Archive for the ‘Religion & Politics’ Category

Why you hate the idea of voting Lib Dem (but should anyway)

Thursday, April 20th, 2017 | Religion & Politics

Let me give it to you straight. This is why you hate the idea of voting Liberal Democrats, and why you should do it anyway.

Ever spend a bunch of time trashing something, only to realise that you were wrong. But then you can’t change your mind because everyone what point at you and call you a hypocrite. So you persist in a clearly irrational belief, that you don’t even believe yourself, to save face.

That’s what’s going on here.

You’ve spent the last decade shitting all over the Liberal Democrats. They voted for university tuition fees and you were angry. I get it. You have a right to be angry. They broke one promise, just one, but it was a big one. You’re used to the Tories breaking promises because they’re bastards, and Labour breaking promises because they are incompetent. But you thought Nick Clegg’s honest face was different. And it was. Except for that one time.

But now it’s seven years later and we’re two years into a Tory majority. Now we’ve seen what that looks like: your European citizenship is being taken away from you. The human rights act is due to be scrapped. Taxes for small businesses are going up, in favour of breaks for corporations. Grammar schools are back. And Trump is getting a golden carriage for his visit to London.

And you haven’t come up with any fresh and clever vibes. So, like a broken clock, you parrot out the same line about tuition fees. And, behind your back, everyone is talking about what a petty and ill informed idiot you are. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just telling you how it is.

In many ways, we’re impressed that you are brazen enough to say it. If I had been backing a party that sold off large chunks of the NHS, introduced divisive faith schools, and invaded Iraq, I would be too full of shame and humiliation to criticise another party when all I could find was one broken election promise.

But surely the opposition are stopping all of this?

Ah yes, the gallant knights of the official opposition. What are they up to? A Helping Ms May out, of course. When Jeremy Corbyn isn’t fending of mass resignations and votes of no confidence from his own MPs, he is busy giving speeches about how Brexit will upgrade Britain’s economy and issuing three-line whips to favour for Brexit.

Meanwhile, Tim Farron continues his singular mission: to shout as loud as he possibly can from the rooftops that he will do everything in his power to stop a hard Brexit. He had a blog post up before Theresa May had even announced the general election.

So now you’re in that shitty situation. Do you eat your words and vote to keep Britain a tolerant and open place where you stand some chance of maintaining your European and human rights or save face by slashing deep into with a large knife until your nose is no longer attached. I joke, but that’s a killer decision. Nobody wants to face that. It’s hard and uncomfortable. But it’s also happening in six weeks.

But the Lib Dems will never win anything!

Other than the 62 seats they used to hold, of course.

But times are a-changing. We never thought Brexit would happen. We never thought Trump would happen. We never thought the Lib Dems could overturn Zac Goldsmith’s majority in Richmond Park. But they did. With a 30.41% vote increase. 30.41%.

But the whole Jeremy Corbyn thing has been highly amusing to many of us anyway. “I like Corbyn, but he’s unelectable”. Watching Labour voters tear themselves apart as they try to choose between what they believe in and what will win votes. Why not just be a Tory if principles are that expendable?

Grow some balls and vote for the people you agree with. How fragile is your ego?

Voting Lib Dems, even in a safe seat for someone else, sends a message. Because this is an election about Brexit. And the Tories are on one side, and the Lib Dems are on the other.

Time to choose a side, Dr Watson

So, what’s it going to be, our kid?

Will it be the red corner? And I do mean red. Locked in the control of a man who never liked Europe and is now doing everything in his power to easy Theresa May’s passage to hard Brexit.

Or, the yellow corner. Lead by a man who voted against tuition fees, and is now the only voice speaking out against hard Brexit?

The choice is yours. Just remember that if you do choose to shit in your bed, you still have to sleep in it.

How the budget shakes up for small businesses

Saturday, April 8th, 2017 | Religion & Politics

It’s the start of a new tax year. That means another year of people trying to sell me their self-assessment services long after I have already filed mine. What joy.

