Saturday, 3 October 2015

Sugar on poverty

Lord Sugar thinks real poverty no longer exists

Lord Sugar says there's no such thing as real poverty in 21st century Britain

Lord Sugar says today's poor have never had it so good, with mobile phones, computers and televisions making a mockery of claims of deprivation

He is certainly right if poverty is to be taken as absolute poverty where starvation knocks at the door. Starvation poverty is a thing of the past but climbing out of it still lies within living memory. Anyone of a certain age can recall what would now be seen as severe and widespread poverty. I don't recall starvation poverty because I’m not that old, but I recall the climbing and I do recall my great uncle telling us how his family cooked sparrows when times were hard.

So Alan Sugar is right in that sense. I grew up in a household with no fridge, freezer, TV, music system, central heating, phone, car or dishwasher. We only had one holiday a year but in our own eyes we weren’t poor. The real poor lived elsewhere and had even less. Not being politically correct we called their offspring “the dirty kids” and avoided them socially.

Unfortunately human behaviour is what it is and it is disingenuous to pretend otherwise. We copy others, measure ourselves against them and this gives us a second and perfectly legitimate view of poverty. Poverty can be relative. We were not poor when compared with "the dirty kids".

The problem is we use the same word for two different things with two different but overlapping impacts. Too many people try to make political capital from confusing two types of poverty and from the disputes which naturally arise, which is probably what pisses off Lord Sugar.

To my mind he should not be pissed off by it. Inequality is probably necessary to generate a degree of dynamism in societies, but too much of it causes too much social division even when those at the bottom of the pile have mobile phones and humongous TVs. The rich and powerful loose touch and that's another problem we don't know how to tackle.

Friday, 2 October 2015

You didn’t say ‘peanut’

One of the most enduring games in Grandson’s school playground is one I played sixty years ago. In the fifties we called ‘tick n’hit’. Grandson calls it ‘tig’ but there are many other names.

From Wikipedia -
Tag (also known as it, tip you're it or tig [in regions of Britain], and many other names) is a playground game that involves one or more players chasing other players in an attempt to "tag" or touch them, usually with their hands. There are many variations; most forms have no teams, scores, or equipment. Usually when a person is tagged, they tagger says, "Tag, you're it".

In the playground this morning one boy managed to tag another but almost before he could run off, the tagged boy shrieked triumphantly ‘you didn’t say peanut’. So that was that, he escaped because he hadn’t been legitimately tagged at all.

The rule was new to me and I've watched them play for a few years now. It still looks like fun, but it also struck me how good the game is for learning about life, for avoiding petty failures via new rules others might not be aware of, for turning an apparent fait accompli on its head at the last minute.

Learn the lesson well chaps - learn it well.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Motherhood and apple pie

...without the apple pie.

Gazing from the foot of the bed, Harcourt divined in the still, recumbent figure the girl his mother had once been. He felt an impulse to cry, but did not cry. He saw as in a dream the whole of his mother’s life, from girlhood to grey hairs. And his sadness increased. He was acutely sorry for her, as we are always sorry for the poor dead. He realized that he had never been entirely just, and never generous enough, towards his mother.
Arnold Bennett - Under The Hammer (1931)

At what age does a chap see the girl his mother had once been? Not an early age perhaps? Motherhood seems to be an aspect of modern life we don’t handle as well as we could and once did, as if our capacity for this most deserved esteem has been siphoned off by the manipulative canker of modernity.

Or perhaps motherhood is a comparatively recent middle class invention never adopted by aristocrats or peasants. Yet it seems to be one of the reasons why we are where we are, the nurturing, the crucial years of early education and that unquenchable desire to pass on to the child more than the parents ever had.

Yet learning how to handle motherhood more sensitively - and it may as well be said, more productively - does not seem to be on the politically correct agenda. Pushing mothers into tedious careers with false promises of liberation and fulfilment, fiddling around with tax and benefits, holding up celebrity mothers as role models while nanny who does all the work stays safely in the background. There is a dark undercurrent of dishonesty in the way we project modern motherhood.

Perhaps Bennett’s words suggest it isn’t a new problem even its nature has changed, but we could at least acknowledge how important motherhood is without those blasted celebrities, without oily political sentiment or strident rhetoric. It’s a supremely delicate matter with sentimental slush at one end and at the other end we have charlatans, airheads and professional poseurs plying their unlovely trade.

Bennett was right but we cannot make too much of it because of what we are, because of our refined ability to destroy the fragile delicacy of a balanced standpoint. It requires not propaganda but a quiet recognition of what motherhood is, what mothers sacrifice, what they give with such wholehearted willingness and why it is so remarkable.

