Things That Annoy Me

Irrational Rantings from Prof. Ryan Spox

Ye’ll Tak’ A Drink…

Things that annoyed me today:

Mostly it was minimum alcohol pricing. Or, more accurately, a recent Canadian study into the positive benefits of minimum alcohol pricing and, even more accurately, the rather predictable band-wagon jumping of those who blindly favour such a policy as the silver bullet to solve all their national alcohol abuse problems. Yes, Scottish Government, we are looking at you.

Now, we are not going to deny that over-indulgence in alcoholic beverages is a serious problem for many countries, including Scotland and, indeed, the rest of the UK. We are certainly not going to deny that Something Ought To Be Done about it. But we are rather cheesed off at the usual, tediously predictable responses of Governments everywhere to something that deserves to be treated in a more sensible, grown up and Scientific fashion.

Instead, what we get is:

Plan A: Whatever it is, ban it. So, if too many people are killing themselves by jumping of high buildings then stop building anything with more than one storey. And knock down all the existing buildings that don’t match this criterion. That should solve the suicide problem once and for all. Shouldn’t it? Hmm… impractical you say. Time for…

Plan B: Whatever it is, make it more expensive. That’ll put an end to the problem. Too many cars on the road and we can’t, realistically, ban the plebs from driving? Well, just increase the Road Tax and the fuel tax until they can’t afford to drive any more. There, that’ll sort things out.

And this is exactly the conclusion a study in Saskatchewan has reached. Raise the price of booze by 10% and sales fall by 8%. Or, more specifically, and these figures are worth considering:

• A 10% increase in the minimum prices reduced total consumption by 8%

• Bigger increases in minimum prices for stronger drinks resulted in proportionately bigger reductions in consumption of those products

• A 10% increase in the minimum price of beer was associated with a 22% decrease in consumption of higher strength beer compared with an 8% reduction in lower strength beers

• Increase the price of the cheapest, strongest alcohol and people will migrate towards lower alcohol content beer, wine and cocktails.

Amazing. Raise the price of a commodity which is not, strictly speaking, essential for the sustaining of human life, and people will buy less of it. The higher you raise it, the less of it they buy. We are gobsmacked.

Mostly we are gobsmacked that this was actually published in what is, apparently, a reputable science journal (Journal’s Credibility Ruined). It’s not the facts, you understand. We don’t have an issue with scientists doing stuff to prove what we all thought we knew already because sometimes they find that what we all “knew” is actually wrong and, even if they prove we are right, the point is that they have actually proved it: they have produced credible, repeatable, peer-reviewable evidence that our prejudices and prior opinions are actually correct. This is not that kind of paper. It’s stunning conclusion is that, and we quote directly here:

Minimum pricing is a promising strategy for reducing the public health burden associated with hazardous alcohol consumption.

No it isn’t. What it is, is a promising strategy for reducing alcohol sales. Whether that means the cretins who get drunk and end up damaging themselves, others, property or just the pleasant ambience of a public space are going to indulge in any less of that anti-social behaviour has not been addressed by this study. It has simply found that putting prices up reduces sales.

It follows, therefore, that if we are concerned at the number of young, male, recently qualified drivers on our roads who drive too fast and too aggressively the obvious solution is to raise the price of petrol at the pumps by 10%. If we follow the logic of this study that will, quite clearly, reduce the number of accidents or near-accidents caused by the afore-mentioned young men. Won’t it? Well, unless the people who want to indulge in the anti-social behaviour just grit their teeth and pay the higher prices so they can continue to have what they see as “fun” while the rest of society sells the car and weeps all the way to the bus stop in the rain.

This isn’t just Bad Science. It’s Terrible Science. The logic is, in essence, if A leads to B then C must follow where C may or may not be causally connected to B but we haven’t bothered to investigate that properly because it was too hard or, equally, possibly might not have produced the answer we wanted.

Sadly, this pseudo-science has now escaped into the public domain where it can be sooked up by anyone with an axe to grind. Thus, almost immediately, we have the chief executive of something calling itself Alcohol Focus Scotland, happily telling reporters (Doctor Fails Science Test) that:

It shows the real potential of minimum pricing to reduce the consumption of those who are at the greatest risk of harm from their drinking.

Again, no it doesn’t. We wish it did, because then we might feel willing to back a control mechanism that actually works. But there is no actual scientific evidence for the claims and conclusions being presented. There is, we happily accept, evidence that making stuff more expensive means people will buy less of it but that is all this means. And for anyone to claim otherwise displays either a tragic lack of understanding of How Science Works or a blinkered willingness to push a scientifically dubious agenda.

The true tragedy here is, of course, that banning booze or pushing up its prices does not make any attempt to address the real issue of why so many people feel the need to over-indulge to such a ludicrous extent on such a regular basis and why, when they do, so many of them turn into obnoxious morons. An alcohol control policy that examined why these things happen would be starting from a far more credible basis because real Science seeks reasons for phenomena. That’s the theory part in the Scientific Method. You have to figure out why things play out the way they do. Once you’ve grasped that, you can start to consider how to change that behaviour.

But really, that’s just too hard for politicians or, apparently, the Alcohol Focus Group, to get their heads around. Much easier to just go with your prejudices and grasp at straws which, if suitably twisted, can seem to provide them with a nebulous, but gratifying, support that you would never get from real Science.

