Had a break whilst I was getting my head around something - of which, more later! Meanwhile...


(Weird thing about blog posts - I really want you to see this first, then read my new rants... er... posts but now you'll read this last, probably).

Housekeeping: bored with blog design

The trouble is my laughable coding skills (what i mean is: ability to kind of crunch through HTML, basically) don't allow me to adapt one of the typepad themed templates without hours and hours of painstaking brain work... kind of the level of a five year old, saying "Well, if I do this, what happens then?" for... er... just about every aspect of it. Ha, not quite but you know what I mean.

Become a powerpoint pusher and, yeah, ok, have two kids and... oh, well, alright yes, decide to do another degree in the evenings and what happens? You lose your ability to update your blog design.

If anyone has any favourites I can attempt to rip off (or anyone wants to volunteer to do it for me... I pay in cake!) let me know.

Meanwhile, the blog has hit the heady heights of averaging *17* visitors a day! Count 'em. what the hell they want to come here and listen to me waffling on for God only knows.

What, you mean I just wrote a post about absolutely nothing? I think I've hit blogging nirvana!

Goodnight all.

A superb explanation of why the coalition's housing benefit policy is wrong

Did I say wrong? How about immoral.

This comes c/o a Guardian newspaper commenter, by the name of "TexasPete02", who wrote this in response to someone suggesting that he didn't see what all the fuss was about, seems fair enough to me, etc:

"...you are not paying attention to the full scale of the reforms (understandable given the media focus on the less important £400/week cap, and the unchallenged lies from the Tories that the £400/week applies across London).

There are four parts to the HB reforms which will all be implemented by October 2011. The key reform - which affects 750,000 people and raises half a billion pounds per year - is the first of these.

1. Local Housing Allowance capped at the 30th percentile rent in every local housing market area (i.e. the level which allows - in theory - 30% of houses in the area to be afforded)...

2. ...except in London, where the cap has been set significantly below this level (£250/week for 1 beds, £400/week for 4 beds)

3. A further 10% cut will be applied to those who have been unemployed for 1 year or more, to punish them for the crime of living during a recession

4. Housing Benefit capped at the 4-bed house rate to punish large families

To look at the full impact of this, you need to consult the VOA - the Government Agency responsible for setting Local Housing Allowance rates.

They've helpfully provided a table looking at the median rental rates (the current caps) and the 30 percentile rental rates (the future caps) in each local housing market area http://www.voa.gov.uk/lhadirect/Documents/LHA_percentile_rates_Oct_2010.html

Do have a look.

In Central London, the 30th percentile rent for a 4-bed is £850/week. There is no chance of anyone being able to afford to live in central London on housing benefit - the cap is set at less than half of the 30th percentile level. You could consider the poor to be "cleansed" from the area perhaps.

After moving out, they will not be eligible for the £400/week payment - this is only valid in central London remember. Elsewhere the 30th percentile cap applies. Let's say they move to Outer South London, where their rent would be capped at £299/week. This is not an outragous rent for a 4-bed house - I challenge you to find a 4-bed house at this rate in this area. I live in this area, and I pay £210/week for a very small 2-bed flat in a down-at-heel area (and even then because I got a great deal from moving in when building work was still going on around me, and the landlord had to abandon plans to sell during the recession). Even my flat is £26/week beyond the 2-bed allowance for the area - and I don't understand where all the 2-bed flats for £800/month are around me. I'm lucky - I have a decently-paid job (for now at least) and don't claim HB, but it must be a worrying time for families who work in minimum wage jobs and rely on Housing Benefit to make ends meet.

If they lose their job, they have the further challenge of finding a 4-bed property for £270/week (or a 2-bed for £730/month). Not a chance.

And many, many people lose out beyond London too. Let's imagine a family live in a 5-bed house in Tyneside and both parents lost their jobs in the recession in 2008. They are currently able to claim £207/week housing allowance. After the cap is applied, they are now only able to claim £140/week (£155 minus the £15 penalty for being unemployed). The Government will take £67/week from them. £3,500 taken from the poorest in society, in addition to spending cuts and VAT rises etc etc. This is not sharing the pain fairly is it?

Can you see what the fuss is about now?

The Tories have done a great PR job on getting the focus on the £400/week cap (despite the fact next to no-one will claim this, as it only applies in central London and there are no 4-beds to rent at half the 30th percentile rent) . Maybe a journalist may like to, say, scrutinise the plans and challenge the lies."


