30 October 2010

Kenny is Mysterion

Ok, so following on from the Coon 2: Hindsight, we got to see a lot of South Park superheroes, and there's rather a lot of debate online over who is who, notably where are Kenny and Kyle

There are eight heroes:

Coon (Cartman)
Toolshed (Stan)
Tupperware (Token)
Iron Maiden (Timmy)
The Human Kite
The Mosquito
and ....Mint Berry Crunch

the other four kids are shown as Kenny, Kyle, Clyde and the rarely used Bradley, presumably thrown in for his blond hair, which matches Kenny's

Mint Berry Crunch must be Kenny or Bradley - while his face is half-obscured, typical of Kenny, I can't believe Cartman would treat Kenny that way, or that Kenny would be that dorky - the hair matches Bradley, and he speaks occasionally

Mysterion, being completely obscured, is Kenny in my mind - doesn't fit very well with the original Coon episode, and in the diner Mint Berry is drinking water instead of a milkshake (i.e. poor) so I suppose Mysterion could be Bradley, but then Kenny has to be an idiot, and there isn't really anything to suggest it's not him, aside from the water (Mint Berry Crunch apparently pays his fees on time, however, which Kenny wouldn't)

We know it's not Kyle, probably everybody's number one choice, due to the original Coon episode - so we know it must be Kenny, Bradley or Clyde

The one scene where the Kite speaks sounds similar to Kyle - and I can't see him being beaten by Cartman, he also uses a familiar pose at the diner

That leaves Clyde as the sappy Mosquito

So this is a bit like one of those logic puzzles where you have to rule people out

Mysterion (Kenny, Bradley, Clyde)
Kite (Kyle, Kenny, Clyde, Bradley)
Mosquito (Clyde, Kyle)
Mint Berry Crunch (Bradley, Kenny)

We shall just have to wait for a later episode for more clues (I don't trust them to actually have a two-parter)

29 October 2010


I just saw Lauren Booth, who rather famously has converted to Islam, defend her move as to do chiefly with respect for women and modesty

Now, I shall try to keep this brief as I'm meant to be asleep, I am left wondering why is Islam the method of choice for this statement?

Is it the only way to be modest?

Of course not, if you can't beat the 'western' sexualisation of society and obsession with looks within yourself then what does that say about you? You have to join a religion to keep yourself away from western excess? Loads of people refuse to conform, I will not watch X Factor for example - and plenty of secular women I know have no time for make-up and being stereotypical bimbos, and yes, Booth did effectively imply that it was Islam that allowed women to be modest and taken seriously, which seems somewhat odd when there are plenty of secular women with respect out there

Is she really saying you can't be a non-conformist if you don't join a group of other non-conformists? Strikes me as being incredibly weak-willed, actually - nobody is forcing you to live by 'western' rules, it's fine if religion helps you keep focus, but that could be applied to any religion, notably the one she converted from

Catholicism does teach modesty - you are supposed to cover your knees and shoulders in a church, for example, and that rule is observed in more religious societies than ours, likewise, one look at the US will show you plenty of good Christian girls from the mid-west

So it strikes me as rather odd that she chose this as the major reasoning (at least in public) for her conversion - it says nothing of the faith, the theological heart of any religion, nothing about the afterlife, God etc, just a simple practice of dress - this to me, seems a rather shallow reason to convert to anything

You would, in fact, never even mention dress in relation to Catholicism, you'd be talking about views on abortion, marriage, sin, transubstantiation, Jesus or the afterlife - these sorts of issues don't even seem to be on her radar

She was already a religious person, and it seems she has adopted a practice from another because she likes it, has she really changed her underlying religious convictions or has she just added a veil to her pre-existing beliefs? It would be more impressive had she been an atheist turning to god

So in fact, I find myself agreeing with Peter Hitchens on something - this is fashion, she's thought long and hard about herself and her modesty, but seems to lack any theological conviction, I can't see any faith based reason for why she converted aside from she gets to feel empowered by some clothing - you don't even need a religion to be modest

However, we soon diverge as he seems to think it's a trend for 'English women to take the [veil]' that's showing there's a moral gap in our society that is being filled by Islam

Uhuh...seriously? Firstly, show me this trend outside of a few media types, because I haven't noticed a surge in veils round my way just yet

And secondly - she's a lifelong Christian (like her half-sis, of course) who has worked in Palestine and works for Islam TV and an Iranian TV channel - so she was already in the religious minority, and heavily exposed to her new religion, not one of us fornicating Satan-worshippers - there was no gap for her to fill, she was a believer before, and remains one now

The Mail have played up the rise of the white, female converts - but is this much different to conversion to Christianity? We don't know how many were even Christians to start off with, making it nothing to do with secular society at large, and conversions have always happened - people were doing it in the Victorian era

And I think they've missed (deliberately, of course) one glaringly obvious fact for why women outnumber men in the conversion stats - because they always outnumber us in religion! Women are something like four times as likely to be religious in this country (forgive me, it's late, so no checking), it is men that have driven the religious decline, and if men aren't shown to be jumping on this bandwagon then how can you say Islam is filling some sort of moral gap that we yearn for?

The answer is, you can't, and that's why they ignore it in their theories - if it's only about women then it's saying something about women, who have already been shown to be far more religious and superstitious in general, not society at large

25 October 2010

Jesus wept (that's offensive too)

Oh for ****'s sake

Ofcom call Top Gear offensive for describing the Ferrari F430 Speciale as 'Speciale needs'

It's a pun! Go and jump off a pissing cliff, you humourless twats

That's offensive too, you know - should I apologise?

When will they learn - everything is offensive! Even my shoes are offensive to some people - want to ban them too?

Good, I find Ofcom offensive - ban that

(and it was post-watershed...)

24 October 2010

The Bond retrospective - The Top Three

Seeing as there are a limited amount of films to choose from I thought it would be rather foolish to keep you waiting for the No.1 entry when you can easily work it out - so here is my top three in one post!

