Not Everything Gets Worse You Know

Despite my gloom and regular jeremiads, it is true that life and society, in oh so many ways, do get better over time.

(I was one of those surveyed, by the way. YouGov, here’s a hint for free – we have civil partnerships now, we can’t get sacked for being gay, heck, we can even serve in the army, so you really don’t need to preface the question with “Some people might think the following questions to be of a personal nature”. We’re grown-ups, and we can cope with you just asking which team we bat for).

Only just over 50 years ago….

Umm, Really?

One is forests, which are disappearing at an alarming rate and which act as “sinks” for carbon dioxide.

Rich world forests are expanding, as they have been for near a century. It\’s a distinction that\’s worth making: perhaps those disappearing tropical ones are going because those countries are not rich?

And if that is so then the solution is to aid them in becoming rich so that forest cover returns, as it has done in the rich countries?

Great Minds Think Alike

Or the consistency of small minds. Your choice.

Mad Max\’s Nazi Sex Orgy.

My comment.

Then again, as PJ O’Rourke has pointed out, absolutely no one has ever fantasised about being tied up and ravished by a liberal.

Nick Cohen:

He had a little of my sympathy for proving the truth of P J O’Rourke’s assertion that, “no one has ever had a fantasy about being tied to a bed and sexually ravished by someone dressed as a liberal”.

Stefanie Marsh:

If we were in a generous mood, we could even decide to find the whole thing hugely comical, if a touch Benny Hill, and concede that P.J. O\’Rourke was right when he said: “No one has ever had a fantasy about being tied to a bed and sexually ravished by someone dressed as a liberal.”

They at least bothered to look the quote* up which must be why they\’re paid the big bucks, eh?


* It is also the most mindbogglingly obvious quote to use in the circumstances. I\’m actually a little surprised that Google News doesn\’t show more uses of it.


Hiring Fertile Women

Now, it\’s true that she won\’t be able to claim maternity pay as she\’s employed as a freelance, but, umm, this is a problem that a large number of businesses face:

No sooner had the newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky announced that she was pregnant than the applications to stand in for her started to arrive.

“It’s a very hot spot and we’ve already had plenty of inquiries but they are a bit previous,” Chris Shaw, senior controller of Five, says. “She’s not planning to stop newsreading for quite some time yet and as we approach that date we’ll obviously begin to think about finding someone to stand in for her.”

It is a mere six weeks since Kaplinsky joined Five on a £1 million salary, and one week since Mr Shaw enthused about the “Natasha effect” that had produced a 72 per cent rise in the programme’s ratings.

It is also only a week since Sir Alan Sugar made his controversial remarks about how women should state their intentions about having babies to recruiting employers.

It\’s one of the reasons for the gender pay gap. Given that a woman of fertile age might (note, might) do this, and that you\’re not actually allowed to ask them whether they intend to, means that employers will be reluctant, to an extent, to take the risk. This being so, the risk will be covered by offering a lower salary.

Now as to what to do about it all, well, that\’s where the problems start. For if we want to insist that women do indeed get statutory maternity pay and leave, and that their jobs must be held open for them to return if they wish (although with no insistence that they actually do so) then we also have to accept the corollary that this will influence the wages of those offered these options.

Note, not just those who use these options, but all of those who potentially might.

Or we could say that the inequality of pay is the greater problem, part of the solution to which would be a limiting of those options surrounding maternity leave and pay.

But it is one or the other, not both.

Jude Kelly

Women in the top posts will have got there on sheer flair, stamina, determination and conscientiousness.

Ms. Kelly is in one of those top posts.

Can\’t beat that old English reticence about blowing your own trumpet now, can you?


This is going to make things interesting:

The Government\’s drug advisory body is set to recommend that cannabis should remain a Class C drug, creating a dilemma for Gordon Brown who has indicated he wants to clamp down on use of the drug.

Which way is he going to jump?

But the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs appears to go against this view.

Though the council refused to confirm its conclusions, the BBC reports that the decision was taken at a private meeting of the council where new research from Keele University about links between cannabis and mental illness was discussed.

The study reportedly found no evidence that rising cannabis use in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s led to more cases of schizophrenia later on.

Quite: the question of whether the link between cannabis and schizophrenia is causative or not still remains. Does smoking send you crazy or do people going crazy self medicate?

That, even on the most alarmist figures, and assuming that the dope is the cause, we were talking about 500 cases per year. Amongst 2 4 8 million users (make up your own statistic here) that\’s nothing:and certainly not, even if true, a good enough reason to threaten that many people with 5 years in jail.

