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Monday, 30 April 2012

BT Helpline. The most useless helpline in the world?

I am having what may only be called a really bad day. I was signed in to my BT Yahoo email account this morning and in the process of reading and replying to my emails, when, without warning, I found myself signed out and a pop-up demanded I "verify my password." Guess what, the re-entered password got the Red Flag response and the message that either the User ID or Password were incorrect.

An attempt to retrieve the password or to reset it, met with a refusal to accept my CORRECT security information. So, next step, contact BT Yahoo. Oh, I don't have a UK Post Code any longer. Oh, I don't have a BT Telephone line either. Now there's a surprise! I live in Germany, BT claims to be Europe wide and "International." Are they? B*llsh*t.

OK, so I can still go online. Do an internet search, find the BT "Helpline" numbers. Talk to a computer. The computer wants my telephone number. I give it. "Sorry, that is not a recognised BT Number, our Technical support will be unable to assist you." CLICK. THis is the number given for contacting them when you have a problem with your email. Funny, my other email addresses on the same BT Account still work - only the main one has been killed off. OK, attempt number 2. Find the online contact and report a fault. Oh, must have a UK Post Code. Must have a BT Telephone number ...

Do another web search, try to find a number for BT which allows me to talk to a human being. I don't care where! Apparently BT is now run entirely by computers, presumably programmed to prevent anyone actually accessing anything useful. I am now running out of options. I am unable to access my BTYahoo email account and so, therefore, I am unable to read or respond to any email sent to that account. As it is also the email account on which all my other online activities are set up - I'm not at all sure what to do next.

Any suggestions will be most welcome. But please, send them to the email for this blog - it still works, probably no thanks at all to BT!

UPDATE:


Having finally discovered a means to gain access to the BT "Problem Solving Forum" I finally managed the get a real person to answer my complaint and he provided a new telephone number. A call to that number got me a real live person instead of a computer, and this young man listened to my problem, investigated it, and advised me that my email had been automatically shut down as it had been "compromised."

Great, I said, how about letting me know what has happened. Ah, its automatic you see, we don't know it's happened... OK, so how do we get it back? Ah, now you need to talk to Yahoo ...

Cutting to the chase, I have my email back. It has a new password and other security features have also been changed, but it is back. In fairness, I must say, that the young men and one lady who finally dealt with the problem, did so professionally and helpfully. It's just a pity it required such an effort and a lot of totally unnecessary stress to finally reach them. Their employer lets them down badly with this really poorly thought through and designed system which simply winds the already stressed out customer up as they attempt to reach someone, anyone, capable of assisting them.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Buyer or Producer?

I can commend to all thinking people a book by Arthur Seldon entitled "Capitalism." Or, if you can't face the full and long version, there is available a "condensed" version from the Institute of Economic Affairs. If considered with an open mind this book is a real eye-opener, especially to those of us raised since 1945 on the idea that "the State" is the best provider of all manner of social improvement programmes.

I had long understood that pre-1939 there was no general pension or welfare provision unless you were fortunate enough to have a generous employer. Nothing could be further from the truth, there existed a large number of "Friendly Societies" sponsored by those evil money grabbing capitalists and into which their employees paid literally a few pence a week or month. The "society" provided unemployment relief, health care and pensions. All of Britain's hospitals were privately funded and built, usually funded out of trusts set up again by those evil and uncaring "capitalists" with public subscription producing funds for specialist units and even sponsoring doctors to provide care for the "poor and indigent" who were neither permanently employed or could not make even the smallest contribution to a "friendly society."

All of this began to unravel in 1911, when a Liberal Government decided there were votes to be had by interfering directly and taking over responsibility for some, but not it must be noted, all of these provisions. Enter the greatest tax hoax ever, the "National Insurance Scheme." Not only was the money collected not invested, it wasn't "insurance" either. It killed the Friendly Societies by imposing a contribution on everyone in employment, a double whammy for those who already had the provisions the National Insurance was supposed to give, but which, in a majority of cases, actually gave less than they had enjoyed previously, and cost more.

This began the slide from a "market led" provision of the services the people wanted and could afford and opened up the way for the massive expansion of the bureaucratic take over of the entire voluntary sector. It also paved the way for the cherished socialist ideal of a "producer led" economy in which jobs are created by constantly generated goods and services without any reference to demand, cost or requirement. In a large part this is what has led to the mindset that burning down a building completely is good for the building trade - so don't provide fire protection, just make sure you don't kill anyone when the fire happens. It has fueling the idea that "equality" can be created by reducing everyone to a net consumer, dependent for everything on a "producer." Perhaps the starkest example of this is the NHS, in which the patient is forced to sit on waiting lists, or to accept drugs which aren't necessarily effective or the best available simply because the NHS Mandarins have decreed that is what you will have. This was brought home to me rather starkly this week when I put my back out badly. I went to our local GP (Germany doesn't have an NHS) and told him what I was normally treated with. His response was astonishment, then outright disbelief. The treatment he prescribed is more expensive, but it was 200 times more effective and one heck of a lot faster. The difference? Like all doctors here, they offer the patient a service which is not set by them, but by the patient's actual need.

The startling fact is, once one begins to dig into these things, that governments are probably the worst possible providers of the vast majority of services, from health care to 'welfare.' One of the main reasons is simply the costs they incur (and ignore or simply pass on the taxpayers) and the other is that central planners, remote from the end user are without question the worst possible arbiters of what is needed. Worse, whenever a government attempts to intervene in pursuit of some ideological objective in any aspect of service motives become confused. Firstly, if everyone is dependent on the "benevolence" of the "State" all power over the lives of the "beneficiaries" is subsumed to the faceless bureaucrats and politicians. There is no such thing as a "benevolent" bureaucracy, they are all fueled by power, hierarchy and the desire to control "the masses."

It has taken me a while to read Seldon's book. It has taken even longer to dig around and verify what he says and the examples the IEA has identified. It has been an eye-opener. It is time more people started to challenge the media-political agenda of the "welfare state" and the "socialist dream" of the literati - most of whom where wealthy academics drawn, surprise, surprise, from the same political classes currently feeding us this entire load of codswallop about "equality" through the "State."

Read the book, I think you'll end up weeping in anger and frustration at how we've all been taken for a ride ...

Thursday, 26 April 2012

A vision of government ...


This came to me from a friend in a country where the politicians have managed to go from average wealth to mega wealth in just under 18 years while those they supposedly represent haven't managed to get out of the shanties they occupied under the previous regime.

It struck me, as I considered it, that it actually encapsulates the problem with all governments at present. AS they have taken over more and more "services" they actually deliver less and less while taking more and more from those they purport to serve. You don't have to look far to see what I mean, the wealth of the political classes continues to rise exponentially, while they preside over ever more 'welfare' dependency and even more diminishing opportunities for the very people they claim they are "redistributing" wealth to.

Orwell's Animal Farm, as I quoted a couple of days ago, sums it up. Some animals are more equal than others. Especially the political animals ...

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

There are definitely times ...

When my body takes it upon itself to remind me in the most unpleasant ways that I am no longer 25 ...

Yesterday I re-laid some paving slabs in our front garden, by lunchtime it was obvious my back had taken exception to the exercise. This morning I couldn't stand up and so I have spent the day mostly horizontal, full of pain killers and hoping it will all settle down again by tomorrow.

Hopefully ...

