Goodbye Analogue, hello BskyB. The Digital TV scam

Some of my readers have been getting their knickers in a right old twist of late over falling standards at the BBC and among the mainstream news media in general. But their ire is justified. It’s a bugger when people have to look to reports from hedge fund managers in order to get to know what is really going on in their backyard.
Punters could always stick with Little Nicky Machiavelli of course, we report the news months before it happens. A good example is the progress of the switchover from analogue to digital T.V.
Thanks to a report commissioned by the managers of Opus Hedge Fund our analysis of the real reason behind the push to digital, first published here in Nov 2005 (I think) and reprised several times since, has been proved correct.
Naturally, when Machiavelli Blog first said that the great digital changeover was nothing to do with benefits to the consumer and everything to do with politics and handing television in the UK to Murdoch’s Evil Empire a bunch of people who regard themselves as rational and progressive accused Little Nicky of being a dinosaur who is opposed to all progress, thus showing themselves to be dull witted and narrow minded bufoons. Never mistake technological advance for progress. If something improves the lives of the majority at minimal cost it can be called progress, but if a thing diminishes the lives of the majority at high cost it is nothing but the march of corporate fascism.
In Whitehaven, Cumbria, the town chosen to pioneer the television switchover in October this year Freeview, the only alternative to BskyB paid services and “free sat” for which punters pay £150 as opposed to £30 for a Freeview set top box, will not be available before switchover. So the only way people will be able to see television in the interim is by subscribing to a BskyB offering in order to get what they now have for free.
Freeview is a service of dubious quality, its coverage is overstated and the reception in areas with less than excellent signal strength is vulnerable to deterioration due to rain and mist.

Television industry analysts expect BskyB to have achieved 98% penetration in the Whitehaven area by the switchover. And will these people who have to pay for their TV another way get a discount on their TV licence fee. Discount my arse.

NB: To save some smartarse going to check the bogus and misleading map showing Freeview coverage and telling me coverage is excellent, I’ll tell you that map would be fine if Cumbria was flat. Unfortunately Cumbria is notoriously not flat. Whitehaven is in an inlet overlooked by high cliffs. Don’t belive me? ask fatsally, she stood the market there more times than I did.

Jehovah’s Kiddie Fiddler

Should the fact that a man is a prominent member of a religious group known for its oddball beliefs be enough to keep him out of prison when he is convicted of paedophile crimes?

Michael Porter, a 38 year-old member of the doomsday cult, admitted 24 cases of assault on children, including a baby less than two years old. A prominent member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community in his area and used his position of trust to prey on children of church members. And yet the Judge, swayed by Porter’s pleas that he was a person of strong faith who had been tempted and been to weak to resist, and by a further plea that he had undergone therapy, decided he should not go to prison.

Porter also tried to claim his paedophile tendencies were a result of his childhood but his own sister exposed this as a lie.

It is unbelievable that we still fall for this grovelling to God act that so many Christians caught out in malfeasance try to pull. Rational people know there is no such thing as evil, there is no horned beast with cloven hooves constantly putting temptation in our way. We all know what actions are wrong and that some things are wronger than others. And abusing children, very young children who are not in a position to resist, is one of the very worst of all crimes. So forget shifting blame, Porter and those like him know what they are doing is wrong and unacceptable in any society and yet they choose to do it.

The very nature of the crime shows the perpetrators to be arrogant and manipulative by nature, they must believe they have a right to do what they do and they believe they can convince others that they are deserving of special consideration. In other words they are the most amoral of people.

When someone “of faith” commits such a crime then, would not a more harsh punishment be appropriate. Though hypocrisy in itself is not a crime, it can compound other offences.

Similarly it is not acceptable for a judge to show leniency because a criminal has “undergone therapy.” The evidence tat therapy actually helps towards rehabilitation is very shaky and too often psychologists are convinced of the success of their treatment simply because the patient is savvy enough to tell them what they want to hear. The therapy can be made part of the prison sentence but should not be an alternative to it.

