Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Something must be done

So we've dealt with the smokers and we're trying to sort out the drinkers, but when that's done we need a new target:
Leading medical bodies are calling for a 20p-per-litre levy on soft drinks to be included in this year's Budget. 
More than 60 organisations, including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, are backing the recommendation by food and farming charity Sustain. 
They say it would raise £1bn a year in duty to fund free fruit and meals in schools to improve children's health.
What we actually have here is lobbying by yet another fake charity:
But Sustain says the tax is a simple measure that would help save lives by reducing sugar in our diets and raising money to protect children's health. 
It says the UK consumes more than 570 million litres (125 million gallons) of sugary soft drinks a year. Adding a 20p tax for every litre sold would raise more than £1.1bn.
No it wouldn't because it takes no account of the cost of collection or behavioural changes, the latter being what Sustain actually wants to achieve with this tax.
"This modest proposal goes some way towards making the price of food reflect its true costs to society. Our obesity epidemic causes debilitating illness, life threatening diseases and misery for millions of people. It is high time government did something effective about this problem."
Look at that - not a word about personal choice, just that the government must step in and take control.

The BBC article ends on a damning note though:
Over the past 10 years, the consumption of soft drinks containing added sugar has fallen by 9% while the incidence of obesity has increased by 15%.
So it's actually the health puritans looking for another target rather than sweet fizzy drinks being a problem then.

Monday, 28 January 2013

The Royal Institution in a spot of bother

It's sad, but not unexpected to me at least, that the RI has had to put it's historic headquarters at 21 Albemarle Street up for sale due to financial difficulties. This is the building known for being the place where Michael Faraday carried out his work, where ten elements including sodium were discovered, and most famously, where the rather wonderful annual Christmas Lectures are held.

A lot of these financial difficulties have been attributed to an expensive refurbishment of the building in 2008 which added a restaurant and conference facilities for hire. This was in part funded by the sale of a number of investment properties, but the new facilities have not been generating anything like the income that the properties were.

So the organisation has a problem and over the last two years has been trying to find a solution in the form of  long term sponsorship and endowments but to no avail. I can't offer much in the way of financial support but I'm good at stating the obvious which is thus:
Opening times
Monday to Friday 9.00am to 6.00pm (excluding public holidays) 
Museum opening hours
Monday to Friday 9.00am-6.00pm 
Café and Bar & Kitchen opening hours
Café: Monday to Friday 8.00am - 3.00pm
Bar & Kitchen: Monday to Friday 10.00am - 10.00pm
Yep, unbelievably it's shut at the weekend and bank holidays just when most people have a bit of spare time to head over and have a look around.

Now if I had a grand building in central London with a museum, lecture theatre seating over 400, and a bar and restaurant, I'd be making damn sure that it was being fully utilised and that means being open at the weekend. Like most in London, entry to the museum is free but then there's an opportunity to sell guides, membership, solicit donations, or whatever. Hold events and talks in the lecture theatre and conference rooms all day and charge for them - check out this lecture on the science of fireworks; who isn't interested in setting fire to things or blowing up stuff? That's exactly the sort of thing they need to host on a regular basis to get people, especially families, through the doors, and afterwards directing them towards to the bar and restaurant. You've then got a total "RI experience" and visitors can make a morning or an afternoon of it.

I doubt very much that my suggestions are the complete answer to the RI's financial woes, but putting my business hat on, I see some quality assets not being used to their full potential and missed opportunities not just to raise money but to also inform and educate.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Not the whole picture

I'm always suspicious of articles like the following, especially in the Guardian:
'Stealing to eat' cases increase as austerity bites
The data may still be sketchy and the evidence largely anecdotal, but there are signs that shoplifting food is becoming an austerity-era shoplifting phenomenon: more people stealing to eat because they cannot afford basic groceries.
Which renders this article next to useless if it's based on hearsay. Being the Guardian, it's an attempt to extrapolate a few anecdotes into a bigger story with which to bash the coalition government, one of which being a grand total of four people, dealt with by one police force in a year for shoplifting. It's hardly conclusive proof of George Osbourne starving the poor into a life of crime to feed themselves.

Of course if you were caught red-handed, saying that you were stealing to feed your children is likely to garner more sympathy than saying you were stealing to feed a smack habit...