Institute of Fiscal Studies response to the Osborne budget cuts

This taken verbatim from The Guardian. I have bolded one part, which the paper's website did not:

"Somehow the Institute for Fiscal Studies has become Britain's public spending regulator. In the debate on whether or not budget measures are progressive, the IFS is the umpire. Carl Emmerson, the IFS's acting director, has just said that it will take the institute a day or two to crunch the numbers properly. But his initial verdict will worry George Osborne. This is what Emmerson just told BBC News:

The cuts to public services that the Treasury has been able to model impact those in the bottom half of the income distribution compared to the top. Why is it overall progressive? It's progressive because of the tax measures Labour set out that the new government chose to keep ... The stuff we heard about today, the new stuff today, clearly is not progressive on the Treasury's analysis. It's only once you add it in to the things we heard about in June and the things Mr [Alistair] Darling had already put in the pipeline for next year that it becomes progressive."

So, let me clearly state that in powerpoint style bullet points:

  • Alistair Darling's *Labour* cuts were progressive
  • The added cuts - the ones on top that have come from Osborne's thinking are not, and therefore by definition are regressive.

I can't put it any clearer than that really without getting a bit too angry to articulate myself. Doubtless I will return to this over the coming days in bite sized segments.

A memory of my Dad

I must do these more often, and I'll try to, whenever they occur to me.

Walking along Mercian Way, going in to Warner Close via the wee alley between the houses at the bottom of the cul-de-sac (which is where our house was/is - until very shortly when it's sold). Telling each other stupid jokes, which was our wont. John told me some, I told him the one that goes: 'Man walks in to the Dr's naked, covered in cellophane... Dr stands up shocked: "Sir! I can clearly see your nuts!". By this time we are both laughing and snorting. He tells me one, then I tell him the stupidest joke I've ever heard. Man goes to the Docs having trouble walking, admits after some awkwardness that he has some trouble 'down there'. Come along old chap, don't worry about it we all get these problems, oh I see, back end eh, well bend over. The Doctor sees a lettuce leaf straggling out of the patient's bumhole. He sucks on his teeth and looks serious. "Well... I'm afraid that's just the tip of the iceberg".

I couldn't actually say the punchline. I was crying with laughter, leaning against John, who had stopped walking and was similarly, incapacitated by mirth, snorting and gasping, with his eyes watering.

The deserving and the undeserving poor

The Tories (as opposed to the coalition partners) have used the phrase "deserving" several times in the last week or so - indeed, it could be described as the theme of their conference. They are appealing to their natural constituency and asking for things to be seen in black and white terms: the poor are either good, or bad.

There's so much up in the air that to my mind just doesn't add up, or work, in any sense, I'm going to have to go through them, with the most recent, which really does make me want to jump up and down in despair. Just remember, you (probably) didn't vote for this, but you're stuck with it:

1. Jeremy Hunt talks about the undeserving poor and number of children.

Why is the Culture Secretary talking about this, by the way? That's a slightly confused, honest question. What is his specialist knowledge that gives weight to this opinion - surely his job is to reduce funding to the Arts council because only posh people go to the theatre?

I find it frightening that we've already got to the point where the Tories feel that it's ok to say these misguided things out loud. What the hell are we going to be listening to next week?

The caps to benefits and the whole housing benefit situation in London... never mind the immigration cap - all aimed squarely at the Daily Mail-esque "Deserving" / "Undeserving" dichotomy. When was anything ever this black and white? There is no deserving or undeserving. There is a tedious, time consuming and expensive assessment of degrees of Need. So much easier to try and paint it in clear zero and one terms, isn't it.

Meanwhile, I'm a bit worried, now. Cameron talks it all nice, and his lieutenants talk it nasty. Those folk will never fall off the revenue earning wagon far enough to be caught in the fictitious 'undeserving' trap, yet their imperious, crowd pleasing opinions of who is classified as good or bad will affect the lives not only of hundreds of thousands of people, it will also affect their kids. And affect them badly.

The post-retraction furore over 'that' 1010 video


They weren't expecting that. If you haven't heard of these shenanigans then let me enlighten you:

The 1010 guys have been background blurting for weeks about their excitement to be working with Richard Curtis. Franny Armstrong sent out a mail last week bubbling over with "Yay!" at how brilliantly well it had turned out. Then they released it.

The film is a pisstakey, deliberately over the top take on people's inaction given the increasing state of emergency we're in. Here is is, in all it's gory, sorry, glory: Guardian link to 1010's short film. Who would I say "don't watch it" to as a warning... anyone who is a grumpy denier type, young children, people who don't like gore, and absolutely, definitely no one who was in close proximity to the 7/7 attacks, or similar (actually, you know, I'm not taking the piss about the last section there. Don't watch it, it's people blowing up in close proximity to other people).

