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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Bureaucrats; you gotta love them ...

Mausi and the I are slowly getting all the papers required by the German authorities sorted out. The hold up is, as ever, Pretoria, but, after almost two years of waiting, even the Standesamt is prepared to make allowances. Finally, yesterday, he acknowledged that we'd run out of option for getting a response from Pretoria acknowledging my divorce in 1995 has been duly noted and recorded. The official has finally accepted the copy of the Marriage Certificate from my old ID Book as a valid document and the print-off from the SA Dept of Internal Affairs Population Register that shows me as "Divorced."

We were told it's irregular, but all our other papers are valid, so they will have to accept what we are able to supply from the South African end as it's obvious we aren't going to get a response.

All I can say is, it's taken 9 months to get this agreement. Nine months of phoning Embassies, Pretoria, more Embassies and Consulates and more calls to Pretoria. Thankfully, having shown all the forms, all the letters and emails, our Standesamt has agreed its a hopeless pursuit. Finally the Magistrate will look at issuing an approval for our marriage.

All I can say, after this experience of the system in South Africa, is I really cannot understand how anyone actually gets anything done there. It must be murder to get anything at all out of any government department and, as for dealing with two ... No, forget it.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Hiding the Past ...

Sometimes one can only wonder at the mentality of politicians, or perhaps their ability to refuse to acknowledge the often disastrous past. Watching the former German "Socialist" (Read as Communist) Party attempt to destroy the other parties candidate for the Presidency here is certainly an interesting exercise. Joachim Gauck, a former Lutheran Priest and scourge of the former rulers of East Germany, is the candidate of choice of all Parties except "Die Linke," the new name for the former communists.

Watching them witter on about how Gauck is a "turncoat" who "benefitted from the system and now undermines all the good ..." or cry about the fact that he revealed all the Stasi files and their abuses of human rights could be amusing. You certainly couldn't make up some of the stuff they accuse him of. I rather liked his reply, which ran along the lines of "if the former DDR was such a wonderfully democratic state, and everyone was so equal and so happy there; why did they need the Stasi? Why did they need to kill everyone who wanted to try a different regime? Why did they lock people up for even talking about wanting a different regime? If everyone was so equal; why did the Party have secret resorts and luxury travel arrangements no one else had access to?"

If you think he got any answers to that, think again. One of the saddest things I've seen on this was a young woman earnestly trying to convince the interviewer that "In a proper Communist State, there is no inequality, no hardship and no one goes without work." When challenged about the DDR situation, her response was to dismiss it as "teething troubles while they struggled against the Capitalist onslaught" and her response to the Stasi - "A necessary safeguard for the greater good ..." She then went on to say that the collapse of Capitalism was "inevitable" and that the only alternative was full Communism... The interviewer gave up after trying to get her to take several reality checks!

As we used to say in South Africa: Ja. Well, no. Fine, fine..." I don't think there's any cure for this sort of mental disease. It isn't stupidity, it isn't that they are unable to get the facts, they are just completely and utterly unable to face reality and to recognise their system is utterly and totally unworkable without its being imposed and enforced in breach of everything they claim to be trying to protect..

Saturday, 25 February 2012

An appropriate response?

I find it difficult enough to believe that someone in the US Forces would have failed to consider the implications of burning a bunch of books in Arabic which might include copies of the Quran. Surely the long engagement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi and the skirmishing with Iran has taught someone something about the sensitivity of this? Apparently not, because they went and burned copies of the Quran, and then left the remains to be found ...


OK, the response across the Islamic world has, in most civilised people's eyes been totally inappropriate. Personally I find the offence committed by Islamists in attacking war graves in Libya, and, for all I know, eleswhere, is provocative in the extreme. As I'm sure it is for most Westerners.


The problem lies in the failure in the West at least, by those who push the secularist, populist agenda, to understand the culture of Islam (They don't actually understand Christianity either!) and so they interfere in matters - probably with what they consider the best of intentions - only to create situations ripe for the sort of violent response we now see. 


The reaction is way over the top in our view, but this is where the fundamental difference lies between Islam and Christianity. Burning a Bible is to offensive to a Christian, but the "Word" resides in Jesus Christ, the "Living Word." To a Muslim, the Quran is the "Word" and is to be treated as such. A true Muslim will wash his hands before picking up a copy and certainly won't place it on the ground or anywhere it could be "defiled." This is why they want it placed on the top shelf in libraries in the UK and elsewhere now so it can never be beneath any other book. It is also why they regard the only "true" text as the Arabic one. To burn a Quran is, to them, to attack God himself. It is in the failure to understand this difference that the "liberal" secularists driving most of these supposedly "democratising" conflicts have opened the door to this sort of response.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Give a dog a bad name ...

In the last two days Australia has seen the reopening of the inquest into the death and disappearance, 30 years ago, of a baby girl from her parents tent as they camped near Ayres Rock (or Uluru as it is now called). At the time it was a media sensation, the mother was accused of killing her baby, her own and other statements that a Dingo had been heard and seen in the campsite just before the baby screamed and then disappeared were ignored by the police and the prosecution. The first inquest recorded the death as "Dingo attack" but the media, police and presumably the prosecutors went on a spree spreading rumours and 'leaking' information in a campaign to bring murder charges against the mother.

She was duly tried and "evidence" was produced to "prove" she was a cold blooded killer. The "evidence" included "blood on the dashboard" of the family car, a "bloody hand print" on the baby's recovered and partly shredded jumper suit and a statement from an "expert" that the rips and tears were not Dingo teeth, but a "pair of scissors" most likely used to kill the infant. Mrs Chamberlain was convicted by the jury, convinced by media reports that "she showed no emotion" and that she was "cool and calculating." Some of the rumours were really wild, including one that accused her of "witchcraft" (I mean, really? In this day and age?) and that her daughter's name meant "sacrifice in the wilderness." In fact, in Hebrew (her father was a 7th Day Adventist Minister) it actually means "Blessed of God."

A few years later the case had to be reopened because a jacket Mrs Chamberlain had said the child was wearing at the time, was recovered - from a Dingo's den! The "blood on the dashboard" it was then revealed had been spilled milkshake and the "bloody handprint" on the recovered jump suit, nothing but red dust! So how did the Jury arrive at a guilty verdict? How on earth did the police and prosecution get away with presenting "evidence" that was, quite frankly, a load of complete and utter garbage. It should have been thrown out of court immediately and the investigators and experts prosecuted for wasting the courts time. But it wasn't.

Why not?

Enter the media. Having whipped up a storm and ably perpetrated the rumours and leaks, giving them increasing credence, they probably influenced the police and the jury. It's called "expectation bias." What it means is that once you allow a biased view to enter your thinking, you will hear and see only the things and evidence that supports your expectations ...

Mrs Chamberlain's "crime" as far as the media was concerned, lay in her inability to show her emotions in public. Nor is this the first time we've seen the media pack leap to conclusions about someone's feelings because they don't shed bucket loads of tears, beat their breasts and snivel to the cameras. Think of the accusations hurled at the Royals for failing to show their "grief" while the Diana Fan Club wailed and metaphorically "rent their robes" all over the streets and the media. Think of the accusations levelled at Mrs McCann by the incompetents in the Portuguese Police - and how the UK Media fanned those flames with sensational reporting.

The same thing happened when a young British couple were kidnapped in the Outback and the young man was murdered. The Australian Press immediately accused her of being the killer. Why? Because she wasn't "grief stricken." As it turned out, a proper investigation did, eventually, lead to the arrest and conviction of a serial killer in South Australia, but you certainly didn't see any retraction in the press of their original slanders.

