28 March 2014

The Great European Union Debate

EU - Deputy Prime Minister Clegg (left) v UKIP Leader Farage (right)

At last, thanks to the challenge laid down by Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg on LBC the other week for UKIP Leader Nigel Farage to enter into a public debate on whether or not the UK should stay in the EU, we can begin to discuss some of the facts. I look forward to the second debate to take place soon on BBC2.

I am an enthusiastic European, but I'll say this about the EU: it is riddled with faults, top-heavy bureaucracy, money-wasting procedures, and a set of accounts that have not been signed off by auditors for years.

UKIP's solution is to leave it. The pro-Europeans' solution is to stay in and do something about the faults.

Both solutions are fraught with difficulties.

There is a balance to be made, and pro-Europeans like myself say that the benefits of membership outweigh the dis-benefits. Perhaps that judgement is subjective, and the only way to be objective is to be presented with facts. Which is why I'm glad these debates are taking place.

The next problem, when presented with “facts”, is resisting the temptation to say that facts we don’t want to hear are either lies or fear-mongering.

Putting millions of jobs at risk can either be a fact, or fear-mongering, or both. If you don’t like the statement you can say that the leaders of businesses like Siemens, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hitachi etc. are lying when they say they are investing in Britain because we are in the EU.

Stating that 480 million people have the right to enter Britain is a fact, but since it is somewhat irrelevant, it is also fear-mongering.  If a French politician was to say, “70 million British people have the right to enter France” he would be factually correct, but what would be the point of him saying it?

Anti-Europeans ask what's so special about the The European Arrest Warrant. It is favoured by senior police officers because pre-EAW the average time to execute a successful extradition was one year; under EAWs the average time is under 50 days.

Then they say we have criminals walking the streets because of failures in deportation proceedings. Deportation failures are often caused by rulings handed down by the European Court of Human Rights. This has nothing to do with the EU, and if we left the EU we would still be bound by the ECHR until or unless we legislated our way out compliance with any of those Court rulings.

UKIP are not against immigration, but are in favour of controlled immigration. I don’t have any quarrel with that. Under the free movement of jobs and people in the EU, it is clearly not possible to control migrants from EU countries. If that causes a problem, then it should be reviewed.

Like it or not, the kind of world we live in now makes membership of a powerful group more useful than being a little man on your own.

The EU is arguably big on bureaucracy and small on Democracy. I do feel that democracy is on life-support but then in my view we never have had democracy before or after membership of the EU. Coming out of the EU is not going to make us any more democratic until or unless politicians bite the voting system bullet.

The one thing to be said about the European Elections is that they won’t be based on “first past the post”. The (predicted) big win by UKIP next month is largely thanks to the use of a system of proportional representation. Come the General Election, both Clegg and Farage will be victims of a voting system that takes little account of their true support.

The hectoring practice of the EU to get the right answer to any referendum on a treaty change is a weapon in the armoury of those who want to withdraw. The practice of calling a referendum and then calling another one until the right answer is achieved is a huge puzzle to me. Firstly, if a government is prepared to call a second one because they didn’t like the answer, then that government is at fault. But then again, how does the right answer come about? How or why do people vote one way in the first referendum, and another way in a second referendum? Which of the two is democratic? They both involved people voting.

At UK General Elections about half the people bother to vote, and in European Elections the figure is more like one third. It’s a disgrace. Voting should be a compulsory element of being a member of civilized society. Education of children is compulsory, paying our taxes is compulsory; why not voting? Ballot papers should have a “None of the above” or “Abstention” box.

By the way, I have no objection in principle to a (democratic) United States of Europe.

03 February 2014

"The Naked Communist" by W Cleon Skousen - A Review

My attention was drawn to this book by a man I know well who is concerned about Communist infiltration into British, American and European governments. He is of the opinion that the goal of the European Union is to turn Europe into a Communist Collective.

I disagree fundamentally with this view, which appears to be a symptom of extreme right-wing paranoia, as well as being in complete contradiction to the reality on the ground.

"The Naked Communist" was cited as evidence to support his view, so I bought it and read it.

Scousen's aim was to strip away the deceitful clothing that hid the true face and body of Communism, hence the title.

