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29 December 2009

Tall Tale of the Enigmatic Christmas Bottle

Well, that's another Christmas gone, and a new year to look forward to. Of the many, varied, and wonderful Christmas gifts this year was an unlabelled bottle from a nephew, containing a home-prepared concoction.

It was clear, straw coloured, and contained a selection of seeds, a cinnamon stick and a couple of small red chillies. It provoked much discussion around our Christmas Dinner table about its properties. It was necessary to experiment, in which context I sent an e-mail to my nephew thanking him for his gift, explaining that thanks to him I had ..

  • successfully de-iced my front garden path;
  • dabbed some behind my ears (which didn't make me any more attractive to women) but did keep the flies away;
  • destroyed a couple of wasps nests;
  • cleaned all the brass and silver in my house;
  • removed some unwanted pubic hair;
  • run my car on it at illegal speeds.
It had then occurred to me that we were supposed to drink it. My son successfully set it alight, suggesting alcoholic content, then drank some. This provoked a stream of somewhat unseasonal profanities.

I followed up with some of my own bravado and took a swig, as a consequence of which my trousers fell down, my ears started revolving, and I swallowed my tongue.

I hope to be free of the oxygen cylinder within a couple of weeks.

Happy New Year!!

21 December 2009

Winter like it used to be!

Here in Yorkshire I have 5 inches of snow in my garden, and the snow on the tree branches has remained in place for several days. I'm not complaining; it's all very picturesque, and I've just read that Virginia USA has, in some parts, just received 2 feet of snow! (For the benefit of metricated readers, that's 130 mm of snow in my garden and 610 mm in Virginia).

Yesterday morning I ventured outside to do some energetic snow clearing and apply some rock salt. The salt idea didn't work out too well, because it had frozen into one solid lump. The snow clearance idea was even worse because I fell flat on my back and, whilst I was somewhere between upright and horizontal I managed to hit myself in the face with the handle of the snow shovel. It would have been highly entertaining to anybody watching, but they weren't, so my performance was wasted.

I therefore decided to return to the warmth of my home and succumb to the affluence of incohol.

My wife put scraps of food for the birds on the front lawn; she put it all on a flat baking tray to prevent the scraps becoming lost in the snow. A few minutes later a big fat pigeon made a fast landing on the tray, and stood there methodically picking up each scrap of food and tossing it remarkable distances across the garden, resembling nothing so much as someone tossing frisbees. Well, I thought, we put it there for the birds, and a pigeon is a bird, and if it wants to chuck stuff about instead of eating it, who am I to give it lessons in table etiquette?

I do hope the bankers are feeling the cold. I keep reading (and hearing) politicians, bankers, and political pundits wailing about the UK Government's proposed 50% tax on bankers' bonuses, and the phrase that keeps on coming up is, "If we tax the bonuses we are going to start losing talent to other countries". Excuse me, but would that be the same talent that got us all into this fine mess in the first place?!

By the way, I've just received from the UK Government my senior citizen's £10 Christmas Bonus. We really should be doing something about this Bonus Culture.

Merry Christmas to my two readers and their friends!

11 December 2009

Bonus Culture

I've just received my Senior Citizens £10 Christmas Bonus from the Government.

Something should be done about this Bonus Culture!

06 December 2009

Climate Change

The theft and publication of e-mails originating from climatologists in the University of East Anglia has given a morale boost to all those who would have us believe that mankind has had no effect on the our planet's climate.

These Cambridgeshire Scientists have, allegedly, skewed some data to support their strong belief that climate problems are man-made, and have rubbished other scientists who take a contrary view.

If that is the case, then they have covered their own heads in the brown stuff, for science is surely the development of theories and subsequent proof of them by demonstrating incontrovertible facts. In short, they cannot call themselves scientists.

I see the climate change affair like this .. there are two arguments:

1. Climate change is or is not occurring.
2. If the change is occurring it is or is not being caused by our own activities.

With regard to No.1 I believe you would have to be some kind of blinkered nut-case to say climate change is not occurring. After all, we can see it with our own eyes. We can see the ice caps melting, we can see shipping lanes opening up in places where previously shipping was impossible because of ice, and we can see the increasing incidents of extreme and sometimes lethal weather conditions.

With regard to No.2 I have to defer to the opinions of scientists, but some scientists are more scientific than others (it would seem). Nevertheless, I feel that even (at one extreme end of the argument) if mankind is not the major cause, and it is mainly down to natural cyclical changes, then that does not excuse us from polluting our own environment, or even just running the possible risk that we are going to make things worse. Whether or not we are the cause we have to plan for how we are to manage the effects of climate change, whilst simultaneously ensuring that we are not actually contributing to the problem.

So to anyone who saying to me that the Cambridgeshire scientists' e-mails indicates that we can carry on doing whatever we like, I say, "On your bike!" (And out of your car, by the way).

20 November 2009

Software Companies are as good as their Help Desk

After many years of using Windows PC software from both the giants and pygmies of cyberworld I have concluded that however good a product appears to be, the company who sold it to you stands or falls on the quality of its Help Desk.

