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Computer Games Do Not Rot The Brain 30 December 2006

Posted by David in Conservatives.
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I used to like Henley MP Boris Johnson. Then he decided he was inclined to support euthanasia, supported taxpayers funding university learning for learnings sake, made a documentary about the EU which was Eurosceptic but too soft and accepted the EU as a noble principle, and has now become a Luddite.

“Computer games rot the brain,” he declares in the Telegraph. According to Boris they are responsible for the decline in literacy rates. He rattles off statistics on reading and game console usage but fails to give any proof of a link between the two.

“It was among the first acts of the Labour Government to institute a universal literacy hour in primary schools; and yet, in the six years following 1997, the numbers of young children who said that they didn’t like reading rose from 23 per cent to 35 per cent,” he writes. He blames computer games. But maybe this increase was because of the rigid, bland, formulaic and one-size-fits-all literacy hour? It was introduced during my last year at primary school and I hated it! As Sam Leith wrote in the Telegraph, “worrying computer games aren’t teaching your children to read is like worrying books aren’t teaching your children to swim; or complaining you can’t make a tangerine out of Meccano.”

Boris urges people to smash their children’s computer consoles. But really what’s needed is moderation. Too much of any single thing at the expense of all else is bad. I know of parents who banned their children from games consoles or watching non-educational television and tried to instill a love of reading. Their son had a mental break down at 15 and walks around zombie like, unable to talk with any coherence, knowing nothing of the 21st Century.

Furthermore computer games do not rot the brain. Some do, some don’t. The same can be said of television, art, music, newspapers, blogs and even books. Computer games can build hand-eye coordination, management skills and other abilities, depending on the game. Some playSimCity, some play Soduku, we should just let people get on with their own interests.

So please Boris, get a life! Not everyone will enjoy reading, that’s their free choice. The failure is with the schools, not the computers.

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The Blogroll Is Back 23 December 2006

Posted by David in Uncategorized.
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After a short absence due to a, errr, technical fault, the blogroll links are now back on the right hand column. I think there is a link to each blog that has linked to this site. If you have linked to me and your blog isn’t listed, please leave the address in the comments and I will link back asap as I like to link to everyone who does likewise.

Axe Sunday Trading Laws 23 December 2006

Posted by David in Uncategorized.
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The excellent ConservativeHome is reporting on Sunday Trading Laws, especially as Christmas Eve this year lands on a Sunday.

ConservativeHome: Will tomorrow be special enough? 90% of respondents to a recent Theos-commissioned survey said they thought Christmas was too commercialised but there seems little, if anything, the government can do about it. Roger Gale MP – a strong supporter of the Keep Sunday Special campaign – has one way. He is urging a reassessment off the Sunday Trading Laws to account for Christmas Eve falling on Sundays: “The large stores may be prepared to bend the law to extend shopping hours by introducing browsing time and checking out time but that is simply based upon retail greed and flies in the face of the spirit of the law. We had to re-visit the Act to deal with the days when Christmas Day falls on a weekday and we will have to look again at how to plug what is clearly a loophole in the law.” It would certainly be a great thing if retail workers had more time with their families and friends on Christmas Eve, although it’d mean people like me will have to get a little bit more organised!

Bit I don’t think the government shouldn’t regulate shop opening hours for religious or any other reasons, as that is an individual matter for the shop owners and staff concerned. Whilst it would be nice for people to have more free time, especially at Christmas, I’m sure they also appreciate the money (or they wouldn’t do it) and it’s up to them to organise their own lives. Free choice must prevail. I’d also much rather have staff choosing to work Christmas Eve than have many thousands of disappointed children the next morning!

I accept staying shut Christmas Day, with convenience stores excepted. Other than that, Sunday Trading Laws should be axed. People can organise their own lives, spare time and working hours.

It’s very much like the Working Time Directive, an unnecessary intrution into free choice. We all want more spare time, but often choose the extra income as it can improve the quality of the remaining spare time. It becomes a matter of quality over quantity. Hours upon hours with family each week bored, or less time but doing more enjoyable things, quality time that builds lasting memories? I choose extra work but nicer holidays and days out.

Plus we all have better Sundays because of places being open, often places for families. Go to Pizza Hut, open Sundays now thanks to licensing liberalisation, and see people having quality time with their families. If it wasn’t open, most would be bored, doing different things in different rooms. And the staff seem fairly happy to be there too.