Still, drink up, gentlemen, please. While you still can.


One Nation Under A Groove…

Things that annoyed me today:

Mostly it was Ed Milliband. Well, that’s a bit unfair. It’s not poor, whiny, forlorn little Ed as an individual who has proved so annoying but rather the bland, manicured, carefully-rehearsed Professor Milliband (WTF? Really?Prof Not Lest Ye Be Proffed) as a symbolic demonstration of all that is wrong with British politics and, in truth, has been for decades. At this year’s Mancunian jamoboree for the Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club, young Ed has just delivered what is, apparently, a “keynote” speech (whatever that actually means) in which he has shared with us his glorious Vision of A World To Come, with prosperity and justice for all in a NüBritain as yet only dimly seen through the miasma of Doom ‘n’ Gloom in which we have recently immersed ourselves.

Actually, it wasn’t really much of a vision if you stayed awake long enough to watch more than the initial applause. We began with a desperately contrived “I don’ need no steenkin’ teleprompter…” moment – the modern equivalent of the equally clichéd  and contrived “tearing up the index cards” gesture – that preceded the delivery of a carefully rehearsed, laboriously memorised and terminally dull “speech”. (For want of a better word – it wasn’t a lecture, it wasn’t a rant, it wasn’t a manifesto. It was nothing that interesting.)

Instead, what Ed did was say, in capital letters, ONE NATION doing something vaguely nice, swiftly followed by ONE NATION doing something else vaguely nice, followed, again and again by the same “ONE NATION <insert positive activity>” structure. Over and over and over. Apparently Ed has a vision of the UK as One Nation who are, in a sense, “all in this together”. If he had been saying that sort of thing in either the English or the Scottish Parliaments in the years immediately prior to 1707, there might have been some point to it since, before that time, we weren’t actually One Nation. Ed even touched on the whole Scottish Independence debate by telling us that, if the Scots do collectively take to the lifeboats, that would somehow damage the “soul of the nation”. Well, that’s certainly going to swing the Scottish voters in 2014, isn’t it? Still, an appeal to sentimentality might have more chance of success with the Scots than the Conservatives’ monumentally stupid suggestion that, if Scotland votes “No” to independence, then BritGov “might do something nice” for Scotland at some indeterminate time in the future. Boy, do those posh boys know how to negotiate!

Anyway, you can analyse the whole dreary affair for yourself here: Blah Blah One Nation Blah.

But the point is not really how little Ed said that had any real substance, it’s that he is exactly like every other dreary British politician in his ability to not say anything and do it for a very long time. To offer no true vision, to define no brilliant plan, to show us no clear path to wherever the hell it is we are supposed to be going. And worse than  the lack of content is the sheer scripted blandness of it all. There was no real emotion, no true passion, nothing to fire the soul and send the plebs out to man the barricades or at least the local soup kitchen. Watch any modern politician make a speech. Does it feel like there is any spontaneity in that? Watch them interviewed on TV. Do they sound like they are even attempting an honest answer to whatever they were asked? Is this how Churchill would have done things? Or Disraeli? Or, well, almost any competent British politician before TV, focus groups and spin doctors ate their souls. (OK, we will admit that, whatever else you may or may not think of them, the only two contemporary British politicians who probably could walk onto a stage without notes and deliver a speech that did seem spontaneous, passionate and delivered a clear vision of where they really did want us all to go are Alex “Wee Eck” Salmond and, God help us, “Gorgeous” George Galloway.

And that’s why Mr Ed’s keynote conference speech was so annoying. Because it was just like everyone else’s. Except those last two’s. And one of them is bat-shit crazy.

Still, it could have been worse, Ed could’ve been Tessa Jowell, forced to play nice with the creepy Seb “Lordy-Lord” Coe just so she could remind us that the previous Labour Regime brought us the Olympics and we won a lot of medals at them and that makes everything else that happened seem OK. Because medals are more important than jobs, education, healthcare and a booming economy. Just ask any Roman Emperor what they meant by “bread and circuses”.

Game on!

Taking a Punt on Hunt

Things that annoyed me today:

Mostly it has been Jeremy Hunt.

Need we expand on that?


Like most normal human beings we knew nothing at all about young Jeremy until comparatively recently. If we had come across the name at all it was as just another dreary political non-entity, the sort of interchangeable “on-message” party clone that dominates the Westminster bio-mass.

But that was before “Honest Vince” Cable got shafted by some ghastly pond-life political journalists out to make a name for themselves, who tricked the poor old sod into revealing that he was not exactly in favour of “Prince Rupert” Murdoch getting a stranglehold on satellite TV broadcasting in the UK. As a result of displaying this rather negative bias, Vince just had to be excluded from the decision-making process that would consider whether Rupert was a suitable human being to take over all of BSkyB. The job, as we all now know, was therefore given to Jeremy Hunt who, as Culture Secretary, was a far more suitable adjudicator since he had never tried to hide his utter admiration for Murdoch and his total conviction that he really was the best person to be given total control of BSkyB. Yes, you may think that was a sort of bias too, but it was a positive bias, in favour of something and, in these difficult times, we should all try to be more positive, shouldn’t we?