I do not think we should be wasting our time and increasing our blood pressure by using anything that cannot be quickly resolved by an efficient and responsive technical help department each time one of our applications falls over or produces difficulties to the user.

If you go to a software company website and you have to dig deep to find any contact phone numbers, e-mail addresses or other useful methods of contact, then quite frankly they don't deserve to be receiving your hard-earned cash.

Two of my most recent frustrating experiences both relate to Anti-virus and Internet Security products.

For two years I used Symantec's Norton Antivirus product. For two years I was constantly frustrated by my computer working slowly and frequently seizing up completely. In addition it was hardly ever possible to close the PC down without manually closing a selection of small system applications first. The cause was a file called ccSvcHst.exe which is part of the Symantec product that beavers away in the background. Investigation showed that lots of other people were having the same problem and were reporting frozen computers caused by this application taking up 100% of their CPU useage.

Symantec's Help Desk certainly responded to my frequent pleas for help, but in the end it was a matter of them just going through the motions, since it seemed on investigation that they were well aware that ccSvcHst.exe was an issue. But rather than admit this they went through the motions of taking remote control of my computer on two separate occasions, turned it inside out, only to report back to me that everything was in order.

And so it was .. until the next time it froze.

In desperation I came to the point where I wiped every last vestige of Symantec's products off my PC and purchased an Anti-virus application from an alternative provider. (Kaspersky, since you ask.) I am now enjoying a computer that flies along without a hitch, and one that closes down properly when I tell it to. I look back with regret that all those months of difficult operation, calling IT consultants in, and wondering if something was wrong with my machine.

The other bad experience was with the Internet Security system on my employers' PC. Our subscription came up for renewal and we were invited to download the latest Internet Security package, which we did. Immediately after we had done that Internet Explorer would not connect with the Internet. So we tried our alternative Browser, Mozilla Firefox and this also reported that it could not connect. I downloaded the Google Chrome browser and that wouldn't work either.

If we disabled the Internet Security application we could connect, but then of course we were unprotected. We were damned if we could, and we were damned if we couldn't. We called in an independent IT consultant, who removed the offending application and downloaded a fresh copy, after which he was faced with all the same problems.

We phoned the Help Desk and couldn't get speak to a human being. We were invited by recorded message to send an e-mail (which we could have done if only we could safely connect to the Internet!) I sent an e-mail from my private address. We had a reply after a few days, suggesting a 5-step procedure. We followed it, but to no good effect. From this point on, we couldn't get any further responses via phone or e-mail. Our IT consultant completely removed the product and we subscribed to an alternative product. (Kaspersky since you ask!) Since then we have had no problems. We sent letters by snail-mail to the company's head office requesting a refund of our subscription renewal. No reply. We have now sent three letters, all yielding nothing. I actually managed to speak to a human being 2 months ago and he promised a refund. It didn't come, and when I spoke to another human being a month later he argued strongly against the possibility of a refund, but would take it further with his head office. Watch this space.

"What is this abominable product?" I hear you cry. Well suffice to say it survives on a diet of bamboo shoots.

09 November 2009

Unhealthy Republicans

I was pleased when I read that President Obama's Health Bill had been passed (albeit narrowly) by the House of Representatives because I believe that all people should have access to good health care.

I was astonished that every single Republican Representative voted against it, and incredulous at the demonstrators outside holding up placards saying "Kill the Bill", and "No to big government".

What are these people saying? Are these slogans code for "We don't really care that 46 million Americans do not have / cannot afford / cannot get health insurance?"

And what's all this about "Big Government"? It's not as if a UK-style National Health Service is being created. It isn't.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with "Big Government". Its virtue or otherwise depends upon the areas in which it is being imposed. For example, America could hardly have an Army, Navy and Air Force, and a Defence Strategy, without "Big Government".

I wish the Health Bill well.

07 November 2009

Sgt. Kimberly Denise Munley

My congratulations to Sgt Kimberley Munley. She was the one who fired the first shot to bring down the crazed psychiatrist major who turned his gun on his own men at Fort Hood army base in Texas.

The phrase "Physician, heal thyself" comes to mind.

Fortunately, though incapacitated, Major Hasan was not killed. This means that someone (presumably some other psychiatrist?) might get some insight into this man's motives.

* * *

Remembrance Day

There is a group of people called the anti-war coalition who oppose the expectation that we
should all be wearing red poppies this month. Their reasoning is that they symbolise support for our military campaign in Afghanistan. This is, of course, quite wrong. They symbolise our communal remembrance of all those who have fallen in military conflicts since the 1st World War.

Having said that, it has to be recognised that the anti-war coalition has a point, for the following reason: certain football teams are being required (even coerced) into wearing the Poppy "In support of our troops". There is a subtle difference between remembering the dead and supporting our troops. By all means support our troops if you want, but wearing the Poppy has nothing to do with it!

23 October 2009

Nick Griffin (BNP) on Question Time

I watched the BBC's Question Time last night, with Nick Griffin (Leader of the British National Party) on the panel.

