All posts by John B

Bands of distinctions

I an a civilised gentleman with a fine reputation; my father has a reputation as a smart bastard who stirs up shit. He also introduced me to the delightful and amazing Kirstie MacColl and by proxy, Johnny Marr.

I feel the need to stick up my dad’s Trayvon commentary, because it needs a home.

This train wreck of a trial is a bit like a Korean airliner crash. It takes a series of errors to get there, but given the people involved, they surely will. A bad law puts the jury in the position of deciding what was going on in Zimmerman’s wretched brain. The jury selection process results in a jury of ladies who might find an encounter with a black hoodie frightening. And then they are told that if they have reasonable doubt about what was going on in Zimmerman’s mind, they can acquit him. The verdict is not a surprise, but it underlines the shabby nature of American law- making and enforcement for the 216 years since a revolution based on a twin commitment to slave ownership and tax dodging, masquerading as a freedom struggle.

Quick and unoriginal Eurovision thought

Eurovision is massive in Australia, probably more so than it is in much of Europe – despite the fact that there aren’t any Australian participants, we don’t get to vote, and it’s shown on time-delay. Which is odd.

Of course, its importance is symbolic. Eurovision was first shown in Australia in 1983, which was exactly the point when the first generation of Australian-born people of non-British and non-indigenous descent (*) was in the ascendant (since from 1946-1973, migration policy had moved from ‘The Empire’ to ‘any country you like as long as you’re white-ish’).

Australia was shedding old stereotypes about national background, stiff-upper-lips and machismo, and forging its own identity with a nod to all the cultures from which the population was now derived. Combining row-of-tents campness with a near-total match to white Australians’ homelands, Eurovision couldn’t have worked better as a totem of the New Australia.

The White-ish Australia policy has now been dead for almost exactly as long as the British Australia policy had been in 1983, and again, the country has changed substantially and for the better for it. Sure, there are still plenty of bigots, but Asian cultures are now a massive part of the Australian mainstream.

It occurs to me that what we really need now, to cement and mark this, is some kind of massively campy event that somehow nods to both Australia’s multiple European heritages and the Asian heritage of New New Australians… Any ideas?

* yes, I know there have been Chinese and German Australians for almost as long as there’ve been white Australians and for much longer than there’s been a country of Australia. But mass migration was overwhelmingly from the British Isles until after World War II.

Thanks for all the fish

The news from the horrible (and immensely stupid: who the fuck would allow a chemical plant to be built literally next door to a school) West fire in Texas today, with its “70 injured, no I mean 70 dead, no I mean 5 dead” just reminded me of this brilliant commentary on newspaper reports of tragedies.

(from Dirk Gently; if you’ve not seen the BBC adaptation, do. And if you’ve not read the books, stop reading now and don’t come back til you have):

They started at forty-seven dead, eighty-nine seriously injured, went up to sixty-three dead, a hundred and thirty injured, and rose as high as one hundred and seventeen dead before the figures started to be revised downwards once more. The final figures revealed that once all the people who could be accounted for had been accounted for, in fact no one had been killed at all.

A related thought in my brain, which was very much shaped by the 1980s British rationalist writer community, in the light of Mr Dawkins being a dick on Twitter as usual. We’d like to imagine that if Douglas were alive today, he’d be in the camp of the Iains and Terrys, but there’s at least a possibility he would have ended up with the Martins and the Richards.


Consistency, aviation and discrimination

The average woman weighs less than the average man, as does the average child. This is undeniably true.

By far the most important cost for the average aeroplane flight is fuel, which is directly dependent on total take-off weight. This is undeniably true.

The average woman joining a passenger aeroplane flight carries more luggage than the average man, and families with kids carry more luggage still. This is also undeniably true, as is is the fact that women are still far more likely to be primary carers.

So the current model under which fuel costs for passenger aeroplanes are based on the total weight of passengers, but excess charges for luggage are based solely on luggage weight irrespective of passenger weight, is grossly sexist on aggregate. Small people with luggage (overwhelmingly women) are subsidising big people without luggage (overwhelmingly men).

Now, you could argue that this is an unavoidable consequence of micro-level decisions and not deliberate discrimination, but if you did you’d be an oaf.

Laws in western countries agree, rightly, that an establishment that makes decisions that end up with men being overwhelmingly privileged and women being overwhelmingly shafted, despite those decisions not being expressly gender-based, is a discriminatory establishment.

I can’t see how this could possibly fail to apply to airlines. The sooner everyone joins up with Samoan Airlines and the weight scheme kicks in, the better…

Because you’re all desperate for JB’s views on Maggie

Wasn’t going to blog on the demise of the most important British political figure since Winston, but since everyone else has and this blog is being archived by the British Library (I know, right – nobody tell them I’m Strine now), I thought I’d stick this originally-an-FB-comment line up there.

I grew up in the South of England with a very leftie Welsh mum and a centrist Northern but financial-services-working-dad. So from a very young age my take on Mrs T was always that she was ruining where everyone was from – good for the family bottom line, but that we should be kinda ashamed of that and it wasn’t a way to run a railroad. Or country.

Among people who are just full-on middle-class southeners, when it comes to Thatcher, there’s a tendency to adopt a “something must be done, this is something, therefore this must be done” approach. The UK economy did need structural reform in 1979, like other developed economies. But it didn’t have to be carried out in such a cruel and downright wasteful fashion.

Callaghan’s government was bringing in labour market and regulatory reforms – they were the main cause of the whole Winter of Discontent thing. Had they won in 79 you could reasonably have expected something like Australia or Canada today, with necessary reforms made but labour rights protected and no outright destruction of communities and generations of people. 

It’s a terrible shame the implementation was left to a bunch of outright class war fanatics instead, who decided the best use of the immense windfall from North Sea oil was to pay dole and sick benefits for millions of people they had written off as members of society. 

(then of course a generation later, her heirs say “why are we paying these toerags dole and sick” while pretending not to know the answer is “because that was our policy all along”…)

She also helped invent Mr Whippy ice cream, which absolves a lot of sins. Also Falklands, obviously.

PR leaders and their downfalls

Tony Blair was selected to win elections for the Labour party, by giving good PR face and convincing people that Labour wasn’t terrifyingly left-wing any more, despite being way to the right of most activists and MPs.

David Cameron was selected to win elections for the Tory party, by giving good PR face and convincing people that the Tories weren’t terrifyingly right-wing any more, despite being way to the left of most activists and MPs.

Tony Blair led the UK into a deranged war based on his messianic belief that it was The Right Thing, Dammit, going way to the right of almost everyone who was in any way involved with or a supporter of his party. And he was thrown out as leader only many years later, once he was actively unpopular with the public-at-large by an even greater margin than his party.

David Cameron has implemented a right-wing agenda, certainly no leftier than John Major’s government, despite being in a coalition with the Lib Dems. He has had to fight tooth and nail to get his party to do anything which has even the slightest smack of centrism, and so mostly hasn’t. Yet, despite all the above, and despite being vastly more popular (“less unpopular” might be fairer) with the public than his party is, they appear to be seriously considering turfing him as leader already.

I’m not quite sure what this proves, although “Labourites are Stockholm victims and Tories are a terrifying angry mob who nobody in their right mind would seek to lead” is probably up there.