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28 December 2008

Happy New Year!

I've had a computer-free, blog-free Christmas - apart from firing off the occasional short e-mail - which has been quite liberating in some ways, not so in others. On the one hand you are free to to the important things like spending quality time with family and putting on several pounds in weight with the aid of goose, turkey, Christmas pudding, mince pies, chocolates, beer and wine, etc., but on the other you know there are friends out there in cyberspace (some of whom were kind enough to send boxes of Christmas gifts) wondering if they have been either forgotten or ignored.

Well of course they probably aren't wondering any such thing, but it's a feeling you get when you are used to (or should that be addicted to?) being online regularly. Anyway, no doubt we shall get back to some kind of normality in a few days. Meanwhile I'd like to wish everyone a happy and peaceful 2009 (although it seems that Israel and the Palestinians are already knocking seven bells out of each other again).

Why do human beings have to be so disgustingly mad and evil?

17 December 2008

Two Presidents in Denial

You can't help wondering about the state of mind of some of the people who reach the pinnacle of power.

We have George Bush apparently finding it quite amusing to have two shoes thrown at him by an Iraqi journalist, and he wonders "I don't know what his beef is". Then we have Robert Mugabe who denies the existence of cholera in Zimbabwe.

Only an idiot would be amused by an Iraqi throwing his shoes at you, because as most of us know, this counts as an extreme insult in Iraq and some other Middle Eastern countries. "What's his beef?" .. well, I'm guessing the guy did not find his presence in Iraq as something to be welcomed. I'm so glad Bush finds it amusing to be insulted because now he can laugh his smirking head off when I express the view that he's an idiot.

As for Mugabe, clearly this man is deranged. Not only has he ruined what used to be one of the most productive countries on the African continent, but he now comes out with the ludicrous statement that the cholera (which apparently no longer exists) was deliberately visited upon his country by the UK as a form of biological warfare being conducted by Prime Minister Gordon Brown. But even as people are dropping like flies around him, as they have nothing else to drink but sewage-contaminated water, and their money is worthless, Mugabe states the cholera epidemic has been dealt with, so there's "no further need for war".

I find it hugely depressing that we have not dealt with this psycopath with the same enthusiasm that we dealt with Saddam Hussein.

10 December 2008

Am in the right Country?

Last weekend I visited my sister in the south-west London suburbs, travelling from North Yorkshire. I used trains and buses for the entire weekend. A couple of years ago I was ranting and raving about the chaotic state of our (privatised) railways, but now I have to acknowledge that things appear to be improving.

On the Saturday, my 08:10 First Trans-Pennine Express (Scarborough/Manchester) arrived in Malton Station at precisely 08:10 and deposited me in York Station bang on time, allowing me ten minutes before catching the 08:45 Grand Central Trains service (Sunderland/London Kings Cross) which arrived and departed at the scheduled times.

One hour and fifty minutes later I was in London (Kings Cross) and within ten minutes was sitting on a bus that got me across London in 25 minutes to Waterloo Station for my third train - South-West Trains service to Hampton Court. 

I got on the train at midday, and it was scheduled to depart at 12:06. I sat on the train gazing out of the window at the digital time display on the platform and as soon as the clock switched 
from 12:05:59 to 12:06:00 the train pulled out. By this time I was having to check that I was in the right Country because all the signs were that I was on the Swiss Railway system!

I arrived at Hampton Court Station on time. After checking into my hotel, I walked back to the station to catch one of two buses that would deliver me almost to my sister's door. At no time did I have to wait longer than 10 minutes for a bus.

The pleasure of all this well-timed public transport was enhanced by the paltry sum of money it cost me. By booking in advance on line, using my Senior Railcard, and taking advantage of a Grand Central Trains half-price offer for December, then travelling on London buses using my Senior Citizens free bus pass, I was able to complete the 230-mile journey from North Yorkshire to south-west London for the princely sum of £22.

I returned on Sunday for another £22, again without a hitch - up to a point .. Sod's Law came into play, and engineering works on the East Coast main line resulted in my train to York being delayed by half an hour. This meant I missed a (free) bus ride home and had to resort to a taxi that cost me the same amount of money that I had just spent for the whole of the weekend's train fares. Every silver lining has a cloud.

But, hats off to First, Grand Central, South-west Trains, and Transport for London for providing me with an enjoyable trouble-free weekend away at affordable prices.

03 December 2008

Visiting the US? It's getting more difficult

After 29th January 2009 if a UK citizen wants to apply for a Visa Waiver to visit the USA, he or she will have to fill in an online application form. No other method is available. Whilst this poses no particular hardship to those of us who are enjoy the benefits of the Internet, it is estimated that about 43% of the UK population do not enjoy access to the Web.

When asked the US Embassy about provisions for those not online it replied, "contact a friend, family member, colleague or travel agent who is online." 

Gee! Thanks guys!

01 December 2008

Pleasure Triggers

My previous posting on this Blog listed a few of the things that were Irritation Triggers. 

My dear American friend Roberta (one of the three people who read this Blog) commented that I sounded a bit crabby, and perhaps it would be a good idea to list some of the things that give me pleasure. 

So, always ready to oblige, here are just a few of my Pleasure Triggers ...

  • Hearing my 6-year old grandson come out with a new long and complicated word.
  • Listening to said grandson declaring he's going to keep on asking his Dad to stop smoking.

  • Putting up Christmas lights inside and outside the house.
  • Switching them on and finding they all still work.
  • Forgetting that it won't be long before I have to take them all down again.

  • Americans' enthusiasm for their democratic processes.
  • The 2008 results of their enthusiasm.

  • Having some very good friends, both British and American

  • My wife's cooking.
  • Her willingness to keep on doing it.

  • My wife's love.
  • The fact that I'm still the recipient of it after 45 years.

  • Being with children who are happy to see me even when I'm bussing them to school.
  • The appreciation shown to me by their parents.

