Thursday, 2 May 2013
Polling stations for the 2013 local elections are now open across England. More than 2,300 seats are to be contested in county council and unitary authority elections, including the seat for South Shields vacated following the resignation of David Miliband.
What I find interesting is that in a time of austerity the predicted turnout for the 18-34 age group is well under 50%, even the during the last general election only 51% of that age group made it to a polling station. I'm not sure whether it's a general lack of interest in politics or a mentality of 'my vote won't matter'; the later couldn't be any further from the truth. A high percentage turnout for a particular age group is vital if you actually want the Government to listen to what you want.
The average turnout of voters aged 65 or over during the last general election was 76%; the highest turnout of any age group and a fact politicians are well aware of. You only need look at how quick David Cameron was to dismiss Iain Duncan Smith's suggestion that wealthy pensioners should give back their free bus pass, television licence and winter fuel allowance. Cameron has promised that all benefits available to those over 65 would remain in place regardless of their financial situation, essentially he's trading a few billion pounds for a few million votes.
Benefits should always be means tested, it should be a system helping those who truly need it and not those who feel they deserve it because they've worked hard all their life. The over 65 are the only age group to receive full benefits regardless of whether they need it or not. Every other age group has had to deal with significant cuts, why should the over 65 be any different?
An unemployed person in their mid-twenties isn't entitled to job seekers allowance if they have more than £16,000 worth of savings. A multi-millionaire pensioner can claim a full pension, free bus pass, free television licence and receive a winter fuel allowance at the tax payers expense. Where's the fairness in that?
It's incredibly unlikely that the Conservatives will make any significant cuts to over 65 benefits this close to a general election, they can't afford to lose the votes. It would seem that David Cameron is willing to take from those who'll have less of a say in whether he remains at 10 Downing Street.
In 2009 Cameron claimed a Conservative Government would take 'unpopular' decisions, how about you actually follow through on that David?
Thursday, 31 January 2013
On the eve of the 2006 Tour de France cycling was rocked by yet another drug scandal, Operacion Puerto. The Spanish Police had uncovered a vast doping network organised by Dr Eufemiano Fuentes, a network used by some of the biggest names in the sport. Not since the Festina affair had the Tour been broadcast in such a negative light. The two favourites, Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich were thrown out of the race along with Alexandre Vinokourov and Francisco Mancebo among others. Much to the annoyance of many cycling fans, the press coverage focussed primarily on the involvement of cyclists despite Fuentes himself stating that cyclists only made up roughly one third of his client base.
Fuentes stated on record that he counted track and field athletes, tennis players, hand ballers and footballers among his clients despite no names officially being linked to Puerto from any of the aforementioned sports. Why is it that the name of every cyclist on Fuentes' 'list' is public knowledge while the footballers or tennis players keep their anonymity? Even this week as the Operacion Puerto trial started the Spanish authorities explicitly stated that the trial would focus only on cycling. This is despite their acknowledgement of the involvement of other sports and pressure from WADA to release the additional evidence.
Why is Spain so keen to protect sports such as football at the expense of cycling? Put simply football is worth a lot more money to a failing Spanish economy, especially an international team that wins trophies. Financially they can't afford to reveal the truth.
In 2006 French newspaper Le Monde acquired two sheets of A4 paper whilst interviewing Fuentes at his Canary Island home, the sheets in Fuentes' handwriting were 'preparation plans' for the 2005-2006 season. Allegedly the 'preparation plans' were not for cyclists but for Barcelona FC with the Champions League and the World Cup as the primary goals. The plans contained circles for steroid cycles and 'IG' symbols similar to those used to indicate insulin use on a cycling plan found in Fuentes' Madrid office. In addition to steroid cycling and insulin use the plans also contained small 'e' notations and circles with a dot in the centre. These were thought to indicate when EPO injections and blood transfusions were to be performed. Barcelona denied the Fuentes link but did admit to attempting to hire him in 1996 and 2002, both times their offer was refused.
It's almost certain that despite Operacion Puerto, Fuentes continued to help athletes dope. This is evident by his involvement in Operacion Galgo (2010), in which Fuentes again found himself at the centre of a doping scandal. As a result of Galgo Fuentes spent a night in prison during which he reportedly bragged, "If I said what I know, goodbye to the World Cup and European Championship". It's worth noting that while Barcelona allegedly planned to 'prepare' for the World Cup in 2006, a large portion of the Spanish National team that won the World Cup in 2010 constituted Barcelona players. I highly doubt that Barcelona stopped doping post Puerto and Fuentes, it seems far more likely that Fuentes was simply replaced.