3. The Spy who Loved Me

Strangely works
While I‘ve never actually worked out which spy is loving who (mainly because it’s the title of a completely different novel) this is undoubtedly the best Moore film, quite simply it just works – whether it’s the chemistry between Bond and the feisty Amasova, or the classic underwater Lotus scene, or those scenes with Jaws, it all just seems to fit into a highly enjoyable film, all the usual Moore elements are there, and for once the balance of humour, action and style hits all the right notes, basically it’s quintessentially Bond.

The Lotus Esprit – so much opportunity to be tacky, and yet…
Jaws in his real role, before he was turned into a clown
‘Nobody does it…’

Amasova’s motives never seem believable


2. From Russia With Love

Connery’s second outing remains one of the best Bonds going, featuring an intelligent and well thought out plot about a SPECTRE plan to steal a Russian decoding device, all the while playing the Brits and Russians off against each other. It features excellent performances all round, with Connery at his early 60s best, the near silent Robert Shaw as the menacing assassin and of course, Lotte Lenya as the unforgettable Rosa Klebb. To some, this is the quintessential Bond, retaining the gritty realism of Dr. No but also introducing several staples such as the opening sequence, Robert Llewelyn, Blofeld, and helicopter chases. The plot makes sense, the gadgetry is appropriate, the characters are fleshed out and the action is realistic, while Connery is as suave as ever. The only slight complaint I have is the occasional slow pacing, particularly on the train, and the Gypsy scenes were somewhat out of left field, which is why it just gets pipped to the post…

Excellent spy-thriller plot
Pretty much everything else

Slow-paced in parts
Gypsy fights?

and that just leaves...

The more developed of the Masterson sisters

1. Goldfinger

Quite possibly the most iconic Bond film – it’s got everything, the wit, the action, the perfect villain – it was actually this third Bond film that created several infamous themes, ‘shaken not stirred’, the opening mission, and of course, the DB5, as well as having that renowned laser scene, and ‘No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!’ and let’s not forget Oddjob. In fact if you’ve only ever seen the parodies of Bond then you’ll find pretty much everything you need here, except Blofeld, and frankly, Goldfinger was better, you’ve got to love how he murders the gangsters regardless of their answer to his proposal, and the real animosity between Connery’s Bond and the tubby German makes it truly stand-out as a legendary tussle, and hearing the name ‘Goldfinger’ in that Scottish brogue will cement Connery’s voice forever as Bond in your mind - few Bond baddies are so memorable, particularly from one outing. I must admit I never found the rather elderly Honor Blackman that appealing as a woman, but Pussy Galore remains one of the best Bond girls, probably due to that fact.

An endless list of Bond classics!

If I’m honest I do find the climax a little silly – particularly the ‘we all fall down’ bit, but it was 1964 so it gets some slack

Did you know? They actually electrocuted Harold Sakata (Oddjob) in his death scene

22 October 2010

On Yer Bike

What is so wrong with the concept of 'on yer bike' (Tebbitt never actually said it)

The broad idea is that if there isn't work where you live, go and look for it - this has in IDS' terms become related to fairly simple commuting to nearby towns, not even upping sticks

Jeremy Vine is currently talking about Welsh people from Swansea or the famously deprived Methyr Tydfil getting, shock horror, a 50 minute bus ride to Cardiff

The irony strikes me that the poor must have jobs on their doorsteps, but no one bats an eyelid that the 'wealthy' in the south east have to sit on the M25 for an hour or catch a 7.05 train to London

I happen to live by the busiest commuter line in the country (Cambridge-London), it carries thousands every morning into King's Cross and Liverpool St, and if you've ever been on one of these trains you would know that you will not get a seat 9 times out of 10 - people in business suits crammed in reading their iphones while standing, some sit on the floor in their suits - it is not a pleasant experience

I admit the pay accommodates this, we're not talking min wage, but most of these people are not paid masses (check the slightly later trains for them), and train fares are thousands a year, so much that my commuter friends have loans for them - these people are getting on their bikes every day, and my other friends have either moved into London, or commute to nearby big towns - none work where they live or grew up, and nor do they all work in offices being paid well (some do), I refuse to be a commuter and in turn am paid worse - every day workers are expected to get on their metaphorical bikes, but the unemployed can't?

Job Centres even pay for travel to interviews this sort of distance - so why are they so loathe to move? They say low wages don't make up for the transport (a bus ride is probably an hour's pay of each day at most), but welcome to the real world - thousands of pounds a year to commute either by train or car will see you lose masses of your salary, let alone taxation, people don't want to pay this - but they have to!

Most people do not think it is right to claim benefit and do not weigh their benefits against employment - if I could claim more on benefit than my salary I would still work, because I had a job and that's my money, benefits are not another form of income

And what is so wrong with moving? As I've said, I have friends who moved to London for fairly humble work, I even used to have a teacher from Methyr who railed against those who refused to leave, I know fairly well to do people who became very hard up - they moved, in a period of less than five years, down to Dorset, then to Sussex and finally to Suffolk chasing whatever jobs they could find - Polish immigrants are, fairly obviously, moving from their homes in search of work, we were doing it centuries ago, as the poor rural workers headed to the cities for work, and we still do - there is simply a small group who refuse to accept this notion (I admit that local government may hinder this, and it should be reformed)

This issue about it being more profitable to not work should not even come about - it's wrong, and clearly people don't appreciate that, having grown up on it probably, so the government should cut benefit to non-workers - it should always be better to work than sit on your arse, people seem to forget that those who work are putting themselves through hardship, paying for everything themselves, waking up at 7am, maybe getting home after 6pm after spending the whole day at a desk, or whatever, and they have to pay for everything themselves, probably about a fifth of their earnings on getting there in the first place!

