I may consult you later

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I never thought I’d mention Sherry Phyllis Arnstein in this blog. To be fair, this is because I’d never heard of the lady. But then I only recently came across her Ladder of citizen participation.

Now over the years I’ve taken part in a lot of government consultations. This isn’t a party political thing; I’ve taken part in consultations which have been sent out by all three main parties in power.

Admittedly the government department I’ve dealt with most has been MAFF/Defra but I cannot imagine that the other heads of the hydra of government bureaucracy are all that much different.

The process is simple.

The civil service decides what it wants to do. It then produces evidence for that option. Once ready, the whole thing is sent out for ‘consultation.’ These have to be carefully managed. After all if you could just send out a question, “What should we do about this issue?” The problem with that is you haven’t a clue what answers you might get. Even worse some of the answers could be really brilliant, and weak minded politicians might be tempted to run with those rather than going with the answer the bureaucracy has already picked.

So the more normal procedure is to supply three or four options. One will normally be ‘do nothing.’ As the whole premise behind the consultation is that doing nothing is not an option, they can put that in to prove they’re genuinely looking at all the options, secure in the knowledge nobody will suggest it.

The second option will be something that might be described, by an over-imaginative correspondent, as ridiculous and unworkable. It’s not normally that bad, but it’s obviously not the one you’re expected to go for.

The third, goldilocks, option is the one they’ve already decided they want.

 

Obviously once you know the game, there are things you can do. One is to demolish the goldilocks option, producing hard evidence to show it’s unworkable, illegal, or if all else fails, immoral.

The goldilocks option is the one you’re going to get, so it’s the one you have to work on to ensure that when it is implemented, it does at least do what you want it to.

 

But back to Sherry Phyllis Arnstein. I wonder what she’d have thought of this ‘consultation process?’ There again she might merely have pointed at her Ladder of citizen participation where consultation is merely smack bang in the middle of the ‘degrees of tokenism.’

Arnstein’s perspicacity impressed me. Then I mentioned the ladder to somebody else and she merely commented “I saw it in my A level sociology days.”

Yes, Arnstein published this ladder in 1969. At least two generations of bureaucrats have clawed their way out of the swamp of despond to take up their seats in the sunlit uplands which lead to that happy golden evening of index linked pensions. I’d love to know what proportion of them had come across Arnstein, and in spite of this they decided to stick with the term ‘consultation’. I suppose there’s no joy in power unless you can use it to rub somebody’s nose in it.

Not only that but the alternative terms Arnstein put on her ladder are hardly viable replacements for consultation. Placation sounds, if anything, even more patronising. Moving to the next one up, Partnership, is downright dangerous, hoi polloi offered partnership might expect their ideas and opinions to be taken seriously.

Heaven forefend! That would be the end of civilisation as we know it.

 

♥♥♥♥

 

Oh yes, you strike me as the sort of person who would enjoy a good book. Purely by chance I had one to hand.

It just got a review!
These are four excellent short stories introducing the early days of Benor. Each tale pulses with humour as the well-drawn characters engage in various adventures. Each story features great dialogue, lots of good food, wine and ale, all taking place in a believable and well-drawn world where the streets pulse with life. The reader gets a powerful sense of being there in a real world with real people going about their real lives.

I look forward to reading the next book and wish I’d read this one far sooner.

 

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Pontifications along a road less travelled. OK so what is university for anyway?

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So you’ve seen the picture, what is it all for anyway?
I mean, what is university for? Obviously universities do think that at least part of the reason that they’re there to do vocational training. Otherwise we wouldn’t have them producing doctors, teachers and youth workers. All these professions are very ‘hands on’ and with all of them you probably learn far more when you’re actually doing the job than you did at university or college or whatever. But without that piece of paper, the degree certificate, the meal ticket, you won’t get the job that the degree barely qualifies you to do.

But actually it’s a much bigger debate.

To quote a Guardian article that says it rather well. “For Humboldt, a German philosopher and diplomat, a university was to do with the “whole” community of scholars and students engaged in a common search for truth. For Newman, it was about teaching universal knowledge. For Robbins, an economist commissioned by the government of the time to draw up a report on the future of higher education, universities had four objectives: instruction in skills, promotion of the general powers of the mind, advancement of learning, and transmission of a common culture and common standards of citizenship.”

