I predict a riot

Actually, I didn’t predict the London riots, but at least I had the excuse that I was abroad, on holiday. Whilst I was away, I watched Question Time on the BBC Parliament channel (it’s amazing that I have a girlfriend, isn’t it?), and from listening to those sage political commentators, you’d be convinced that each of them had predicted these precise events a long time ago. Many of them (Prescott, Paddick etc) spoke of a kind of inevitability about the London riots, which was surprising, as no-one to my knowledge had warned the country of this powder keg about to blow at any point before certain areas of the capital were on fire, by which time most people would agree that it was a little late. The shocking events of last week are made even more shocking by the fact that they came as a surprise to most people.

Public (and media) reaction has broadly fallen into two wildly simplistic categories. The liberal view is that we have a mass of young people (mainly young black males) that have been ‘failed by society’. This failed by society line (henceforth to be known as FBS) is trotted out often, but no-one has yet to give a satisfactory answer as to what it means. Still, it sounds good, and it gave the Guardian a chance to wheel Russell Brand out to emphasise the FBS point. Mr Brand clearly gave so many soundbites after the death of Amy Winhouse that he’s now required to comment on all major news stories. I await his coverage of the US presidential race with baited breath. Back to the main point, but in what way has society failed these young rioters? One news channel suggested that it was the fault of the ‘nice things’ industry, which has created ‘must-have’ items such as iphones and D+G clothing. The theory is that young people cannot afford these things, therefore their self-worth is defated, meaning there is nothing left for them to do but smash things, and nick things. Does anyone actually believe this is the truth? There’s lots of things that I can’t afford (a yacht, for example), but you won’t see me down at Brighton Marina at midnight in a hoodie, making off with someone else’s.

Having nice things doesn’t make you happy and content. These young people are angry because they don’t aspire to anything, and the majority of the fault lies with the parents. Quality parenting is about setting your child up well for life, and guiding your child as best you can until you are able to remove the stabilisers, and they are free to make their own way in society. This usually means some form of understanding of what is right and wrong, a respect for your fellow human beings, and a little bit of education along the way. Is that too much to ask? Only yesterday, my hairdresser was bemoaning the fact that so many of her friends are pregnant (they’re all about 21, and the babies are unplanned in general; I did a bit of research). Why are these people so happy to have kids, when they’re generally so unhappy with the raising them properly bit? True satisfaction comes from earning things: not having them given to you, and not from nicking them. There’s a good message from which to start. Labour were totally wrong in the assertion that 50% of people going to university would be a good thing. In fact, fewer people going to university would be a good thing, and more people doing apprenticeships and learning a trade would be an even better thing. All young people have talents, and the sooner they find out what they are good at the better.

On the flip side to the liberals and their seeking to justify this behaviour comes the ‘lock em up and throw away the key’ brigade. Those that think it’s reasonable to lock up two morons from Cheshire for 4 years each for trying to incite a riot via facebook. I don’t know what’s more tragic, the long sentence or the fact that nobody came. This knee-jerk reaction attempts to placate a public that is baying for blood, but we cannot allow public opinion to override rational decision-making. Handing out over-tough sentences as an ‘example’ has been proved not to work; someone isn’t going to refrain from hurling a brick through a window because the sentence length for criminal damage has increased by 33% in recent times. We need to consider the root causes of this anti-social behaviour to prevent it – to cure the cause, not to hammer the consequence.

We are a confused country. Are you proud to be British? Am I? Do we know what it means? The spectacular failure of Cameron’s Big Society suggests that the Thatcherite ideal of greed is good still looms large over the country. Better parenting to start, more opportunities for kids to learn a trade early, less emphasis on having to go to university (fewer universities even) and far less exposure for Russell Brand.

That can’t be too tricky, can it? Or maybe Huxley had the best idea after all?

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Dead Pool 2011

We’re almost a couple of months into the new year, and the dust has well settled on my New Year’s eve trivial pursuit and bollinger-sponsored ushering in of 2011. A new year gives one the chance to take stock, to re-appraise, to set one’s priorities for the year ahead. These are very personal, specific, but above all, dull tasks to report, and hence it’s my dead pool that you really want to hear about, don’t you?

For the uninitiated, this is a marvellous parlour game for all the family. It’s not exactly fast-paced, bearing in mind that you’ll have to wait 365 days to find out who’s won. But it’s free, and you really do get out what you put in. Those who approach the game with a casual air of picking names out of a hat will rarely succeed, but those who spend hours engaged in careful research will find themselves richly rewarded.

So here’s how you play. Decide how many names you’re going to pick (everyone picks the same, and I’d suggest 8 for starters). This is the number of celebrities you are going to have to gamble that will die in the next year. You can pick them by order, and then you receive 8 points (on a sliding scale down to 1 point) for your number one choice. There’s no rules that apply re: celebrity ages and health conditions, but you should be aware that though no points are awarded for flair picks, the sense of satisfaction one gains when a real gamble pays off can’t be underestimated (think of the 15 year old Schoolboy Ben who picked out Freddie Mercury back in 1991, or those more up to date gamblers who went for Brittney Murphy a couple of years back).

I’ve posted my choices on twitter already, but this is my final selection. In case you feel that I’ve boobed by missing out a couple of obvious ones, I’ve refused to pick the following people:

Zsa Zsa Gabor: as much of a gimme as you can get; in fact, I’m not sure that she hasn’t croaked already. She seems to be losing limbs at a rate of knots, and she’ll have turned into some kind of OAP version of ‘boxing Helena’ well before the year is out. She’s the dead pool equivalent of the 1 yard open-goal tap in, and hence is not one to be celebrated.

Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela, Kim Jong-Il: they may well all already be dead. Even if they are, or if they pop off during 2011, we’ll never know about it, and as they get lowered into the ground, we’ll still be assured that it’s nothing more than a cold, and that it’s a mere percautionary measure.

The list:

1. Bruce Forsyth: rapidly becoming a liability, even on saturday night snooze-fest strictly, and makes Paddy McGuinness look like a master of the auto-cue. Undoubtedly a trooper, but looks to be on borrowed time.

2. Kerry Katona: the ‘I’ve got my life back on track’ mantra isn’t fooling me. You’re still doing ads for Iceland, and you’re only one batch of dodgy showbiz sherbert away from me being quids in.

3. Bob Dylan: this is more about gut-instinct. Health scares, limited output for the last few years and he must be getting on more than a bit. Still sings like he’s listening to one of his own songs on an ipod, but that’s not a reason to put him on the list on its own.

4. Gregg Wallace: sad to report this one, as no-one licks chocolate mousse from a spoon quite like Gregg. Have you seen him lately on Masterchef though? He looks like a barrow-boy who’s eaten all his produce, and the barrow too. He’s gaining weight in a hurry, and looks to be out like Atkins.

5. Terry Christian: can’t believe he’s still in work, but he also looks like a skeleton these days. Reminds me of the chap from the Stereo MCs.

6. Daphne Fowler: you know, the old one (oldest one?) from eggheads. Bit of a cheap pick, but can’t see her getting through the winter.

7. Margaret Thatcher: she almost made it into my Castro etc list, though I suspect there’ll be a few street parties when she heads up to the great trade union in the sky. Shame to see her go, but when you’re too ill to have a cup of horlicks at your own party, the next 12 months look a very long way away.

8. James Corden: I’m not sure that being fat and a shamelessly un-funny England footballer suck-up qualifies our James to be a victim of the grim reaper at any time in the next 300 days or so, but wouldn’t it be great? Wouldn’t it?

So there you have mine. Who’s in yours?