Last year was a kick in the balls for small business owners. The government introduced a new tax on dividends, which is how small business owners typically pay themselves.

This year it looked like we were going to hit with the double whammy. First, that £5,000 limit was set to be decreased to £2,000, resulting in me paying tax on an additional £3,000 of income.

Second, the flat VAT rate for my industry was set to be increased by 2%. If you are not familiar with flat VAT, it is a scheme that allows small businesses to pay a set rate of VAT and not claim anything back on purchases, meaning you can avoid doing all the complex VAT accounting. It’s terrific.

This year hasn’t been a complete disaster. The VAT increase has happened, but the reduction of the tax threshold will not take place until next year. Add to that that the corporation tax rate had been reduced by 1% and the additional tax being placed on small business owners is irritating, but not crippling.

One thing remains clear, however. This Conservative government is no friend to small businesses. For a second year running, they have increased taxes in favour of cutting those for big businesses.

Why age disparity in relationships matter

Monday, February 27th, 2017 | Religion & Politics

On average, men choose to marry women slightly younger than they are. But for would-be dads, this can have a profound impact on family life.

Most people enter relationships with people of a similar age. In western culture this is normal, and indeed doing anything other than this is considered abnormal. However, in different cultures, and at different times, this as not always been the case.

If we look at the 2013 US survey data, we find that a third of heterosexual married couples are within one year of each other. It is not an equal curve on each side though. Women are far more likely to marry older men. In 20% of marriages the man is 2–3 years old, and in 13% 4–5 years older. Compare this to 7% and 3% for women being older.

This makes sense. OK Cupid data, as documented in the book Dataclysm shows that men prefer younger women, and up until the age of 30, women prepare a slightly older man. As many relationships are formed before the age of 30, the older man younger woman setup is likely to have the broader appeal to both parties.

Why is it important, though?

I think it is important because it contributes to the imbalance of women staying at home to look after the children while men continue working. For would-be stay-at-home dads and passionate career women, this is not a desirable situation.

People who are further along in their career earn more money. Nothing controversial there. This means that if you enter into a relationship with someone a few years older than you, on average, they are going to earn more money than you.

When it comes to starting a family, it would be nice to think that childcare could simply be divided as you see fit. However, this is simply not the reality that most of us live in. Many of our decisions are driven by economic factors. That is to say, there are bills to pay and we need to earn enough money to pay them.

Therefore, when it comes to starting a family, many people are faced with the decision of giving up the father’s wage or giving up the mother’s. Unfortunately, for many would-be full-time dads, giving up their own higher wage is not financially viable for the family.

Exactly what can be done about this, I am not sure. You could say that if you want to be a stay-at-home-dad you should marry someone older, or in a more lucrative career than you. However, as most of us know, love does not work that way.

Men twice as likely to be without emotional support

Friday, February 24th, 2017 | Religion & Politics

Men have an almost one in ten chance of having nobody to turn to. Could peer support fill a much-needed gap?

In June, mental health charity Mind published research suggesting that men were twice as likely to have nobody to rely on for emotional support. 9% of men, compared with 5% of women, said that they have nobody to turn to in times of need. The research also suggested men are less likely to feel comfortable talking to the people close to them about their problems, with 52% agreeing.

This is a big problem for a number of reasons.

As Susan Pinker explains in her book _The Village Effect_, having a strong social network and close emotional support is critical to both good mental and physical health. When you eliminate the bias for women to have a stronger circle of close friends to rely on, you find that the disparity between men’s and women’s life expectancies closes dramatically.

Second, with men three times more likely to take their own lives than women, having someone to turn to at the crisis point could mean the difference between an intervention that saves someone’s life, and a successful suicide attempt.

The question is, that can be done about this problem?