In the case of both faith and therapy I am very suspicious of the rapid results achieved, especially when the criminal is a member of some fringe faith. If you remember Ted Haggard, the American fundamentalist preacher who was caught with his penis in a rent boy’s mouth; he was pronounced “totally heterosexual again” after a few weeks of prayer and “therapy.”

In the case of Haggard as with Porter, their respective churches “stood by” them. That’s fine, its up to the members of those congregations what they do. But the law must not be swayed by talk of miracle cures and the hand of God. And if people who commit crimes subsequently try to hide behind superstition and hocus pocus it shows those people are actually a long way from accepting what they have is wrong, let alone experiencing remorse. Put simply they are grabbing at anything that looks like a Get Out Of Jail card.

Ted Haggard had not committed a sexual crime but to preach homophobic sermons and ask for money to “further the church’s mission” while conducting himself in that was was certainly fraudulent.

If we are to maintain any credible claim to be a civilised society and not a superstitious rabble sliding backwards towards medieval ignorance then we must add a new commandment to our moral compass: SAME RULES APPLY regradless of race, faith, class, age or sexual preference.

Should We Stop Them From Breeding?

The mindless murder of young Rhys Jones in Liverpool this week has given us a very disturbing insight into gang culture among the young. The stories told by members of The Noggzy’eds and the Crocky’eds, their nihilistic view of life and their perverted loyalties. Evidence presented in so many news reports suggesting this behaviour is not confined to one city but spread over the whole country.

It makes the assurances of middle class bleeding hearts that “there have always been gangs and things are no worse than they ever were except in the eyes of the hysterical media,” seem rather hollow. Things seem to have run completely out of control in the past few weeks, perhaps it is because the school holidays have freed more young people to roam free, looking for “laffs.” That could explain the recent violence. But the problems are not confined to violence. Irresponsibility is at the root of problems relating to drugs, drinking and sexual behaviour.

Not long ago on a daytime TV show I saw two young men, both in their teens, swaggering around bragging about their sexual prowess. Both were still in their teens, one had fathered eight children, the other claimed nine. Neither had kept in touch with the mothers, probably the kindest thing they had done for those girls. Worse though, neither young man saw any reason to change their behaviour, both said they would refuse to use condoms as it was “unmanly” and both felt that fathering a lot of unwanted children “proved they were men.” The attitudes are primitive.

It does not matter how many A-levels pupils can be coached to pass, if the system is not teaching young people how to behave it has failed abysmally. Real education does not begin until after we leave school. Schools should give us the basics, literacy and numeracy and it should at best teach people to think rationally and instil curiosity and hunger for knowledge.

What is going on may seem like The End Of Civilisation As We Know It but we can get things back on track quite easily. Firstly, the world has TOO MANY ARSEHOLES. These people, mostly members of the nationwide ubergang, The Needaspikethroughtheir’eads must be controlled.

Most important, we need to stop them breeding. In the 1960s or 70s Indira Gandhi’s government in India offered men transistor radios in return for having a vasectomy. Only they did not explain what a vasectomy was. We could try something like that to stop the arseholes from breeding. Offer them an X-box or a few rocks of meth perhaps? The cost benefit to society is enormous when we consider the cost of providing care for a few dozen abandoned children for eighteen years.

Second, young people who have never been subjected to proper discipline but only punished for disturbing parents who were sleeping off a booze or drugs binge should be taught that actions have consequences. Kill somebody and you spend the rest of your life doing hard labour in unpleasant conditions. Terrorise someone and we send you to work as a street cleaner in Baghdad or somewhere. It does not take much imagination to make the punishment fit the crime.

Thirdly, and more controversially, there has to be a concerted effort to rebuild communities. Reverse every law Margaret Thatcher’s government ever passed. Build social housing, invest in railways and bus systems, deprivatise everything that was stolen from public ownership and sold for pennies to Thatcher’s and Blair’s cronies.

