NRA – now really aggravating

At the time of writing it is about a week after some lunatic strolled into an American school and started shooting up the place. 20 first grade children and 7 women perished.

The NRA have come out with a bold defence of the right of every American to bear arms, citing video games and graphic films as the real source of the problem.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but video games and films never killed anyone. But I digress.

What is sickening at the moment is the pro gun lobby comments on the Internet, particularly Twitter. Indeed there is a call for schools to be more heavily armed. People are seriously thinking that the antidote to guns is more guns, closer to children. I think we need a quick reminder of what an ‘arms race’ is, before there are tanks deployed outside nurseries and apache gunships hovering over playgrounds.

One of the main issues is that the constitutional right to bear arms effectively let the cat out of the box. And it is now virtually impossible to get it back in. The guns are out there, in large numbers, and freely available. So it appears even a (massively unlikely) change to the constitution banning private handguns might only result in the compliant, law abiding types handing back their weapons.

Even restricting the types of guns available seems to make little difference. You can do an awful lot of damage with a six shooter and a little practice. We would be saying “well, 10 people died, but it would have been a lot worse if the gunman had an Uzi”. It’s little comfort. In fact, it’s no comfort.

Compare to most of Western Europe. Guns are highly restricted for recreational use, they must be licensed for a qualifying purpose (eg for vermin control) and kept in a locked cabinet, or kept at a licensed gun club for target sports. Automatic weapons are not available for private use. There is of course a black market for firearms (and guess where a lot of these come from), but if you are caught with one you can expect a long stay in prison, and to find only the most menial jobs afterwards etc.
The Police are not routinely armed, except with non-lethal batons, pepper spray and tasers. There is an armed response unit, which for the most part locks itself away until needed, or provides high visibility policing at vulnerable sites like airports and high profile events. We also have a highly trained military for when things get out of hand.

Where would you rather live?

We Brits bemoan the ‘nanny state’ and ‘health and safety gone mad’, however on this occasion I think we are lucky that the cat is still pretty much in the box.

So we come to the twitter whining, the most offensive comes in two flavours:

• I live in a free country where I can assert my right to do what I please. If you take my guns off me you are removing my freedom

And

• If we have armed guards in banks, how much more valuable are our children that we should protect them

Well, in order:

• sorry, but grow up. You sound like a spoilt child who thinks they’re having their ice cream taken off them. Please don’t take my shiny bangy thing. I will feel less ‘free’. I will feel less safe. Actually, if you are using the safety argument shouldn’t you be buying bullet proof vests rather than guns? Attack is rarely the best firm if defence. The constitution allows you to bear arms in order to form an organised militia against foreign invaders or oppressive regimes. Sorry, but isn’t that what the military is for? Again, in the UK if you want to get your hands on an assault rifle for the thrill of it, you can join the territorial army, a reserve force of the military made up of civilians. But no, you don’t get to take one home. That might be, I don’t know, dangerous.

• here is where I really lose my temper. First, you think you can value a life in the same way with the same words as some dollars in a bank vault? That is obscene. Of course we ‘value’ our children. We love them. We would give everything we own to protect them. But the logical leap to needing armed guards in every school simply does not follow. The antidote to bad guys with guns is not good guys with guns. It is less bad guys. It is fewer guns. It is less bullets. Ir is better parenting. It is more secure schools. It is better policing. It is better mental health care. It is non-lethal responses. It is not letting the cat out of the box in the first place.

You might think your right to have a gun should be protected to the utmost, but the right of innocent kids to carry on living is, I’m afraid, an infinitely higher priority. Grow up and do the right thing.

I can only conclude you must try and put the cat back in the box, no matter how difficult.

Yours, in peace.

D.

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Gay Marriage (courtesy of some part of me).

Hello,

I thought I would put in print my thoughts on Gay Marriage.

First, you might be wondering why I am interested in the subject at all. Albeit I have a handful of gay friends I do not consider myself particularly an activist for Gay rights. I have never felt the need to hastily daub a placard and take to the streets, on the other hand I recognise an injustice when I see one. I think this might give some weight to my side of the debate – I have no particular axe to grind, I am not hopping on any particular bandwagon for any personal benefit.