  • The sight, sound and smell of steam locomotives.
  • Travelling on trains, ancient and modern.

  • My son's sense of humour.
  • Watching my son giving devoted attention to his son.
  • Seeing it reciprocated by my grandson.

  • The beauty of my daughter-in-law.
  • Her good relationship with us.

  • Gazing at the orange and red hues of a winter sunset.
  • Watching George W Bush riding off into it.
Merry Christmas! (Oops - sorry - that's in irrigation trigger: premature Christmas)

28 November 2008

Irritation Triggers

The BBC's "One Show" at 7 pm weekday evenings has this week been discussing a couple of related subjects: stress levels and irritating words and phrases. (You can do their simple stress test on the website - and get tips on stress reduction)

My stress level is raised by News readers constantly responding to a correspondent's report with "Thank you very much .. indeed". What's wrong with "Thank you"?

Other contributors to my stress score are ..

"At the end of the day"
"Twenty four seven"
"At this moment in time"
"I should OF"
"To be quite honest with you"
"Minging" and "Minger"
"Par for the course"
"Horses for courses"
"Pushing the envelope" (What the hell does that mean?)
"Thinking outside the box"
"Blue sky thinking"
"Community leaders" (Who elected them?)
"Helping the Police with their enquiries"
"The VAST majority"
"With great respect" (before saying something disrespectful)
"It affects you and I" (Try removing the words 'you and' - then see how it sounds! Should be "It affects you and me")

All aspects of "text speak".

Finally I am irritated by fanatical pedants like me.

There - that's better! I've just reduced my stress level.

14 November 2008

Crunchy Credit (& other biscuits)

As we plunge deeper into world recession it throws into sharp relief the question faced by all of us as we grow older, namely, at what stage of our lives is it sensible to stop saving money and start spending our savings instead?

If we are lucky enough to build up a retirement fund, is there much point in not spending it when we finally retire? The trouble is, you get the savings habit (we hope!) and it's hard to break. Meanwhile we get older and older until you either get too old to spend it usefully or you kick the bucket leaving it all in the bank.

You could decide to keep the money there to pay for a care home, but if you haven't got any money when you need a care home, then Social Services come up with the goods anyway (but only after you have spent all your own dosh). What about leaving money in the bank for your children? Bill Gates clearly doesn't think this is a good idea. My own parents didn't leave me anything and I survived.

The Bank of England has been busy slashing interest rates in recent weeks, and there is even talk of it falling to as low as 1% or even approaching zero%! Under these conditions it would normally be good news for mortgage holders - if only the banks and building societies would be so good as to pass on the rate cuts to the suffering borrowers. Meanwhile it's bad news for savers, since at these rates of interest you might as well stuff your hard-earned lolly under the mattress.

I have at least made one good decision, and that is to take a lump out of my savings to pay off a couple of credit cards completely, since my savings are earning less money than I'm paying in interest on the credit card loans - crazy economics. At such times I appreciate the benefits of online banking which allows me to move money about all over the place just by sitting at home and pressing a few keys.

Of course it's going to be necessary to have some cash stashed away for domestic emergencies.

For example, from time to time the old boiler causes me some problems, but I wouldn't have it any other way: we've been married for 46 years.

Then there's garden maintenance. We live in a road jointly owned by me and my two neighbours, and there's nearly a hundred yards of hedging to be maintained (which I volunteer to do), and that's not to mention another 70 yards of hedges in my own garden. There will come a time when I am too decrepit to do this work, and my neighbours won't be in much better condition either by then, so we'll have to pay for a contractor to do the job. 

Perhaps I'm going to need a Hedge Fund manager.

It's a good time not to have money invested in the stock market. I have studiously avoided placing my money in anything perceived to carry risk. I did make an exception just once. I bought £500 of shares in Harry Ramsden's Fish & Chip shops. A year later, before things got fishy, I cashed in my chips and doubled my investment. I knew how to make BIG money in those days!

Like a lot of people I regarded banks and building societies as a safer bet. How wrong could we have been?! As the frozen food shop TV advert says, "Mum's gone to Iceland". Poor Mum!

Meanwhile, what of the 2012 Olympics? As we all run out money, perhaps we can look forward to the London Olympics being held in a large marquee, with an opening ceremony consisting of London Mayor Boris Johnson cycling round the arena, blond tousled hair blowing in the wind, carrying the Union Flag, with a couple of sparklers attached to the luggage rack.

Chin up - we'll get through it - (Flash) Gordon Brown is going to save the world.

05 November 2008

Pleased to be proved wrong

A few months ago, on this Blog, I predicted that John McCain would win the US Presidential Election.

How wrong can one be?!

But I'm pleased I was wrong, and I hope now that we can all stop using the phrase "America's first BLACK President" and start looking at the man himself instead of his colour.

Good decision, America!

21 October 2008

US Politics

The fickle nature of political alliances was amply demonstrated the other day by the visit of the French President to Camp David. It was only a few short years ago that the French were being reviled in Washington and French Fries were off the menu. Now Dubya is best mates with President Sarkozy, and has also been referring to "our European partners". Amazing, isn't it, what a financial crisis can bring about?

In the presidential election campaign it is encouraging to see how well Barak Obama is doing in the polls right now, and so far as I can see, the McCain campaign continues to dig itself deeper into a hole by the continued use of negative and personal attacks on Obama. The Alaskan dingbat Palin continued to display her unlikeable character in a recent visit to North Carolina (where the Democrats are making unexpected inroads). The following is taken from the New York Times ..

No Democratic presidential candidate has won North Carolina since Jimmy Carter did so in 1976. The state has long been a bastion of cultural conservatism; it was in Greensboro last week that Ms. Palin said she loved visiting the “pro-America” parts of the country.

How stupidly arrogant and insulting this is .. it implies that those parts of the American population who are NOT sympathetic to the Republican cause are anti-America. What utter garbage!