He was shown to be, and showed himself to be, pretty damned stupid. The anti-fascist protesters outside Television Centre trying to prevent him from appearing were wrong: the BBC did us all a great service.

He was no match for the other members of the panel who were able to show him up for what he is merely by the use of reasoned argument and the presentation of historical facts.

The audience (a political cross-section) allowed him to have his say, but made quite clear the contempt in which they held him. The more Griffin presented his own views the more he made himself look both disgusting and silly in equal measure.

Good job, BBC! Don't be put off by those who would stifle free speech.

22 October 2009

British National Party

There is a great furore going on about the Leader of the BNP (British National Party) Nick Griffin being invited on to the panel of the BBC’s Question Time this evening. The BNP, however odious, has two elected Members of the European Parliament, and therefore are technically entitled to appear on such a programme.

This afternoon there were huge demonstrations by anti-fascist organisations outside the BBC TV Centre, and some managed to get inside the building – they were later ejected. At one stage it looked as though Griffin would not be able to get into the building, but this was eventually achieved by one of many back entrances in side streets. At the time of writing this it looks as though the programme will go ahead. It promises to be a somewhat stimulating debate, to say the least. No doubt the studio audience will become over-heated.

It seems to me that it is little good protesting at the BBC’s decision to invite Griffin on to the panel, since the BNP is a legitimate Party. My problem is that it should not really be a legitimate Party at all, and it should be up to the Government to proscribe it. After all, the Party’s Constitution states that membership is limited to the “Indigenous Anglo-Saxon and Celtic Folk” of Britain. To me, this smacks of Adolph Hitler’s dream of the pure Arian Germanic Race.

A recent Court Decision on the BNP’s Constitution requires the Party to open its membership to all. It remains to be seen whether they will make that change. Even if they did, I would be very surprised if any of our “non-white” community would ever wish to become a member! It is an openly racist Party.

I shall (as usual) be watching Question Time tonight, but with more than a little excited anticipation on how it will all turn out. Apparently Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Justice as agreed to be on the Panel, together with a senior MP from the Liberal Democrats. Should make for interesting watching.

This is an excerpt from the BBC Website – an article by the programme’s editor – which makes an interesting reference to the USA.

"There is something very British about Question Time.

Having just spent a sabbatical year in Washington - where politicians are in the most part astonishingly remote from their electorate - I am reminded that the programme represents a major investment in the democratic process by our political class

My American colleagues - some of them aides to top US politicians - would watch DVDs of the show in near disbelief, open mouthed.

This could never happen in the US, they would say, none of the senior politicians would be willing to mix with voters in prime time.

Yet back in the UK, that is exactly what happens, week after week.

Speaking at the weekend to mark the show's 30th anniversary, Harriet Harman said that Question Time can still make or break a political career - and it remains the most dangerous of political formats."

This is the link to the whole article.

19 October 2009

Barak Obama's Peace Prize

I was a few days late in picking up on this bit of news; I'd gone away for a long weekend and was studiously avoiding the news.

Having had time to think about it I'm pleased he got it, though I can't help thinking it might be a bit premature.

Why was it awarded? Well, I have a couple of theories.

1. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for not being George Bush. (I'm still waiting for my own award, because last time I looked in the mirror I wasn't George Bush either).

2. The whole thing was an embarrassing typing error: after a remarkable year in the White House vegetable garden, Obama was nominated for the Noble Peas Prize.

06 October 2009

Jeremy Paxman meets his Match

Jeremy Paxman, scourge of the Political Animal Kingdom, was reduced to laughter last night when he interviewed Boris Johnson at the Conservative Party Conference. Paxman, with his usual dogged persistence was trying to get a straight answer out of "Bo-Jo" on the proposed new European Constitution set out in the Lisbon Treaty, and whether a Conservative Government would still give us a Referendum on the matter even if it was ratified by the two countries (Poland and the Czech Republic) still remaining in the ratification process. It was noted that Ireland had now said YES in their recent referendum. (Our Labour Government had already ratified the Treaty without the referendum that they had promised us).

When pressed, Boris came up with the line that he was ".. only the Mayor of London - merely a toe-nail on the body politic". At this point Paxman gave up the unequal struggle.

26 September 2009

Death to the "Trumblies"!

I've just driven 15 miles on a 60 mph road at 35 mph because some guy 3 cars in front (with nothing in front of him) has decided that's the speed we should be doing. A mile of cars behind us could do nothing because of oncoming traffic on the other side. Pathetic! Why do these people have driving licences?


Changing the subject, why are we all getting so worked up about Iran developing nuclear weapons? For 40 years the USA and USSR confronted each other with WMD which nobody dare use because of the unthinkable consequences. If Iran launched a nuclear attack against the West, Iran would be obliterated. It follows that Ahmed I'm-a-dinner-jacket would not use it.

20 September 2009

Forget the Plane - go by Train!