Despite being a churchgoer for many years until fairly recently, I am not a particularly religious person. I believe in the usefulness of the idea of God, for some people. I would not deny anyone this right. So I don’t have a particularly vested interest from the religious angle either. You could therefore say I am fairly impartial.

But as a heterosexual with no particular vested interest in gay marriage, some part of me  knows deep down that denying a gay couple a religious ceremony of marriage is wrong.

  • Some (small) part of me is pleased that Scotland is leading the way (again) in having the debate on the subject.
  • Some (big) part of me felt angered when that lovely guy questioned Mitt Romney about the inequality in ‘spousal’ benefits for ex. servicepeople who happen to be gay.
  • And some (huge) part of me was sickened when a couple took time out of their honeymoon to take a petition to Downing Street advocating continuing the ban on gay marriage.

It seems pretty terrible to me that we even have to have the debate. The ex. serviceman put it to Mr. Romney as eloquently as it could ever be put: when it comes to straight and gay couples “what the hell’s the difference?”. Not a trace of malice in him. He just wants equality.

What perplexes me a bit is why, when religious institutions have been so anti-gay for so long, would you want to get married to your same-sex partner in such an institution? This must be totally heartbreaking, and make you really question your faith, surely? I admit I do not fully understand, but I think it is your right to be treated equally.

I think nowadays if you have made it to your adult life as a gay individual you have probably already had more than your fair share of hard times. School is a tough place to be gay. ‘Coming out’ to your family (what a truly awful phrase – as if there is something shameful about you that should remain hidden) must be tough. If a gay couple want a church wedding, who are we to deny them? In reality, there is no ‘we’ and ‘them’, there is only ‘us’.

I have a sense that this issue (and similar ones of equality) may be the equivalent of my generation’s Rosa Parks moment. I, for one, would like history to record what side of the bus I was on. Part of my reason for starting an online presence was to leave a trail of my thoughts for my kids – I hope they know where I stand on this one.

I don’t know if any gay couples will read this, or find any comfort in my words if they do, but know this – a straight man with no vested interest other than what he feels is right is on your side.

I wish you the best of luck.

Dave

Related links:

Mitt Romney:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRN9Y5Nvdqk

Honeymoon couple:

http://www.nomblog.com/24302/

Out4marriage:

http://www.out4marriage.org/

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Wonders, if anyone will agree.

Today’s subject is Prof. Brian Cox and his Wonders of the Universe program.

In an unusual turn of events I’ll get straight to the point. If you don’t think that Prof. Brian Cox (PBC) should be on telly you are probably labouring under the misapprehension that Wonders is a science program. Not so.

I sat down to watch an episode of Wonders (“Stardust”) with the sole intention of writing down all the new learnings this afforded. My hypothesis was that this would be very low indeed (note the scientific method…). And I’m not a particularly educated man, so the bar was set pretty low to begin with. After a full hour of viewing, this was what adorned my pad (apart from an artful depiction of a cat):

Beatleguese (?) is about to explode.

That was it. A quite interesting fact. One of the more interesting aspects of the fact is that it sits in solitude on the page. The sum total of learning was one fact that a reasonably accomplished orator could convey in about three and a half seconds. Startling.

Normally this would not be an issue, except for this is pitched as a science program. Of all the things that it is, it is not a science program. The clue is in the title. It is a program designed to spark interest and amazement (not a bad thing). The bit at the start outside the Hindu temple and reincarnation: zero science. The bits where PBC stares (in manly profile silhouette) up at the sparkly night sky: zero science. The bit where he actually gets to the point and tells us that the stuff around us came from somewhere else: pretty much zero science. Conclusion: this is not a science program. It is barely a program ABOUT science.

I’m not saying it isn’t watchable, because it is. I’m not saying PBC isn’t a great charismatic presenter (and by God we need some of those, eh Heston?), because he is. I’m saying it’s all style and no substance. So, this is not to say the program is without merit, just to point out that for PBC to take the moral high ground is a little bit rich. It is not getting people into science, it is getting people into cultish vagueness, artful camerawork and funky backbeat accompanyments. A pop video with constellations. Dumbing-down in a smart suit.