Thankfully Mausi has been able to take care of a whole range of things my back currently forbids even attempting. A major change from the last time this happened!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Evil Capitalist?

That is certainly the picture always painted by the news media, especially the 'public service' broadcaster and media. Over the last sixty or seventy years in particular we have been fed a constant diet of negative imagery of the entire concept of individuals competing in a free market allowing them to choose goods, services and even employment is always painted as 'bad' or 'selfish' and 'corrupt.' But the alternative is to have everything planned, managed and provided with complete disregard of individual needs or ambitions. Socialists set themselves up as the arbiters of 'fair' distributuion and provision of everything from health care, through housing and education, to employment. One of the tennets of any socialist society is 'jobs for all.' What no one seems to ask, is this. Where is there a single example of a socialist system which is "fair" and treats everyone equally? Where is there a socialist state that has succeeded in "redistributing wealth? Where is there a socialist state that has succeeded economically?

The excuse is always that they cannot be expected to succeed unless all "Capitalists" are compelled to give up their "greed" and "acquisitive activity" and surrender it to the faceless bureaucrats and politicians who will decide who gets what and when. Or, to put it in the words penned by George Orwell in "Animal Farm," which animals are more equal than the rest.

It is often said now, that in the days of the nasty industrialists and capitalist rule of the 19th Century,  there was no provision for worker housing or welfare. That isn't actually true. There are more examples of factory owners making provision for good quality housing, health care and even pensions for their workers than there are of the 'Scrooges' Dickens wrote of. Look around at the rural housing, as long as a farmer employed large numbers of workers, he also provided housing. So did most of the "great estates" with housing for the married staff, access to health care and pensions and housing when they reached retirement. All of this is a matter of record, but it is seldom mentioned in the school "history" lessons today, which seem to be more about promoting socialist ideas than acknowledging the best examples of the alternative system.

When I look at the regimes built on "socialist principles" and supposedly on "equality" and "democracy" what comes to light is economies controlled with no regard to supply and demand, little, if any actual understanding of value, and, as Orwell noted, members of the ruling elites being "more equal" than anyone else. I also see, in state owned and run industries, massive wastage, inefficiency and a complete contempt for the end user of whatever is produced. There lies the second part of the problem, where personal ownership exists, there is an incentive to maintain it and develop it, keeping it up to date and efficient. Where the "state" owns it, there is no "ownership" by the occupier/user. The "state" never makes provision for renewal or modernisation and the result is stagnation, decay and eventually failure. Those who have worked in service delivery of statutory training at a centre that was once the envy of the world, will recognise what I am describing. There are plenty more examples I could give, including British Rail, state "owned" for over 40 years and still using the trains it inherited when it was finally broken up and sold off. As someone who "enjoyed" commuting on a "slam door" train daily for four and a half years, I can tell you they hadn't spent anything on maintaining them either!

Capitalism does have its abuses, but then, show me a system that doesn't. What it does do is allow the "buyer" a freedom of choice that socialism doesn't. I can work all the hours in the day to amass more of the trappings of wealth, and I can pass those on to my heirs. In a socialist system I can't. In a capitalist system, I have to compete, I have to deliver what I have contracted to do and I can expect a share of the rewards, but in a socialist system, I can coast along and share the rewards of everyone else's labour - except, of course, when everyone else is doing the same thing. After all, what incentive is there to do better?

I think a part of this problem lies in the fact that as Capitalism has to follow the market or go out of business, it necessarily requires flexibility in the workforce. It also means that we cannot all expect the salary drawn by the CEO, but we can and should expect a reasonable return for our efforts. I can sympathise with the labourers in the parable of the owner of the vineyard who hires labourers at different times of the day - and at the end of it pays all of them exactly the same, whether they works the full day or just the last hour. That is classic socialism.

One thing I am fairly sure of, is this. Socialism stifles economies, it breeds envy of those with either more accumen or a slightly better lifestyle. Capitalism has its problems, but it at least offers a wider choice to work for a reward - or not. But the choice is up to the individual, and not in the hands of some faceless bureaucrat or down to the patronage of some venal politicians.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Wealth ...

'Wealth' is a relative term in my opinion, and so is 'poverty.' For the majority of us there are people who are 'wealthier' than we are, and others who are 'poorer.' I have, in common I suspect with a lot of others, often wished I could have a little more 'wealth' so I could buy some luxury without having to save up, or help out a member of the family without having to cut into my own, often tight, budget. Studying a bit of history suggests that there is, in fact, some sort of balance in that the major portion of 'wealth' in the world is actually controlled by a rather small number of people, though it is spread, at least in the west, rather more widely than we suppose.

Listening to the current media led storm about 'Captitalist' greed one could be excused for thinking that it was a new phenomenon they were railing against, but it is, in fact, merely the latest manifestation of a 'wealth distribution' that goes all the way back, I suspect, to the dawn of civilisation. As the Bible says, and other religious writings confirm the same patter, "the poor we have always with us." But how do you, in any given society, measure 'wealth' or 'poverty?'

I am often infuriated by the current trend among Fabianist left-leaning charities to impose such measurements as the possession of a range of over-priced 'name brand' toys and luxuries. It tends to reinforce the expectation that the better off somehow are 'stealing' these luxuries from the poor. Or, at the very least, depriving them of something they have a 'right' to possess. Moving outside of the 'western' democracies we would have to adjust this view and drop the expectations down the Maslow Hierarchy and the measure of 'poverty' would have to be whether or not the individual had food to eat and shelter. For the vast majority of the world's population I would suggest that is the real test of whether an individual is 'poor' or 'wealthy.'

Capitalism has been around a long time. So long, in fact, I'd venture top suggest that it is the 'natural' form of economics. Wealth is directly linked to productivity. The value of coinage is no longer linked to the value or rarity of a precious metal, though many still think of it that way. In fact the British Bank notes still bear the legend "I promise to pay the bearer on demand, the sum of ..." whatever the face value of the note is. In fact, very few coins these days actually have a metal value equal to their "face" value. The "wealth" of a nation these days is determined by a balance between its commercial activity, productivity in manufacturing and agriculture and the numbers of people productively employed (and therefore taxable) and the government's borrowing levels to cover the gap between tax income and government spending. It's quite a basket of things to balance, but it wasn't always this way.

Ever wonder why the British £ was called 'Sterling?' It goes back to the Saxon Kingdoms, when it was a pound weight of sterling silver. You could strike 240 silver pennies from a single pound of silver, which became the the basis of a "£ Sterling" with 12 'pennies' to a shilling, again, originally 12 'pennyweight' of silver. and twenty such shillings, made up a pound. That held good for centuries, but gradually it became necessary to debase the silver, and that began the slide into 'inflation.' But, this still only represents a small proportion of the 'real' wealth of the world. It does not represent the value of fixed assets such as mineral resources, property holdings or the ability of the people of any given area or land to convert these into things which can be traded for 'money' or accumulated as 'wealth.' This is why the sometimes niavely expressed desire to 'redistribute wealth' is a pipedream.

That said, those who control industry and commerce also know that their activities are extremely portable. It matters not at all to a banker where his activities are based, what matters to him (or her) is access to the financial markets and the restrictions they may have placed upon their activities. Once, this was relatively easy to manage, the trade was largely physical, in coin or ingots and the local authority knew where the merchant banker was and where he kept the goods. Gradually this changed, coin and ingots were replaced by Bills of Exchange and Banker's Notes. So far so good, but now fraud, always a possibility even with precious metals and gemstones (think of Archimedes solution to checking whether or not the king's crown was pure gold, necessary because debasing the gold meant a bigger profit for someone), but once 'paper' transfers came into play, fraudsters could really come into their own.

