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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Getting culinary with the Sea Kale

I've written about this easy luxury vegetable before but this time I've got better pictures. The first move is to approach the bucket...

...Flipping it over...
...just snap off the stems...
...steam for 6 minutes...
...serve with fried breaded chicken. This picture uses the "food" setting on the camera - not sure what it does!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Pensioners to be the new hate figure

I've commented before on our government's campaign to demonise benefit claimants. Up to now, the targets have been working age "scroungers" - pensioners have been off the radar and protected from cuts. (although some will argue that the rising pension age represents a cut)

Now, Iain Duncan Smith is suggesting that better off pensioners hand back their benefits such as the winter fuel payment (which isn't means-tested). The reason why these benefits are not means tested is simple - it  actually costs more to means test these small sums than just to dish them out to all. My guess is that if pensioners did start repaying benefits, the administration costs would result in a net loss.

Actually, pensioners have been helping the government on this issue for a long time anyway. What they've done is simply failed to collect/apply/etc for benefits. According to AgeUK, this amounts to £5.5 billion/year.

Pensioners are a tempting target. Although a lot of them have low incomes, they often have capital in the form of houses. Meanwhile, young people are often unemployed, in debt and have little chance of acquiring property.

There's a lot of pensioners and their numbers are growing. Any politician seen to attack them may suffer at the ballot box. The ballot-box hit isn't just from the pensioners themselves - it's from their children. Not only might children want to protect their aged parents - they'll want to protect their eventual inheritance. That inheritance might be the only chance to buy a house - but wait, the attractions of owning a house may be less if it comes under attack later in life.

A canny political move might be to encourage inter-generational conflict, EG: "It cannot be right that Granny Perkins lives alone in a three bedroom house while hard-working Kirsty is crammed into a one-bedroom flat with her two children". Perhaps Granny Perkins should have her state pension reduced for under-occupancy in order to encourage her to swap with Kirsty? I think that particular wheeze won't fly simply because it would be another "bedroom tax" and that policy is doomed medium-term as its unworkability becomes more evident. However, other policies that attempt to wrest money from older people can be expected. They will probably take the form of attacks on capital leveraged by attacks on income.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Camping food: Instant Porridge

I'm probably the last person in the UK to discover this sort of product but never mind. This example is sold by Lidl at 55p a throw. You peel off the top, add boiling water up to the line, stir for a couple of minutes and eat.
It's quite nice. Purists will object that it shouldn't contain sugar - I believe the Scottish way with porridge involves salt which is currently not favoured by the healthy-eating lobby. A look at the nutrition panel on this product shows it does a fairly good job of ticking the boxes.

Verdict: Worth packing a few for the next camping trip and seeing what the gang think.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Story: The most magical place in the world

Chuck never tired of watching the rare Red-crowned Cranes down by the lake. For them, it was peaceful, a happy accident of living in the “Demilitarized Zone” For Chuck, it made it the most magical place in the world. He also got to do the most secret and surreal job here in a ramshackle hut perched right on the border only a few kilometers from the official huts at Panmunjom.

Hwan and he were of an age and shared a love of wildlife. They worked well together so when Hwan emerged from the bushes on the other side. Chuck cheerfully  sauntered over to greet him. Technically, this was a breach of the North's sovereignty but no one seemed to care. Perhaps the project was too secret to risk monitoring.

“They're really pleased with you!” said Chuck,
“Yeah! They've sent you extra Whiskey – I got a sore back carrying it”
“Oh thank you! I was worried that we might have gone too far?”
“You mean the little firework display?”
“It was great! It really rattled some cages – and your successful rocket launch has really got people talking”
“Yes, they're talking but mainly they are being rude about us and the Great Leader”
“Sorry about that, it's the price of distracting our media. Writing scary stories about you guys keeps them busy and off our back”
“It's not so bad for us really. We use their stories to prove to our people the conspiracy of the running dogs of the paper tigers of the western lackeys or whatever it is this month”

Both men smiled and they sipped their beers quietly for a few moments.

“I do have a worry – the US has a habit of taking hate campaigns to the next level and invading as with Iraq. This would be bad for us”
“It's a fair point, Hwan, that would be the end of our nice little racket here but it's not likely – a country like the USA needs enemies. Who could we hate if we didn't hate you?
“Don't be silly. They have oil. They're much higher up the list.”

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Incentives to Work

Our government is big on Making Work Pay and incentives to work but take a look at  its own statistics:


So, even if you gave people a really big incentive (Say, a £1000/week minimum wage if you get a job)  around 2 million people are going to fail.

Of course, it's possible they'll try a lot harder under this sort of deal. You can also throw in some training on how to write better CVs as well. It's not going to make any real difference to the 2 million figure. The CV training will just change who gets the jobs - not create extra ones.

The 2 million will get less benefits in real terms and possibly get hit by the bedroom tax as well.

It's not incentives, it's cruelty.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Demonising the poor is good politics

I was shocked when I heard George Osborne say the case of Mick and Mairead Philpott raised questions about the welfare system. Shocked not only because it was another instance of demonising benefit claimants but also because surely this tactic had received so much bad press, you'd think that sensible politicians would now be steering clear.

However, a look back in history to the time of the Poll Tax shows that deeply unfair treatment of the poor need not be the downfall of a government.   It  arguably brought down Margaret Thatcher but her Conservative Party won an election after the Poll Tax row and governed for around five more years.