The book (published 56 years ago) has some merit in providing a useful summary of the history of Communism and its "founding fathers", if I may use that term. It was interesting to learn that Karl Marx never did a day's work in his life and neglected his wife and children to a disgraceful degree. He appeared to have not a single person he could call his friend, with the possible exception of his co-theorist, Friedrich Engels.

Both the book and it's author Skousen were products of their time: the "Iron Curtain" had fallen across the middle of Europe and all the people to the east of it had been enslaved by a tyrannical dictatorship purporting to be the answer to the problems of mankind. Communism was being presented to the rest of the world as the only way to a truly happy society. It was, of course, nothing of the kind, since it militated against man's natural instincts and could only be maintained by ruthless suppression of natural aspirations, the imposition of fear, and the frequent use of mass executions.

It was in reality a vehicle for the maintenance of power by the few over the many. At the end of the 2nd World War, in which it had been expedient to join forces with Russia and its satellites to destroy the evil of Hitler's Nazis, we found ourselves faced with an equally evil empire in the shape of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) presided over by one Joseph Stalin.

It is difficult to decide which man was the most monstrous - Hitler or Stalin. Neither had any moral compass and would stoop to any degree of depravity and international diplomatic deceit to get their way. Both used similar methods to maintain their hold on power.

And yet, after 1945, intellectuals and others in the "West" were quite happy to accept Communism as a genuinely desirable aspiration. Communist cells successfully established themselves within the USA, the "mothership" of Capitalism. The Communists believed that Capitalism was doomed to fail, but the process should be speeded up by a policy of disruption and discontent so that people would rise up and destroy their governments. During the 25 years following the end of World War 2 the Communist Party of Britain grew in strength, the British Labour Party was infiltrated, and Communist agitators within the Trade Union movement all but destroyed the British car industry, and wreaked havoc with many other industries.

Skousen's book correctly indicated what had already happened in this regard, correctly summarised what was already happening, but failed to foresee one or two important developments. He cannot be blamed for this because none of us has an infallible crystal ball.

What he didn't, or couldn't see, was that it was Communism itself that contained the seeds of its own destruction. The manifest failure of the major Communist countries to feed their own people without external help, the manifest failure to produce goods that people wanted, and the manifest failure to produce the proletarian utopia promised by Marx and Engels led - albeit painfully slowly - to a growing sense of unease within the major Communist leaderships and the people oppressed by them. Yugoslavia's Tito successfully distanced himself from the USSR, there were uprisings in Hungary (ruthlessly put down), and the Communist leader of Czechoslovakia, Alexendar Dubcek, attempted to install a kind of humanitarian and democratic communism in his country. Predictably at the time, he failed, and his Russian masters replaced him unceremoniously after the Russian tanks had been sent in.

Most significantly, though, was the gradual dawning of reality on the communist mothership itself, with the succession of Mikhail Gorbachev to the leadership of the Party in the USSR. But by this time it was already too late for a top-down rejection of Communism; the people began to rise up against their communist oppressors, first in Poland, then in East Germany. The movement spread. In 1989 the infamous Berlin Wall was demolished whilst the leadership and the "People's Army" stood by in bemused passive support. The rest of the "Iron Curtain" duly melted away.

It's ironic that the "proletariat" who were supposed to be bring down capitalism brought down communism instead!

I am not saying that Communism is a dead duck, but there is only one major Communist Country left in the world, and that is North Korea. I don't think many people are going to cite North Korea as an example of proletarian Utopia. It's just another ruthlessly oppressed people under the yoke of a dictator and a powerful army. Even so-called Communist China has somehow found an accommodation with a kind of free enterprise within its own country. It is "communist" mainly by virtue of it still being a single-party State. The Party is not practising full Communism, but it is all-powerful nevertheless.

Communism as a worldwide aspiration has imploded.

I believe it is important to know a little about Cleon Skousen and the things that influenced his way of thinking. Having drawn our attention to the history and the methods of Communism, and warned us of the consequences of ignoring those methods, he goes on towards the end of his book by trying to instil his own philosophies into the life of the "American Student", strongly advising that rather than submitting to the deceit of communism we should be submitting to the certainties of the Bible. He advocates the enthusiastic study of the Bible, and he implies that atheists are three quarters along the way to being Communists.

