Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Film idea: That that brings them together

I've had a great idea for a low budget Brit-flick film thing:-

A group of strangers find themselves together in some kind of situation, I dunno, shipwrecked on a desert island, or stuck in a lift, or kidnapped by a genius psychopath, and after trying to figure out why they are there, they come to the conclusion that the thing that connects them is some shadowy person from their past, a mutual acquaintance, someone used to live with them, sold them a car, went to school with them, picked them up hitchhiking, whatever, this one person that they all know.

Then it turns out that he's got nothing to do with their predicament, and its just coincidence, like six degrees of separation, and after pinning all their hopes that its cos of this guy, they end up dead. Whatever mechanism or person that brought them together and killed them is just a little puzzled by their unexpected connection, but doesn't let it interfere with the sick but otherwise quite banal plan.

Later the shadowy bloke from their past reads about their deaths in the newspaper, gets a little freaked out that these disparate people who he knew all died together, but then otherwise just carries on with his day.

Life goes on.

Monday, 28 November 2011

CrimeTube.com and that woman being racist on the tram

Earlier today there was a tweet by Old Holborn on that twitter about the latest viral video, a woman having a racist rant on a crowded tram somewhere near Croydon. As is the norm these days the YouTube video became a news story and at around 6pm the BBC were reporting that the woman had been arrested. Some on twitter were calling for her kids to be taken away.

Anyhoo, as I am a completely normal user of the internet, well versed with porn websites, I've had this ace idea, a video website like RedTube, YouPorn, PornHub et al, but with youtube videos of people committing crimes. Viewers can submit ones they've found on YouTube, and people can watch and rate them. Then at around 6pm every day, the police can arrest the subjects of the top five most 'popular'.

It would be the greatest website since Hot Or Not. Everyone loves watching miscreants and rapscallions, remember the spectacle of the London Riots, now imagine a whole website of that sort of compelling footage. We may never again need the BBC or ITN for our crime porn.

Sure there'd be tawdry stuff, like burglary and assault, but cos its all ranked by views and ratings, the important stuff, like cat-trapping and racist rants, would float to the top.
Luckily the url crimetube.com is still available, but I can't do it, I've got no idea about websites, but anyhoo, I claim this website idea first, just like in that xkcd strip.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Looking down, so down

The other day I was putting together a dataset looking at how the wealth of the super rich, to investigate just how accurate the phrase "the rich are getting richer" really is. Incidentally my conclusion is that for the top 50 richest people in the world their wealth only increases by roughly 15% year on year.

However, this lead to a discussion about how I focus too much on the wrong things when I should be focussing on the poor and the needy, over-population and the scarcity of land. Again, this lead on to a discussion about whether I look down on poor people. After a bit of introspection, I don't think I do. I don't consider someone's wealth if I look down on them, I think I'd probably consider whether they are uncouth and uncivilised, the intolerant and the bigotted. I could be wrong, but I consider these traits as better reasons to look down on someone than the state of their balance sheet.

That said, I don't think I look down on people much at all.

There was a story on the BBC news website about how dirty looks are putting off mothers in deprived areas from playgroups

The study was based on the experiences of 30 parents - 29 mothers and one father - in a deprived area of Bristol, who between them had experience of 97 different groups for families with young children.

The research found that one in four had been once to a group - and had been so uncomfortable that they had never gone again.

The most typical reason had been because of a sense of social unease - either because other parents were "too stuck up" or "too rough".

There were fears of being excluded by established "cliques", or facing unpleasant comments.

One in five were "phobic" about encounters with groups of other parents. These parents tended to be the poorest, with the least qualifications and the lowest self-esteem.

A single "dirty look" could be enough to deter them from any return to use childcare services.

Dr Jones says that one mother did not even make it past the front door, but had turned round and gone home when she was put off by the perceived attitude of another parent.


Those making the most use of such mother and toddler groups tended to be those who already had the social skills, confidence and support networks.