This is a problem many of us face. We are schooled not to wear our hearts on our sleeves, especially in public. But now, it seems, you can be found guilty by the Media, because you didn't wish to make a spectacle of yourself and kept your grief private. As the person who sent me the article which sparked this line of thought wrote on a forum -


It's always been a fear for me that I hate displaying my emotions in public and if something happened where the world's media were all focussed on me, judging whether I was showing enough emotion, I would be branded guilty of pretty much anything. People whose mothers have postnatal depression tend to be better than average at reading other peoples' faces and controlling the expressions they show to the outside world, because their survival depends on mirroring their mother's moods.


She makes a very good point. She then went on -


It's still considered normal to cry - the McCann family have been subjected to lots of snide comments purely because Mrs McCann committed the crime of not crying with a camera in her face... And even worse - she dared to put on make up and earrings every morning. I seriously saw an article written by a woman (who hadn't had a child go missing or been subjected to press hounding), saying that Mrs McCann must be guilty, because a distraught mother wouldn't care about her appearance. A commenter pointed out that people can go through a morning routine - and even find it reassuring to do so - when they're in shock or under stress, but they got shouted down. The media is a beast that needs to be fed distraught mothers' emotions in order to be appeased - "show us yer tears luv: and if you won't give us that best selling image, we'll sell more papers by saying yer guilty..."


Unfortunately, all too often in this day and age, Juries are already biased by the media coverage long before the accused is brought to trial. Ask Mrs McCann, I'm pretty sure she would tell you exactly what it's like to lose a child and then be hounded by the media pack and accused of murder - because you didn't "show enough emotion" for some yob standing on your doorstep and hurling impertinent and insensitive questions.

There is a serious danger here that the eagerness of the Media to "inform the public" can and does compromise Justice. Likewise, the legitimate desire of the Police to catch the person responsible can sometimes be itself compromised by "expectation bias." We all remember the scenes of wailing and lamenting masses at the funeral of Kim Il Jong recently. Is this a sign of a healthy society? Is this what we expect of anyone bereaved in distressing and extremely traumatic circumstances?

I would suggest that it is stupid, unreasonable and downright intrusive to think that way. I was brought up to not show my grief in public, "we don't display our grief" was the watchword, "we keep it for when we can be private." It is a policy I have every intention of maintaining - and the Media be damned!

Give a dog a bad name - then hang him, is the idiomatic expression. It is a warning; it should not be the watchword of a free and fair society.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Pondering ....

Book trailers, actually.

I've been discussing this with a young lady who makes films. She had a hand in one for Random House and one of their 'Best Seller' authors. The numbers she gave me weren't as big as I would have expected, but now I have to think this through carefully. Which book to do this for? What aspects of the story do I want the trailer to reflect? How will I pay for it?

It needs a lot of very careful consideration I think.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Ash Wednesday

Today being Ash Wednesday we will be off to church tonight to receive the imposition of the ashes. It is always a moving service, a time for reflection and preparation.

It struck me that the words used in the "imposition" have a far wider significance than the obvious if you consider them carefully:

"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. 
Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ."

Those who have read this blog when I have posted on matters religious will know that I believe forensic examination of the evidence we have from the New Testament makes me believe that Jesus was a real person (Josephus has commented that he is mentioned in his "Histories") and that the empty tomb was not the work of tomb robbers or any other form of sleight of hand. Therefore I have no problem with that latter instruction. However, many people do seem to have a problem with the first part of that statement.

We are indeed dust. The individual atoms that make up the molecules that make up the cells and everything else in our bodies was born in the detonation of a star possibly billions of years ago. At some point the atoms that make up the corporeal 'me' that currently wanders this earth will be returned to the dust that litters the universe. While I hope it won't occur too soon, I do have the hope that this life is but a preparation for something greater.

So tonight I will go and submit to being anointed with ashes and hear again the words "Dust you are, and to dust you will return."

Friday, 17 February 2012

A Fair Wage?

The release of the names and salaries earned by the top Civil Servants is timely. This bunch cost the nation almost £30 million a year and there are only 172 of them. The Guardian has all the details in an article. What is shocking is that several of them earn more than the Prime Minister or the Ministers they supposedly work for.

NO! I'm not about to suggest the 650-odd MPs get a pay rise, but it does support my long held view that the major thing wrong with the UK economy is the fact that the Public Services in the UK now employ over one fifth of the total workforce. That those who supposedly 'lead' Whitehall are paid these huge salaries (and get a knighthood for their services when they retire to pick up a nice directorship somewhere) is nothing short of insulting to the taxpayers. These are the men and women who consistently block all efforts to reform the civil service.

Why?

Put simply; because their pay reflects the size of the department they 'manage,' not its actual delivery or its efficiency. It's all about how many minions you have, not what they actually do, or even if you have any idea of what they do. This is the reason there are endless duplications of activities, conflicts in legislation - yes, one department may well require a business to do something it is forbidden to do by another - and absolute stonewalling when anyone suggest a rationalisation.

They should be cut down to size and their departments with them.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

How to persuade Scotland to vote for independence ...

Just get the Prime Minister to make a speech declaring he would "fight tooth and nail to prevent it." I'm afraid Mr. Cameron either has taken leave of his senses, or he wants the Scottish people to vote for full independence. I'm not at all sure whether this is a clever political strategy, or a genuine belief that he can "persuade" the Scottish nation to remain in the UK.

Either way, I think he's just handed Alex Salmand the winning lottery ticket.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Freedom ...

Freedom is something we all aspire to and it is a word much used in political circles, but can we ever have "total freedom?" As Josephus has pointed out in comments to a number of posts, the simple answer is "no." It simply isn't practical to allow everyone in society to exercise total freedom in everything. So we have rules and laws.

As a good friend and Barrister has often pointed out to me, the law is an extremely blunt instrument and often, especially in the English Legal system, what Parliament wrote and may have thought they meant, can turn out to mean something entirely different in court. In part I think this is where there is a problem with trying to legislate for "rights" and "freedoms." Ironically the people who drafted Magna Carta in 1326 got it just about right. They gave us freedom from harassment by the sovereign or their officers unless there was evidence of a crime, and they gave us the right to hold and express our own views, even when those were contrary to the sovereign. Of course, originally, these only extended to the landed barony - not to the peasants and serfs, but, by the 1600s even the peasantry enjoyed some protection.

The Bill of Settlement in 1688 gave us all further rights and set the pattern for the modern concepts of freedom from oppression, harassment and compulsion. However, since the 1990s, we seem to have reversed a lot of this. Now whenever anyone attempts to exercise their reasonable (and constrained) rights, someone else seems to be standing by to rush into court to claim that the exercise of those rights, impinges on theirs.

The more recent laws on various "rights" for a wide range of minority groups are now being used to prevent the majority from exercising their right to say no to many different things they may find offensive or unjust. Slim Jim, in a comment on a recent post asked whether the government that passed the Human Rights Act envisaged its being used in this way. The answer is probably not. Like a lot of the over-hastily rammed through legislation of the last 15 or so years, it is badly drafted and poorly thought through. Now we live with the unintended consequences. The Act is being used to allow murderers, terrorists, rapists and other wanted criminals to hide in the UK on the grounds that extraditing them to their countries of origin might result in an unfair trial, torture or having to face a death penalty. Clearly an infringement of their "human right" to carry on killing, raping, stealing or whatever ...

These and the "Equalities" legislation (You wouldn't believe how much of it there is!) are also being used to forward the campaigns by the National Secular Society (Membership 7,000 - coincidentally the same number as are members of the National Sausage Society) to outlaw prayers in public bodies and the teaching of religion in schools. These laws are also used to attack anyone whose faith may hold a different view of sexuality, marriage or child rearing. Coupled with this we have a plethora of laws defining (or attempting to) child abuse, child parenting and children's 'rights' all of which are used to compel parents to conform to what some academic is currently promoting as the "only" way in which children can be raised. And there is an army of social workers out there ready to enforce it - but only it sometimes seems on the softer targets, the really bad parents go unhindered because they are prepared to meet interference with violence.