Colin Powell, a Republican for whom I have a great respect has now come out in favour of Barak Obama, and has also touched on the negative nuances of the Republican campaign. I was impressed by his condemnation of the insidious drip, drip, drip of stories that Obama is a Muslim (and therefore by implication, a terrorist). He pointed out correctly that Obama is a Christian, but then went on to pose the "real question" .. so what would it matter? He referred to the grave of a young man in Arlington Cemetery who had died in military service for his country. At the top of the headstone there was no Christian Cross; there was no Star of David; there was a Crescent and Star.

These people who peddle stories around the Internet implying that Obama is some kind of security threat are beneath contempt.

13 October 2008

Religious Fundamentalism

As we continue to read about religious fundamentalists causing grief and mayhem around the world - the latest comes from an eastern region of India where Hindus are forcing Christian villagers to convert or have the homes burned down - it is refreshing to read the comments of the multi-millionaire recruitment entrepeneur James Caan (well known for his appearance on the British TV show "Dragons' Den").

Caan is a Pakistani immigrant to the UK who had the intelligence to realise that the way to be a successful immigrant is to make some effort to blend into the customs and cultures of the host country. As you would expect from a Pakistani, Caan was brought up as a Muslim.

“My view is that you have got to integrate yourself because you choose to live here. The Muslim faith is no different to the Christian faith or the Jewish faith. We believe in all the things that Christians believe in. If you break it down, where are the differences? In rituals, not the fundamentals.” 

I am not sure I entirely agree that what he says about Christianity, Judaism and Islam is strictly factual, but he's close, and I think we have to applaud his attitude.

The most disgusting thing about religious fundamentalists - from whatever faith - is their arrogant assumption that they have some kind of right to impose their views on other people and dictate how others should think and what they should believe.

I'm tempted to yell "Death to all fundamentalists", but I don't, because that would make me just like them.

08 October 2008

Role Reversal

It has already been demonstrated that Communism doesn't work; now, apparently, neither does Capitalism.

This week we have come to the strange realisation that Russia is now full of oil-rich capitalists whilst America and Europe are busy bringing financial institutions under State control.

What a topsy-turby world we live in.

Who would have guessed that the American Republican Party, proponents of SMALL government, would end up running HUGE government! Who would have guessed that Britain's New Labour Party, having ditched all that old socialist dogma to bring them back out of the wilderness in 1997, would end up by nationalising banks!

The way things are going at present, those of us who believe it might be better to keep our money under the bed might be forgiven for wondering if we will have beds under which to keep it.

Onwards and downwards.

29 September 2008

What a load of Bankers!

I think, in the current financial climate, that Cockney Rhyming Slang is highly appropriate here .. What a load of Merchant Bankers!

Our lords and masters on both sides of the Atlantic have allowed unprincipled, greedy, selfish, so-called financiers to line their pockets with fat profits and bonuses (even for failing), and have only just woken up to the seriousness of having a poorly regulated capitalistic system operate inside a moral vacuum.

So now we have the ludicrous spectacle of governments (again on both sides of the Atlantic) proposing to nationalise banks. It's even more of a ludicrous spectacle in the USA where the mother of all capitalist systems currently in the hands of a right-wing free-market administration is having to consider what can only described as Socialist measures!

I woke up this morning to learn that a quarter of my savings now rests with a Spanish bank, (Santander having agreed to buy the savings section of our collapsing Bradford & Bingley Bank; the mortgage side of the business, i.e., the "toxic" side, is now in the hands of the UK Government, aka the taxpayers).

I can still remember the far-off days when banks were regarded as safe, respectable institutions. When I got my first bank loan I was interviewed by a gentleman old enough to be my grandfather who quizzed me on my job, my prospects, my salary, and my ability to pay back the loan over an agreed number of years. Now, up and until a few short months ago I could get a loan by telling some minion young enough to be my grandson how much I wanted, and then I just filled in a form. Only the other week, I got a cold phone call from some financial institution or other telling me they had received my loan application. When I advised him I had not request a loan recently he asked if I would like one.

As I said before - what a load of bankers! 

17 September 2008

The dubious joys of Technology

Sometimes our technological wizardry can drive you nearly insane. The pace of change is such that you have to have a strong will to keep up. One of the problems is that designers often seem to design gadgets with themselves in mind rather than the average man or woman in the street who is going to buy it. 

Why, for example, does our microwave oven have control buttons identified with black text on a dark brown background? They are, to all intents and purposes, invisible. Now, the designer knows perfectly well the functions of all these controls, but I don't. I do not spend my working day thinking about microve ovens, so on the occasions I want to do something specific with my device I want to be able to see at a glance which does what without resort to a torch and a magnifying glass.

Then there's the cooker knobs, where the temperature markings wear off after a year's use, so now it's all guesswork.

The nightmare controls of VHS and DVD television recorders is well known. It is often said that if you want to program your recorder to catch your favourite show on the night that you are taking your wife out to a well-deserved dinner then you call in one of the grandchildren to do it for you. Actually the field of TV recording is one in which I am pleased to be able to admit that things are getting better rather than worse. The advent of the digital TV recorder, and in particular the "Sky+" system (and it's equivalents) make the business of setting up future recordings almost a pleasure; you can even tell it to record an entire series, and moreover you can be watching something totally different at the same time.

Don't get me started on personal computers. I love the things because of the way they (and the Internet) have transformed our lives and relationships, but I also hate their ability to crash at a critical moment and I loath the all-pervading influence of the Microsoft operating system and associated software they have imposed upon us. It's good to see, at last, real challenges to Microsoft: people like Mozilla and Google. It took the Mozilla Firefox web browser to show us that we didn't really have to use Internet Explorer if we didn't want to, and I suspect that without them leading the way with their superior browser we would not have had the benefit of the greatly improved Internet Explorer version 7. Now Google has come along with another browser called "Chrome" (still in beta) and I like it. It's faster than IE7 and has some good extra features. In it's current beta form, if you find any web page failing in some regard because you are using Chrome then you can easily notify Google of the problem and send a screen shot of the problem page.