We have just returned from a week's river cruise on the Saone and Rhone in the south of France. We started and finished in Lyon. The vacation package included first class train travel to and from the cruise ship. We made our own arrangements to get to London from York, using National Express Trains. After an overnight stay in London, we boarded the Eurostar at the beautiful new St Pancras International train station, and that took us via the Channel Tunnel to Lille in northern France.

At Lille we changed to a French double-decker TGV that whisked us comfortably down to the south of France at speeds approaching 200 mph. A short transfer by coach from the station to the cruise ship moorings and we were on board the Princesse de Provence by tea time.

After a week's cruising these beatiful rivers, visiting Tournus, Chalon-sur-Saone, Macon, Trevoux, Avignon, and Vienne, taking in the 2000-year old Roman Aqueduct Pont du Gard, and the vineyards of Beaujolais and Chateau-neuf-du-Pape we returned to North Yorkshire by the same route. We left the south of France at 10.40 a.m. and were back in Northern England within seven and a half hours. The journey was smooth, fast and comfortable, with fast check-in, passport control and security checks on the Eurostar leg of the journey.

You would be hard put to beat these times travelling by plane, with which you have all the usual long check-in times, general airport nightmares, and travel to and from airports. You avoid all this by train and, moreover, you actually see something on the journey.

Unless you have to cross a vast ocean to get where you are going, forget the plane - go by train.

07 September 2009


Why are we there?

What have we achieved?

This, from today's New York Times ..

“We think that about 15 percent of the polling sites never opened on Election Day,” the senior Western diplomat said. “But they still managed to report thousands of ballots for Karzai.”

Besides creating the fake sites, Mr. Karzai’s supporters also took over approximately 800 legitimate polling centers and used them to fraudulently report tens of thousands of additional ballots for Mr. Karzai, the officials said.

The result, the officials said, is that in some provinces, the pro-Karzai ballots may exceed the people who actually voted by a factor of 10. “We are talking about orders of magnitude,” the senior Western diplomat said.

We are told by the politicians that our boys and girls in uniform are there (1) to make safe the streets of America and Europe from the threat of terrorism and (2) to encourage the Afghans to take the democratic path as an alternative to the tyranny of the Taliban.

Well, with regard to keeping us safe from terrorism I haven't noticed that our world has been a safer place in recent years, and with regard to democracy, the last I heard was that democracy has nothing to do with faking thousands of votes.

So - I want somebody to tell me again - why are we there, and what have we achieved?

26 August 2009


So now we know .. it was OK for America to employ torture on terrorist suspects so long as strict rules were applied.

The Bush/Cheney regime .. a bunch of crooks and gangsters masquerading as Christians. They deserved to be kicked out of office.

The UK government hasn't been much better in quietly acquiescing to a lot of shady practices, including some carried out by our own security agencies. Election 2010: they are for the chop next!

Incidentally, for all this effort I don't notice the world becoming a significantly safer place - quite the opposite in fact.

15 August 2009

Ramada Jarvis Hotel, Blackrod nr.Bolton - Result

The other week on these pages I slated this hotel for poor availability of food and shoddy service (though I gave it credit for pleasant accommodation that was kept scrupulously clean).

I'm pleased to report that having complained to the management I have received an apology, some financial compensation, and a promise to address the issues I raised.

All's well that ends well.

13 August 2009

Lockerbie Bomber

It seems that the Scottish Government is considering releasing the guy convicted of blowing up the Pan-Am airliner over Lockerbie. He has terminal cancer and might be allowed to return to Libya for his final days.

There has been an interesting range of reactions to this news. American relatives of the victims are said to be incandescent and I saw one being interviewed on today's BBC TV news. She was in no doubt that this would be a disgraceful decision. A couple of other (UK) relatives of victims have said quite the opposite, citing the fact that this guy cannot have acted alone, he has persisently maintained he is innocent and has an Appeal pending. A lot of people in the UK feel that he was "offered up" by the Libyan Government when Colonel Gadaffi decided he wanted to stop being everyone's enemy and sign up to a friendlier relationship with the UK and the USA. We should remember that for some considerable time after this terrible event it was thought that the Libyan Government had been behind it.

Since history is littered with unsafe convictions, I am of the opinion that this particular conviction may well come within that category. The guy is going to die anyway, so I'm not going to get too exercised about him being returned to his family for his final days.

02 August 2009

Gone with the Wind

Here's a couple of recent news items:

News Item No.1

Seven thousand new wind turbines may rise from land and sea by 2020.

Ambitious plans to generate one third of UK electricity from renewables by 2020 form the centrepiece of government plans for a low carbon future.

Financial packages for wind and wave energy and changes to planning procedures are among key components of the Low Carbon Transition Plan.

News Item No.2

Britain's only wind turbine factory is to be closed.

Danish owner, Vestas, has blamed its decision to close the factory on a lack of demand for wind turbines in the UK market.

* * *

Surely some mistake. Am I missing something here?

28 July 2009

Ramada Jarvis Hotel, Blackrod nr.Bolton, Lancashire

£7 for a glass of wine? Do me a favour!