So, which way will the monocular Scot go? Will politics trump science again? Politics trump freedom and liberty?

Noble Lord Goes Gaga

In the debate upon the Constitutional sell out M\’Lord Maclennan of Rogart says:

It is also pure fantasy to think that we can, through our lone voice in the councils of the world, influence trade policy to protect our citizenry without aligning others in support.

When has trade policy, uni- or multi-lateral, ever been used to protect our citizenry?

To protect producers, yes, but that\’s always at the expense of the citizenry.

Protection of the citizenry would be unilateral free trade, something which requires no voice in the councils of the world nor the alignment of support.

We simply tell the special interest groups to bugger off and buy what we wish from where we wish.


And I Call Bollocks On This

The education of young children is being compromised because so few nursery staff are educated beyond secondary school level, a report suggests.

No, it\’s not a problem.

Only 7 per cent of nursery heads, nursery nurses and assistants have post-secondary school qualifications, the report found. The vast majority finished their training having passed GNVQ level 3, a vocational qualification that is equivalent to an A level.

The poorly qualified early-years workforce is in sharp contrast to much of Europe, and elsewhere, where the majority of staff are qualified to degree level, or have three years of intensive training in child development before they start work.

But changing this system would indeed be a problem.

We\’ve seen this process at work before: first with teachers and then with nurses.

First take a job which is largely concerned with matters best learnt on that job. Crowd control, teaching practice, wiping bottoms and feeding patients.

Then insist that the training for said job should not in fact be on the job, rather, it must take place in the confines of academe.

You then have a workforce which doesn\’t in fact have the necessary skills but since a degree is required as the entry ticket you can now call it a profession.

Pay rises all around, most especially for those who cannot actually do the job themselves and get the jobs of teaching the subject in academe.

No, someone to look after Samantha and Jeremy while Mummy makes herself Yummy does not need a degree.

Filling sippy cups and changing the knickers of those who inevitably have accidents really does not qualify as a profession: a valuable job, yes, an important one, yes, but not one that needs to be graduate entry.

And don\’t forget, you\’ll have to pay for all this through the tax system too.


Time Warp

Guardian Leader:

In reality, of course, neither Lady Thatcher not Ms Harman is a wuss at all. Both are politicians with strong – even dogmatic – opinions and both know the value of a photo opportunity when they see one. Still, it does Labour\’s deputy leader much credit that she went on the Today programme yesterday and stuck it to Mr Humphrys and the Mail for their vested interest. Not enough ministers are as bold.

Subs? Are you sure this wasn\’t supposed to be published yesterday?

Owning a Pub

Having seen this trade close up and from the inside this makes sense to me:

It is Friday night in the village of Cookham Dean, Berkshire and, even though it is bitingly cold outside, the Jolly Farmer pub is full of people. The landlords, David and Laura Kelsey, are busy cooking in the kitchen, while the bar staff are pouring pints as if their lives depended on it. The people at the bar are chatting and laughing away. Everyone seems to know each other. "There\’s another pub in the village but we all come here," says one local. "The pub is owned by the village, so we have a vested interest in supporting it."

Twenty years ago, 60 villagers bought the Jolly Farmer, and they have owned it ever since. The village leases the pub to a landlord, who runs it day-to-day, and the result is a popular local that caters to what the villagers want. "There are certain requirements," says David Kelsey. "I can\’t play background music, and I can\’t have any gambling machines. I have to serve a variety of beers, and no one wants high-concept food. It\’s fine with me, though, because I knew this before I took it over.

"This pub was on the verge of being closed down," he continues. "No one came in here. It was really suffering. Now, that is true of many of the other local pubs round here."

That\’s all lovely, the community spirit thing, but I wager that the real reason this works is a great deal more simple.


As the article mentions, the average pub now costs £400,000. If you\’re a brewery that owns it, you want a rent on that. If you\’re an individual proprietor, then again, you want  a rent on that. However, if the villagers put up the money, say £6 k each, then while they are indeed shareholders, they\’re likely to think that having a well functioning pub is reward enough, perhaps not looking for a financial return on that cost.

And thus some, what, £30k to £60k is magicked out of the cost base of the pub. And given pub margins, that\’s one hell of a benefit: prices can be lower etc.

Some will say that this shows what a rip off capitalism itself is: but note that we haven\’t in fact got rid of the need for capital at all. All we\’ve done is shift the reward to those who provide it. From a financial return to the more direct one of having a decent place to have a pint.

If it\’s worth £6k to you to have that then go for it. If you can persuade enough of your fellows to make it work then good luck to you.