Now, one could argue that the Leveson enquiry has shown that old man Murdoch isn’t a fit human being to be in charge of his own soul, but the more important thing here is that the same enquiry has led to an allegation that Hunt misled Parliament and broke the code of conduct to which Cabinet Ministers are supposed to adhere (Hunt the Runt). Since the Leveson enquiry is still in progress we shall have to wait, with bated breath, to see if Jeremy comes out of that one smelling of roses or of something that helps roses grow.

As Culture Secretary Jeremy did a fine job, almost single-handedly dismantling the UK arts industry, shutting down the UK Film Council and channelling all the spare cash to help meet the spiralling costs of the 2012 Olympics. He did such a fine job of this that, throughout the Olympics, we had to suffer the almost daily appearance of Hunt on national television smugly trying to act as if the whole thing had been his idea, his achievement and his triumph with only a smidgeon of assistance from the equally repellent Sebastian “Lordy-Lord” Coe.

And now, of course, Hunt has been given a brand new job as a result of George Osborne’s recent re-shuffle of David Cameron’s cabinet (George’s Boys). He has been given the all-important role of Health Secretary, making him responsible for the £100billion health budget and the future of the NHS in England. (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are fortunate enough to have their own versions of the NHS which don’t seem to have anything like the problems the NHS in England do, possibly because they are not under the control of ideologically driven mega-rich Tory MPs) . Andrew Lansley got to introduce the bill to dismember the NHS, which made him so deeply unpopular with the medical staff who actually deliver all the healthcare stuff that, clearly, he had to be publicly sacrificed. Accordingly, the highly respectable, spotlessly clean Jeremy gets the job of delivering on that promise. Given that the man has publicly expounded the virtues of homoeopathic medicine and is reported to have asked Danny Boyle to tone down his praise of the NHS in the Olympic opening ceremony, we can confidently expect that the NHS in England now has a great future behind it. Readers based in England may wish to note that, should they develop some future ailment for which the post-Hunt English NHS cannot or will not treat them, they simply have to get themselves driven over the border to Wales or Scotland where they can collapse dramatically in a hospital foyer secure in the knowledge that someone will come and attend to them without first asking for an imprint of their credit card. Socialised medical care, free at the point of delivery? What a nightmare!

Followers of UK politics will no doubt be astonished to learn that The Right Hon. Jeremy Hunt MP has had a very privileged upbringing. The sprog of an admiral in the Royal Navy, he was educated at Charterhouse public school before getting the inevitable degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University. He is, unsurprisingly, one of the wealthiest members of the Cabinet.

Kind of makes your think fondly of John Major, doesn’t it?


Things that annoyed me today:

Mostly it was Quantative Easing. Again! Yes, yes, we know. Will the horror never go away? We have previously outlined our controversial views on this idiotic voodoo nonsense from the pseudo-science of macro-economics (Squeeze Me Harder) but today the jolly old Bank of England has finally conceded that it Just Isn’t Working.

Except it’s worse than that.

Under the erstwhile leadership of Top Man Sir Mervyn “Peake” King, the reality-impaired Bank of Gormenghast has conjured £375 billion of Monopoly money out of the ether and pumped it back into the economy by, well, essentially giving it to the banks to sit on. As a result, the Wizards of Threadneedle Street now tell us, the top 5% richest people in the UK are now even richer than they were before, probably to the tune of a few hundred thousand quid each (No Pain, No Gain). The rest of us, in some ill-defined way that only makes sense to a Bank of England economist, may, or then again may not, be ever so slightly not quite as badly off as we were before, possibly to the tune of a few hundred quid. We should note that this doesn’t mean you actually have that money in your hand, pocket or overdrawn bank account. You just have it in a way that economists understand, even though you may not have noticed it as you struggle to cope with falling incomes and the inexorably rising price of, well, everything. Of course, the 21 million pensioners whose pension incomes have been, as BoE economists, would say “negatively impacted” by the effect of Quantative Easing don’t count as they are, well, pensioners and, therefore Old and Irrelevant. Oh, and anyone who has any sort of savings stashed away in any sort of UK-based savings scheme has also lost out massively. On the other hand, people who have large amounts of debt, whether in mortgages or other loans, have benefited from QE’s tendency to keep interest rates low. So, basically, as part of its brilliant plan to save us from a crisis caused, in part, by excessive borrowing by ordinary people who have been brainwashed into believing that they can only find happiness by buying endless crap they don’t need with said purchases then generating corporate profits that mostly go to make the rich even richer, the Bank of Gormenghast has not only encouraged those borrowers to try and borrow more by making borrowing cheaper than ever, but has also helped make those rich folks even richer without them even having to lift a finger to summon the butler to call their stockbroker. Which, for those members of the top 5% richest people who make up the majority of our current BritGov, can only be regarded as an Excellent Result.

Incidentally, the Threadneedle Street Mafia didn’t actually concede that QE wasn’t working. They just presented all the evidence to prove that it wasn’t and then announced that, clearly, this proved it was working. Which shows just how much they do have in common with BritGov who are experts at this sort of DoubleThink DoubleSpeak.

Perhaps if Mervyn King had read this blog he would have realised that £375 billion could have meant a spare £6000 for every man, woman, child and politician in the UK. Instead it has meant maybe £100K each for about 3 million already rich people.

