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I have memories, clouded by sorrow

Of a time in life when blood ran through my veins

The rich getting richer, poor getting poorer?
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thedarkproject
We hear this phrase uttered a lot as a partial explanation of what is wrong with our society. But how bad is the problem?

You can go here - http://www.poverty.org.uk/09/index.shtml - for a lot of interesting stats. But the most interesting one is this image which I reproduce here:



This is the change of income in real terms (ie. after inflation, so real purchasing power) and it shows quite clearly the poorest 10% getting significantly poorer. (Apparently the 10% mark is about £120 gross income per week.)

But going the other direction, it's not just the rich getting richer. It's the 'relatively well-off', the 'average', and the 'fairly poor' all getting richer too. This doesn't match the usual narrative! In particular you can make an argument based on these figures that almost the whole country can afford to contribute more towards helping those at the bottom, not just the mega-rich. Ed Miliband's focus on the "squeezed middle" seems a little silly when you see that the middle is actually doing pretty damn well.

Another interesting stat on that page is that the income gap between the top 10% and the median is growing, but more slowly than the gap between the median and the bottom 10%. And maybe that matches in some way what we saw on the streets last week - not the poor angry at the mega rich (who they never see anyway), but at the average person, who might be considered working or lower middle class, but whose lot in life has improved significantly over the last 15 years compared to those on social security.

It also means that while there is still an argument for taxing the rich, there is perhaps more of an argument for taxing everybody but the poor, especially if the inequality is bigger between the bottom and the middle than between the middle and the top. Raise the 20% basic income tax rate to 21%?

And more, on parenting
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thedarkproject
Here's an unusual thing: a Guardian article that almost entirely mirrors things I've been saying for ages.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/aug/10/uk-riots-liberal-right-parent

"Why aren't the parents calling up their children and saying, 'Come back here at once'? They can't. Those days are gone, that authority has gone. A lot of parents are not able to stop their child from going out."

""What's going on here today? Children are making children. They are not old enough and haven't got the education to raise those children. So the children become just like them. They wind up with no education, no future. If the parents aren't there to give discipline that child will run like a wild fox until the day he dies."


In particular much of what was said by David Lammy, Tottenham's Labour MP, is exactly what I've said to people too.

"In areas like mine, we know that 59% of black Caribbean children are looked after by a lone parent. There is none of the basic starting presumption of two adults who want to start a family, raise children together, love them, nourish them and lead them to full independence. [...] We are seeing huge consequences of the lack of male role models in young men's lives."

"How do you find your masculinity in the absence of role models? Through hip-hop, through gang culture, through peer groups. It is hugely problematic. Teenagers are in school until 3.30, and then MTV, Facebook, the internet, kicks in with a set of values that comes with it. It is not clear to me that parents are equipped to deal with that."

"The right have a lot to say about parenting, but no one on the left wants to talk about this. A void has emerged around it. It's a profound problem."

"I've opened so many adventure playgrounds for under fives, but what about the teenagers? Sure Start is fine, but you need it to continue until the age of 18."
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Politics is fucking me off
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thedarkproject
Year after year recently the Government has spent more than it actually earns on trying to improve the lot of the poor, by 'investing' in public services. These are not true investments, of course, because none of these extra costs have paid for themselves, nor look like ever doing so. It's just expenditure. But it has gone up nonetheless. Only 4 years of the 29 between 1979 and 2008 saw spending cuts in real terms. Even under Thatcher spending still rose 1.1% a year in real terms. (www.ifs.org.uk/bns/05ebn2.pdf)

And yet still people say, "we need to spend more on the poor, who are increasingly marginalised, so they don't feel the need to riot". How come, when the amount of public spending is at an all-time high, people still complain it's not enough? Every year, more and more has been spent, but still, all that so-called investment has been paid back by people trashing their own cities, with simpering Lefties saying that the answer is to spend even more, because obviously the near annual spending increases for the last 3 decades still aren't enough. When would it end? When the state is spending all the country's money as a Communist nation?