In Britain our biggest problem has always been the division of society on lines of class. No human being is of less worth than another because of where they were born or how they speak, or what educational qualifications they have. Personal wealth does not make somebody more worthy of respect or bestow privilege on them.

If we attack the problem at both ends, show people who wish to be anti – social that society can be nastier on a bigger scale that individuals ever can and start to repair the damaged caused by the warped political thinking of people whose ambitions outweighed their abilities, we can change course.

We have to become a society again.

And I’m not the only liberal intellectual that thinks so

Science: A career for tossers?

A level results are in and I guess some of you will be discussing with your offspring, degree options and career choices. As usual siren voices in the government are extolling the wisdom of choosing a career in science. Should you let your children be seduced?

A few weeks ago Little Nicky was involved in a bit of a kerfuffle with the boy scientists from The Bad Science forum. One of the more intelligent and articulate commenters eventually asked why science gets such a bad press?
Well it could be something to do with the way, when their certainties are challenged the science boys tend to respond, “You’re not a scientist, you don’t understand scientific methods.” Such a response puts “scientists” in the same category as those religionists whose answer to any challenge is, “Anything is possible for God.” Could it be that narrow minded, blinkered attitude?

Or it could be because we see so many stories like the two below.

Researchers at Herriot Watt University and Strathclyde University claim to have proved older people have difficulty using new technology because physiological deterioration in connections between cells in the frontal lobes of the brain causes them to be easily confused by unfamiliar things.

Typically the “scientists” involved in this study forgot to look at the most obvious thing. Do older people want to use new technology that much? So we can watch movies or play games on our mobile phones. Are we bovvered? Many of us who have been rounded out by leading full and interesting lives can think of a hundred better things to do than watch a movie on a three inch by two inch screen.

I cannot take pictures or record video clips with my mobile phone. Is my brain going or is the case simply that my excellent digital camera and state of the art camcorder perform those tasks far better than the phone ever could. So I cannot do those things simply because I am never likely to want to.

Similarly neither I nor my wife ever learned to set the VCR to record a week in advance. Are we sliding into dementia or are we simply not the type of people to get withdrawal symptoms if we miss an episode or two of a favourite programs. They will be repeated in a few months anyway.

So it is not a question of neurological degeneration because everybody is different in that respect, it is a question of how interested we are. QED.

The second story has slightly more sinister connotations. Scientists (again – its never philosophers or artists or historians causing trouble is it?) at the University of Kentucky, Louisville – now keep in mind this is in Kentucky; think fried chicken, bluegrass and red necks – claim to have found a link between eye colour and intelligence.
Blue eyed people, amazingly, are found to be more intelligent, ambitious and focused. Brown eyed people can run faster.
Nobody thought to mention in the context of this study that brown eyed people tend to have darker skin and curlier hair than blue eyed people.
My entirely unscientific observations on this issue, made throughout a long career in management consultancy is that if you tell people they are intelligent, creative and capable of more than they have ever given themselves credit for, they tend to aim higher and as a result grow in confidence and perform better. This approach works regardless of “eye” colour.
So let’s throw this one back at the boy scientists. What is it exactly that us alleged non scientists don’t understand? That ageism and racism are OK so long as they are backed up by properly conducted scientific studies?
You should bear that in mind when talking to young people about career options.

Swivel Eyed, Pointy Eared, True Blue Tory Monster

Nice to see the re-emergence of Conservative Mr. Spock impersonator John Redwood to the front rank of the Conservative Party.
Resurgent Redwood has surged back to the fore just when the Tories were in danger of starting to look a weeny bit credible.
Launching a review of economic policy Mr. Redwood came up with a totally new and revolutionary idea for the redistribution of wealth. Abolish inheritance tax. Yeah right! We haven’t heard that one before.

