Reading the bills, because no-one else does

The Alcohol Bill appears to be being discussed by the Scottish media simply in terms of minimum pricing, which is exactly what the Government wants you to do. That there is other stuff in the bill that people might find objectionable (or not, of course) is simply not being mentioned anywhere other than in the last paragraph of every fifth BBC News Online article.

The good thing about the Scottish Parliament is that all new bills are uploaded online as PDFs (the bad thing is that the website is very poorly designed), so you can read it for yourself, with a full explanation also available. For those who don’t really want to because it’s written in jargon, here’s a summary interspersed with occasional ranting:

  • Minimum pricing for alcohol

The minimum price-per-unit is specified by ministers, and is calculated as a measure of (minimum price*(ABV percentage/100)*volume in litres*100). The explanatory document specifies that the minimum price could be 40p/unit, but of course it doesn’t have to be. Nevertheless, this won’t affect spirits or pub prices very much; taking a bottle of 12-year old Highland Park, this works out as 0.4*0.42*0.7*100 = £11.76. Highland Park usually sells for ~£20 in supermarkets.

The killer is that a multipack price must be at least (n items*minimum price), which means no more BOGOF/3-for-2 wine offers as well. So for a  12-pack of 440ml 5% Stella Artois, this would be (0.4*0.05*0.44*100)*12=(0.88)*12=£10.56, which is a bit more than this usually sells for.

What the bill does is make multipacks, for the most part, uneconomical.I find this somewhat annoying because I buy a large pack of beer, put a few cans in the fridge at a time and tend to drink even a 12-pack over a couple of months – it harms reasonable drinkers more than it harms those who are abusing it – but it’s not lethal.

  • Explicitly banning BOGOF/3 for 2 in off-sales

Just in case you didn’t notice the bit above.

  • Banning alcohol advertising outside designated areas

Almost certainly means that off-licenses will have to cover their windows (just after we finally admitted it didn’t help for bookies) and means that supermarkets won’t be able to promote in windows. The current alcohol laws mean that all alcohol offers must be in the designated area anyway, so all this’ll do is mean that offers can’t be promoted outside Row X. This doesn’t apply to non-alcoholic beer-branded merchandise, so supermarkets can sell you a Guinness glass in the glassware area.How thoughtful.

  • Requirement for age verification

Scottish licensees already do far too much age verification as it is; I was refused alcohol at an open-air Radiohead gig in Glasgow because I didn’t have any ID they found acceptable (despite being 23 at the time).

As I don’t drive and don’t carry my passport around with me, this is a perennial problem; I do carry quite a lot of identification, but no-one cares about my photo bus pass, credit cards (over 18 only, verified by your bank) or so on; it’s just passport, driving license, the national ID card that isn’t going to happen or the Portman Group give-us-your-personal-details blackmail card. The bill requires Challenge 21. As it’s already a crime to sell to someone under 18, quite harshly punishable, there is absolutely no need for this.

  • Allows ministers to add to and remove from the law at will

So they don’t have to shove any changes through the Parliament again. This is by far the sneakiest segment of the bill, a very New Labour-style measure fron the SNP. This will allow them to bring back the over-21s stupidity again…

  • Licensing boards can ban under-21s in their own area

…oh. Apparently this involves a “detrimental impact statement”, but section 9 gives them the power to do it unilaterally.

A thoroughly infantilising measure. Most of the worst thugs I’ve seen in pubs are Begbie types who are far older than 21, although that is of course a personal opinion rather than purest fact. Students can be annoying, but generally not too vicious; and in any case, a good proportion will be over 21 anyway. And how are you going to tell the difference between 21 and 18? It’s harder than 18/non-18.

See Challenge 21 for details. Grr.

  • “Social responsibility levy”

Licensing-board imposed fines for “bad” publicans, which could just be being in a “bad” area, or the Western Isles. A fine piece of spin from the Alistair Campbell Big Book Of Machiavellian Delights.

So there you go. Surprisingly, there isn’t a big Q&A article on the BBC News website with this information in it linked off every article about the Bill, without the ranting, as there is with most controversial Westminster issues. There’s certainly no excuse for the Herald or Scotsman, past the fact that Johnston Press don’t care about anything other than cash (most certainly not their website). I guess  that’s the Scottish media for you: media by press release, complacent and incompetent all.

And you thought they were Communist

When China’s design for the opening ceremony comes straight from the same chauvinist impulse that brought us Paris Hilton, Zoo and Nuts, My Super Sweet 16 and The Swan:

A pretty girl who won national fame after singing at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games was only miming.

[…]

But the singer was Yang Peiyi, who was not allowed to appear because she is not as “flawless” as nine-year-old Lin.

The show’s musical director said Lin was used because it was in the best interests of the country.

BBC News, “China Olympic ceremony star mimed” (12th August 2008)

Now, if this had happened at an opening ceremony in a less authoritarian country, they’d have said “the best interests of the Games”, but it would otherwise have been an identical reaction. We can’t have anything imperfect, after all; bad for the sponsors. Could be embarrassing.

Wouldn’t it have been so much better if it was imperfect? That’s what we should have for 2012; we shouldn’t try to do an outrageously expensive media spectacle that’s likely to go wrong and fall flat, we should do something from the heart that if it goes wrong it just seems more endearing. The Eddie the Eagle of opening ceremonies, rather than the Terminal 5.