Meanwhile people who do nothing to get their own money whinge when it is cut - not realising that they get to stay at home all day, which workers would love to be able to do - see the kids more, do the housework, cook more etc

I don't mind state support - but it is not a lifestyle choice, so I think it is right that the government want to cap benefits, and I also agree with 'on yer bike' - we all bloody do it! Do not provide free houses to non-workers, do not give them unlimited pay cheques, but limit it to a year or two and then on reduce it to a very basic level - use the savings made for other incentives, subsidise transport, subsidise rent and pay benefits to those on minimum wage, who truly are the ones suffering - do not pay people to stay unemployed, who say it costs more to work!

*This was meant to be a short and concise rant...oops

19 October 2010

Best BBC Graph Ever

This is the 'savage' spending cuts in relative terms

As reported on the BBC ten o'clock news, by Stephanie Flanders

This is the truth, note the rise into a almost vertical incline after 2000, when Labour abandoned the previous Tory government's spending model and pumped huge amounts into the public sector, much of it the NHS

Does that look sustainable to you? Does it even look sensible? No - every post-war government, even the two Labour ones, has had to keep the constant rise in spending in line with economic growth - as shown by the broad trend, that rule was absolutely demolished in the past decade - to claw spending back to 2006/07 levels is moderate, even tame

I've known this for a long time, as these figures have been all over the right-wing blogosphere, I am no economist but people like Guido, the Taxpayers Alliance and others have all made the point that these are barely spending cuts, but reigning in the rise in spending, depending on inflation

This is the first time I've seen this graphic interpretation on any major broadcaster, and frankly it's about time - we can talk about the impact of the cuts, but this is the actual reason for them, and it really helps to show why we need them, and this rather dents the anti-BBC lot's case

The real issue is - why is essentially a clawing back of roughly 4% to the expenditure level of three years ago so bloody destructive? We're talking about a snip of money that simply wasn't there four years ago, and yet we're losing 25,000 MoD staff and god knows how many more public sector workers*

Not that I'm against reigning in the public sector, but it seems rather a lot for what is a relatively small cut - I know some is about future spending commitments, and it's over five years, but I can't help feeling it's a bit... inefficient, and it's the waste that's most important to cut, and I also can't help thinking that ring-fencing the NHS was a costly political manoeuvre

*though I may be underestimating the rise in the public sector workforce

18 October 2010

Who cares about democracy?

The BBC have highlighted just how few Brits enter the EU commission, less than 5% of the workforce, and it's set to decline as most joined long ago

To be honest their recruitment campaign is news to me, and the article says they don't even advertise here - so clearly it's the EU's fault for not being inclusive towards the second-biggest member, not the British graduate

And can you guess why we're so under-represented? Yes, that's right - you need to speak a foreign language (principally French and German)

The article says this could be dropped for our sakes, yet there is no hint that this is a totally unfair practice to start with - I've blogged a few times before about the pointlessness of learning either of these languages, while of course, huge swathes of Europeans learn the international language of business as a matter of course - we do not need to learn minority languages, unless we want to work in France, the Ivory Coast or Germany, or apparently the EU

This gives us a massive disadvantage simply because they are learning from an early age a highly useful way of communicating with the world, and we have little reason to learn their individual languages, which we are not exposed to nearly as much as they are English - this unfairly keeps out any native English speaker

And to top it off

"Brits working in the EU are not working for the British government, they are working for the European Union," he says.
"But what they bring is an understanding of British culture and of the importance in the UK of enterprise and of the British common law system. It's a reality that when you're working with a commission official, if you have a common background, then the relationship is different."
This subtle impact is acknowledged by the few Brits who have actually made it through the exams.
"The people who win in Brussels get 90% of what they want at the Commission (the executive arm of the EU)," a senior British EU official told the BBC, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
"You don't then need to send ministers in to defend red lines. It is simply a more elegant way of doing business, having people drafting the legislation who think in a British way influences law around Europe."
And there is also a frustration at the perception of the EU back home.
"This is an exciting place to come," the official says. "You work with a bright bunch of people and you make policy that affects peoples' lives."

Legislation...without elected ministers

We already knew the Commission is effectively an unelected government, but this is just brazen - no need for ministers, get whatever you want once you're in...

I'm the first to criticise democratic governments, but to paraphrase Churchill there isn't really an alternative - government by psychometric testing (Theocracy? Oligarchy?) is not right, making up laws without those pesky voters and journalists questioning you is easier, but not right

17 October 2010

The Bond retrospective - Number 4

This next entry sits almost alone in modern Bonds in any top lists, nearly twenty years after the rest of my top five

4. Goldeneye

Best Game Ever
It’s another reboot for Bond, and after a much needed break in the early 90s, Pierce Brosnan provides us with a suave, sophisticated Bond who gives the perfect blend of action and style. Goldeneye features one of the most coherent plots in the series, full of twists and turns, as well as a nice personal angle for Bond, and a nice shiny new M, played by Judi Dench, who really helps to bring Bond out of the Cold War…and the 80s in general

Tasty plot
Brosnan at his best

Answers on a postcard

15 October 2010

Oh no he shouldn't!

Chris Evans has said Chris Moyles should leave Radio 1, after that little rant of his

While I agree it was wrong to 'hijack a BBC microphone', as I said at the time, I don't see why he should have to leave when his listeners don't seem to care, it wasn't out of character or untypical for the show, he frequently argues with callers, usually very early in the morning, and it's usually some of the best entertainment

That said, the show has been getting a bit stale for a while, and you maybe can't settle in front of the radio in comfort like you can with Radio 2's ever-familiar line-up, the audience changes far more rapidly (i.e. we all get old)

Likewise Moyles is probably starting to push it - he's getting to nearly forty, the last really successful host (Evans himself) left at 31, there comes a point when you are seen as middle-aged, no matter how youthful your behaviour - he might have appeal to me and other twenty/thirty-somethings, but he's a generation removed from the younger part of the audience

But there is a reason he should stay, and I come back to that point about Evans being the last good host - it took years to find someone decent, and Moyles is not known as 'the saviour of Radio 1' for nothing - it was languishing ten years ago and he is a big reason for it's success today, if he were to go then the BBC would probably struggle to find a decent replacement