The problem I have is that we know little of the circumstances that have led to someone going out and nicking stuff. Perhaps they've had some unexpected bills come in or they've gambled and lost it all on the horses. Maybe they have no idea about budgets and priorities like this couple. It's actually very unhelpful and also lazy to blame Tory Cuts™ when there may be an underlying reason that needs to be addressed that won't be solved, regardless of how much money you throw at it.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Thoughts on recent high street failures

We're half way through January and three major high street chains, Jessops, HMV, and Blockbuster, have gone into administration. I'm sad that a lot of people will probably lose their jobs but apart from this, I'm really not bothered about their demise and here's why:

I'm busy with two demanding young children, a demanding wife, and my company with all the hassle that involves. Time is precious and money is tight so I want to make the most of both. It therefore follows that the last thing that I want to do in my spare time is to spend money driving to the shops, spend even more on parking, and then traipse around looking for something that may or may not be in stock. My alternative is to go online, find exactly what I want for the best price, and have it delivered to my door in a day or two; the process taking all of ten minutes. Now I hate shopping so this makes me happy, but not only that, I have more time to do what I want to do and I've probably saved money as well.

That's not the end of it though; I can download most music, video, or software that I want. Sainsburys, Tesco, Asda, Waitrose, and Ocado all deliver to my house. Quite simply, I have no reason to venture out to the shops to buy stuff when someone will bring it to me cheaper - the internet retailer of my choice will give me what I want, when I want it, at the best price I can find. That the high street chains can't compete with that is tough - they've failed me as a customer.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Transsexuals should cut it out

Below is the text from the Julie Birchill article that the Guardian/Observer thought fit to remove after an outcry from the Left. I happened to still have the tab open before it was pulled. You can still see a Google cached version at the time of writing but suspect that will disappear shortly:

It's never a good idea for those who feel oppressed to start bullying others in turn.

The brilliant writer Suzanne Moore and I go back a long way. I first met her when she was a young single mother living in a council flat; she took me out to interview me about my novel Ambition (republished by Corvus Books this spring, since you ask) for dear dead City Limits magazine. "I've got an entertaining budget of £12.50!" she said proudly. "Sod that, we're having lobster and champagne at Frederick's and I'm paying," I told her. Half a bottle of Bolly later, she looked at me with faraway eyes: "Ooo, I could get to like this…" And so she did.

I have observed her rise to the forefront of this country's great polemicists with a whole lot of pride – and just a tiny bit of envy. I am godmother to her three brilliant, beautiful daughters. Though we differ on certain issues we will have each other's backs until the sacred cows come home.

With this in mind, I was incredulous to read that my friend was being monstered on Twitter, to the extent that she had quit it, for supposedly picking on a minority – transsexuals. Though I imagine it to be something akin to being savaged by a dead sheep, as Denis Healey had it of Geoffrey Howe, I nevertheless felt indignant that a woman of such style and substance should be driven from her chosen mode of time-wasting by a bunch of dicks in chicks' clothing.

To my mind – I have given cool-headed consideration to the matter – a gaggle of transsexuals telling Suzanne Moore how to write looks a lot like how I'd imagine the Black and White Minstrels telling Usain Bolt how to run would look. That rude and ridic.

Here's what happened. In a book of essays called Red: The Waterstones Anthology, Suzanne contributed a piece about women's anger. She wrote that, among other things, women were angry about "not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual". Rather than join her in decrying the idea that every broad should aim to look like an oven-ready porn star, the very vociferous transsexual lobby and their grim groupies picked on the messenger instead.

I must say that my only experience of the trans lobby thus far was hearing about the vile way they have persecuted another of my friends, the veteran women's rights and anti-domestic violence activist Julie Bindel – picketing events where she is speaking about such minor issues as the rape of children and the trafficking of women just because she refuses to accept that their relationship with their phantom limb is the most pressing problem that women – real and imagined – are facing right now.

Similarly, Suzanne's original piece was about the real horror of the bigger picture – how the savagery of a few old Etonians is having real, ruinous effects on the lives of the weakest members of our society, many of whom happen to be women. The reaction of the trans lobby reminded me very much of those wretched inner-city kids who shoot another inner-city kid dead in a fast-food shop for not showing them enough "respect". Ignore the real enemy – they're strong and will need real effort and organisation to fight. How much easier to lash out at those who are conveniently close to hand!

But they'd rather argue over semantics. To be fair, after having one's nuts taken off (see what I did there?) by endless decades in academia, it's all most of them are fit to do. Educated beyond all common sense and honesty, it was a hoot to see the screaming mimis accuse Suze of white feminist privilege; it may have been this that made her finally respond in the subsequent salty language she employed to answer her Twitter critics: "People can just fuck off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them."