In the 18th Century the government's of Europe were compelled to adopt a new form of financing for their operations. In previous centuries, they'd taxed and spent and when the tax take didn't cover the costs, they either raised new taxes or borrowed 'treasure' from someone like the Templars. Of course, occassionally, they borrowed too much, a problem the French King Philip IV faced in 1307. He accused the Templars of 'heresy' and seized their assets. Problem solved, his books balanced and the 'banker' wasn't in a position to argue, but it did create a problem elsewhere in Europe. Henry VIII of England had the same problem, he'd borrowed heavily from the monasteries in England and had reached the point of defaulting on his repayments. Simple solution? Link it to the argument over his divorce, and grab the assets of the monasteries. This option didn't exist in the reign of Queen Anne, so her successors had to find a new way to do it. Enter the concept of Government Bonds and 'Deficit Budgeting.'

The idea of buying and selling stocks and shares in various commercial activities was already in place, so this was simply extended by government to 'trade' promissary notes to raise money to support their spending. Initially these 'Bonds' where balanced against expected tax income. As long as the money advanced didn't exceed income, there was no problem. Inevitably though, the borrowing soon exceeded incomes, not just in England, but right across Europe the same problem was developing. It reached a climax in the 20th Century. It should be no surprise to anyone, to learn that Britain was as good as bankrupt in 1945. Nor was she alone, but now there was no single lender who could be accused of something heinous and the debts cancelled. So the next step was to set up an 'international' fund as a 'bankers banker' and lender of first resort to governments.

The balancing of the books in this manner has been facilitated, of course, by the explosion of technology in the latter half of the century. But now a further factor entered the lists. Hugely expensive social security programmes entered into in many countries post 1945 meant that tax incomes had to be supplemented in some way. This meant borrowing more money ...

It has become fashionable to blame the bankers for taking advantage of the deregulation of their industry, and for the fraud which has brought the entire western economic system to its knees. Ironically those who believe the 'wealth' of the world can be 'redistributed' through punitive taxes, social security schemes and aid programmes to 'developing nations' now want confiscation and punitive restrictions on the banks - but the problem lies in a much wider arc and includes the governments who persist in promising programmes they can't afford without impoverishing the very people they depend upon for their income. As history shows, once a government becomes too demanding or too restrictive, the nation's 'wealth' departs rather swiftly.

The truth is that now, with modern systems, it can be gone in nano-seconds. What is perhaps worse, is, as a recent scam set up by a pair of teenagers in Britain has showed, is it has never been easier for a single rogue trader to destroy a national economy, strip people of their savings, their pension funds, their jobs and their homes. Much is made of the supposed 1% of the world population who are wealthy, but this is a misleading number and it takes no account of the real distribution of the assets of 'wealth.' The 'West' has dominated the economic agenda for centuries, but there have always been others of vast wealth who are not in the western economic zone. It is in the West that the wealth distribution curve is widest - but most of us wouldn't consider ourselves 'wealthy.'

Perhaps that's where the real irony lies ...  

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Elections ...

One of my current favourite comic strips is a strip titled "Shoe." It is, like most such strips, a cross between humour and social commentary and is often right on the money. In the strip there are all the usual "characters' including Shoe, editor and proprietor of the Treetops newspaper. All the characters are avian and represent a cross section of any small community.

Presently their local "Senator" is running a campaign to be elected President ... Senator Batson D Belfry (the strip for yesterday 20 April, 2012 is a prime example) has to be the lushest, most inept and corrupt politician on the planet. He's so bad I think I'd vote for him on the grounds his utter incompetence would ensure he didn't actually do anything to either worsen the world situation or change it.

Yep, perfect candidate I think. At least you know exactly what you're getting with him!

Friday, 20 April 2012

A little common sense in Strasbourg?

One is almost astonished to learn that the EU Parliament has voted down the Commission's proposed 'Green Tax' on diesel fuel. Have the politicians finally seen the 'Light' and realised the impact of pushing fuel prices up are likely to give rise to a disaffected electorate?

Possibly. There may also be an element of realisation that the 'Light' may just be a high-speed train approaching them down the tunnel if they don't put the brakes on the Commission.

Coming on top of the revelation today of a major impact study on future energy policy, that electricity in Germany will be 20% more expensive by 2020 it underscores what I wrote a few days ago about the impact of all these 'but its only a few more cents on the price' ideologies. People are starting to wake up to the cost of these dreams of nuclear free living and self sustaining 'renewable' everything. I rather suspect the promoters of all these expensive 'solutions' to 'Green' issues will, eventually find themselves trying to explain to some very angry people armed with pitchforks and burning torches, that they really didn't mean to impoverish everyone and destroy nations.

It is refreshing to see Strasbourg actually saying 'no! non! nein! nyet!' to Brussels and the Commissioners, but what's the betting the UK Whitehallsters have already managed to pre-empt this tax and shoved it onto the UK under the guise of 'but the EU is making us do it?' Hopefully someone in the UK will call that bluff. In this instance the EU has said NO to this proposed tax.

Mind you, even Westminster saying NO to something the civil servants propose hasn't, in the past, stopped the civil servants from going ahead with whatever it was anyway. And they always blame Brussels or Strasbourg ...

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Frustration ...

Generally speaking I am very happy with my iMac and the programs I run on it, but the Apple Store is something I approach with the prior knowledge that I'm likely to have a problem. Today was no exception. I want to upgrade my iMac from the Mac OS X Snow Leopard system to the Mac OS X Lion. It should be a doddle. All I have to do is go to the Apple App Store, buy the upgrade and download it.

Simple.

No. Apple will not accept payment on any of my bank cards. They insist that I must use a card issued by a German Bank. No other website I buy from has a problem with my UK Bank cards, only Apple. To complicate matters, it won't let me buy the upgrade from the UK site either. Why? Because I live in Germany. The alternative would, for me, be to use "Click and Buy." An attempt to do that proved even more frustrating. The C&B website, for some reason, refused to accept my valid password. My attempt to get past that has resulted in the account being "locked." OK, so I tried to go down the road of asking for a password reset - except that now I ran into a "security question" the answer to which I have not the faintest idea. There is no way I can get in touch with them without answering this question - so, I hereby give notice to Click and Buy.

Take your service and shove it ...

I still cannot persuade the Apple Store to accept payment, I can't get anyone at the Apple Store helpdesk who can suggest anything useful and Apple, for some reason best known only to Apple, they don't accept payment through PayPal, my preferred alternative.

So, it looks as if I will be paying a visit to the Apple Store in Wiesbaden. I think, from past experience of their work, I can expect a little more useful support. Failing that, or perhaps on top of that, I plan to write a fairly stiff note of complaint to Apple HQ. Frankly, its a great product, I hate the thought of having to revert to Microslosh, but Apple's customer relations stink.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Fuel Tax ...

The EU 'Parliament' is debating imposing an EU wide tax on diesel fuel at present. The argument in favour of it is, as usual, 'green' and runs along the usual lines of reducing 'carbon' in the atmosphere. All the usual arguments are being aired about its being a 'good' tax, which will reduce the use of a 'dirty' fuel and 'save the planet' by 'preventing climate change.' What is NOT being said, is the impact this tax will have on the cost of everything from food to housing.