Remember that Moyles built up his reputation over ten years ago, working in various slots and eventually the drive-time, or number 2, show - there is no one ready to take on the mantle

Scott Mills, whose not young himself, is an unlikely choice, I personally don't like his show and there are very few people who seem to like it when he fills in for Moyles, as he's clearly the second talent at the station

Likewise, Fearne Cotton, who I assume is well thought-of by the management, is seemingly hated by the listeners I know and there is a fear she would be moved in as she's a rising young star, but I doubt she'd be liked and isn't known for her humour, while there are still people like Sara Cox, who got bumped down a few years ago, hanging around

In fact the only person at the station I can think of who is mildly entertaining is Vernon Kay, but as he's exactly the same age as Moyles and Mills (bizarrely they are all within three months of each other), he seems unlikely as a long term replacement, so that does not bode well for finding a successor to the flagship show

So is it any wonder they are reluctant to think about losing Moyles?

He should stay for as long as possible...

14 October 2010

The Bond retrospective - Number 5

And the top five is off...


5. Dr No

Quarrel's way better than Honey
The original James Bond film is rather different from its successors, it develops some traditional themes such as the evil, deformed megalomaniac and his lair, but is also far closer to a real spy flick, as Bond gets his hands dirty investigating a mysterious murder in Jamaica without gadgets or car chases, and there’s some real chemistry between Bond and Ursula Andress’ legendary Honey Rider – some may find the plot a little slow at times, and it’s definitely very dated, but this is probably the most ‘real’ Bond film until the Daniel Craig era.

Alright, there you go

So, the original is not quite the best, while an excellent film on it's own it is, rather paradoxically, not the 'iconic' Bond - its greatest contribution was probably giving the world Connery's Bond, but beyond that most other series staples, and a lot of the best moments, came from the next few films

Some realism – particularly the climb through the vent
That bikini scene

A bit slow
‘Underneath the Mango tree’ sticks in the head - not in the good way

Place here a commercial, followed by a recap, then another commercial...then a teaser of the next few, then another commercial

The final countdown

As requested, here is the list so far

At 20. The Man with the Golden Gun (M)

19. Die Another Day (B)

18. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (L)

17. Octopussy (M)

16. A View to a Kill (M)

15. Diamonds are Forever (C)

14. Moonraker (M)

13. The World is Not Enough (B)

12. Thunderball (C)

11. For Your Eyes Only (M)

10. Live and Let Die (M)

9. The Living Daylights (D)

8. Licence to Kill (D)

7. You Only Live Twice (C)

6. Tomorrow Never Dies (B)


The Bond retrospective - Top Five

..Starts tomorrow!

For those keeping track, there are going to be three Connery films in the top five, with one Moore and one Brosnan - any guesses? (as to the order, you can surmise the individual titles quite easily)

You might even sway me...

13 October 2010

All Must Win Prizes?

I've just been reading Policy Exchange's report on the AV system (that's the Cameron-favoured think-tank)

Now, I agree AV is a pile of manure, but the report is full of pro-FPTP bias and patronising statements regarding reformers, have a full read here

As I said, and have already outlined, AV is a crock, and broadly their analysis of that system is correct - AV is just FPTP with a 50% threshold, any chump can see that - but it's the subtle digs at any other form of voting (MMP, STV, PR etc) and assumed fairness of FPTP that I take offence with

The concept of wasted votes, and safe seats, are brushed aside for the airy belief that MPs are fairly elected to represent us, and that a proportional system is the 'all must have prizes' system - this very statement is evidence of the inherent bias present before the report was even written, it's a belittling comment that one expects to hear about a primary school sports day where everyone gets a medal

To use it in reference to an electoral system is at best crude, and at worst plainly offensive

Is STV or another proportional system 'all must win prizes'? No - the concept is solely that for every vote you receive, you gain a proportion of a seat - every vote counts, if you get 10% of the vote, you get 10% of the seats

Is that really a patronising, egalitarian idea? The concept is not that the Greens are given equal footing with the Tories or Labour, but that if they can get a decent share of the popular vote, they are represented - the Tories get 40%, they get 40%

And note 'decent' - a proposed benchmark at 5% would see very few minority parties win a 'prize', but supported nationally by at least a million people (that's based on a low turnout)

Nothing vindicates this more than the Lib Dems - in the present three party system say they were to receive 20% in every single seat - they could potentially win none - that's 20% of the population missing out, or about 5-6 million voters, in actuality they got 23% of the popular vote, seven million, and 8.5% of the seats so I balanced it a bit

There is little defence for this anomaly, it's certainly not a patronising 'all win prizes' system, but one that recognises every vote, which is something people do note, otherwise they wouldn't even count the national shares - the only true argument against it is the local one, hence the defence of constituency MPs

That is where we move into the ideological and opinion-based concepts of elections - whether or not it is important, and fair to elect one person in a winner-takes all election in a small geographical region

For my money, and as I've said before, there's nothing wrong in principle with that system - but it's no longer reflective of modern society - we look at the national picture in elections, we have leaders' debates, MPs have virtually no freedom from the party, bizarrely even defenders of our antiquated system say we elect governments, therefore smashing a defence of constituency-based FPTP

If you are electing one person for one role (say, a mayor) then FPTP, or it's 50% threshold brother, AV, works, but we have taken this individual aspect away from Parliament so now that the main parties benefit on a national scale from traditional local voting patterns

If you are looking at a national party, and a government, not an individual MP, then the case for FPTP is dead, and I think you'll struggle to find many who don't vote on the 'national' level, therefore I feel that we need a fairer national system, and that's why I formed my subjective opinion, look at the broad picture and decide what is fairest, there's no 'true' answer - but I didn't feel it necessary to belittle my opponents with patronising phrases

In short we already have the result of a PR system, just without the fairest aspect of it, as far as I see

