Saturday, 23 July 2011

Who'd be a prison officer ?

Just read 'screwed - everybody serves their time' by Ronnie Thompson, "a prison officer reveals what really goes on behind bars." ISBN 978-0-7553-6265-3

Judging by the reviews on amazon, the main debate about this book is how accurate it is and whether there is too much swearing.

Firstly, the book states at the start that to protect former colleagues - the prison described is fictitious, as are the characters some of the conversations are imaginary or re imagined.  So documentary it's not.

As as narrator Ronnie probably captures the essence if not the reality of prison life. I found myself initially quite sympathetic to his 'get the job done' approach but by the end of the book, his drinking, treatment of his girlfriend and son, swearing and bending of the rules to his own advantage was quite tiring. The chapter on the celebrity rock star prisoner seemed particularly fake.  lol.

It does raise lots of interesting issues - are prisons under staffed ? are the regimes achieving what they aim to ? how extensive are the problems of drugs, smuggled phones and corruption?  What can be done to tackle them ?  Do prison staff get enough support ? 

Overall, the impression is that like many big organisations, procedures are out in place but they are unrealistic - so create more problems than they solve.

Is there too much swearing ?  Well again, it's probably indicative of conversations in prison, but in a book it was repetitive, came across as gratuitous, the lack or variation and very misogynistic nature of the swearing was very off putting.

If the aim was to get people to have a bit more sympathy and understanding of the role of a prison officer, it suceeded with me at least.

I vote for the Dictator

I vote for the Dictator. Well actually, I don't, but plenty of people have.

It's a bit of a problem for democracy, what do you do when people negate the very principle ?

I'm not talking about the phony rigged polls where 98% vote for the President for life, but rather the tendency in some places to vote for a "strongman" to govern.

Russia is an obvious example - where support for Putin is based on him being in charge and doing whatever he wishes.  In Italy, President Bersuloni so dominates and controls the media and the laws that he is pretty much a dictator.

Even in places like Zimbabwe and Libya -  terrible dictators retain substantial support.

I am not convinced that mush can be done to tackle this problem - but to remmeber that Democracy goes beyond voting. It is about checks and balances on the use of power and active citizenship.

Democracy is a fantastic thing to see in action. People agree to pay more tax, to change how they work, to hand over wealth, to obey new laws all based on adding up the the votes cast in elections - where at least in theory, (and in the better electoral systems) each vote is equal
and everyone only has a single vote.

Friday, 22 July 2011

I am a feminist

Given the huge struggle for womens rights, perhaps one of the most depressing phrases in the English Language is when a women says"I'm not a feminist".

OK, so people have some strange definition of feminism to decide that that is not them, but,
at a fundamental level, feminism is about whether people should be stopped from doing things merely
and solely because of their female gender.

Do people really want to go back and reintroduce laws that stopped women from; voting, owning property, getting a divorce, going to university, becoming Doctors, ........

The latest madness is in Saudi Arabia where women are seeking the right to drive cars (and then only if a man is available) and huge efforts are being put into stopping them.

Where do you stand on this issue ? Not a feminist ? I think you probably are !

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Goodbye - News of the the World - please don't come back

The News of the World is to stop publishing on Sunday. If only we could have a bank Holiday to celebrate.
Sadly end of the news of the world day doesn't fall on a monday.

The News of the World - has not been a newspaper for a long while  - more scandal mag and purveyor of tripe. The reality is that for better or worse, printed newspapers are in decline and their news content is often low and poor.

This could be a dawn of something better - unlikley, the media is a bit like an eternal battle between the forces of good and evil.   For today at least, the forces of good have the won a battle even if they can never win the war.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Ed Milliband - “reckless and provocative"

Ed Milliband has perhaps, perhaps not, been slightly embarrassed to be filmed repeating the same sound bite 5 times in one short interview.    I think we can be sure that Ed Milliband wants to get the message across that the Government has behaved in a  "reckless and provocative manner" in trying to reform public sector pensions.    In political terms it might be quite popular.   Someone will have calculated that the peoplee Ed has to appeal to to win the general election will be exactly the sort of people who aren't taking sides in the strike but just wish it would go away.

Supporters of the strikes were unimpressed that Mr Milliband did not support the strikes.  Supporters of the Government will be unimpressed by his failure to back them.  But, many people will be inclined to give Mr Milliband the benefit of the doubt.  It sounds like he is agreeing with them.  In politics it is called reflecting - you ask voters usually by opinion poll or focus groups what they think, then you agree with them.  Of course one thing polls and focus groups show is that electors don't like politicians who do this - so politicians have to learn to project conviction.