It is at this point that I fundamentally disagree with him; his advocacy of religion in general, and of the Judeo-Christian religions in particular as being the only way forward detracts from the value of the earlier parts of his book. Since he wrote that book, the world has moved on somewhat. I accept many of the creditable aspects of some religions and their followers, but I (and many others) cannot accept that atheism = communism = evil

I would ask, are the following (to name but a few) either Communists or Evil? .. Albert Einstein, Richard Dawkins, Douglas Adams, Salman Rushdie, Billy Connolly, Bill Gates, Eddie Izzard, Ernest Hemingway, Katherine Hepburn, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, John Lennon, Barry Manilow, Ian McKellen, Terry Pratchett, Daniel Radcliffe, Alan Turing .. I could go on for pages, but I'll spare the reader.

Cleon Skousen was a far-right radical Conservative and a Mormon who worked for a short while with the FBI. He was later Chief of Police in Salt Lake City for 4 years. Mayor Bracken Lee said that although Skousen was an anti-communist he "ran the police department in exactly the same manner as the Communists in Russia operate their government."

Skousen disregarded all federal regulatory agencies and argued for the abolition of everything from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to the Environmental Protection Agency. He also wanted to repeal the minimum wage, eliminate unions, nullify anti-discrimination laws, sell off public lands and national parks, end the direct election of Senators, eliminate income tax, and remove the separation between church and state.

Finally, the question .. is communism still infiltrating western society and is the goal of the European Union a Communist Collective?

Skousen sees no difference between Communism and Socialism ("except by their means of gaining power"). This is so way off the mark! Communism gains power by force, and retains power by force. Socialism gains power by majority vote and loses power by majority vote. To equate the two is sheer ignorance. In 1945 Britain elected a Socialist Government with a landslide majority. (I would say that was Britain's only Socialist Government). In 1951 that Socialist Government was dismissed by the British electorate. Subsequent successes by the British Labour Party were due to their abandoning socialism for a form of social democracy prepared to integrate with the idea of a free-market economy.

Whatever criticisms one can throw at the concept of the European Union - and there are many - the idea that it is working towards a Communist Collective is preposterous. Who could imagine that the people of Europe who for decades suffered either under the jackboot of Nazism, or the iron fist of Communism (in some cases one followed by the other) would countenance a return to something similar?

In Britain the Communist Party boasted 60,000 members after the War (still only about 0.1% of the population). It was disbanded in 1991. True, some ex-members went on to form other left-wing groups, most of which allied themselves to democracy rather than enforced one-party government. One such group is "Unlock Democracy" which is a left-leaning campaign group that works to promote participatory democracy across the political spectrum.

Communism is not the current threat to our way of life. The new threat is another -ism: militant Islamism.

If someone looks at Europe and sees Communism, then he fails to understand what Communism really is or was. Perhaps he should read Skousen's book? Oh damn! He already has!











26 November 2013

The Demented Machinations of my Nocturnal Brain

My wife and enjoy going to the theatre, and so last night this is what we decided to do.

The thing is, though, I felt I couldn't be bothered to get our car out of the garage, at least not while we had a perfectly good wheelie bin sitting right next to the house. I decided we should use the wheelie bin to get us to the theatre.

There were a few problems to get out of the way first, though the first one (which was to do with motive power) was not regarded as a problem requiring my attention because I knew intuitively that there was some kind of power source - possibly electric, possibly gas from rotting vegetation that had previously been in the bin. I seemed to have a memory of having once before used this wheelie bin to get me somewhere, and it did  it with a fair degree of power, and also quite silently.

The second problem was whether the two of us would actually fit in the bin, and I concluded that since we would both be standing up, one behind the other, the idea would (like the bin) have wheels.

The third problem, which proved to be somewhat more intractable, was presented when my wife came out of the house all togged up for the theatre in an ankle-length dress, and she had serious doubts about her ability to climb into the bin. A pair of shorts would have been better, but not to suitable for the theatre.

What eventually really killed the whole idea was the fourth problem: I realised that by the time we came out of the theatre it would be dark, and the wheelie bin wasn't fitted with lights.