Unfortunately there is too much political kudos sucking too many teats, from those ghastly celebrities to sanctimonious political stooges. They steal from us our most precious human potential and one of them is motherhood.

At times it almost feels deliberate, as if the potential of motherhood has been shackled, as if all that gently ambitious nurturing was just too successful.

Car farting ban comes into force

From the BBC

A law banning farting in vehicles carrying children has come into force in England and Wales.
Drivers and passengers who break the law could face a penalty fine of £50 - but police say they will take a non-confrontational approach initially.

Whenever an under-18 is in the car, persistent bean-eaters will still be liable even if the windows are down or sunroof open.

But the law will not apply to people who are driving in a convertible which has the roof down.

The Scottish Parliament is expected to consider bringing in its own law banning farting in cars carrying children next year.

The science behind the ban is straightforward. Methanethiol is a component of flatulence gases and toxic in high concentrations. From Wikipedia -

A safety data sheet (SDS) lists methanethiol as a colorless, flammable gas with an extremely strong and repulsive smell. At very high concentrations it is highly toxic and affects the central nervous system. Its penetrating odor provides warning at dangerous concentrations.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Wannabe working class

One of the most odious aspects of our culture is the sight of millionaire celebrities loudly honking their sympathy for the poor, disadvantaged and downtrodden. Or the environment. It isn’t always clear if they make a distinction, but maybe the environment is a victim too.

It isn't any more palatable when middle class poseurs play the same games but the glitzy sympathy show has become an integral part of modern culture. It becomes even more weird when faux radicalism is invoked plus dollops of holier than thou bile for the rich bastards who supposedly cause all the problems, hording piles of moolah which numerous middle class committees would prefer to spend on themselves. 

Jeremy Corbyn’s retro Labour party seems willing to push this kind of two-faced mush to the limits with a strange attempt to identify with the workers, whoever they may be these days. Haven’t they moved to China - in a virtual sense?

Corbyn himself exemplifies it rather well which is one reason why I find it impossible to warm to the guy. Working class people aren’t called Jeremy, don’t have brothers called Piers and in particular they don’t spend almost their entire "working" lives as radical poseurs, safely hidden away on the political fringe where government is a theoretical concept developed by students decades ago.

In political terms the working class has morphed into a strange bundle of minorities rather than the horny-handed toilers of yesteryear when Jeremy first honed the political principles he seems never to have forgotten.

This is Jeremy’s weakness, that bundle of minorities which never was a core aspect of his old-fashioned, trade union, bash the rich politics but which he now has to accept as the new reality. Not only that, but the toilers' grandchildren now wish to be as middle class as he is but without the political flim-flam. He and his temporary acolytes don’t quite know what to do about it apart from dredging up the incantations of yesteryear.

It’s a tough call. Tony Blair knew things had changed but I’m not so sure Jeremy noticed. Maybe he was busy, but whatever it was he wasn’t working. Still isn’t.

Monday, 28 September 2015

The joy of cynicism

What has the internet done for us? Maybe one thing it has achieved is to hone our cynicism into a new and liberating philosophy of life – holistic cynicism.

Cynicism about what though? People – always people.

We have been ruled by cynics forever so perhaps after long centuries of believing all kinds of ludicrous crap it’s our turn to be cynical. Politics, big business and big bureaucracy are extremely cynical, which we always knew but many of us now know it right down to the marrow of our bones. It’s a fact of life on a par with death and taxes.

Holistic cynicism is a necessary if not always sufficient condition for placing ourselves more accurately in the grand scheme of things, for knowing what to expect and what not to expect – particularly what not to expect. Holistic cynicism is a sound way to make at least some sense of the big wide world.

Everything beyond our inner circle is included, from charities to democracy, from government to royalty, from celebrities to institutions, from news to narrative. Rule number one is the strongest, most profound and unyielding cynicism – holistic cynicism. Nothing less will do - abandon rule one at your peril.

We cynics always knew it but the internet has taught us just how cynical we need to be, and even now we haven’t fully mastered the beautiful and eternal truths of holistic cynicism. Unfortunately the internet has not passed this liberating lesson to everyone. There are those who will not learn to be holistically cynical  - they refuse to learn in spite of constant efforts by our political leaders.

A divide seems to be growing between those who find spiritual joy through their innate gift of holistic cynicism and those poor unfortunates who actually watch TV news and believe the mainstream media. Sad I know, but such people still exist in substantial numbers and there is no known cure. 

In particular there seems to be a vast gulf between cynics and those who see two sides to important issues. In reality there is only ever one side to any issue – the cynical side which is not really a side at all, but a starting point for liberating the soul.

Do cynics have souls? Do we need one?

Sunday, 27 September 2015