Which may be why the CamerOsborne regime has stopped telling us that “we’re all in this together.” Because, clearly, we’re not.

And just in case you were wondering, it’s not that nothing has annoyed us since 24th July, it’s just that we’ve been rather busy over the last month. For a start, there was the Olympics to be ignored, although we did enjoy the Opening ceremony. Showing the NHS menaced by Dark Satanic Forces is certainly not going to earn Danny Boyle a knighthood while Messrs. Cameron and Osborne are occupying those prestigious rent-free Grace-and Favour Downing Street flats.

A Bird in the Hand

Things that annoyed me today:

Mostly it was the concept of cash. As in “cash money”, usually in the form of banknotes, coin of the realm or any other sort of legal tender.  Now, we hold no truck with the pseudo-science of Economics or with its self-proclaimed voodoo priests, but we do recognise that cash is a useful thing to have. By which we mean not just some cash in our ancestral pocket-book (we are unashamedly old-fashioned with regards to the Proper Sort of portable folding money storage facility a true gentleman should carry) but the whole concept of cash as a medium of economic exchange, if only because it saves us having to carry around a brace of dead rabbits and a freshly-knapped flint arrowhead when we want to barter for diesel at the Shell garage. However, apparently, BritGov has a serious problem with the very idea of cash or, more specifically, cash in hand.

Accordingly, they have wheeled out some bloke no-one has ever heard of, who is a junior minister from the Treasury and is, allegedly, called David Gauke, MP, to tell us that Bad People sometimes pay for goods or services using a wad of used, slightly soiled banknotes and that, when this happens, the person receiving the payment might not declare those earnings to the Tax Man, resulting in what is technically known as Tax Evasion (illegal) as opposed to Tax Avoidance  (legal, but  now better known as “doing a Jimmy Carr”).

(Incidentally, we’re not entirely sure how Mr Gauke pronounces his name, since we have genuinely never heard of him before, but we are rather hoping it is pronounced like the good old Scots word, gowk, whose origins and meaning you can marvel over here: Still A Gowk, for a’ That…)

The curious aspect of the Treasury Gowk’s diatribe is that he has chosen to condemn, not the Tax Evader, but the poor sap making the payment. Yes, apparently, if you have ever paid anyone cash for any sort of goods or services and received any sort of discount in return, then you, personally, are not only defrauding the democratically elected government of this great nation, condemning the elderly to lives of poverty and assuming individual responsibility for the closure of numerous hospital wards and the down-sizing of both the police and the army, but you are also behaving in a thoroughly immoral manner and certainly deserve detention after class. You can read the basics of this madness here: I Denounce Thee!

Now, in principle, we can all agree that tax evasion is morally wrong. In practice, things may be a little more complex. For example, what if it is a Bad or Unfair Tax introduced by a wicked government to punish an ethnic, cultural or religious sub-group it just doesn’t approve of? When does non-payment stop being Evasion and become a morally-mandated act of Civil Disobedience? You may discuss that on your own time.

Getting back on topic, there would seem to be two problems with this rant:

First, the tax evader in this case is the person being paid, not the person doing the paying. If you pay someone an agreed fee for goods or services it is surely their responsibility to sort out their own tax affairs. Are you really supposed to ask for an approved set of fully audited tax accounts before you engage a tradesman? If you pay a man in used £20 notes for plumbing in your washing machine he may, quite legitimately, offer you a “cash discount” because working with cash costs his business less in inflated bank charges. It doesn’t mean he isn’t going to declare it as income on his tax returns and pay all the appropriate amounts to the Revenue. Isn’t it rather insulting that an elected representative can simply assume that “ordinary working people” (i.e. not Special People like politicians) do not hold themselves to the same high moral standards as said elected representatives?

Which leads us to the second issue, and what some might say is the more important one, which is that the Treasury Gowk has scored a bit of an own goal here. He is trying to seize the moral high ground, whilst ignoring the fact that the £2bn or so lost to the Treasury every year through “cash in hand” trading is a proverbial drop in the ocean compared to how much tax is not paid by jolly rich people and even richer corporations. (Pick a bank or other UK-based corporate entity at random and simply use Google to find out what paltry percentage of their actual profits was paid as tax to BritGov last year. The results will depress you so much that we’re not even going to offer any links.)

It is, perhaps, even more of a personal own goal for the Treasury Gowk, as he is hardly on the side of the Audited Angels when it comes to tax affairs. He has a history of rather creative accountancy when it comes to handling his expenses as an MP. (Remember the expenses scandal? Can We Spell “Hypocrite”?) And to make matters worse for the poor man, his wife is a lawyer specialising in advising the rich about (legal and, presumably, morally pure) tax avoidance schemes. (Family Business…) There’s a complicated saying struggling to get noticed here, something involving pots, kettles, the colour black, glass houses and sound advice not to throw stones. It would seem that the poor Gowk has condemned himself from his own mouth as “morally repugnant”. His constituents might want to take that into account next time they get to express an opinion on who they really want as their duly elected representative.

