Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Sunday- On a Budget Edition

First off, HURRAH!- having already subjected myself to geographically driven inflation by ending up living in our fair (but pricey!) nations capital, the freeze on alcohol duty comes as a welcome relief to my creaking wallet. No such luck for the smoking fraternity however, as baccy duty rose by 37p a pack. Whilst I recline in my hypocritical delight at such measures, smokers are left to face the tight-chested future once more the poorer.

This is the first budget I've experienced as a tax-payer, having sat through previous editions as any self-respecting economics & politics student would- hungover, on the couch. This change meant two things. Firstly, I was unable to subject myself to watching the live TV coverage of the great event- no watching the Helicopter following the ministerial car from No.11 to the House of Commons like the dullest ever episode of Police, Camera, Action!, no listening to the rhetorical din of George Osborne smugly decimating the country's future like he's reading last weeks shopping list. I don't know why I used to do it- it's torture. Take my word for it, an interest in politics far from precludes the dark, quite possibly arrestable, thoughts that cross one's mind when, ready to resume your life, the Chancellor having taken his seat to bawdy exhortations from his own benches, you see the Shadow Chancellor/Leader of the Opposition rising to launch into a string of poorly written jokes and objectionable soundbites. To know that the next hour of your life is sunk into the same all-encompassing catatonia as the previous- just because 'it's the budget'- is one of those moments that, whilst tragic at the time, must one day come in handy at 'meetings'.

The second difference of my new salaried-ness was that I am now able to enjoy the full delights of budget calculators. Having previously been smashed to the tune of about £7 a year by previous rises in alcohol duty, this year I was able to play properly and find out the true extent of the Chancellor's shenanigans on 'real people' like me. Turns out George's income tax changes have gone and saved me about £190. Bingo! Good budget right?

Spot the tax-cut for the rich...
Well, would have been better had I been what's known as 'filthy rich'. The highest earners were gifted a tax cut on the basis that they weren't bothering to pay the 50p rate. Whilst Osborne grandstanded on his moral objection to tax evasion he effectively gave into it, as the rich, like a bratty child manipulating their parent, got their own way. As Osborne retired having finished his budget he was greeted by a congratulatory slap on the back from his pal Cameron, a slap carrying the gratitude of the country's, now slightly richer, millionaires. By the way, we're all in it together...

Any debate around the above, however, has been somewhat derailed by fuss kicked up around the Granny tax. The hysteria around 'the raid on pensioners' illustrates nicely the yawning failures of the media coverage surrounding the budget. In the weeks leading up to the event the papers are filled with unsubstantiated claims of cuts to this and grants to that, and following the delivery they devolve into concocted attacks and raids by the Chancellor. In the end, the only way that George Osborne gets away with his pretence of trying to help the whole country, and not just the wealthy tribe, is because the media coverage somehow manages to beat him for disingenuous-ness. The budget is a distinctly unsexy event. The media coverage makes it up like a West End tart.

Things I like this week: A list of some of the things I'm enjoying at the moment.

  • Homeland- Out the loop was what I was. After recommendations from numerous friends I've started catching up on this. Can't stand the titles but apart from that it's pretty good. Intrigued more than Gripped at the moment
  • Audiobooks- again on the recommendation of friends, I made use of the free trial available at Audible. For me, novels should be read, so I've sought to expand my mind with a bit of history and used my one free credit on the first volume David Renolds' Empire of Liberty. Commuting and learning- the wonders of the iPod.
  • Real books- Re-reading Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey, better known for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. A few books I've loved first time round have succumbed to the sophmore effect and left me a little disappointed. This is not one of them. Superbly crafted characters, explored through a brilliantly innovative narrative technique, placed against the wondrous backdrop of rural Oregon. It's a brilliant book.
  • The Boss- Is Bruce Springsteen a guilty pleasure? I've got friends who can't stand him, and I kind of get how the stadium rock, working-class sloganeering schtick can grate, but for me he gets away with it cause it all seems pretty genuine. The new album's a fine listen, filled with big tunes, the Okie Springsteen drawl, and some good old leftie tub-thumping