Our cars now have so much technology in them that laws against the use of mobile phones when driving almost seem irrelevant when you consider the host of other potential distractions in front of you: CD players, MP3 players, radios with complex menu systems, automatic climate control buttons, rear window demisters, front window demisters, cabin lights, reading lights, windscreen wiper settings, fuel levels, miles per gallon right now, miles per gallon on average, hours driven, distance travelled this journey, distance travelled since you last had sex, and satellite navigation displays sending you down country lanes leading nowhere or a voice telling you to turn round on a motorway.

Yesterday my wife and I were doing some decorating in the bathroom and every now and then we could hear this electronic bleep. It occured about once every five minutes and at first we though it was something outside the house. We ignored it for some time, but eventually it began to worm its way into our brains and become annoying. The annoyance grew as we began to look around the house at all things electrical to see what it was trying to attract our attention. We disabled the downstairs smoke alarm, we disabled the upstairs smoke alarm, we looked at wireless "mice", we ripped batteries out of electronic weighing scales, we did the same with an electronic blood pressure monitor. The bleeping continued - a tiny little high-pitched bleep (more of a "blip" I suppose) every five minutes - coming from nowhere in particular. We were now reduced to ripping small battery alarm clocks apart, even though we knew that they had never, never given low-battery warnings, and were not designed to do so.  We took the batteries out of a Nintendo "brain trainer". Still it continued.

We forgot about the electronic intrusion whilst we watched evening television, and then when to bed. But we couldn't sleep; there was that bleep again. I tried to ignore it, but you can't, can you? You are laying there with your eyes closed trying to relax but actually you are just waiting for the next bleep. And you are never disappointed. It comes again.

Eventually I leaped out of bed, went across to my wife's handbag, took out her mobile phone. It was still switched on, and there it was .. "1 new message" .. a service announcement from Vodaphone.

The dubious joys of Technology.

11 September 2008

Searching for the "God Particle"

Well, the CERN Large Hadron Collider has been switched on, and God knows what the 10,000 scientists involved are going to find when they start smashing these atomic particles together at nearly the speed of light. One wag has already suggested that, far from seeing what happened a millionth of a second after the "big bang", we might see what happened a millionth of a second before the "big bang" and it might be that what we shall see will be scientists switching on the ORIGINAL Collider!!

Anyway, I suspect that even if they find "Higgson's Boson" (or the "God Particle") I suspect we shall not be any the wiser. After all, assuming they find it, one then has to ask the question "Where did THAT come from?"

Was there NOTHING before that? What is the nature of NOTHING? How does NOTHING become SOMETHING?

Answers on a postcard please ..

23 August 2008

Georgia - the Smell of Appeasement

There is a smell of 1930s-type appeasement in the air. The recent Russian incursion into Georgian territory and the reaction of the NATO countries to Russia's outrageous behaviour reminds me of the pathetic attempts to appease Adoph Hitler's Germany before the 2nd World War.

Clearly the Georgian President made an error of judgement in trying to act tough with the ethnic Russians of South Ossetia, but this does not excuse the Russian incursion into the sovereign territory of a neigbouring democratic State.

Georgia wants (or had wanted) to join NATO. The lily-livered response by the European NATO countries to the Russian invasion, and their hesitancy over admitting Georgia for fear of upsetting Russia is disgusting. Russia needs to know that we are prepared to draw boundaries on international behaviour, even if it means we put at risk some of our power supplies for which we are increasingly vulnerable to Russian whims. Russia is becoming rich on their supplies of oil and gas and it is inconceivable that they would be happy to start losing their new-found markets for the stuff.

As it is, Russia knows that democratic Europe is frightened of upsetting it. So what's next? Ukraine? Lithuania? Estonia? Latvia? Russia pretends to be a democracy, and I suppose that compared to the Communist era it has some of the trappings of democracy but that is far as it goes. There is no real freedom of expression and the State has a tight grip on the news media. Vladimir Putin has ceased to be President and is now Prime Minister, but still appears to call the shots and is what one might generously describe as a benevolent dictator (if that's not an oxymoron).

It's about time we in the rest of Europe started to stand up for what is right instead of turning a blind eye to what is wrong in the hope that no more wrong will be done.

29 July 2008

A World without Religion?

Having seen on the TV news this morning that about 5 million people in the UK have a reading age of 12 I felt bound to reflect how lucky I am to be able to read at all. The ability to read is not only essential in order to get through the business of every-day life, but it is the gateway to knowledge, thought, discussion, escape, pleasure, tears, laughter.

So, why the title of this post - "A World without Religion?"

Well, it's just that many interesting books have passed through my hands in recent years, and the latest one is called "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins (Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University).

Now Richard Dawkins is an Atheist, and proud of it, and his avowed intention in this book is to steer us all in the same direction. A short blog post is not the place to rehearse the arguments for and against the existence of God. I have neither the expertise, nor the willingness of you, the reader, to put up with whatever ramblings I could churn out on whether God should be faith-based or evidence-based.

Whether or not Dawkins has the power to turn a believer into a non-believer, he does invite us to consider some interesting points, which is where we come to the title of this post. Imagine a world without religion: the Manhattan skyline would still be dominated by the twin towers of the World Trade Centre; women would not be having their skin lashed for exposing too much of it; 20th century Northern Ireland would never have been the blood bath that it was; the Spanish Inquisition would never have occurred; innocent children would not be blown up by suicide bombers; American presidents could be elected on their merit, compassion, and leadership qualities irrespective of the need to profess a belief in God; there would be no well-heeled, bouffant hair-styled tele-evangalists ordering you to send them large quantities of money because God wants you to.

We are invited to consider the fact that, for the most part, your religion is dictated by accident of birth, so that a child of Christian parents knows that he is following the true path and that Islam is a false religion. Similarly the child of Muslim parents knows that he is following the true path and that Christianity is a false religion.

