Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Do you have a better answer?

Ed Milliband was in the House of Commons today discussing the impact of the strike action by public workers. He was not going to demonise the dinner lady, the cleaner or the nurse as these are people who earn in a week what the chancellor pays for his annual skiing holiday. He got loud cheers from the Labour benches but I did not understand what this meant. So I took a look at where the chancellor had gone on his skiing holiday.

I had thought that skiing holidays were expensive and according to Ed nurses must be on a good wage if one week's pay could take them on holiday, but I did not think that this was what Ed wanted to say. However if you take Ed at his word then I never expected nurses to be earning so much as it was easy to find headlines telling me that George Osborne had paid £11000 for a skiing holiday. So is Ed telling us that the strikers are earning a lot of money or did he simply make a mistake?

Let's take it that he made a simple mistake, after all we are all human, but if he did make a mistake then why did he get all the cheers from the Labour benches. Possible answers are that all Labour MPs are sycophants. I don't think this is right. Could it be that all Labour MPs think that nurses earn £11000 per week. I don't think this is right either. The probable answer is that they all made a simultaneous mistake (my tongue is firmly in my cheek). Do you have a better answer?

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Change the manager

About a year ago Ian Holloway threatened to resign as the Blackpool manager if he was fined for fielding a weakened team for a cup match. It is possible that some managers would do this because fighting for promotion or avoiding relegation may be their priority over a good cup run. As it happens Blackpool were fined £25000 and Ian offered his resignation which was not accepted. There was a valid defence for Ian in that the players he selected were good players (he told us they were good) who played well and only just lost to a late goal.

You would hope that any team whether professional or amateur are actually trying to win. What's the point of playing sport otherwise? So it is only right that a sporting organisation should come down heavily against people who don't try to win. £25000 may be the right figure for Blackpool but if you take Ian at his word then they should not have been fined at all.

Compare that with yesterday's report that the Blackburn manager, Steve Kean had forfeited the game against Cardiff. If this were true then Blackburn's fine should be substantially higher than Blackpool's. Thankfully he was taken out of context and he clarified that “there is absolutely no way that we would ever consciously forfeit a game, quite the opposite".

I love the explanation that he gives. “What I was trying to say was that by not winning we had forfeited an opportunity to take another step towards a Wembley final". It is quite clear that he doesn't understand the word forfeit, surrendered as a punishment. I really don't think he means what he is saying even with the clarification. I think he is trying to say that Blackburn got knocked out of the cup.

Let's give Steve the benefit of the doubt. He doesn't know what forfeit means and what he actually said to the press was the opposite of what he meant to say. Yesterday his injured players could have played but this was the wrong thing to say and today we learn that they couldn't play. We should not fine Blackburn Rovers for fielding a weakened team but what do you do to a manager who can't communicate?

Change the manager.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Another cockling disaster?

In 2004 we had one of the worst tragedies of recent times on our doorstep in Morecambe when the Chinese cocklers died. What has happened since then? Well we have had the beds closed to all cockling, then re-opened then closed again. Morecambe Bay was closed to cockling in 2009 and has not re-opened. Unfortunately the closures are not caused by the need for safety but because of depletion of stocks. so no fishing is allowed.

Cockling still went on near Lytham up to a couple of weeks ago when the beds there were closed. Again the closure was not for safety grounds but was caused by depleted stocks. This isn't to say that the issue of safety has gone away. Another tragedy is waiting to happen. How can this be? We don't allow fishing to go on without the correct equipment and without a permit, however it was in the news a few years ago that it was easier to get a permit to go cockling than it was to fish on the canal.

I am sure that there a lot of people with a lot of answers but we need an answer now to prevent another tragedy. For what it's worth, I believe we should change the idea of 'fishing' for cockles to thinking about farming them. Let farmers have land which is theirs to police. We would not have the problem of anyone drowning including gangmasters or Chinese or Russians or anyone else who does not know the water.

At least we won't have another disaster while the beds are shut, but they will re-open when the stocks are replenished.

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Friday, 25 November 2011

Morecambe Bay Bridge

Yesterday I was looking across Morecambe Bay from Heysham towards Barrow and thinking about the debate over whether we should have a bridge. It is around 55 miles to get from Heysham to Barrow by road and if you take the direct route it is around 15 miles. If you drive across a bridge you could save at least 40 minutes by driving at national speed limits. If you know the area then savings could easily be an hour on each trip. It is easy to see the benefits to the transport system.

