Monthly Archives: August 2018

Pontifications along a road less travelled. How much self-destructive hatred do we need?

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Oh the joy of facebook. Before social media we could cling pathetically to the belief that people were by and large, reasonable, sensible, and decent. Admittedly we clung to it like a drowning man clings to a spar after a shipwreck, but still it was not an entirely impossible belief.

 

Then I saw somebody, an American, had posted this on their wall. It’s from one of the US political sites.

 

If Robert Mueller finds overwhelming and indisputable evidence that Trump conspired with Putin to rig the 2016 election, Trump’s presidency is not authorised under the United States constitution.

The only response to an unconstitutional presidency is to annul it. This would repell all of the unconstitutional president’s appointments and executive actions, and would eliminate the official record of the presidency.

 

And below it everybody had piled in. They were all hollering and cheering and throwing their hats in the air.

So I read all this and thought, ‘Well, it’s not my circus, they’re not my monkeys, but perhaps a little bit of reality here?’

So I merely pointed out that this meant, ‘any payments made by the government, for example to employees, would also be illegal and would have to be handed back. And grants paid out by government for any reason, disaster aid or whatever, would be illegal and would have to be handed back.’

 

I didn’t think it would be a popular stance. But frankly I didn’t expect it to be totally ignored. The hollering and throwing hats into the air continued. There was a bit of a dispute over whether this meant that Hilary was automatically president but the fact that their joy would come at the cost of personally bankrupting innumerable numbers of their fellow citizens was a total irrelevance.

 

At that point I realised that this was our salvation. Their total irrelevance. We see it everywhere, small groups and coteries who hold the masses in contempt and would sacrifice them all to ensure their own perquisites and social advantages are maintained. Gradually as time goes on, they become more inward looking, their numbers shrink as reasonable people start to shun them, and they become more extreme. Finally they disappear as age carries them off or they fall victim to satire and fizzle out in embarrassment.

 

Democracy works because we talk to each other, assume that, actually, the other person might just be right, and it they aren’t there’ll be a correction at the next election.

 

 

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Best in show – “The Judge is always right”!

this perhaps give a real feel for the Lake District and sheep farming

The Lakeland Auctioneer

Some farmers and also some auctioneers thrive in the show ring. That is acting as the master Judge, picking out a class winner or indeed an overall champion from a ring full of cattle and sheep. Many times in my career I have had the honour of being asked to judge livestock at agricultural shows throughout Cumbria. My preference was always to say no. Despite being an experienced auctioneer, the thought of putting myself up for even more criticism than usual from farmers was never that appealing.

How many times have we heard farmers with loud voices talking in the local vernacular around a show ring; “See yon Judge theer, he’s got that wrang he has. Ah would nivver hev given it to that owd yow. He’s wrang thoo nas, he’s wrang and that’s aw there is till it……”

Working on the premise that the Judge is always right, it…

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A really superior species

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Somebody said something to my lady wife along the lines of, “Would Jim be interested in these?” I think the person was talking about horses, or sheep, or something. My lady wife looked at what was being talked about and said, “Oh no, he’s a cowman.”

So having dairy cows back is nice. Not my cows, but still, they weren’t my sheep, I’m just playing the gracious host. But it’s good to have them about the place again.

I’ve always liked working with cattle. Suckler cows are fine, calves and stirks are just like dealing with kids. They can be cute and they can be little horrors as well. But when you’re dealing with dairy cows you’re dealing with ladies far more grown up than a lot of people you’ll meet.

What I like about cows is their unabashed curiosity. Old or young they’ll still all wander across to see what’s going on. Sal rolls on the grass to freshen up and as she sits up, three cows will be sniffing her.
They’re also very accepting. We put them through a new milking parlour. (Well they’d never seen it before, or anything like it.) The first time through there was considerable hesitation, everything had to be sniffed, but then they discovered the feed and suddenly things seemed to make more sense to them. Second time through the parlour, about one in six was still a little hesitant. After a couple of days, this was all old hat and they were at home in it.

In fact after three or four days they’d worked out the new routine and had settled perfectly happily to a new home.

But what is interesting is that cows obviously do think about things. One or two worked out that if they went back the wrong way after they’d been milked, it was surprising how much feed they’d find that somebody else had missed.

Frankly this can be a pain in the proverbial because whilst they’re trying to go back, it’s against the flow. So you have cows meeting in a relatively narrow passage and there’s this clash of wills.

It’s also interesting to look at cows coping with automatic feeders. We’ve never had them, but I know people who do. The cow wears a collar with a computer chip. She goes to the feeder, the computer looks at how much concentrate feed the cow is entitled to and gives her some. The idea is that the cow eats a little and often. It’s better for her digestion. Now in late lactation she’s getting all the nutrition she needs from grass and/or silage, so she doesn’t need concentrate. So when she goes into the automatic feeder, the computer says ‘No,’ and she doesn’t get anything.

At this point cows have been known to butt the feeder. Not a major blow, more a nudge, just to wake the feeder up and remind it of its responsibilities.

Some of the early ones weren’t designed with this in mind and it was discovered that the cow could effectively ‘get round’ the computerised delivery system by just shaking the feeder so feed dropped into the trough anyway. It hadn’t taken them long for some of them to work this out, and when a cow shakes something, it is pretty comprehensively shaken.