The cost of fuel is, at present high. This means that heating, electricity, transport and everything associated with the use of any fuel is also being forced upwards. In tax terms, since tax is always a percentage of the value of any given commodity, it means that every government is benefitting by having an increased revenue, while every user is losing, by paying a higher price plus a higher tax on whatever they use. Don't expect any politician or advocate from the 'tax them off the roads' lobby to acknowledge this. The politicians won't acknowledge it because they are net beneficiaries of the increased income. The anti-personal transport lobby won't acknowledge it because their ideology dictates that it is necessary to reduce your wealth in order to 'redistribute' it. What no one seems to acknowledge is that increasing the price of the fuel used in trains, buses, trucks and shipping has a huge impact on that most basic commodity all of us use. 

Yes, food prices always increase when the cost of transporting and producing it goes up. Producing it? Yes, that as well, the farmer uses large amounts of diesel fuel in his tractor, in his harvesting machines and in getting the produce off the land and to the outlet.

It always annoys me to hear reporters stop a 'man in the street' and bounce him (or her in the case of a lady) with the question as to whether they are prepared to pay more to use their car in order to reduce 'carbon' emissions or some other 'green' ideal. The vast majority are caught off guard and you can see the 'Oh God, I better be careful what I say, this could be awkward' shutters go up. Then they trot out some inane platitude about 'I suppose if it helps save the planet,' and duck away as fast as they can. Very few will actually give the straight and honest answer. "No. I'm not prepared to pay more, because it will mean increases in the price of food ..." To be honest, I don't think many have even thought that far!

I don't think the overpaid occupants of Westminster, Strasbourg, Berlin, Paris or any other Parliament have either. If they had, I suspect they might have more caution in adopting these ideas. That said, the majority of politicians I've met probably would do it anyway. Most of them operate on the principle of 'Don't confuse me with facts, my mind is made up' or the better one of 'I know all the answers, the questions are irrelevant.' The very few who don't generally either quickly convert to one or the other - or don't survive in politics.

Here in Germany it does seem that more and more people are waking up to the cost of all these 'green' taxes and policies. Sadly though, I suspect it will take years to get a change in the thinking of those occupying the gilded halls of power - and by then it will be too late to save our economies. In the meantime, expect to see your food bills rise exponentially, your wages stagnate and the cost of staying warm ... 

Well, our forebears managed without heating their homes, we may just have to get used to it again.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Be careful what you say ...

Or write it seems. A blogger and twitter user who has 'issues' with his local council now faces the prospect of being jailed for using an obscene word in reference to unnamed individuals serving on the borough council. He was charged under the Electronic Communications Act - another of Blair's attempts to stifle freedom of expression - which makes it an offence to use obscene language over a telephone or any other electronic medium, including a blog or Twitter.

It does appear to have become something of a witch hunt though. This is not the first time that act has been used to attempt to silence someone opposed to something an elected body is doing or to what individuals on an elected body are engaged in. According to the reports I've read, the accused was originally charged with incitement, harassment and breaching personal privacy. These charges have been dropped, in favour of pursuing the obscenity case, on which he has now been found guilty. While I don't particularly like the use of obscene language I do find it worrying that elected representatives can apparently stifle what does appear to be an honest grievance concerning their behaviour by resorting to law in this manner.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I hold a very low opinion of politicians in general and civil servants in particular. Cases like this simply reinforce my view that they are unscrupulous, conniving and crooked - and, as they make the laws, are perfectly positioned to abuse them to their advantage.

Democracy? It's an illusion.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Maritime Disasters

After a full weekend of "Titanic" one could be forgiven for wanting a break from matters marine and disaster at sea. One of the things which intrigues me about the Titanic story is how many people believe it was the "worst ever" disaster at sea. It wasn't by quite a large margin, though it was, in fact, one of the best documented and publicised. She was, at the time, certainly the largest ship to be lost in an accident and she was also one of the first in which radio telegraphy played a large part. The world knew what was happening as it happened, thanks to Mr. Marconi's "wireless" telegraph.

Several earlier disasters spring to mind as being as bad and some worse. One is the ss Republic, lost in a hurricane with all hands off the Atlantic coast of the US. Her wreck was not relocated until the 1980s. Fire took a heavy toll of ships as well and the number of lives lost through storm, fire and collision when you look back at them is horrendous. One of the most notable, barely remembered now, was the ss Volturno, in 1913. The fire aboard her killed 136 of the 679 passengers and one reason she isn't much remembered is she wasn't a 'fashionable' ship. She was employed on the 'immigrant' run across the Atlantic, not the 'society' run. Luck played a large part in the survival of so many of her passengers who were saved by other ships investigating the pall of smoke from the fire.

Then, if you really want to put the numbers into perspective, you must take into account some of the wartime losses. I shall leave out the loss of life on naval vessels, there is a long list on the webiste International Registry of Sunken Ships from which I offer the following examples -

Karl Gustloff - (1945) a German Cruise Liner carrying wounded and refugees from West Prussia (Now part of Poland). The official figures are given as 6,000 - 7,000 but a recent examination of the wreck, plus accounts given by survivors and those who saw her loading,  suggests the figure may be nearer 9,000. Essentially she left port packed with refugees in such a manner that there was standing room only even below decks. No one aboard stood much chance when she was torpedoed.

Kap Arcona - (1945) another German passenger liner, her death toll is given as 5,000 - 7,000 the vast bulk of them civilians but that includes 2,300 prisoners from an evacuated concentration camp. Again, torpedoed, no one stood much chance.

Kiangya - (1948) Chinese cargo ship fleeing the Communists in 1948. Hit a mine. It is thought as many as 4,000 refugees - all civilian - went down with her.

Dona Paz - Philippine ferry. In 1987 she collided with a tanker. 4,341 went down with her, many burned in the fire that engulfed the wreck.

Estonia - Ferry carrying 987 passengers. In 1994 her bow visor was ripped away in a storm in the Baltic and she sank when her loading doors were breached. There were only 137 survivors.

La Joola - Ferry operating from Gambia. In 2002, she was overloaded and capsized in a storm. She took 1,863 with her ...

When you look at these numbers, and I've deliberately left out of them ships sunk while carrying troops and PoWs - and there are plenty of those - it puts the Titanic into a slightly different perspective.

I am not saying the Titanic's sinking wasn't a tragedy, what I am saying is that she represents a small portion of a very long list of tragedies. A reason we should never take our own cleverness for granted or presume to think we have all the answers. Yes, three of the ships on my list were sunk deliberately - or at least as a result of some offensive intent - that does not make them any less a tragedy. From 1943 to 1946 the great Cunarder liners RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth shuttled back and forth across the Atlantic carrying up to 13,000 troops on each voyage. That rendered them, under the 'rules of war,' legitimate targets - far more legitimate than any of the three at the top of my list above.

We should remember all those lost at sea in every age. Each one was a tragedy.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Remembering Titanic

As I write this, the survivors of the sinking were probably being recovered by the Cunard liner RMS Carpathia at this time and on this date 100 years ago. The Carpathia was the first of the 'rescue' ships to arrive, some six hours after the Titanic sank.

We should remember the dead and those who responded to this and all other emergencies at sea.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

A century ago ...