Again, I'm sure the intentions of Parliament were good, but they didn't think through the consequences of a judgement deciding something they hadn't intended was permissible or ban-able under the relevant Act.

As Josephus said, nowhere in the world is there complete freedom of speech or action. It is undesirable and impractical, but what we seem to have arrived at in what Slim Jim calls a "Post Democratic" age, is a society in which minority groups can and do use the courts and the current legislation to compel the majority to conform to their wants and desires. That is probably as undesirable as a world in which everyone is at perfect liberty to exercise their rights at any time in any place and without any restraint.

The pendulum has swung from an age in which intolerance was acceptable, to an age where a new intolerance has been fostered and nurtured. The intolerance of anyone who dares to disagree. Perhaps its time to step back and consider carefully the kind of society being created by the new intolerance ...

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Marginalising Faith

Faith is currently under attack as never before. Even during the Roman Empire period it was tolerated, more or less, though the Romans exterminated the Druids in Gaul and Britain and the Carthaginians and one or two other peoples and their religions, usually because they indulged in human sacrifices. Christianity was a convenient scape goat under Nero and his successors, but that changed once the seat of government moved and Constantine became the Emperor. Sadly, once it became the "State" religion, the rich, powerful and politically ambitious managed to get control, and imposed a level of intolerance in complete denial of the real message of the Gospels.

Post the Rennaissance and the Reformation things did get a bit better, but the churches remained a means to power for the rich and powerful until the advent of the 20th Century. By then "science" had become the "new" religion and the "Old Order" was rapidly being replaced by the technocrats and thinkers who have built a "New World Order" which they claim requires no religions and no belief in anything other than the ability of mankind to take care of himself and to discover everything by the application of science and reason. The rich and powerful have cheerfully abandoned the churches and now worship exclusively at the new temples of 24/7 trading and shopping. Morality based on religious teaching is portrayed as "brainwashing" or "bigoted" and replaced with a new code in which anything is acceptable, except that which is "offensive" to the cogniscenti and celebrity chattering classes who parade their prejudices as "moral principles."

Among these prejudices is any form of religious faith. Baroness Warsi, leading a delegation currently on an official visit to the Vatican, makes some strong points about this. I do find it extremely ironic that the Richard Dawkins Foundation is campaigning for an outright ban on all public worship and a complete exclusion of any form of faith from any part of public life - yet his salary, and no doubt a large part of his wealth, was paid and is still paid out of Trusts set up since the foundation of the University College of which he is a professor, by people who were proud to be Christian and practiced their faith publicly. Recent court cases show there is good reason to be concerned about the activiies of these crusading secularists and atheists.

A recent court case brought against Bideford Council by an ex-councillor is just one example of the vicious and mean spirited approach these folk are prepared to use. Claiming that the opening of the council's meetings with prayers "breached his human rights" the National Secular Society brought a case to the High Court. Sadly the Judge, found in their favour, though not on the "Human Rights." Instead he found that the Local Government Act contained "no provision for religious expressions" and ruled that prayers before meetings were therefore "unlawful." He at least had the grace to admit that his finding "created serious problems for every public body and organisation." Frankly the fool should be put out to pasture. Hopefully the Appeal Court will throw his judgement out, but given the quality and sentiments of our Justices at present, I don't think this miracle is likely. The idea that I need legal permission to pray is offensive in the extreme. Why does this matter require a permission in the law? This has always been a matter for local choice and decision and Bideford twice voted by a majority to 1 to retain the prayers at the opening of their meetings.

Then there is the case of a couple who operated a B & B. They lost a case brought by a Gay couple they had refused accommodation to as it ofended their religious principles. It is interesting to note they were Christian, I cannot help but wonder if the judge would have dared to make the ruling he did had the couple been Muslim. Somehow I think not, but that is another issue. Now the couple have also lost their appeal. Apparently someone's "rights" take precedence over anyone else's "right" to hold a particular religious stance or belief. Now I will admit that on this particular issue I am ambivalent, largely because I do believe that the teaching of the church on this issue is misunderstood, misrepresented and needs to be rethought in the light of modern medical understanding of sexuality. However, I do find the current extremely virulent and sometimes offensive campaigning by the 3-4% of the population who are Gay or Lesbian and their demands that everyone accept their sometimes deliberately offensive displays of their sexuality impinges on my and everyone elses "right" not to have to endure it.

I grew up in a legal system that allowed a proprietor of a shop, hotel, restuarant, cinema, etc., to have a notice over the door which said "Right of Admission Reserved." Everyone knew it meant that theowner had the right to deny entry to those who might be unruly or conduct themselves in an unseemly manner, and it was rarely, to my knowledge used. It would seem to me that it is time to give propietors this right in Britain. Further, to allow them to make plain the matters they would consider exercising that right. Yes, that may introduce some forms of "discrimination" but we also have to recognise that society only functions properly when we recognise everyone else's right to conduct their lives in accordance with their beliefs. And yes, I do know that means accepting that I will be offended from time to time. This is, perhaps, where the whole "Human Rights" stampede has gone to far. No one has ever had a right to not be offended.

When the poorly drafted Human Rights Act was launched there were numerous warnings that the implications had not been properly considered from legal experts far more competent than either the MPs responsible or the Prime Minister and his Barrister wife. Now we see why they were ignored, this ghastly Act actually removed more "rights" than it gives and is the perfect vehicle for the likes of the Secularists who seek to destroy all forms of faith in public life. It is being used to marginalise anyone and everyone who dares to profess and faith on the grounds of "offensive" symbols or utterances. It is used to "prove" that anyone of faith is bigoted and biased and it is being used to prevent families from sharing their faith with their children.

Perhaps one of the biggest ironies I have seen recently was an article by an Australian Atheist professor stating that Atheists, Humanists and Secularists need to learn from Christianity how to give people the means to "step out of their responsibilities" and "become children" so that they can find relaxation and repose from their daily lives. Sounds remarkably like he's proposing creating a new religion. Of course, his proposals to remove religious education (he called it indoctrination) from schools and public life, and replace it with teaching of "rational thinking" and "secular morality." That sounds like indoctrination to me.

Baroness Warsi is right to warn of the militant secularists attempting to "take over Britain." We ignore her warning at our own peril.

Monday, 13 February 2012

The Political Morass

Over the last few hours (Starting last night) I've been exchanging messages with a man standing for election as a Town Councillor. It began because I took umbrage at a remark he made with regard to Her Majesty and descended, for a while, from there. I'm afraid he was most put out by my rather blunt expression of my opinion of the current political classes and the civil service. Apparently he was one, and set out to defend the actions, deviousness and other twists and turns the civil service make which drive the rest of us to the desire to invite them to decorate lamp posts with their persons.

Having eventually managed to agree that there is a great deal wrong with both our political system and the civil service, we've declared a truce. I won't change my view, I have far too much evidence of the duplicity, blatant manipulation and outright dishonesty at work in Whitehall to do so, but I respect the fact that he can defend his perspective from the other side of the fence. I have no doubt some town, somewhere, will, if they elect him, have a meticulous councillor who will drive his council's officials up the walls with his Whitehall procedures, but if it serves his voters, that will be a good thing.

It has made me stop to think about the whole state of the government we have. Frankly, it stinks. Looking at the voting statistics tells you its almost as rotten now as it was prior to the 1836 Reform Act which got rid of "boroughs" like Old Sarum (1 voter = I MP) and brought in a qualified universal male sufferage. OK, it took almost another hundred years before the ruling MCPs extended that to women, but already the civil service was building the empires of a myriad Sir Humphreys. We now have "Constituencies" where the vote is so partisan it wouldn't matter if the candidate was a convicted criminal serving time - he'd be elected if he had the right Party label. The first past the post system in the UK was intended to be a vote for the candidate of choice, not the Party he or she represented. But that is not how it works in practice. In many such constituencies the candidate could well be someone's pet cat. Right Party badge; it's elected.

