Don’t bet on it

There is a nasty little puritanical streak strutting angrily inside me. It’s not very big and it doesn’t get much exercise, but sometimes it pushes its way to the front and demands to be heard, which is embarrassing. The rest of me is mostly tolerant and in favour of freedom of choice and freedom of everything else. It doesn’t like governments or moralists or anyone telling us what to do and what not to do.

The puritanical streak thinks this is wimpish. It likes nothing better than telling other people what they can and can’t do. A proper little martinet, in fact. It is currently in a state of agitation about its main bête noire: gambling. So, please excuse me if I now indulge it, in the hope it will then keep quiet for a while. This week, the blog is being written by my puritanical streak. Not by me.

Gambling is the most pointless human activity yet invented. In return for a frisson of excitement that lasts a few seconds, you lose your money. Yes you do. Don’t start telling me you don’t, or that you might not in the future. You do. Almost any other kick is cheaper, more rewarding and longer-lasting. This one is idiotic.

If you can afford to lose your money, there are many better ways to lose it. If you can’t, you are wrecking your own life and the lives of those who depend on you. Gambling is gratuitously self-destructive.

It is also highly addictive. That’s why so many people do it. They are hooked on something that drains their pockets for nothing. That’s how betting companies flourish. That’s why they spend so much of what was once your money persuading you to lose even more of it.

Stop it. Ban it. The whole lot. Not just the advertising. Not just the high-drain high street machines. The entire industry. Line the senior executives up against a wall and shoot them. Including Ray Winstone. Especially Ray Winstone.

I’m sorry, puritanical streak. I must interrupt your blog. I can’t have you advocating mass murder in public. Or even in private. Would you tone down your demands a little? No. I thought not. On you go, then. If you must.

What about alcohol? I hear you say. Is that not equally addictive, equally destructive, equally wasteful in every respect? We might as well all join the temperance movement. In fact, let’s do it. Right now.

That’s enough. The puritanical streak has gone too far and has been sent to its room. I am not joining the temperance movement. And I don’t think, for all its faults, that drinking is anything like as pointless or destructive an activity as gambling. Most people do drink responsibly, most of the time. Few people blow hundreds of pounds they haven’t got on alcohol, and get nothing in return.

But gambling is indeed an evil. It certainly shouldn’t be encouraged, which means it shouldn’t be advertised. The amounts that can be casually wagered and lost should be curbed. Perhaps, in due course, the industry can be taxed out of existence. In the meantime, we could do with a new Hogarth to dramatise its pernicious effects. My puritanical streak can apply for the job.

The touch of your hand

Rather strangely, now I come to think of it, I have never worked in an office where sexual harassment was obvious. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but I don’t think it happened much. This is curious, since the main defence of men of a certain age (my age, give or take) against current allegations is that, when we were younger, it was all perfectly normal, perfectly acceptable. I don’t think it ever was.   [read more]

The Claptrap OMNI/BUS

From Private Eye, 22 September: ‘In 2015, Brand Finance valued the annual contribution of Princess Charlotte and Prince George to the UK economy at £101m and £76m respectively. To estimate what the royal children could bring the UK economy in their lifetimes … these contributions were projected into perpetuity and discounted to a net present value of £3.2bn and £2.4bn respectively.’   [read more]

Inherited fallacies

In 1862, Lancashire suffered a devastating cotton famine. The apparently obvious cause of it was the acute shortage of raw cotton brought about by the American Civil War. Yet a few contemporary writers, animated by prejudice against the mill-owners, declared that the famine was in fact due to a gigantic over-production of cotton goods in the years before the civil war. It was this that allegedly caused the lay-offs at the mills that led to the famine, not a shortage of cotton. They said this despite the demonstrable fact that, for four consecutive years, Britain received only 40% of the cotton it required.   [read more]

Remaking the Western world

One of the problems with writing a blog is that it’s hard to avoid making predictions. One of the problems with making predictions is that they’re frequently wrong. Earlier this year, I wrote (blog of 14 May): ‘Despite all assertions to the contrary, the centre ground is alive and well enough – if not entirely thriving – to prevail in most cases. As it has in the Netherlands and now in France, and as it surely will in the UK and then in Germany.’   [read more]

Plus ça change

Autumn has come early to the Tarn. Normally, the leaves are still green when we leave our house here at the end of October. We watch the gradation of colour as we drive back to England. But this year the colours started changing in late September, and the leaves started falling. The weather has still mostly been warm, but not in the mornings or evenings. The sun has seemed less able to recharge its batteries each day.   [read more]

Therapy for Remoaners

A recent visit from an old friend has been a vivid reminder of the violent passions that still run among some of those who voted to remain in the EU. Peter felt it wasn’t natural, or healthy, for him to feel an intense rage more than a year after the referendum. He asked if I could offer some informal therapy, which might stop him exploding at every Leaver he met. I was happy to oblige, and am now happy to share my therapy with the rest of the world. If there is enough demand, I may set up in business as a counsellor for Remoaners.   [read more]

Revolution in the air

Minutes of the 49th AGM of the Cambridgeshire Liberation Front, held in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Godmanchester, on Friday 29th September, in solidarity with the Labour Party Conference

1.   Members present: Mrs Daphne Guevara (Chair), Mr Hans Cohn-Bendit (Paving Stone), Ms Lorraine Chi-Min (Bamboo Splint), Mr Godfrey Gadaffi (Thermo-Nuclear Device), Ms Rosie Luxemburg (Pen), Monty X, Wayne Y, Tracey Z and 57 other members who asked for their anonymity to be protected.   [read more]

Money to burn

I don’t know where I was on 23 August 1994. But I managed to miss an event then, and have managed to go on missing it for the past 23 years. Until a month ago, when I finally read about it. Two musicians, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, best known as the band KLF, set fire to a million pounds in £5 notes on the island of Jura. Burnt them. Destroyed them utterly.   [read more]

Not set in stone

So (to pick up from last week’s blog, ‘A Matter of Judgment’), if we should be cautious in condemning people whose beliefs, while anathema to us today, were widespread in their own time and place, what should we do with the statues that were raised to them? Do we allow a stony Cecil John Rhodes to preside over Oriel College, Oxford, or a brassy Robert E Lee to have pride of place in Charlottesville, or in many other towns of the old Confederacy?   [read more]