random thoughts to oil the mind

Month: June 2007

To Blog, or Not to Blog


That is the question; as the well known soliloquy roughly goes. A Mind @ Play is now a year old, and not a day wiser, as far its author is concerned. Courtesy of GeneralStats, I can see that in the past year (excluding this post) there’ve been 57 posts, 18 comments/trackbacks, together a total of 31,400 words, and over 8,000 spam comments caught by Akismet. But to what end?

This isn’t intended to be another one of those ‘blogging about blogging’ posts, but occasionally one has to ask why we blog at all. I wouldn’t claim to be anything near an expert on the subject, but it would appear that the more successful blogs do just that: ‘blog about blogging’. Nor should that sound derogatory, some of them do an exceedingly good job of it, but there are only so many times you can read the ‘top 10 ways to get more readers’ et al. But then these people tend to come from the professional end of the blogging community, those who aim to earn something through their work. There were and are no such intentions with this blog, and if there are any advertisements on this site I can only say they are unintentional.

BT and the Cost of Money

Cash - An Expensive Commodity

Cash – An Expensive Commodity

How much does it cost to pay? That might appear to be an odd question, but it is a seldom acknowledged hidden attribute of the market economy. Paying costs. If one only imagines the contingencies required to handle the coin money which filters through any system of minor payments, such as a road toll booth, a system of parking meters or a public transport system, it becomes clear that dealing in such currency requires some not inconsiderable expenditure on the part of the service provider.

The key here of course is cash, that anonymous key to the monetary house. Some have pointed out that the age of using cash as a medium is gradually drawing to a close, and the establishment is beginning to see the benefits of expediting its demise. This includes the government, banks, financial markets and big corporations. For an example, we need only consider the recent charges introduced by BT.

According to the government watchdog Ofcom, in recent years BT have had a residential market presence of 70-80%, with the latter figure roughly representing the number of residential lines. This totals roughly 20 million landlines, which using the traditional quarterly bill paying system makes 80 million payments a year. So how much does it cost BT to collect these charges? Well, consider the options.

  • An old-fashioned method such as paying your bills at the Post Office should involve little detriment, the money being transferred electronically into BT’s bank accounts, with presumably some small handling fee for the Post Office.
  • A cheque made payable to the company, which given the scale of their operation should also be a simple matter for the giant to deal with.
  • Online credit card transaction, which would incur charges from the credit card companies, though I’ll admit I don’t know if BT passes these on to its customers.
  • Electronic Direct Debit payments direct from customers’ bank accounts.

BT’s preferred method is clear, and as their website points out:

Many of our customers now pay by Direct Debit which is an ideal option if you find it difficult to get out or worry that you will forget to pay your bill on time.

The arguments are dressed up and sugar coated to make the idea of giving BT direct access to your bank account seem to be a rather agreeable proposition. The icing on the cake is that it costs customers less to pay via this method. BT have introduced a scandalous ‘payment processing fee’ amounting to £4.50 (plus VAT) per transaction, paying via cheque or cash.

Now one can understand the complexities of dealing with payment methods such as the cheque. Assuming BT have no automated procedures for dealing with cheques, manually inputting the figures, such as dates, sums, account numbers etc., requiring an hour’s labour for 100 payments, one can see how a wage of £500 per hour is justifiable. But to charge such extraordinary fees for cash payments that are dealt with by another body, where is the justice in that? The levy represents around a 10% increase on the average customer’s quarterly bill. Add to that the fines for late payment (which are avoided with Direct Debit by having your bank balance overdrawn instead), and it becomes clear how BT are dictating the payment methods of their victims customers.

This isn’t the first example of prejudice against traditional payment methods, nor is it a precedent for cash payments being made financially unsound. But it is surely an example of the way in which the demise of anonymous paper money is slowly being exacerbated by that interlinked establishment of government and big business.

Life as an Individual

Ever wondered what it’s like to see life through someone else’s eyes? We go through life as individuals, and whilst we might try to empathise with the people we meet in our lives, we can never truly see outside of the confines of our own identity. Of course, our identity changes as we develop, and that change gives us some ability to imagine how others are feeling. In particular, we believe it empowers us to imagine what those younger than us must feel. But just how true is that?

…to think
of other people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys…

Dickens’ A Christmas Carol told us that Christmas was a time for the more fortunate in society to empathise with those below them, not to recognise the financial distinction but see them as fellow human beings. But such recognition can only be superficial. When we look through the eyes of another, we put ourselves in their shoes, as the saying goes. But we cannot hope to look through their eyes. Indeed, can we even imagine looking through eyes that are not our own? Just try to imagine seeing the world with eyes that were not your own; seeing for the first time the different hues and tones, different depth perception, an entirely different focus. Then extrapolate. New experiences, new thought processes, new emotions, new social background, new language, new religion.

As someone bound within the confines of rationality, I find it especially hard to empathise with those more influenced by emotions. When my dog died, my mind offered me a period of grief as it went through its processes. <> Kinda brief, huh? That isn’t to say I’m emotionless, nor to claim that I am incapable of irrationality. I’m always irrational to a rational degree. As an individual I know how hard it is then to empathise with another human being. That one extreme difference only hides a raft of other minor changes which make viewing life through another’s eyes almost impossible. What hope, then, does society have?

Sarah’s Law is no Megan’s Law

As part of the British government’s scheme to tackle sex offenders, Home Secretary John Reid is introducing a raft of new measures for the further protection of children from known paedophiles. Dubbed “Sarah’s Law”, after Sarah Payne who was murdered in 2000 by a repeat offender. Fears that the law would provide powers akin to those in the United States guaranteed by “Megan’s Law”, which had the potential to drive sex offenders underground, have been assuaged by the limited scope of its provisions. The new measures include a voluntary drug treatment, often cited as ‘chemical sterilisation’ in the media, as well as allowing parents to register their concern with the police should anyone be in a position to have unsupervised access to their children.

Yet these measures principally concern the prospect of repeat offences. The cases which sparked such legislation being called for in the first place so incensed the public on account of their being committed by known paedophiles. These measures, however, do not offer much in the way of dealing with the prevention of first time sex offences relating to children. Indeed, as others have said, these measures would also have done nothing to prevent Sarah Payne’s murder by a stranger, the very case which provoked calls for a change in the law.

Any attempt to the tackle the issue of paedophilia must of course require some heavy and uncomfortable acknowledgements on society’s part. Paedophilia is contrary to the social and cultural mores of the country, yet in a population of millions it must be accepted that there is a statistical probability for some individuals to have tendencies deemed unacceptable in their community. If this fact is not accepted, the problem can never be dealt with. ‘Voluntary sterilisation’ goes some way to offering a solution for those affected, to get their own issues under control. It was not a million years ago that homosexuality was deemed anti-social and indeed illegal; its suppression did not lead to its eradication, however. Whilst there is no intention for ethical comparison here, the fact is that paedophilia must firstly be given due acknowledgement if it is to be properly understood and neutralised. That is not to suggest there can be a cureall solution. But the focus can be shifted, from preventing reoffenders striking again, to suppressing potential offenders in the first instance.

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