Tuesday, 10 October 2017

A letter to the Taxpayers' Alliance

The Taxpayers' Alliance is a right-wing group with whom, most of the time, I disagree politically, but I do find their tales of woe and waste highly amusing. I don't donate to them. Today I received a letter from them telling me that they have a new campaign manager, Mr Harry Fone, and he wants me to write and tell him which campaigns I think the Taxpayers' Alliance ought to conduct. Here is my reply.

Thanks for writing.

Thank you for inviting me to suggest campaigns which the Taxpayers' Alliance should become involved in. There are many such campaigns, as Britain is in a desperate state thanks to completely incompetent management, but the most urgent ones I can think of are

(a) Double the old age pension, all social security benefits and the income-tax-free allowance. Make the bosses live on the average full time wage paid to their workers. This will at a stroke (remember that?) end the recession, which is caused by government meanness and a greedy and selfish toff class, and has nothing to do with debts or productivity.

(b) Ban all imports from China. Quite apart from deliberately collaborating with a foreign government that is trying to destroy the British economy by exporting goods below cost price, this will more or less eliminate the imports of the products of child labour, forced labour, convict labour and slave labour. No Chinese goods work properly and all of them fall to bits after a couple of weeks of normal use. A ban on Chinese imports would also stimulate the manufacture of British goods of quality.

(c) Requisition all unoccupied houses, second and subsequent homes, investment properties, buy to lets and illegal sub-lets and sell them to homeless families for £10.

(d) Re-nationalise the railways without compensation, slash fares to one tenth of their present levels, abolish second class, fix the toilets, bring back the restaurant cars and line the seats up with the windows.

(e) Hang criminal motorists if they kill or endanger life. If they were drunk at the time, hang them twice.

(f) Abolish the Royal Family except for one monarch, one monarch's consort, and one heir and trainee. Move homeless families into the Royal Family's mansions and palaces except for one palace in London and one in Scotland. All the rest of the sponging toffs should either get a job or claim the standard rate of social security like everybody else has to.

(g) Bring back the full student grant sufficient to pay tuition charges, accommodation, books, equipment, food and fares, as it was not all that long ago. Do away with the (imaginary or actual) need for billions of foreign speaking immigrants who have skills that British kids can't afford to learn any more.

(h) Abolish the Conservative Party. They do no good of any kind so why should we put up with them? Abolish the Labour Party as well because it's the same as the Conservative Party.

(i) Abolish the European Union. The Europeans should learn English and then apply, and pay a huge fee, to join the British Empire. (I owe this obvious idea to David Frost and Anthony Jay.)

Best wishes and thank you again for giving me this opportunity. I hope to see you making the case for all the above within the next week or two.

Sincerely, Ken Johnson

Sunday, 17 September 2017

A place of beauty

A place of beauty Thank you to the gardeners of Edinburgh District Council Parks Department who have planted a small patch of land with meadow flowers, in between the children's swing park and the football pitch. The result is beautiful, and it reminds me of the way I think the countryside ought to be. For a few yards, the walk along the footpath from Kilncroft Side to Inglis Green Road is in bloom. Do walk it.

Friday, 8 September 2017

What Duracell and Ever Ready don’t want you to know

Following the appearance of this short article in the Daily Mail dated 7 September 2017 on how to recharge your mobile phone when there is no electric power, How to charge your phone if the power goes out, I feel entitled to publish the following short article on the same subject from the little known Journal of Physics and Mobile Communication.

Four engineering students from the university of Tempinbol, in the little known east European country of Tiurma, have discovered a replacement for conventional mobile phone batteries.

Cut a slice 1½″ × 2″ of British potato. Soak it in a mixture of vinegar, honey and cold tea for three months. Prick holes in both sides of it with a pin. Wrap it in a clean British cabbage leaf and put it in the hole where the phone battery used to be.

Once in place it will power your phone for up to 100 years and what’s more every call you make with it will be free.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

A song about the Office of National Statistics

According to the eleven o’clock (in the morning) news on Radio Four today, unemployment has fallen yet again.

Tune: We’re going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line. Acknowledgements to Michael Carr and Jimmy Kennedy.

Once I got a first class math-e-matics degree,
Then I was on the dole.
Now I’m back at work and in the right job for me,
I invent the figures that appear on TV!

I’ve joined the Of-fice of National Stati-sti-tics,
Where I work things out and often get them wrong,
It’s where they pay me to make up all the vital facts,
As I blithely go along.
Tell me the figures should be big or small
And I’ll tell you what you want to hear,
I’m in the Of-fice of National Stati-sti-tics,
And the answer’s crystal clear.