All this proves is the Tories have not moved forward one single step singe the mother of all swivel eyed politicians made them unelectable with her looney economics.
Yes the suburban S&M queen, Maggie “skewer the poor” Thatcher still holds the party in thrall.
Just analyse Redwood’s plan to abolish inheritance tax and you see how looney it is.
Nobody pays inheritance tax now unless they are a mentalist. The seriously righ have their money, share and property portfolios safely wrapped up in offshore trusts, the working class have their fortunes invested in cirrhosised livers and hardened arteries while the dodgy geezers like my car – dealer mate Big Jim will just give heirs the keys to the safe deposit box and the instruction “stay stumm.”
As for the Daily Mail Readers who are scarecd their million pound suburban semis will attract inheritance tax, don’t fret. You may be clinically sane now but the proceeds from the sale of your home will have been eaten up by care bills long before you pop your clogs.

So what are the Conservatives on about?

God’s Shock Jock?

Those of you who read my articles might be surprised to learn that earlier today I was guesting on a Chistian Radio show for London’s Premier Radio station.

Even more strage, the producer Justin Brierley contacted me after following comment threads on some of my jousts with fundies at U.S. site Gather.

Well Justin’s show “Unbelieveable” is a British production with a more moderate tone than U.S. evangelical Christianity, so after some discussion I decided the programme would be fun to do and managed to get my friend Jenni Hutchinson (vieira) invited as my opponent, the Christian speaker. Did you know BTW that satan is the Aramaic (ancient assyrian language) word for opponent or adversary. Ha! Jenni is a little devil – she will love that.

Anyway we put together a really good programme, covering topics such as how the church may fulfil a role in modern society, the nature of faith, building bridges (we bridged the religious divide, the generation gap – Jenni is 24 I’m…not. OK, I’m yibblety-yibble. We bridged the geographical divide between north and south and the soccer supporters gap, Jenni follows Arsenal, my loyalties are to lowly Accrington Stanley (the team that came back from the dead – reluctantly apparently.)

All in all we proved there can be dialogue between Christians and non believers.

It will be difficult to get the show on the air in some areas but there is an internet feed. ?Here are the details:

The programme airs at 2pm this Saturday here are the ways to listen “Live”

1305, 1332, 1413 MW (Greater London)| Sky Digital 0123 | Virgin Media 968 | Freeview 725 | London DAB or online at

From (Usually) Monday you can listen to the archive edition of the programme online

Not of great spiritual interest to many of my friends here maybe, as most share my attitude to organised religion, but a worthwhile demonstration of constructive dialogue between faith and non-faith, with some good points made on both sides.

OK, that’s just a cynical ploy to bost the show in search engine listings of course. But you will excuse me one shameless self promotion item I’m sure. I promise to get back to more humour and controversy next time.

Booze, Brains and Bureaucrats

What is it about bureaucracy and its associated mindset that prevents government departments from ever proposing sensible solutions to social problems.
Amid growing concern over binge drinking among the under 18s and the violence that often results, senior police officers and officials in the Home Office and Health Department are suggesting the age at which people can legally drink be raised for 18 to 21.
Now one of the most serious aspects of this problem is the increase in drunkenness among 11 to 15 year olds.
So raising the age at which they can legally drink from 18 to 21 is going to achieve what exactly?

The Renewable Energy Con

Now its official, the governments progress on renewable energy sources is all a con. Those windmills may waft their trefoil arms prettily but the truth is the window of efficiency between too little wind to operate economically and too much wind to operate safely just means there are few days we are actually getting energy from wind. Solar power is a non starter in Britain, not because of lack of sun but because the vast areas of scrubland that can be covered in photovoltaic cells are all in other countries. We tend to build new houses on any bit of land big enough to accommodate a cow pat.

There are of course some viable renewable energy sources we could explore but these require massive investment and have a long payback period. No good at all to the fascistic profiteers our public utilities have been handed to.