A far better idea would be to cut tax so we all didn’t need to work so much and had more disposable income!

Record Tax Burden 23 December 2006

Posted by David in Labour.
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Britain is suffering the highest tax burden since records started according to the Office for National Statistics.

The Telegraph: The ONS said that taxes on income are now absorbing £23.60 of every £100 earned. This tax level is before other indirect and stealth taxes, such as council tax and stamp duty, are taken into account. The figure shows how the amount taken by the Government has been ratcheted up since 1997. When Labour came to power, the level of taxes on income was at a low of 18.7 per cent. The tax burden rose by 3.1 per cent in the three months to October alone, and has risen by 9.2 per cent since the start of the year – the biggest leap since 1998. With the Chancellor already having raised a series of indirect taxes – including air passenger duty earlier this month – the effect on households’ finances has been severe. Exacerbating this, some households are having to contend with inflation rates of up to 9 per cent – as shown by research produced for The Daily Telegraph. The growth in families’ disposable incomes – after all taxes, mortgages and inflation have been taken into account – has dropped to a two-year low. It rose by only 0.2 per cent in the third quarter of the year, the ONS said. The poor figures are the direct effect of previous tax increases, and of fiscal drag, in which the Chancellor fails to raise tax-free allowances at the same rate as wage inflation, experts said. The OECD highlighted a stark comparison between the experience of British citizens and their counterparts overseas. In most other developed nations taxes are falling. The Paris-based institution said that since 1997 the tax burden in Britain, which includes business taxes as well as personal ones, has soared. It has calculated that, by 2008, the share of national income being eaten up by taxes under Labour will have increased by 3.8 per cent. The OECD said that in the wider industrialised world, the tax burden had decreased by 0.3 per cent between the start of 1997 and the end of 2008, based on governments’ budget plans. In Germany, usually regarded as a high tax country, taxes have fallen by 2.4 per cent over that period. Consumer groups and business experts have voiced concern that Britain has gone from being a low-tax economy to a high-tax economy. They fear the country has become less attractive to employers, and warn that high taxes are driving many Britons abroad. With debt levels at an all time high of near £1,300 billion, households’ finances are more pressed than ever. The squeeze has contributed to a record rise in bankruptcies and insolvencies. George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, said: “Gordon Brown has relentlessly piled taxes on to hard-pressed families. That is why we have the double blow this Christmas of a less competitive economy and falling living standards.”

When will people learn: dogs go bark, cows go moo, and Labour raises taxes!

The Sugar Plum Fascist And The Right To Privacy 22 December 2006

Posted by David in Uncategorized.
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Yesterday the Guardian revealed the findings of an undercover investigation of the BNP. Today The Timeslooks at the findings, in particular the discovery that Simone Clarke – currently lead at the English National Ballet – is a member. Other members include the founder of the London Dungeon and former Chairman of the London Tourist Board, Annabel Geddes, and Peter Bradbury, a leading proponent of complementary medicine with links to Prince Charles. Others apparently include a former Miss England and a member of staff from Buckingham Palace.

But whilst the press revels in the storyit exposes a weakness in privacy laws. The private views of individuals are just that, private views. They have not committed a crime, nor should their actions be a crime. The way we vote is, rightfully, secret. So too should our views and memberships, providing they are not of a terrorist nature, unless we ourselves decide to make the case known otherwise. She may be a sugar plum fascist, but it’s none of our business.

The Guardian scoop didn’t reveal anything we didn’t already know, namely that the BNP is trying to ditch its thuggish image to seek middle class support, which it is sadly getting. Other than that it simply proved that the press has no respect for privacy. I view the Guardian story as a breach of privacy as much as paparazzi photographs. They may be fascists, but they still have the same rights to privacy we should all have.

The “Others” Are Out There 22 December 2006

Posted by David in Conservatives, Polls, UKIP.
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In my post “Don’t Fight A War On Two Fronts, Mr Cameron” (13th December 2006) Iexpressed an interest in this month’s YouGov poll, after Populus had rated the Greens at4% and UKIP at 2%.As I said then, “Populus hasn’t traditionally shown high scores for minor parties, that’s usually YouGov, however all pollsters are showing the othersincreasing. It will be interesting to see the next YouGov poll, as they are my favoured company and give higher minor party figures. Their last poll gave the Greens, UKIP and the BNP 3% each (Populus at the time gave UKIP 1%).”