And where would the money come from? "Tax the rich!" they say, as if there is just a pot of money that can be grabbed with impunity. Yet these are often the same people that spend most of the last 2 decades telling us we should join the EU and be friendlier towards our European neighbours - which has just meant that if you over-tax a rich person or large company, they can freely move their headquarters to any other EU country, no visa or permission required, and instead of getting more tax revenue from them you get a big fat zero instead. Good thinking. And these are often the ones who say, "oh, these awful Con-Dems in Government are cutting spending and jeopardising growth" - growth is what the private sector is for but if you tax the fuck out of them then they have no money to invest in growing their business. More good thinking.

By 2015, after the Government cuts (which barely even make a dent in the problem of spending money that we don't have), public spending will be back to 2004/2005 levels. Remember that awful year of 2005, when dead bodies didn't get buried, rubbish piled up on the streets, inflation was 26%, etc? No? That's because 2005 was actually just fine, thank you. However if you look back at 1978/1979, all those things did happen, and that was after years of trying to help matters by taxing the rich with a top rate of 83%. It doesn't work. It just punishes the people who make jobs.

I don't know what the solution to preventing further riots is, but I am 100% damned sure it is not just about pledging to spend even more money on initiatives that are plainly having little effect. The country needs to stop pretending that the solution to our social problems is to throw cash at it. The issues are more fundamental than that and neither borrowing nor taxing more are ethically or economically sound ideas anyway.

(no subject)
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thedarkproject
It's rather annoying to not be able to watch Game of Thrones.  I won't download it illegally as I think that's the wrong thing to do, but that's the only way I could watch it. It's frustrating to be in a position where I'm willing to pay for something but I still can't be supplied with it.

I have book 5 here though, 'A Dance With Dragons'. Only problem is, I've long since forgotten all the details of the previous books, it being 5 years since the last one came out. Maybe I should find some sort of website that gives a brief chapter by chapter run-down. I'd pay for that, too!
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Alternative Vote
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thedarkproject
One thing I've found interesting is that a lot of people are talking about the Alternative Vote option in the forthcoming referendum as being an obvious choice due to being fairer. This is strange, because in itself it's no more fair on a constituency by constituency level than the existing 'most votes wins' system. In fact, no simple voting system can fulfill all the fairness criteria that exist, and this is mathematically proven, so it's always worth trying to understand the ways in which any new system can be unfair in ways that the previous system was not.

The UK is quite interesting in having 3 major parties, which is handy as it's with a 3 party system that you can most easily expose the flaws with a voting system. A common complaint with the current system is as follows: imagine 100 voters vote as follows: Conservative 35, Labour 33, Liberal 32. In the current situation, the Conservative candidate wins. Yet many would say that since the Labour and Liberal candidates have more similar policies (debatable right now, but that has historically often been the perception), the choice that would satisfy most people - up to 65 of them, maybe more if some Conservative voters are close to undecided - would be for either the Labour or Liberal candidate to be elected as a compromise choice. This is why Alternative Vote allows you to specify a second preference, and a third, etc., as an attempt to capture this sort of compromise. It also helps in that you can vote for a smaller party which is very unlikely to get elected, while still having some influence over the final result through your subsequent preferences. At the moment people are dissuaded from voting for the smaller party because they are unlikely to be elected and that vote is then 'lost' when it could have been spent more wisely in deciding a close contest between your 2nd choice and your 3rd or 4th choice (for example).

However. Imagine the voting went like this: Conservative 49, Labour 26, Liberal 25. Under the current system, the Conservatives win. Now take the Alternative Vote system, and the Liberal candidate is eliminated and anybody who voted for him or her gets their 2nd choice vote counted instead. If we continue to assume that Labour and Liberals both prefer each other to Conservatives, and that therefore the new result is Conservative 49, Labour 51, under AV the Labour candidate wins. Seems reasonable. Except what has happened here is that the Liberal voters have found that their 2nd preference votes are worth just as much as a Labour or Conservative 1st preference. That in itself seems unfair because the other voters haven't had their 2nd choice counted. Labour won't mind, as they've come off best. But what if you actually counted the Conservative 2nd choices, which have been ignored - they might be mostly Liberal! This is what the 'No to AV' campaigners mean when they say that some people's votes would count twice - the Liberal voters, perhaps knowing they were in 3rd place to begin with, got a 'free' vote. So, having established that a second choice can count for just as much as a first choice, how about we count everybody's first and second choices together? In this situation, now with 200 votes, you might get a score more like Conservative 49, Labour 51, Liberal 100. So the Liberals win.

