Monday, 31 October 2011

A modest proposal

For some time now, I've been looking at the lunacies of the world and thinking about how we might mitigate them somewhat.

You may have heard of the 17th century Witchfinder General? If not, have a quick refresher here.

I propose that we institute a new office of Bollocks-Finder General. A carefully selected body of men and women will be employed by we, the people, to wander round the country investigating anything that catches their eye. I have in mind the sort of people who you'd find as senior NCOs, old-style hospital matrons, experienced construction engineers, passenger liner captains and the like - the sort of people accustomed to taking on huge responsibilities, getting big things done and making life-and-death decisions. (But not, please note, so high in any corporate structure that they get too far up their own arse.) Where appropriate - and it will surely be often - they will cry: "Hang on, this is bollocks!"

Our Bollocks-Finders General will have rather extensive powers, much as you might expect senior military types to have in wartime. (Let's face it, the War against Terror is never going to be won, but we might make headway in the War against Bollocks.) They will be able to issue summary commands to all and sundry, backed up by civil and military authorities where required. They will have administrative and judicial powers, and may well be armed. There will be no appeal, other than by way of an outraged populace stringing them up if they get it wrong too often. I suspect that, on the contrary, they will be well loved by ordinary people, though hated by bureaucrats, corporate bandits, politicians and other lowlives.

Here are some examples of where the Bollocks-Finder General might usefully step in, along with the actions that might well be taken.

Imagine if we'd had a B-FG way back in 2002 when the Government announced the National Programme for IT for the NHS. This was, in theory, going to make patient records centrally available. There would, shortly after the announcement, have been an interview along these lines:

B-FG: "So exactly which doctors and hospitals have asked for this?"
Bureaucrat: "Ah... well, it's more of a government initiative."
B-FG: "So nobody who's looking after patients actually wants it?"
Bureaucrat: "Well, we're sure it will be jolly useful, and it won't cost more than £6.2 billion to have all the patient records in one place, accessible to all doctors and nurses everywhere."
B-FG: "So how often, exactly, would that be better than just picking up the telephone or sending an email? And how will it speed up patient care or save money?"
Bureaucrat: "Oh, well, we haven't looked into that in great detail... but it will be jolly good, we're quite sure..."
B-FG: "No. This is complete bollocks. You're fired. And so is whoever employed you."

See? That would have saved over £11 billion in the end.

Another example - the Millennium Dome.

Tony Blair: "So, we'll have this huge big tent and we'll fill it with all sorts of interesting stuff."
B-FG: "Like what?"
Tony Blair: "Erm... well, really interesting stuff. It'll be iconic."
B-FG: "So in other words you have no idea?"
Tony Blair: "Well, look, I think we should focus on the real point here..."
B-FG: "Bollocks. Not going to happen. Try and focus on not getting us into any more wars, eh?"

If only we'd had B-FGs here in Nottingham in the '60s. Imagine one of them wandering into the town planning meetings:

Town planners: "So, we're agreed. Get rid of the cobbled streets and Georgian buildings, and have a six-lane highway and lots of concrete high-rise buildings. That's what we'll do."
B-FG: "Will you bollocks. You're all fired."
Outraged Councillor: "You can't fire me - I was democratically elected!"
B-FG: "Good point. I'll just have to shoot you, then."

Think of the crass stupidity we could avoid. The Bollocks-Finders General would have plenty to say (and would probably use up a fair bit of ammunition) about such things as The X-Factor, Tescos in everybody's back garden, councils banning conker fights, CCTV on every streetlamp, Harriet Harman, alcopops, PCSOs, merchant bankers, travellers who don't, the European Agricultural Policy (and much else from Brussels), Graham Norton, the railways, wind turbines... the list is long.

You're probably thinking that I'd like to be a Bollocks-Finder General myself. Well, yes, I have to admit, I would, but I lack the self-control required. I'd shoot everyone instead of just firing them. A sense of perspective is required, after all.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Down on Dale Farm

I hesitate to comment on this, as I don't think I can add anything to the debate. But I need practice with this new Blogger system...

I will never take much satisfaction at the sight of riot police forcing people out of their homes. And I have a good deal of sympathy with the lot of the Roma. However, in the case of Dale Farm there has been, frankly, an awful lot of bollocks about "ethnic cleansing" and the like.

Fundamentally, it's quite simple. Even if you own a piece of land, you can't necessarily build on it. In the case of many of the Dale Farm plots now facing action, the land is owned by fairly wealthy absentee landlords from the Irish Travelling community. But it's Green Belt, and no planning permission has been granted for permanent buildings. Basildon Council are therefore entitled - in fact, obliged - to take action to clear illegal structures from the area. Those residents affected have been offered alternative accommodation, with some advantage over many already on the council housing waiting list, but have instead gambled on their media and legal campaign to see them through. That gamble has failed, and it was inevitable that the bailiffs and police would go in. And in my view it was right.

The whole point about a 'common law' is that it treats all people the same: without fear or favour, prejudice or ill-will. As soon as any minority is given special exemptions - because of their own chosen lifestyles - things break down very quickly. I could go on to discuss the distinction that might usefully be made between the Roma and the Irish Travellers, but that's a whole other can of worms which I feel too tired to open. To close, here's something that may reinforce some prejudices, or may cause some reappraisal. Either way, it's one of Ewan MacColl's finest songs, quite beautifully performed.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The challenge of change

Well, looky here. I take a little while out from blogging and come back to find lots of changes. Can't possibly work out what's going on after the red wine with supper, so the blog may look a little strange for a while. It may also look different from one minute to the next as I experiment with the new range of templates. When I say 'experiment' I do of course mean 'click on them at random and see what happens'. I'm sure we'll all settle down before long. In the meantime, here's just a few snapshots of what Mrs QO and I have been doing over the last few weeks.