Sunday, 18 March 2012

The Sunday: Time is Now Edition

Beyond Civil Partnerships: Last Sunday, the Roman Catholic Church, ever the bastion of impeccable morals, stepped up its embittered crusade against gay marriage. Whilst a letter by two senior Arch-Bishops opposing the notion of guy and guy, girl and girl, tying the knot was read out across the nations Catholic places of worship, John Sentamu did his bit to keep the Church of England on the same retrograde path by wading in with his opposition to the notion on the Andrew Marr show. Whilst the offending parties claimed that such opposition did not represent a form of discrimination, there persistent inference that gay marriage would destabilise society left them wallowing in the fear and bigotry of their own arguments.

Marriage itself is a peculiar institution. It's basically based on the somewhat unfulfilling notion that a relationship requires some kind of material validation, yet manages to provide a somewhat justifiable sense of acceptance and reassurance to religious and non-religious alike. With time it has become as much an institution of the state as the Church- something that wouldn't have happened had the Church not been quite so keen on wielding it's Holy influence in times past. No longer the sole property of the Church, marriage must reflect the kind of society we live in. In a modern, tolerant society, in which each holds the other to be equal, gay marriage should clearly be allowed.

A couple of weeks ago I heard a really interesting point made on a podcast in a discussion about gay marriage. The speaker believed that in 50 years time, those that oppose gay marriage now, will be viewed much the same way those who opposed Civil Rights in the 1950s and 60s are seen. Though the statement was made in an American context, I believe time will play out with the same results over here. As the generations shift and, with it, attitudes change, we are moving inexorably towards the legalisation of gay marriage. This is undeniable in Britain, where all three major parties are in favour of it and with every malign outburst to the contrary, its opponents place themselves on the wrong side of history.

Joy of 6: 6music turned 10 years old this week. I got a Digital Radio in 2004 but only came across 6music a couple of years later. Since then my dial (or the Digital equivalent of a dial) has barely been touched. There've been a few aberrations- George Lamb, the horror!- but overall 6music is a station that opens your ears to any number of artists that you've never come across before, and never would if you spent all your days listening to Radio 1, Absolute and Xfm. Diehards may whinge about the playlists but you can't be listening to Peel sessions from The Fall and Captain Beefheart b-sides all the time. For every overplayed dirge there's many more brilliantly crafted, exquisitely executed tunes, old and new. For now, this gem is getting me out of bed each morning.

Tired old Formula: Now I understand there are people out there that enjoy watching a sport in which the best competitors are provided with the best machines (in my view proper sports don't involve engines) and are then told to race, inducing a spectacle in which the idea of fair competition comes somewhat in line with that found at a Las Vegas casino. I am aware fans of such a sport do exist and they have every right to do so. But... I can not, for one minute, imagine their being enough of them to justify whichever channel that has the rights to broadcast it spending a small East African nations GDP promoting its coverage of it. BBC were guilty of it a couple of years ago when they took over from ITV, and now Sky are promoting their coverage as if they've won the rights to Jesus's coming out party. The whole she-bang kicked off in Melbourne this weekend. Certain things will have me awake at 4.30 in the morning- Formula 1 is not one of them.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Weekend Rugby Predictions

Thought I'd squeeze these outs before Saturday's finale. Through 12 matches I've picked 10 winners, only denied my perfect record by Leigh Halfpenny's last minute penalty on the opening weekend in Dublin and the France and Ireland 'like kissing your sister' outcome in the Paris rearrangement. Not a bad effort I'd say. Anyway, here's my final look into my (egg-shaped) Crystal Ball.

