Canadian trial for universal basic income

April 29th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

I’m interested in the political idea for an universal basic income and, a couple of months ago, I blogged about the proposal here. Also I’m a believer in evidence-based decision-making including in the sphere of public policy, so I was pleased to see this news:

“The Canadian province of Ontario will launch a trial run of universal basic income with about 4,000 participants this summer, making it the first North American government in decades to test out a policy touted as a panacea to poverty, bloated bureaucracy and the rise of precarious work.

Participants in the three-year, C$150m pilot program will be drawn from the cities of Hamilton, Thunder Bay and Lindsay. A randomly selected mail-out will invite applications in the coming months, with participants screened to ensure they are between the ages of 18 and 64 years and living on a low income.

The pilot will include a mix of those who are working in low-paying or precarious jobs and those on social assistance, with participants able to opt out at any point during the three years.”

This is an extract from a news item which you can read in full here.

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A review of the 1942 film “Went The Day Well?”

April 28th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

“Went the day well?

We died and never knew.

But, well or ill,

Freedom, we died for you.”

This week, a friend persuaded me to join him in seeing a British wartime film at the BFI Southbank cinema in London.

“Went The Day Well?” is a British black and white film of 1942 which is an oddity in so many respects. The strange title comes from a short epitaph written about the First World War which appears at the very beginning of the film and the plot was based on a short story by the author Graham Greene entitled “The Lieutenant Died Last”.

We see a takeover of an English village called Bramley End (it was actually shot in part in Turville in Buckinghamshire) by German paratroopers pretending to be English soldiers preparing for an imminent large-scale invasion. In fact, the underlying message of the movie – beware of fifth columnists and strangers – was essentially redundant by this stage of the war since a German invasion was no longer anywhere near likely.

Nevertheless, I guess for a wartime audience it provided an interesting and entertaining storyline which presented the plucky British at their communal best. However, the actors playing the Germans have such perfect English accents and their characters lack basic combat skills, while the action sequences are weak when they are not silly. A similar tale was represented much better by the 1976 film “The Eagle Has Landed”.

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I join the start of the Russian Revolution – well, at least the exhibition

April 27th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

As a blogger, I was invited to this morning’s media preview at the British Library of the new exhibition “Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths” which opens to to the general public tomorrow and runs until 29 August. We were shown around the exhibition by the curators Katya Rogatchevshaia and Susan Reed.

This fascinating exhibition tells the story of the Revolution through posters, letters, photographs, banners, weapons, items of uniform, recordings and film and highlights include:

  • 1st edition of Communist Manifesto, published in London in 1848
  • Nicholas II Coronation Album from 1896
  • Russo-Japanese War cartoon posters
  • Photographic images and caricatures of Rasputin
  • Leg irons from a Siberian prison camp
  • Items of Red Army uniforms
  • White Russian counter-revolutionary propaganda posters
  • Lenin’s Memorial Book
  • Banner gifted to the Shipley Young Communist League
  • A letter, dated 1922, from Scotland Yard to the British Museum Library requesting that a selection of Bolshevik literature is not made public due to its incendiary nature

One really interesting feature is not an exhibit but an electronic display: a map of Russia that changes to illustrate the balance of forces in the civil wars over the period from 1918-1922.

Posted in Cultural issues, History | Comments (0)

Britain’s poorest households pay more of their income in tax than the richest

April 26th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Britain’s poorest households pay a greater proportion of their income in taxes than the richest, according to new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Analysis of the ONS’ Effects of Taxes and Benefits publication, released this week, found:

  • The poorest 10% of households paid on average 42% of their income in tax in 2015/16.
  • The richest 10% of households however paid on average just 34.3% of their income in tax
  • Council tax and VAT hit the poorest particularly hard, with the poorest 10% of households paying 7% of their gross income in council tax, compared to just 1.5% for the richest, and 12.5% of gross income paid in VAT (5% for rich)
  • Despite paying far less of their income in tax, the richest 10% have on average a gross income of £110,632, 10 times that of the poorest (£10,992)
  • Post tax (including direct and indirect taxes and cash benefits) the poorest 10% have on average £6,370 and the richest 10% have £72,746

Posted in British current affairs | Comments (0)

Word of the day: pareidolia

April 24th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon in which the mind responds to a stimulus, such as an image or a sound, by perceiving a familiar pattern where none actually exists.

Common examples are perceived images of animals, faces, or objects in cloud formations or pieces of food or features in nature, the man in the moon, hidden messages within recorded music played in reverse or at higher- or lower-than-normal speeds, and hearing indistinct voices in random noise such as that produced by air conditioners or fans.