So what do the government do. They fall back on statistical smoke and mirrors. Energy production from renewable sources has increased 20% in the last year is easily spun to sound as if we get 20% of our energy from renewables. But actually the 20% increase is 20% of 2%.

Most of our energy still comes from coal, oil, gas and nuclear stations. For all the promises of the past decade we have hardly moved forward at all.

Little ?Nicky Machiavelli reported all this going on several times in the past two years. If you want to know the news before it happens read Machiavelli Blog.

Peterloo goes to Heathrow

The Heathrow protest has begun. Kudos to the protesters who will brave another round of tropical storms and the indignities of camping in a thistle patch to make their point. Shame on the authorities who are illegally using anti – terrorist laws againt the protest to suppress the protest and try to establish a precedent that denies us the right to protest peacefully.

And yah, boo, sucks (OK, I’m not ashamed of the kind of education I had) to those politicians whose weasel words try to convince us that more, bigger airports will be good for everyone, creating jobs and encouraging British business.

The only people who will benefit in the long term from expansion are those who deny climate change and champion globalisation. The public mood is shifting against them though, Little Nicky can feel it in his water.

But it is ironic, is it not, that the protest begins on the anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, another crude and ham fisted attempt to crush a campaign for social change by the illegal and unjustified use of force.

The Peterloo Massacre on Wikipedia

Not Fear Of Flying But Loathing Of Airports.

Whenever I say I hate flying people assume I have a phobia about being in the air. This is not so, I love being up in ‘planes. Its great to look at the earth below, laid out like a map. Flying into London at night once I was lucky enough to be in a window seat on the right of the aircraft and could see the lights of docklands and the West End. The sight was beautiful. Going over mountain peaks such as those of the Alps or Pyrenees is unforgettable . The approach to Stockholm Arlanda over the archipelago offers a spectacle that could never be seen from the ground and flying into New York is just incredible. Being up in the air is a wonderful experience, and even more exciting in small aircraft. Its having to negotiate airports that makes flying shite.
It was no surprise then to hear the airport experience coming in for some heavy criticism. The problem is the profit motive. I first flew in the 1960s, before terrorism, cheap flights and profiteering spoiled everything. There were duty free shops but not on anything like the same scale, no fashion outlets or luxury goods stores, the restaurants were either mediocre or excellent depending on one’s means and the purpose of the airport was to process people through the formalities of crossing national borders and on or off the aircraft with minimum fuss. Airports were usually owned or regulated by municipalities or national government. Their function was to facilitate travel not to part travellers from as much cash as possible. The safety, comfort and convenience of passengers was paramount.

Now of course, in this era of “market economics,” the “passenger experience,” while much talked about in PR presentations must always take a back seat to the profit motive.

We live in dangerous times and some inconvenience for the sake of security is acceptable. What is not acceptable is the inconvenience and delay due to airports trying to cope with far more passengers than they are equipped to handle or just deliberately keep passengers hanging around so they will spend more money.

Put airports back under the control of municipal authorities or national governments and things will change.

The closet Maggie Thatcher fans will be at my throat for saying that of course, but the results of passenger surveys comparing customer satisfaction at Manchester (council owned) and Heathrow ( private enterprise) settles the case. And Manchester is far from perfect. And on a personal note, Sweden may be a land of loony socialists as far as the Maggie brigade are concerned but the airport at Stockholm (owned by the city) is absolutely wonderful.

Until the profit motive is brought under control I shall keep remining myself there is far more that is worth seeing in places reachable by car ferry or tunnel than one could ever see in a single lifetime.

More on the impending failure of the housing market

The problem weith vastly expanding a blog’s readership as we have done recently, is that once the blog starts to register on the radar it attracts comments that are really nothing to do with anything the bloggers have written.

Take the recent post The Receding Prospect of Happiness which ended on a tongue in cheek comment about a family friend who has just set up as a manufacturer of bespoke Yurts.

