Saturday, October 30, 2010

Well Colour Me Cynical ...

... if I suggest that in (inshallah) twenty or thirty years from now, when I'm likely to need them, proposed Government 'care credits' are likely to be as much use to me as the assorted Woolworths, Index and Thresher gift vouchers somewhere in my desk drawer.

In Japan, the system, called Hureai Kippu, was established in 1991 and has been expanding ever since as a way of helping to manage the country's rapidly ageing population. Literally translated as "Caring Relationship Tickets", it allows a volunteer to "bank" the hours they spend helping an elderly or disabled person in their personal Time Account. Different values apply to different kinds of tasks. For instance, more credit is given for helping at anti-social hours or with personal body care. Household chores and shopping command less.

These healthcare credits are guaranteed to be available to the volunteers themselves later in life, or to someone else in need, within or outside their family. The local and national government has even set up a nationwide electronic clearing network, so that a person can provide help in Tokyo, while their time credits are available to their parents anywhere else in the country.

The clue as to why they'll be useless lies in the phrase 'in Japan'. The UK is not Japan. I think they're a great idea - if they'll be honoured. But just as liberalising drinking hours produced more drunk people, but didn't produce a Continental cafe culture, mechanisms for expressing intergenerational solidarity are likely to be more effective in Japan than here. The UK's post-war history is one long tale of ripping off the frugal, the virtuous, the far-sighted, and supporting the spendthrift, the antisocial, those who take no heed for the morrow - pretty much the exact opposite of the previous two hundred years. The chances of a few hundred 'care hours'* clocked up in the next ten years entitling one to corresponding hours in the year 2035 are minimal, unless some kind of cultural revolution occurs.

Now it could of course be that said cultural revolution has arrived, in the shape of George Osborne and his outrageous plans to reduce Housing Benefit to a maximum of only £20,000 a year, a policy which it is feared will cleanse Kensington and Queen Anne's Gate of all their minimum-wage householders. The Big Society will reward the deserving, and the undeserving will be made to attend frequent interviews with outsourcing companies - or something like that, anyway. That's the theory. Do you believe ?

To paraphrase Apocalypse Now :

"Do you not approve of the Big Society ?"

"Sir, I don't see any society"

(* don't think Laban is a basically selfish chap. I spent fifteen hours one day last week, of which nine were driving, picking up an aunt (who's had a stroke) from Banbury and taking her to Gower for the afternoon to visit her sister. Don't get me started on how much diesel that was. I just can't see a 2035 government sending anyone round to do the same for me.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Less Gregory

The smoothest reggae singer of them all, Gregory Isaacs, has died of lung cancer aged 59. Unhealthy reggae again.

As a chap I'd never seen real female fan hysteria until I saw Gregory Isaacs at Digbeth Civic Hall in the late 70s - 1979 ? Most of the bands and singers I liked attracted an older crowd. But that night you could have bottled the oestrogen - the first 25 yards of the (standing) floor was entirely female. The place was packed and heaving - condensation was dripping off the walls and ceiling, and the Hall's quite a big old place.

The backing band came on and tormented the crowd - playing tunes that would morph into the opening of some Isaacs classic - cue pandemonium, screams and a huge surge forward ... then they'd play something else which would in turn become the opening bars of another Isaacs song ... more mania from the girls ... they kept this up for about twenty minutes before finally the Cool Ruler stepped from the shadows and the girls really took off. The balcony was shuddering as the whole place danced for the next ninety minutes. Most impressive. I saw him again at the Hummingbird a couple of years later but that was more memorable for being bombarded with rocks from a pedestrian overpass (by bad white boys) as I was getting on my motorbike afterwards. Not a good time to have trouble with the kickstart.

I was never quite sure that Gregory was necessarily a nice man, despite his (mostly) peaceful and conscious lyrics. 27 arrests, cocaine addiction, a six month sentence. Yet that sort of thing has never prevented a chap being attractive to women.

IMHO his best albums were the mid-70s Extra Classic, and the early 80s Soon Forward - but's let's just appreciate the falling vocals on 'pearls' and 'girls' as Gregory plays his archetypal role on this early release - the man who may not have any money, but is rich in one thing. All he has is love.