After I read this, I empathised. I remembered the times I've had low self-esteem and low confidence, the first time I went to cub scouts when I was eight, the first time I went into the girl's common room in the 6th form, the first time I went to National Pop League club night in Glasgow. I don't have those fears of dirty looks now because after years of being in the cubs, or louching round the common room, and becoming a fixture in the Glasgow indie scene, I noticed the sheer lack of dirty looks from the regulars when new people came in. The only dirty-lookage would between people who'd had unwise but very intimate experiences with each other, not complete strangers.

I believe its probably the same deal at everywhere, newbies think that they're getting dirty looks, but they are mistaken, the regulars are not giving dirty looks at all, no opinion has been formed. In things like playgroups, cub scouts, 6th form common rooms and premier Glasgow indie clubnights, it takes time for the regulars to form an opinion of newbies.

Its all in the eye of the beholder, the newbies need to just oull themselves together, get over it and remember the way it is for next time. And there hangs my privileged upbringing, for these mothers from deprived areas probably never went to cub scouts, the girls 6th form common room at Bolton School or any of the many indie club nights in Glasgow which made me the ultra-confident sex tyranosaurus I am today.

But if the newbies are going to interpret whatever looks they recieve as dirty, that what are the regulars to do?

Luckily the BBC article had the some sugestions

Sure Start centres were seen to attract a wider range of social groups than voluntary organisations, says Dr Jones. This could be because they had paid staff and were less likely to be dominated by one group of parents.

They also sometimes had a designated "welcomer" to give new arrivals more confidence.
Another way of preventing cliques, she says, has been to run playgroup sessions in limited blocks of time, six or eight weeks, so that parents would not develop into networks that would be off-putting to newcomers.

"My study has found that going to a group can be a daunting experience, especially if a mother doesn't know anyone there," says Dr Jones.

"The mother and group need to 'fit' together. Mothers need to feel that others in the group are her social equals, with similar values and attitudes to child-rearing.

"Mothers need to feel their age, social class, and their or their child's ethnic identity will not isolate them in a group."

Those last two paragraphs are worrying and somewhat contradictory, unless they are suggesting that some people should not join specific groups if they don't fit. I'm more into amorphously tolerating and embracing people with different values, atitudes, ages and social classes, rather than rejecting people who don't fit.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Food wastage and three tonnes of carrots

My head has been befuddled for the past three days since I listened to a piece on Radio 4 the other morning about food wastage and some charity who were using 'waste' food.

There's a piece on the BBC news website here and it makes my head even more befuddled. Personally I enjoyed being hectored at by the BBC and well meaning charities, I like to humour people with differing opinions than my own, it relieves me of responsibility for my actions.

I don't know what they want me to do.

The piece on the radio had an interview with a chap from the charity and a factoid that British households throw away 25% of the food they buy, when the interviewer questioned whether that was things like peelings and eggshells, they charity chap admitted that if you included those things it would be closer to 38% of food is thrown away by households.

In my household we throw away no food. Personally I'm a manufacturing engineer following the just in time strategy for inventory, so I only buy food for meals on the day I'm consuming it. Peelings and stuff go in the compost heap in the back garden. Those 25% and 38% figures are talking about other people, not me. I don't buy food that I'm not going to eat. I'm not quite sure why anyone would.

Anyhoo, the piece on the radio went on to cover what the charity does, it has a food warehouse in south London where food that supermarket's don't want it is stored and sorted by volunteers. On Saturday they were doing a thing in Trafalgar Square where they were making up 5,000 meals with this unwanted food.

On of the factoids covered in the piece was that there were three tonnes of carrots in the warehouse, unwanted by supermarkets.


They did point out that in the past three years supermarkets have started using more and more wonky vegetables in their ready meals and value ranges, although I suspect this is more due to a change in EU directives which has made it possible rather than some anti-waste agenda by the shops.

For the last three days that three tonnes of carrots has rested heavily in my mind.