There are also benefits to the local economies. Businesses locate where it is efficient to locate and I am sure that if I had a business that relied on the transport system then I would be based near a motorway, not in the Morecambe peninsula. Another benefit, if you believe that renewable energy is the way forward, is that this bridge would be the place to build wind turbines.

There are usually many different views on any subject and the Morecambe Bay bridge is no exception. What would be the environmental impact? I have walked across the Bay and the wildlife that I saw was on the coast living next to man's environment. There may be an adverse effect but I am also aware that wildlife adapts. In fact there may be environmental benefits because of renewable energy. Less serious objections are that better transport systems aid criminals, and isolation is good (it is good if you do not wish to participate with the rest of society).

I remember from my physics A level that a system is only as good as its weakest link and that brings me to the main objection to building a bridge. There is a problem of getting from Heysham to the M6. If we can't have a bypass around Lancaster then a Morecambe Bay bridge would be a gateway to a bottleneck.

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Saturday, 19 November 2011

Changing the traffic lights

If you know the Morecambe and Lancaster area then you will know that we have significant traffic problems especially on the route between Morecambe and Lancaster. Rush hours are bad and it doesn't get much better between rush hours. However there are times in the late evening and at night when you can drive at the speed limit.

I was driving home this evening and had to pass some traffic lights which have been recently built because of a new supermarket. I had to brake quite strongly and then had plenty of time to see that no cars came out of the car park. There must be so many changes of lights when no cars go in or out of the supermarket car park as it isn't open 24 hours but the traffic lights don't know that.

I have noticed traffic lights changing when there is next to no traffic on the road on many occasions and thought about the way the French turn their lights to flashing amber. In this way drivers take responsibility for themselves. What it would mean is that drivers wouldn't have to break sharply or stop at all when there is no reason at all to do so.

It may even be the case that turning off traffic lights will improve the traffic during the day. In Portishead they found that doing this reduced travelling times by over 50%. Flashing amber trials have been carried out in Portsmouth and considered in other towns and cities, but change is not without its critics. What do you do if two cars come to a junction at the same time. Well the answer is easy if you have ever seen traffic lights out of action. The two car drivers work it out between themselves and the traffic moves so much better.

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Sunday, 13 November 2011

Remembering the glory of war

This blog will be contentious especially as it is written on Remembrance Sunday. What does the poppy signify? Well it is a memorial of war made famous by the poem In Flanders' Fields. The response to this poem was another poem called "We shall keep the faith". Ypres, and battles in general, are places for heroes where valour is shown and where the dead are honoured.

Unfortunately history is littered with dishonourable acts of war, some of them caused by disobeying orders, some by obeying them, and some accepted by authorities until they were discovered - and that just accounts for the stories of war that we know about.

It seems to me that an act of heroism may, in other circumstances, be seen as an act of recklessness. If you go over the top and get killed it may be that a posthumous medal is awarded but it may also be the result of a bad decision or a miscommunication. Lord Tennyson knew that the Charge of The Light Brigade was a foolish error but he highlights the valour of those soldiers. I would highlight the foolishness.

You may remember the heroics shown in the film Zulu. The characters played by Michael Caine and Stanley Baker both won VCs along with nine others, the highest number awarded in one battle. However do you remember the heroics of the Zulus or are they just the unsophisticated enemy that need to be killed? The film does show the bravery of the Zulus and it could be argued that they were much braver than the British forces, but I don't think that the Zulus are the first soldiers that are thought of today.

In the Boer War, those brave soldiers fighting guerrilla warfare were Boers. If the British didn't invent concentration camps in the same war then they certainly enhanced their popularity. More recently, if it were not for the widespread availablity of cameras then we may never have learnt about the torture going on in Abu Ghraib.

A few years ago I was speaking with some French people who had no idea about the meaning of the poppy. Would you know the French flower of remembrance? The answer is the bleuet or, as we know it, the cornflower. The blue flower was also the colour of their uniforms. When it comes to remembering all of the war dead then the forces from that particular country come first, and if that is the case then remembrance highlights division.

War is not honourable. According to Tony Benn it is a failure of diplomacy. I have absolutely no problem in supporting soldiers who work in extremely dangerous circumstances. My problem is that we forget the political failures and glorify war.

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Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Look for good in people

"Politicians are only in it for themselves". I have heard that comment myself even though I am untainted by victory. The naive / cynical spectrum applied to Jerry Sadowitz's humour is equally applicable to how we see politicians. All politicians may just be in it for themselves or they may all be true philanthropists. How can you be a complete philanthropist without being a saint? After all, we all have to look after our own bills. We can't give all our money away. That tells you that I am not at the extreme end of the naive spectrum.