Also, there is no such thing as a "Christian Child" or a "Muslim Child" because they are too young to have made a decision in these matters. The decision has been made for those children.

We interpret and use the Bible to suit our own ends, cherry-picking the bits that fit nicely into our beliefs, ignoring the clear indication in the Old Testament that God appears to be a most unpleasant character, a jealous, petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sado-masochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

The death penalty is prescribed for adultery, gathering sticks on the Sabbath, and for cheeking your parents.

Thomas Jefferson described the God of Moses as "cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust."

But, by the time we get to the New Testament, God has become a gentle, all-forgiving and loving being, exemplified by Jesus.

Organised religion is awash with hate and hypocrisy. During the course of my professional life in environmental management, I had occasion to make regular inspections of the waste water treatment works serving a well-known boys' Roman Catholic public school run by monks and priests. There were, of course, some females on the premises - teachers, domestic staff, etc. We all know, of course, that Catholic priests and monks are celibate. So why, during my inspections, was I always astounded by the huge quantities of used condoms arriving at the treatment plant?

Yes, indeed it is sometimes tempting to look favourably upon a world without religion, and yes, I am so glad that I am fortunate enough not to be one of those 5 million people in the UK with reading difficulties, so that I can read the Bible and the Koran and Richard Dawkins and come to my own conclusions without someone else having the bare-faced audacity to dictate my beliefs.

16 July 2008

Englishman for President!

It's going to be a tough call against Barak Obama, and then of course there's the small problem of the American Constitution, but what the hell - I'll give it a go!

08 July 2008

Men in Dresses accept Women in Dresses

The Church of England Synod, meeting in York yesterday, accepted the principle of women bishops. Naturally the proposal created much controversy, causing many leading old farts in dresses to call for a breakaway Church loyal to the practice of male domination.

To my mind, once the Church had accepted the ordination of women as priests a few years ago, then the next logical step would be female bishops. I think the Church has made the right decision, and if some Neanderthals in holy orders want to break away, then the Church of England will be much improved without them.

One of the (many) great evils in this world is the existence of societies in which the concept of male domination and the assignment of women to subsidiary roles is regarded as the norm. It is a blight on many religious groups, including both Islam and Christianity. The Roman Catholic Church is a prime example.

It is therefore wholly laudable that the Church of England (which is, after all, the United Kingdom's established Church) has at last aligned itself with the equality laws passed by the UK Parliament.

05 July 2008

Reducing the Plastic Bag Mountain

Shopping in Scarborough this morning I was encouraged to note how at last we appear to have succeeded in bringing about a culture change in regard to the use of plastic bags. Until recently (and I also plead guilty to this) we were amassing plastic bags as if they were going out of fashion .. and how appropriate, because they have indeed gone out of fashion.

The routine at supermarket checkouts always used to be the same: your goods fly past the scanner, down the chute and you stuff them straight into a dozen or so plastic bags provided free of charge for your convenience. Then you get home, empty all the bags and add to them the rising pile of old bags that you stuffed away somewhere. You will never take them out with you again next time you go shopping. When one day you realise that you have no possible use for 150 crumpled plastic bags you sling them out with the garbage and they add to the refuse landfill site of non-biodegradable materials, that are rapidly turning holes in the ground into refuse mountains.

Now we are being encouraged to fork out 5 pence for long-lasting re-usable shopping bags, and I noted this morning how many people in the queue for the checkout were now carrying their own permanent or semi-permanent means of carrying their shopping. Hey! just like Grandma and Grandpa used to do!

If you think about it, the old habit of using these millions of bags at supermarkets was completely unnecessary. After all, most of us visit a supermarket using a car. When we get there we pick up a trolley, we fill it with goods, we run the goods past the checkout then we refill the trolley to take our shopping back to the car. Why do we need bags? Empty the trolley into the back of the car .. have a couple of handy boxes in there to make things easier .. job done!

24 June 2008

Robert Mugabe

"God appointed me President and only God can remove me"

So says the (clearly insane) president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe.

To which there can be only one response ..

"Let us pray ..."

18 June 2008

It's the old Irish Joke!

Lost traveller in Ireland: "Excuse me, but can you tell me the way to the new all-singing, all-dancing European Union?"

Irishman: "If I were you, sir, I wouldn't start from here."

In accordance with the Irish Constitution the Irish people were given a vote on whether or not to accept the Lisbon Treaty, and last week they said "NO". The Lisbon Treaty is supposed to be different from the "European Constitution" that was drafted a couple of years ago and to which the French and the Dutch also said "NO". Most people, however, (at least those who can understand the Lisbon Treaty) assert that there is little difference between the two, and on this basis the British Government should have honoured its promise to give British citizens a referendum on whether or not to accept. But no, of course, they reneged on the deal, trying to convince us that this is something quite different, and therefore needs only to be ratified by Parliament.

Since European law states that the Lisbon Treaty can only come into effect if ratified by ALL European States the Irish referendum result kills it stone dead - doesn't it?

I doubt it, because the European Union, though claiming to be democratic is quite the opposite, and the European Commission is hell bent on driving these changes through. As soon as the Irish said "NO" the bureaucrats were jumping out of their boxes to tell us that it would make no difference. So, no change there then.

Meanwhile, hats off to the Irish for saying "NO" to something that nobody understands, and reflecting the view of most European citizens that the Brussels bureaucracy has got too big for its boots and is interfering into too many internal affairs of the individual Nation States.

04 June 2008

Is the BBC completely bonkers?

Why is the BBC paying Jonothan Ross (top) and Graham Norton (above) millions of pounds for their services as chat show hosts and reality TV show presenters?

Ross is an adult with the mind of an adolescent: his sense of humour has not progressed beyond the sixth form at school, and his reliance upon constant sexual innuendo and references to various bodily functions become increasingly boring. He is, in fact, a right royal pain in the backside. I am no prude, but this man is too much. His financial reward for his puerile performaces are obscene.