I’m at the Of-fice of National Stati-sti-tics,
Is your manifesto costed through and through?
Do you wonder who’s leading the opinion polls?
’Cause I haven’t got a clue.
All these improvements in the way you live
Are supposed to raise your self esteem,
I’m in the Of-fice of National Stati-sti-tics,
Where I fall asleep and dream.

Downstairs in the basement there’s a hardworking clerk,
Oh, what a rigmarole,
Guess how many citizens are looking for work,
Scribbling it on paper while he’s going berserk,

I’m at the Of-fice of National Stati-sti-tics,
Will your pension be enough to stay alive?
Have we paid back the debt or just the deficit?
And how many beans make five?
Is the exchange rate going to rise or fall?
Tell me, how long is a piece of string?
And then you take away the number that you first thought of,
Yes, we know that sort of thing.

I’m at the Of-fice of National Stati-sti-tics,
I decide on what goes up and what comes down,
I just pluck all the numbers out of empty air
’Cause the abacus broke down,
When people ask me what the future holds
I can cast the runes and draw a graph,
I’m in the Of-fice of National Stati-sti-tics,
I can have a damned good laugh.

Ken Johnson

Monday, 29 May 2017

How to stop people using mobile phones while they drive

How to stop people using mobile phones while they drive Not that long ago I was crossing the road at the Pelicon crossing outside Saughton Park, when despite the red traffic light and the green man, a fast car passed within an inch of me, very nearly knocking me over. The driver was, you’ve guessed it, using her mobile phone while driving.

This dangerous practice has attracted some attention in the newspapers of late: for example, Motorists’ anger at plummeting mobile-phone convictions in The Telegraph. But the only solution anyone seems to have canvassed is increasing the fines or driving bans that the courts can hand down.

The trouble is, increasing the penalty has not worked. Penalties for using a mobile phone while driving were increased a few weeks ago, and the number of convictions has pretty much stayed the same.

The penalty for using a mobile phone, of course, should be temporary or permanent confiscation of the phone. This is obvious to any parent or teacher who has become exasperated by watching a child texting and yapping on the phone instead of making their own bed or doing arithmetic. But the long term solution to this serious road safety problem comes from a completely different direction.

Some futuristic engineers see the solution in driverless cars. Obviously, if your car is driverless, you will be able to use a mobile phone just as if you were aboard a bus or a train. When driverless cars are finally put to work on the streets I am sure that the roads will be safer than at any time since the invention of the motor car. But driverless cars are a long way in the future, and in the mean time I see the solution in subscriberless phones. These revolutionary telephones will sense the movement of the car, and immediately start phoning people and holding trivial and unnecessary conversations along the lines of ‘Hello darling, I’ll be working late at the office,’ ‘Happy birthday,’ ‘Does the dog have enough tinned food,’ ‘Eric’s feeling a bit poorly so I gave the stuff to Myra,’ and so forth.

By keeping up an autonomous torrent of inane conversation with friends, the subscriberless phone will free its owner to concentrate on the road ahead.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

A modest comment on the unemployment figures

A modest comment on the unemployment figures Here is the BBC News website’s summary of the unemployment figures published yesterday, 17 May 2017.
  • The UK unemployment rate has fallen to 4·6%, its lowest in 42 years,
  • The jobless rate has not been lower since the June to August period of 1975.
  • The employment rate, the proportion of 16 to 64 year olds in work, was 74·8%, the highest since records began in 1971.

You can take that as the official version of the figures, published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), which is the equivalent in today’s money of the Ministry of Truth. Disputing their opinions, particularly it seems in the Houses of Parliament, sets off a hurricane of rage from those who have put their faith in them.

There are many expressions of stunned disbelief in the English language, but like the great George Orwell, writing in his newspaper column ‘As I Please’, on 19 January 1945, I sense that, reading these incredible statements, you find the phrase ‘and then you wake up’ coming immediately to hand. It is common experience that unemployment is completely out of control. Unemployment has in reality reached a level so high that no politician of any political stamp asks to be put in charge of it. Worse, so far, no politician in the last few years has even suggested that anything can, or ought to be, done about it. On the contrary, several recently adopted government policies, for example that on the State pension, require old people to remain employed until an age well into three figures*, and assume, despite train-loads of evidence to the contrary, that there will be well paid work for all who want it.

Not for the first time I sense that the government has been deceived by its own propaganda. This time, though, the Opposition is guilty of pretending to accept ONS statistics on unemployment, for fear of finding itself responsible for a desperately serious problem for which it has neither diagnosis nor remedy.