White Star Line's brand new flagship, RMS Titanic, struck an iceberg south of Newfoundland at 21 knots (roughly 35 mph for landlubbers). With 44,000 tons of ship and several hundred thousand tons of iceberg meeting with all the forces in play at that speed (To give an idea - a 2lb tin of jam on the parcel shelf of your car at 35 mph will, if the car stops dead, continue to travel at that speed with a "kinetic force" of 2,200lbs behind it. A bit of a shame if your head gets in the way of its flight.) something had to give, and it wasn't going to be the iceberg.

Much is made of the fact the ship was "said" to be "unsinkable," a claim made in the news media of the day and in fact never made by the builder or the designer. Their statement was that the ship was virtually unsinkable and further qualified by adding the technical information that she could remain afloat with four of her compartments flooded. As ever, the news media lost the crucial word, and it's one researcher after researcher seems to skate past without thought in more recent times. 

It was very unfortunate that the officer on watch attempted to turn the ship. He'd have done better to throw the outer engines astern, stop the centre turbine and ram the iceberg head on. Yes, he'd have lost probably two bow compartments, but the ship might have stayed afloat a lot longer. Attempting to turn the ship away was bound to fail, a ship like that travelling at that speed would need a far greater distance to make the turn than she had available. 

A new book makes some very sweeping claims about the sinking, most of which I think will be dismissed as "crackpot" by the vast majority. Unfortunately it will be picked up and eagerly promoted by the conspiracy theorists as "truth." Let's look at some of the claims. First it claims that the designer, builder and the owners all agreed to compromise safety by cutting costs and using substandard steel. That one has already been refuted, there is no doubt at all that she and her two sisters were built using the finest steel then available. In fact RMS Olympic, her sister, survived two collisions and served under the Cunard house flag until broken up in 1934 and her steel was then recycled into new ships. It is claimed that the original design called for more compartments - again rubbish, the original proposals are freely available and in fact Titanic's design was changed and improved upon with lessons learned from building the Olympic and both Olympic and Britannic were further modified after the sinking to raise the height of the compartmentation to the Upper Deck. The author continues, dragging in the politicians and even accusing Sir Winston Churchill of complicity in what he regards as a "plot" to cut safety. His reasoning is that, as "President of the Board of Trade" (Secretary of State for Trade and Industry), Winston Churchill "blocked" the fitting of more lifeboats.

As I said, patent garbage, but it will, no doubt, feed the egos of the conspiracy theorists.

I am always more struck by the fact that, though mortally damaged, the Titanic still took a little over four hours to sink. This does rather suggest that her design was, at least in part, sound. It must be said, at that time, very few ships had watertight compartmentation, even the great Cunarders, Mauretania and Lusitania had to be brought home and extensively modified after this disaster. Nor were they the only ones. I cannot help but wonder what the outcome might have been had an immediate attempt been made to "fother" the gash along her plating. This is a process by which tarpaulins - usually used to weatherproof the hatches - are drawn down the side of the ship and over the damaged plating. By allowing the inrushing water to push the tarpaulin into the openings, the inflow can be reduced. It may well be the officers thought of doing this, but then decided it was too big a task. We don't know. 

The real tragedy is that she did have enough place in her boats for over half the people on board, but only a third of those places were filled. That led to changes in the requirements for training in abandoning ship and to the provision of lifeboats and life saving equipment, but, as we have recently seen with the Costa Concordia, even that is no guarantee of complete safety.

The Titanic caught the popular imagination and it led to numerous changes and the first Safety of Life at Sea agreements, but it wasn't the worst ever maritime disaster and nor, I suspect, will it be the last.

(RMS = Royal Mail Steamer. A ship belonging to a company contracted to carry mail for the Royal Mail from the UK to everywhere else in the world. White Star and Cunard had these contracts for the Atlantic, P&O for the Far East and Union Castle for the South African run. There were others for the Caribean, South America amd elsewhere. They usually also wore the Blue Ensign and were commanded by Royal Naval Reserve officers so they could be taken into service as Armed Merchant Cruisers or Troop Ships in time of war.)

  

Thursday, 12 April 2012

A country called London ...

The Spectator has a very interesting article in which it suggests that London has become a separate country in many respects to the rest of Britain. Neil O'Brien makes the point succinctly - London is home to the nations politicians, civil servants and media, in essence, the ruling class. They recognise only London and london's issues and problems, yet it doesn't - and quite possibly never has - represented the whole of the United Kingdom. Small wonder then that the Kingdom is becoming ever more DIS-united.


As he says, this leads to a BIG problem -


Londonitis. The politicians, civil servants and journalists who make up Britain's governing class have had their world view shaped by living in the capital and its wealthy satellites. They run one country, but effectively live in another.


I have long felt that all too often a problem identified in London, is then extrapolated to the rest of Britain, often with dire results for everyone outside of the Planet London. Now the Spectator is saying the same thing. It is interesting that Opinion Polls on improving "Public Transport" held across the UK, always come up with Londoners wanting more effort to drive everyone out of their cars, while the rest of the country want the fuel duty reduced to make life, including transport, cheaper.


Londoners are, on average 66% better off than anyone anywhere else in the country and this tendency is increasing rapidly. London will soon have the largest population in its history, it has become a financial hub and everything revolves around that, but already there are signs of problems. Its airports are at capacity and any effort to expand them is going to run into very stiff opposition. The EU is increasingly becoming more hostile to London, and that could impact future popularity and growth. Why? Simply because Paris and Frankfurt have better links to "emerging markets" and are less likely to be subjected to punitive taxation once the current government loses its mandate.


It will be interesting to see what happens in the next ten to fifteen years. As the Spectator put it, London has become an Aerotropolis. It's super rich are internationals, they can up stakes and be gone to another megacity tomorrow if anything happens to make London less attractive to them. Perhaps this is what the politicians fear most. The wealth of the city is at its highest point in years, yet it could be gone in the blink of an eye. Those who control the wealth now have no allegiance to anyone but themselves and to their profits. Threaten either their positions or their wealth - and they will take flight before anyone can act, leaving an empty set of skyscrapers and an even emptier Treasury.


There is probably only one solution to this problem. London should go independent and the rest of the country should be freed of the London yoke. It will be tough, but it will cure the Londonitis the rest of the UK suffers from. 

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Regrets? We all have some ...

An article in the online Guardian today made me think a bit. It discusses the most common regrets of the dying as recorded by a palliative nurse taking care of people in the final weeks, days and hours of their lives. What struck me immediately I read them was that they are probably the things almost everyone would probably identify. There was no mention of "world cruises" or winning lotteries, much less of more sex, throwing wild parties or any of the more frequently heard "wishes" so flippantly uttered on "reality TV" or in street corner surveys.

Top of the list was "I wish I'd lived a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."

I can identify with that one, but I'm not so sure my life would have been much better for doing so. I confess I did a lot of very stupid things "off camera" and away from the sight and likely hearing of those who "expected of me." If I'd lived the life those moments of stupidity indicated as a likely path of "being true to myself" I'd probably not be writing this now and I'd also most likely have expressed the same regret - but from a different perspective. I think quite often we don't really know what "being true to myself" really is. Yes, I've a few nostalgic regrets about some aspects of my early adventures - like not making more of an effort to break away from a rather stifling relationship with my dependent mother, or making more effort to achieve my greatest wish to own my own boat and do much more sailing, perhaps even taking out some "tickets" as a yacht master ... But, on the positive side, I've seen a heck of a lot of the world, made some super friends, had a lot of laughs, watched my three kids grow up, carved out a career for myself, loved, lost and achieved. Who knows, perhaps I have lived a life "true to myself."