If he is drawing more young people (particularly women) to look at science as an interesting subject worthy of further study you could easily argue that this a good thing and the ends justify the means. But who will it attract? Whether they are attracted by his chiselled good looks, or obvious passion for…something, or his presenting skills is almost (but not quite) irrelevant. The problem? Sex will sell anything. Make something sexy and it will sell. Period. Shoot some moody shots of sunsets, with PBC peering out to the horizon, and people will watch. And applaud the sterling effort. But are we not selling a lie? Will the target audience not be disappointed as soon as they, say, get to university (running up massive debts in the process) only to find the lessons drier than a sarcastic description of the Sahara, and with limited relevant career options afterwards? A friend of mine has a degree in astrophysics. The only thing this qualified him for was to teach astrophysics – he’s now a computer programmer. Another friend has a first class chemistry degree. She was last seen trying to devise better ways of making cream squirt from a can for the food industry. Make an impassioned documentary about that, you moodily-lit bugger. We may indeed all be Forged in the Furnaces of Distant Galaxies, but these can-nozzles aren’t going to wash themselves…

It all feels a bit Emporers New Clothes (that would make me a young boy, pointing and shouting), I wouldn’t mind if it didn’t take itself so seriously. It’s so begging for a parody the thing practically writes itself. Over to you, John Culshaw. No doubt Wonders will win awards though.

The BBC got it pretty much right when they made Horizon: recent developments in science, simply explained, gone in to in a little bit of depth. The trouble is, only the geeks watched it. The problem? – no sex. How do we attract the cool kids in to science? With a semi rocknroll posterboy fronting a well shot but ultimately vacuous travel show spouting vague generalisations about how great OUR universe is while staring at the moon. How do we keep them interested in science? Er, you probably can’t. Best leave it to the geeks then.

But just on the offchance, get PBC to present Horizon and leave the picturesque globe trotting to Judith Chalmers.

Just a thought.

Also made me smile:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/mar/21/wonders-of-the-universe-cox

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Barclays Tax

Hello there,

Mucho news about Barclays only paid £113m in UK Corporation tax in 2009, versus £4.6bn pre tax profits. They’re on the streets again…

Well before you don your pac-a-mac and leg it to your nearest branch to object that Barclays aren’t living up to their financial obligations:

  • They legitimately used a form of rollover relief, available to any business, to offset losses in a prior year against profits in a subsequent year. This is a basic and fundamental right in any sane tax system, otherwise you would pay £0 Corporation tax on your loss and then a huge amount the following year – or should you get a rebate in the year of loss? Think about it…
  • Barclays earns 60% of it’s profits outside the UK. It does not pay UK tax on those earnings. Again, this is not a loophole or a tactic, it is tax law (understand the difference between avoidance and evasion).
  • If you object to Barclays using tax law to it’s own personal ends, then perhaps you would be good enough to request your personal tax code be amended so you pay tax on the first £6,475 that you don’t pay tax on at the moment.You tax avoider you.
  • Taking worldwide earnings into account, it paid total tax at a rate equivalent to 23% in 2009. Nearly a quarter of it’s profits were paid over in the form of Corporation taxes to various tax regimes. Hardly a tax evader then.
  • So perhaps they cleverly exploit the system to pay lower taxes in other regimes than they would in the UK. Well, again, this is not illegal. The rate of UK Corporation tax is 28%, so you could argue there has been some saving (if it is intentional). I for one, am glad that our major banks understand the tax system to retain earnings rather than give them over to tax authorities. It implies they are competent in some regard. Who would you rather look after your money (or do all the objectors just keep all their cash under their mattresses)?
  • You might argue that the tax system is therefore broken in some way. Well, here, you might have a point. So perhaps camping out in the lobby of Barclays is kind of, like, you know, a bit pointless…
  • Higher retained earnings generally improves share prices. Most reasonable pension companies invested in the banks at their low point and are now reaping the rewards. Because of Barclays tax planning department, your pension could actually be worth more. Unless the objectors don’t have pensions…
  • So if you had any spare cash perhaps you should have invested in Bank shares, knowing that this would for sure either be a temporary blip (good) or the end of capitalism (in which case, losing some money on a few shares would be the last of your problems). Perhaps the objectors are just the ones that ‘knew this would happen’ but didn’t act?.. I, for one, used the profits to pay for a new dishwasher.
  • Barclays received no direct bail-out by the Government during the whole banking trouble. £0. It owes you, the tax payer, nothing. Zero. Not a bean.
  • Incidentally, regarding Bankers bonuses – most of these are subject to higher rate personal tax (40%) in the UK. So 40% of anything that is actually declared as a bonus is paid directly back over to the tax man. 40%. Think about that.