One set of voting results, yielding 3 possible outcomes, all appearing fair in some sense and unfair in another.

Interestingly, the way "tactical voting" would operate under the Alternative Vote system is a bit different to now. Instead of deliberately picking your 2nd choice party if you think your 1st choice has no chance, people are best served by ordering their preferences from least likely to win to most likely - after all, if you back a winner from the start, your 2nd preference (and 3rd, and so on) are wasted, but if you back the first loser, your 2nd choice counts, then potentially your 3rd, all the way up. This means we're likely to see a lot more votes cast for fringe and extreme parties - what used to be just a protest vote will get augmented by the people who currently vote for the mainstream parties to avoid wasting their vote. This is good news for those who feel that the main 3 parties are not radical enough, but I think people might be dismayed when they see the strength of opinion on the far edges of political spectrum.

(no subject)
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thedarkproject
Wow... it's 11 years since they were filming the Lord of the Rings movies. Where did the time go? It's quite scary, really.

Glitches
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thedarkproject
Oh, and if you said anything on here recently that was relevant to me, let me know, as some posts from my friends are apparently just not showing up on here! For instance I can see an entry on one person's journal from yesterday which is nowhere to be seen on my friends list. Very odd.
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Budget cuts
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thedarkproject
Ah, government cuts. Is there a more divisive issue?

Local cuts to the budget that covers shelters for the homeless appears to have become a massive issue, but with a few interesting nuances. The BBC's Mark Easton covered some of the argument between Nottingham City Council and the Government in his blog entry here, which gets straight to the point, saying that "Framework has initiated judicial review proceedings against Nottingham City Council and the Department for Local Government and Communities claiming it is "caught in the middle" of a blame game between local and national politicians." And indeed, dig a little further and this seems to be exactly what you see. The Government claim the cut to the budget was 10.7% - the council claim it was 45%. Who is right?

This has raged for a few weeks now with councillors and ministers trading barbs and insults, with the occasional interesting tidbit showing up. The other day saw this: "The Communities Secretary Eric Pickles fired a salvo over the Labour-council's reluctance to publish all spending over £500. For starters, [Housing Minister] Grant Shapps singles out the £250,000 spent on lamp post banners, which promote the council's ambitions for the city. There was criticism over sending six officers to Cannes for a Europe-wide property fair."

One local drop-in centre, Emmanuel House, was the subject of a short article on the BBC the other day (sorry for all the BBC links), which highlighted the risks to the service users and also the potential for increased anti-social behaviour, etc. But buried at the bottom was this little gem of a statement: "[...] we have assessed the service provided by Emmanuel House and don't believe the outcomes meet the level of funding we provide. Services for rough sleepers and other homeless people have changed substantially over the past decade with a greater emphasis placed on prevention. As a result of the Government cuts, we need to accelerate the restructuring of the services we provide for these vulnerable citizens." This looks remarkably like an implicit admission that the Council wanted to cut this particular service anyway, considering that it wasn't good value for money, but has now got the opportunity to do so while blaming national government for it. Intriguing!

(Interesting technological aside: Mark Easton's blog entry doesn't show up if you search for the content in it, eg. http://www.bbc.co.uk/search/?q=%22Nottingham%20City%20Council%22 . I clicked the 'Contact us' link at the bottom of the BBC website to report this problem, which took me to www.bbc.co.uk/feedback/. On there is a link for 'Website technical faults', and if you follow that, it tells you to use the 'Contact us' link on the page. Er, how do you think I got there? So now I have two problems to report to them, if I can ever find a way.)