So why does this kind of ludicrous pronouncement appear? Why do junior minions from the Treasury feel the need to sound off about Barry the Builder and Pete the Plumber trousering the odd £50 for doing a homer on the side? Well, we suspect it is because BritGov knows that it is a lot easier to squeeze an extra £100 from 10,000 basic rate tax-payers than it is to recover £1,000,000 in unpaid taxes from one Super-Rich individual with a well-paid accountant.

Especially when said individual can take appropriate advice from a well-qualified spouse.

It Wasn’t Me…

Things that annoyed me today:

Mostly it was the word Responsibility. It’s certainly a departure for us to not moan about an institution or an event or even a specific individual. Instead, we are picking on a simple, everyday English word. Is that really fair? What can a word have done to incite our wrath? Well, the harsh truth is that, in recent years, the word responsibility has, well,  not been living up to its responsibilities. And that’s just not good enough.

So what is this innocuous not-so-little word that has roused our ire? The Oxford English Dictionary defines responsibility as:

  • the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or of having control over someone;
  • the state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something;
  • the opportunity or ability to act independently and take decisions without authorization.

So having responsibility for something (or someone) means that you are responsible for it (or them). If you’re responsible for some activity, it’s your job to make sure that it gets done and it’s your fault if it doesn’t; if you’re responsible for someone, it’s your job to make sure they do whatever they are supposed to do and it’s your fault if they don’t; if you’re responsible for some object, it’s your job to take care of it and keep it safe and it’s your fault if it gets broken, damaged or lost.

Simple really.

Now, we accept wholeheartedly that languages evolve, that the meaning and uses of words change over time and old words can be modified to make new ones with different meanings. One of our favourite examples of this is the way in which the word awful, meaning full of awe, which is to say, wonderful, came to mean something bad, synonymous with terrible and horrible, probably because awful was used in a more God-fearing age to describe a reverential sense of awe. Intriguingly, in recent times, the neologism awesome has evolved to mean something which is wonderful or, as we used to say, awful.

We can even accept, because we are just so damned liberal about these things, that the same word in the same language can have multiple meanings to different cultural subgroups. Wicked would be an example of that, although we’re not sure if street-smart teenage hep cats still use it with its reversed, positive sense of delirious approval like they did twenty years ago. (We may be Down With The Kids, but the Kids we are Down With are all growed up now and rapidly losing touch with the Streets. Innit?)

The problem we have with the word responsibility is that, in some circles, its meaning is evolving into something quite different. If you have responsibility that means you have power, status and a top-notch, world-beating salary and, what’s even better, if things actually work out OK in your area of responsibility then, clearly, you can take all the credit for that success which justifies even more increases in power, status and remuneration. However, should things for which you are responsible turn out badly then, obviously, it is not your fault because you probably didn’t know what was going on and one simple way to help you Turn Things Around is to consolidate your importance in your role by increasing your power, status and remuneration. Shall we cite some examples from recent history? In no particular order the following have all had responsibility for steering an organisation into one or more catastrophic calamities for which, as it turned out, according to them and their apologists, they could not possibly be held responsible:

Jeremy Hunt – BritGov’s Culture Secretary and the man responsible for the Murdoch – BSkyB takeover fiasco who, clearly, couldn’t be held responsible for what his special advisors were up to with the Murdoch Empire whilst they were under his direct command. And we won’t even start on his role in the Olympics Disaster, which isn’t his fault either.

Bob Diamond – responsible for Barclay’s Bank but couldn’t be expected to actually know what was happening in his Bank whilst it was colluding in the fiddling of Libor rates and participating in all sorts of other naughtiness.

Stephen Hester – responsible for RBS but couldn’t be expected to actually know what was happening in his Bank whilst it was colluding in the fiddling of Libor rates (wait… haven’t we just been here?) and then disconnecting customers from their bank accounts for a few weeks.

Nick Buckles (who?) – head of G4S and responsible for providing the security personnel for the London 2012 Olympic Games* but couldn’t be expected to actually pay attention to whether or not his company was doing anything which might make it feasible that they would be able to fulfil their contract. As it turns out, they weren’t, but he still expects that they, and he, should be paid millions for their failure.

James Murdoch – Who, along with his dad Rupert, couldn’t possible be expected to know anything about what was actually happening in the media super-corporation he was running. Phone hacking? Bribing policemen? Not on my watch! Oh, wait…

Irene Dorner (who?) – head of HSBC (oh, look, another bank!) who couldn’t be expected to know that her major international banking corporation was laundering money for Central American drug cartels. Strangely, a US Senate committee seemed to have little difficulty in uncovering this very fact. Fortunately for Irene a lesser minion has volunteered to lock himself in the library with a revolver and Do the Decent Thing for the good of the corporation.

Diddy David Cameron – Erstwhile British Prime Minister and, therefore, ultimately responsible for the current BritGov and, well, pretty much everything it does. But none of its failures, fiascos, U-turns and downright deceptions are, in any sense, his fault. No siree. That’s not how things work.

Tony Blair – Former British Prime Minister who is ultimately responsible for the 1997-2007 BritGov and pretty much everything it did. Fortunately, according to Tony, everything it did was always exactly the right thing to do so he has nothing to feel guilty about.

And that’s what we no longer like that innocent looking word, responsibility. It just doesn’t mean what it says. Much like the individuals named above.