If you can read all of these facts, understand them, and still feel the need to wrench the little pens from their tethers in Barclays and run screeming towards one of the tellers in disgust, I am sorry to have to inform you that you are, in fact, a moron. Get off your high horse. Go and be productive. Stop reading newspapers. You do not have the necessary intelligence to avoid being easily enraged.

Go in peace.

Capitalist D.

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Tesco’s – catering for the hard-hit fetishists during the recession

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Top Gear Racism and a nice cup of tea.

Good Morning World,

Hey, I’ve started a Blog! Go Me!

I thought I would start off with something non-controversial and non-topical – ‘casual racism’ on Top Gear. Heh. Play it safe eh Dave?

You will see from the links below that Clarkson et al have dropped a(nother) clanger by more than implying that Mexicans are lazy. You will also see a ‘robust’ response from Steve Coogan.

You can read for yourself what was said, and Coogan’s response. This is my repsonse:

My main fear is that, in the noble cause of not causing offence, we ‘tone down’ our output to a point where we’re back in the 1950’s again (without the casual sexism). I don’t think I want to live in a world (country) where tv is toned down and controlled to such an extent that we end up with 24 hour streaming blandness akin to daytime television. You can only watch so many One Show items on the rise of the modern allotment, or the baby giraffe born at Whipsnade, before you want a bit more ‘grit’ in your diet.

Being lectured on comedy by Steve Coogan is a bit like taking a lesson on fast driving by Clarkson – In theory, they know their subject, however you can’t help feeling there are a considerable number of more qualified people that could do a better job. And am I being cycnical to consider that the Coogmeister, for all his past success, might be jumping on a bandwagon to elevate his own waning profile (#cough#Saxondale) on the back of a wildly successful show? . Comedy is an art, and art is subjective. The main test you can give to the art of comedy is simply ‘is it funny?’. The proof is laughter. So did the audience laugh at the comments on Top Gear? – you bet they did. Were they a sympathetic (even sycophantic) audience? – of course they were. Deuce then, in my book.

The thrust of the argument was not so much ‘was it funny?’ (because actually Steve, it was, in parts, but a bit ‘ranty’ to tell the truth), but was it offensive?
Well, I have to lean on my ‘progress’ argument here. In 2011, if we can’t, no, strike that, aren’t allowed to poke fun at some national stereotypes then that is in fact an arm of comedy lost. Not a good thing. Nor in fact perhaps a bad thing. But a thing nonetheless. The human brain is developed to stereotype. It filters, summarises and extrapolates on a second-by-second basis. I am a thirty-something British male acountant. Am I a wild, extrovert risk-taker? I am not. Do I wear glasses and drive a silver German car? Indeed I do. Do I speak in a mildly sleep-inducing monotone and indulge in hobbies that sound exciting (playing the guitar, motor racing, playing poker) but only really dabble in the shallow-end of them, to appear more risky and interesting than I otherwise am? Yes. Yes. And Yes. I have a three bed semi in the suburbs and enjoy a nice cup of tea for Christ’s sake. All that’s missing is the bowler hat. Yes, I am a walking sterotype. So poke fun. It’s ok. I (we) can take it. It’s 2011, not 1950. We are not so fragile. Sticks and Stones, Mr C. If there’s something I know as a Brit (another stereotype coming up) it’s that one of the few remaining things we have left to be proud of is our Sense Of Humour.