Dream Wedding

I know it's wrong to find this funny. But we are all sinners. And when all's said and done, there's nothing like exposure to different cultures to broaden the outlook, is there ?

Asking the couple and other ‘officials’ to raise their hands as is customary for Muslim prayers, the ‘celebrant’ begins his marriage vows.

‘Fornication has been legalised according to Article six, 1.11 of the Penal Code,' he chants in a tone favoured by religious scholars. ‘That is, frequent fornication by homosexuals. Most fornication is by males,’ he continues.

‘You are swine. The children that you bear from this marriage will all be bastard swine,’ he says to his guests.

‘Your marriage is not a valid one. You are not the kind of people who can have a valid marriage. One of you is an infidel. The other, too, is an infidel – and we have reason to believe – an atheist, who does not even believe in an infidel religion.’

The hapless couple remain oblivious as the ‘celebrant’, surrounded by 10 to 15 employees, calls for the marriage to be enshrined in Islamic law, followed by further personal insults against the couple...

The groom, who is watering the new coconut tree which they have just planted, is totally unaware of the manner in which his wife and her breasts are being discussed by the group of Maldivian men ‘officiating’ at the renewal of their wedding vows...

In a statement the resort expressed its ‘deep concern and regret’ over the incident. Set on its own exclusive island in the Indian Ocean, the Maldive resort is a popular destination for couples intending to renew their marriage vows.

A stay at the Vilu Reef beach and Spa costs from $1335 per person and it is advertised as a place where couples can ‘celebrate and capture the special moments of your life and mark a milestone in your amazing journey together or wish to rejoice another year of life’.

UPDATE - you've got to admit the guy is a brilliant improviser - or has had a lot of practice. I can see a small sideline for Dhivehi-speakers in the 'Check Your Wedding Video To Ensure You're Not Being Insulted' market.
Asking the couple and other ‘officials’ to raise their hands as is customary for Muslim prayers, the ‘celebrant’ begins his marriage vows...

“Research has shown that men have a higher sex drive than women,” he says. “According to Article 8 to 6 of the Penal Code, converting to Islam, or circumcision, is not desirable under any circumstances.

“Germs of anger and hatred will breed and drip from the tips of your penises,” he says...

The ‘celebrant’ mixes the two letters to make the word ‘balhu’, the full version of which, as used by the ‘celebrant’, is ‘nagoo balhu’. The literal translation of the term is ‘crooked tail’, believed to refer to a pig’s tail, and is considered to be one of the worst insults in the Dhivehi language.

“You are swine according to the Constitution,” he declares, solemnly.

He then asks the couple to stand up and hold hands. The ‘officials’, too, stand up and place their hands on the couples’. They form a séance-like circle and the ‘celebrant’ begins chanting.

“Aleelaan, baleelaan…”, he begins. What he is chanting is not a verse from the Qur’an, or marriage vows in Dhivehi, but are the words of a popular Dhivehi children’s game.

Words of the game, too, are changed to say “black swine” instead of what is contained in the original.

“Before buggering a chicken, check if the hole is clean. That is because the people of the countries that you are from are familiar with the taste of the ****holes of chicken,” he chants, still with hands held over the couples’.

“Do not treat with kindness people against whom violence is being committed. Commit more violence against victims of violence. You are not people who have been sent to this world to commit violence.”

He then returns to the matter of staff salaries, which he continues to chant in the same tone as he had done the insults. “Do not complain too much about salaries, or matters regarding salaries. That is against the Penal Code. This is not something I am saying for your benefit – it is a law that we have made.”

He begins to chant loudly about “black swine”, stringing insult after insult and delivering it in the same rather ominous tone that Maldivian religious figures choose to deliver their sermons in.

“You fornicate and make a lot of children. You drink and you eat pork. Most of the children that you have are marked with spots and blemishes… these children that you have are bastards,” he continues solemnly.

Someone else is heard at this point to tell the ‘celebrant’ to “say a little bit more, and then quit.”

The concluding chant is delivered in a gentler, softer voice: “Keep fornicating frequently, and keep spreading hatred among people. The children you will have from this marriage will all be bastard swine.”