In the US the debate also continues. To quote evolllution.com, “The purpose of higher education in the United States has been a topic of debate for many years. We have a 200-year tradition of the liberal arts where colleges are focused in preparing individuals for productive contribution through character development. More recently there has been a demand that there be a greater focus on career development. It is in the resolution of this tension that we progress in improving the enterprise of higher education.”

 

I hate to say it folks, but even I as a simple farm boy know that running a process you don’t understand, seeking results you’ve never actually decided upon, isn’t any way to guarantee success.

 

So let’s go down the list.

“A community of scholars and students engaged in a common search for truth.”

Well that one’s dead in the water. In a world of no-platforming and similar, the search for truth in anything but technical fields incomprehensible to the political active is doomed.

 

“About teaching universal knowledge.”

Almost by definition, there’s too much knowledge out there to teach it all to any one person any more. Even the stuff that is agreed universally is spread across mutually incomprehensible fields.

 

“Instruction in skills,

Well we can do that. ‘Doctors and teachers exams must pass, if err they wish to rise above the working class…..’

 

“Promotion of the general powers of the mind.”

The may well happen. But if it does, does it happen to all, some or just a few? And how do you do it reliably anyway. Indeed are the university staff in contact with students trying to do this anyway?

“Advancement of learning.”

This probably happens on an individual level. Everybody comes out of university knowing more, even if all they’ve learned is that it was an expensive way to put off serving fries in McDonald’s for three years.

 

“And transmission of a common culture and common standards of citizenship.”

Don’t even go there. Stand up and say that in some universities and you’ll be no-platformed.

 

“Preparing individuals for productive contribution through character development.”

I think this is one most people would cling to. Back when less than 5% of the population went to university it might even have been possible to achieve. But now in many courses there may not even be the personal contact time between educator and the individual student for the educator to know a student well enough to know what their character is, never mind develop it.

 

“A greater focus on career development.”

Some courses are career orientated, always have been. But with some courses the only career they open up directly is teaching the course either at university or at a simplified level in school.

 

In simple terms, at some point between the age of sixteen and twenty-one you become an adult, and have to first support yourself, and then perhaps go on to help support a family. This basically happens whether you go to university or not.

In fact a cynic might comment that it might be more likely to happen if you don’t go to university.

So for some people it will make sense to take some sort of course in that period which will enable them to enter their chosen career.

But for others it’ll make far more sense for them to enter employment and then pick up education as you go along. I know men in their forties who’ve worked since they were sixteen and who hold the recognised equivalent of a university degree and a masters degree.

For others again university might be the place for them to go in their middle years with the children left home and the mortgage about paid off. After all people will be looking at an active and working life stretching into their seventies. So three years in university when in your fifties, bringing to the table a wealth of lived experience, could be far more useful that when you’re in your late teens.

 

But whilst this model might suit us, will it suit the university industry which is just geared up to pile an ever increasing number of students through, mortgaging their futures to fund and justify its current existence?

Wool gathering

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Somebody was commenting about wool prices and how much wool was worth.

Well at the bottom end of the market a Herdwick fleece can weigh up to 2kg and is worth perhaps 25pence per kilo. So your hard won fleece could be worth a whole 50p

Jacobs, popular with smallholders and others have a better quality fleece, perhaps worth 45p a kilo. A nice fleece can weigh 2.5kg so you’re in the big money with a fleece worth perhaps £1.12.

If you look at a breed like the Romney, the wool is better again, I’ve seen Romney fleeces valued at £1.25 a kilo, and with a 3kg fleece this can bring in the magnificent sum of £3.75. Obviously the prices change year on year, but generally better wool is worth more.

The fly in this particular ointment is that paying somebody to shear your sheep is probably going to cost about £1.20 a head. Things are better than they were. Unless you’re unlucky or have a lot of mountain breeds, your wool cheque has a chance of paying the bill for clipping.  The obvious thing to do is to have some nice sheep with nice wool, keep it really clean and consider supplying the hand spinners

 

The problem with wool is that it’s no longer worth most farmers breeding for wool quality.

If you are on the rough hills then you’ve got Herdwicks, or Swaledales or similar. The whole breed is about survival and producing a good mother who can raise decent lambs. If you’re in the lowlands, meat is king, it’s what pays the bills. The big of money you get for the wool isn’t worth making any changes in the breed that might reduce its potential in important areas.