This is only a part of a much larger problem. The voting system needs reform, so does the entire edifice that is Westminster/Whitehall, but that is like asking the turkey to vote for its own slaughter. It isn't going to happen. The trouble is that far too many voters know their vote doesn't count in their home constituency. So why bother? Even if you do get the government of choice, nothing very much changes, because the civil service is such a vast drag on everything, it is almost impossible to get anything changed and even if a government does get something changed, it is usually not what they expected or wanted, but what the civil service was prepared to allow.

In figures I have been studying lately I came across the numbers for the election of Hitler and his party. It's worth pointing out that the Weimar Republic failed because its politicians were so self interested and so fragmented, no one could form any sort of stable government. There were two general elections in 1932 followed by one in March 1933. The Nazi's polled a total of 17.3 million votes out of 38 million cast (43% with a turnout of 88%) and still only got enough seats to form a government by joining a coalition with the German Nationalist Party. Once in power, of course, they were able to rearrange things to their taste and the dictatorship was launched.

Looking at that statistic brought sharply into focus the fact that I don't recall a UK government since the 1950s that has enjoyed as big a share of the popular vote. Even Mr Blair's claimed "landslide" was 41% of the turnout vote, from memory only around 52% of the voters. This meant that his "mandate" came from 28% of the voters at best. No wonder Mr Brown never risked an election until he had no option.

The problem is that the wider populace can see that, no matter the political ideology proclaimed by the Party, the politicians, the senior civil servants and the wealthy do very nicely - and the rest struggle. The voter is nothing to these people as they award themselves generous pensions, terrific salaries and look after the people who make the big donations that keep the party rolling. That includes the Union Bosses who are just as much a part of the problem. Why should I vote for my own impoverishment? Why should I vote for some idiot who will give a chunk of my tax to himself/herself, a nice slice to his Permanent Under Secretary and his assistants and then pass laws that end up raising prices on everything and increase the profits for his chums in commerce and industry?

Frankly, if I can see this, then everyone else can as well. The truth is the current political set-up benefits only the civil servants, politicians and the wealthy. That has got to change.
 

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The Big Freeze ...

We've lost another of our water barrels today. Despite all our efforts, the two weeks of sub-zero temperatures have defeated everything we tried to do to prevent the ice forming in our three water butts and our tame "Ogre's tub from building up too much pressure, the tub is now beyond repair and two of the water butts are blwon up like balloons. They'll split, we think, as the plastic is not that elastic. We'd taken the precaution of reducing the water levels - but then it rained and they refilled. Before we could drain them down again, it started to freeze.

Last year everything survived the heavy snow and cold, and all we really needed to do was keep breaking up the ice as it formed and removing it. Hasn't worked this year. As I type the temperature is at its highest in several days - a balmy minus 3.4*C!

The swelling water butts though came as a sharp reminder that the Greenpeace propagandists proclaiming that the melting of the Arctic sea ice will "raise the sea levels" is bunkum. Ice has a greater volume than the content of the water in it. That's why it's bouyant and floats. Melting all the sea ice is likely to reduce the water levels, not raise them. As for the ice covering the land - a science team have calculated that it will take around 15,000 years to melt all the ice in Greenland.

That said, I take leave to doubt, as I shiver through yet another icy winter (Six years ago one of the AGW proponents was proclaiming "ice and snow in winter are a thing of the past ...") that we are in any danger of a massive meltdown. Rather the opposite.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Devastating English ...

The English language is rich in words which accurately, and sometimes devastatingly, express an opinion. Her are some prime examples of devastating insults from before the current trend toward inadequate command of the language and the common use of expletives in place of adjectives ...

"I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend, if you have one." - George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill 

"Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second ... if there is one." -  Winston Churchill, in response. 


A member of Parliament to Disraeli: "Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease." 
 
"That depends, Sir," said Disraeli, "whether I embrace your policies or your mistress." 

"He had delusions of adequacy." - Walter Kerr 

"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." - Winston Churchill 

"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure."  Clarence Darrow 

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." - William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway). 

"Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it." - Moses Hadas 

"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it." - Mark Twain 

"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.."     - Oscar Wilde 

"I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here." - Stephen Bishop 

"He is a self-made man and worships his creator." - John Bright 

"I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial."  - Irvin S. Cobb 

"He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others."  - Samuel Johnson 

"In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily." - Charles, Count Talleyrand 

"He loves nature in spite of what it did to him." - Forrest Tucker 

"Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?" - Mark Twain 

"His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork." - Mae West 

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go." - Oscar Wilde 

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts... for support rather than illumination." - Andrew Lang (1844-1912) 

"He has Van Gogh's ear for music." - Billy Wilder 

"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it."  Groucho Marx


My personal favourites are from Sir Winston Churchill - 


"The Honourable Member has conveyed to the House a serious terminological inexactitude in this matter." (A wonderful way to call someone a liar!)


And the utterly unanswerable retort to Lady Astor on the steps of the Ritz in London ...


She: "Winston, you're drunk!"


Response: "Madam, you are ugly. In the morning, I shall be sober."


I was reminded of two more I share with Josephus - 


"Sir, I have found you and argument. I am not obliged to find you an understanding." - Samuel Johnson


and


"I prefer the bikini model of statistics - what they reveal may be suggestive, but what they conceal is vital." - Unattributed. 

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Thriving on Angst?

I have observed before this, that our current society seems to thrive on feeding the angst of individuals. Those individuals form groups and those groups share their angst, some going so far as to adopt an almost religious fervour about it. Yesterday the news was that "food anxiety" is making some people over eat. OK, so someone obviously did some research to arrive at that conclusion. Today's news in our local newspapers is that "a majority of children in Germany fear falling into poverty." This, of course, has been seized upon by political opponents of the reforms currently being implemented on "child welfare" payments. The more I look about me, the more hysterical responses I see to just about everything. What on earth has gone wrong with us?

I do believe that a lot of this has its roots in the slaughter of the trench war in 1914 - 18. The survivors emerged from that to breed a generation who would have preferred to let Hitler, Stalin and others run rampant across the world. "Peace in our time!" and "never again" were the watchwords that let Hitler gain the control he did, small step by small step. It was this thinking - coupled with the very influential writing of "thinkers" like Russell and Huxley, that produced a tongue clucking, do nothing approach as Stalin clamped down on "dissidents" and "enemies of the Revolution" and murdered millions. Finally, when a war against the evil of Nazi-ism became unavoidable, the Left was quite happy to get into bed with Uncle Joe when Hitler made the mistake of opening a war on the Russian Front. Churchill had his reservations, but was prepared to get into bed with Satan himself, to defeat Hitler.

Once the A-Bomb was dropped and the "World" conflict ended, we began a series of "Little Wars" starting with the Communist invasions of Korea. As the Cold War developed, so more and more of these "little" wars opened up with each side arming, training and supporting rival groups - so now we have the Taliban, once the allies of the US, in Afghanistan. We have Mugabe in Zimbabwe, we have Marxist Regimes in Mozambique and Angola, and various "terror" groups, including Al Qaeda all active around the world and all supported now by the proceeds of organised crime, drug trafficking or by various "secret services" still engaged ion what the British used to call "The Great Game." While Europe didn't have any more "major" conflicts, many of us in the former "colonial territories" fought and died in these "Little Wars" on behalf of the great powers.

It is in the legacy of the Second World War that we find the origins of today's angst ridden society. Drug trafficking really took off in the 1955 - 75 period as a means of undermining "the other sides" youth and for funding these "enterprises." So did the psychological campaigns. The KGB funded and supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) feeding the pacifist leaders with all manor of information and disinformation as well as funding. Creating the idea in everyone's mind that a nuclear strike was the first option in any future conflict fostered the belief in many minds that humanity was doomed. This has been transferred into the anti-nuclear power generation movement, where, frankly, when one actually listens to what they have been taught to believe about nuclear reactors and the waste, you do wonder why these otherwise intelligent people don't check their facts. Look at the literature of the period 1950 - 1980, it is full of "doomsday" visions - and some persist even now. The Hollywood movie "The Road" being a good example.

Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, World Wildlife Fund and other "Green" Groups thrive on creating fear in our society. Look at their constant bombardment of "information" in the media, it is full of "doomsday" scenarios, many of them unsubstantiated, unsubstantiatable and for the most part, unchallenged and unchecked by the mass media and the readers of it. By creating angst about the changes in our climate, the fate of polar bears or whales, they generate revenue for their campaigns and recruit hordes of young people to take part in their mass demonstrations or to man the ships they send out to disrupt operations they disapprove of.

All of us have some "angst" in our psyche, what I don't believe is healthy is the current rampant exploitation of it for political ends. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, CND and all the rest are not "impartial" purveyors of information. They have a vested interest in making people believe we should throw money at their causes, join their campaigns and change our society to their vision of Utopia. Greenpeace alone receives a very large handout from the US government and from the UK, so do others. Keeping us "afraid" protects that income. The same applies to many UN "Agencies" and to the "Climate Change/The Sky is Falling" Industry.

What they don't acknowledge is that they loathe our current society and are actually about returning to some Utopian vision of the past, rather on the lines of Wordsworth and Shelley who loathed the industrialisation of Britain. From their privileged and wealthy background, they wanted a world that continued in what they perceived to be ideal. A world of Cottage industries, agricultural labourers living in poverty on the generosity of the landowner and the "huddled masses" knowing their place. Read their manifestos and you see words and phrases straight out of Marx and Lenin - "redistribution of wealth," "egalitarian society" and "communal resources."

The angst is not just confined to the "Green" and "Anti-Nuclear" lobbies either, it spills across religion, politics and into areas such as child care, health care, safety and much, much more. Reading the leaflets put out by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and others, one could be excused for thinking that every father is a potential rapist of his sons and daughters, every mother a potential child killer and heaven forbid we should let the grandparents childmind! That is not to say there isn't child abuse, just that it is neither as widespread nor as prevalent as the propagandists make out. When one sees them resort, on television, to such tactics as saying "Ah, yes, the statistics show only 2% of children in the UK are abused," then quickly adding, "but our 'evidence' suggests that the figure is far higher, and every child ..." without producing any 'evidence', you should immediately have alarm bells ringing. This is how so called "experts" are able to stand up in courts and make outrageous charges and statements without anyone daring to challenge them.

Our society seems to thrive on this bombardment of anti-social propaganda. The trouble is, even if it is, as I believe, only a fraction of the population who do suffer from this, they are the ones who get into the news. They are often the ones the news media are playing to, so it becomes a self perpetuating cycle.

What we do need to recognise is that it is, ultimately, self destructive. All the "Green" campaigns cost jobs and drive up taxes. The "jobs" "Green" initiatives create tend to be non-productive and paid for out of tax or subsidies paid by tax ... All the "anti" campaigns also cost jobs and cost lost production, so the taxes go up, but the steady erosion of the tax base also means less to collect. Fear of child abuse has produced a generation who believe the world is to be treated with suspicion, that all adults are only after one thing and we wonder why our kids carry knives to school or to the Mall. We've raised a generation of kids afraid of going without the latest "trainers," toys, iPhone or Playstation. They're afraid of strangers, afraid of being poor, afraid of living and afraid of dying. How do we expect them to cope?

Frankly, if we are to survive as a society and as a civilisation we need to rid ourselves of quite a bit of this "angst" and put things back into proper perspective. But my "angst" is that we probably won't ...

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Changing Climate ...

Today's Frankfurter Algemeine - a serious daily newspaper - carries a lengthy article today by someone in the Greenpeace/Green Party camp, essentially attempting to rubbish some recent research papers published in the UK, Scandinavia and elsewhere. These argue that the "Global Warming" is affected by solar output and a host of other things. Disappointingly, the Algemeine, an otherwise excellent newspaper, simply resorts to references from the now discredited IPCC 4 report of 2007 and ignores a host of other observed and measurable indicators which all point to the IPCC/Greenpeace claims being hype.

The solar variability is simply dismissed, so is the evidence of false readings from weather stations situated in heat islands and the gap between what satellites are measuring and what is being used in the infamous "models." They rely on the IPCC 2007 report to support their statements and beliefs that the solar output is "fixed" and non-variable. In this they ignore the plethora of evidence that shows the lie in that and in several other supposedly "fixed" measurements.

This article has appeared just as the protests against more "windr├Ąder" begins to gather momentum. It has to be said that those who want more of these infernal machines to cover every available bit of open ground, don't have to live with them. Those that do, want them torn down, chopped up and removed from the face of the earth. They claim to be generating around 30% of Germany's electrical needs, but when this claim is examined more closely the weasel words "on average" appear in the text. Interestingly, in the UK, during the coldest period in decades, the wind farms supplied just 0.01% of the power in the national grid. Why? Well, the wind speeds where either to high or to low for them to work.

The article also appears to be an attempt to deflect people, currently suffering sub-zero temperatures for a prolonged period now, from asking the all important question - why, if the planet is warming, are we suffering in this cold? Why are we expected to believe that the latests series of solar flares which produced some spectacular Northern Lights displays, have had no impact on the weather at all? Why should we believe the people who, ten and fifteen years ago, where telling us that icy winters, snow and frozen rivers were a thing of the past?

The climate is changing, it has been changing for millennia. It goes through cycles. We know the Roman period was warmer than we are at present - they cultivated vines for wine in Cumbria! We know that Greenland has been warmer - they could keep cows there in 800 - 1000 AD, but can't now. Five hundred years ago, the Medieval Warm Period came to an end and we had a Little Ice Age. Since the late 1890s its been getting warmer - but let's be honest, the 1930s were drier, and in some places warmer than at present. The IPCC "its getting hotter and we're all gonna die ..." is a scam. The manner in which they determine the "temperature trend" is a scam. If you want to know the "average for something you need to median between the highest and the lowest, not, as someone from the Met Office in the UK admitted, take an average of the "Highs" only.

We've had very little snow this year, it's been too cold and too dry. But south of us, the Alps and the Mediterranean copped the lot. So did the UK and last night we even got some very fine powdery stuff here.

Picking up on the comments made by Josephus the other day about pollution I would add that we do have to clean up our act. We do have to reduce the particulates we pump out, and we certainly have to reduce our reliance on oil, but to place all our reliance on "windr├Ąder" is stupid. It is as stupid as doing nothing. In all seriousness we need a balance and we need to stop and think and critically examine what we are fed from the newspapers. All too often it is nothing more than someone's latest bid for tax funds for their "research" and may not be either the truth or even a part of the truth. It is certainly never, the whole truth.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Carnival Time ...

It's Carnival time in Germany. The "Fastnacht" season is a tradition that goes back to the French invasions and occupations of the Rhineland and quite a bit East of it at various times since Louis XIV sat on the French throne and cherished ambitions of being an "Emperor" of all Europe. The tradition grew up of celebrating a season leading up to Lent, in which carnival parades, parties and poking fun at politicians is the order of the day.

There are societies that spend all year planning their "Fastnacht" activities and the costumes are fabulous. This is not "Mardi Gras" or the Notting Hill Carnival, this is a long standing part of German culture and everyone shares in the fun. It's televised, people turn up in their thousands for the parades and no politician would dare refuse an invitation to the dinners and shows - you may be very sure they would be lampooned mercilessly and never allowed to forget it.

Anyone who thinks the German's have no sense of humour needs to visit during Fastnacht.

Monday, 6 February 2012

The "Arab Spring" ...