Sure enough, along came one of the “I-take-myself-very-seriously-and-so-will-everyone-else” brigade, ranting on about how far we have come since the medieval era when people faced a daily struggle to survive and how people with a utopian view of medieval life are living in cloud cuckoo land. Everyone is entitled to their opinion of course but readers of this blog know Little Nicky Machiavelli is a proponent of technical progress tied to social need rather than the unbridled market forces that are truly driving us back towards the medieval sewer.
Two years ago this blog was predicting the cynically enginerered housing boom would all end in tears as people found themselves in near – slavery to their mortgage providers (how medieval is that?)
Well the rest of the world is just catching up. Read this view from and economist: Mortgaging Our Future – Neal Lawson

I tend to agree with uberblogger Andrew Keen who often complains that one of the great nonsenses of the web is that people do not read before commenting.

The Receding Prospect of Happiness (unless you live in a Yurt)

What do human beings need to live comfortably? Shelter, adequate food and clean water, warmth from clothing and fire and companionship (we are herd animals)
Add to that meaningful occupation to hold boredom at bay and everything is covered really.
What do human beings crave most? Not any of the essentials but happiness. Well the importance of essentsils only becomes apparent when we are deprived of them.
So what do we need to be happy? The essentials, freedom and security maybe?
Things we do not need to be happy are wide screen TVs, cars, MP3 players, designer labels and most of all unaffordable mortgages taken out to buy very modest houses that offer accommodation far too cramped for comfort.
So why did we ever fall for the great housing con?
We ask this question as news reports talk of a big rise in house repossessions as people fall behind with mortgage repayments, the financial markets brace themselves for further increases in interest rates and many homeowners try to rebuild their lives after devastating floods, caused in part by unrestricted building on flood plains and wetlands.
Little Nicky Machiavelli predicted two years ago that the seemingly irreversible rise in property prices would all end in tears. In Japan, where people tend to be even crazier and more sheeplike than in the west, the hundred year mortgage is already a reality. Are we really mad enough to let things go that far?

To find the roots of the obsession with owning a home we need to go back to the early part of the Industrial Revolution. As the poor were driven of the land by the social evil of enclosures, they found themselves entirely in the hands of the property owning bourgeoisie. People who did not own a property of sufficient value did not have the vote.

Laws change more quickly than attitudes of course and the feeling that someone who owned a house (or to be precise, owned a debt) were somehow morally superior to those who rented a home either from the municipal authority or a private landlord.

The social revolution of the sixties did a lot to change that. Suddenly people who had been brought up in modest, rented homes were becoming politicians, authors, members of professions. The old order was being challenged, home owners were often revealed as small minded, grasping and reactionary.

The answer was a spate of conservative terrorism. Starting in the mid nineteen – seventies, first municipal housing was stigmatised and later most of it was sold off. It became almost impossible for a couple who could not rely on parental help to find an affordable home offering good quality accommodation. Young people were forced to buy tiny, poorly built houses often thrown up on unsuitable land. This led them to attempt to trade up as soon as they could stretch their double income to an even bigger mortgage.

The Terrorists of Conservatism saw their policies were succeeding and cranked up the machine, making money easier to borrow, they promised everybody would get rich by buying and selling houses, they preached of family values but practised and promoted the values of personal greed thus putting families under pressure and causing may partnership break-ups and unhappy childhood experiences.

And they have almost succeeded in their aim, having created a new urban poor who, deprived of employment protection laws are vulnerable to abuse by unscrupulous employers.

You may remember John Prescott’s promise of the £60,000 home. It turns out these homes will actually cost £225,000 to buy. The promised price excluded land. How can young people, just out of university with a big debt hung round their necks afford that. So my g-g-g-generaation who were told to be thrifty and save for a comfortable retirement find ourselves having to dig into those retirement funds to give our children a start.