This article was biased from the start, and picked on the easy target of AV to belittle all reform - expect more of these tactics from both the Conservatives and their various supporters and think-tanks for the next nine months

And yet I have decided to vote NO on AV - the reason I didn't bother fully fisking the report was because I agree AV is wrong, for most of the reasons outlined, and I don't want to settle on a weak system, believing politically it's better if the Tories actually win, but disagreed with their obvious bias and patronising attitude towards reform

Personally I want to see a system that retains a direct election, thereby preventing ultimate safe seats like the EU Parliament system, but that is also proportional - stopping situations like in East Anglia, where there are two main parties and one just happens to lose 48 times out of 52, mostly on slim majorities, thanks to the boundaries - I think a multiple constituency system, possibly even based on FPTP, that brings in the most popular candidate(s) from hard-done by parties would be fairest. This 'FPTP+' system I have created would see slightly enlarged constituencies, grouped together returning those who win each seat, and the best runner-ups, representing the share of the vote and keeping direct elections, removing the need for a dreaded list system

In my example, this would see the Lib Dems move from about 7% of the seats based on over 25% of the vote, to about 15 seats, while the Tories would go down from a ridiculous 92% of seats to a more realistic level (forgive me, limited time, and I'm basing this on memory - they were rather close overall, and clearly nobody got near 92% of any popular vote)

And I also have to ask, Policy Exchange is fully staffed and has many professionals working for it, this was written by 'Director of Research' Natalie Evans and edited and proof-read - why then was a relatively short document (no more than 10,000 words) riddled with fairly obvious typos? I'm writing this in half an hour, for free...how many did I make?

A Browne Stick

University funding is always a fun issue, so many problems, so few obvious solutions

I probably can't handle a full debate of all the issues right now, but I will try to extrapolate what is in my head

Firstly I feel the issue boils down to this:

University costs money

Previously (in living memory), the student was aided by the government to attend university, however this was a very small figure and therefore quite cheap, ironic considering it was mostly the wealthiest going in the first place...

So to improve fairness, more people were allowed to go to university - costing more, and more, and more

Until one day it cracked, and Parliament, solely inhabited by those who had never paid for this education, inflicted a capped amount on students to reduce the burden - this rose twice in the past decade, meaning the typical student paid about 9 grand for a degree

Labour then spent hundreds of billions of pounds on what was effectively a credit card, granted with a very good APR, but eventually it meant we had to stop spending on things like students...which they had at the same encouraged to be every second teenager, meaning we once again had to find university cash

But by this point, students, paying three grand a year plus living costs were rather angry about having to pay nine grand before even having a real job, and having to amass thousands of pounds of debts, when the very ones who benefited from a free education, their parents' generation, were the ones to inflict it on them

And so lifting the cap would cause outrage, from students, parents and Lib Dems alike

And so a 'graduate tax' was thought of - those who benefited from university paying slightly more for the privilege of it for the rest of their lives, this didn't go down too well with the Conservative Members - who saw the idea of taxing someone who earns the same as a builder more because they happen to have a degree in the history of art, as rather unfair

And so along came Browne, another one with a free education, and he took the middle road - he did raise the cap, but he also said don't pay upfront, but pay after, with added interest

In effect, a tax on being a graduate, but one that was based on what you cost, not a true 'tax', but one that was worth a finite amount determined by you - and it also stopped the hard-pressed parent or student paying up front, thus appeasing the Liberals, they hoped

But alas, it did not appease many - some resented yet another rise in the cost, and disliked the idea of debts being enforced, whereas before they were an option, and others pointed out that the richest will pay off fastest, the poor won't pay at all, and the rest of us will pay the most

Meanwhile there were concerns that allowing the best universities to charge more than the worst, would prevent the poorest (or 'middlest') accessing what should be theirs on merit

And so, the government of toffs was once again, seen to be unfair on the common pleb, from whom it had already stolen the breeding bonus

Joking aside, I am in a pickle - the whole issue is in a pickle, we simply don't know who should pay, the individual or the government

If the individual pays it becomes elitist, for the wealthy, and only the poorest benefit from hand-outs, the average man loses out big time

If the government pays, then we all pay for a free education - probably the 'fairest' option, but also costly and would require a tax rise (or a dramatic redirection of funds...which I'm not opposed to, myself)

So neither is viable - once again we sit between the American and the European models - wanting individual liberty and choice, but fairness and equality in opportunity at the same time

The choice is fairly simple - either pay or don't, the fact that this is the third review in a decade shows that the system we have cooked up is not sustainable long-term, primarily down to far too many students, which while forcing individual costs up, has, ironically, pushed the worth of a university education down - meaning we're paying more, for less

Personally, I don't mind a contribution - the problem lies in how much is too much? Why is 10 grand too much? Is three too much? It's completely subjective, and charging a fee you pay back later seems to me, a reasonable idea - but the added interest is an unfair tax on the typical middle-income worker, and the uncapped system is also unfair on that same group, likely to shy away from bigger debts just because they're really good at exams on Shakespeare

Likewise, how often can we expect a rise in the cost? At present it's about every three years, usually a 100% rise, this again, is unfair on future generations

It is of course only unfair if we choose to see it as a right, not a privilege, but we seem to expect our higher education to be accessible to all, that is ingrained in our culture and we seem unlikely to head down the private, free market road

I think a degree of repayment is sensible - certainly you should pay something back, if not through general taxation, but the issue I see, that few have yet to mention is the unsustainable aspect of expanding education - the government wants to increase student numbers, this year it didn't, but it admits it doesn't want to cut places

Any cut in funding, or rise in numbers, places a further burden on the system - hence why we keep altering it and forcing one generation to have it worse than the last - that to me, doesn't seem 'fair'

The system needs to be sustainable - that means limiting the number of students to a good proportion of the population, but accepting that only this proportion need, or are capable of, this advanced education -  this will stop saturation of the jobs market, reductions in teaching quality and further punitive rises in 'contributions'

They have to accept the idea of 'failed applicants' - of course some will fail, if there weren't failures then we'd be advocating a universal system, it's called competition, and while the system should be fair, until it's a universal education system then there will, and should, always be those who aren't accepted, however sad that may be

Right now we have an education sector that is exploding in size, and that is why we're having so many issues, and politicians, of all hues, have failed to grasp the nettle (as always) - dealing with it in minute steps to avoid political fall-out

The alternative to capping the number of students is to cover the cost through general taxation, if student numbers grow and grow then it will truly become a 'right', to expect this level of education, and if we all benefit, then we should all pay, and the fairest method for that, is... income-based taxation, with possibly a fixed across-the-board, but stable, fee

Historically, this could simply be seen as a period of growth - if it plateaus, then the unfairness dies away, but if it keeps growing, we're in for decades of turmoil

11 October 2010

What Cuts?