Second was "I wish I hadn't worked so hard."

Again, I can identify with that one. My career demanded a lot and in the early years was a "live-in" 24/5 (Yes, that is right - 2 days off in 7!) job in a tough part of the city. Even later, as I rose in the ranks, it came down a bit but I was still away from home for half the hours in a week. After we moved to the UK and I settled in London, well, those who live there know how long getting to and from the office takes ... After my divorce, I moved to the other side of England, and, now single and with a huge deficit to work off, I had little option. Perhaps that would be my number 2, losing that daily contact, brief as it was, with my kids ...

Third on the Guardian list is - "I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings."

Hmm, whenever I did, I got accused of being self-centred. So maybe I did it wrong? I have to say, sometimes expressing one's feelings can be a very negative experience, at others, of course, it is entirely appropriate. Perhaps the present day view of "letting it all hang out" is good from a psychological point of view, but it does expose you to the possibility of repelling the very people you really want to keep. As a bit of a control freak myself, the thing I've always found most difficult with this is that it also exposes more of the "real you" than perhaps you are actually comfortable with. So, no, this isn't one of my regrets.

Fourth is - "I wish I'd stayed in touch with my friends."

Here again, I have a mixed response. On the one hand, I have, with the majority of them anyway. Some have got "lost" through circumstances or choice, but I will say that, should any of them wander back into contact, I would welcome them back and hope they would do the same for me. Thanks to the internet it is, of course, much easier. I think I would have phrased this response differently. My regret is that I didn't make a greater effort to understand my parents and grandparents when I was younger and they were still alive. Now I have that understanding of some of the things that drove them, its too late - for now.

Fifth regret is - "I wish I'd let myself be happier."

Hmm. I'm not at all sure about this one. I have certainly had my low points when I've not been as "happy" as I would have wished to be. Leaving the family home twenty years ago, the kids in tears, my ex-wife's grim expression and my own feeling of total emptiness would probably count as the lowest, but I firmly believe we have a choice in this, we can wallow in our misery, or we can turn the page and drag ourselves out of the mire. I've always chosen to do the latter and I would hope I've taught my kids to do the same.

Yes, I do have regrets. I regret some of the dreams I haven't realised, I regret some of the relationships that haven't worked out well, I regret not telling my friends and family more regularly how much they really mean to me and I regret not having made more effort to share some of the things that gave me real pleasure with them. But, at the same time, I don't "regret" any of the things I've done that have made me who, what and where I am.

Perhaps I'm a far luckier man than I realised!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

A little glimmer of justice at last?

The news that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the terrorist and murderer Abu Hamza can be extradited to the US to face charges there, is, in my opinion, a welcome glimmer of justice being seen to be done. Abu Hamza blew his own hands off making and planting bombs. He is wanted in Egypt and another Middle Eastern country for terrorist crimes, but, until recently, he has been protected from extradition on the grounds he could face torture and the death penalty if extradited for trial in the countries concerned. I am often appalled at the concern people like Amnesty International show for the accused in these instances - never a murmur of sympathy for their victims.

Of course, the decision isn't popular with everyone. His supporters, and the supporters of the others involved in this case, are up in arms about it. On the other hand these are men who have been accused and convicted in British courts of inciting others to commit murder, of inciting racial and religious hatred and - in one case at least - direct involvement in an act of terror against the citizens of the UK. So why should any of us, the taxpayers, continue to pay the expenses of their legal teams, their accommodation in comfort in our jails and all the other support they get?

Why shouldn't they face a tougher justice regime than the pussy cat approach our emasculated justice system dishes out?

While I do have some reservations about the US Police methods when it comes to handling and collecting evidence, and with the conduct of cases in their courts, I have no qualms whatever about their having the right to bring these men to trial in American courts. Crimes have been committed against US citizens by them, criminal action is being urged against US citizens by them - so why should the British taxpayer continue to 'protect' them from the consequences.

My only concern now is that they could, on appeal, still end up remaining in the UK. They have three months to appeal, I have no doubt their supporters will now begin a massive campaign in the media and through the courts, to challenge the ruling and the attempt to convince some soft judge somewhere that they face injustice and the breach of their "human rights." I just hope these attempts fail.

You cannot beat crime or terrorism by being soft about it.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

An Easter Poem

I'm not much of a poet, but this sort of 'happened' as I considered the Easter Passion Gospel ...

Taken down from the cross;
Your body broken.
Laid in a tomb, not yet prepared,
A stone laid to seal it
And guards posted there.
Undisturbed 'til third day,
Then terror and fright
Seized the watchers who fled
As the stone rolled aside
To reveal you’d arisen.
The women who came
To render observance
Were dismayed to discover
The tomb open and bare,
‘Til Mary encountered you
Fresh and revived
But none of them knew you
As you stood there.
  
‘Touch me not!
I’m not ready’
Mary was told;
Go, tell my brothers
I will find them at home.
At Emmaus some knew you
In the breaking of Bread
But others, they doubted
Until they could touch
The wounds and the hands
Of You whom they loved.
In Jerusalem many who saw 
Were afraid, asking,
We saw him die, how can this be?
The Sanhedrin declared 
This is fraud; can’t you see?
His friends have hidden Him
And now try to deceive.
But this is the mystery!
The grave clothes remained
No grave robbers here!
The soldiers had run,
So what did they see?
A miracle so awesome
They fled it in fear,
But they, like the others
Are invited to share,
The miracle of Easter
The Life beyond care.
Death, where is thy sting, oh grave where is thy Victory? 1 Cor 15: 55

Friday, 6 April 2012

Remembering a birthday.

Today, as well as being Good Friday (Karfreitag in Germany) would have been my father's 89th birthday. Sadly, he died aged 57, the victim of alcohol, cigarettes and to many nightmares left over from his experiences in World War 2.

I didn't enjoy a close relationship with him, but I do remember him and the many things he taught me in seamanship, dealing with life and much more.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Tid, Mid, Miserai

The Monk's mention of Maundy Thursday led me to remember years gone by and some of the old traditions of the Church that have fallen into neglect and disuse.  That lack of understanding of religious festivals is probably what led to our local Tesco (and therefore probable many others nearby) stocking hot cross buns during Advent!  In the North East of England, either for those fasting for Lent or those who paid no real heed, the fourth Sunday in Lent was always referred to as "Carlin Sunday".  Most practising Christians believe that the Sundays in Lent are not fast days, others will be slightly more stict, however, Carlin Sunday was a day where the main meal of the day would be Carlins.  The Carlin is a medaeval pea variety that now has a heritage food designation, the species is CajanusCajanwas and requires overnight soaking, a day's boiling and then normally frying before being seasoned with salt and vinegar.  Typically now a long lost memory of people of a certain age!

The rhyme that children learned, certainly up until the 1950s, that related to the Sundays of Lent went as follows;

Tid, Mid, Miserai;
Carlin, Palm, Paste Egg day;
We shall have a holiday,
with bonny frocks on Easter Day.

I suspect that most people will recognise Palm Sunday in there, but what of the others?  I could set a quiz, but I rather suspect that the Monk would deciper the first three quite quickly, I cannot recall if he is a crossword fan, but it would be a simple matter to a Times crossword man who does not like hard boiled eggs.  On the first Sunday in Lent, (or second, depending upon how you view the six 'weeks' of Lent.) named Tid in the rhyme, the traditional Latin hymn Te Deus Laudamus would be sung, on Mid, the hymn Mi Deus and on Miserai, the Psalm Miserai Mei. 