A World Cup and two European titles; the financial benefit associated with winning a World Cup alone is pretty staggering. ING estimated that by winning the World Cup Spain boosted their GDP growth by 0.25-0.5%, quite a big increase when you're really struggling. Add on the economic benefits from two European Championships and you can see how much international football has helped Spain since 2008. Even if you consider the tourism revenue from Barcelona and Real Madrid alone, Spain has a lot to lose if the truth was revealed.
It could be argued that Spain has already reaped the majority of the benefits associated with international football success. The big prize however is still to come, the 2020 Olympic games. If Spain were awarded the 2020 Olympics it would create jobs, increase tourism and if done correctly turn a respectable long term profit. Include football in the Operacion Puerto trial and all this could potentially be replaced with a serious dent to national pride.
Even this morning when Fuentes said he would name all he athletes he'd treated, the judge refused. It seems that the Spanish authorities are willing to go to serious lengths to ensure both national pride in their football teams and the associated financial benefits.
It's my opinion that a large majority of the Spanish national team used performance enhancing products during the 2010 World Cup and the 2008 and 2012 European Championships. Spain simply can't afford a doping scandal that would disgrace their prized possession; they're willing to sacrifice cycling to save football.
As always, discussion welcome.
Wednesday, 23 January 2013
I've always been interested in the practice of tipping and in particular whether the quality of service actually reflects the tip given. In theory you reward for good or outstanding service while penalising for poor or in my opinion adequate service. Saying that, I've not always found this to be the case. I've found that people tend to tip a set amount unless the service has an extreme attribute i.e. the waiter has gone above and beyond their mandate or they've spat in your soup. I'm aware that a number of US states are still without minimum wage and as a result waiters rely heavily on tips, a clear incentive to provide a quality service. In the UK however minimum wage is nationwide and as such the incentive to exceed the bare minimum doesn't exist to the same extent. I've found that people still tend to tip even if they receive adequate service, something I find puzzling and don't agree with despite previously working in a restaurant.
For example, I've found people will leave a tip if their chosen food arrives warm and within 30 minutes. Surely this is the bare minimum you expect from a restaurant and not something worth paying extra for? When I fly I expect to arrive on time and alive, I don't leave five pounds on the seat for whatever airline meets that standard. Why should a restaurant be any different? If a waiter or restaurant goes beyond what I expect i.e. lets me change a set menu item, then I can see why that would warrant an additional token of thanks. Bringing my chosen food promptly and warm is simply expected.
If people still leave a tip for an expected level of service, it suggests they're not tipping based on service but for another reason altogether. Could it be people just like to feel generous? Giving an unnecessary tip makes you feel better than if you'd just paid the bill and not a penny more. Altruism is good for your emotional well-being.
I believe when faced with small amounts of money the majority of people will take a moral incentive over an economic incentive i.e. the feeling of being generous over the money saved by withholding a tip. It's actually quite similar to donating blood. Research has shown that when given a small stipend for donating blood as opposed to being praised for their altruism, people tend to donate less blood. Essentially I believe people tip to feel better about themselves and not to reflect the quality of service they've received.
As always, thoughts welcome.
Wednesday, 26 September 2012
I've always had an interest in fuel efficiency, particularly in cars as it's something I can easily relate to. Most of my experimenting has been in a 1.9TDi Seat Leon with a 54.5 litre tank, admittedly with mixed results. I once managed to travel 950 miles on a single tank, drafting behind lorries at 45 mph the majority of the time to average 79 miles to the gallon. I've also run out of fuel twice, once on a remote section of unlit Scottish motorway 10 miles from the nearest exit and not an experience I'd like to repeat.
Despite averaging nearly 80 mpg once I've found it an almost impossible task to repeat, mainly because it's extremely boring to never exceed 45 mph or 1500 rpm. I've found I'm more interested in working out efficient ways to drive as opposed to putting them into practice.
What I'd now like to work out is how much money you could save by carrying the minimum amount of fuel needed to complete a particular journey. It's generally accepted that an extra 45kg in your vehicle could reduce the average mpg by up to 2%, with Northern Ireland being pretty lumpy and the road surfaces quite heavy I'm going to use the full 2%.