Library cuts are also big news, with there being a national day of action taking place right now, It says "We want everyone who cares about reading, literacy and libraries to use their public library on the 5th February and tell as many people as they can to do the same.", which is a great sentiment, but I can't help but feel that if these libraries were getting used as much as they should be that councils wouldn't have earmarked so many for closure. A similiar thing happened here when the local council started closing down leisure centres (long before this Government's cuts, I should add) - lots of people were sad at losing a local amenity, but it was one few ever used.

Maybe part of this is just cultural change. A lot of the things I would once have gone to a library to do, I no longer need to do. I can use Google and Wikipedia for most of my basic research, and the collapse/banning of the Net Book Agreement, the resulting plethora of discount book shops, and sites like Amazon, have meant that I now buy a lot of books that once I might have borrowed. And the type of books I want to read have changed too, with that having an impact on the usefulness of libraries to me. Both my previous university's library and the public library were awful, bordering on useless, when it came to having computing books that were even remotely up to date. This isn't too surprising really, since an institution that is dedicated to preserving knowledge for long periods of time is always going to struggle when faced with subjects that are often antiquated and indeed bordering on obsolete by the time that a book on the matter hits the shelves. And do you need a physical book anyway, when looking at reference material? Even the best index is a poor match for an electronic search.

At this point I'd suggest that perhaps libraries need to modernise and change their offerings to the public, but I am almost entirely sure that my librarian friends would call me out on my ignorance and point out that, if I ever went to a library, I would already see such diverse offerings and modernisation. :) But I guess these things just aren't made very clear to the public. Are we making the most of the services that our taxes pay for? Do we even know they exist? That is at least one thing that this day of action might solve; people might go along for the first time in months or years and notice something useful that they didn't know was there.

How many people should benefit from a service for it to justify getting significant public funding? I'm reminded of the parallel argument over Educational Maintenance Allowance, where many 16 to 18 year olds were paid an extra £30 to encourage them to stay in education or training, but where the increase in participation as a result only rose by 10%, and where it's reported that the majority of those being paid said they would have gone anyway.

Difficult questions, in these times when money is tight.

Albums of 2010
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thedarkproject
I suppose I'm not going to buy any more music this year, so now's as good a time as any to enumerate my top 10 albums of the year, especially since I have a spare half hour or so. Admittedly I only bought about 20 albums, so you're going to see everything that I think was above average for me in 2010.

In alphabetical order:

Agalloch - Marrow of the Spirit

I'll confess: I've only listened to this album once. But I gave it my full attention, which must count for something, right? It's incredibly intricate and detailed, a real work of art. I'm not entirely impressed with the mix and production - I wouldn't settle for such dead drums or fuzzy guitars, and at one point a guitar seems to be quite out of tune. And I may be getting too far into music tech territory for complaining about the room reverb on the opening cello when there's another sample playing suggesting an outdoor environment, to be fair. But you can see past all this to the majesty beneath. I'd say this is essentially a reworking of their 'Pale Folklore' album - fans of the mellow moments on 'The Mantle' or the more accessible riffs of 'Ashes Against The Grain' may take a while to adjust to this one.

Alcest
- Ecailles De Lune

A disproportionate quantity of girls like Alcest. Why is this? Perhaps it's because it's black metal that is 'pretty'? Answers on a postcard please. This album at least has some weight to it, unlike predecessor 'Souvenirs d'un autre monde' which, in my opinion, is a little weak (but might suit non-metal fans). There are some great passages here, beautiful melodies over sporadic blastbeats that strike a perfect balance between feeling organic and being clinically precise - something most black metal bands fail at, one way or the other. My only criticism is that the end of the album tails off somewhat.

Barren Earth - Curse Of The Red River

It's a Swallow the Sun and Amorphis supergroup. As such it sounds like Swallow The Sun covering Amorphis. 'Nuff said. Actually, while that is an accurate enough description in that fans of those bands will find something to enjoy here, there are some progressive and 70s elements here added to the mix too - again, both of which you see to a degree in the aforementioned bands, but brought more to the front here.