Someone recently told me I cannot blame all of societies ills on Margaret Thatcher. It may seem that I am determined to prove that person wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth, Little Nicky Machiavelli is on a mission to save the Conservative Party. Not that I support or even like them of course, but lack of a credible opposition is a very bad thing for democracy. So as I see the Tory old brigade starting to turn on Cameron and undermine his leadership I must send out the message to them, “Forget Thatcher, that bloody woman’s crackpot idealism has done nothing but harm to the country.”

Before anyone comes steaming in to tell me what a wonderful job she did for us all, remember it might be someone close to you who is next to have their job exported to a low labour cost nation by a “Private Equity” buyout (possible thanks to Thatcher) lose their home because social security does not cover second mortgages, be rehoused in a B&B because all the council’s housing stock has been sold off, suffer a break-up of their relationship and following the stress of a bitter divorce battle descend into depression, drug dependency or alcoholism.

Alternatively you could advise people to stay off the mortgage ladder by buying a weatherproof, warm and spacious Yurt from our daughter’s friend Big Al. Well we are all off to look at Big Al’s show yurt now, as he gears up to launch his new business venture. Join us in wishing him luck, he could have found a way to solve the housing crisis.

We’ll bring you more news as soon as Al’s Yurts are on the market.

Cancer Schmancer

After my recent bust ups with medical scientists I’m only too happy to link to an article at Huffington Post – Cancer Schmancer, one woman’s story of how she has formed a support group to help women who have been failed by the incompetence and laziness of “medical scientists” (or doctors to you and me) and make them learn that people are all different, inconveniently, irritatingly, unscientifically different.

Just because there is no “scientific” evidence that some people are better equipped to fight cancer than others, it is not acceptable to ignore the empirical evidence to say it is not so.

If you recall the original controversy was started by my suggesting the medical establishment were afraid to have an open debate on the MMR / Autism issue, you might like to take a look at this post from Ginger Taylor, an American mother of an autistic child. She shares many of my concerns about the basic honesty of the healthcare industry. And she finds their assurances that lay people like us cannot understand because we are “not scientists” utterly unconvincing as well.

Defender of the Faith

Novelist Christopher Brookmeyer has become the latest to leap onto the anti – God bandwagon, blaming not religion but faith for terrorism, suicide bombings and a host of other troubles from stinking drains to the impossibility of getting a decent pizza in Britain (cue lots of comments telling me where to get good pizzas, (Machiavelli is nothing if not cunning!)
Naturaly Brookmeyer has a new novel tp plug.

But he is way off target and his equating faith with belief in the irrational and ridiculous is not a supportable argument. So being the most irreligious person at (probably) I am the ideal defender of Faith.

In the next few weeks millions of people will, in an enormoust act of faith, set off on a pilgrimage that will cost them a fortune in money, consume huge amounts of time, involve long periods of sustained physical discomfort and require them to endure personal abuse. Only their faith will sustain the certainty that this year their favoured team will sweep all before it to claim every available trophy / at least make a sustained challenge for one trophy / turn things round and spare loyal supporters the agony of another struggle against relegation. Such devotion requires a lot of faith.

Patients, religious or not, about to be wheeled into the operating theatre for major surgery must have faith in the skill of the surgeon and his support team. In fact this type of faith calls into doubt the whole premise of religion. If believers TRULY believed would they not be happy to leave things in God’s hands? Let’s see if we get any interesting answers on that point.

Every time most people get into a ‘plane to fly off to the sun it requires an enormous amount of faith in the aircraft designers and engineers. How many people truly understand the aircraft stays aloft because of the vacuum above the wings rather than the wind beneath them (cue music.) If passengers were told before the flight the only thing keeping tons of metal, plastic, flesh, blood, bone MP3 players and baggage from falling out of the sky was a hole in the rather thin (at 25000 feet) atmosphere, to how many would Bournemouth suddenly seem a really good option.