I don't understand what they want the public to do.

The public have already bought sufficient carrots, all that they want to eat, the three tonnes is surplus. Should we have bought more carrots? Should we have bought more food than we wanted?

The supermarkets didn't want the carrots, knowing that they wouldn't be sold and they would be wasted. No one else in the chain were willing to pay for the carrots, so they ended up being given away for free to the charity.

Is it the bastard farmer's fault for growing three tonnes too many carrots? Well, no, it was probably just good weather that fucked up his quantities.

So just what is the problem? Its just a surplus, not waste. The alternative is a shortage of carrots, or somehow magically growing exactly the right quantity.

Should we have bought more carrots?

I don't even like carrots. Should I have bought the damned things and eaten them even if they taste like carrots which I don't like, just so they wouldn't be wasted?

In the piece on the BBC website there are these two consecutive paragraphs
"Over the last four decades food prices have come down and food has become more disposable," he said.
"But there are a billion hungry people in the world and demand for more food in the West is contributing to that by pushing up prices elsewhere but then we're throwing a third of it away.

Are food prices coming down or going up? Yes, its possible that both cases can happen simultaneously in two different places. But it makes no sense.

Surely if there is a surplus then the problem is just in transporting it to where its wanted, rather than by trying to get people to don't want to eat three tonnes of fucking carrots to eat the damned things.

No, making them into carrot cake is not going to make me want to eat the fucking things.

Animal feed, why can't they just feed them to animals?

Do dogs eat carrot cake?

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Nationalisation of Low-Paid Jobs

This story about "Young jobseekers told to work without pay or lose unemployment benefits" has been quite a popular thing on the internet today. My thoughts on it amount to three points:-
  • The state is able to withdraw unemployment benefit for those who refuse to do 'unpaid' work
  • Employers being unable/unwilling to employ people who's work is worth less than the minimum wage
  • This amounts to nationalisation of low-paid jobs.
Please allow be to address these points further.

Its not been that long since I was made unemployed and applied for job seekers allowance, about three years. When I lost my job I waited a few months before applying for any benefits because I'm of the mind that to do so would be to succome to being a scrouger. It was only after I was reminded that I'd been paying National Insurance for many years that I felt obliged to claim benefits.

Its an insurance thing, like my car insurance, I pay them monthly in case of an unexpected occurance. I'd expect the money due in full, not on condition that I ride a bike for a few months. That's not what I signed up for.

However, with this in mind, I'm also fully aware that you are beholden to the state, you have to jump through whatever hoops they put in your way, you have to fill in forms, attend interviews and sign off regularly in order to receive your payment equivalent to working for about £1.75 per hour. If you fail to do what the state demands of you, then you don't get your payment. Sometimes you don't get your payment anyway because someone somewhere cocks up, or they change the rules. That's what happens when you are beholden to the state.

So, if the state says you must do 30 hours of unpaid work or have your benefits withdrawn, well then, its not unpaid work, its work that you get £65 for if you do it and nothing if you don't and that just convinces me even more so that unemployment benefit is working a very poorly paid job rather than a genuine insurance process.

On my second point, I believe that one of the side effects of the minimum wage in the UK is that the young and inexperienced are priced out of the job market. Employers are forbidden from legally employing someone at a rate of less than £3.68 an hour for 16-17 year olds and £6.08 per hour for the over 20s.

Employees are broadly paid in relation to their productivity.

Take for example strawberry picking. Customers are only willing to pay for example £2 for a punnet of strawberries. Workers at the strawberry farm would have to be able to pick three punnets of strawberrys every hour to make minimum wage or their employer would be making a loss. Given the choice between employing an experienced strawberry picker with a proven level of productivity on minimum wage or an unexperienced one with lower or unproven productivity, there's nothing in it, the youngster has no chance.

