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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Transparency next step

I read in today's Telegraph (but can't find it online) that the average farm in the UK had an income of £25,000 last year and that four-fifths of this income comes in the forms of EU subsidies (that rob taxpayers in two ways: by spending their tax money and by artificially raising the price of food). If you want to know how much your friendly local Farmer Giles gets from this racket… you can't.

European rules forcing the publication of details of the people who received farming subsidies and how much they received breached those people's rights to privacy, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled.

[From Farming subsidy database 'breaches privacy rights' • The Register]

So now farmers can keep their looting of the public purse to themselves. This seems wrong, especially when the terms for applying for these handouts clearly state that the amounts will be published. The right solution is, naturally, to abolish farm subsidies at the earliest opportunity, but, failing that, we should at least be allowed to see where the money is going.

Here's a positive suggestion though. I see today that the government is proposing to send taxpayers a pie chart of where the money went with their tax demand, a bit like the pie chart you get from Woking council with your enormous council tax bill. Not a bad idea - at least people can see where their money is going. But why not put this on food too: you're Waitrose bill could tell you at the end: you spent £35.45 of which £1.41 went on VAT and £24.21 went in EU subsidies and £2.91 went to Waitrose profit and…

What's wrong with some transparency?

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Mary Portas hasn't a prayer

Remember last year, when retail expert Mary Portas published her report?

Ms Portas outlines plans for cutting regulations for High Street traders and the launch of a national market day. But council leaders have criticised her for not consulting them

[From BBC News - Mary Portas unveils report into High Street revival]

Now Mary Portas is a smart cookie. If you've ever wondered why the stars of the BBCs "Absolutely Fabulous" went on about Harvey Nicks all the time, it was because Mary promised

writer and star of the show Jennifer Saunders the run of the store for research in return for Saunders namechecking the business

[From Mary Portas - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

Smart, as I say. I haven't read the report, but I can tell you right now she's wasting her time. Yesterday I needed to buy a phone for a relative, so I called two local mobile phone shops to see if they had the particular handset in stock. Neither of them picked up the phone and in both cases I left messages asking them to call me back because I wanted to buy something. Needless to say, neither of them did.

Driving home from the station, I did think of popping into a store to pick up a couple of things, but to park outside the Tesco Metro and Co-Op costs money which, even if I was prepared to pay it (I'm not) I don't because I can't be bothered to find to walk down to the machine and find coins to feed in to it. I was dying for a coffee, and I thought maybe I'd pick up a Starbucks but there's nowhere to park and I can't be bothered to go into the town centre and park in a multi-story just to pick up a coffee to take home. I thought this then I was driving through Weybridge the other day: I saw a Caffe Nero and I just fancied a large latte with an extra shot, but there was nowhere to park so I just drove on.

In the end I drove home without a coffee, bought the milk from the petrol station and ordered the phone online, just as I order everything else online. The UK High Street is as dead as the Dodo.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Power to the people, oh no

Why should be people be allowed to vote? We think of it as a right, but I'm not so sure. Rights have related responsibilities, and presumably one of the most basic responsibilities associated with voting is a basic level of intelligence and a minor smattering of actual knowledge about the real world.

Almost one-third of Americans believe the ancient Mayan prediction of global calamity this December are “somewhat true,” according to a recent National Geographic poll.

[From America, the Beautiful (And Nutty): A Skeptic's Lament | Wired Science |]

Democracy has no future. The electorate have voted themselves into a cultural cul-de-sac from which there is no escape beyond destruction. The levels of ignorance are so great as to make public opinion meaningless on almost all topics.

Some 70% of Americans believe in some aspect of the paranormal — ESP, devils, ghosts, homeopathy, and spiritual healing. More than 25% believe there are humans who can “psychically” predict the future. About 20% believe it’s possible to talk to dead people (and that the dead talk back).

[From America, the Beautiful (And Nutty): A Skeptic's Lament | Wired Science |]

These happen to be the figures from America, but I'd be surprised if the UK was much less nutty. It's certainly as ignorant. And don't fool yourself that things are going to improve. A third of UK students don't know that milk comes from cows. (And as an aside, half of them couldn't name a single ingredient of bread and 42% didn't realise that social security payments come out of taxation, which explains a lot).

What I can't figure out is why it is that the race to the bottom is accelerating. I can see that post-war governments might at some level have concluded that an ignorant electorate might be easier to control and manipulate, but surely the malaise runs deeper. Perhaps, though, the answer lays in the rise of the stupid as well as their growth in the numbers.

It is not difficult to understand how social, political and institutional power enhances the damaging potential of a stupid person.

[From The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity]

What has changed in recent years is not that there are more stupid people (although I'm sure there are) but that stupid people have more and more power over us.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.
[posted with ecto]