So Brookmeyer was wrong. Faith is not an indefensible belief in magic or primitive superstitions, everyday life is a series of acts of faith.

Whatever Happened To Childhood?

The sunshine today, well when I say sunshine I mean lack of rain, well when I say lack of rain I mean I was able to sit outside in the garden wearing only a light kagoul rather than the kind of waterproofs worn by North Atlantic fishermen, you get the point. Anyway, for the first time we have been aware the kids are off school.

We know this because small groups of pasty faced children are hanging around aimlessly. They have probably been sent out to “get some fresh air” while Mum gets on with the housework. And they have no idea what to do.

Only a few years ago there would have been the constant hiss of skateboard wheels outside as the close has a nice slope. Not far away there is a grassed area, not a park, just a piece of spare land the council keep tidy by running a mower over it once a month. There will be no games of football or cricket going on. Girls seem to fare better than boys, they can still be seen organising games, playing with pieces of folded paper to find out who they will marry, texting each other, doing child things. The boys just hand around like addicts doing cold turkey because they have been separated from their playstations or X boxes.

On TV earlier this week I heard someone talking about how much education children used to get just from being out and about in the holidays. How right that person was, we learned by osmosis and so what we learn, as it was experienced rather than just memorised, provided a foundation on which to build. Those “what I did in the hols” essays were not quite the cop out they seemed.

In the Shropshire village where I lived as a child the children, boys and girls would go along at the start of the holidays and help the farmworkers. Usually this involved stacking bales that the combined harvester had belched out. The bales were too heavy for one of us so we worked in twos and threes, probably for two hours in the afternoon. At teatime Cyril Griffiths, the original Jolly Farmer or Tom Nicklin, not so jolly but a world away from Farmer Palmer, would give us a shilling each.

Exploitation, the political correctness police would scream today, but it wasn’t. We did not work hard, we were supervised by the fathers of our friends and we learned about the workplace, about not taking liberties with machinery and about having respect for people who know the job.

Sometimes I would go out with my Dad, taking a friend along for company as there would be a wait in the car while Dad saw whoever he needed to see on behalf of the newspaper. There would be lunch in a cafe on these jaunts, and visits to interesting places, Ludlow Castle one day, with a guided tour by the curator in exchange for the promise of a small feature in The News Chronicle. That was the day I learned what an oubliet was ( from French “oublier”: to forget, a kind of dungeon where people are imprisoned when they are to be forgotten) Another day I got to have a ride in a coracle. Chris Jarman whose Dad was head lad at a horseracing stables would take us there to help. This usually involved shifting horse manure and there was no pay but a drink of home made lemonade and an enormous slice of cake.

Graham, who became my friend when the family moved back to Manchester used to help his uncle in a Greengrocers shop. For someone who would become an engineer that might not seem relevant but he learned people skills. And he can still spot a dodgy King Edward at fifty paces. Later we earned pocket money by caddying at the local golf club and learned a lot about relationships in the world of business.

Everything is a learning experience.

Everybody over, I guess thirty, will have similar memories. After that the world started to change. For some reason people became more selfish and fearful. And we abandoned our children. Not intentionally, the nanny state came poking her nose in. Where we had all learned from our parents how to bring up children, now we were lectured by experts who used words like “parenting” and learned the theory of good parenting at Portakabin University which specialises in offering degrees in such things. Parents had no business getting involved in the rearing of children, such things should be left to nanny, nanny always knows best. Tick the boxes, follow the rules and do as you are told. Forget the past, everything in the past is bad. Nanny promised she would take us forward to a Brave New World.

And why were people so ready to abandon their social history and give nanny power over their lives?

Because, maybe, they were all obsessed with climbing the property ladder.

When people speculate on why society seems to have so many problems, pulling those problems apart to examine them in forensic detail is the wrong approach. You just have to join up the dots if you want to see the big picture.