UPDATE2 : the comments on the story. A lot are critical of the resort's owner (including his allegedly innovative love life), and more than a few suggest that such 'ceremonies' are not uncommon :

xxxxxx on Wed, 27th Oct 2010 12:02 AM

Pause the video at 4:50 and you can see that the owner of Vilu Reef Mr Sun Travel Ahmed Siyam Mohamed MP is in the video, personally witnessing this rip off of unsuspecting clients.

xxxxxx on Wed, 27th Oct 2010 12:16 AM

Pause the video at 4:47 and play it till 4:52. You can clearly see the owner Mr. Sun Travel Siyam personally witnessing this callous rip off.

maldivesresortworkers on Wed, 27th Oct 2010 1:32 PM

For God’s sake what’s wrong with so many ppl who rant as if Armageddon has arrived? It has not happened and nor has Vilu Reef paid us (maldivesresortworkers) to buy our loyalty. The fact of the matter is that these weddings are not new things in resorts. Nor are these make-me-feel-good marriage valid for purposes like inheritance or are legally binding. Nor are these religious ceremonies or civil ceremonies or any such sanctified rituals. These are just parts of the entertainment process in resorts. Even when guest do not renew their vows again in the resorts, many guests bring wedding gowns to take pictures of themselves in those dresses. This is not a new thing for tourism.

Nor is smiling broadly at guests and uttering gibberish a new phenomenon. Guests and staff indulge in fun like this every day. What counts is the service, the sincerity and the friendliness of the staff to the guests. Good guest service is not about being cold, unapproachable, reverent, officious and snobbish. Guests would much appreciate staff who would make fun and make their stay enjoyable than those who stand in awe and revered stance like zombies and are political correct.

Throughout this marriage in question, the staff were able to keep their cool which is an achievement. Not everybody can say all those ‘things’ while smiling at the guest and suppressing the urge to burst out laughing. Even if the couple secretly were aware of a smattering of dhivehi they would have burst out laughing and would not forget their fun moment in Maldives.
The problem with the majority of us is we do not see the positive side of this.
I must say this doesn't seem very positive for the Maldives tourist industry. While I appreciate the information, I can see that the (presumably Maldivian) site hosting the story may well, and not unreasonably, come under pressure to remove it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Doomed ?

If you really want to be depressed about the state of the nation, and need an illustration of the total triumph of the 60s agenda, don't go to the Guardian. After all, you expect Guardianistas at the Guardian.

No, the Daily Mail's the place where you see the cultural damage in full effect. Remember that these are about the nearest thing to 'the good guys' that we've got in the UK, once you get beyond a select few. Your average Mail commenter hasn't had them removed like his Guardian counterpart - but totally accepts the idea that "what's good for me now" is pretty much the only criterion to live by. For example, the paper's readers are pro-euthanasia and anti-religion - the latter subject you can argue about, but on euthanasia can't Mail readers put two and two together?

Here's a childless (by choice) Sharon Parsons (editor of Top Sante, whate'er that may be - nay, I lie, she's just been replaced), telling us 'I don't need a child to be happy'.

" seems to me that those with a family often have more tangible stages punctuating their lives: there's the day they become parents; later, they may become grandparents; and inbetween there are all the defining events that will be remembered and celebrated, such as the one my friend was enjoying so much, the marriage of her child.

Perhaps, in a few years, she will also see the birth of her first grandchild and another chapter of that particular family's life will begin as their lineage continues onward into the future. It's something people like me will never know.

And that - for me, at least - is a jolting part of being childless. However pretentious it may sound, there's the startling fact that my husband and I have severed the thread in our personal ancestry (unless, of course, he should decide to run off with a fertile 20-something).

Despite our respective nephews and nieces taking up the family baton, he and I know that we are not passing anything of ourselves on to future generations.

After an infinite genealogical timeline - impossible to imagine - we have drawn the mark in the sand. Enough. No more. Our bloodline stops here."

Hmm. Very Lionel Shriver. What's impressive are the best-rated and worst-rated comments.

"There's absolutely NOTHING wrong with a woman choosing not to have children." +784

"It had nothing to do with my career, finding a partner, wanting to do things before having children. I just didn't want them." +572

"Children are supposed to look after you when you're old - if you bring them up well." -678

"I have 4 children aged from 16yrs - 10 months. I have an unconditional love for them and they fill my life with happiness. I am blessed. I will reach the age of 50 and be surrounded in love.." -373 (I've reached the age of 50 and am surrounded by bickering - takes all sorts - LT).