It is exceedingly difficult to find a job, as my own experience and that of, probably, millions of others has shown. Unemployment is certainly well into the millions. How many millions exactly, nobody knows.

Further evidence may be found by searching on line for ‘How they fiddle the unemployment figures,’ or any synonymous phrase. You will see dozens of hits, each representing a different list of old Spanish customs whereby the ONS reduces the unemployment figures without actually employing anybody.

The only plausible alternative explanation of the disparity between the ONS figures and reality is that the ONS, far from counting the unemployed people and falsifying the results, simply makes up the figures as it goes along.

I doubt whether anyone in government, or anywhere else for that matter, knows who qualifies as unemployed and who doesn’t, let alone the vital information: who is unemployed, where they live, what skills they have, what they might be trained to do, or anything else about them.

What that means, I think, is that nobody in government actually cares about those people, including me, who face the daily misery of having no work to do and precious little money. That is especially poignant in the light of evidence such as a study called Modelling suicide and unemployment (The Guardian, 11/02/15) that, among men at least, unemployment is a common precursor of suicide. To the people who are undergoing it, unemployment is sometimes a burden which they take the most desperate of measures to throw off.

In the absence of any serious proposals from any political party to deal with unemployment, here are my modest proposals to ameliorate it.

  1. Unemployment remains sky high, so stop lying about it. I haven’t spoken to a single person who believes the ONS figures.

    Count unemployed people in exactly the same way as they were counted in the days when an interviewer asked the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, whether he would resign if unemployment were to reach a quarter of a million.

  2. Stop trying to force unemployed people to find work.

    Most unemployed people would probably accept a decent job if they were offered one. Any who prefer to remain on benefits, which means living on a budget so small that many unemployed people cannot afford electricity and food, are at least leaving a job empty so that someone who wants it can have it.

  3. Raise the benefits that unemployed people receive.

    By a stroke of irony, paying unemployed people more money would reduce unemployment. Increasing the amount of money that people actually spend is a pre-requisite for an increase in the amount of goods sold, which is in turn probably a better way of reducing unemployment than not counting people with hats.

  4. Finally, stop buying cheap goods from China. It's one thing to buy some cheap rubbish from China, or anywhere else, when you want some cheap rubbish. If you want a dress that costs ten times what the shop gave for it, doesn't fit and then falls to bits, China is probably the right supplier for you.

    It’s another thing altogether to buy things from a country which appears to have been subsidising the manufacture of various goods and then dumping them in British shops at less than what it costs the Chinese to produce.

★That is an exaggeration, but not a particularly big one.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The truth about St George

The truth about Saint George An article in The Independent headlined This St George’s Day, we should remember that the patron saint of England was an immigrant,” claims that St George was a Turkish immigrant, never set foot in England and was persecuted by the Romans on account of his quaint religious beliefs.

Crusader It’s time to set the record straight. St George was as English as I would be if I lived in England. He was born in Limehouse, went to the Alderman Gruesome comprehensive school and came out illiterate but a well respected street fighter who spent his days drinking warm beer in the Queen Vic. He lived in a cramped terraced house on Darkness Road which he shared with a bricklayer and a jobbing gardener, and he worked as a delivery driver on a zero hours contract with a pizza café.

On 23 April (or its equivalent in the Julian calendar) of 360 AD he heard a commotion from the general area of Blackfriars Bridge. He made his way thither and pushed to the front of the crowd, where he beheld the horrifying spectacle of a vast dragon, the size of at least three elephants tied together, breathing fire so hot that the street lamps wilted and all who came close to it were incinerated.

Crusader2George (he was just plain George in those days, the title came along later) tied his shoelaces and drew his special left-handed sword, smiting the dragon with such speed and strength that its head was completely severed by a single blow, and the animal writhed in agony and fell down dead at his feet.

At which the crowd cheered George to the rafters and the Pope turned up out of nowhere, read George a magic scroll and pinned to his chest the golden medal which converted him into a saint.

After that, unlike most saints, St George never did anything noteworthy ever again. Nonetheless we still celebrate St George’s Day by roasting a goose, baking red and white cakes, dressing up as knights and dragons and pretending to fight each other with plastic sticks, and giving one another gaudily wrapped I-Pads and mobile telephones.

So mark the truth. Never let it be said that St George was a Turkish immigrant. He was as English as you or I would have been, if we were English. If they get away with that, these damned historians will be telling me that Jesus Christ wasn’t born on 25 December of 0 AD, and we can’t have that.

I first published this nonsense in the newsgroup talk.bizarre. The image of St George comes from joeatta78.deviantart.com. The Crusader image came from the Daily Express site.