A few other points – will we be suing anyone for using the term ‘man flu’ in the future, because I’m offended by that. Oh actually, no, because I understand that it’s harmless and amusing banter. However, in a court of law, it suddenly appears to be a sexist term, because when you dryly regurgitate an offhand comment, or worse, present it in written form, it suddenly becomes Very Serious. “Can I draw you attention to exhibit “A”, M’lud, and I quote………a sheet with a hole in it” (did you laugh? Did you? You racist…).  And we’re all off to the Headmasters office again. FFS. Can we get off the pious bus and chill out a bit? Secondly, I was not aware that Top Gear was a live show. Mostly because it isn’t. I can’t help the feeling (again) that Coogan has singled out the high profile presenters to gain media exposure (#ahem#monkeys) rather than the culpable Director and Producer who let the show go out (#cough#organgrinders). Thirdly, who exactly is whipping up this minor storm? (actually, I’m contributing to it in a very minor way but still…). Is it the people that would love to see a(nother) high-profile sacking or withdrawal of a major show because………….THAT’S A STORY THAT WOULD SELL NEWSPAPERS. Then we could have a follow-up piece on the decline of the BBC and moral society in general. Wahooooo! I can almost hear the Editors salivating as I type. And another entertaining and popular show will have in effect been publicly lynched by the (competing?) tabloid press. Fourth, consider if unknown to you, I had secreted a hidden microphone in your clothes all this week. Then played snippets of your conversations back to various people who I think may find your comments offensive. Can you honeslty say you haven’t done much worse this week? This month? If I relayed your comments in written form back to your boss, would they be impressed? If the thought of this does not give you a slight cold shiver, then you may well be the next Messiah. As for the rest of us, there is a word. And it begins with ‘H’. Rhymes with bipocritt…

I am not for a moment saying we should be at liberty to cause offence in the name of comedy. Not at all. However, a lot of comedy is about offence. A lot of bland comedy is about awkwardness (#ahem#Coogan, #splutter#Gervais) , which to my palate is as different as vindaloo is to porridge (the starchy breakfast, not the absolutely excellent Ronnie Barker sitcom, which no doubt caused offence in it’s time, glorifying the criminal fraternity and all that…). Coogan can take the moral high ground (tickets still for sale for upcoming tour – joking) but sometimes you just want the PC brigade to get stuffed. Just switch off. Go and polish your halo. We’re sick of it.

The acid test of ‘is it funny’ is actually very easy with a live audience. In fact I was at the Glee club a week ago, and you know that when one of the acts goes a bit too far over the line…there will not be laughter. There will be ‘oooooooohhhhhhh’. And they will know they have transgressed. And will back off. Partly, it’s just with tv there is a much bigger audience, so you’re much more likley to offend. And we at the BBC take every complaint Seriously. Even though it’s from 10 people, out of an audience of c7M. Only one of whom is actually Mexican and actually offended (for which actually yes, a personal apology is completely appropriate – in fact if anyone reading this is in any way offended by my views, then I also apologise, we are none of us perfect). Five of whom specifally tuned in to get offended so they could vent about something.

The final argument is protecting the name of the upstanding BBC (Godblesshersole). Well, the BBC exists in 2011 as well, the same timeframe as us all. If, like the Monarchy, it refuses to keep pace with actual real life, it will perish. It will dilute. It will be as bland as an Accountant’s living room (boom-tish!). It’s viewing figures will drop (no, of course popular consent is not a mandate to cause offence…remember it’s 2011 though…). They will lose the vast generation that is currently under 40 to social media, online edginess/freedom of speech and live comedy (WHICH IS OFTEN HUGELY OFFENSIVE! GASP!). Possibly not a good thing. Or a bad thing. Just another thing. And incidentally the BBC is owned by us. It is us. If Top Gear were so offensive no-one would watch. However it is a massively successful, long-running and incidentally a huge money-spinner of a show for the Corporation. But I guess we can’t judge a show just by it’s viewing figures. Just as we shouldn’t judge the quality of a comedian just by the number of Baftas they’ve collected.

I naively like to think that as time advances, so do we. We become more sophisticated. We communicate better. We certainly have better methods of communicating. We’re using one such method right now. I can forsee a time when tv producers are so scared of complaints that viewers will turn to the unregulated media of the internet to get their fix. Sick of ‘reality’ shows. Sick of gameshows. Sick of cooking shows. No political correctness needed here in cyberspace. No nanny state. Actually, not true, we are still able to slander in cyberspace and be prosecuted for it, so I choose my words fairly carefully. However, I am free here to cause offence…Here is the last bastian of freedom of speech.

^And this is what it looks like^.

So if you will excuse me, I will shortly be joining an Irish and a Scottish friend of mine in the local boozer. Hopefully, we’ll all arrive at the same time…

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2011/feb/05/steve-coogan-top-gear-jeremy-clarkson-mexicans
http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/2011/feb/05/top-gear-offensive-steve-coogan?intcmp=239

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