Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Nation of Shopkeepers

Retail Woes

I'm at a loss to fully explain my frustration and outright, overflowing anger with the retail experience in the UK. It is, in short, abominable (perhaps not even that good!).

I will get on to my fellow shoppers; but before I do, a few words about the retailers. Let's try to be fair. They do have a lot of obstacles to overcome. Without exception the premises they have to work with are less than desirable. Actually they are almost uniformly not fit for purpose. The aisles are just too small. There is barely room enough to swing a cat on a Tesco or Sainsbury's aisle.

Why is this? Simple. In order to make use of the maximum amount of space, stores cut down on the aisle space. To a retailer the aisle is just wasted space. And, and most importantly, shoppers here in the UK are already used to having no space to move yourself or your trolley. They just accept it as the status quo. Shoppers are so used to being treated like cattle they just don't know any better.

By way of demonstration - in the USA things are very different. Customers are accustomed to very wide aisles and simply would not shop in stores which resemble rat-runs or obstacle courses. They are spoiled rotten by the relative cheapness of land and the subsequent mammoth car parks with enough room to open your car door as wide as possible and still be in the bay you are supposed to be in.

Down at Roy's of Wroxham (and this is typical of every supermarket car park I've eve seen in England) there is barely enough room to open the door at all. You have to be very lucky indeed to be able to open fully – only when parked next to a Smart car for instance.

Again, retailers are only interested in packing in the maximum number of cars for the space available. (Here's a good one for the much maligned planning authorities – why not specify how many car park bays, and the size thereof, which must be available to the public before granting an application!) My prediction? Never happen.

So, your first job is to park the car and get out. This is quite a task even before you get to the shop.

Then you need to get your trolley and try to negotiate the small spaces in the aisles whist at the same time overcoming the vicissitudes of your fellow shoppers. This is the really hard bit.

Let me demonstrate by recounting my experience last week. I left home at 13.15 to go to Roys for a very small amount of shopping. We needed a few things for that day's dinner and a small bottle of whiskey for the afternoon's rugby international (about the only time in the year when I drink whiskey except for the obligatory bottle at Christmas). This should have been a 15 minute job.

I managed to get a car parking spot in the Londis car park. Very naughty but what the heck – I was going to the post office as well. Into Roy's and got my basket – not a full trolley – just a hand basket. The hand baskets can be more of a hindrance than a help. Unless you hold it in front of you it will not assist you in negotiating the aisles. Hold it at the side and you will hit other shoppers. jolly bad form, what!

The whiskey was the challenge. On my way to peruse the offers, I became aware of an almighty row going on at one of the checkouts. This is unusual – even for Roy's. Everyone in the store whilst pretending not to be interested was, in fact, trying to get close enough to find out what was actually happening.

As near as I could tell, a chap who was having his groceries scanned by the assistant was engaged in a particularly unpleasant exchange with the woman who was next in the queue. He was saying, quite loudly, something about “bloody women who always expect ??? and moan and groan when they don't get it”.

Could this be a case of queue-jumping (an almost unheard of faux pas in Britain)?

I never did get to the bottom of the struggle as I was in a bit of a hurry to get home before the rugby started.

I should have dallied for all the good it did me.

At the booze aisle, I was completely screwed, blued and tattooed – all in one smooth movement.

This aisle is particularly narrow. There were four people already in the aisle, so I stepped in and stood, patiently, behind them with my basket in front of me. Both sets of Norfolk Numpties had a trolley with them which they had strategically placed against the wares on offer whilst they stood either side of the trolley.

Now here is where the fun began. I could see the small bottle of Bannock Brae which I required on the bottom shelf. There was no way to get to it.

The smeg-heads on the left were carefully examining the brandy. Every bottle of brandy, and with each examination there ensued a conversation about the relative merits of the drink in question. It appeared that they had never bought a bottle of brandy before. (What, my lucky day!)

The gherkin-brains on the right, meanwhile were attempting to buy a bottle of whiskey as, I learned from just standing near them, a present for a relative.

Gentle reader this went on for some time – I mean some time – without and real progress being made.

This scenario went on and on. The most amazing part of the whole fiasco was the two pairs of saddos were completely unaware of the chaos they were causing. I firmly believe that British people lack what the rest of the world takes for granted – a sense of empathy. Most of them just do not even consider what effect their idiotic and selfish behaviour is having on others. It's a fact – no matter how unpleasant.

I missed the beginning of the rugby match by at least 10 minutes. The 10 minute job became a 40 minute one!

Ordinarily, at this stage I would be offering some kind of advice or solution.

I just give up.

I have none.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Taking the Oath

Constitutional Questions

The election is over. Barack Obama won. Much has been made of how the results show how divided the nation was and the legacy which may ensue.

I have been particularly struck by some of the comments of the losers – the Republican party and its supporters. I detect a kind of historical and anti-constitutional amnesia engulfing some the commentators and politicians. They should know better.

Time to get back to basics, perhaps.

I have sworn the oath of allegiance.

