"All things are wearisome, more than one can say." - Ecclesiastes 1:8

Friday, August 26, 2011

Fear and incentives

Whilst reading Chris Dillow on incentives, I was reminded about Mr Letwin's remarks a while ago about the need for the discipline of fear amongst public sector workers. I was wondering what kind of world does he live in where fear of losing one's job necessarily makes people behave well, by which we mean in this context: more productively?

I was also wondering what kind of world does he live in where public sector workers don't already fear for their jobs? Being more productive is not necessarily, or even usually, the thing that will get one noticed by management - particularly in jobs where productivity is rather difficult to quantify. As a consequence, workers - in my experience, teachers - will focus on more general matters as well as trying to ingratiate themselves to their managers.

This tends to encourage sycophancy, beggar thy colleague competition, and conformity expressed in the spouting of managerial jargon - rather than a focus on the more narrow specific skills one needs to be good at one's job but which will pass unnoticed by managers who often only understand what you are doing on the basis of memories. And increasingly, they don't even have these. Not an edifying spectacle.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Independence within the UK?

According to Scotland on Sunday, the SNP is backing off from its long-standing policy of Euro membership. Significantly, they have also appear to have rejected the idea of creating a new Scottish currency and would retain Sterling as the currency in an independent Scotland.

It's hardly a shock. For many observers this is not only the best, or the least worst, option but the only one that makes any kind of economic sense. Apart from the present travails of the Eurozone, what appears to have put a nail in the Euro-membership coffin is the realization that if the Euro is to survive, it will require some kind of common fiscal policy.

The question is, where does this leave the independence project? To my mind there is no reason why the SNP shouldn't now talk about 'Independence within the UK' but I doubt they will for a couple of reasons:

1) One would imagine that when the real-world economic restraints are discussed in terms of a relationship to London rather than Brussels, there'll be a lot of rather disgruntled Nats.

2) It would be rather difficult, and almost certainly too late, for them to be doing so, given the rhetoric of previous years. Alex Salmond could be made to look rather foolish if he is reminded of his previous statements on the position.

It's unfortunate for the Nationalists because 'Independence within the UK' doesn't make any less sense than 'Independence in Europe' in terms of the monetary and fiscal restraints that come with being a member of a common market with a single monetary policy - but the latter didn't make much sense in the first place anyway, at least not in the way that it was sold by the SNP.

I'm repeating myself but I think it's a point worth driving home. It's been suggested to me that the SNP are rather enjoying themselves at the moment. I wouldn't know but I doubt it. They certainly shouldn't be because there are some uncomfortable times ahead for them as the rhetoric of the past collides with the present reality - and the more thoughtful members of the party, I think, realised this some time ago.

Monday, August 15, 2011

David Cameron on the riots and the general moral degradation of our society

Courtesy of the Gruaniad, edited selectively - but not entirely inaccurately:
"Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort.

Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control."
Sentences without verbs. Typical PR-man bullshit. Like Blair - only worse. Despite - or perhaps because of - expensive private education.

Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off!

Oh, slipped a verb or three in there - on account of my bog-standard comprehensive education. The only sentence I lifted that broke continuity was this: "Behaving as if your choices have no consequences." Bankers? Uh, no. Anyway, what's this crime without punishment shit? I'm sure I read somewhere that some sad fucker got jailed for six months for nicking some water?

Cameron.

Gaping asshole.

Yes he is.

(Verb again - sorry!)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

#ukriots: Defending Alex Salmond

Difficult thing for me to do, what with not being a nationalist and taking the view that Salmond is not a political colossus who towers above the Scottish body politic but in fact something of an asshole. Still, he has a point in his comments about the English riots. Perhaps his mistake was to complain that the description of them as UK-wide was unfair. Rather, it is simply inaccurate.

I'm not sure what Salmond means by Scotland having a different society but the criticism of his comments is absolutely absurd. It has been described as the 'worst face of nationalism' by the Scottish Lib Dem leader - a man in need of some remedial history, if ever I've seen one.

It's not even the worst in terms of the tedious exchange of accusations that passes for debate in Scottish politics. Blaming all your own country's problems on a historic connection to another is boring, stupid and can get fairly unpleasant at times - but what Salmond is saying isn't even this. What he is saying is perfectly accurate. These are English riots. They have not happened in Scotland yet all the conditions that have been cited as factors are present here, not least in sunny Glasgow. So why not here? It is others who are too parochial and narrow-minded to ask why this is. World doesn't revolve round London, y'know.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Reflections on the English riots

Like many people, I've been following the mayhem on Twitter. First it was the #Londonriots. Then as they spread, they became the #ukriots. Last thing I noticed on the beeb rolling strapline was more accurate: these are the English riots, with Scotland being trouble-free.

Now I'm going to look a bit of a knob if it kicks off in Glasgow tonight but I don't think it will and the mere fact that it hasn't yet should, I would have thought, prompted people to put down their broad-brushes, step away from their keyboards and think about about they are saying. Because regardless of the position on the political spectrum people occupy, if they had correctly identified the 'root causes', it should be happening in Glasgow.

For many on the left, the riots are a function of austerity, poverty, shit housing, unemployment and lack of opportunities. Or more specifically for some, the closure of youth clubs. Some people have had faith in the magical properties of youth clubs for as long as I can remember. Well, it's not as if we have full employment here with all our youths happily playing ping-pong so these factors are at best incomplete explanations.

Same goes for the right - with lack of discipline, a 'dependency-culture', family break-down and shortage of press-ups being identified as the usual suspects whenever something bad happens. But we have all this in Glasgow too.

The commentary rather gives the impression of being a wee bit like that which followed the Norwegian tragedy. Loads of pundits who claim to have identified the causes in the very things they've been banging on about for years and reading into a situation exactly what they want to see. Probably the most absurd and pathetic example of this is those internet-Tots presently finding something Arab Spring about a bunch of fuckwits stealing trainers.

And like the Norwegian tragedy, one gets the impression that people would be deeply unsatisfied with narrower, more mundane explanations. So why not Glasgow? Perhaps it's the weather? I'm not being entirely facetious. You don't get long hot summers of discontent in Scottish cities because you don't get long-hot summers. But more likely, these English riots have at their root stuff to do with gangs, ethnic minorities and their interaction with the police? Wouldn't claim to know what the answer is, but looking at more specific practical things is likely to be more helpful than people just whipping out their prejudices?

Not that I'm free from these myself, obviously. I want to vomit when people start bleating about the need to find out why people involve themselves in acts of 'communal self-harm', like they need therapy or something. My own view is that there's an amazing amount of bullshit smuggled into arguments under the cover of 'community'. Maybe if the rioters had been torching their own homes, it could be seen like this - but they haven't, have they? So it shouldn't. Why do people go on the rampage? Really have to insist that the right doesn't get a monopoly on having a pessimistic view of the human condition. People do this sort of thing because they are arseholes and because they can. As Chris says, you need structures where the the costs of rioting outweigh the benefits. The difference between left and right is the former traditionally does not see the costs solely in terms of punitive criminal justice. But the left has traditionally seen a role for criminal justice and it's a tradition worth maintaining. Or alternatively you could pretend a bunch of feral scumbags stealing DVD players are at the vanguard of the English revolution - if you want to go on looking like a complete tit, that it.
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