Other cows realised that if the feeder wasn’t feeding you, it might still feed somebody else. So they would let another cow in, wait for the sound of feed falling into the trough, and then try and push the other cow out. As you can imagine, decent automatic feeders are designed to be seriously robust.

If cows have a mental failing it is that they seem to assume that if they can get their head through, the rest of their body will follow. Unfortunately they’re wedge shaped. The head goes through, the neck isn’t a problem, and then you come to the shoulders.

It has to be said that with a cow weighing over half a ton, their assumption isn’t an entirely unreasonable one. It’s surprising what does give when they start casually trying to squeeze through.

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Not much about cows, but still, it has a really superior dog in charge

 

 

as one reviewer said

“This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”

Chasing the right pheasant

 

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I was walking round sheep this morning and Sal suddenly went into ‘hunting mode.’ When you’re a small dog and there is a lot of long grass about, this can be tricky. This is especially true as Border Collies tend to be very visual dogs. So she tackles this by either springing up into the air as she runs along; or even by standing up on her hind legs.

Then, when she’s spotted whatever she suspects is there, she’s down on all fours and she’s off at speed. At this point you might as well write her a strongly worded memo as shout instructions. Whilst she’s still looking you’re in with a chance of maintaining control, but once she’s off, she’s off.

And this morning Sal set off at a run. Suddenly two cock pheasants took off almost in front of her; these are obviously what she’s seen. She followed one, but it was airborne, over the hedge and away. She nosed about the general area, and I could see the other pheasant, running and hugging the ground at the same time. Suddenly Sal noticed it, spun on the spot and ran at it. The pheasant was airborne and away.

Well Sal had doubtless had an interesting interlude but she’d not got a pheasant. Indeed you could argue that by going for both at the start she’d got neither.

 

Sal’s antics occurred as I was pondering universal basic income. There’s yet another video circulating on facebook at the moment.

It strikes me that it’s a nice thing for sensible middle class and working class people who need a buffer. Not only that but they are the people who feel they pay out an awful lot of money and never see any of it back. For them I can see the basic income being a good thing

But having spent time in and around Foodbanks I would ask a number of questions.

But would it work for some Foodbank clients? Seriously those with mental health issues and substance abuse issues aren’t going to be helped by it. I know enough alcoholics to know that the money would just go on alcohol and not the rent. So whilst it might help the easy cases, the people who’re willing to engage, it won’t help the hard cases.

 

But you cannot have universal basic income without simultaneously considering the tax system. Otherwise like Sal, you’ll go for two pheasants and get neither.

Now obviously the universal basic income will have to be paid for. Some of it will be paid for by the fact you don’t need other payments. But which other payments? Will basic income mean no child benefit? Will it mean no more free prescriptions? Will it mean no housing benefit? No more free school dinners? No more university tuition fees?

And who gets it. Does a family of two adults get two basic incomes, even through their housing costs could well be lower per head than two people living separately? Do children get it and from what age?

Then there is the issue of tax rates and thresholds. Our current system can produce a cliff edge.

I had a year when my lady wife calculated I was paying 87% tax, because the previous year we’d had a year with no farming income (with milk prices down to 14 pence per litre we’d made a loss.) So under one of Gordon Brown’s schemes we got family credit (or whatever it was called)

Next year I managed to get some contracting work. That year I was on the equivalent of 87% tax because we lost the family credit and because our daughter was at university, we lost the money the government paid her in grant because of our low income.

So if you are not careful you could end up with the situation where basic income will actually become a trap, it’s not worth people trying to earn more. Personally I think it could work best if it were linked to a flat rate tax. That might come in anyway. It has a lot going for it in the business sector, rather than hitting companies with all sorts of taxes that are not linked to income of profitability (like business rates) and taxes on profits which are effectively voluntary for major international businesses, they would just take a flat percentage of turnover in the UK.

 

Then you get the problem of working hours as well. We know companies are paying the minimum wage and offering very low hours because they can. This is basically because the benefit system is picking up the rest.

So I think we have to make offering low hours expensive.

I’d say that somebody on any contract of employment, no matter how few hours, is a full employee, gets full holiday and sick pay entitlement and the company has to pay full national insurance, even if the person is on one hour a week.

Also if they’re on less than 16 hours, once they’ve worked for the company for six months THEY, not the company, decide when they work those hours. (Obviously it has to be when the place of employment is open.) That way they can fit two jobs together and make a sensible living.

 

Me, I’ve nothing against a basic income. But you cannot just introduce the basic income. I suspect it’d have to be part of a major overhaul of all sorts of things. Mind you, if done right, there’d be major savings because you could cut the number of employees in the DWP and HM Revenue and Customs by well over seventy percent.

I suspect that anybody introducing it will have to fight against a lot of vested interests.

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Oh yes, and I mentioned Sal. Some of her exploits appear in

 

As one reviewer said
“Another excellent compendium of observations from the back of Mr. Webster’s quad bike in which we learn a lot more about sheep, border collies and people. On the whole, I think the collies come out of it best. If you fancy being educated on the ways of the world, with a gentle humour and a nice line in well observed philosophy, you could do a lot worse than this.”

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.

 

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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.