Another food associated with Lenten Sundays would be Simnel Bread, my understanding is that girls "in service" would bake such a cake for their mothers at their employers expense and present them on their visit home for Mothering Sunday, we can only assume that the family employing the girls fasted on that Sunday if no other!  We then come to what the Church would call Passion Sunday, although the practice varies, but anyone from the NE of England, particularly one who is either Roman Catholic and prefers the Tridentine Mass or is CoE and over 50 would call Carlin Sunday; I wonder how many people still prepare the Carlin peas as their supper?  Palm Sunday, as mentioned goes without saying and is the beginning of the final week of Lent celebrating the arrival in Jerusalem, but what of "Paste-Egg Day"?

Well, eggs have long been associated with Easter, as have lambs and while most contemporary eggs are chocolate, some people must still hard boil eggs and paint them.  There were dried flowers saved in some areas through the winter to boil with the eggs to colour them violet, some Roman Catholic Churches still veil the statues, icons and other representations at various times to commemorate Christ hiding away and they use violet cloths to do so.  The NE being the territory of the Percies, one of the staunchest Catholic families to survive in Britain; the Border lands do not take lightly to intruders, especially those from the south who intend to tell them how to run their lives and their churches, such customs have survived.

However, what of the egg?  Well, eggs in mystical ceremonies long pre-date Christianity, at least in its modern European form as do fasts in late winter, fasting was not optional for those who had not been able to lay store until well into the 19th century.  So we have an adaptation as is so common where Liturgy meets embedded custom, it is the wise course of action and embeds the new memory in place of an older one rather than banning practices that would then immediately go underground and survive invisible as the Russian Church and other Orthodox groups did during the years of the CCCP, to emerge stronger than ever and in their full splendour when the time was right.  So the story goes that the egg represents not simply new life, but the stone that moved from the tomb.  I am a strong believer in the power of moral tales, parables and traditions that illustrate beliefs, they encourage the young to do more than follow a faith, they encourage a tradition of trying, from a young age, to understand the complexities of life and the changing seasons, the comings and goings, the births, the deaths and the memories.

But why the "Paste-Egg"?  Probably from the Greek and / or Latin origin of the word for Easter, Paeche / Pascal / Pasque / Πάσχα, that is still in use in Southern Europe.  Originally the lamb to be eaten at Passover by the Jews, St John records John the Baptist refering to "the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the World."  But an Easter Lamb in most of England would not make a feast for a family, lambing is only just under way as I write, I watched one emerge into a gloriously sunny day just last week.  This, however is a modern luxury in any colder part of the world; during my time in Aberdeenshire I assisted in lambing  at Christmas, at New Year and for the deathly weeks of January.  The reason is simple, outdoor lambing would result in dead lambs, so the stock would be indoors, either in a modern barn or byre or in times lang syne, keeping the family warm!  There would be no food to keep the ewes alive until Easter to give birth, so they were sent to the tup earlier and traditionaly lamb at Christmas, so by Easter, eating one was possible.

So, the new life I watched coming into the world last week is a symbol of new life anywhere, the egg is a symbol of new life, of new hope of a new season and hope for a new future.  My personal view is that the resurection is a figurative story of great power, I recognise that the Monk has a more traditional and fundamental interpretation and I respect that view, however, tomorrow, Christians will quietly remember a death that changed the history of the World,  on Sunday they will celebrate the new life, the renewal of hope.  I wonder how many in today's world will be celebrating the last supper tonight to remind us of the bonds of fellowship?

(PS If I am to be resurected somewhen, I suspect that I will be the woodworm chewing through the excellent timber in a gentlemans desk...)

Maundy Thursday

Today being Maundy Thursday, our schedule for the next few days will be busy. There is, as usual, the Maundy Mass this evening and the stripping of the altar. A sharp reminder of the events, told in the Gospel, of the Last Supper and the hours that followed.

Posting may be a little restricted over the next few days!

Tagged ...

Having been tagged by raaniyork here is my response -

Your questions:

1. What’s your favorite color?

Blue - if I'm wearing it. Red - if I'm driving it ...

2. If you get a plane ticket for free to go wherever you’d like – where would your final destination be?

Back home - after a trip to every country I'd still like to visit ...

3. Is there anything in your life you always wanted to do and never had the chance to?

Yes, quite a number of things. But when I look at all the other things I've done, I don't think I'd do it differently if I had to do it again.

4. Which one is your favorite movie classic? (Let’s say: Older than 20 years)

A tricky one, since I'm not a big movie fan. Probably ET, or Flight of the Navigator ... Both were slightly SciFi and a bit wacky!

5. If you were blond – would you mind the blonde-jokes (and of course if you ARE blonde – do you mind them?)

No. I think it's silly to get worked up about jokes and imagined slights. As the saying goes - "Sticks and stones ..."

6. What is it that always and 100% certain makes you laugh?

Oh, oh. I have a rather strange sense of humour. One thing that always gets me going though is when some occasion of great pomp starts to go a bit awry ... Like the Pope falling asleep during a sermon recently. Or my bishop loosing his zucetta (A little skullcap worn under the mitre) into the font while blessing the water in it ...

7. Where do you usually buy your clothes?

Wherever I can find the things I like to wear. Online for quite a lot lately, otherwise Peek and Clappenberg or Karstadt ...

8. Does wind bother you or do you like it?

Ah, now we're back to No. 3. Wind doesn't bother me. I enjoy sailing and that needs wind. Even a full on gale can be revitalising walking along a sea shore, feeling the wind, smelling the salt spray, or just listening to it rattle shutters or whine and moan around the house.

9. What is it that you dislike about high school reunions?

I don't go to many, so I've never really thought about this one. Perhaps, these days, its a sadness for those who showed so much potential and realised so little of it ...

10. Are you a cat or dog person?

I guess I'd have to say 'cat' - they seem to like me and attach themselves. Dogs trust me and seem to like me as well, so a bit of a dichotomy here!

11. Can movies make you cry and if yes – when was the last time you cried in a movie theater or in front of the TV?

I'd have to say yes. That said, I have done it, but can't remember the movie ... It was a while ago!

And now to work out who I'm tagging ...

Here goes - 

The challenge is to answer the same questions ...

Roses @ Ack! Thbbt!
Joan @ Da Goddess
Josephus - Right Here!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Follow the money ...

Yesterday evening Mausi brought me copies of two articles raising concerns about the lack of a government provided Forensic Science service in the UK. There used to be one, but it has been closed down, its premises and equipment sold off, no doubt at a mega loss to the taxpayer, by that ever incompetent bunch of morons in Whitehall. So now the Police have two choices, pay mega bucks to a private provider whose staff may not have either the depth of experience or knowledge to do the work required and who almost certainly don't know the "rules of evidence" and therefore the strict controls necessary to prevent a miscarriage of justice. Or, they must build up their own "in house" team and service.

Given that the Police budgets are also being slashed by the same bunch of morons infesting Whitehall, and you know just what sort of "forensic service" the justice system can expect in future.

"Officer, was this item examined in a laboratory for DNA?"

"No, your honour, we didn't have a budget for it..."