Obviously in the past it was different. If you read the Cadfael Chronicles by Ellis Peters

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cadfael_Chronicles

 

then you’ll see the old way where wool was so valuable castrated male lambs were kept for several years just for shearing for wool, rather than slaughtering them for the meat.

Things got so bad with wool prices that people started breeding sheep that shed their wool, one breed, the Easy Care, sheds its wool. If you look in the photograph at the top you’ll see how there is still a bit of wool left on their backs but the rest has already fallen away naturally.

Now the price of wool has picked up a bit, for anybody but the rough hill breeds it does at least pay the cost of clipping. But unlike in my grandfather’s early days it’ll never pay the rent.

 

But if you’re interested in wool, you’d do worse than visit Woolfest next year

https://www.woolfest.co.uk/

 

The world of cute lambs and the tuna melt panini.

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It has been said that the world is a magical place full of people waiting to be offended by something. This is probably true, but today, perhaps by accident, I might not offend anybody at all. I know it seems unlikely but in an infinite universe pretty well anything should be possible.

So this morning another hogg lambed. Working backwards on our fingers she wasn’t technically anyway near any of the tups when the lamb was conceived. So how had she managed it? All I can say is that she isn’t the first young lady who has wandered in shyly carrying a baby and hoping against hope that the overall atmosphere of cuteness will stop people asking difficult and embarrassing questions. So anyway the proud mum has brought her offspring into a parched world which is somewhat at odds with the world the other lambs arrived into. Instead of the ‘beast from the east’ we’re reliving the spirit of 1976, and the only green thing in the photograph is a thistle.

When it gets old enough to discuss things with other lambs, their tales of cold winds and driving rain are going to be met with stubborn disbelief. And of course, when you’re this age, grass has always been brown and crispy.

Still it’s happy and mum’s happy and everything’s fine.

Sal is also happy. Sal is a small Border Collie bitch with a taste for the finer things in life. We already knew she had a liking for pizza and warm sausage rolls. But the other day, through circumstances too complicated to discuss now, we acquired a very slightly time expired tuna melt panini.

Now I realise that the world contains many people who adore tuna. I admit to being someone who doesn’t particularly like tuna. So I sliced it as you would a loaf and dropped some pieces in the bottom of Sal’s food bowl before adding the biscuits.

Sal has added tuna melt panini to her list of foods that make for a superior dining experience.

So not long after feeding her I noticed that most of the sheep had moved from one field to the next. This is a good thing, tomorrow they’ll have to be fastened in the other field anyway so that we can take a fence down. So I collected Sal with the idea of moving the rest of them through and shutting the gate on them.

Sal shot off towards the sheep, screeched to a halt and ran back to her food bowl, grabbed another piece of her panini and then went to move the sheep. Personally I suspect that it’s the cheese rather than the tuna but even so, she seems to enjoy it. I can imagine the advertising slogan. ‘Border collies prefer our panini to sheep.’

Now amongst the sheep were our young mum and her lamb. They’d found a place in the shade, sitting in a cattle creep feeder. Sal rapidly moved the rest of the sheep through the gate and then came back to glare at the laggard. Time was wasting; panini doesn’t eat itself you know.

But the concerned mum wasn’t going out of her way to be cooperative. Sal slots nicely into the ‘wolf’ end of a sheep’s recognition chart and there was no way she was taking her darling child out there into the blazing sun with wolves prowling.

Sal couldn’t get in because our young mum nicely blocked the entrance and was perfectly happy to come out at speed, forehead first if Sal tried it on. So eventually I had to go in, collect the lamb and mum followed behind me, muttering under her breath about the fact that the world seems to be going to the dogs.

Sal trotted behind, moderately happy with the way things were finally moving forward.

Then with the last two in the field and the gate shut, she glanced briefly at me before running off to finish her tea.

 

 

Oh yes, and I got a book review, well two actually

 

 

A Measured Response

Benor the cartographer is offered a job away from home with unusually generous pay. It all has to be done on the quiet, too. Something’s up. Benor has a murder to solve. I thought he had, but there’s more to come. This story is a murder mystery and a comedy of manners, set in a world of fantasy. If you like a genre mashup, this is brilliant. The characters and their relationships and banter would make it worth reading even if it didn’t have a plot – but it does. Another winner for me.

 

 

 

A Licence to Print Money

Someone has tried to cheat Benor and his young ‘apprentice’ Mutt. They set out, with a little help, to redress the balance. Another in this series of Port Naain novellas that had me smiling. They are not belly-laugh stories but full of wry, clever and thoughtful humour. Often, it’s the way he tells them. I’m always up for more of these stories.

