dangerous driving.

What this statement hasn’t said is how they expect these measures, if implemented, to be enforced. Logically the only way for them to be so is via traffic police but those are a rare breed these days with most traffic offences being dealt with by roadside cameras – which as we all know are absolutely useless at catching people driving badly or under the influence. Given then that it is such driving that the ABI seeks to reduce, this seems like problem.

That is unless the ABI wants to put its money where its mouth is and take up traffic enforcement?

* The first year of insurance on my first car was my 20th birthday present from my parents. The car (a 1L lime-green Austin Metro) formerly belonged to my Nan and was almost as old as I was. The insurance was third party fire and theft rather than full comp and was about £500 as I recall – about 10 times what the car was worth.

Out of interest I just stuck my details into a car insurance website, taking myself back to being 20 again. Full comp on the last car I drove (1.4L Rover 25, 1999 model) came in at well over £2.5k.

Finding £500 for my second years insurance was difficult for me as a 21 year old fresh out of uni and, according to the inflation calculator that is £650 in today’s money. Finding 5 times that would be have been impossible. I can therefore see why some drive without insurance, even if I don’t necessarily condone it.

** I suspect they mean “young novice drivers should not be allowed to have any alcohol in their system whilst driving”.

*** It is standing family joke that he must be the milkman’s get.

Occupy Southend

Southend town centre, hardly the world’s most salubrious place, did, very briefly, almost find itself on Sunday playing host to the latest outbreak of the ‘Occupy’ disease which is afflicting some of the more affluent* countries of the world.

Started (where else?) via facebook** on 12th November with this fabulous posting:

Occupy Southend starts Sunday 20th November, 2011. For too long now the ordinary people of this country have suffered at the hands of the very few. We are the many, and as such we will occupy Southend. The banks and the corporations have created a world not fit for purpose, and we won’t tolerate their way of greed, and their way of control any more. Each Occupy gathering around the country and around the world has developed its own personality, and we in Southend will naturally create our own. Our aim is to be all inclusive of the people of Southend, to be a receiver of information as well as a giver – to be a beacon of light, and a vehicle for change. As human beings we are amazing. We can create a thousand different systems to live under – and we’ve ended up with this rotten one. No more will we extend power over us to the few. Our power must return to us, and from use of our own power we’ll develop a world centred on the heart and not the corporate bank balance. Come join us at Occupy Southend. Post your views now. Offer your thoughts. We’ll be updating regularly each day from Tuesday. Until then spread the news far and wide. The tents are coming to town!

Now some of that actually makes sense, assuming that it means the crony capitalist system we have and isn’t simply a swipe attack on the whole idea of free-market capitalism in general.

It does rather descend into fantasy though when it starts wittering on about being a beacon of light and a vehicle for change. In Southend? Talk about delusions of grandeur.

That though was probably the high point. From then on it was standard stuff about when and where with cross posts of items from the St. Paul’s camp before the penultimate posting soon after midday on the following Saturday:

URGENT

Late last night Occupy Southend was made aware of a threat, from a known extremist organisation, to hijack tomorrow’s occupation. Since then we have been trying to establish the legitimacy of this threat and we now believe it may well manifest.

The Occupy Movement is peaceful and non-confrontational, and as such refuses to facilitate those who would seek to use violence and confrontation. Occupy Southend would never bring violence and confrontation to this town, and so we give notice that tomorrow’s assembly at 2pm, outside Southend Victoria station, and the ensuing occupation, is regrettably cancelled.

To those who we are not aware of, but who were set to join us tomorrow, we trust you will understand our reasoning. The opportunity will arise again to Occupy Southend. Please contact us through occupysouthend@hushmail.com

Our message remains one of peace, and one of continual respectful debate. We are resolute and strong. We are many. They are few. There’s is a house of cards. It will inevitably fall.

A threat from a well known extremist organisation? Really? What are we talking about here? IRA? ETA? Al-Qaeda? The local Rotary Club? Or just the Southend yoof? Aside from people taking the preverbal I really can’t see what sort of credible threat might possibly exist. Heck, you conveniently planned the thing to start after any alcohol fuelled silliness of a Friday or Saturday night. Or was that because you wanted to get drunk then yourself?

I would suggest that a far more plausible explanation would be that almost no-one was going to turn up, thus resulting in the whole thing being a bit of a damp squib. I await to see if the idea will be raised again but I won’t hold my breath.

* According to Wikipedia a few people in Columbia and Mongolia also appear to have got in on the act/jumped on a passing bandwagon.

** And there was me thinking that twitter was where all the cool people hung out these days.

Cameron and his trouble with women

If the Daily Fail is to be believed, iDave is to appoint a female Special Advisor to assess the impact of every Coalition policy on women.

Why?

Because their polling numbers amongst women are apparently quite low, coming in at, depending on which article I read, between 34% and 43%.

Obviously it goes without saying that something like 35% of women (and men) won’t vote for him (or, to be more accurate, a member of his party) simply because of the colour of the rosette on offer. What he doesn’t want to lose are the floating voters, that 15% or so who aren’t so tribal and vote depending on which way the wind is blowing.

And it seems that they don’t like him.

To be fair I can see why, given that this government is, amongst other things, driving the female state pension age towards equality faster than the previous one whilst taking measures to cap benefits which they claimed and pruning the civil service jobs which they did.

We are all, to some degree, conservative, disliking change – especially when it affects us. Thus changes, however necessary they are, mean that politicians risk alienating those voters who are affected by them. Alienate them too much and you lose elections… and it is that thought which causes consternation amongst all politicians and their advisors, not just Cameron.