"Now with the spending cuts and more old single people ending up in hospital, who is going to make sure they eat the bad food they are given. The nurses don't have time or care to be frank. What I am saying is, when you women who have chosen not to have children are old, infirm and in hospital, whose gonna look after you? Forget the government they are not going to help. Bet by then you'll be wishing you had children to care for you." -367
Once again, these people seem incapable of reading the news and putting two and two together. While you can never be sure that you won't end up feeling like King Lear did about his kids, I think it's reasonable to expect a modicum of care from those you cared for when they were helpless. No matter how good the health system may be (and how good will it be when the elderly boomers are fracturing care budgets right and left ? Some council care staff will almost certainly be cut this year - what will it be like in fifteen or twenty years?), there's nothing like familiar faces at the bedside, or popping in at your house.

We're entering unknown territory, both energetic and demographic. The industrial revolution and our subsequent economic growth has been built on ever-cheaper energy - and it's going to get more and more expensive. Similarly 'our' population has been ever-increasing - but as I've blogged many a time and oft, that came to a halt twenty years back and the decline has only been halted then reversed by mass immigration - to the point where nearly a quarter of children in English primaries are ethnic minority.

According to this interesting Weekly Standard piece by Jonathan V Last, "no society has ever experienced prosperity in the wake of contracting population." I'd like to see some references for that - while it's common-sense, is it the prosperity driving the increasing population ? Affordable Family Formation, in fact ? And contracting population historically hasn't tended to be a matter of choice - think the Black Death or the Second World War.

It strikes me that a number of factors are coming together. Our elites are terribly keen on economic growth. We've had getting on for 200 years of exceptional growth since Trevithick, Boulton and Watt. This has been accompanied by population growth, and I doubt many people worried about whether and to what extent the two were connected. The creation of the post-war Welfare State was/is also predicated upon population growth - as 'National Insurance' is no such thing, and pensions/benefits are paid straight out of government income.

But energy supplies are getting more and more expensive, and people are having fewer babies all over the world. What does this mean for growth ? Doesn't look rosy to me.

In 1950, China had 550 million people; today it is home to 1.33 billion. According to projections from the United Nations’ Population Division, -China’s population will peak at 1.458 billion in 2030. But then it will begin shrinking. By 2050, China will be down to 1.408 billion and losing 20 million people every five years.

At the same time, the average age in China will rise dramatically. In 2005, China’s median age was 32. By 2050, it will be 45, and a quarter of the Chinese population will be over the age of 65. The government’s pension system is almost nonexistent, and One-Child has eliminated the traditional support system of the extended family—most people no longer have brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, or nephews. It is unclear what sort of havoc this atomization will wreak on their society. China will have 330 million senior citizens with no one to care for them and no way to pay for their upkeep. It is, Eberstadt observed, “a slow-motion humanitarian tragedy already underway.”

By 2050, the age structure in China will be such that there are only 1.6 workers—today the country has 5.4—to support each retiree.
This looks like trouble for China. But most of her competitors will be in worse trouble. Prosperity isn't just a question of lots of babies - or South Yemen and Burkina Faso would be economic powerhouses. California's seen mass immigration from the failed state to the south - and no one would say the Californian economy's in better shape than thirty years back. Germany and Japan will hit the demographic buffers first, while Britain and the US will IMHO find that quantity of people isn't a substitute for quality.

"Today there are 26.6 million legal immigrants living in America and roughly 11.3 million illegals. We need these workers to prop up the entitlement programs we’re no longer having enough babies to fund. "
How's that working out in the Golden State ?

One of the best predictors of fertility is education: The more educated a woman is, the fewer children she will have. The total fertility rate for American women without a high school diploma is 2.45. With each subsequent level of educational attainment, fertility falls—it drops to 1.6 for women with a graduate degree. One of the drivers of our fertility decline was the making of college de rigueur for middle-class women.
Education level is a fair proxy for intelligence in a Western democracy. The above implies that we're getting more stupid, as clever women fail to pass on their clever genes. This also doesn't bode well for economic growth.

So for all the above reasons, the rate of growth we became used to for the last two centuries seems to be in danger, if not on the way out. Which society will be the first to successfully adjust to this ? I don't see any preparation for it anywhere in the world.