We've just returned from a 3-day break at the Ramada Jarvis Hotel at Blackrod (near Bolton) - a pleasant setting in the county of Lancashire at the foot of the west Pennines, within easy reach of the Rivington Country Park adjacent to a large water supply reservoir.

We couldn't fault the hotel accommodation and it was kept spotlessly clean, but the hotel lets itself down in the matter of food and drink. Everything we had from the menu and the wine list were second or third choices because whatever we really wanted was not available, even when the menu said it was available 24 hours a day, e.g., Kashmiri Lamb Curry. When I chose that it wasn't even available for 24 seconds.

On our first night, dinner in the "Arts Brasserie" was severely disrupted by a wedding reception, in that although we had been told we could order a meal from 6 pm onwards, this was not actually possibly until 8.30 pm.

On the second night we sat down in the brasserie, (in which there were only about a dozen other diners), but no one seemed to be getting any meaningful service. Waiters and waitresses were walking around at high speed between various parts of the hotel and the bar in the brasserie achieving God knows what, and we were totally ignored for 20 minutes, until I made a point of asking for some service. We placed our order (still no "24-hour" Kashmiri Lamb!) and had to wait another 20 minutes before being told that my choice of Starter was not available. By the time we had any food on the table we had been sitting there for 55 minutes.

I have never seen so much high-speed walking around achieving so little.

Breakfast was served in a different dining room, and the fried eggs, scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, black pudding, tomatoes, mushrooms and baked beans made an excellent breakfast, but only if you were lucky enough to be in the room when all these items were simultaneously available on the self-service breakfast bar - which wasn't very often! Most of the time, people were standing around waiting for food to appear from the kitchen, or asking the dining room staff for this or that missing item. In three days we never saw the Chef or any member of the kitchen staff check out the current state of the breakfast bar, or stock it up with anything. It was all down to dining room staff having to go into the kitchen to get more supplies as and when they could.

Stress levels were increased by the existence of a persistent high-pitched whistling sound coming from some unidentified piece of machinery, so we were all suffering from a kind of communal tinnitus.

We shall not be returning to any Ramada Jarvis hotel any time soon.

19 July 2009

Narrow Broadband

It's not that long ago that the idea that one could watch TV programmes on your personal computer would have seemed slightly ridiculous.

It's not that long ago that being able to connect with both information and people all around the world in a meaningful way was just a gleam in Sir Tim Berners-Lee's eye.

And when he made that possible with his HTML code that launched the World Wide Web on the Internet (hitherto a military and academic piece of international telephonic computer hardware) we became used to the idea that when connecting to this worldwide phenomenon we did so to the accompaniment a vaguely science-fiction display of beeps, tones, whirring and buzzing that was the beloved Dial-up System, and we marvelled that we were transferring data back and forth at the phenomenal rate of 56 Kilobits per second.

The other day I found myself almost transported back to those days when my Broadband connection became mysteriously downgraded to a rate of less than 0.5 Megabits per second; and although this is a huge increase on the erstwhile dial-up system it was in fact achingly slow and rendered any attempt at watching streamed media totally impossible. The BBC i-Player flashed up a message that said in effect, "Your'e wasting your time, your system is totally inadequate for this task, and you should contact your ISP".

It did come up with a possible solution: download the programme to your own disk and run it from there. Fine - but when I started to download a 60-minute programme, after three hours it was still downloading and telling me there were another 50 minutes to go.

I gave up and e-mailed the BT Help Desk, and to be fair to them within an hour I received a phone call from an engineer. (By the way, judging by the accent of every BT advisor I've ever spoken to, their call centre is either based on the Asian sub-continent or their IT section is staffed entirely by Indians, Pakistanis, or Bangladeshis. They are all polite to an almost unreasonable degree, but sometimes hard to understand.)

They carried out line speed tests that told them what I had already established, i.e., my download speed was less than half a Megabit per second, whereas my "BT Broadband Option 3 Package" was supposed to deliver up to 8 Mbps (although the average expectation would be around 5 Mbps).

They seemed to be at a loss as to why this was happening and promised a full investigation, and I would be updated on progress with phone calls. The phone calls never came.

I checked the configuration of My "BT Home Hub" router/internet phone and discovered that it was registering the time it had been connected as 11 days. This was odd, because as far as I was concerned it had been connected for over a year! Not only that, it was apparently configured for only 0.5 Mbps downstream speed. So it appeared that some time in the past week or so it had been remotely disconnected and then re-connected with a different configuration.

I got back to the BT Help Desk yesterday and told them in no uncertain terms this was not why I was paying them £25 per month. Later I played back a message on my answer-phone from one my new "Indian" friends who said the engineers were in the process of resolving my problem, and would I please monitor my Broadband speed over the next few days. Oh, and "I hope you have a wonderful day ahead of you".

This morning I carried out a speed test and - joy of joys - found my speed up to 5 Mbps., and I successfully re-ran a TV program on BBC i-Player, streamed without distortion or interruption from continual buffering.

It got me thinking about how, in spite of how things used to be only a very short while ago, about which we had no complaint, once we move on to yet another level of technical and scientific advancement, we find it almost impossible to tolerate reverting to how things were only "yesterday".