Their frantic vote scrabbling therefore begs two questions:

Firstly (and I realise I am being flippant here) are we also going to get special advisors to assess how changes impact on the disabled, those of different ethnicities, sexualities, hair colour and however else humanity wishes to group itself?

Secondly (and more seriously) was it the short-term thinking of our politicians which drove the short-term thinking of the voters and thus landed us in the mess, or the other way around?

The Glorious Bans

There is obviously something in the water cooler at the Home Office as all the ministers who sit in that particular hot seat appear to turn into swivelled-eyes fascist loons, hell bent on oppressing the population.

The current incumbent, one Theresa May, is best know for her taste in shoes, although she had a career in finance before becoming a professional politician.

Whilst we should not forget that soon after her appointment last year there was some good news, such as the scraping of ID Cards and ContactPoint, the attitude to freedom of speech, freedom of movement and freedom of association simply appears to be a continuation of the behaviour we came to expect from the last government.

In the last 18 months the bans of such activities have included:

  • Indian Muslim preacher Zakir Naik, in June 2010
  • Marches by the English Defence League (EDL) in Bradford, August 2010
  • The organisation Muslims Against Crusades (MAC), from midnight on 2011-11-11

Now I have no time for any of those people or organisations, considering them all to be utterly reprehensible, but banning them just tells them that you are afraid of what they might say or do.

I realise that it is a cliché to quote Voltaire in these situations but more appropriate words, I know not:

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

On this day, when we remember those who died to protect us from those who would suppress us, it is disturbing to think that our politicians have completely forgotten that it is for freedoms such as this that millions of their countrymen and those from other countries around the world died.

Shame on them for doing so, shame on us for letting it happen.

At the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month

Poppies

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

In the last 12 months the following have died in the service of their country:

  • Thornton, Matthew
  • Haseldin, Matthew
  • Rai, Vijay
  • Fairbrother, David
  • McKinlay, Jonathan
  • Weston, Barry
  • Clack, Daniel
  • Wright, James
  • Palin, Mark
  • Watkins, Paul
  • McLaren, Scott
  • Bellingham, Gareth
  • Found, Andrew
  • Newell, Lloyd
  • Gill, Martin
  • Lamb, Martin
  • Pike, Michael
  • Alexander, Sam
  • Augustin, Ollie
  • Fortuna, Kevin
  • Mead, Nigel Dean
  • Head, Lisa
  • Cameron, Alan
  • Burgan, Mark
  • Collins, Matthew
  • Prior, Daniel
  • McKee, Stephen
  • Tasker, Liam
  • Hutchinson, Dean
  • Wood, Robert
  • Marshall, Kyle Cleet
  • Hendry, Lewis
  • Lewis, Conrad
  • Beckett, Colin
  • Dalzell, David
  • Bell, Martin
  • Vatubua, Joseva
  • Wood, Charlie
  • Dunn, Steven
  • Howard, John
  • Davies, Christopher
  • McCormick, Aaron

Image taken from DHD Multimedia Gallery

List of British military deaths in Afghanistan since 2010-11-11 courtesy of the BBC

Guardian press release regurgitation fail

On Tuesday the security firm Unisys released the latest results of what they call their bi-annual global Unisys Security Index, a ‘global study that provides insights into the attitudes of consumers on a wide range of security related issues‘.

Of the two questions that the survey asked, it was the second one about social media, which caught the attention of the MSM – or the Guardian anyway.

What did they ask?

During recent unrest in major UK cities, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter were used to coordinate criminal activity. Do you agree with these statements?

  • The authorities are playing catch up and need more resources to monitor online behaviour?
  • During outbreaks of unrest, providers should temporarily shut down social networks to prevent coordinated criminal activity?
  • The authorities should have open access to data about social network users in order to prevent coordinated criminal activity>
  • Providers of social networks should get more information on the people using their services before they allow use?

The Gruniad’s article on the matter says:

More than two-thirds of adults support the shutdown of social networks during periods of social unrest such as the riots in England this summer, new research has revealed.

A poll of 973 adults carried out for the online security firm Unisys found 70% of adults supported the shutdown of Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), while only 27% disagreed.

Which, after reading the report proper, only goes to confirm (as if confirmation were needed) that one should never take anything in the press at face value these days (if indeed one ever could).

The report says that the following percentages agreed with the four statements above: 49%, 48%, 46% and 42%.

Almost half I’ll grant you but hardly a majority, let alone 70%. Helpfully the report also gives some idea of how the responses breakdown by age. Not fully but enough to give us more of an idea of the views of each age group. It found that:

[The] desire to take strong measures rises with age:

  • More resources for police: 41% of those 18-24 to 52% of those 50-64 (seniors: 44%)
  • Temporary shut-downs during social unrest: from 28% of those 18-24 to 60% of seniors
  • Police monitoring: from 36% of those 18-24 to 52% of seniors
  • Background checks of new users: from 28% of those 18-24 to 49% of seniors.

Which shows us that a majority only exists as you go up the age scale. No surprises there. As for the 70% figure? The closest we get is for one age group on one statement.

Indeed the figure ’70’ doesn’t feature anywhere in the report, or assuming that the reporter James Ball (whose bio says that he ‘is a data journalist working for the Guardian investigations team. He joined the Guardian from Wikileaks, and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’) didn’t get beyond it, the press release either.

About the only useful bit of the Guardian article therefore is the space filling rent-a-quote:

“It’s very worrying that people would believe shutting down social networks would be in any way desirable,” said Padraig Reidy, news editor of Index on Censorship. “The vast majority of social network use during the unrest was people spreading information and helping each other get home safely. These kinds of actions would weaken the UK’s position against authoritarian regimes who censor internet access. As we live more of our lives online, people should be conscious of the amount of power they’re potentially handing over to government.”

None of which I can disagree with at all.