Thursday, 29 September 2011

Two tweets are better than one

A head full of cotton wool, not literally of course, that would be dangerous, probably terminal; though it would explain the lack of discernible brain activity. I am reduced to blogging about blogging - would that be meta-blogging? Not my own though; in the absence of original thought I shall comment upon a couple of tweets. Would that be meta-micro-blogging or micro-meta-blogging or…
It is time to end the Dark Ages. Tax all religion.
I am not entirely sure how to respond. Is this a hoax, a provocation designed to kick-start a debate, an “I don’t like religion” tweet - perfectly acceptable - or, and I may be giving more credit than is due, a suggestion that any favourable tax status should be reviewed. Difficult given that such status is the result of charity - and are we really in the realm of dictating who can be charitable? Taxing people’s belief; it is I suspect another example of ‘progressive liberal’ thought: penalise that with which you disagree.
Party defections by elected officials should always create by-elections. No exceptions.
I am entirely sure of how to respond. This is either a misunderstanding of how our electoral system works, in terms of who and what we vote for, or another misguided attempt to pass the judgement of an elected official from the electorate to an unelected body. When in the polling booth, whilst in practice I scan for ‘my’ political party, in reality I am voting for a specific individual. It is a marvellous system, a system that could - if we curbed the power of the party whip - encourage our representatives to give due allegiance to their electorate, rather than the party to which they happen to belong. It is the very essence of local democratic accountability.

The logical progression to this - at an extreme end - is that an individual may choose to leave his/her party; whether because the individual or the party’s policies have changed, it is for the electorate to decide. Changing party is in effect no different to changing policy. Were a rule introduced to the effect that party defections trigger by-elections, this could be side-stepped by declaring an intention to leave, as opposed to actually leaving. Easy, you might respond, the party would then eject their unwanted member to get the desired result… only they could then eject all sorts of other ‘troublemakers’ too, and doubtless get more malleable MPs in return, bending to the will of their party first, their electorate second. Is that really what we want?

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Kind hearts are more than coronets

Kind Hearts and Coronets
Over a year after buying an Ealing box set, I put on the only film in the collection I hadn’t seen as a boy - Kind Hearts and Coronets. Terrific stuff, unexpectedly dark, though given its premise I don’t know why the surprise. I think I was taken aback by how sharp it was and how, though the roles of Alec Guiness are a reference point, it is the performance of Dennis Price I will remember, if not Joan Greenwood as the artful Sibella. Ah, Joan, we shall meet again in The Man in the White Suit; I wonder if I’ll like you quite as much then?

I corrected my omission in response to a spot-on review in The Guardian - who’d have thought I’d ever say that - which starts “There are four great voiceovers in cinema”. Voiceovers; whilst I try not to judge, I regard them suspiciously, chuckle when the somewhat unsympathetic McKee dismisses it as “sloppy writing”; though that’s Adaptation, a film with a wonderfully recursive quality, featuring much ‘off-camera commentary’ itself. Occasionally I do have my prejudice stoked by the truly awful; drama such as The Body Farm - what were you thinking BBC? - or irritated when otherwise they have something to recommend, such as Submarine. On the whole, they magnify any fault, and if that’s the case I have no excuse - and every reason - to look up the others in the list; Sunset Boulevard and The Age of Innocence for instance - how can I have missed those two?

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Sleepy head

Friday afternoon, my daughter returns from her school activity week with a sun tan and a smile. Fifteen minutes later, we drive for a traffic-afflicted four hours to Padstow - or as I shall now think of it, given the number of establishments, Rick Stein’s Padstow - for a birthday meal with friends the following day. We stayed overnight in Molesworth Manor, far too nice for the likes of me, and left the following morning to walk around town before having lunch at The Seafood Restaurant. Stir-fried squid for the starter, and a steak for my main course; it was good, but Ronnie’s - a local restaurant, walking distance from where I live - is better. Perhaps this is a little harsh, a seafood restaurant should probably be judged on its fish? Then, a four hour journey home in the rain - including a stop for coffee, I needed that coffee - before... and there my recollection of the weekend ends. I think a cooked breakfast may have been involved, and a walk to the shops.

I remember planning to watch The Dead Zone, and ejecting the DVD when I discovered it was letter-boxed for a 4:3 screen. There’s work tomorrow; I shall start where I left off Friday, though since I can’t remember where I left off I don’t know where I’ll start. I need a pillow and a good night’s sleep. Strike this weekend; I’ll relax in the next.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

An apology

Lest I become part of the baying twitter mob, I thought I’d try writing something positive, so I shall offer some advice. An apology should be the main - some would say only - part of an apology; try to avoid the following:
  • Don’t make me count the ways. “two wrong and stupid things” - are you counting the type or number of offences?
  • Don’t name drop. “I took out nasty passages about people I admire” doesn't lessen your transgression, especially considering what you did to those you’re not so keen on.
  • Don’t self-aggrandise. “...the powerful people I had taken on over the years for their wrongdoing” would be wince inducing even if true. You’re a writer, not a freedom fighter.
  • Don’t leave anything out and don’t delay. If it takes several versions, disclosing a little more each time, leaving it until there’s no way out, people might think you insincere.
I do have some sympathy - a little - for your employer, when I last checked over 7,500 people had “liked” your “apology”. Perhaps this is why it feels like the minimum thought necessary, a token gesture to enable you, your employer and your readership to stumble on. There’s a ready market for your polemic, say nasty things about the right targets and it’s proof of something that deep down us ordinary types already knew; money trumps gross misconduct every time.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Abandon currency!