Using a Seat Leon, 1.9TDi (54.5 litre tank) as an example:
Diesel weighs approximately 0.85kg per litre meaning a full tank will add 46.3kg to the car. This will reduce the average mpg by around 2.05%, compared to a car with a tank 2% full.
If the vehicle averaged 50 mpg with a tank 98-100% full, the average mpg should increase to just over 51 mpg when the tank is 0-2% full. The only issue being it's almost impossible to drive anywhere with a tank just 2% full, a better comparison would be a daily commute.
Say you had a daily commute of 30 miles, averaging 50 mpg you would only need 2.75 litres of fuel or a tank filled 5% to complete that journey. If you did that journey with a full tank the average mpg would drop to 49, improving the average as fuel is brunt and the car gets lighter. The tank 5% full will obviously need topping up on a daily basis.
When carrying roughly 12 gallons of diesel (full) the average mpg will drop by 1 mpg, 0.92 mpg carrying 11 gallons, 0.83 mpg with 10 gallons and so on. Over the course of an entire tank the vehicle will have traveled 6.5 miles less than if you'd put just 2.75 litres in the tank every day, costing an additional 87 pence.
It's clear that fueling specifically for a particular journey just isn't worth it, not to mention the fact you'd only save money if nothing ever went wrong. I'd question the sanity of anyone that would spend an extra half an hour at the pumps every week to save less than a pound. The exact savings will obviously vary slightly from car to car, the bottom line however will stay the same.
You'd be far better off removing the spare tyre along with the passenger seats.
Tuesday, 25 September 2012
The British Royal Family is probably the most well known family in the world. Simply by looking at the television ratings of the most recent Royal Wedding and the Diamond Jubilee, it's clear that people around the world go nuts for British Royalty. Saying that, how much do the Royals cost the British taxpayer? Is it really worth keeping them around?
The simple answer is yes, it's actually very profitable.
Firstly it's important to note that the Royal Family received £30 million from the British taxpayer in 2011, significantly lower than the £35 million received in 2010 as a result of austerity measures. While not an amount to be sniffed at, £30 million for the upkeep of the Royal Family is pretty good value for money. To help explain why, we need to go all the way back to King George III. George III wasn't terribly good with money and despite owning massive amounts of land, he racked up huge debts. He decided to surrender the profits from his land to Parliament for the remainder of his life in return for a fixed salary and his debts removed. This agreement between Parliament and the Royal Family has continued to this very day with every Monarch since George III voluntarily agreeing to surrender the profit from the 'Crown Estate' in exchange for living and state expenses.
The Crown Estate today is one of the most value property portfolios in the UK with an estimated worth of £7 billion generating profits of roughly £240 million during the last tax year. Once you subtract the £30 million of taxpayer money, the Crown Estate made the UK £210 million. It's a pretty good deal.
Another way the Royal Family contributes to the UK economy is through tourism. While difficult to measure exactly it's estimated the Royal brand is worth roughly £40 billion, adding around £7 billion annually to an ailing economy. To look at a specific example, it's been estimated that the Diamond Jubilee celebrations were worth an additional £2.4 billion to the UK economy. Even if you subtract the £1.2 billion lost through the extra bank holiday the Jubilee still turned a pretty large profit, hours of a miserable looking Queen on television really was worth it.
I don't consider myself a Royalist in any sense, I'm simply interested in the bottom line. With the United Kingdom's finances in pretty poor condition it would seem keeping the Royal Family is in everyone's best interest.
As always, opinions welcome.
Sunday, 16 September 2012
Corinthians 5:6-8: So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
I wish I had faith, a quality Nevin Spence had in abundance. His unwavering belief in a higher being was something I respected a great deal, contrary to what our constant bickering may have suggested.
Nevin had an answer for every argument I threw at him, annoyingly I couldn't provide a response for the majority. When I spoke of what I deemed to be his blind faith he replied "Who said it's blind? God is as real to me as anything else", I've never wished to be wrong so much.
In a society were people are judged and criticized at the drop of a hat, Nevin was one of the exceptions. I can't recall him ever saying or doing anything intended to hurt the slightest of feelings, he was without a doubt the most upstanding person I've had the pleasure of knowing. I can only dream of being half the man he was, a true gent.
He joked last week that our debate on religion would be settled by the second coming or death, I never considered he'd have his answer within days. I hope with every fibre of my being I'm wrong and he's looking down as I write, safe at home.
I'll miss you mucker, take care.
I'll miss you mucker, take care.
Memories and stories you may have of Nevin would be well received in the comments section, RIP.