Italy over Scotland- Looking to have it both ways here. If Italy win then I can chalk up another correct prediction, if Scotland win... wait, Scotland never win. There have been some promising performances by Scotland this Championship, but claiming improvement when you're still not winning's like claiming

Wales over France- Everyone seems to believe that the French team- not just this French team, but any French team, ever- are forever pregnant with a mind-blowingly good performance that they could deliver at any moment. This performance, it would seem, is forever stillborn. The French have been unimpressive in their distinctively Gallic way this Championship. In Cardiff, Wales will have enough to ensure this doesn't change.

Ireland over England- Whilst my game picks have been pretty accurate, my Championship picks of an Irish victory have gone somewhat astray. However, on Paddy's day I see them getting the job done. Plus the English rugby press have had nothing to whinge about for a couple of months. Those short-sighted, knee-jerk polemics won't write themselves...

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Sunday- Spreading Santorum Edition

Republican Primary definitions: Google 'Santorum', the former Pennsylvania Senator and contender in the ongoing Republican Presidential Candidate race and one of the first results you'll get will be the following:

Santorum 1. The frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex. 2. Senator Rick Santorum

Figured a picture of this Santorum was preferable...
This helpful definition comes courtesy of Gay rights activist Dan Savage, who in 2003 took issue (as most reasonable people who wish for a tolerant society would) with Rick Santorum's comparison of consensual sexual contact between adults of the same sex with child rape and beastiality. An effective campaign raised the above definition to the no.1 return when one searched for 'Santorum' on Google. Rick Santorum's Google problem was born.

But why should Rick Santorum be the only candidate with an alternative definition to his surname. Here are some suggestions for the other three remaining competitors left battling the Republican Primaries.

Romney 1. The failure to seal the deal despite your competitors being a bunch of loony, crackpot hooligans
Example. I was out last night and me, Dennis Nielsen and Timmy Mallett were chatting up this girl. I totally Romney'd- didn't even get her number.
2. Former Govenor Mitt Romney

Gingrich 1. The confusion of serial philandering and lunatic spoutings with charisma
Example. His own troubles later in life stemmed from his youth, when he had Gingriched his fathers multiple affairs and recollections of 'that crazy night me and Buzz Aldrin decided to colonise the moon'
2. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich

Ron Paul 1. A guy 20 years older than everyone else in a nightclub, whom nobody's quite sure why they're there and what they intend to achieve 
Example. There were a right couple of Ron Paul's out last night. Was chatting to one at the bar and he thinks we should return to the gold standard- joker!
2. Congressman Ron Paul

Arsenal- executors of footballing karma: Last week, North London Derby. Gareth Bales breaks into the Arsenal box and flings himself to the floor, deceiving Mike Dean into awarding a penalty that Adebayor scores to put Spurs 2-0 up. 
Diving- worse karma than being Welsh
Final score: Arsenal 5 Tottenham 2

This week, Anfield. Luis Suarez is slipped through in the box and flops over the onrushing Szczesny. Dirk Kuyt misses but Liverpool go 1-0 up minutes later.
Final score: Liverpool 1 Arsenal 2

Lesson. Don't go diving against the Arsenal.

Six Nations Picks: I chose France to beat Ireland. France didn't beat Ireland, but Ireland didn't beat France either so I'll score that a half point to me. Probably a fair result for both teams in the end, though the Irish can probably take a few more positives out of it than their hosts.

Wales over Italy- The prequel to the main event in Cardiff the week after when the Welsh seek to beat the French and achieve a well-deserved Grand Slam. I pity anyone who has to come into contact with Jonathan Davies over the next two weeks

Ireland over Scotland- Scotland have gone from a period of pathetic hope-destroying defeats a couple of years ago, to an infuriating series of spirit-uplifting but ultimately futile performances in recent times. Ireland will in all likelihood have a bit too much for them at the Aviva.

England over France- France have done nothing through their first three matches to convince me that they can beat decent opposition who come in and give it a real go. England put in a positive performance against the Welsh and I think they can ride that to a victory in Paris here, one that should convince the bodies at the RFU of Lancaster's suitability for the job long-term.