On the other hand you may criticise politicians for looking towards their own concerns. Their decisions don't relate to right and wrong but how to line their pockets and win more votes. You would then spend time finding contradiction in what they say and do (how do you know when a politician is lying? When their lips move). Even if there is a good result you would still feel the politician is acting in a way that would be approved by Alan B'stard from The New Statesman.

There is a blogger, not a million miles from where I live who reminds me of Jerry Sadowitz at his worst. There is no humour so there is no defence that he is an entertainer. He is a cynical politician. The trouble with this is that his life in not enriched by cynicism. Taking a perceived negative viewpoint and magnifying it makes total cynicism a little more inevitable. Then you end up saying that you have seen it all and can't do anything about it, and then you stop trying.

If you gave me the choice of being totally cynical or totally naive I know which I would choose and my life would possibly be so much the better for it. As with most circumstances it is probably better to have a balanced view and if you can see good in people they maybe they will see good in you.

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Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Jerry Sadowitz II

No there aren't two of him but I wanted to write more about Jerry Sadowitz and the naive / cynical spectrum of his humour. Jerry has been in trouble for making a joke about Canadians. He doesn't like them because half speak French and the other half let them. Well I think that's quite funny even though he has managed to insult the whole of Canada.The point is that he can't hate them that much because he allowed a young Canadian comedian called Bobby Mair to support him on Sunday. So you can take anything Jerry says with a few pinches of salt even though there are times when he is on an aggressive rant. Maybe he is a pussycat underneath all of his many layers.

In general I would favour the naive humour which is not so obviously attempting to hurt others. There was one vitriolic attack on a celebrity now deceased. I spent some time looking up the cause of this attack and my conclusion is that if you are on the naive end of the spectrum you would say that there is no reason for any attack and if you are cynical then there is no smoke without fire. The humour came from Jerry's ability to question society's naivety. He is saying things that others dare not speak.

Maybe it was a deliberate contrast but Bobby Mair's humour was totally different to Jerry's. I prefer the theatre to the cinema because I can be part of the performance. As a member of the audience I have some ability to influence that performance even if it just by clapping. We want a better performance so it was sad to hear one heckle when Bobby told us, as part of a joke, that he didn't want to die. Someone shouted "you just have". Was Jerry in the audience? Well the heckle wasn't funny so I don't think it was him.

You can be funny and tell a joke that hurts nobody. You can tell a joke about a whole nation but not mean to hurt anyone and still be funny. You can inadvertently hurt people with comedy but if the intention is to hurt rather than entertain then it isn't funny. Motivation is the key factor and Jerry is first and foremost an entertainer. I will continue to enjoy his humour but I do need quite a lot of salt.

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Monday, 7 November 2011

Jerry Sadowitz

I saw Jerry Sadowitz in Lancaster yesterday. I don't mind if jokes are not politically correct as jokes are generally offensive to someone. My rule of thumb is don't tell offensive jokes to the person you are offending as they don't tend to get the joke. The audience was mostly male, white and in their fifties and this audience was spared from being the butt of any joke, unless they happened to come from Manchester or Doncaster or Grimsby or Ireland. Even if they did then all they had to do was keep quiet and nobody would know. Women were slightly less fortunate but his jokes could be seen as tongue-in-cheek.

It is also essential for good comedians to make jokes about themselves, and Jerry is certainly able to do this. He calls himself all sorts of things but in the end we were not entirely sure if he meant any of it. He tells us that his esteem was so low that he would rather be a second-rate Bernard Manning than a first-rate Jerry Sadowitz.

Jerry is not a "mock the week" comedian. If Liam Fox is in the news then it doesn't really matter to him as another politician is doing something similar this week. So Jerry directs his humour at other celebrities but is more at the "cutting edge" with his observations. As I see it, whatever these celebrities are alleged to have done, there will be more celebrities doing something similar this week. Jerry's objection to topical humour is not about it being topical but about the subject.

There is some merit in telling us that our sense of humour has been numbed by the media, by other comedians and by political correctness and we should all be prepared to be offended for the sake of making the world a happier place, but I am left wondering if Jerry has been too long at the cutting edge and this has now affected his self-esteem and his popularity. There were times when his rant sounded like an alternative comedian with Tourette's and Jerry spent some time telling us that most comedians are really bad. There are times when offensive language is part of the joke but there were many times last night when the language was just part of a rant.

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