Without the minimum wage, the employer could take on the inexperienced chap and pay him at a rate commensurate to his productivity, how fast he can pick those strawberries, be it one punnet an hour or two punnets, and through time and experience that chap would one day be more productive and able to pick three or four punnets an hour and make more money. But on starting out, because he's not worth the £6.08 an hour, he's not worth employing.

Thats not to say that there aren't employers out there who don't pay wage below what is commensurate to the productivity of the employee, I'm just taking employers generally on good faith. We've got one of the EU's most flexible labour markets in the UK, if people think they can get paid more doing the same job at the level of productivity for more money with another employer, they are more free to take their labour elsewhere, than in other EU countries. This generally helps to keep pay levels appropriate.
Whilst some commentators believe that removing the minimum wage laws will lead to a 'race to the bottom' in terms of pay levels, I'm more optimistic and believe it would lead to more balanced pay levels, jobs done well would get paid more than jobs done poorly.

Anyhoo, with these first two points the state has created a distorted labour market where if your labour is worth more than £1.75, but less than the minimum wage, you are unemployable.

Which brings me to my third point, elsewhere on the internet, I am part of the Occupy movement, I may not have a tent outside St Pauls, but never the less I actively contribute to the movement's google.moderator thing and their Your Priorities website, frequently trying to raise the profile of their intelligent ideas and batting down their more mental ones.

Recently there was a suggestion that the state creates a new bank that is 'fair' or something. I pointed out that the state already runs five or six of the UK's banks, (RBS, Lloyds TSB, HBOS, Northern Rock, Post Office banking etc) and I had this epiphany of what nationalisation looks like in the 21st century under the current government. Its not things like British Airways, British Leyland, British Telecom, its more like private sector things that are now owned by the state.

And so, low paid jobs, jobs that are worth less than the minimum wage, because of the youth and inexperience of the people doing them, these job are now owned by the state, they are what nationalisation looks like, and the workers employed in them will be paid by the state.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Oxfam and UK aid to Kenya

I had a phonecall today from Oxfam asking for me to donate to their East Africa Disaster Fund. In the past I've had a direct debit thing to Oxfam, but I cancelled it when I became seriously in debt.

Anyhoo, I think its terrible that the worst famine in living memory has hit East Africa, countries like Kenya, and if I could give money I would.

At the end of the call the nice lady who'd phoned on behalf of Oxfam let me know she actually worked for a marketing firm who were paid £40,000 to make these phone calls in the hope of getting £120,000 of donations over the next five years.

Now the thing about aid to Africa is an awkward thing, I've read successful Africans suggesting "trade, not aid" would be more helpful to the continent. Also, Kenya is one of the continent's success stories, after decades of misrule, they've had a bit of stability for the past fifteen years or so. Their GDP growth makes the UK's look like a third world country, and they're one of the relatively less corrupt African nations.

Anyhoo, the UK government gives Kenya tens of millions in aid each year, the Department for International Development kind of ambiguously says £64.2 million or £128 million per year. I'm wondering how come they're not a bit more resilient to famine? Haven't they spend any money on things like food stores and that sort of thing? What have they spent all the money on?

And furthermore, how can a country, any country, not be financially self-sufficient? How can Kenya be a money pit that needs £128 million from the UK alone every year?

Even the UK, is running up an ever increasing budget deficit, but £128 million of that is on behalf of Kenya.

Are both the UK and Kenya spending money on the wrong things?

Sure this current famine is a disaster, but Kenya gets that aid money whether there's a disaster or not.

Elsewhere on the internet, on Occupy London's manifesto thing and their other social media thing, there seems to be an undercurrent of the assumption that a government's role is to extract as much money as possible from the population, and if there is more money there unextracted, it should be prised from the rich, and then spent.

This makes me feel uncomfortable. The government are crap, all governments to greater and lesser degrees are crap, they're never as good at spending my money wisely than I am, and I think that applies to everyone. Individually we can spend our money more wisely than the government, based on what we individually judge is wise.

Then again, I'm a frothing at the mouth centre-left libertarian.