Even if they did have the "budget" can we be certain the result will be acceptable in court? Probably not. It has emerged that blunders in the storage of sensitive evidence materials in the laboratory of Whitehall's favourite "private" provider, has led to one false arrest in a rape case, and now casts serious doubt on every other case where the evidence has been handled by this company.

The UK stands alone in Europe as the only country that doesn't have a central forensic science service capabale of handling evidence involving all the many different disciplines required. They used to have one of the best, but no; the Whitehall W*nk*rs declared it "made a loss" and must therefore be closed. No one in his right mind expects a Forensic Science Service provided purely for support of the police and the justice system, to make a profit. Only in Whitehall could you find a moron capable of trying to claim it should.

Frankly, if "making a loss" as a government service means it should cease being supplied and must be closed down, then close down every Whitehall Department, many of them lose £2 million a week, never mind a month or a quarter. The closure of the Forensic Science Service will result in miscarriages of justice. It will enrich the clever fellows who lobbied for this and their pals in the back benches and the Whitehall offices who pushed it through.

As I said at the outset, what needs investigating here is this. Who benefits from the closure of the FSS? Follow the money, someone in Westminster and probably several people in Whitehall are rubbing their hands in glee and watching their bank balances grow very nicely. Will they suffer from the blunders and miscarriages their friends in the private laboratories perpetrate? Of course not.

Among European Police forces and Forensic Science Services, the UK is now a laughing stock. Frankly, I can't wait to see the first major miscarriage to be exposed and the "forensic" laboratory get exposed for the blunder. Sadly, no one will, even then, follow the money and expose the charlatans behind this state of affairs.

Once again, who ends up paying? Ah, you do, of course, the dear old Taxpayer. So kind of you, just tell HMRC where the money is and when they can take it off you - those nice chaps in the private field now providing the services that used to cost far less (without the 'profit' element) need it far more than you do. After all, they have to pay off their friends in the Civil Service and Parliament for giving them this golden Master Card to draw on ...

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Conviction

Last night we watched a fascinating programme on the demise of the former Communist East German State. The makers of the programme interviewed quite a number of those who had lived in it, those who had governed it, and people from the West German state who had a hand in the final collapse and then the reunification. One of those interviewed was Mrs. Honecker, the widow of the late Erich Honecker. For those too young to remember him, he was the Head of the East German state. The title of it, the "German Democratic Republic" was something of a joke, it was a one party state so the only democracy was that its populace were allowed to vote for the single party.

What was very interesting last night, was the fact that Mrs. Honecker still firmly believes that all the restrictions on travel, on being permitted to leave the borders of the GDR and on individual freedom of choice was necessary to "defend the people" from "Fascism" and the evil "Capitalists." She made it clear that the "people" couldn't be expected to know what dangers these presented and had to be "protected" by means of the Berlin Wall, a huge military machine, the StaSi and all the restrictions. Nor was she alone, several former members of that government all parroted the same things, with varying degrees of conviction. Listening to them, the former GDR was a "paradise" they had created for their "children" and, if only they had not been "betrayed" by Gorbachev and then "tricked" into opening the borders (conveniently ignoring it was one of their own ministers who flapped his gums and basically shot them in the foot over the opening) the GDR would still be there as a "model workers state" for the world to admire.

I suppose it depends on how you view this, and from which side you're viewing. I dare say that from her plush government office (She was the Minister for Education 1973 - 1989) it was a "workers paradise." She and her husband enjoyed luxury homes, luxury limousines, private holiday resorts only for the top members of the party, private hunting lodges and even a private "hunting park" reserved only for the top echelons of the Party. Everyone else had to wait for the Party to decide when, where and how they could work, live, holiday or travel. Say anything against the system, and the StaSi knew about it.

There was a waiting list for the only car available to "ordinary" people of 15 years. Some people waited 30 years for a telephone, then only got one because the StaSi had decided they should be watched more closely. Over 200 people were shot, blown up or beaten to death trying to escape this "paradise" Mrs. Honecker still believes was a "workers paradise."And so, it must be said, do almost all the former Communist Party members now calling themselves "Die Linke" (The Left).

I confess I find it very difficult to believe that they do truly believe that the evil state they presided over, the human rights abuses they perpetrated and the trampling on the legitimate abilities and ambitions of the people under their power, was for anyone's benefit but their own. I find it even more unbelievable that there are so many supposedly intelligent people living in the UK and other free societies who think the same way. People like the Fabian Society who think a "socialist" paradise can be created by imposing state control over every aspect of the citizens lives.

These are the same people usually who will accuse anyone of "faith" of being bigoted, blinkered and unreasonable. Of course, their "political" vision isn't religious - though one could be excused for thinking it has the same level of fundamentalist conviction!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Writing

Some readers will have realised that I enjoy writing. It can be very rewarding, the research on some topics is quite time consuming, but it is also one of the 'rewards' of writing as you learn a great deal in the process of creating somethingfor others. This is probably why I enjoy the writing of authors like Terry Pratchett, Douglas Reeman/Alexander Kent, C S Forrester and Isaac Asimov or Robert Heinlein and Arthur C Clark. They all do, or did, a lot of background research (Clark and Asimov were actually scientists who wrote as a sideline), and use facts to weave a fantasy. Pratchett is particularly good at creating a fantasy around real events and people, yet set in their own fantasy world where they don't become either obvious or tortured into something else.

My pet hate is the kind of story where "facts" are invented, mangled, shifted and then presented as "proven" with the usual PR reportage that the story is "based on true events and facts" which the gullible who don't have the desire to check, will swallow them whole. A lot of this has gone on and one frequently now finds, when researching something, references being cited which, when checked, make reference to earlier work, which in turn ... and then you find that the source, far from being either accurate or reliable, has been discredited or even utterly refuted. But, because its now been "quoted" in later works, it has become "fact."

This is, of course, the art of the spin doctor or, to give it its proper name, the propagandist. This is where the modern author has to be extremely careful. Of course my views, my attitudes and a lot of my likes and dislikes are going to enter my writing. However, if I want to make use of "facts" to support any of it, I MUST make sure the facts are accurate and not taken from a decidedly "iffy" source originally. And there are plenty of those around. There were some very "creative" scientific and philosophical writers around in the late 19th and early 20th Century and quite a lot of their writing draws on sources that are neither reliable or even what they purport to be. Even those that are, have been frequently misrepresented, with bits used and other, qualifying sections, hidden or dismissed as "not relevant."

Believe it or not, some of the biggest names in the field are guilty of this on occasion. The trouble is, because they wrote something, quoting an earlier source, it isn't challenged - even though many of those "sources" are now known as forgeries or pure invention.

Pratchett once wrote that "writing is the most fun anyone can have on their own." He is, in my view, right. But check my reference - it comes from the author profile in one of his books - and you'll find I haven't actually quoted him accurately. It's close, but not accurate. And that is the problem for any writer who wants to build a story around some factual matter or some piece of known history - it is all too easy to introduce a subtle but possibly misleading change to the truth, sometimes with unforseeable consequences for the future.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Making the most of the weather ...

Mausi and the Monk have spent the last two days getting our garden restarted. The winter certainly took its toll, we have a number of 'hardy' shrubs and plants have not survived the minus 20*C temperatures we had for three plus weeks...

So far, we've replaced our fountain tub and one of our rain water butts which burst when the contents froze. To our surprise, the other two survived despite deforming rather badly. Now, at last, we have some green shoots and buds starting. I give it another week or so and I'll have to get the mower out.

One could say, "Here beginneth the Spring ..."