Saturday, 18 August 2007

Prospects dim for a return to the US

Each of us makes a personal evaluation of the hassles of traveling versus the benefits of a trip. I don't do any business in the US, so it was relatively easy for me to give up leisure visiting in the wake of 11th September. I still like the country, and the people, a lot, but why do they employ on immigration and security persons with the social skills of baboons? Why should I trust the judgment of someone who can't even write in cursive script and labouriously forms words in block capitals with all the skill of a six year-old? And I'm not removing my brogues for anyone. Damned impertinence. You deprive me of my hip-flask at your peril.

You will gather that the US-bound security and immigration process is one that is likely to engender anger and hostility in one such as myself. Particularly after having been deprived of a calming smoke for several hours.

Picking up a copy of 'New Scientist' on the train yesterday, I found a piece that makes the likelihood of my return to visiting the US even more remote. Homeland Security are developing a 'hostility detector' that analyses micro-expressions, gait, blood pressure, pulse and respiration rates; anyone passing a 'hostility threshold' can be pulled out for interrogation.

That would be me, I guess. Every time. Oh well.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Labour's fantasy reforms

In the wake of another record year of A level results, university departments are developing inventive new ways of disguising the first two years of a degree course as anything other than a secondary school remedial course. A good friend of mine now reckons this is how long it takes to bring students up to the old A level standards. Then just as they get started on some real undergraduate work, it's time for finals and graduation.

Employers know this, of course. So 21 year-olds are now filling the jobs that were once filled by 18 year-olds, but with tens of thousands of pounds of debt to contend with. Employers also know that Eton produces more pupils with five good GCSEs than the whole of the London Borough of Hackney in any year. And that 40% of children leave primary school illiterate and innumerate.

So how are employers coping? Well, I think they're re-discovering Fordism. Ford realised you didn't need teams of skilled engineers to build a car; if the process was broken down into discrete parts, any numpty could be quickly taught to tighten a particular nut to a given torque. And that's what production workers did; they tightened the same nut over and over. They became expert at tightening that particular nut. But that was all they could do.

IT systems have allowed the new Fordism to emerge to cope with our disastrous wreck of an education system. "Computer Says No" is the reality for millions of workers in Britain today. Including all those graduates. Brave visions of the knowledge economy, of hordes of uber-bright young British things with 2:1s all innovating like mad are just visions; like Blair's other fantasies and self-delusions, the deceits of each new five-year plan and set of Stakhanovite performance indicators. But employers have to keep the economy going, and will adapt to make use of the quality of raw material available - they have no room for Labour's fantasy visions.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Beer Street or Gin Lane?

It's becoming increasingly clear to me that senior coppers are somewhat lacking in their schooling. And that's an understatement. Yet another bling-encrusted paper-shuffler has hit the press today calling for all public drinking to be banned; another called yesterday for the drinking age to be raised to 21. Silly, simple, ignorant sods. I suppose as coppers they see the solution to everything as more laws that restrict Joe Potato rather than any more complex regulatory needs.

If I mention Hogarth I'll bet seven out of ten of you will see his engraving 'Gin lane' in your mind's eye - the one where the drunken slut is dropping her baby down the steps.

Far less well known is its counterpart 'Beer Street' (partly reproduced below - click on it). Gin Lane was drawn to represent the evils of cheap gin; Beer Street to let us remember the virtues of our traditional ale-quaffing culture. In Beer Street there is a hive of industry; new buildings are going up, built by ale-quaffing navvies; tradesmen carrying the marks of their trade enjoy a good laugh and a bit of slap-and-tickle - it's a celebration of our northern European English beer culture, long may it live. Wholesome. Healthy.

Both cartoons were produced in support of the Gin Act - an Act that sought to limit the damage done by the purveyors of cheap gin. Yes, we've been here before. In the 18th century we were still clever enough to realise the answer lay with restricting the supply of cheap gin, not with trying to stop the English drinking and having a bit of fun. Hogarth's message was simple - the problem wasn't alcohol, or its place in our lives, but cheap, irresponsible alcohol that poisons the feckless masses - the products of the multinational's research labs that produce cheap grain alcohol rainbow-coloured sweet drinks that appeal to the young, the stupid and the tasteless.

You'd think a senior copper would know that, wouldn't you?

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

What price to keep Scotland in the Union?

Gordon Brown's immediate reaction to Salmond's white paper - to offer Scotland even more power and autonomy - will not address the fundamental issues that now confront the Union. We are approaching a time when the most consummate and far-sighted diplomatic and constitutional skills are required.

The English are becoming increasingly aware of the injustice of Scots MPs voting on English affairs whilst the reverse is denied to English MPs. Brown's offer of further powers to Scotland will only exacerbate this. The English are also becoming increasingly aware that English taxpayers are funding generous Scots public service provision, and resenting it.

As Frank Field points out in today's Telegraph, the English are also becoming increasingly aware of the implications of the new European Constitution, which will elevate the separate status of Scotland and Wales and reduce England's lead of the Union. And that it is England which has borne the brunt of Labour's uncontrolled immigration over the past decade.

Placating Salmond will inevitably raise tensions in England.

The circle to be squared is this. The imbalance of England's position in the Union must be addressed, by an English Grand Committee in Parliament or a measure with equivalent effect. The Scots must be allowed a referendum on independence in order to preserve the Union - the indications are that they will reject the option. And most critically, the whole United Kingdom must be allowed a referendum on the European constitution, which I believe will be rejected.

The choice facing us in the months ahead will be as critical as that which faced us in September 1939. Do we hold our Union precious, and seek to re-balance the relationship between our two nations, principality and province? Or are we ready to call it a day, cede sovereignty to a federal Europe, and for England, Scotland and Wales to become, like the German Laender, just regions of a greater State?

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Civil disobedience - is it still possible?

I've been thinking for some time of a range of measures that could be taken across the country that would inconvenience and disaccommodate all those behind the 3,000 new laws since 1997, the criminalisation of the middle classes, the ugly and abhorent manifestations of a police state. Such measures coming generally under the heading of 'civil disobedience'.

Because we're a law abiding people, it couldn't involve breaking any laws. The personal cost must be minimal.

And then I thought, even advocating that people think about civil disobedience might already be illegal under the terror laws.