Whilst relying much on the same sense of humour for which licence fee payers are showering Ross with cash, Graham Norton can at least can be credited with being quite amusing, but again I cannot begin to understand why he is worth so much money.

Apparently the BBC governing body does not consider that the financial rewards given to Ross and Norton are excessive. I beg to differ.

28 May 2008

The Rise of the Trumblies

Now that petrol and diesel are through the roof at over £5 a gallon I've noticed that as more and more car drivers are unable to afford to keep their tanks filled, more of them are driving everywhere at 40 mph or less in an attempt to conserve fuel. We are all becoming "trumblies".

This is increasing both journey times and the level of frustration. It is to be hoped that the Government will get the message being driven home through the current on-road protest by truck drivers that something needs to be done about the huge percentage of the fuel price at the pumps being taken in tax. We are, I think, the most heavily fuel taxed country in Europe.

Haulage companies are going out of business, and the cost of moving foodstuffs and other goods around the country is pushing up the price of everything.

On the subject of taxes I am sure we are all now wondering why our hard-earned cash is being used to fund the outrageous expense demands of Members of Parliament. Thanks to pressure exerted under the Freedom of Information Act we now know for the first time that our money is being used to fund (apparently legitimately) the most ridiculous things, such as installation of pergolas in gardens, mortgage interest payments on second homes that don't even have a mortgage, painting of second homes, maintenance of lawns and hedges, Sky TV subscriptions, and the employment of partners and relatives as Parliamentary Assistants. I'm not saying MPs don't do any work, but they do get paid handsomely for the privilege of representing us and I don't see why we should also be subsidising their additional luxuries. Next time some candidate or other canvasses me on my doorstep I shall demand to know what specific lifestyle extras he or she expects me to be funding if he or she is elected.

25 May 2008

Gore Vidal brightens my Sunday

How refreshing it was to find Gore Vidal as a guest on Andrew Marr's Sunday AM TV program this morning.

It's always a good thing to have someone around who can shine a bright intellectual light into the murky corners of international politics.

As someone who knew President John Kennedy well he was asked by Marr whether it was right that people should see in Barak Obama something of the John Kennedy "Camelot" times. Vidal responded by saying that if he were Obama he would be rather put out by the comparison since whilst John Kennedy had an undoubted charismatic presence he didn't actually do anything useful - he initiated an abortive attempt at invading Cuba and he expanded the war in south east Asia.

Why then, asked Marr, should people be making this comparison?

Because, replied Vidal, we are talking about the United States of Amnesia.

As for George W Bush, the man is certifiable and he has a sinister Vice President with a liking for torture. This nest of ninnies has torn up the Magna Carta and the Constitution.

I couldn't agree more.

21 May 2008

Inside the Mind of the Bureacrat

This morning I received a letter from my local District Council. They had written to me because my part-time work includes driving children to and from school. I was instructed either to attend a course on the safeguarding of children against physical, mental or sexual abuse, or to take the course online. The bureacrat who wrote the letter explained how I could find the appopriate website and how the course would be laid out. At the end of each module I would take an online test, and if I passed all four modules I would be able to print out my Certificate of Basic Awareness in Child Protection. So far so good, but then came the advice, "Your computer will need to be attached to a printer".

I can't help feeling that anyone not in possession of sufficient intelligence to realise that in order to print a document from one's computer it would need to be attached to a printer should not really be in charge of a vehicle, let alone children.

Anyway, I took the online course (it took about an hour) and passed all four tests. Fortunately I also managed to print out my certificate so I could send a copy to the bureacrat. Perhaps I should have enclosed an accompanying letter advising that in order to read it she should first remove it from the envelope.

11 May 2008

Car Review

Can you remember all those Skoda jokes? A few years have gone by since they were common currency in the comedy world, harking back to the days of Communist Czechoslovakia and the somewhat less than wonderful cars they produced. Mind you, we bought them pretty cheaply so perhaps we shouldn't have complained. "You get what you pay for." I almost miss the jokes ..

How do you double the value of your Skoda? Remove the badge.
Why do Skodas have heated rear windows? To keep your hands warm when you're pushing it.

A lot has happened since those days: the "iron curtain" melted, and Czechoslovakia reverted to Slovakia and the Czech Republic. German car makers VW bought Skoda (they must have seen some real potential there) and the quality and consequent popularity of Skodas rose in leaps and bounds. In fact, some motoring correspondents say that the build quality of the vehicles coming out of the Czech factory surpasses that of the VW cars coming out of the German factories.

My own experience backs this up. I have been driving a Skoda Octavia 1.9 litre diesel with automatic gearbox for five years, and can report that it has not suffered a single significant problem. It has been a joy to drive and on long journeys returned over 55 miles per gallon.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to change my car, and so I exchanged my Skoda Octavia 1.9 diesel automatic for a Skoda Octavia 1.9 diesel automatic! It is a 2007 model with 12,000 miles on the clock, previously used by Skoda management.

Although the same model by name as my original car, it has important differences: it has a new 6-speed automatic "DSG" (dual shift gearbox), i.e., if you want manual changes for any reason you just move the gearshift sideways, then give it a nudge forwards to change to a higher gear and a nudge backwards to go lower. In normal automatic mode, although you can just hear changes in the engine note as it goes through the gears you feel absolutely nothing.

This model is the "Elegance" rather than my previous "Ambiente" and so has a higher spec., including automatic climate control that can be adjusted individually by the driver and the front seat passenger, plus a facility for cooling the glove box. The diesel engine is very quiet, and inside the car it is not much different from driving a petrol engine. Another nice touch is the automatically dimming rear view mirror when a bright light comes up behind you. Another new feature (to me at least) is Cruise Control which I tried out on the A64 dual carriageway between York and Malton, a section that includes a steep hill. It was great fun setting the speed at 70 mph, and taking my foot off the pedal. When we hit the steep hill, the car just dropped a gear and maintained 70 mph to the top of the hill, with me doing nothing but steer. (OK, you people who've been driving with cruise control for years - give me a break - this is my first. Allow me to display some pleasure!)