* – Intriguingly, if we had linked to any sort of advertising on this site, our use of the four individual “words” London, 2012, Olympic and Games would have been illegal under UK legislation introduced in order to protect the Official Olympic Games Providers self-awarded right to make lots of money at the expense of others. Fortunately we are not advertising so we may be able to avoid a few months in solitary.

Carrying the Torch for Consumerism…

Things that annoyed me today:

Mostly it was the International Olympic Committee, or IOC or whatever we have to call them to avoid getting a “Cease and Desist” letter from their lawyers telling us we are infringing on their Intellectual Property by using the word “Olympic” without giving them their percentage.  Yes, yes, such a complaint was rather inevitable. On the day it was revealed that two out of three Britons (and, indeed three out of four of the more distantly located Scots) don’t believe their local area will benefit at all from the gazillions being blown on this souped-up sports-day, how could we suppress our outrageously non-PC views any longer? (Olympic Benefits?)

Now, let’s be absolutely clear about two things. Firstly, we have no personal interest in watching, discussing or participating in the Olympics for the simple reason that most of the sports involved are monumentally boring. Well, unless you’re taking part in them, which is an entirely different thing. But, really, who actually enjoys watching a 100m sprint? And what is there to actually see in sailing events? (“They’re off!” Time passes. “They’re back! Hurrah!”) Secondly, we have nothing whatsoever against the idea of a huge international sporting jamboree held every four years, paid for by all the participating nations and with any profits either ploughed back into funding the next event or divided up between said participating nations. We’d even support the setting up of a special Olympic Island somewhere which would be reserved solely for Olympic use. We could provide more details but, frankly, we’d prefer to wait for a lucrative consultancy contract from the IOC before we expand on the idea. So, to clarify, it’s not the Olymics per se that annoy us, it’s the fact that the modern games, like all major sporting events, are primarily about other people making money.

English: 1985 International Olympic Committee ...

Displaying these Five Rings without paying a fee is a Thought Crime under new UK Law: 1985 IOC postage stamp from defunct German Democratic Republic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the torch passed through our local area, Asda, in their car park, put on a huge display constructed from hundreds of crates of different types of Coca-Cola because that’s an Official Soft Drink of the Olympics and you can’t officially Celebrate The Torch (whatever that means) with anything else. And even thinking of doing so is tantamount to Treason and an outright betrayal of all that This Country Stands For. (Olympic Sponsorship – gorge yourself!) And Coca-Cola are just one of the less irritating, bizarre and downright wrong sponsors of the games.

Frankly, blogging about what a Bunch of Tossers the IOC (and their irritating toadies, the UK National Olympic Committee) are seems rather redundant as it is so glaringly obvious to anyone who is not blinded by the carefully-targeted and relentlessly peddled Dream of Olympic Glory. For example, the Greek Navy offered to row an actual (reconstructed) Athenian trireme down the Thames as part of the opening ceremonies but our self-appointed Olympic Masters said “No.” Why? Why? “Security concerns”, apparently. Did they think this was some kind of water-borne raid to seize our national assets and thus prop up the floundering Greek economy? Do they not realise that Athenian Triremes carried very few actual soldiers? That they were designed as “guided missiles”? So much for our education system! Now, had it been a Roman Quinquireme, that would have been chocka with bad-ass Imperial marines. And that would have been a different story…

Apparently we are spending £46 million on the opening ceremonies alone. For that we get some Astroturf and few dazed sheep. (Oh, OK, we know it’s not Astroturf. It’s real grass with, presumably, a square foot of turf from every community in the UK.) Anyway, we have a suggestion for an opening ceremony: some suitable VIP who is representative of the National Character (the Queen, Stephen Fry or someone off “The Only Way Is Essex”) makes a speech welcoming everyone to the UK in a spirit of competitive friendship, then some suitable, but not competing, retired athlete like, say, Sir Roger Bannister, jogs up some steps with a burning torch and ignites the Giant Barbecue. After that, athletes just get on with competing in the events for which they have spent the last four years training. Simple, really.

And in my version, the flame would have been lit in Greece, flown to the UK and then rowed down the Thames on that damned Trireme, manned by sound chaps (and chapesses – times have changed) dressed as ancient Athenians. This would remind us that the UK, as home of the self-proclaimed Mother of Parliaments owes a debt to Ancient Athens which, to all intents and purposes, invented democracy as a viable political system for an entire nation, as opposed to a small community of peasants. It would also provide a nice nod to the fact that Athenian democracy was saved from Evil Persian conquest by the solid performance of its triremes at Salamis. Which might remind BritGov why having a viable Navy is a Good Idea for an Island Nation. But we digress…

Anyway, if they’d gone for our stripped down sports-oriented Opening Ceremony, we reckon we could have brought the whole thing in for under £100K and then we could have spent the savings on something useful.

Like House of Lords Reform. But that’s another story…

I Hope You Die Before I’m Old…

Things that annoyed me today:

Mostly it was old people. Or, to be more precise, pensioners. What an annoying bunch of useless road-blocks to progress they are. They hang around garden centres, get in your way in supermarkets and clog up doctors’ waiting rooms with endless complaints about all their so-called illnesses that turn out to be not nearly as terminal as BritGov might hope. Worst of all, they are an enormous drain on the already over-stretched resources of Austerity Britain. Fortunately, someone has now had the courage to stand up for common sense and speak out for the Greater Good.