The reaction I think you could politely say was polarising. I can't see many people who said "I love it! It's hilarious!", but I can see many, many people who think it's a disgrace, and disgusting and so on. Myself, I'm a bit... ok. I think the huge problem with it is that in discussion with the guardian when the film was released, Franny Armstrong stated "Because we have got about four years to stabilise global emissions and we are not anywhere near doing that. All our lives are at threat and if that's not worth jumping up and down about, I don't know what is", yet that message - the urgency message appears nowhere in the film at all. The increasing desperation of those who support action for climate change is what fired this film, got the 1010 lot all a bit too over excited and they made the fatal mistake of (a) thinking that Richard Curtis is so universally loved and perceived as funny, the film message didn't need to be audience tested (I'm guessing that one) and (b) forgetting that they were going out to a mass audience. not just a mass audience by the way, but a *global* mass audience.

I've been fascinated by the responses, on an NGO-ish type level and a grass roots one. The messages from prominent climate change activist organisations and blogs, like 350.org or Climate Progress has been universal condemnation. and I means really, really fast too. They shrank away from the film instinctively, knowing it was going to be poisonous, and they're going to let 1010 deal with the fallout on their own. Joe Romm's comment at the bottom of the post goes further in his outright condemnation. I think I can sum up the 'officialdom' reaction:

-Oh shit, what the hell did they think they were doing?

-This is going to reflect badly on everyone

-We're all about positive phraseology and inclusion, you must always talk about winning people over, not get angry with deniers!

-We'd better all get press releases out washing our hands or the mass of nice but gentle folk who support us are going to think we're all mad terrorists or something (go back to first response)

The response from the ground is *amazing*, if not actually surprising. The vast lasers of hatred at fucking greeny fascist bastards trying to tell us what to fucking do have been beamed at 1010, and I would hazard a guess that it doesn't really matter what they do from now on, those voices are not going to go away. It's not so much the tone, that is the surprise, but it's the volume. This is where 1010's misjudgement has scored heavy minus points. I don't think they took account of just how much a negative impact means to an international organisation. We're used to people complaining. People always do, but it's manageable. The glories of the web mean that the stream of people complaining runs in to the tens of thousands, and quickly. And each of those horrified people will be galvanising one or two of their friends. Even worse than the potential of that is that 1010, very sensibly, had their website built to heavily rely on the 'free' ability to include Facebook discussions as the commentary on all of their blog posts. They obviously also have a strong Facebook presence. Facebook is more massive as a global presence than its users really take in to account. One's computer screen is an intimate space. Facebook itself in its primary use is relatively intimate, being a conversation between you and your friends. The more public elements seem to remain shrouded in its cosy "just me and you" exterior. It is an extraordinary tsunami creator for public opinion. The poor buggers at 1010 are currently swamped with opinion, some of which it would be kind to say, is a little harsh.

The grass roots reaction can be summed up as follows:

-Huh, that's a little bit funny but isn't it a bit misguided?

-Green fascist bastards want to kill us all if we don't agree with them

-(this is an interesting one) The only people who are killed in the film are white (that's scraping the barrel a bit, isn't it)

-Doesn't it allude to suicide bombing thus making you eco-terrorists?

-It's middle class well meaning earnest types blowing up the working classes

-how much of our taxes went on this filth!!! (ans btw: none)

...and lastly, I will use any of the above and more to complain, given that I am a climate denier and thus I will be REALLY VERBALLY ABUSIVE TO ANYONE WHO THINKS THE FILM IS OK!!!!

...of course its the category in the last camp that's the real problem here. They'll never let go and they will email every single organisation who has shown support for 1010, trying to force the org to become isolated and broken. Hopefully orgs will have sensible enough PR departments to simply shrug, say "Oh well, they apologised. We don't agree with the film but we agree with the organisation" and move on.

It's fascinating watching this play out. The timing is dreadful - there's a global day of 'fun action' coming up on 10:10:10, which they and 350.org have both co-promoted. Somehow 1010 have got to brush the shit off their shoes, stand up and smile and move on.

My personal opinion is that in order for the organisation to be able to be seen to be publicly penitent, the figurehead of the org, Franny Armstrong, should resign. The org is no longer reliant on her boundless energy anyway, and she would be free to go and set something else up. People expect Franny to be a bit 'out there' (she was, after all, part of the whole McLibel thing) and if she took the rap it would take the heat out of the situation. They have to be able to visibly do something akin to the other organisations they work with ie: recoil from the film as if its poisonous. I don't think they will though, because they're a nice hardworking bunch who were all implicated anyway. What they should do is what a PR led org would do. And they're not really that sort of org.

Let's see what happens over the next week...

More on the coalition housing benefit cap

The extent to which the poor are going to not just be disadvantaged but screwed by the new housing benefits cap in London is becoming clear. This is all c/o the excellent Dave Hill on The Guardian website, btw. Today he's reported several findings:

First: The govt's own advisory panel report (pdf link) suggests almost unreadable numbers of people will be evicted from their London homes because of this measure. It's terrible to read. People who for whatever reason live in Westminster will on average have to find an extra £260 per week. Per week! or face eviction. Children uprooted from their schools and friends, desperate search for somewhere that will have them at a rate under the cap... a while back on here I was worried about poverty strapped private landlord ghetto housing. I'd say the likelihood of that is high.