I keep seeing (sob) stories on the news, and newsnight, various other articles about how this and that will suffer from 'cuts'

Exactly what cuts are these? As far as I'm aware, the spending review is still days away, people are assuming everything is going to lose funding, including healthcare (Newsnight participant), and it's all the good stuff the police do, 'how I need my benefits' yadda yadda

All very well - but I don't see why good programmes need to be cut - the government spending plan will not even be cutting expenditure, as highlighted by Guido, among others, merely reduce the rise in spending to nearly zero with inflation adjusted (even Thatcher only 'cut' in real term spending in one year) and for years we have been going on about waste and inefficiency - as soon as they announce what is effectively a balancing of the books, all spending is good!

Fact is, we have debt, we pay interest on that debt, it is good to not have to use our tax revenue to pay said interest - therefore we are either spending too much, or need to raise more

We need to decide in a grown-up way what we can do without - unfortunately everyone seems to have jumped the gun and believes the welfare state will no longer exist in a few years

This is despite the fact most cuts will come from general budgets - it is up to the budget holders, often the local government, government agency or whatever bureaucratic authority it is, to decide what to spend, what is necessary and what is not - this is common sense for any institution, whether private or public, or indeed personal, when available money shrinks

Cutting everything across the board, and for political gain, is not - it'll just make the situation worse, and for what it's worth the reverse, which is 'ring-fencing' the bloated NHS, which everyone thinks is wasteful, but wants, was a weak, if politically necessary, move

Nobody, except the media and Labour are saying all this will happen...


So apparently Trevor Philips is still about, being paid by the rather frivolous 'Equality and Human Rights Commission' to tell us:

'The commission said that on average women earned 16% less than men, widening to 27% for women aged 40'

An average, widening in the older groups...I'm shocked - does this mean it's narrowing in the young?

'When it came to pay, the report said that the gender pay gap was lowest for the under 30s, rising more than five-fold by the time workers reached 40'

Hang on - five-fold? Does that mean it's roughly equivalent to a measly 5% in young people?

I've said before that to compare older workers is ridiculous when there is nothing you can do about their educational prospects thirty years ago - instead what we have is females being given massive advantages to even out the figures, which does nothing for older 'unequal' women, and creates real, state-sponsored inequality in the education and employment sectors

Among other equality issues, it said that girls of all ethnic backgrounds outperformed boys in education.

Essentially they offset older women being held back by deliberately holding young men back, this is 'equality'

Other gems include: 'while one in five people lived in a household with less than 60% of average income.'

Really - 20% live in households more than 40% away from the average? As streams of people have said before - it's relative! If they earned more the average would in turn be higher! The only way of ever lifting people out of 'relative poverty' is to pay everyone the same

Mr Phillips said: "This review holds up the mirror to fairness in Britain. It is the most complete picture of its kind ever compiled.
"It shows that we are a people who have moved light years in our attitudes to all kinds of human difference, and in our desire to be a truly fair society, but that we are still a country where our achievements haven't yet caught up with our aspirations."

Is that code for: we can't catch up with the inequality of generations past? Or is he just bleating that we still haven't met the targets, and reality be damned

There 70 million of cuts right there (operational costs - £175k per employee, nearly twice that of the NHS)

In other news - people who are (about) my age are idiots, they think that of all cuts benefits Jobseekers' Allowance should be cut, many of whom said by 'a lot' - are they aware how tiny JSA is? It's a pittance, equivalent to less than a day's work a week and is heavily restricted - the real benefit money is in housing and income support, not counting disability

However, they did also support benefit capping (again, showing this cap is actually a good, popular idea, despite the Labour howls), but christ..cut the dole - to what? Zero?

Looking forward to 'the cuts' next week...

09 October 2010

The Bond retrospective - Number 6

Life is too short to talk about moaners, so I'm finally revealing number six in my unquestionable ranking of Bond films

...you know some people put this bottom...philistines

Bond went for a more 'modern' look
6. Tomorrow Never Dies

A strong follow-up to Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies fits in a decent, coherent plot about a media baron bent on starting world war three for the purpose of selling his papers. Overall it does a good job of finding a contemporary plot, much like its immediate predecessor, however Jonathon Pryce’s portrayal of Elliot Carver doesn’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of small children, and the obvious Murdoch overtones are generally unwelcome, but a mostly enjoyable film nonetheless, oh and the Russian arms bazaar prelude is highly memorable.

Wai Lin kicks ass
Russian Arms Bazaar
Nice song by Cheryl Crow

Rupert Murdoch evil…ragghh!

08 October 2010

Punishing bigger families?

Now, while I can see inherent problems of fairness with the child benefit cut (yawn) - I do not have any issue with capping a family benefits at 26,000, or rather a 'salary' of 35k

What is wrong with this? That's a pretty nice amount to live on for an earner, why should someone on benefits take more when most workers will earn less?