We refer, of course, to the excellent suggestion by the UK’s most ultra-modernising MP, Nick Boles, that, in the future, some pensioners should be denied certain universal benefits on the basis that they are rich enough not to need them. You can read the dreary details here: Total Boles Up! or here: More Boles.

Now, on the face of things, superficially, at first glance, if you don’t stop to analyse it, this seems to make a kind of sense. Does Sir Paul McCartney really need a £400 winter fuel allowance to help him survive a particularly prolonged spell of really cold weather? Would Sir Elton John pop his clogs next winter without his free flu jab? Is Lord Alan Sugar really dependent on an OAP Bus Pass to get him to work each day? In truth, we suspect not.

Paul McCartney performs in Dublin, Ireland on ...

I have to keep playing in order to stay warm… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, upon reflection, which is something neither government back-benchers nor, indeed, the Cabinet, ever seem to do, there appear to be a few issues with this proposal.

First of all, imagine, if you will, that BritGov ran a mandatory saving scheme for all UK citizens. From the day you started work you were forced, every month, to pay cash into a savings account in a State-run, ring-fenced bank, which invested the money for you in safe and sensible ways but this investment came with the important caveat that you cannot, under any circumstances, access any of your money until you retired. And even then, instead of allowing you to withdraw all your cash in a lump sum and blow the lot on the horses, the State uses your savings to generate a modest, but reliable income for you. It’s certainly got a ring of the Nanny-State about it, but at least they seem to have your best interests at heart.

Except young Mr Boles wants to change all that. In his newer, fairer Britain, you will scrimp, you will save, you will build up your mandatory savings and then, when you retire, the State will audit your entire financial history, take note of the fact that you have managed both to buy a house and to save some money in accounts with other banks and will then say to you, “Oh, you seem to have done well enough in life. You don’t need any more money. Accordingly, we’re seizing your whole savings account.”

Because that’s what this brilliant idea actually is. Boles, like most of his ilk, has failed to grasp that the UK’s welfare system is not some sort of charity doled out by a long-suffering government. People pay into it, on the expectation that they will get back what they were promised. When BritGov casually breaks those promises it is, in effect, defrauding its customers. If a commercial pension-provider pulled such a scam, someone would end up in prison. (Although not, obviously, anyone important, if they had attended the right Oxbridge colleges and made appropriate donations to the better sort of political parties.)

The second problem, straight of the top of our heads, is that this system requires means testing and means testing means more expense. It’s obvious, really – if everyone born before a certain date gets a benefit then even the dumbest BritGov computer can handle that system. But if their individual financial circumstances have to be audited and then appeals have to be adjudicated and complaints ignored, then the costs of running the system ramp up pretty quickly. We already had this discussion over the same BritGov’s disastrous plans to means test the – currently universal – child benefit payments. That same idiocy led us to the situation where a single income family, whose sole income was just over the proposed threshold, would lose all their child benefit, whereas a family in which both parents worked, but both individual incomes were just under the threshold, would get full benefits, despite having almost twice the income of the family that lost theirs. Apparently working all this out was beyond  the capabilities of Top Men in the Cabinet. Terrifying, isn’t it?

And yet… the more we think about this the more Nick Boles’ proposal seems like a truly brilliant precedent that could be set by BritGov! Just because you’ve paid for something doesn’t mean you should get it if you can afford to pay again. We could apply it to the NHS – just because he’s contributed all his life, why, for example, should Lord Sugar get NHS treatment if he can afford to pay for private treatment?

But we suspect all the Old Crusties would object to that too. See, that’s the real problem with pensioners: they still expect to get what they paid for. Which, in the eyes of BritGov, makes them more despicable than benefit cheats!

Squeeze Me Harder

Things that annoyed me today:

Mostly it was Quantitative Easing. Again. And that makes it really annoying. About the only positive thing we can say about it is that, unlike so much in economics, there is real evidence that QE (as hipsters call it) just doesn’t work. As we complained earlier (Easy Squeezee) the idea is that the Bank of England (or BoE) invents Monopoly money which it, essentially, gives to the banks in the forlorn hope that they will then lend it to people who actually need it, like the small businesses that actually drive our economy. As we have said already, it just doesn’t work, mainly because the banks are, quite simply, sitting on the money. Lend it to people? That’s crazy talk! If they do that, then they won’t have it any more! 

Even the Top Man at the Bank of Gormenghast, Sir Mervyn “Peake” King admitted that the £325 billion of QE released so far didn’t really work although he didn’t put it quite so bluntly. He did concede, however, that undisclosed “other measures” might be necessary as well. (Which does sound a bit sinister…)

So, with all this background to the story, the Wizards at the BoE have concluded that the best solution to all our economic woes is to immediately release another £50 billion in Quantitative Easing. (A QE For Me!) It’s obvious really, if £325 billion isn’t enough to do any good, let’s try a total of £375 billion! After all, it’s not their money. In fact, it’s not even real money at all!

Which prompts the obvious question: are the Wizards at the BoE complete idiots or simply mad? Repeating the same pointless actions over and over again and expecting a different result? That’s a definition of madness, right?