To an extent, the problem could lie with our gender itself. If we built stronger relationships and invested more time in building those relationships, we would have a wider circle. However, many men feel like they simply don’t have the connections to do this, that it would not be viewed upon as socially acceptable in their circle, or simply that they feel too uncomfortable to do this.

Another option would be to increase the number of peer support groups available. The advantage of being able to talk to people going through similar problems, and therefore being able to bypass the chance of people not understanding, or judging, may provide a critical avenue for men to get the emotional support they need.

7 surprising freedoms we enjoy in Britain

Monday, February 20th, 2017 | Religion & Politics

In an age when Theresa May seems determined to read every email you write, abolish human rights and arrest everyone on terror charges, it can feel like our freedoms are under threat (they are). However, on a more positive note, we British people enjoy some freedoms that a lot of the world does not.

Nothing on this list will be a surprise to you. However, what I think will be a surprise, is that the rest of the world does not have these freedoms. These are things we take for granted but are not always the norm.

Naming your child

In Britain, you can name a baby anything as long as the powers that be do not label it as offensive or rude. People take liberal advantage of this, regularly naming their babies after TV characters, inanimate objects or obviously incorrect spellings of real names.

This is not a freedom most of Europe enjoys: many countries have set lists of accepted names. You have to pick from the list and you cannot change the spelling.

Homeschooling

Only wacky religious people tend to homeschool. However, you do have the option if you so wish. If you are tired of the school forcing facts down your child’s throat, you can pretend to be a teacher and give them an education yourself. You will seriously damage the child’s intellectual and social skills, but at least you will feel better.

We and around half the countries in the world enjoy this freedom. Each country has different levels of restrictions. For the rest of the world, homeschooling is illegal.

Jaywalking

At some point in the history of the United States, the government and the people had the following conversation:

Government: “Can we take away some of the really big guns so that children stop getting massacred?”
People: “No! Keep your hands off our second amendment!”
Government: “Okay. Can we make it illegal to cross the street wherever you want?”
People: “Sure, that’s fine.”

It seems a bizarre way round to me. I like living in a culture where assault rifles are not allowed, but crossing an empty street when it is safe to do so is. But what do I know as a humble British person?

Germany also criminalises jaywalking. There is something odd about watching clearly inebriated Germans stumbling home, yet stopping at every crossing to wait for the green man.

Moving house without telling everyone

Do you find junk mail annoying? I do. When I move house, I do not want everyone to know that I have moved. I will tell the people I think are worthy of knowing: banks, utility companies, etc. For everyone else, I do not want your nuisance mail.

In Finland, when you move house, you tell the state. The state then tells everyone else. This is convenient because it means all of your banks know that you have moved house. However, what if you do not want to tell a bunch of for-profit companies about your new address?

Free healthcare, including birth control

We tend to think of free healthcare as something that all civilised countries have, with the notable exception of the United States. However, this is not always the case. Take Finland again, for example.

When you go into hospital, there is a charge per day. It is not the full cost of your hospital stay, but it is not insignificant. You also pay to visit your GP and pay higher prescription charges. For birth control, for example, you will be paying around €15 per month.

In the UK, we pay for prescriptions (not in Scotland or Wales) and dental, but these are both capped at relatively low amounts. Hospital treatment is without cost entirely (unless you want to watch the TV).

ID cards

Compulsory ID cards are overwhelmingly the norm. Britain is one of only nine countries[ref] in the world that does not have any ID cards.

Flag burning

Flag desecration varies by countries. In many, it is illegal. In some, it is prosecuted under wider laws.

In the UK, we are pretty relaxed about it. If you want to burn the Union Jack, feel free. There is no law against it. There have been some moves to tighten up on it, but none have come to fruition.

Of course, you may struggle if it is made of fire-resistant material. As this EU flag was, for example:

WATCH: Video preview of Trump inauguration speech

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017 | Religion & Politics, Video

On Friday, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. Unless Obama resigns tomorrow, and Joe Bidden takes over, in which case Trump will be the 46th president. That seems unlikely, though.