It didn't occur to me to use the car, and since it was now clear that a huge party was going inside our house we decided to join it. When I say a huge party I mean more people than our house could normally accommodate, but fortunately I'd had the foresight to quadruple the interior size of the house without affecting the exterior dimensions (an idea I'd stolen from Dr. Who and his "TARDIS").

It's worth mentioning in passing that if you can do it, this is quite a neat trick because it means you can extend your house without the need for Planning Permission.

On entering the expansive reception area I found my uncle (whom I didn't recognise) sitting in an armchair with a 1950-style bakelite radio clamped to the side of his head, and I congratulated him on having his own personal hi-fi system. I then proceeded up two flights of stairs to the third floor that wasn't there the day before, where I had laid on a massive self-service buffet. All my guests were queuing up the stairs waiting their turn to get at the food (which appeared to consist mainly of cod fillets in breadcrumbs, a few sausages, and what appeared to be a large ham and egg pie which, when sliced, turned out to be something made using the recipe for Yorkshire Curd Tarts).

A woman behind me in the queue said she wanted one of the sausages immediately, which was quite rude, but as I was now approaching the food, I picked one up and passed it over my shoulder to her, during which passage it picked up a lot of fluff from my thick woollen sweater. Still, serve her right for being greedy, I thought.

It was at this point that I woke up.

Can you get two people in this? (But no headlights, so who cares?)

12 November 2013

Important News from Scotland


Never mind the question of Scottish Independence (Referendum to be held next year).

There are more pressing matters to consider, namely the fine old tradition of drunken Glaswegians placing traffic cones on the head of the Duke of Wellington statue in the centre of Glasgow.

Glasgow City Council has been considering the possibility of raising the height of the statue's plinth to deter the inebriated Scots from climbing up to adorn a 19th century hero with a 21st century hat.

Personally I think it is a rather fine adornment; the man looks very proud to be wearing it, and I feel that had such a hat existed in 1815 the French would have surrendered immediately they set eyes on it!

Incidentally, the world would also have been given not only the "Wellington Boot" but the "Wellington Hat" as well. It's quite possible that we would all be proudly wearing the Wellington Hat. (Naturally the Kensington & Chelsea set would be wearing a green version.)

According to the BBC the Council has decided to abandon its plans to raise the plinth in response to a "Save Wellington's Cone" campaign on Facebook. The Council were trying to save money by not having to remove the cone (we don't know if it's always the same cone) up to a hundred times a year. You have to agree it must be a bit of a bind having to get up there every three days or so to remove the man's hat.

Increasing the height of the statue would, I feel, have just increased the attractiveness of the challenge to get up there on a regular basis with replacement head gear.

My own solution would be for the Council to permanently attach the cone to the Duke's head and paint it grey. He would then look permanently magnificent, and drunken Glaswegians could diversify their activities into diverting traffic the wrong way up one-way streets using red and white Wellington boots.