So now we have more than £6000 per person in the UK magically created and handed over to the banks for them to sit on. BritGov has asked them to lend the money to the businesses and individuals who need it. But they didn’t. So they made a deal that would “force” them to lend it. But they didn’t. They have begged, coerced, threatened and pleaded and still it has no effect. The money stays firmly within the “financial system” inflating balance sheets and triggering bonuses whilst potentially profitable businesses go to the wall because the can’t borrow money at sensible interest rates. The BoE base interest rate is 0.5%. Stick some money in a savings account and you’ll be lucky to get 0.1% interest on it (you may initially get more but that’s a special short-term bonus to lure you in). Ask for a personal loan from, say, Barclays, and they will charge you near-as-damn-it 10% interest for the privilege of getting your hands on the money the BoE created specifically for them to lend to you. Hmm… something wrong there, don’t you think?

And once again, we have to ask the obvious question: If they had just given us all six grand in non-transferable National Credit Vouchers redeemable for any goods and services within the UK and told us we had to spend the lot within two months or lose them, then wouldn’t that have had a more beneficial effect on the economy?

But what do we know? We don’t have the BoE’s magic spreadsheets to do the sums for us. Perhaps they should get an expert to check for a bug in their Excel macros?

A Bank Isn’t Just For Life…

Things that annoyed me today:

Mostly it was the British Banking System. The good news is that we’ve moved on from it just being Barclays Bank that’s annoying to it being pretty much the entire corrupt, rotten, soul-destroying system. So that’s a sort of progress.

A lot has happened in the last few days, since the news of Barclays misdemeanours first broke and, frankly, it’s kind of hard to keep up with at all. Since our last post, Barclays have entrenched their position, sacrificed their Chairman (Marcus Agius), who was going anyway, in an attempt to save their Chief Executive (Diamond Bob) who, rather surprisingly, has not yet been arrested.

Agius, who also has important positions on the boards of both the BBC and the Trustees of Kew Gardens, has attempted to take the blame, based on the rather tenuous assertion that he was supposed to be the ultimate guardian of the bank’s reputation and that, therefore:

“Accordingly, the buck stops with me and I must acknowledge responsibility by standing aside.”

You might have thought that the buck stopped with Diamond Bob, who is not only the man actually in charge, but was the man directly in charge of the bit of the bank that was fiddling LIBOR rates, at the time that it was fiddling them. But we’ve been through all this already. Although the rot is indeed spreading (or, more accurately, is being revealed to have spread) to other of our fine banking institutions as can be seen from the equally unconvincing way in which RBS Acts Contrite when also caught with it’s fingers in the metaphorical till. Top Man at RBS, Stephen Hester, has clearly studied at the Marcus Agius school of hand-wringing as he said:

“I’m disappointed it happened on my watch and I’ll stop it happening again”

Actually the interesting thing about that statement is the second half which is a not terribly subtle way of making clear that the ever smug Hester Bloominfraud has no intention of resigning anytime soon. So what can he do to show us how truly sorry he is, as he has already given up this year’s bonus to show how contrite he is about his inability to run a bank that allows its customers access to their money? We shall await developments with interest.

Another annoying aspect of this story is the truly pathetic way that our politicians, of whatever denomination, have responded to this situation by presenting a consistent, dynamic and unified display of a total absence of leadership. Even Nick Clegg is unhappy (Clegg Unhappy) about this and, frankly, he has a lot of things to be unhappy about, leading the LibDems back into the political wilderness for the rest of eternity being just one of them. What’s more, no-one even seems able to state categorically whether or not all these dodgy activities have been just morally questionable (like Jimmy Carr’s unfortunate accountancy decisions) or downright illegal (like MPs fiddling their expenses). You can decide for yourself by plowing through this tortuous examination of what, for want of a better term, we will call LIBOR Law. Still, on the plus side, we have been promised the possibility, perhaps, of some sort of utterly Pointless Inquiry in which our betters in Parliament will look into the matter and then pronounce that all is now well. Nothing to see. Move along.

What we did enjoy today was Diamond Bob’s open letter to his unfortunate minions in which he manages to make it entirely clear that none of this is in any way his fault and that, as far as he is concerned, it will all blow over (Diamond Letter). For students of the English language this letter is especially interesting for the places and ways in which it uses “we”, “you” and “I” in order to make it abundantly clear exactly how Diamond Bob views his lowly minions.

For everyone else it is, perhaps, most interesting for this line:

“We will establish a zero tolerance policy for any actions that harm the reputation of the bank.”

Just like Hester’s quote, it’s the second half that counts. Protecting the bank’s reputation is all that matters to Mr Bob. Sod the customers – they’re only there to help pay his enormous remuneration package. Which was roughly £21 million last year. For one man. Who had no idea what was happening in the business he allegedly ran. Truly value for money. As we’re sure all the shareholders will agree. Well, the corporate ones anyway.

Meanwhile, you may wish to consider that other banks (or near-equivalents) are available. We would draw your attention to the Nationwide Building Society, the Co-operative Bank and, of course, the magnificent, small but perfectly formed, Airdrie Savings Bank, the UK’s only truly independent savings bank – a Local Bank for, well, anyone, actually.