So hailed and welcomed by liberal factions in the West seems to have bogged down in some theaters and taken a decidedly "unliberal" turn in others. As the Monk feared some months ago when the media was full of talking heads from the Liberal/Left burbling happily about "popular uprisings" spelling "a new wave of freedom and the spread of human rights" in North Africa and other Arab nations, not many seem to have elected or created "liberal" regimes. There may be new "freedom" and "democracy" but the elections in Tunisia clearly showed that the theocratic conservatives are far better organised and far more efficient at mobilising their vote.

In Egypt the protests continue, the military don't intend to give up their power easily, that much is clear. The army in Egypt owns a large proportion of the tourist resorts and operations. They are certainly not going to surrender their grip on the wealth creating organs that sustain them, nor on the ability it gives them to control the economy.  Who would replace them anyway, there are competing factions for the popular vote and all of them must win at least some support from the military if they have any hope of being allowed to continue. Again, the Fundamentalist Muslim movements are far better organised and prepared to mobilise their "ballot fodder" than anyone else. In Syria, Russia and China have a lot to lose if the Assad regime is overthrown, so the civil war continues, though, as far as I can see, the media seem to continue to play it down and present it as "rioting" and "demonstrations." Once again, it is the fundamentalists who seem to be in control.

There are those who blame Israel for this swing to the extreme, but I don't think this is the whole picture. It is, as ever, a very complex problem and there are certainly indications that Iran's current leadership may have a hand in some of it. There are enormous tensions across the Muslim world, tensions which can easily explode. On the one hand you have those who, with education, travel in the rest of the world and a certain level of luxury in their lives, want to see a more relaxed and liberated lifestyle in their homelands. Then there are the others, sadly supported by the majority who have been raised on a diet of fear of allowing any deviation from the strict application of the Sharia, who wish to impose even more draconian rule in the name of God.

Caught in the middle are the vast majority who want nothing more than a safe place for their children to grow up, good schooling, health care, decent homes, a small car and the ability to buy the few small luxuries they can afford. As in the west, there are the mega-rich, those who are doing very nicely, those who would like a bit more and a majority have very little, would like a bit more of, and are reasonably content with their lifestyles. It would be easy to blame the religion, but again, it isn't that simple. Think of what life must have been like under Cromwell and his Puritans and Presbyters. Now you have some idea of what it is like to be an ordinary person in one of the lands currently swinging between autocratic rule and theocratic rule ...

Sadly, I suspect that this situation has a long way to go before it is finally settled. For one thing, it is the people standing behind the ruler you have to watch. Often the "Ruler" is little more than a figurehead for the wealthy and powerful people in the shadow of the "throne." That is almost certainly the case with Assad and with Ahmedinejad. When they are no longer useful to the wealthy class who have their hands on the real instruments of power and wealth - they will go. Who will replace them remains to be seen, but, as with the story of the man who had a demon cast out by Christ, the vacuum was refilled by worse.

That, sadly, is what I expect to see when Assad finally goes. As for Iran; I don't really know. The Ayatollahs are well entrenched and the Revolutionary Guard answers directly to them, so do the "Secret" Religious Police. The supreme irony there is that Ayatollah Khomeni himself warned against the religious leaders being involved in government. Sadly, as with any power structure, the allure of power was and remains, too great.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Global Climate ...

Is obviously up to something, but probably not what the Durban IPCC/Greenpeace bunfight attendees  think. I found this interesting blog post from some scientists which give a very interesting temperature curve picture - not showing warming, but the reverse. The satellite temperature recordings show a different pattern to the surface stations, most of which are in the middle of major urban areas, with a strong downward trend.

What it does show, as we in Germany shiver into a new week of Arctic temperatures, extremely dry air and no snow, Britain shivers and is buried in the stuff and Queensland contemplates yet more flooding, is that the global climate is far more complex than a few computer models can hope, with current technology, to capture. Add to this data indicators from other branches of science such as archaeology, solar studies, agricultural research and geology, and a rather interesting picture begins to emerge of changes in climmate on a cyclic basis over millenia. Yes, whole civilisations have vanished in the past as a result of climatic variability, but one of the more interesting bits of information coming from the wider research is the fact that CO2 actually stimulates plant growth and so do warmer temperatures. The keye element is, of course, water, and warmer temperatures actually increase rainfall by increasing evaporation. But then you have to throw in the recent paper from a group of scientists which suggests we're heading for a "Little Ice Age."

From where I sit, it would seem to me to be a good idea to learn to adapt. The current drive to reduce or technological dependence on hydro-carbons, coal and nuclear and rely on windmills - which are badly affected by ice and extreme weather - is an expensive diversion. We do need to find alternatives to our dependence on oil, if only because, at present, the West can be destroyed simply by cutting off our supplies from the Middle East. It would take time to arrange an alternative supply and, in the meantime, there would be enormous damage to economies and not a little hardship.

The more I read and study the science available about this latest "Doomsday" hysteria, the more I realise that it is actually masking quite a few much larger and perhaps as intractable problems which our politicians don't want to face.  One of them is population expansion. Why do natural events - which have been happening regularly since the dawn of time - now claim so many lives. The answer is, of course, that there are far, far more people now living in flood plains, coastal strips and other "at risk" areas than ever before. More paving means local heat islands, and it also means less absorption of rainfall and more run-off. More strip building along coastal plains, means more people at risk from a tsunami.

As the aristocratic Eastern European Meerkat says - "Simples."

I have a feeling the planet has its own agenda and we had better learn to adapt. Or at least remember how our forefathers coped because we can't stop the climate changing anymore than we can stop continental drift ...

Friday, 3 February 2012

Speaking Freely; a response

I was going to post this as a comment, however, brevity is not my strength and comments are restricted to 4,096 characters, so here is what I wished to say...


The Monk has highlighted one of the constant, but changing issues that confronts Western civilisation today as it has done for over 50 years in my experience and will continue to confront it tomorrow.  part of the problem is the phrase "freedom of speech" itself.  Total freedom of speech is not available anywhere in the world.  The right to express your own views, within the bounds of local laws, decency and respect for the views of others is a privilege that we in Western Europe enjoy to varying degrees depending upon the area of our residence.  In many parts of the world openly stating your view, if it is not identical to the received view of the ruling body, is very dangerous indeed, in fact there are those places where you will simply not survive to commit a repeat offence.  But true freedom of speech is simply not tolerated anywhere, and for good reason:  Leigh Van Bryan was refused entry to the United States of America after he had tweeted that he was going to "destroy America."  Why, was he serious?  Was he equipped?

Now I think he was joking, I think most rational people think that, but as I am never likely to wish to visit the USA, let me give my opinion;  what business is it of the US security services if Mr van Bryan wishes to destroy Brazil or Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, (although I can think of some British citizens who would back him on that one.) Canada or any of the huge majority of the square miles of the Americas that are not the US?  What arrogant pretention, however, it was the US that he had landfall in, so their action, in their eyes, was justified.

What interests me is why the Homeland Security people were reading so many millions of tweets as to catch this one specifically?  The truth is, in my opinion, that they were not, they are automatically monitoring the entire network for combinations of words that they disapprove of.  The US Department for Homeland Security picked up Mr Bryan's messages ahead of his holiday in Los Angeles.  The 26-year-old bar manager wrote a message to a friend on the micro-blogging service, saying: "Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America."  My belief is that the two juxtaposed words set off all the bells and whistles and mobilised the Homeland Security service who arrested, refused entry and effectively deported him.

Now, perhaps it is just me, but one Lisa Simpson informed me some time ago of something called the "First Amendment"; this is an amendment to the US Constitution and is part of the Bill of Rights; its wording is stark in its simplicity...it prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.  I wonder if the Homeland Security people are aware of its existence.  The US has an appalling record of breaching its own Bill of Rights.  Since the first World War; The phrase "clear and present danger" test of Schenk-v- the US in 1919 and elaborated in Debs-v-US later that year began its seditious march culminating in legalised paranoia in parts of the Federal Government.  The cases were taken under the Sedition Act of 1918 that made restrictions strict enough to ensure that a Mother clinging onto her uniformed Son saying "Johnny, please don't go" would be had up before the courts and imprisoned.  The US Secret Service when checking for sedition in political speeches or rallies do have a sensible razor with which to work, it is referred to as TPM, time, place and manner, and I believe that properly applied this is a reasonable test.  Can we apply TPM to the "destroy America" tweet?  I fail to see how the Homeland Security people did, they had their powers and by golly (oops, another word punishable by slow death, whatever the context.) they were going to use those powers.