11 November 2013

SOLUTIONS TO OVERCROWDING

BBC London News 10th November 2013 ..
Rush hour commuters are being asked to walk or cycle instead of taking trains on a London Underground line in an attempt to reduce overcrowding.
Travellers are being asked to avoid getting on the Northern Line between Tooting Bec and Clapham North between 0800 GMT and 0845.
Transport for London (TfL) said commuters often had to wait for two or three trains before they could board.
What a splendid idea. Why don’t we extend this idea to other walks of life? ..
***
Saturday morning shoppers in Tesco are being asked to visit the nearest field to pick their own cabbages in an attempt to reduce overcrowding in the fruit and vegetable aisles.
Shoppers are being asked to avoid the Tesco fruit and veg aisles between 0900 and 1145 on Saturdays.
Tesco said shoppers often had to wait for two or three cabbages to be placed in other people’s trolleys before they could get near the display.
***
Week-end car drivers entering Pickering are being urged to park on grass verges, footpaths and other people’s front gardens instead of using the public car parks in an attempt to reduce congestion.
Drivers are being asked to avoid going into the car parks between 9 am and 12 noon on Saturdays because they are nearly always full.
A Council spokesperson said drivers often had to wait for two or three cars to vacate the car park before finding a space. He went on to say that in accordance with normal Council policy, all cars parked other than in the car parks would still be subject to the usual charges, and the long walk to the Pay-and-Display ticket machines would be beneficial to health.
***
Commuters between Malton and York are being urged by First TransPennine Trains to use the Yorkshire Coastliner Buses as the trains are overcrowded between 0800 and 0900 on weekdays.
A spokesperson for First TransPennine asked travellers to consider travelling by bus because people were having to wait for two or three trains to go past before they could get on one. Since the trains ran at a frequency of only one per hour this tended to cause a bit of a problem, with workers arriving at their place of work only to find it was time to go home again.
He went on to say that since the concept of a Bus Replacement Service was so well known this alternative means of transport would feel comfortably familiar.
***
Commuters between Malton and York are being urged by Yorkshire Coastliner Buses to use First TransPennine trains as the buses are overcrowded between 0800 and 0900 on weekdays.
A spokesperson for Yorkshire Coastliner asked travellers to consider travelling by train because people were having to wait for two or three buses to go past before they could get on one. Since the buses ran at a frequency of only one per hour this tended to cause a bit of a problem, with workers arriving at their place of work only to find it was time to go home again.
***
People using their cars to commute between Malton and York are being urged to go by train or bus as the A64 is packed solid between 0800 and 0900 on weekdays.
The Highways Agency said that 20-mile long queues of 4 mph traffic were seriously interfering with the free movement of Highways Agency vehicles. A spokesperson suggested that if every car driver could travel by bus or train then the A64 would be a much more attractive route for car drivers.
The same spokesperson also made the point that in view of the fact that there had been calls since about 1960 for the A64 to be made 100% dual carriageway, and that absolutely nothing had been done towards bringing this to fruition over a period of about 50 years it must be obvious to most people that it never would be done. A feasibility study would now be undertaken on the possibility of turning it into a major cycle path, something that could only be achieved if drivers switched to buses and trains.
***
Sick people are being asked to treat themselves at home instead of visiting Doctors’ Surgeries, Hospitals, and NHS Walk-in Centres.
The Secretary of State for Health said waiting times at all these treatment centres were far too long. Some people were having to wait two or three weeks before even getting a doctor’s appointment, by which time they had recovered from their illness. By the time they got to see the doctor they were already better, thus wasting the doctor’s time.
He suggested that people should sit and wait in the comfort of their own homes waiting to be seen by themselves and self-diagnosed as hypochondriacs, and during the waiting period (in front of their TV) they would recover.
Acknowledging that this would be seen as controversial he stressed that this would free up doctors’ time to see those who were genuinely ill either with stress-related high blood pressure caused by driving in endless traffic jams, or claustrophobia caused by travelling on overcrowded buses and trains.
* * *


23 August 2013

British Bars & Cafes: are you being served?


Considering that, for many years now, so many British holidaymakers have experienced and enjoyed what France, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Spain (to name but a few) have to offer, it is somewhat surprising and disturbing that our own cafes and bars have not caught up with the kind of service we have come to expect on our visits to the rest of Europe.

In these more enlightened countries you can walk into a bar or café, sit down at a table, and expect to be approached by a waiter or waitress ready to take your order. Even more impressively, if the weather’s nice you might sit down at an outside table in the middle of a town square and as if by magic someone will appear out of a doorway somewhere and be ready to serve you.

Try that in Britain. You’ll have a long wait.

I often wonder how confused our Continental visitors to these shores must be when they sit at a table and nothing happens. With any luck they will have read some tourist guide book for visiting Britain where it might have been explained to them that in the majority of cases they need to walk up to a bar or counter (and perhaps join a queue) to place their order. Only then can they confidently sit at their table and wait for their order to arrive.

Isn't it about time we rose up as a nation and demanded something better? Why do we put up with it?

The other day, in my own village, I had a bit of time to kill and so decided to play the tourist for an hour, strolling around looking at the shops. I decided to go into one café for a cup of coffee. I’d not been in there before. On entering I said “Good Morning” to a young lady clearing a table, and she responded. I found myself a table adjacent to the one she was clearing and sat down. The place was not very busy at this time. She finished clearing the table and disappeared. I sat reading my newspaper for ten minutes and was totally ignored.

I looked towards the rear of the premises and there was a service counter, and I suspected that I should have gone up to this and place an order. I didn't even to bother to investigate. I got up and walked out. I'm suggesting that this is what we should all be doing: walking out.