Why not, anyway? It would be better than telling a nine year-old that she can’t sing for the country because she’s apparently got crooked teeth, and that she’ll have to go without the credit for her own skill while the front gets all the headlines. It is a disgusting attitude, isn’t it?

War!

Russia has invaded Georgia and is apparently bombing civilian targets. It’s like the old Russia never left. In the meantime, CNN is showing Wolf Blitzer moaning repetitively about John Edwards shagging a campaign employee in 2006 for a short period of time. How meaningful.

I’m back, by the way. I’ve had a bunch of failed drafts over the last few months, but that should soon be over. So more blogging coming soon…

A mainstream attitude

So the nominations for the NME Awards‘ Villain Of The Year category are:

  • George W. Bush
  • Tony Blair
  • Gordon Brown
  • David Cameron
  • Johnny “Razorlight” Borrell
  • Amy Winehouse.

Exactly what has she done to deserve this? All she’s done is have a breakdown while having the indignity to not totally submit to everything the paparazzi want to do to her. Not that it matters, of course, because Bush will win just as he’s done every year since 2003, but it’s the principle of the thing. Of course, the NME love dealing in pap photos of her, so I can guess whose side they’re on…

The Hero Of The Year list features a guy named Ryan Jarman, who in a first for me with current musicians I actually had to Google. He’s the singer in the Cribs, so I think that pretty much decides how hopeless this list is; worse, he said this:

“The mainstream attitude of indie bands today is a bigger problem than global warming”

meaning that indie bands shouldn’t actually try to make, you know, interesting music – an “indie” attitude in NME terms isn’t about how many copies you sell, it’s how many XTC riffs you can rip off in a much less appealing way without any form of originality or tune.

Half the awards are sponsored, too – very indie. The live act award is of course sponsored by Carling, whose brand is on what’s possibly the worst toilets in Glasgow (at least that I’ve had the misfortune to use) and the Best Video award features only one interesting video (Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E.”). Best Album Artwork is abominable. Many of the artists in the Worst Band award could do with being swapped with the Best Band award; they’d look about the same (you can keep the Hoosiers though).

If you want to vote on this tawdry excuse for an awards show you have to give IPC (that is to say Time Warner) your address and navigate a whole bunch of this-is-opt-in, this however is opt-out check boxes. Privacy invasion much? They can go please themselves; I certainly won’t.

Idiots at the BBC

This news article on a recent parenting case is alright in itself, but falls apart in two respects.

The only weblinks it provides in the related links section are to “father’s rights” organisations, one of which is the infamously horrible Fathers 4 Justice, a bunch of people whose favoured tactics for gaining support were dressing up as superheroes and scaling public buildings, performing occasional security breach stunts and committing serious vandalism on family court offices. (As an aside, I don’t link to their Wikipedia article here as I usually would do because it’s very very poor. Even for Wikipedia. You have been warned.) This should at least be balanced by a link to someone who’ll actually tell the truth rather than just ill-informedly rant. They’re also given far too much time in the article itself.

Worse, the “Have Your Say” boxout, giving a sample of the latest drivel from the BBC’s should-have-been-shut-down-years-ago comments section, currently has a quote from a “Jon” interspersed with the actual article:

So I presume the mother will expect the state to be paying for the childs upkeep, instead of the father!

The article itself, however, points out that

[The woman] said she wanted the baby girl, who is now 19 weeks old, adopted at birth without the knowledge of either them or her father.

So no, Jon, she bloody well doesn’t, you presume wrong, you’re a woman-hating berk who believes all that Fathers 4 Illiteracy tell you about the family courts system and whoever picked that entirely wrong quote out from the Have Your Say Fascist Wannabe Comments Pile should really think about what bias actually means the next time they do such a thing; the place where the comment quote is positioned makes it look a lot like an actual quote from the story, which is way wrong.

Besides, it’s worth pointing out the context of the story: the woman is an adult. She lives on her own. Why should a court anywhere in Britain even consider forcing her to tell her parents (which is how it got to the Appeal Court for this ruling), which we can assume from the context to be something that would cause a massive amount of embarrassment or possibly serious repercussions? That they would decide to do so is in itself worrying; this appeals decision, on the other hand, is probably the right one for everyone involved, hence why the F4J crowd think it’s wrong. Still, can’t win ’em all.

Edit 26/11/2007: Also note this much better Guardian article, with the detail that the idiot local authority actually wrote to the woman’s parents by mistake and without half the article taken up by comments from pressure groups.

Guess who’s partly responsible for the child benefit cockup?

EDS, that’s who: who would charge the child benefit people £5000 for a SQL job of the sort that would take a couple of minutes, thus resulting in a civil servant using an old dump with all the data intact, burning it to CDs and then unfortunately ending up with another stupid outsourcing partner (that is, TNT) losing them. Oh, what a surprise. It’s not like EDS haven’t ripped any British government agencies off before… (They even have occasional problems doing corporate IT outsourcing properly.) This failure is exactly the reason why no government IT services should be outsourced under any circumstances: good practice is swamped under charges and contracts.

Unity at Ministry of Truth has the best analysis of the details of the emails so far. Also, b3ta have by far the funniest comment on the issue. Probably more to come.