It has been a hard time filling the bill. Celine Dion, Charlotte Church, Elton John, Moby and Rebecca Ferguson (and possibly many others) all declined offers to perform. Some because they wanted to make a political statement that they do not like Trump. However, for others, it could simply be that they already had plans.

Here is what Trump is expected to say in his inauguration speech…

Trust Me

Saturday, November 19th, 2016 | Religion & Politics

trust-and-fear

In a recent episode of Freakonomics Radio, entitled “Trust Me“, Stephen Dubner looked at the decline in trust that many countries were experiencing. This was specifically measured by asking people “do you think most people can be trusted?”

Building this up is important because the most trust you can build, the more social capital people have. This is important because countries where people have higher social capital do better, and also on a personal level as people who have more social capital live significantly longer. As Susan Pinker teaches us it is one of the biggest factors in life expectancy.

Some countries have very high trust levels. Sweden for example. Some of this is explained by the welfare state, but perhaps the biggest factor is the homogeneity of Swedish society. That is to say, everyone looks the same. People trust people who look similar to them. Conversely, when researchers looked at what makes people cheat, cheating across racial lines was a major factor.

One option then would be to resist the diversification of society, join the BNP and insist Britain is just for white people. But aside from the fact that many of us would detest such an attitude, it also ends badly: countries with a lack of diversity are less creative.

Therefore, we need to find a way that we can continue to build trust and social capital in a world that is becoming increasingly more diverse.

How do we do this? By finding ways to connect people across different communities: military service, university, sports teams, etc. University is a great example. You are thrown into a hall of residence where you meet a diverse group of people and build relationships with them. You then internalise the skill of trusting and it stays with you for the rest of your life. This is reflected in the fact that graduates have more social capital than non-graduates.

University is not the only place you can build such trust of course. If you are in the UK, you may have seen adverts for the National Citizen Service. The NCS was introduced in 2011 as a way to get young people to build these skills.

It is also worth noting that these barriers break down over time. There was a time when an Italian person and an Irish person was a “mixed marriage”. Then a black person and and a white person was a “mixed marriage”. Now it is just a marriage. Where possible, it makes sense to speed this process up.

Five reasons why a Trump presidency is not that bad

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016 | Religion & Politics

make-america-bake-again

If you were to read my Facebook feed, you would probably thing the apocalypse has genuinely happened. It may be easy to think so from the snow that appeared over night. However, I note that we are now a whole day later and all still alive. The reality is that a Trump presidency is not that bad. Here is why.

This is Brexit times 0.1

Brexit times ten? It might be for Trump? But for us this is nothing. Brexit has probably cost us a lot of money in the collapse of the pound and a weakened economy, and might lose us our European citizenship.

In comparison, this does not directly affect us. It will probably indirectly affect us, but that is no where near as bad as Brexit. The only person who has genuinely almost-died because of Brexit is the UKIP MEP Steven Woolfe.

Brexit is also forever. Trump will be gone in eight years. Probably four. Maybe less.

The president is not that powerful

The president of the United States is heavily constrained in what he can do. Powers are divided between the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government. All the president really does is set the direction.

You could argue that Trump has a bigger influence than normal given that the Republicans control both the House and the Senate as well. But you are forgetting that Republicans hate Trump just as much as anyone else does. He has about as much chance of getting his own people to enact his crazy policies as Jeremy Corbyn does.

Being a alleged rapist was never a blocker

People have said they have been appalled that someone like Trump could be elected given he is accused of sexual misconduct. They are right that this is disappointing, and I wish the world did not work this way.

However, unfortunately, Clinton’s own husband proves that you can be (re)elected president even after claims of sexual misconduct have been made against you. The world has not suddenly got worse; it was always this way.