14 July 2009

Outdated Expression - "The camera never lies"

A friend of mine sent me a photo of himself standing next to a wartime museum exhibit. I lost control of my computer mouse hand and it finished up like this ..

Well, he said he liked it and I should put it on the internet. So here it is, and be it on his own head. I think his nome de plume is A. Nonny Mouse (possibly named after his little friend with the wooden spoon).

27 June 2009

Death of a Superstar

So farewell to Wacko Jacko

How we marvelled at his skin.

Was it black or was it white?

(Very unlike his kith and kin).

Love or hate him, we all know his

Dance routines were far from shoddy.

And he was racial integration

Inside one multi-coloured body.

25 June 2009

John Bercow speech to become Speaker

Since he is opposed by most of his own (Conservative) Party that indicates to me that he's probably going to be OK!

New Commons Speaker Tory MP John Bercow thanks MPs

I believe that John Bercow (even though opposed by most of his own Conservative Party) will make a much better fist of this job than his predecessor Michael Martin (who was forced to resign after presiding over the long-running MPs' expenses and allowances scandal, not to mention trying to use the courts to exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information Act).

24 June 2009

New Speaker of the House of Commons

Just when we were slowly being conned into believing that the Conservative Party had ceased to be "The Nasty Party" the shits have come out of the woodwork again following the overwhelming election of the excellent John Bercow MP (left) as Speaker of the House of Commons.

There are rumbles and rumours that most of the Conservative MPs were firmly against the election of this particular Conservative MP as the new Speaker. Worse still they are already talking about a campaign to remove him if and when (though they say "when") they have a Parliamentary majority after the next General Election.

So what is their problem? Well, Bercow used to have quite right-wing views when he was first elected to Parliament for the Conservative Party, but over the years he has moderated his views considerably, to the extent that his colleagues think he would be more suited as a Member of the Labour Party.

They are now miffed that his election to the (non-party-political) post of Speaker, soundly beating the nine other candidates, could only have been achieved by the combined efforts of the Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs who rightly saw him as a committed reformer.

It is disgusting that the Conservatives cannot bring themselves to accept the results of a free, secret, and cross-party vote for the most important post in the House of Commons.

Recently I have been wearing rose-tinted glasses when looking at David Cameron and his team, but (1) their opposition to reform of our electoral system, and (2) this latest show of bad feeling against John Bercow have restored my eyesight to its former state.

22 June 2009

Speaker of the House of Commons

Continuing my theme of Electoral Reform, today, as a result of the enforced resignation of Michael Martin as Speaker of the House of Commons, the House is electing a new Speaker by secret ballot.

Not only is the secret ballot for this Post a new and welcome innovation to the proceedings of the House, but I am struck by the fact that the successful candidate must received more than 50% of the votes cast. At the time of writing this has already led to the initiation of a second ballot, as the candidate with the largest number of votes (John Bercow) nevertheless did not achieve the 50% rule.

Is it asking too much for the voting system used in our General Elections to be reformed in a similar way? Why should our MPs be elected even when they command well less than 50% support just because their votes might have beaten the next highest by a few votes?

10 June 2009

Electoral Reform & the Conservative Party

Having almost reached a point where I might have considered voting Conservative at the next General Election I read in today's papers that they are opposed to reform of the voting system.

So long as they are content with MPs being elected on a minority vote I shall not support the Conservative Party, since it cannot claim to be democratic. "First-past-the-post" has served both them and the Labour Party well over the years, and I see the Conservatives' opposition to change as being entirely self-serving. I am not asking for full-blown PR with Party Lists. A simple one MP per constituency is fine, so long he or she represents more than 50% of the vote. We all know there are ways of achieving this.

Conservatives .. please wake up to the basic idea of democracy.

This makes me angry when politicians are supposedly wondering why people are disenchanted with politics.

09 June 2009

BNP - Bigots and Nutters Party

A lady in the north west of England was interviewed in the street yesterday and asked how she voted at last week's European Elections. She said, "BNP - I'm ashamed to say". It was a protest vote.

My own region (Yorkshire & Humber) returned one BNP Member of the European Parliament, making a total of two from the UK.

Only 34% of the electorate bothered to vote, and only 6% of those voted BNP. So this Party actually represents about 2% of the population eligible to vote. It's good to put them into a proper perspective.

I loathe the BNP in all its manifestations, and have nothing but contempt for all those who support them with their politics of fear and hate.

The Government has a lot to answer for in making a complete hash of their immigration policies which have encouraged the bigots to inflame feelings.

A feeling that illegal immigration is out of control masks the fact that some immigration is (and has always been) socially and economically beneficial to the UK, and also blurs the distinction between legal immigrants and asylum seekers.

Unless Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat politicians get to grips with this, then the BNP will pick up votes.

We have to be encouraged by the fact that 98% of British people aren't falling for their particular brand of garbage. Some say we should just laugh at them. I'm trying, but it's difficult.