The in-car entertainment includes FM and AM radio, having three FM and three AM memory banks, each of which holds 6 stations, so that's up to 36 pre-set stations. There is a single CD slot above the radio console, but in the (cavernous) boot (sorry trunk, if you're American!) there is also a 6-CD changer unit, so there is potential for playing up to 7 CDs. If that isn't enough to be going on with you can also listen to all the music on your iPod.

I can't believe that there will still be people out there who worry about a Skoda badge on the front of their car, but I have no hesitation in recommending these reliable, well-built, economical cars.

05 May 2008

Boris Johnson London Mayor - 1st Speech 2 April 2008

More people would take an interest in politics if all the major political parties encouraged outspoken, free-thinking, humorous politicians like Boris Johnson, instead of the usual cheerless, on-message automatons that seem to be the order of the day at the moment.

Goodbye Red Ken, hello Blue Boris

Last week's election for the Mayor of London produced an unexpected upset for the incumbent Labour Party's "Red Ken" Livingstone, or .. as he became known during the election campaign .. "Ken Leavingsoon".

After two periods in office (a total of eight years) he achieved quite a lot in raising the image of London, reducing traffic congestion, and encouraging new development. On the flip side, his traffic congestion charge became controversial when the charges started going up, and the control zone was extended. The London Underground private finance initiative went belly up, and Ken was also criticised for his allocation of large financial grants to some pretty weird and questionable organisations. He also liked to play host to controversial political and religious figures, especially from the Muslim community; and whilst he was happy to organise St Patrick's Day parades, he would not give house room to any demonstration of English pride on St George's day.

He was, and is, in many ways a bit of a comedian with a controversial love life and a passion for newts (though I hasten to add there is no connection between the two!)

Londoners were really given the chance of voting for one of two comedians, because along came Boris Johnson for the Conservatives out of the blue - he of the tousled hair, TV show performances, posh voice, and frequently voiced political gaffes.

Boris is such a loose cannon in the Conservative Party that he was soon assigned a team of advisers to try and keep him away from his role of comedian and firmly on the straight and narrow political message. But anyone who knows Boris knows that this is a waste of time. Indeed this is part of his success: he is so outspoken, so "un-PC", so good at appearing to be a complete buffoon whilst actually concealing a sharp intellect and huge knowledge that even those would rather stick pins in their eyes than vote Conservative grudgingly acknowledge their affection for him.

It was, then, perhaps no great surprise that he should manage to come along and upset Red Ken's applecart.

Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick (ex-police commander) was out of site. He is a decent man who nevertheless seems to have suffered a charisma bypass and was therefore completely unable to compete against the two larger-than-life characters fielded by the Labour and Conservative Parties.

Other News

Petty Bureacracy is alive and well

It's good to know that we still employ pea-brained "jobsworths" in public service to remind us just how stupid human beings can be. Last week an 82-year old woman disabled with Parkinson's Disease parked her car in Kendal to take a rest as she was feeling unwell. It was a no-parking area, but she possessed a "disabled" permit to display in her windscreen, so she was legally parked with the permit on display. Unfortunately she had not noticed that the permit was on display upside down. A parking warden came along, and rather than waking up the sleeping woman to politely draw attention to her oversight he just slapped a penalty notice on her windscreen. South Lakeland Council rejected her appeal.

In the same week, at the other end of the country, in London, a woman was prosecuted because her "Oyster" pre-paid bus card was 20p short of the amount for the journey. She swiped the card on the machine next to the driver and didn't notice the bleep indicating it was short of funds. The driver said nothing. During her journey an Inspector boarded the bus, and on checking her ticket said she was 20p short. The woman apologised and immediately got our her purse to pay the difference. The Inspector was having none of that: he said he would have to report her, she would get a form in the post on which she could explain herself. She got the form, explained the circumstances and submitted it. Next thing she knows is she's been summoned to appear before Sutton magistrates later this month.

What kind of country have we become, with such idiots messing up our lives? Is it a reflection of our education system that such people are produced and given paid jobs?

27 April 2008

Who is Gordon Brown?

A regular American contributor of comments on this Blog responded to my last post about UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown by confessing to knowing little about him, nor even having seen a photograph.

Gordon Brown acquired a good reputation early on as Tony Blair's Chancellor of the Exchequer and was well known for his frequent use of the word "prudence" to describe what drove his financial policies.

Unfortunately, on the other side of the coin (geddit?) he was driven by an overwhelming ambition to replace Tony Blair as leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister. In fact the story goes that when Blair was elected Leader he promised Brown that he would in due course make way for him at some stage. This made for a difficult (and sometimes imposssible) relationship between these two key men in government.

When Brown eventually realised his ambition last year he changed from the "Iron Chancellor" into the vaccilating Prime Minister, and also became haunted by some of the policies that he had been responsible for as Chancellor.

Some of his less savoury acts as Chancellor included imposing a tax regime that led to the near destruction of the insurance and pensions industry, and removing the financial incentives from the state of marriage.

He is the man who introduced a lower rate of income tax set at only 10p in the £ between the level of untaxed income and the level at which the normal rate of 22 pence applied, thus helping the lower paid. This is the same man who, bizarrely, last year slashed the normal rate of 22 pence to 20 pence (with a great fanfare) but at the same time abolished the 10 pence rate that he'd introduced a few years earlier. The result, this year, is that those of us who are reasonably well off are now better off, but those who are struggling are now worse off. (So much for the Labour Party being the party for working people and the disadvantaged.) The outcry within his own Party has been such that he has now been forced to promise some kind of refund for those who have suffered by the latest tax change.

After ten years of Labour Government the rich are richer, and the poor are poorer. We couldn't have asked for more from a typical Tory Government!

18 April 2008

Brown, Britain and Basra

I read in today's paper that whilst Prime Minister Gordon Brown is in Washington gushing enthusiastically about his love of the USA, Americans, and American television, the love might not be reciprocated.