I found a second café around the corner, sat down at a table and was immediately approached by the lady (who ran the place) to take my order. Guess which one of the two cafes I’ll be going to next time I want a cup of coffee in my own village.

A few years ago, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair talked about introducing “Continental Café Culture” to our towns and cities. I suggest the first requirement is for café owners to provide something resembling Continental Café Service before we get anywhere near achieving a “Continental Café Culture”.  For the most part, it hasn't yet happened.




29 June 2013

The Sun's gone down .. Time for Bed


Light was on the face of the deep. And the Energy Minister said, “Let there be darkness” and there was darkness.

Apparently, here in Britain, we have been rather lax in securing our future energy requirements. We have been keen to shut down so-called “dirty” power stations, and reluctant to start building new nuclear power stations. Now there is talk about a looming energy crisis in which we face winter-time power cuts, and the Government might have to instruct industries to cease consuming energy at certain times.
How might this affect us? Should we be worried? Perhaps we might rediscover that old Wartime Spirit that apparently held our communities together when Adolph set out on his Grand European Tour and started bombing the hell out of us. Keep calm and carry candles.

I’m trying to be optimistic. There must be some upside to the threatened loss of heat and light. For starters, in order to reduce the risk of excessive demand  there could be an upturn in employment prospects by commissioning thousands of street wardens (steel helmet optional) parading up and down shouting “Put that light out!”
Without television, radio, computers or smartphones, we would be forced to reintroduce the concept of conversation. Without heating we would increase the employment of clothing manufacturers (obviously doing everything manually) to provide the extra layers of clothing we would need. Here in Britain we already have the advantage of winter clothing being equally useable as summer clothing, since it is often hard to tell the difference between these two seasons (if you ignore the presence or absence of leaves on the trees).

On the more cautionary side of the argument, we must be prepared for a sudden surge in population as couples give up on the herculean task of talking to each other and retire to bed when the sun goes down. The inevitable increase in amorous couplings is also more likely following the necessary eating of evening meals by candlelight – often a romantic activity.
Talking of candles (again a welcome surge in prospects for candle makers) another advantage for those of us who are workaholics would be the unlimited opportunity to burn them at both ends.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to live near the Houses of Parliament, or perhaps even near provincial town council chambers, will be able to sit around collections of national or local politicians and benefit from the hot air that they exude.
Perhaps we should have woken up to this energy problem years ago. At the moment all we can point to as evidence of some thought to the matter are the woeful inadequacies of the so-called green energy schemes such as wind turbines and solar panels.

Wind turbines have achieved the mutually-exclusive emotions of a false sense of security combined with anger and jealousy against the landowners who appear to be the main (financial) beneficiaries of these monstrous windmills that blight our landscape, kill birds, cause an annoying hum, and provide very little energy. When the wind isn’t blowing they are useless, and when the wind is blowing hard they have to be shut down to protect them from damage.
Solar panels are undoubtedly useful, but have the downside of making your house roof appear extremely unattractive. If you live in a National Park that imposes stringent planning restrictions on pretty much everything you might want to do, you can be refused permission for windows, walls or doors that do not “fit in” with the surrounding area, but it’s apparently OK to replace a tiled roof with huge shiny grey panels.

Britain lives on top of a good supply of coal, but we closed down most of the mines in the 1980s and now have to import most of our requirements. Coal-fired power stations are apparently going to kill the planet, although technology exists to capture and store carbon dioxide. Gas is seen as the way forward, and we’ve now discovered that Britain lives on top of massive quantities of the stuff trapped in subterranean rocks. It can be released by a process called “fracking”, involving drilling deep into the rock , fracturing it, and releasing the gas.
The risks of earthquakes and contamination of water supplies is not a problem in the wide open spaces of the USA, but in this tiny overcrowded country of ours? Fracking hell!

London politicians are wetting themselves with excitement about this, especially as the biggest deposits appear to be in the North of England, from Blackpool in the west to Scarborough in the east. In the 19th century, the North of England was characterised by those dark satanic mills. Will the 21st century be one of dark satanic drills?
So switch those lights out! Light a candle. Enjoy seeing the stars; there’s bound to be a couple of nights without cloud cover this year.

Time for bed.