27 May 2009

Open Letter to David Cameron

Open Letter to David Cameron

Dear Mr Cameron,

Even before the Daily Telegraph blew our political system out of the water I had come to the uncomfortable conclusion that, for the first time in my life, I had no idea how I would vote at the next General Election. I had even contemplated not voting at all.

Having spent my life enthusiastically opposing the Conservative Party in all its manifestations by supporting the Liberal Party, the SDP, the SDP-Liberal Alliance, and “New” Labour, I now find myself in the unusual position of calling for “Two cheers for David Cameron!”

I award you “one cheer” for your quick and strong response to the recently-exposed wrong-doings of Members of Parliament, in particular to those of your own Party who have been found wanting.

I award you the “second cheer” for your public commitment to widespread reforms of our parliamentary system.

This is far as I can go, however, because everything you are now calling for will come to nought until or unless you accept the need for a democratic voting system. It is manifestly obvious that in any constituency election involving more than two candidates the “first-past-the-post” voting system is undemocratic. And yet ever since I have been old enough to vote (50 years) I have listened with increasing despair to politicians like yourself making statements like (1)“Our system provides strong government” and  (2)“Our system has served us very well”.

On the first, “strong government” is not necessarily democratic government, and on the second, what you and your colleagues mean is that the system has served you very well!

Although it is clear that the general public’s growing apathy and cynicism towards the political process has been increased by the current expenses revelations, I would ask you to consider the possibility that we have become heartily disillusioned with the whole process because, for the most part, our votes count for nothing, and even when they do, the results are not really democratic.

A system that can elect an MP with less than half the votes cast can in no way be described as democratic. I am not arguing for Proportional Representation, with all the disadvantages that it brings with Party Lists and so on, but merely a system that ensures that the person elected in each constituency commands a real majority; there are a number of ways this can be done as you know, and I don’t need to rehearse them here.

How is it possible to defend a process whereby Candidate A might receive 20,000 votes, Candidate B might receive 19,980 votes, Candidate C might receive 19,500 votes, which then results in Candidate A becoming the duly elected Member?

This charade of a voting system, and the frustration born out of being subjected to government after government after government with large majorities in the House of Commons, but commanding the electoral support of well under half the voting population, and the common knowledge that governments stand or fall on the say-so of a couple of dozen marginal constituencies, all provides an unsavoury mix of cynicism and apathy.

The day on which you publicly acknowledge these truths and commit yourself and your Party to doing something about it could be the day on which I decide – for the first time in 50 years – to vote Conservative.

I hope I can look forward to being able to award you your “third cheer”.

With best wishes,

Lionel Beck.

Ryedale Constituency – (whose Conservative MP has claimed £500 of our money for pot plants and bushes at his London home before selling up for £280,000 profit. I hope he is also grateful for my contribution towards his matches and firelighters, bags of compost, a trellis and plant food, not to mention cups and saucers, a lavatory brush and a casserole dish.)

25 May 2009

The US Republican Party

It would appear that the soul of the recently defeated Republican Party is now been fought over between Colin Powell and Dick Cheney.

From my side of the herring pond I feel bound to pray that the soul of what's left of George Bush's legacy is kept well out of the hands of Cheney.

Powell is a fundamentally decent man. No wonder one or two right-wing bigots have wondered if he is still a Republican.

Don't get me started on Cheney ..

11 May 2009

The Party's over!

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act all the juicy details of our MPs expenses and allowances were due to be exposed next month, but thanks to the Daily Telegraph's ability to get their hands on the details in advance we have now been treated to several days of gory details, firstly those relating to the Government, from the Prime Minister downwards and through all his Cabinet members, and now it's the Conservative Party's turn to be blown out of the water in today's Telegraph.

We have seen how thousands and thousands of taxpayers' pounds have been expropriated under the stupidly lax system of expense allowances for such things as gardening, patio furniture, mock Tudor beams, items of clothing and toiletries, cleaning services, soft furnishings, kitchen appliances, plumbing work, electrical re-wiring, toilet seats, and so on and so on. Assistance with mortgages are given on second homes. Nobody denies the need for second homes when an MP's constituency is several hundred miles from London, but many of these MPs who have second homes turn out to be living within easy commuting distance of Westminster.

Many MPs have been getting second homes improved and enhanced at taxpayers' expense and then selling them in order to buy yet another one and start the process all over again.

The sickening thing is that a good deal of this has been achieved withing the "Rules" and so it is patently obvious that the rules need re-writing and overseen by a totally independent body.

Barbary Follett - a Labour MP - claimed £25,000 p.a. for personal security. She was told by the officials who vet these claims that it might look a bit odd if it became public, but allowed it anyway. Now it has been made public, and yes - it looks a bit odd. Follett claims she doesn't feel safe living in Soho. Well, nobody made her live in Soho! And in any case, if she wants personal security she is married to a multi-millionaire husband - author Ken Follett - and so should be able to afford her own damned security!

The public at large is getting hugely angry by all these revelations about snouts in the trough. And so far it has been made obvious that they are both Labour and Conservative snouts. It remains to be seem whether the Liberal Democrats turn out to be any less pig-like.