She, the other JB and I are part of the minority of women of working-class origin to make it in what used to be called Fleet Street and I think this partly contributes to the stand-off with the trannies. (I know that's a wrong word, but having recently discovered that their lot describe born women as 'Cis' – sounds like syph, cyst, cistern; all nasty stuff – they're lucky I'm not calling them shemales. Or shims.) We know that everything we have we got for ourselves. We have no family money, no safety net. And we are damned if we are going to be accused of being privileged by a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs.

It's been noted before that cyberspace, though supposedly all new and shiny, is plagued by the age-old boredom of men telling women not to talk and threatening them with all kinds of nastiness if they persist in saying what they feel.

The trans lobby is now saying that it wasn't so much the initial piece as Suzanne's refusal to apologise when told to that "made" them drive her from Twitter. Presumably she is meant to do this in the name of solidarity and the "struggle", though I find it very hard to imagine this mob struggling with anything apart from the English language and the concept of free speech.

To have your cock cut off and then plead special privileges as women – above natural-born women, who don't know the meaning of suffering, apparently – is a bit like the old definition of chutzpah: the boy who killed his parents and then asked the jury for clemency on the grounds he was an orphan.

Shims, shemales, whatever you're calling yourselves these days – don't threaten or bully us lowly natural-born women, I warn you. We may not have as many lovely big swinging Phds as you, but we've experienced a lifetime of PMT and sexual harassment and many of us are now staring HRT and the menopause straight in the face – and still not flinching. Trust me, you ain't seen nothing yet. You really won't like us when we're angry.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The effect of closing a tax loophole

So Low Value Consignment Relief has been scrapped by George Osbourne which has led to Play.com shutting down its retail business. The impact of this is that 67 British jobs have been lost and consumers will pay more for their DVDs, that is if they still choose to buy them elsewhere. So that all worked out well didn't it?

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Free Breakfast

There's a problem and the council are here to help:
Free breakfasts for all primary school pupils are to be provided by a council, in a three-month pilot project to stop children starting the day hungry. 
Blackpool council says teachers are finding too many pupils coming to school without having any breakfast. 
Council leader Simon Blackburn says a healthy meal before lessons will help pupils "focus on learning".
I'm inclined to agree with Mr. Blackburn but what exactly is the root cause of this problem?
"In many families, parents are leaving children to fend for themselves in the morning. This is because some parents simply don't have the time or inclination to prepare breakfast, let alone supervise their children or encourage them to eat it," says the report into teachers' experiences of children who arrive at school unfed.
So it isn't "Vicious Tory Cuts" but once again it's shite parenting. Some parents don't have the time or inclination to feed their children? Seriously? That's part of the job description of being a parent. You fail.

The council, being fully aware of this, is not tackling the root cause of the problem and by providing the breakfasts is reinforcing that the behaviour of the parents is OK. After all, if they know that their children will be fed at school then there's zero chance of them shifting their chav arses out of their beds and putting some cereal and milk in a bowl for them.

On a final note, I wonder what Andy Burnham would make of councils providing free Frosties to children whose parents can't be arsed to feed them?

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Mary Fucking Whitehouse is back from the dead

And is going by the name of Margaret:
Channel 4 and the sick show they call comedy: Comedians guzzle wine and egg each other on to trade obscene jokes about the Queen, Philip and Susan Boyle
Margaret Morrissey, founder of campaign group Parents Outloud, said: ‘It is amazing this programme was ever broadcast. This was not live television, someone made the decision to allow this to go out at 9pm during the holidays when young children will still be up and watching television.
Fuck off Margaret Morrissey. If you can't control what your young children are watching on telly then you're a shite parent. That's your responsibility and nobody else's. Trust the Daily Mail to bring out the professionally offended.

It gets better though as there is an article on her Parents Outloud website with more comment from her:
It was actually at 9pm and whilst I agree with you totally in an ideal world yes I personally would switch off life is not so simple. Given the red light these things become the norm after 25 years of working with parents and PTA’s experience shows there are those parents who do allow children freedom of the media and they then discus with your children , they now have the ability to record etc and share so best not to broadcast it surely.
Some crude humour is broadcast after a well known watershed. That offends her puritan sensibilities or might be seen by her children (won't somebody think of the children?) because she can't be arsed to keep an eye on them. Therefore the solution is to ban it. Margaret Morrissey offends my sensibilities, so she can go and fuck herself.