 

 

https://ignitebooks.blogspot.com/2018/07/jim-webster.html

 

go on, treat yourself, because you’re worth it.

Pontifications along a road less travelled.  Shall they fold their tents and as silently steal away?

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Let us imagine a purely hypothetical situation. Because it obviously couldn’t happen could it? I mean, not in a civilised country!

But anyway let’s assume you have a young man. In this case stress the young. Oh we not doubting the man part of it, but if he was any younger you’d probably call him a youth, but that’s verging on being an insult nowadays. Because youths are the ones who hang around on street corners and get into trouble with the police.

Still, accept the ‘man’ part of it but stress to yourself the ‘young.’

Anyway, just to make things difficult for him, let’s assume he’s been in ‘care.’ With several different local authorities; which screws up his hopes of getting much in the way of education.

Obviously I’m gilding the lily here for the sake of hypothetical example, because they say it could never happen.

“And Brutus is an honourable man.”

 

Then, just to put a tin hat on it, imagine that because of the complexity of the benefits system, he applies for the wrong benefit, doesn’t get his rent paid and ends up homeless.

So the local authority is asked to step up to the mark and do its bit to rescue one of our fellow citizens. They spring into action, and what do they provide him with?
A tent.

 

“I would not do Brutus wrong, and Cassius wrong,

Who, you all know, are honourable men:”

 

I suppose it’s a consolation to know that we’ve not got to that situation with young women yet.

And as one older chap pointed out to me, it never does any good coming to the attention of the authorities if you’re a young man. Some of his contemporaries were noticed and were given a rifle and are now buried somewhere foreign but exotic. To be fair, there are times when the state does want the services of young men, but they are thankfully few and far between.

But still, when you’ve got your tent, where on earth do you pitch it? Ideally it should be somewhere secluded where the kids won’t find it and torch it, perhaps with you inside. But close enough to the town centre to walk in to try and talk to the various agencies who between them might find you somewhere to live. Ideally a place with a door you can lock behind you, not canvas that might be burning even as you discuss your uncertain future.

 

At this point I can imagine people are gnashing their teeth and talking about wicked tories.

But actually the local authority who handed out the tent is labour controlled.

Yet, I hear you cry, it’s the wicked tories who robbed the local authority of the money to do anything.

Which is fine, but I’d ask another question. If you’re a councillor for this authority, how do you face yourself in the shaving mirror in the morning? (Or the appropriate female equivalent however you self-identify.) If there’s the money to pay attendance allowance to councillors, if there’s money to pay for ‘hospitality’ then perhaps, just perhaps, it could be used to ensure that young men get better provision than just a tent?

 

“Will you be patient? will you stay awhile?

I have o’ershot myself to tell you of it:

I fear I wrong the honourable men.”

One thing you notice when you get involved in this area of the charity world. Politicians have a very nuanced attitude to these charities. If they’re in government then the charities working in this area are a reproach. These bodies are proof that all is not well. Charities working with animals or foreigners are fine, but those who’re picking up the pieces after our ‘social care system’ has run amok through people’s lives are a pretty strident rebuke.

If the politicians are in opposition then the charities are handy. You can point to them as proof that your opponents policies are not working. Except that everybody knows that the need was there before and will still be there when governments change. Hence even oppositions tend to be nuanced. You don’t want to say anything that will be quoted against you when you eventually gain office.

And yes, there are honourable exceptions; very honourable exceptions. It’s a pity that they’re the exceptions.

 

And so the system grinds on, volunteers apply sticking plasters. Volunteers keep people alive, showered and even dressed in clean clothes so that when they have to go to an interview they can feel some self respect.

We’re getting it off pat, this church houses a Foodbank, that church houses a clothes bank, that church has shower facilities and can provide clean underwear.

But I’m afraid that we’re getting to the stage where we really ought to remember the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”

 

“If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.”

 

Pontifications along a road less travelled. Kids today, they show no respect.