I'm guessing - even hoping - that at the forthcoming local and European Parliament elections voters will make a special point of voting for anyone other than the Parties currently wallowing in pig swill. At the same time I hope that such a feeling will not lead to people voting for extremist parties like the BNP. That would not achieve anything useful.

It is a shame that those MPs who are honest and are claiming only what is fair to claim will be tarred by the same brush.

I think that Parliament should be dissolved and we should start all over again with a snap General Election. The public could then make a point of not voting for those greedy and (sometimes) fraudulent MPs and put them out to pasture.

There was a nice Matt cartoon in the Telegraph the other day: two MPs walking together outside Parliament, and one says to the other, "I went into Politics to improve my living room".

28 April 2009

More on "New Labour" .. some credit?

Yesterday I was pretty churlish about the present Labour Government, and I do not detract from anything I said. But in my enthusiasm to criticise I had forgotten that there have been two or three good aspects to the Labour era.

Looking back at a number of governments and Prime Ministers it seems to me that each one can only be remembered favourably on one or two counts, whilst everything else they did was either neutral or negative in effect. For example, Winston Churchill was a great war leader, and his ability to inspire not just us, but those who were persuaded to join the fight against the German Nazis, cannot be disputed. And yet his record as a peace-time Prime Minister was distinctly underwhelming.

The Post-war Labour government of Clement Attlee can be remembered with pride for the creation of the National Health Service. It is still with us, and God help anyone who has the temerity to suggest that it should be dismantled.

The Conservative Administration of Margaret Thatcher or (as the late great Clement Freud called her) Attila the Hen can be remembered as the government that destroyed the tyranny of the Trade Unions and democratized them. Having done that she might as well have packed her bags, because in my opinion she did nothing else memorable except to cause misery and divisiveness: she was an arrogant, self-opinionated fanatic who (together with her buddy Ronal Reagan) sowed the seeds for the financial disaster that we are now experiencing.

Some governments are memorable for having nothing good to be memorable for, such as the Conservative Administrations of Ted Heath and John Major, and the Labour Administrations of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan.

And so we come to our present Labour Government: yes, they have done one or two good things and should be given credit. One was the National Minimum Wage, something the Conservatives fought tooth and nail against and would never have introduced such a thing. Another was devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (though only 8 our 10 for this because there was no devolution for England). Then there have been the annual Winter Fuel Payments for senior citizens, and also free bus travel for them, again a couple of measures the Tories would never have introduced.

So, one and a half cheers for New Labour. But alas, it will still be farewell some time next year.

27 April 2009

Bye-bye New Labour

I've said it before, and (because I'm a boring old fart) I'll say it again .. Opposition Parties don't win elections, Governments lose them.

I think it's becoming clear enough to most people in the UK that come the next General Election (due in 2010) the chances of Labour getting back in for a fourth time are approximately zilch.

This is not because David Cameron's Conservative Party have anything particularly inspiring on offer; rather it is because Gordon Brown's Labour Government is becoming a bit of a laughing stock in much the same way that John Major's government was towards the end of the last Conservative administration.

All power corrupts, and in recent years we have seen that amply demonstrated. Tony Blair swept in on a tide of enthusiasm in 1997 promising to be whiter than white after the Conservative government's embarrassing "Cash for Questions" scandals, and miscellaneous scandals of a sexual kind.

Then we had, under New Labour, the Iraq debacle, donations to secure exemptions from legislation, donations to "buy" peerages, and more recently under the Gordon Brown administration, the infamous e-mail sent by his senior political adviser to a colleague suggesting various ways of running personal smear campaigns against Conservative front-benchers (and their wives). Gordon Brown - in a statement somewhat reminiscent of a Communist dicatorship - said "I accept full responsibility, that's why the person who did it has now gone".

The rich have become richer and the poor have become poorer, whilst at the same time women's wages continue to be lower than those for men for doing similar work; therefore it is clear to me that Labour has failed miserably, since it's whole reason for existence has always been to produce a fairer society.

We have also become the Surveillance State with more CCTV cameras watching our every move than anywhere else in the world. Meanwhile the government is also intent on forging ahead with an expensive and intrusive national identity card scheme (which, to the Conservatives' credit they promise to abandon .. if they are to be believed). Now there are plans to force communications companies to store records of all phone, text, and e-mail messages from everyone in the land. Some Local Councils are using anti-terrorism regulations to enforce ridiculous rules about how much, and what exactly, you are allowed to put in your waste disposal wheelie bins, and using underhand tactics to monitor your activities in this regard.

Well, Gordon Brown, I'm sorry to say this as an ex Labour Party Member and fervent adherent to left-of-centre politics, but come the next Election we shall surely be saying good-bye to you. God knows what we'll get in your place, and our crazy "first-past-the-post" electoral system will, as usual, ensure that the country's fate will be decided by a couple of dozen marginal constituencies.

I have no idea who I'm going to vote for, or even if I'll vote at all. Good grief - I can't believe I just said that!