Humans are pattern-forming creatures and tend to see patterns everywhere even where none exist or is intended. A classic example is the linking of random stars into constellations even though those stars are nowhere near each other. Today many conspiracy theories see connections where none exist.

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A review of the novel “Where My Heart Used To Beat”

April 23rd, 2017 by Roger Darlington

This novel by Sebastian Faulks is not a work to cheer the spirits, but it is really well-written and very thoughtful and thought-proving. I can recommend it and I’ve reviewed it here.

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A short guide to the French Presidency and how it is filled

April 21st, 2017 by Roger Darlington

On Sunday, the French electorate goes to the polls to vote in the first round of elections for a new President.  Unusually four candidates are doing similarly well, so the results this weekend are very uncertain.

If you want to know about the role of the French President and how he or she is elected, you can check out my short guide here.

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A review of the new film “The Sense Of An Ending”

April 21st, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Based on the Booker Prize-winning novella by Julian Barnes (which I have read – my review here), inevitably this film adaptation is diffrent from the original work. The structure of the book was a section of the (unreliable) narrator’s time at school and university followed by the present day coming to terms with revelations of that earlier period. The film is set in the present with lots of flash-backs to the past and that works well.

More questionably, the movie version of “The Sense Of An Ending” has a different ending which is not that of the author Julian Barnes or even that of the scriptwriter, the playwrite Nick Payne, but essentially that of the director, Indian film-maker Ritesh Batra (who made the delightful work “The Lunchbox”). The film offers us a conclusion which is more definitive and more upbeat that the novel but that is perhaps the nature of this different medium.

“The Sense Of An Ending” is slow and serious but not all films can be “Fast And Furious”. The pacing allows the viewer to admire the wonderful acting, primarily from Jim Broadbent as the narrator, retired and divorced Tony Webster, but also from some fine actresses, notably Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter and Emily Mortimer, plus some new young actors.

Like the source novel, this film is a challenging and moving examination of the malleability of memory. As Tony puts it: ‘How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts?’ How often indeed …

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Did you know about the mass rape of Italian women by Allied troops in the Second World War?

April 20th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

I’ve been reading the novel “Where My Heart Used To Beat” by Sebastian Faulks. Part of the novel is set in southern Italy in the last years of World War Two and reference is made to an incident of which I had previously been totally unaware. Apparently it has been given the term ‘Marocchinate’.

‘Marocchinate’ is Italian for “those given the Moroccan treatment” meaning “women raped by Moroccans”) and it is a term applied to women who were victims of the mass rape and killings committed during World War Two after the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy. These were committed mainly by the Moroccan Goumiers, colonial troops of the French Expeditionary Corps, commanded by General Alphonse Juin.

Monte Cassino was captured by the Allies on 18 May 18 1944. The next night, thousands of Goumiers and other colonial troops scoured the slopes of the hills surrounding the town and the villages of Ciociaria (in South Latium). Italian victims’ associations alleged that up to 60,000 women, ranging in age from 11 to 86, suffered from violence, when village after village came under control of the Goumiers. Civilian men who tried to protect their wives and daughters were murdered. The number of men killed has been estimated at 800.

You can learn more about this appalling occurrence here.

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How do people decide how to vote in an election?

April 19th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

The calling of a snap General Election in the UK was a genuine surprise; the result is unlikely to be one though. A survey published on the day of the announcement put the Conservatives on 44% and Labour on only 23% while, when asked who would make the best Prime Minister, 50% went for Theresa May while a mere 14% backed Jeremy Corbyn.

So, if the overall result seems (sadly) in little doubt, how does the individual voter make up his or her mind how to vote? I put the factors as ‘the three Ps’.

Personality: Some voters decide on the basis of their local candidate, judging the calibre or reputation of that candidate. Many votes decide on the basis of the leader of the political parties, especially making a judgement as to who would be the best Prime Minister.

Policies: Some voters look at what the various parties have to say on policies that matter to them. These might be general issues like levels of taxation and public expenditure or the state of the National Health Services or schools. These might be specific issues such as a third runway at Heathrow or closure of a local hospital.

Principle: More so in the past that today, voters may decide in terms of the type of society they want to see. Do they want an economy dominated by market forces and individual choice or one where the state has a more interventionist role and promotes community values? Do they want a state where the rich and powerful are enabled to become richer and more powerful in a ‘free’ society or do they believe that a fairer distribution of power and wealth is better for all sectors of society even if it involves an active state?

I have always made my decision on the basis of principle which essentially means that, from election to election, I have nothing to decide.  I have never not voted and I have never not voted Labour. I shall do so again even though I have never supported Corbyn’s leadership.

Posted in British current affairs, World current affairs | Comments (1)