I do agree with the Monk in terms of the use of words such as "freedom" and "rights" as both defensive and offensive weapons by various fringe groups, they suffer from the same arrogance as the government agencies, twisting words to suit ones own agenda, this I find anathema.  If everyone in the world were totally honest and decent and respected the wishes and desires of every other person, we would probably be in a happy but very poor world with little technology to make our lives as comfortable as they are.  I have today burned both logs and coal, it is about -5°C here which is chilly enough; did I give a single though to the (probably Polish) miner who will live a short and brutish life simply because he digs my coal.  A friend whose family came from the Welsh valleys informs me that the average male life expectancy has risen by one year for every year since the pits closed.  Life is not fair, it never has been, we sometimes need to speak out to try to make life fairer, but we must be aware of the possible penalties if we do.  I do not know wether to admire or abhor the stupidity of those who have been arrested smuggling bibles into China, it is almost as dangerous as smuggling heroin into Singapore, each of the smugglers, ill or well advised, is trying to bring what they perceive as a little comfort into the lives of people they do not know and intentionally break very strict laws to do so, are they aware of the risks or not?  If they are not then I feel sorry for them, the World is not a fair place and it never has been.

Here are my "thoughts for today", they have been collected over many years so I cannot properly attribute them to their various authors, for that  I am truly sorry.
Rule 1. You can’t change other people, and it’s rude to try.
Rule 2 Children are remarkably honest creatures until we teach them not to be.
Rule 3 Every problem you have is your responsibility, regardless of who caused it.
Rule 4 If you never doubt your beliefs, then you’re wrong a lot.
Rule 5 Every passing face on the street represents a story every bit as compelling and complicated as yours.
Rule 6 Whenever you hate something, it hates you back: people, situations and inanimate objects alike.
Rule 7 What makes human beings different from animals is that animals can be themselves with ease.
Rule 8 Emotions exist to make us strongly biased towards or against something. This hinders as often as it helps.
Rule 9 Nothing — ever — happens exactly like you pictured it.
and finally...
Rule 10 If anything is worth splurging on, it’s a high-quality mattress. You’ll spend a third of your life using it.


Speaking freely ...

Freedom of speech is probably one of our most treasured "rights" but, increasingly, I have noticed a tendency, particularly on the left, to wish to restrict what anyone some may disagree with, may say. An example is the fuss over the Archbishop of York's statement on "marriage." The Minster is now besieged by aggrieved Gay and Lesbian protesters demanding he retract his statement "revise" his beliefs and a whole lot more. The Church is roundly condemned by this powerful and vociferous lobby for opposing "Gay Marriage" and for its doctrine on the practice of Gay sex. It is now cast as "homophobic" and demands are being made for it to be made illegal to express these and other opinions seen as something "-ist" by these protesters and others.

Freedom of speech, unfortunately, cuts both ways. If I espouse the right of an individual to express his or her views, I must also uphold their right to hold and express views with which I utterly disagree and may even find offensive. There are a lot of examples I could give, one being the current use of the word "holocaust" in relation to the Jewish struggle to achieve security in Israel.

Sadly, this debate is often highjacked by extremists on both ends of the spectrum. On the one hand the "Politically Correct" are constantly looking for offense in everything said by people they wish to marginalise or destroy and remove from any public forum. Look at how they behaved over the speech by Enoch Powell - albeit before the term "PC" meant what it does today. Taking a look at what the Archbishop said, one has to ask; why the fuss? He is merely stating what Christians are expected to believe. OK, we happen to live in a country and a society which accepts Gay lifestyles, but the vast majority of people in this world don't and many non-Christian societies have really draconian laws about "same sex" relationships. The real problem for the Archbishop is that, by calling these partnerships a "marriage" Mr Cameron is essentially forcing Church of England vicars to perform them in Church, a situation fraught with difficulty for the majority of church goers.

It also opens up a further conflict - what if two members of the Muslim community demand a ceremony in their Mosque? I know what difficulty the Imam will face!

But on the other extreme there is a new threat to "Freedom of Speech" brought about by the electronic communication many now enjoy. The Monk doesn't have "Twitter" but a lot of people do. And here we find some really offensive statements and material being circulated, sometimes with deliberate intent. On example which came my way recently is a post on Sharongooners Blog. She posts about a "twitter" message she received from some idiot who thought it was amusing to send out a "tweet" saying "if there were no police he'd rape all the pretty girls." No doubt he thought that funny. Well, for rape victims, it's not. What was not excusable, when he was pulled up on it, was his statement "it's just a joke" and his friends leaping in, some escalating the offensiveness, to defend his "right" to make such a joke.

I have long felt that there would be a backlash against Political Correctness, but there has to be a balance. It cannot swing all the way out to it becoming right for anyone to utter anything regardless of how hurtful or offensive it is.

Personally I believe we have the wrong word in use when we say someone has a "right." We should say, we are all "privileged to do ..." By inference, I may exercise a privilege as long as I respect your right to object and to exercise the same privileges I hold. That is something both the Left and the Politically Correct must learn to accept. What it does not, under any circumstances confer upon anyone is the right to make the sort of statement contained in Ms Gooner's post. That is abuse, the Archbishop of York's statement is not.   

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Demise, S̶i̶r̶ Fred

It is no longer politically correct to refer to taking back what was freely given as Welshing, nor to refer to the giver/taker as an "Indian-giver"; it therefore surprises me that an old Etonian Prime Minister has put Her Britannic Majesty into that invidious position over the annulment of Fred Goodwin's knighthood.  This honour was bestowed in 2004 at a time when the Royal Bank of Scotland (Frederick Anderson Goodwin is a Scottish Chartered Accountant) was expanding rapidly and taking a major role in global banking.  From the time that S̶i̶r̶ ̶F̶r̶e̶ Mr Goodwin took over as chief executive until 2007, RBS's assets quadrupled, its cost-to-income ratio improved markedly, and its profits soared.  He was criticised for buying into the Bank of China in 2005, now seen as a good thing.  His downfall came through the acquisition of ABN-Amro in 2007 to prevent Barclays Bank from acquiring it: in October 2008 the global liquidity crisis prevented the inteded splitting and sell off of various parts of ABN-Amro that was planned, the resulting collapse accounted for nearly £17 Billion of the RBS group's £24 Billion losses.

So S̶i̶r̶ ̶F̶r̶e̶ Mr Goodwin was rewarded for quadrupling the value of his company and bringing significant wealth into Britain and moving the RBS from its origins as a Scottish bank into a truly global enterprise.  Then the world's financial systems caught a nasty cold, possibly from the American problems with sub-prime mortgages, it was, after all, the US operation of ABN-Amro that collapsed first, but, whatever the cause, it hit "the west" hard and RBS very hard, hence the Government buy-out.  Did S̶i̶r̶ ̶F̶r̶e̶ Mr Goodwin cause that collapse?  There is little evidence to confirm that he did.  Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were found guilty of illegal trading and fined substantial sums of money; was S̶i̶r̶ ̶F̶r̶e̶ Mr Goodwin?  the Chairman and Chief Executive of the Northern Rock resigned due to the crisis, S̶i̶r̶ ̶F̶r̶e̶ Mr Goodwin retired early in October 2008 as a result of the ABN-Amro failure, before (although he could possibly have seen it coming!) the now infamous fluidity crisis.