Former chancellor Nigel Lawson was in entertaining form this morning discussing the current EU economic mess, though it did sound as if he’d been celebrating too early. The ‘solution’ wasn’t so much for Greece to abandon the euro, but for the EU to abandon its dream of a single currency. As he put it, monetary union requires fiscal union; and fiscal union would require political union, something most Europeans don’t want.

I remember several occasions when people voted “No” and were ignored; in the case of Denmark threatened with the consequences and told to vote again, presumably as often as needed to produce the ‘right’ result. I can easily imagine many wanting monetary union, but not the foundations required to make it work. Just as I continue to find it difficult to square the Liberal Democrats championing of local democracy, whilst pushing for deeper European integration; and if this doesn’t mean political union, what does it mean?

Monday, 12 September 2011

The tragedy of our day

I wonder if the Labour party thought it a good day to bury stupid policy; they have form. I should thank them, and the TUC, for the light relief provides distraction from what might have been a grim day. Not so much the tragedy of what those zealous idiots started ten years ago, more the reaction of those who even now conflate Afghanistan and Iraq with alarming ease; or, for example, the Guardian’s intellectual vacuity in insisting it an act of terror, rather than one of war. Presumably without a formal declaration it isn’t such; and thus becomes the perfect excuse for any state harbouring an organisation wishing to slaughter the citizens of another. The US and its allies prosecuted a just war in Afghanistan, if there can be such a thing; to do otherwise would have been monumental folly, a signal to others that sheltering Al Qaeda carries no risk, no penalty, no matter what.

Yet I am disingenuous, for my daughter has left on a week-long activity holiday with her school. That grim feeling is better described as nervousness; it is her first time away. Much as I feel I ought to, I find I cannot concern myself with the murderous stupidity of others. At least not to the extent - I hope - of changing the way I think, the way I behave. I refuse. We've been through this before.
The tragedy of our day is the climate of fear in which we live, and fear breeds repression. Too often sinister threats to the bill of rights, to freedom of the mind, are concealed under the patriotic cloak, of anti-communism.
-- Adlai Stevenson

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Dispelling not-for-profit

I can understand arguments that proposed NHS changes may make the service less efficient. I can understand suggestions they won’t, as claimed, put the patient - or his/her GP - in the ‘driving seat’. I disagree, but I can understand, and in truth can imagine failure. I am less impressed with warnings of impending privatisation; what arrant nonsense. Nor do I care for the consternation apparent at the notion of a private company making a profit. That so many decry the idea of an NHS-run hospital closing - as a result of being open to competition and unable to compete - suggests either wilful obfuscation or an inability to understand the basics.

When the running of the national lottery was open for bids, Richard Branson made much of his group’s tender being not-for-profit; however, the relevant detail is revenue generated. Branson was courting public opinion, that he felt able to throw in this red herring is indicative of how easily confused we are. For example, should we accept a bid that will generate £800 million for the country and £100 million profit for the organisers, or should we accept a not-for-profit bid generating £750 million?

Understanding ‘commission versus provision’ is equally simple. When the NHS spends money on our behalf, would we for instance rather spend £3000 on an ‘in-house’ operation, or out-source to a private hospital charging £2800 for the same service, of which £300 might be profit? Of course these numbers are made up, I use them merely to illustrate that profit should have no bearing on the decision made. Accusations of cherry-picking by private consortia should, if we procure sensibly and ensure multiple providers, also prove irrelevant. An informed choice, one that allows for profit, will result in an NHS that costs less and/or one that can do more.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Look at those silly men

Jack Kerouac - On The Road
As befits a good book, I’m having a hard time categorising On the Road. It defies easy rating; it’s good literature that was no doubt ground breaking for the time, yet time has not treated the movement well. When I think of the beat generation, I think of the dated patois, of Jerry Lewis or numerous other parodies; and in my less forgiving moments I found myself weighing whether this wasn’t a fetid existentialism; less ‘on the road’, more ‘on the turn’.

There are some great moments; I particularly liked the description of roads being widened and laws abated to make way for one of Dean’s visits. The latter stages in general, the trip to Mexico and the slow unravelling of Sal’s sometime companion prove to be more sympathetic. There were a number of genuinely moving occasions where I felt Kerouac really got ‘it’, and his observations of friends worked well too, even occasionally of fellow travellers:
…because her heart was not glad when she said it I knew there was nothing in it but the idea of what one should do.
There’s nothing particularly revelatory in this observation, but it works. Most supporting characters however fair less well. For example when Sal finds himself...
... wishing I could exchange worlds with the happy, true-hearted, ecstatic negroes of America.
Oh dear, the last time I read something that patronising was a Guardian account of the working class. Unfortunately this isn’t isolated either; the otherwise excellent trip to “Mehico” has a wince-inducing indigenous population who supposedly speak ‘a leetle like theees’ and descriptions of women that wouldn’t be out of place in an airport novel. “We don’t understand our women”, says Sal, that much was obvious; men are predators and most women exist to be nailed; the 1950’s expression for this is to “work” or “make”, but let’s not argue terminology.

Camus wrote “it is not a matter of explaining and solving, but of experiencing and describing", appreciation doesn’t require empathy; the question is whether these slight descriptions are a failure of Sal or the author. Since it is a largely autobiographical work I tend toward the latter view; on the Camus test, Kerouac scores highly on one criterion but has mixed success - and some notable failures - on the other.

Yet here I am, over a week later and still I think of “On the Road”. For a large part, even after I had finished, I found the central friendship of the two frustrating; Dean is a horrible character, less shaman, more charlatan; but in this, bizarrely, lay my hope. Sal knows who Dean is but loves him just the same.