Not has intelligence ever been a barrier to the White House. Remember this guy. The one who served for two terms.

george-bush-chimp

People have always voted for their own interests

Similarly, people have said they are shocked that someone who says racist and sexist things, like Trump does, could be elected. But people have always voted for their own interests.

When you make people feel guilty about the way they are voting, they do not stop voting that way. It is a secret ballot. The only thing you change is that they lie to pollsters when asked about it.

That is how we end up with Conservative governments, and Nigel Farage, and Brexit. People are selfish and vote on their selfish interests. They are not bad people, that is just what normal people do.

Trump won the election because he ran a better campaign. I saw the adverts they were using while watching an American stream of the NFL. Clinton’s adverts were awful. They were simply a character assassination of Trump.

Trump’s adverts are a million times better. They speak of “our movement” hook into people’s genuine fears about jobs, and a rich elite, and mass immigration, and presents a positive message of how to fix it.

People did not vote for Trump over Clinton because there is something wrong with humanity. They voted for him because he spoke to their interests and Clinton did not.

Trump is already showing signs of reconciliation

Trump’s polices are not that crazy. For example, he talks about banning all of the immigrants and building a wall, but that is actually a plagiarised British policy. Remember how we refused everyone in the Calais Jungle and actually started building a wall?

In fact Trump was a leftie liberal until he decided to run for the Republican party nomination.

But even so, his early speeches have already shown signs of wanting to reconcile differences and work together: it’s all part of making the deal.

The trouble with Corbyn voters

Saturday, October 1st, 2016 | Religion & Politics

momentum

Last month, Jeremy Corbyn won another significant victory in winning the Labour Party leadership election. He increased his share of the vote to 61.8%. This is especially notable because Labour banned any member who had joined in the past 9 months from voting. Therefore, his share of the vote is going to continue to increase for the next nine months as well.

The question still remains as to whether he can win a General Election. Clearly he is electable in almost every other situation. However, Labour trail in the General Election polls by a significant amount. How much of this is due to Corbyn and how much to the attitude of the rest of the Labour party is unclear, but it is difficult to extricate a party leader from responsibility.

Here is the problem though: I think people chose to vote Jeremy Corbyn because they wanted someone who was genuinely different. They were given the choice between electable business-as-usual candidates, and Corbyn, and they chose the latter. This is not unusual. Those of us who vote for the Liberal Democrats, Greens, or any of the minor parties, know the feeling of deciding to stick with your principles rather than compromising them for electoral glory. We would rather stand up for what we believe in than take a distant second best to have our candidate in Number 10.

My guess is that Corbyn has been elected a on a tide of this feeling. Many Corbyn voters believe he can win (his record in elections is now 11 for 11 undefeated), but perhaps many of them simply do not care whether he is electable or not. They are making a stand for working-class people, for the NHS and for traditional Labour values.

If this is the case, then there is no point putting up candidates like Owen Smith to try and win back the voters. They are not interested in whether Owen Smith has a more expensive suit or more-neatly trimmed beard. They are not in the market for a more-mainstream looking candidate. You cannot win them over with talk about election polls, because it is values they are interested in.

Nor will votes of no confidence, nor continued party scheming and in-fighting do any good. All of this is based on the idea that once Corbyn voters see the pragmatic option is a new leader, they will abandon their hero. But this premise could be entirely misleading. Instead, perhaps it is the case that after 20 years of New Labour, the membership has finally found the balls to stick up for traditional Labour values.

If so, campaigning against Corbyn is futile. Setting your own house on fire does not work when everyone else is willing to burn.

Immigration levels compared with Olympic medals

Sunday, August 28th, 2016 | Religion & Politics, Sport

Nothing to see here. Correlation does not imply causation.

immigrants-to-medals
Number of immigrants (millions), number of Rio 2016 Olympic medals at 1/4 scale

In fairness, if you line the countries up in population size, they come out in a pretty similar way. But it doesn’t fit quite as well as these figures do.