Now we have that December YouGov poll. Whilst it’s bad news for the Greens (down to 1%), UKIP is static at 3% and the BNP up to 4%, equal to the combined SNP/PC vote.

Previously there had been speculation that the Greens could split the Labour and Lib Dem vote, delivering a Conservative government. With their poll ratings back to normal, it looks like the 3-4% Green poll shares were just a blip caused by the heavy media focus on the environment or a simple statistical error. If it’s the first however, a savvy Conservative campaign strategist could focus on the environment not to gain votes but to split the Lib Dem vote in the Greens favour, electing Conservative MPs.

According to ICM, just 19% of Conservative voters and 16% of Labour voters would consider voting Green, both within each others margin of error. Damage would be fairly equal to both parties. A Green focus could however be lethal to Lib Dems, as 30% of their voters declared they would consider voting Green.

Conversely, a Labour government could allow Europe to become an issue to cause Conservative splits. This I feel is less likely, due to the unpredictable nature of Eurosceptic voters. Whilst most die hard UKIP are former Conservatives, only 14% of current Tory voters would consider voting UKIP, only just ahead of 9% of Labour voters and 8%of Lib Dems considering it. An EU focus would drive voters to UKIP from all parties, but also to the Conservatives.

Cameron has really got to close his ‘home’ flank from UKIP raids. This is the tactic of other successful parties internationally, but sadly it seems to be getting missed.

Farage In Romania 22 December 2006

Posted by David in Europe, UKIP.
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UK Independence Party leader, Nigel Farage MEP, will be the feature on BBC1 Ten O’Clock News (Friday, 22 December 2006). You can read about it here.

The broadcast will be interesting for all, not least as it will be a chance to see how the pro-EU BBC reacts to Mr Farage’s frank, jolly dislike of political correctness and the EU.

From the brief BBC News Online report there are already some oddities, such as the barman declaring he is unaffraid of Big Brother because he wishes to become part of it. Alarming. On a more lighter note there’s the Romanianwoman cheekily told “see you in London” by Farage and replying “maybe”.

I agree however the portrayal of Romania and Bulgaria has been harsh. We must be clear we have nothing against them, and indeed welcome them into the Western World, however only wish to control migration due to the environment, unemployment and social cohesion. I am vehemently anti-EU, but love Europe. The EU is not Europe.

The World Has Gone Mad 21 December 2006

Posted by David in Political Correctness Gone Mad, Uncategorized.
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A report commissioned by the UK’s chief loony scientist states that robots will soon have rights, including the right to robo-healthcare and the vote. In advance of such a move by Hoover has gone on strike, my toaster began litigation against the kettle for harassment, and my  fridge informed me it’s planning on voting Green (concerned about global warming).

From the FT: The next time you beat your keyboard in frustration, think of a day when it may be able to sue you for assault. Within 50 years we might even find ourselves standing next to the next generation of vacuum cleaners in the voting booth. Far from being extracts from the extreme end of science fiction, the idea that we may one day give sentient machines the kind of rights traditionally reserved for humans is raised in a British government-commissioned report which claims to be an extensive look into the future. Visions of the status of robots around 2056 have emerged from one of 270 forward-looking papers sponsored by Sir David King, the UK government’s chief scientist. The paper covering robots’ rights was written by a UK partnership of Outsights, the management consultancy, and Ipsos Mori, the opinion research organisation. “If we make conscious robots they would want to have rights and they probably should,” said Henrik Christensen, director of the Centre of Robotics and Intelligent Machines at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The idea will not surprise science fiction aficionados. It was widely explored by Dr Isaac Asimov, one of the foremost science fiction writers of the 20th century. He wrote of a society where robots were fully integrated and essential in day-to-day life. In his system, the ‘three laws of robotics’ governed machine life. They decreed that robots could not injure humans, must obey orders and protect their own existence – in that order. Robots and machines are now classed as inanimate objects without rights or duties but if artificial intelligence becomes ubiquitous, the report argues, there may be calls for humans’ rights to be extended to them. It is also logical that such rights are meted out with citizens’ duties, including voting, paying tax and compulsory military service. Mr Christensen said: “Would it be acceptable to kick a robotic dog even though we shouldn’t kick a normal one? “There will be people who can’t distinguish that so we need to have ethical rules to make sure we as humans interact with robots in an ethical manner so we do not move our boundaries of what is acceptable.” The Horizon Scan report argues that if ‘correctly managed’, this new world of robots’ rights could lead to increased labour output and greater prosperity. “If granted full rights, states will be obligated to provide full social benefits to them including income support, housing and possibly robo-healthcare to fix the machines over time,” it says. But it points out that the process has casualties and the first one may be the environment, especially in the areas of energy and waste.”