I perfectly agree with helping people at the bottom - I don't people to be trapped in poverty, but I also want work to pay - this principally involves big tax cuts at the bottom and probable tax rises at the top (sorry), not giving massive hand-outs to people who don't, or won't, work, I do agree with benefits, supplements, tax breaks, but not funding a lifestyle that is actually better than the poor saps who work in the worst jobs can afford - that is not 'fair'

So capping benefits at a very reasonable level, seems rather appropriate to me

The only argument against this is that it hits large families, as your benefit won't keep going up as you pop out more dependants

But I'd like someone to explain to me, why it should keep going up with the amount of kids you have? - 35k is a decent amount for a typical family, and they do not get a salary rise with every kid - they budget, if they have nine kids on a salary of 35k that's their own fault...but if they are on benefit and not working, they should have their rising number of kids paid for by the state?

That's both unfair and economic madness - taxpayers do not get paid for children (except CB of course...), but major benefit claimants do - they are not subject to the same restrictions to those who actually work and live within their own means

I have every sympathy for the poor, but I don't see why they apparently have a right to reproduce ad infinitum, when the rest of us don't

Give them a salary and let them stick to it, like we do!

(also: for Diane Abbott's rather tetchy response that it punishes the ones who are already born - just make it a new contract, applies to children born after X date - then it's parents' own fault for their declining standard of living)

05 October 2010


Anyone would think the media types somewhat over-represent those top rate tax payers...

Yougov have produced a poll that shows 83% are in favour of this cut (sorry no reliable link)

Roughly 15% pay higher rate tax...

Yet the journalists harp on about it, when any chump could tell you the whingers are actually very few in number, even if they are very vocal on the BBC forums

Clearly, they're overpaying the journalists

I think we all agree it unfair on some level, but it's hard to have sympathy for people who earn enough to have the choice to not work and the unfairness is mostly theoretical - affecting I would bet, a few thousand lucky sods

I've seen the gripes about how these people 'can't afford it' - yes, you can, love, because I've been there and grew up on rather a lot less, and the rest of us do not even have the choice - they can whinge about two earners but the whole point is those two earners need to work, therefore you are better off in the first place!

I'm not saying you're 'rich' - but you're blind to the fact that you have the luxury of choice, which the vast majority of us don't, so welcome to our world!

They are whingeing about a benefit cut to the wealthiest earners in society, while benefits to the poorest (deserving or not) are being cut at the same time - the fact is you cannot cut an expenditure without it hurting someone

I think I've boiled it down to a simple point:

We don't 'need' a universal child benefit, we don't have a sole breadwinner model anymore and the system is not designed to prop up the housewife model (nor does it) - it's a token from a bygone age, the problem people have is that they are losing money - which we all hate, but if you never have it, you can't miss it - a BBC documentary on high earners pointed out that wealthy GPs were living hand to mouth because of their mortgages, cars etc - when we have it, we spend it

doesn't mean we 'need' it

Are you really that pissed off?

The media are having great fun with this child benefit cut

The lefties naturally oppose any cut (despite it being against high earners...) and the Mail who usually rail against benefits, despise the cutting of middle-class benefits - so nobody's happy

But I have to ask - is it really that bad?

The Tories, and many supporters, will admit it's ridiculous to pay the wealthiest people (e.g. David Cameron, who can claim £2,500 if he chooses) benefits - and I point to the decent tax breaks in their stead being a far more sensible option than taxing and repaying the middle classes

So why is twenty quid a week so important? Everyone, including families (particularly at the bottom), will have gained hundreds in tax breaks by 2013, so what if we cut off the top 15% from a fairly minor benefit?

We have a huge welfare bill, and a small chop from those who can probably afford it, seems very reasonable to me

There are some notable problems, I admit - the main one being that a family can earn 35 grand twice and keep it, while a sole earner on 50 cannot, thus penalising stay-at-home-mother families

However, how many are being hit by this 'rough justice' as Philip Hammond put it? As he pointed out - the median earnings for a couple both under 44 grand is only 46, while sole earners were in the seventies

In short, just how many people are at the bottom end of this scale - i.e. sole income families earning around 45k? The stats show that the very few people who do live off one wage these days need a little bit more than the higher rate threshold anyway - you will always find people who do exceedingly well from a situation, and those who get caught out quite badly - that's the Mail's job

But as long as it remains a few this is a rather painless cut to the vast majority of people, and is highly unlikely to put anyone into poverty, if it does, I apologise, but I'll take the risk

I agree it's in principle unfair, and a few will benefit to the detriment of others - but the fact is the PAYE system is much, much easier to base this on than means testing all claimants, and therefore more cost-effective - I challenge you to work out a simple way of cutting an unnecessary benefit while keeping it totally fair

I agree it is against traditional Tory principles, they support stay at home mothers, but that's their problem, not mine, I think that's a more philosophical debate for them, for the rest of us however, it will have a tiny impact on families who can largely afford it

Likewise, the 'universality' line they used in the election is going to come back and bite them, because it is a break - they can claim they didn't win the election but who seriously believes this one was caused by the Liberals? They should be cutting extravagant benefits anyway - get some balls, and don't lie in your manifesto (it's not technically lying if you don't win...)

It's a few grand (tops), to those who are paying higher rate tax - I bloody wish I was paying higher rate tax...

Also, I must take issue with the man in the Newsnight crowd who claimed it went against aspirational values - i.e. people wouldn't aspire to earn 44k because they might lose a benefit of 20 quid a week

Does he not understand maths? If they are aspirational, all they have to aspire to is 47k before they wipe out the perceived loss (dependent on number of kids) and they are back in 'aspiring' territory - do people just get to the threshold and sit there forever more?

With the increase in the tax threshold and allowances we are getting a good deal for losing a bit at the top end - it's unlikely people are going to be worse off in general when you look at the overall picture of taxation, so I think this is a perfectly fair, and rational, decision

In my mind (though I doubt anyone else's), surely the Lib Dems are doing well here - without them we wouldn't have got the big increases in the allowance, and with them this wouldn't have been cut - I doubt anyone will note that they're the ones with the popular policies, however

Also this 'no families on more than 26k of benefits' needs some fleshing out - is that 'every' benefit? And how do you keep tabs on all the various payments made?