There may be two reasons for this: a lot of Americans don't know who the hell he is, and quite a few members of the gang currently occupying the White House are a bit pissed off with the performance of the British Army in Basra.

They don't like the fact that, having trained up the Iraqi army and police to do the job themselves (which, I recall, was their remit) they have withdrawn to an "overwatch" position. American generals want them back on the streets of Basra to give the militias there a good pounding. They are annoyed that Brown has declared his intention to draw down British troops in Iraq.

They had better get over it because we should have never have been there in the first place (nor should the Americans, come to that), and if the White House and the Pentagon think we should stay, well, tough titty! And if the Iraqis wish to conduct a civil war, then that's their business. Good luck to them, because they'll need it: Iraq is an artificial construct and I doubt if it can survive as such without it being propped up by someone else.

As for the question, "Who is Gordon Brown?" a prominent member of the Labour Party establishment opined yesterday that "Gordon Brown was put on this earth to remind us how good Tony Blair is."

09 April 2008

The Man for Me

I thought I would watch five minutes of this but thirty minutes later I was still watching and listening. He's the man for me. It's a shame I don't have a vote! Clinton can't hold a candle to this man, and as for the present incumbent of the White House he appears by comparison to be even more of an intellectual dwarf than we had at first thought.

06 April 2008

Hysterical E-mails and the Dollar Coin

I've just received one of those many e-mails that fly around cyberspace asking to be passed on to all one's friends to spread some rant or other on subjects that are usually associated with Patriotism, or the Military, or God, or all three together.

This latest one is about a new US Dollar coin and the e-mail urges Americans to refuse to accept it
and ask for the paper version instead. Here in the UK we became similarly exercised some years ago when the £1 note was replaced by the £1 coin, but not for the same reasons that Americans are wound up about their Dollar. The British were upset because it was easier to carry a wallet full of notes than a pocket full of heavy coins.

Why are Americans upset by the Dollar coin? Well, this is what the e-mail says ..

You guessed it - 'IN GOD WE TRUST' IS GONE!!!
If ever there was a reason to boycott something, THIS IS IT!!!!
Together we can force them out of
Please send to all on you mail list !!!

This is ridiculous. Why?

Well, first of all, if you study this picture on the left you will see "IN GOD WE TRUST" engraved around the edge of the coin.

Second of all, if you trust in God, why do you need to be reminded of it on your money - any more than you need to be reminded of your patriotism by flying a flag outside your home? (something else I don't understand!)

04 April 2008

Brown's "British" Buses

A couple of years ago the UK Government introduced senior citizens' bus passes entitling them to free travel on "local buses in their area". This was a welcome move, and moreover it was said we could look forward to the scheme being extended to provide travel on local buses in any part of the country.

That moment has arrived and we have been sent our new bus passes, together with an explanatory leaflet from which we learn the following: "From 1st April 2008, the new national bus concession will enable passholders to get free off-peak travel on local buses anywhere in England."

The statement is an oxymoron. .. NATIONAL bus concession .. anywhere in ENGLAND.

Now our (Scottish) Prime Minister has been banging on at great length since he took over from Tony Blair about the importance of being British and the desirability of preserving the United Kingdom. Why, therefore, can we not use our bus passes in Scotland or Wales?! And, if you live in Scotland or Wales you have your own passes, but I'm afraid you cannot use them in England. Why not?

Please, Mr Brown, do I live in England or do I live in Britain? I am confused. I am denied an English Parliament (unlike my Scottish and Welsh neighbours) but I am provided with an England-only bus pass.

Brown is several seats short of a double-decker.

28 March 2008

Time Magazine on Britain's Teenagers

The latest edition of the American magazine Time contains a lengthy article on the apparent depths to which Britain's teenagers have descended. It is reported that 20% of the UK adult population is scared to walk the streets at night in our cities. As this magazine is published all around the world this feature can only be described as a huge embarrassment, not least to the Labour Government that, in ten years, has totally failed to deal with childhood poverty, discipline in schools, and effective policing.

In my view, part of the problem has been the fanatical devotion in recent years to so-called "Human Rights" with no counter-balancing devotion to the matter of "Human Responsibilities". In my book, if a teenager smashed out of his or her brain (as likely to be a girl as a boy) on cheap, readily available alcohol decides to stick a knife into you for the hell of it, then he or she forfeits all human rights. If someone gets tanked up on cheap, strong lager from their local supermarket before entering a night club to complete the process of brain and liver destruction, then falls out of the premises at 2 in the morning to vomit and urinate in the street before starting a fight, then the Police can, for my money, treat them as roughly as they like.

It's no use asking where the parents are because as like as not they are also smashed out of what passes for their brains.

Last night we were visited by two teenage friends. Their politeness, humour, attitude to work, ambition, and general appearance were a timely counterbalance to the above story, and we are fortunate enough to know many such young people. It is a desperate shame that these are not the people who make the newspaper headlines or get into Time Magazine.

18 March 2008

Surfer's Soliloquy

To BLOG or not to BLOG, that is the question —
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous comments,
Or to take arms against a sea of e-mails,
And by opposing, end them. To cry, DELETE
No more; and by deletion say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to — 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. CTRL, then ALT
DELETE, perchance to live! Ay, there's the ESC,
For in that real life what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this “virtual” coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes calamity of “virtual” life,
For who can bear the dark blue screens of death,
The spammer’s songs, the offers of viagra,
The pangs of “virtual” love, the law's delay,
The insolence of chat rooms, and the loans
That have no merit and the gullible takes,
When he himself can’t clear his overdraft
With a bare cheque book? Who would be a bear
Of little brain in this computer’d life,
But that the dread of something after DEL,
The real-life country from whose bourn
No surfer returns, puzzles us still,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the hue of pixel resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And variations of dot pitch and R G B
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And so I stay confused .. F1 for help?

With apologies to

William Shakespeare