Now the size of his pension is undoubtedly obscene.  I myself, from nearly 40 years of work in the public sector have what I believe to be a good pension income, it is roughly per year, what S̶i̶r̶ ̶F̶r̶e̶ Mr Goodwin gets per fortnight and I suspect he pays rather less proportionately in tax than I, as I am a naive nobody and he is a financier.  However, the pension was agreed and based upon his enormous success in international banking in the early noughties.  I recall a Firemaster taking slightly early retirement when it was rumoured that M̶r̶s̶, sorry, Lady Thatcher was to tax lump sums, she didn't, it was Bliar that eventually did that, but it would have cost him more than 5 times my annual salary in tax if she had, so he cut and ran.  Perhaps Sir Fred took his pension early because it would have been worth much less one year on, but this is all speculation, it was an agreed award.  Bankers earn what the market will support, however much we might disapprove, I think the only thing we innocents can say without chewing sour grapes is "nice work if you can get it!".

So, will the citation for future knighthoods contain a clause suggesting that if the recipient should fall out of favour, the said award will become null and void?  This would suggest that the nature of awards is temporary, transient and revokable, unlike good pension arrangements!  Did Jeffrey Archer, Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mud have his seat in the Lords taken from him in 2001 as he began his prison term for perjury and perverting the course of justice?  No, why not, he is a convicted criminal?

Much as it irritates me that a very rich man got even richer by jumping ship just before it hit the rocks, unlike another master we discussed recently, I feel that the words of Lord (Jack) Jones "I think there is the faint whiff of the lynch mob on the village green about this..." hit the proverbial nail on the head, however, he completely spoiled the poetic feeling by continuing "but that isn’t to say that the end result isn’t what is right.”  I am sorry, but I disagree totally, in my opinion, it was wrong, very wrong.   S̶i̶r̶ ̶F̶r̶e̶ Mr Goodwin, however, had the last laugh; he was reported yesterday, in the best Catherine Tate tradition of "face...bovvered?" as saying "I'm rich enough to simply pay people to keep calling me "Sir Fred"."

Getting the "right" result for the wrong reasons is not morally or ethically correct, in my opinion,  I think this does smack of scapegoats and lynch mobs and I sincerely hope that I do not live to see a repeat of a petulant Prime Minister embarrassing the Palace in such a way again.  </rant off>

Pondering nationality ...

For someone brought up believing himself to be "British" with a distinctly "English" set of roots, getting to grips with the actuality was quite an eye-opener once I moved to live in the UK. One very quickly became aware of the very clear lines and divisions of "class," though these are sometimes blurred, there are some very distinct "rules" one has to figure out. There are a lot of further sub-classes as well, one may belong to a "professional" group, yet be an outsider because you don't share the right school or perhaps the right social background with the power broker group who form the inner circle of such organisations. That is difficult enough to cope with, but then come the regional and local differences.

Outsiders tend to think of "England" as the whole of "mainland" Britain, which is the real name for the Island shared by the three nations, English, Welsh and Scottish. Not unnaturally, that rather annoys the Scots and the Welsh, particularly when "national" politicians do it from their ivory tower in Westminster. In the same way, living in London provides a microcosm of the larger problem - ask someone where they live in "London" and they will usually name the Borough, Hamlet, town or city they live in within the "Greater London" area. "London" is in fact the rather small "City" bound by the Tower of London, the Barbican and Blackfriars, an ancient and autonomous City whose wealth is founded in Trusts, Foundations and other archaic investments stretching back to the Saxon Kings. The "Greater London" area is made up of some 33 cities, boroughs, towns and hamlets. Then there is a further division - those who live "North of the River" and those who live "South of the Thames." It is, almost, a case of two totally separate cities.

Moving outside of London, again you find divisions and differences, initially, not so marked as the "Home Counties" tend to be dormitories for the Greater London conurbation, but was one moves further out, you do start to see different behaviours, architecture and attitudes. For the outsider, the most striking thing, is that in these thirteen counties (I include Middlesex, one of the most ancient but which has now vanished in all but name, swallowed by the beast that is Greater London) that one is most likely to hear someone describe themselves as "Englishmen." The further you go outside of this area the more likely you are to hear the assertion that someone is a "Brummigen" or a "Manchurian" or a Yorkshireman, a Geordie or any one of the many County or regional names. Even within these there are divisions. For instance, living in Gloucestershire (One of the smallest counties) those from South were very clear about it and those from the North the same. Quite where the distinction lay, I'm not sure, you can drive from north to south in under an hour. One thing to be clear on though, both north Gloucestershiremen and their southern brothers would get very annoyed if you suggested they were "Foresters." THough it is part of Gloucestershire (Sandwiched between Herefordshire and Wales) the Forest of Dean is considered to be a breed apart by everyone else!

As an ex-Minister once remarked, to the fury of the cognoscenti and other politicians, "What is an Englishman?" To be sure, I am no longer sure I know either. The definition I was taught was that it was someone born within the borders that separate England from Scotland and England from Wales or whose parentage came from within those borders. That is certainly how a Scotsman or a Welshman defines his "nationality," but not, apparently, the English. And perhaps this is the current problem the "English" face.

Politicians have, for years, encouraged these divisions. The population has never been a particularly mobile one - in the early years I lived on the "Sceptered Isle," I encountered people who had never been more than 10 miles from their birthplace and would no more contemplate moving to a new town or city in search of work, than they would consider moving to a different country or venturing to the moon. Though that has changed a little, it is still a very static population and that is both a strength and a weakness. It is a strength because they have a very powerful sense of 'place' but it is a weakness because it means that as industries have changed, closed or moved, the 'workers' have been left stranded - drawing benefits at everyone else's expense. Throw in a vast number of immigrants from an entirely different cultural background and the "English" culture is very quickly lost, submerged or pushed to the margins.

The discussions about Scottish Independence have provoked me into looking at what the differences are between North and South of Britain and it does seem to come down to the concept of "nationality." The Scots are almost as divided between "Lowland" and "Highland" (and a few others) as the English, yet they have a very clear sense of being "Scottish" no matter where they come from. The English seem to have lost this almost entirely. Certainly for years I was taught to think of myself as "British" which probably accurately describes my genetic make-up, but it doesn't really describe my nationality. I am a citizen of the "United Kingdom" but that isn't a nation, it's a political unit. My father's family roots are in Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Oxfordshire, we have little connection with anyone north of that until you find some Scottish links about 300 years back. Even with my maternal grandfather's family being Irish, all this really does is prove that we are a typically "British" family.

Though we think of ourselves as being "English" we are in fact clearly a mixture of all four "nations" and I think this is one reason why so many "English" people prefer to think of being "British." The sad thing is that this "mix" applies to the Welsh and Scottish as much as it does to the English, yet don't suggest either call themselves "British" or ask them to be proud of it.

To a very large extent this is the fault of generations of politicians. Those based in Westminster/Whitehall/Home Counties have never regarded anything outside of their interests and that small area as being of any importance. It was long my complaint that Whitehall in particular never looked outside of London when trying to address a "national" issue. "What does 'London' need? OK, that's what everyone gets." Not unnaturally, that has annoyed everyone outside Greater London and has led to enormous problems in some instances. It has also isolated communities and fostered a prejudice toward anything from 'London' or the 'Home Counties' in may people's eyes.

Funnily enough, the parallel between this fragmentation of the "English" and their forefathers, the Romano-British folk who were held together by the Roman Legions, is rather striking. As Rome's grip on reality weakened, the British Tribal Chiefs reasserted themselves and as soon as Rome withdrew, the civilisation Rome had imposed was rather quickly brushed aside by immigrants (the Angles and the Saxons) while the tribes squabbled ...

Sadly, unless someone can convince the "English" that there is (a) such a thing as an "English Nation" (And I don't mean the BNP vision!) and (b) that it is worth standing up for ... There is unlikely to be one in the not too distant future. Not a recognisably "English" one anyway.