Quite frankly the World has gone mad. Here’s one reason not to give rights to robots – they’re robots. They do what we programme them to do, we create them. They are not alive. This ‘futurology’ rubbish is a 1960s throwback. Over at The Times they’re imagining what the house of the future will be like. From what I bothered to read, the answer is ugly, unhomely, and completely impractical…like the last time ‘futurologist architects’ designed houses (the glorious concrete coated 60s and 70s).

Why are so many people so very mad?

There Is No Freedom Beneath The Veil 21 December 2006

Posted by David in Uncategorized.
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Danny Finkelstein at the Times believes that true freedom means allowing people to wear the veil. He writes;

“There has been a vibrant debate about whether Muslim women should be entitled to wear a veil in public. Now the debate has reached a new pitch with this story (a man who was being hunted for the murder of a policewoman is understood to have escaped from Britain by disguising himself as a veiled Muslim woman). Does this conclude the argument? I don’t think it does. Despite my opposition to all kinds of fundamentalism, I think that a liberal society ought to be able to withstand a few people exercising their free choice to wear a veil. And it is important to understand that, difficult though it is for many us to comprehend, it is a free choice.”

I would like to know his definition of “free choice”. Perhaps he should visit the Islam Q&A Website to discover “The Prophet…commanded us to smack children for not praying when they reach the age of ten”,  and “women are forbidden to uncover their faces in front of non-mahram men to avoid any mischief”. Or perhaps “hitting one’s wife is not the first choice of ways to discipline her. First of all one should exhort and advise her, then forsake her. If that does not work, then he may hit her”.

Free choice Mr Finkelstein, or a lifetime of brainwashing? We must tackle all fundamental religions, not just Islam. We cannot tollerate intollerance and behaviour like this. Why are so many people like Mr Finkelstein keen to bury their heads in the sand?

Politicians Must Stop Playing Trains 19 December 2006

Posted by David in Policy.
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In the 1990s, Britain privatised the railways. Hooray! The nationalised BR was a joke, and anyone saying otherwise is looking back through rose tinted glasses. Remember the BR sandwich, the recipe for which actually stated how to cut the filling to reduce the amount used but still make the sandwich look full, or the orange interior paint scheme, or the terrible staff attitude? Nationalisation in 1948 was a nail in the coffin of our railways (grouping in 1923, WW2 and Dr Beeching being the main others).

But alas, privatisation was not what it was meant to be. At first the lines were to be splut into several big regional companies like they had been 1923-1948, and although the regions were too big, the idea was sound. One railway line, one company, doing everything (vertical integration). 

But idealism from the Adam Smith Institute and an EU Directive caused a different system to be adopted, known as vertical separation. One company owned the nation’s infrastructure, one set of companies owned the rolling stock, and another ran the trains (leasing rolling stock and bidding forfranchises to use the infrastructure). The idea was that new companies, mostly freight hauliers, could ‘book’ timeslots or paths on any line. Good idea, but it didn’t need this system. A clearing house could have sold unused timeslots to other companies with a vertically integrated system.

This system has let politicians play trains far too much. After the Hatfield accident, Labour put temporary speed limits on all lines, against the advice of their engineers, causing many services to be cancelled. Train operators lost millions, so sued Railtrack, which the government agreed to bale out (they had after all been the ones who imposed speed limits out of all proportion). Then they pulled out, bankrupting Railtrack, and nationalising it by stealth as Network Rail.

Now the government is again meddling with the railways. Demanding huge franchise fees from GNER, they have caused fares to soar and are now reopening bids for the franchise, determined to oust GNER. The state should stop playing trains and privatise the railways properly.