I agree it needs doing (and frankly 26k is too high), but it's going to be bloody difficult when you consider housing costs in certain areas (as Nick Robinson points out)

But this is way more fun than the sodding Labour soap opera

Update: The BBC are using 'human' stories from the people to point out the flaws (which are obvious)

'Trisha' from Hertfordshire claimed it was the only income she gets - right, besides the 44k+ that you get from your husband/partner?

Let's break that down - you are 'earning' £20 or £34 (average number of kids is two) a week, this is what? Spending money? That's not even a weekly grocery shop! Meanwhile, post tax your family earns roughly £610 a week minimum - otherwise equivalent to £2,500 a month against £130 (and that's minimum)

In no one's world is this your sole income, it's nice to get money but do you really need it? I am working on highly conservative estimates here, and while all cash is nice it is not an 'income' - it's a small supplement

Is Trisha's hubby getting 45k? Or is he getting more, like, say an MP? (I'd be interested to know where we draw the 'fair' line) And by 2013 will her kids be at school and will she be able to balance her budget so that this two grand a year fall in revenue can be expected, seeing as it's announced nearly three years in advance

Get a grip, people

03 October 2010

The Bond retrospective - Number 7

Perhaps this would have been better at 'Number Eight', but alas, it's a top seven film!

7. You Only Live Twice

Japanese... Romulan..whatever!
Ah, very good, Bond-san. Yes, that’s right, this is the one with the hollowed out volcano, hungry spaceships and the worst Japanese disguise you’ll ever see. Personally I quite like the film – it certainly starts well, with Bond’s murder and ‘funeral’, and the whole plot being nicely set up as Blofeld attempts to ignite a world war, leading our man to Japan, where he trains with ninjas and has a haircut. However, the latter half is where most people find fault – the ridiculously large lair of Blofeld is the stuff of parody, but being the original ‘outlandish Bond’ saves it for me, and the plot derails slightly in parts, but nevertheless mostly makes sense by the end. Donald Pleasance is both a classic and somewhat of a disappointment – for the modern viewer, he is Blofeld, certainly more memorable than the other two, however from a 1960s perspective he was a bit of a let-down after years of just being a hand and a cat as he was given little space in this rather lengthy film. Ultimately it boils down to whether or not you like the big-style Bonds, of which this is the first, and if you like hollowed-out volcanoes with little trains – I personally feel that the assault on the volcano is the only massive gunfight that really works, as it got stale pretty quickly after that. All in all, a decent film that was a bit grandiose and is not to everyone’s’ tastes, but enjoyable.

And remember, if you're a spy don't build walls made of paper

Lots of over-the-top action
The best Blofeld

Occasionally confusing and a bit long
Somewhat comical

02 October 2010

The Bond retrospective - Number 8

Any ideas? Hint: The first film not be based on a Fleming novel

He's not quite got the idea...
8. Licence to Kill

Timothy Dalton’s second, and final, outing is one of those ‘marmite’ Bond films (hell, he’s Marmite Bond), and the debate between which of his is the better is a rather heated one - I am a lover of the latter film, it’s definitely gritty, and the most gory of Bond films, while Robert Davi’s drug lord is far more sinister than the usual caricature villain – if you like lots of guns and anger then this is for you, Dalton doesn’t really deliver on the humour or style, nor are the Bond girls very interesting, but it has to be remembered that Dalton was very much the antidote to the ridiculously cheesy Moore era. Really depends on your taste, but I think it’s certainly a watchable film, and you can't dislike the ending (the one with lots of flammable liquid and a lighter).

Some real action
Desmond Llewelyn’s biggest role

Lacks the style of Bond


This morning punters were backing BBC strikes to take place over the Tory conference at 80%

Now they have been called off...

Guess who got a piece of that action...

01 October 2010

If I want to call you Hitler, I will

Guido has the news that Sir Andrew Green is taking legal action against Sally Bercow:

after Sally dismissed a MigrationWatch report that proves a link between a rise in youth unemployment and immigration was “dangerous propaganda” and compared it to arguments used by Hitler and Mosley. Live on Sky News
He has since clarified the issue with a link to the Index on Censorship and doesn't expect anything to come of it, probably never did

The reason I am posting is to question why this issue ever came up in the first place - she called a MigrationWatch report 'dangerous propaganda' - surely nothing defamatory in that, certainly no more than in your typical tabloid rag

She then likened it to arguments used by Hitler and Mosley - again, I'm not aware there's a law that states you can't bring up Hitler - with the obvious exception of Godwin's, which isn't usually a legal matter

Even calling someone Hitler, or shouting 'fascist' at them, which she didn't do, is not defamation - it's all fair game in the discourse of politics

The English libel laws are a joke, their main use seems to be exploiting them to stifle political debate

...and I'll stop there for fear of legal action

They did not invent them!

Watching the Daily Politics, Oona King and Portillo are having a debate about inventions - main topic, who came up with the rent-a-bike scheme in London - Johnson or Livingstone

The real question is - who went to Europe and pinched the idea?

Launched in Paris in 2007, any tourist will see them - and indeed most major northern European cities had a scheme when I went round Europe long before Boris launched our system in London

As Wikipedia states - Lyon had the breakthrough in 2005, and even Portsmouth toyed with it in the 90s

Likewise, it's been popular in the US for many years

Basically we saw a good idea and stole it - nothing wrong with that, but it's not 'innovative', nor was it our invention, it's just about in the realms of forward-thinking, that's it - don't believe politicians when they state it's a London thing, we're as behind on this one as the famously useless Ozzies

Introducing the Oyster card was somewhat more impressive - certainly wasn't the first smartcard, but it involved massive changes to a pre-existing infrastructure system, and it actually worked, the bikes just required a copy of someone else's system to be built

edit: and as any Cambridge resident will tell you - we've been practising a reciprocal bike-sharing agreement for decades, they just call it 'bike theft' everywhere else