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I realise I don’t count. Brought up outside town I was driving tractors at the age of eight. At the age of fifteen I just walked out of a whole class detention at 3:45pm precisely explaining that some of us had work to do. I’d promised my father I’d start milking because he needed to go to a farm sale to try and buy something. So I courteously told the teacher that if this was a problem they’d have to take it up with him. (They never did.)
But something is going wrong.
Let’s get one thing straight here. It’s not the kids that are going wrong. They only know the way they were brought up. So what are the parents doing wrong?
And how exactly did the grandparent generation screw up to produce the parents?
I was reading a post somebody had made on their facebook page which, thanks to the wonder of algorithms, turned up on my wall. Effectively what had happened is that he’d gone to the Britain First (or some other such facebook group he found nasty and unpleasant.) When you go to a new group, facebook tell you which of your friends liked the group. He’d discovered that he’d several ‘facebook friends’ who were in the group so he immediately unfriended them.

And then proceeded to brag, virtuously, about his deed.

So out of curiosity I went to the same group, and lo, it was true. There was a list of my ‘facebook friends’ who’d liked the group. I looked at the list, nodded and moved on.

Then below his post I commented that, yes, I’d done the same. He immediately replied with, “Did you ‘unfriend them.’

To which I replied, ‘No, they’re real people, I know them in the real world.”

I did. They were decent young men. The sort of lads who, if they found you’d dropped your wallet, would have raced after you to hand it back. They’re in work and they’re hard working. Some of them are in retail, putting up with a lot of gobby crap from people of their parent’s generation who’ll complain about them without even raising their eyes from their phones as they do it.

These are the ones who’ll be working to contribute towards my state pension should the government ever deign to pay me one. They’re the ones we send to unpleasant parts of the world to die because some muppet in Westminster feels the urge to ‘send out a message.’ I’m not sure any more of how many friends I have with PTSD!

 

But anyway, just a thought; if you want people to respect you, how about being worthy of respect?

 

♥♥♥♥

At this point I’ll normally try and sell you a book. But you know what. Somehow I just haven’t got it in me. If you want to do me a favour, when you’re in the coffee shop or supermarket or whatever, just put your phone away and chat pleasantly with the young person who’s serving you. Show them how a proper adult behaves.

Pontifications along a road less travelled. Citizens, honest toil awaits

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Gather round citizens and briefly rest from your labours. But not for long, our new society will not build itself. Refreshed by the stirring words of those who have so heroically marked out our path we shall strive to exceed what we have already achieved. Fellow Stakhanovites we must work without expectation of reward. ‘From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.’ Not for us the hoarding of petty pleasures, the grasping for ever more of the dross that the wages of a corrupt system will buy you. It is the duty of a citizen to pour themselves into the task the State has found for them and accept, at the end of the day, the few simple pleasures the State affords you.

Pot 1, for those who fall behind production quotas and the disabled, will comprise 600gm rye bread, 100gm kasha (buckwheat porridge), 500gm potatoes and vegetables, 128gm fish, 30gm meat, 10gm sugar and 20gm salt.

 

Pot 2, for those who fulfil production quotas, comprises 1,200gm rye bread, 60gm wheat, 130gm kasha, 600gm potatoes and vegetables, 158gm fish, 30gm meat, 13gm sugar and 20gm salt.

 

For Stakhanovites, those who exceeded the quotas; will be added 200gm bread, 50gm wheat, 150gm potatoes and vegetables, 34gm fish and 150gm meat.

 

Now citizens I have heard rumours that some counterrevolutionary elements have been whispering amongst themselves about ‘work-life balance, job satisfaction, career progression’ and other such nonsense.
Remember citizen the second of the sacred and fundamental laws! “Every citizen will be a public person, sustained by, supported by, and occupied at the public expense.”

The State will feed you; the State will provide you a simple bunk bed on which you may enjoy the slumber that comes to those who have truly laboured. The State will tell you what you must do to serve. Your job satisfaction comes from knowing that your labour is directed by those of your fellow citizens who are far wiser than you.

Take as your beacon the shining example of the citizens who laboured in the mines of Kolyma. Although many were class traitors and similar scum, they sought salvation through labour, and gave their worthless lives that the State could build the new world we have been promised.

Or take as your standard bearers the heroic prisoners justly cast into jail by our Chinese comrades. They have not baulked at making their very organs available for the good of the State. Ask yourself citizen, do you really need two kidneys? Is it not a sign of significant capitalist tendencies to want to hoard both of them when the State already knows of a worthy recipient?

♠♠♠♠

No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

♣♣♣♣

And if anybody asks you to sacrifice something for a cause, to ‘take one for the team,’ then you know it’s to their advantage, not yours. If it was to your advantage, they’d have told you.