For rather than ours beiong a capitalist society we\’re much more importantly a free(ish) market one and we have a market in forms of ownership just as much as we do in anything else.

Brewery ownership? Sole proprietor? Customer co-ops? Workers\’ co-ops?

Hey, have fun and let us know how you get on.


Grandparents often spend more than 17 hours a month and £20 per day looking after their grandchildren but receive no financial reward, says research which suggests many are being exploited by their families.


It\’s your damn genes you\’re caring for, it\’s what, in Darwinian terms, you are here on this earth to do: raise your own progeny and help to raise those of your progeny.

Get on with it and stop moaning please.

Drug War Idiocy

Gordon Brown today gave his backing for cannabis to be reclassified as a more serious drug later this month in a move that will reverse its downgrading by his predecessor.


It\’s all been based on a quite startling campaign of misinformation.

After becoming Prime Minister last June, Mr Brown ordered a formal review into the classification of cannabis which is due to report later this month.

Today\’s comments from the Prime Minister suggest he will push ahead with reclassification regardless of what the review concludes.


Teachers\’ Strike

Millions of children will be turned away from school as teachers confirmed their first national strike in 21 years.

This is how professionals resolve disputes isn\’t it?

"The NUT wants no return to those bad old days. To bring the best young graduates into the profession, teachers\’ salaries need to be competitive with those for graduates in the private sector. Our children deserve the best.

"Young teachers need to be treated fairly. Paying them at levels which are not competitive with those of other graduate professions and making them unable to take even their first step on the housing ladder will damage recruitment."

This action shows that you yourself do not regard teaching as a profession. Thus, sadly, you don\’t deserve professional pay.

Press Freedom

Magazines could be banned from using airbrushed photographs of celebrities that make them look slimmer over fears that they are promoting unrealistic body images.

At the moment it\’s actually a voluntary code of conduct that\’s under discussion. And no, of course I don\’t give two hoots about whether models are airbrushed or not.

But we do know that we have a government fond of the statement "if the voluntary option has failed we should look to legislation"….

The move follows criticisms by the Model Health Inquiry, which accused editors of acting irresponsibly and promoting a size-zero culture.

The report, released last September, urged the fashion industry to adopt a voluntary code on the use of computer technology to give models unrealistically perfect figures.

If the prodnoses can force, under the threat of such legislation, that restriction upon the freedom of the press (however trivial it is in these first stages) then what next? How long before a news picture of someone smoking must carry a health warning? Or people must look miserable in a pub? Or we must "respect" all religions?

Umm, No

Hi, we thought you might be interested in checking out these interviews with Richard Geer and Robert Thurman … In a new XXXXXX interview, Richard Geer shares thoughts on autonomy and religious freedom for Tibet.

Umm, you mean Richad Gere?

Not the most appealing or incentivising of emails….

Well Done Indy!

Lead story today is all about poverty in the US. They manage to get through it all without noting one very important fact:

The minimum wage had stood unchanged for a decade – its longest freeze ever – until it was increased to $5.85 an hour from the $5.15 set in 1997. The national poverty rate stands officially at around 13 per cent, a level little changed from the 1970s. Poverty is currently defined as an income of $21,500 (£10,750) for a family of four.

Indeed, however, there\’s a little wrinkle in the way in which poverty is measured in the US. It is market incomes, before tax, and with the addition only of direct cash transfers.

So, what it actually measures, that 13%, is the number of people who would be below the poverty line if they were to get no help or aid from the various organs of state.

But there are various forms of aid. There are food stamps (which the article mentions, but does not make this point clear) which, being aid in kind, are not counted. Housing vouchers are not counted, Medicaid is not counted.

Perhaps more importantly, the EITC (very like our tax credits) works through the tax system and is thus not counted. So America\’s largest program to aid the working poor is not actually counted in the poverty figures.

Now it may well be that the poor are treated differently in the US than they are here: but that doesn\’t actually mean worse, or at least not necessarily.

I once went through a rough exercise of taking that family of four though the system to see how much aid they would in fact get.  The EITC would be worth some $4.5-$5 k (that\’s including only the Federals: many States top this up), Medicaid a similar sort of sum, housing vouchers, food stamps perhaps on top.

As it happens, median household income in the US is about $42 k or so. So the poverty line (I\’m ignoring the difference in household sizes, sorry, this is from memory) is about 50% of median incomes: but add in the help that someone gets and for those on said poverty line actual income is more like 75%.

Now I\’m cherry picking, of course: but the important point still stands. Because of the way that poverty is measured in the US (pre tax, pre benefits) using these uncorrected figures always makes it look much worse in comparison with European figures than it actually is.