In Mourning
- Monolith

I'd never heard of these lot before seeing this album in Clint's shop The Heavy Sounds and was pleasantly surprised. They sound typically Scandinavian - just, in several different ways. It's melodic death metal, it's doom-death, it's progressive death, it's all of those things in one package. You can also hear their singer on the new October Tide album, mentioned below.

October Falls - A Collapse Of Faith

Not many people know of this band, which I believe is pretty much a one-man project. He releases black metal with acoustic folk interludes and overlays, and has been doing it for 10 years, so it's a shame that popularity has passed him by when that sort of thing is all the rage at the moment. The songs here are simple but effective, long enough to draw you in but short enough to not outstay their welcome.

October Tide - A Thin Shell

The long-awaited and unexpected return of October Tide! This 3rd album comes many years after the previous one and as a result does not sound terribly like a direct continuation of the earlier work. But, you can hear the links if you pay attention, with Fredrik Norrman's dissonant lead sounds that were a trademark of mid-period Katatonia albums making a return here. If you like doom-death or ever find yourself wishing that Katatonia had some of their old weighty riffs back, this record should hit the spot.

Remembrance - Fall, Obsidian Night

I don't have a vinyl player at present so I couldn't hear the new Shape of Despair EP. However, Remembrance play something very similar - melodic funeral doom with strings and occasional female vocals - so that's good enough for me. It's beautiful stuff, but not going to be packing any dancefloors any time soon.

Shadowgarden - Ashen

Draconian don't seem to be doing much at the moment, so main songwriter Johan Ericson (hey, I never knew the Swedish language had the letter 'C'...) has taken the opportunity to indulge his gothic metal side with this project. Apart from the obvious similarities to Draconian, people have rightfully compared it to Sentenced too, but most interesting to me is that it sounds reminiscent of the mostly-forgotten Swedish band Cemetary, who had a pretty unique sound that is hinted at in places here. To be sure, this is 'just' gothic metal and not going to win any awards for progressive song-writing or deep meanings but if you like your metal singalongable on occasion then you can't go far wrong with this.

Throes of Dawn - The Great Fleet Of Echoes

Throes of Dawn are another gem mostly overlooked by the scene - historically playing slightly avant-garde black metal with keyboards that aren't afraid to actually sound like keyboards rather than pretending to be an orchestra in a box. Compared to the previous 3 releases this one is a lot less extreme, coming across more like recent Tiamat, harsh vocals almost (but not) entirely replaced by clean ones. Only the title track really sounds like their previous albums, the rest being the same instrumentation as before put to much mellower effect. For the most part this is an album you'll listen to in the background, or while relaxing, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Winterfylleth - The Mercian Sphere

Many of you are familiar with this album already so I won't say too much. While their first album felt quite unique, possibly with slight hints of early Satyricon in places, this one has a clearer sound and better execution, while perhaps losing just a touch of the variety as a result. Don't get me wrong, it's hard to fault the album and every track is great, but I felt predecessor 'The Ghost Of Heritage' had a little more to it. I find myself wondering whether - to draw an analogy to another English band in a similar position 30 years ago - this is their well-produced but slightly sterile "Killers" album after an invigorating "Iron Maiden". In that case the third album was arguably the real masterpiece, combining the best of both worlds, and maybe we'll see that from the 'Fylleth next time around too.
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(no subject)
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thedarkproject
I hate Christmas. Apart from the fact that it follows hot on the heels of my birthday which I also hate, it's a time when I feel I should be buying presents for my close family, absolutely none of whom I know what to get, at all. I remember how disappointing it was as a kid to open a crap present so I would rather get them nothing than something they don't like, but this just means added pressure. Mostly it's my nephew and niece I want to buy things for but have been given no help from the family as to what they would like. When I was that age I had a long Christmas list, but no, not now apparently.

It's just a load of hassle for no reward. Fed up of it.
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