At the Induction Center in Kansas City I raised my right hand and said:

"I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."

The President swears his oath in a slightly different form:

US Constitution, Article II, Section 1

Before he enter on the execution of his office, he shall take the following oath or affirmation: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Fine. So what exactly is the President to preserve, protect and defend? It's the Constitution stupid!

Have a look at the Preamble to the Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The important part here, in this context, is “promote the general Welfare”. The Founding Fathers were no saints, they were no real democrats either. But they what they believed in - “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”.

It's the powers given by consent that they were so keen on.

We have JKK to blame for some of the confusion. His famous contention that - "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country" is exactly and precisely wrong. The men who made the constitution knew this. The only reason to give up some powers to the government is because you expect to get something back. Otherwise all bets are off.

Anything which promotes the general welfare is part and parcel of what the constitution is about. People expect that the government will do things for them. They have a perfect right to expect this.

The Republican party seems to have lost sight of this fundamental idea. Their election campaign seemed to focus on small government (or no government at all). Their attempts to equate government plans and programs with some kind of socialist plot were misguided in the extreme.

The electors know this without being told.

They want the government to help them when they are in need. They want those with lots to be taxed lots. They want opportunity for all – but not at the expense of the people suffering hardships for which they are not really responsible.

To try and pretend that these principles are wrong is unconstitutional. Simple as that.

In order to rebuild a strong Republican party (essential for having a productive debate and a real two party system) the leaders and people with influence must stop blaming the electors and examine their principles. Let's get back to basics.

Support and defend the constitution. That's the American way.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Chiefs Sink and Fast

Picking your way out of trouble?

Trying to account for the Chiefs disastrous season so far is a bit like trying to find an honest man in politics – hard to do and over ripe with choices.

Having got egg all over my face (not the only one I may add) in predicting a break-out season, what has gone wrong?

Obviously, if I knew that I'd be the General Manager or Coach or both.

But, I think I've got a handle on something that might go some way to explain the terrible smell coming out of Arrowhead at the moment.

You will remember that General Manager Pioli has long advocated building the team through the draft. His special talent is (or is supposed to be) identifying talent and signing the right players. That's the way to success on the field, he says.

So, how has he done and, more importantly, how have the Chiefs done in the draft in general?

Lets go back to 05 for the starter. Pioli wasn't around then but it's just 8 years ago and by now something should have happened? Surely? I could have started in 09 when Pioli came on board but the picture would seem depressingly similar – or even worse.

Starting on 05 allows some comparison with what came before Pioli and what came after. And, all the first round picks since 05 are still on the KC roster. So, it makes sense that they should be the basis of the team and the team should be winning a lot of games – at least that was the Pioli plan.

In 05 the Chiefs went for Derrick Johnson, a line backer. Is he in the starting line up? Yes, quite regularly. Is he making big plays and stuffing the run and intercepting passes? A bit. Yes, just a bit. Give him a C+.

In 06 we got Tamba Hali – originally a defensive end but now a line backer in the 3-4 defence. He has made the pro-bowl and regularly features in the sack count. Give him a B.

In 07 the Chiefs drafted Dwayne Bowe a wide receiver. How's he done? He's made pro bowl appearances and regularly leads the team in receptions and yardage. He drops too many balls, everyone will tell you that. Can get a B-

08 was a big year – we had two picks in the first round. Glen Dorsey and Branden Albert both came on-board. Dorsey is a bit player, He starts at defensive end – when he's fit. He has never shook off the number one pick disease and gone on to stardom. He's barely adequate and gets a D.

This, incidentally, is the start of the Pioli reign. Branden Albert is a starter on the O-line and has done quite well. He's solid and dependable. His pass protection is generally good and he can run block. He's a good player. Is he a great one? No. He can have a B-.

In 09 Tyson Jackson was drafted in round one. He's opposite Dorsey on the D-line. He's adequate. He may get better. He is only a D+ on present form.

In 10 Safety Eric Berry was picked at number one – fifth overall in the draft. He was going to be the lynch pin around which the defence would solidify. Before he had a serious knee injury and sat out all of last season he was living up to the hype. Now he may struggle to regain the momentum. He's a good player but the jury is out on whether he can be the world-beater we hoped for. At present he's a C-.

Wide receiver Jon Baldwin was the 11 pick. So far this is a disaster happening before out eyes. His numbers are poor. His play is poor. He has never really recovered from a chequered start to his NFL career – as the speculation about a pre-season injury never was cleared up satisfactorily. I had Bowe and Baldwin as a real twin receiving threat. This has never happened. He can only get an E.

Finally we took Dontari Poe, a real nose tackle, in the 12 draft. I thought he'd be the final piece in the puzzle. Now with three first round picks on the D-line, the pieces all fit together. No-one could run the ball on us and we'd get pressure on all QB's. Not happened. He may be a rookie but he seems not to be a factor. He can only manage a D-.

Something really depressing is building up. The Pioli picks are all bombing.

That's why we have never led in a game this season and why we are 1-8.

I'd like to see the way back, but I can't.

I'm depressed.