Second: The Guardian comments on a survey of Westminster landlords, 60% of whom suggest that they will not take their rents down as a result. So that doesn't mean that those in say, Lambeth will but there is always, *always* pent up demand in London for housing. There is no need for London landlords to put agree reduced rent.

This measure upsets me so much. The pressure on London housing is immense, and there is no simple quick fix to solve it. this isn't even a band-aid, in fact, it's the polar opposite. It's a pick axe, telling those on benefits that you're not welcome in 'affluent' London. You must be banished to the suburbs, away from the place you grew up, away from the place you lived before you were made redundant in the downturn which you did not cause. you must hide in soul crushing shit housing which will destroy your self esteem and reduce the life chances of your children.

All of those things, instead of building houses. Instead of having incentive schemes to move out of London to other cities (such as they had in Ireland for a while). This is a Thatcherite way of dealing with a problem. A solution, with absolutely no empathy for those fucked up by it. Let's not forget, any one of us living in London could be stuck in this trap if we lost our jobs.

It's the most awful, awful thing. I hate them with all my heart.

A wonderful, low key sort of day

Nora and i were on our own Saturday / Sunday and we couldn't go and visit 'new baby cousin' because children other than immediate siblings aren't allowed to visit the maternity ward. I say, what a disgrace. So, I asked Nora - what would you like to do that doesn't cost the earth?

The answer was to go on the Thames Clipper for a trip down to Greenwich. The clipper is a wonderful addition to the city, that really opens the place up. I love going on it, and it takes a minuscule amount of time to get to it. London Bridge from Streatham, 5 minute walk and a random wait. When we got to Greenwich the tide was out, and there were a few people rooting around in the stones for Victorian crockery bits. We decided to join them, so spent an hour or so scrapping about in the mud, claiming a decent haul of 17th century-odd clay pipes (well, the stems) and many bits of broken crockery, some from old stone jars. There were also a *ridiculous* number of animal bones. And I mean... a lot. What the hell? The only possible thing I could think of is that they were the bones of dead dogs, and not ancient ones either. Another peculiar and unexpected thing was many, and I mean MANY very very old Oyster shells. Not unexpected given a couple of minutes thought but seeing them all down there was a surprise.

We then trundled around Greenwich market for a while, finding an utterly lovely boardgames shop and a multitude of Christmas present options, had some delicious very home made tasting ice cream then began to toddle back home. All of this on a crisp but delightfully sunny day, as the summer was eeking itself out and becoming Autumn.

Today I mailed what I think is the right department of the museum of London, who do have a service which you can book to have people review your mudlarking finds and you never know, we might be able to go and talk to someone about the bits in half term. Nora meanwhile took her safely stored crockery and pipes to school to show her teacher.

It was a nigh on perfect day with my lovely girl.

I 'made' a thing

In the usual run of things, I didn't make it - many people made it. Jawad Ahmed did a great job in design and Thom Heslop managed to make sense of a ragbag of disparate elements, to make what was basically a shambles in to a well ordered and structured suite of tools for Orange customers.

I, being me, wanted to go the whole hog down the branding route, and have a black site, with all images black backgrounded and the design structure accommodating enough to give things (on section front pages at least) a fluid, almost hand-built feel - as if it wasn't being generated from a CMS in to a formal blocked out piece of real estate. Unfortunately (or fortunately!) I did not win the day but at least my insistence that black is good had some influence. the thing I like about black is that it gives what we traditionally call "white space" much more visibility. Actual 'white' space we tend to discount and ignore, unless the design is very clever at creating that floating sense of calm that you want from backgrounds. With black, one is forced in to recognising backgrounds immediately, and conversely, the text of course becomes super-important, and you want it to be as minimal as possible. I've always tried to do slides on black or at least, not white for exactly those reasons.

Anyway, I started it in May, and it is, as I said to someone earlier today, the size of a small town. It gives us room to grow our tools suite without breaking the structure - given that as part of it we have allowed single concepts to sit alongside aggregate ones dependent on the importance of the tool.

I'm pleased with it.  My next thing is a lovely project with Orange's Corporate Responsibility team, helming the product management of an iPhone app suite thing for volunteering, which should be a lot of fun. Going to iPhone first then Android, hopefully in a swifter time frame than originally thought.

I don't often talk about work, do I? There you are, I have now.

There are things that have come out a bit funny in the CMS, and a relatively new way we've worked out to make some small areas of text work better, so for the next few days I'm going to be post-launch tweaking. Feel free to suggest anything bar major changes in navigation ;)