All of which is good fun,  in an shallow way, we had a laugh at Ed looking silly and sort of let him off the hook as, well, that's what politicians have to do, to get their sound bites across.

But, what has been over looked in all the froth is the actual answer he gave doesn't really mean much.  I mean, even I can agree with it, sort of.

What would Mr Milliband do if he was Prime Minister ?  Act in a "cautious and conciliatory manner ? What would that mean ?   The Unions are complaining that people will have to work longer, pay more and get less, they are right.  That is fairly unavoidable for some people.  An alternative would be to  work less, pay less and get more ?  I don't think that works. 

So having put Ed on the spot - what would I do, I hear you cry ?  Lets be honest, very few of us have any understanding of pensions and we glaze over when people start talking about % contributions, defined benefits, with profits, career average schemes etc.  What seems to be the case is that some public sector workers (not a majority) get generous pensions compared to what they contribute.

Well I believe that the public sector should not be in the position of providing massive pensions to people.  Take teachers for example. Teachers themselves pay 6.4% of their yearly salary into a pension pit and the employers pay a further 14.1% of salary. So if a teacher is paid £50,000 a year, 20.5% of that, i.e. just over £10,000 a year is put into a pension pot. (£3000 paid by the teacher £7000 by the taxpayer)  But what if they are a "superhead" on £150,000 - The taxpayers contribution goes up to £21,000  a year - and that doesn't even cover the cost of a final salary pension.

So my proposal would be to cap the level of pension contribution by public sector employers at around £50,000.  Any highly paid public sector worker who wants a bigger pension ought to pay for it themselves, not rely on the taxpayer to fund it.    I am all in favour of the low earners and medium earners being provided with  a living income pension, but do we need Chief Executives of £240,000  a year getting £50,000 paid into a pension fund by the taxpayer each year ? 

Perhaps we need a far flatter rate pension for public sector workers so those on the lower end of the pay scales get £10,000 a year (more than the £6,000 that is typical now) and those at the top get no more than £20,000.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Library Books July 2011

Sid James Cockney Rebel by Robert Ross iSBN 978 1 906779 35 1

Sid James is usually regarded as one of those strange (is it only British) Phenomena, an actor who played the same character time after time. You knew what to expect with Sid James.

James Robertson Justice, Terry Thomas, Kenneth Williams, Sean Connery - the line between acting and just being the persona they had adopted was far from clear.

Perhaps surprisingly given the number of films he was in, as well as plentiful TV and the unforgettable radio of Hancocks Half Hour - I believe this is only the second biography of Sid. It scores heavily over the previous attempt in that it has a lot more information and reminiscences from friends and colleagues. There is an obvious and undenied element of hero worship on the part of the author - but that works well in capturing the appeal of Sid James. It is interesting to note how much Sid resisted becoming a top of the bill star - and how he was concerned about his image and keen to see it evolve.

Paintings that changed the world by Klaus Reichold and Bernhard Graf ISBN 3-7913-1983-3
The first thing I liked about this book was that the introduction starts by saying "Of course, no painting really changed the world !"  But it works very well as an overview of different paintings from cave painting from over 17,000 years ago to Andy Warhol in the 1960's.  A page of text and often a few other relevant pictures offer context and explanation for each of the main pictures.  I am always surprised about how small many original artworks are, quite often, no more than 60cm by 40cm.

Do you think that's wise - The life of John Le Mesurier by Graham McCann
ISBN 978-1 84513 583 6

A very warm and well written book. John Le Merurier is probably best know for playing Sgt Wilson in Dad's Army, but also memorable for host of films where you remembered he'd been in them, even though he might have been on screen for just a  few minutes.   As self-described jobbing actor, Le Mesurier was more than capable of taking on more challenging roles, which sometimes came his way.  The book is excellent in dealing with his complicated relationships with Hattie Jacques and Tony Hancock. The only error I spotted was the claim Hancock used teleprompters for the HHH episode the lift - when that was recorded before the car accident that that led to Hancock using such machines.

My life in Comedy - Nicholas Parsons ISBN 9781845966218

Nicholas Parsons has already written an autobiography - so this book

Nicholas started as a straight actor but has had a career that has covered:
straight man, game show host, west end stage, cabaret, film and radio.

This book has anecdote's about lots of famous people he has worked with over the years,
rarely gushing and not afraid to be critical of some people !

the chapters on his role as a straight man and as chair of just a minute were interesting
as well as his reflections on comedians. His insight into the early days of TV and post war films
were good too.

The elephant to Hollywood - Michael Caine - the Autobiography ISBN 978-1-444-70003-9

A very chatty style - a rags to riches story and a remarkable 50 year career, he must be doing something right.