If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Saturday 27 February 2010

Long posts

I've noticed that some of my recent posts have been very long. Perhaps too long.

So this one isn't.

Friday 26 February 2010

Does the State own us?

It's a pretty big question.

In Britain, we have tended to believe that we are all free individuals: born free, and free to do as we please throughout our lives provided that we do not harm other people. Other nations have operated on the assumption that the State owns everything and controls its people. The usual way of illustrating this is to say that in Britain, you are free to do anything that is not expressly forbidden, whereas under the Napoleonic Code (which is the basis of most of EU law), you may not do anything that is not expressly permitted. That is a massive philosophical difference, which goes to the root of who we are and how we relate to each other at a fundamental level.

We are not free, of course. We are not free to murder, or to cheat, or to steal. We are not free to drive a vehicle on public roads if it is three years and one day old, without a certificate issued by a government-approved facility. If you exchange your labour and time for money, the Government will force you, under penalty of imprisonment, to pay them a certain percentage of your earnings. If you watch television, even if you only watch commercial channels paid for by the adverts you see, you must still pay a levy to the state broadcaster - again, on penalty of imprisonment if you choose not to. If you choose to make your own provision for your health, for example, or the education of your children, than the state will not recompense you for the value you are not taking from the system by withdrawing from it and paying for your own. Some of these seem entirely reasonable and moral, and are things to which we would all willingly subscribe: natural law, if you like. Others are less justifiable in terms of natural justice, but nevertheless most people don't object too strongly. There is an argument that all of this comprises a kind of contract, and by participating in any of society's activities we have implicitly accepted the terms of the deal. That's a contentious argument, although it is not without merit.

But, at the bottom of it all, we believe that we belong to no-one but ourselves. The State does not own us; it simply has our co-operation as part of a bargain. Of course, this belief has become more difficult to sustain over the last few years. At one time, most people would have said that if you wished to smoke and kill yourself, that was no-one's concern but your own. Now, the habit is being gradually driven out, regardless of the wishes of smokers, because "it is for the good of society". We have been conditioned to accept 24-hour CCTV surveillance of our lives; the creation of massive databases which link our identities with our shopping habits, health status, web browsing and communications; the retention of the DNA of innocent people; the removal of the ancient right of habeas corpus; all "in the interests of wider society".

It has long been so unexceptionable as to be commonplace to say that it is a parent's right to bring up their children how they please. Lax or strict; religious or not; smart or scruffy; left or right, "Edward" or "Starchild"; whether we approved or not, we always recognised that it was the right of parents to choose the upbringing of their young. The rise and continuance of faith schools on state funds has no other explanation than this. The only time the State would step in was if the upbringing caused problems for the rest of us (as we see on so many sink estates and town centres today), when society's intervention can be easily justified on self-defence grounds alone. One of the things that was always held as a basic right was the right to educate our children as we please. And that includes educating them ourselves if we wish to do so, on our own premises and in our own time. Even thought the vast majority of children went to state-run or state-approved schools, attendance was not compulsory, provided that the parents could demonstrate that the children were receiving a certain minimum standard of education.

Now, that right is under threat. There have been murmurings about 'home schooling' for a while now. This is, or course, a direct result of any socialist government's basic principle that the state should be the provider, organiser and arbitrator of all things. If children are educated outside the state system (and I include the so-called 'public' schools in this, as they are state-certified), then they cannot be controlled and brought up with approved attitudes and behaviours. Home-schooling is radical, and a threat to any state that thinks it is the ultimate authority, as by its very existence it thumbs its nose at the whole idea of centralised curricula and standards. It says "I will do what I think is right for my kids, and it's none of your business how I go about it". Historically, this has always been tolerated. Government agencies may have had the power to enter the home and assure themselves that education is indeed taking place, and within certain reasonable parameters, but beyond that there has been little interference.

But now the state is trying to regulate and (I suspect) ultimately close down this basic freedom. And what better way to do it than to raise the one-size-fits-all spectre of child abuse? There were a number of stories in the media last year which suggested that there was 'concern' about children in home education being subjected to abuse. No evidence - just the concern of 'experts'. And now, on the back of the dreadful case of poor little Khyra Ishaq, they are bringing out the statistics. Apparently, home-schooled children are at double the risk of abuse, compared to 'normal' children. A quick read of the article and comments will reveal that the statistics tell no such tale (the fact that there is no central register of home-schooled children, and therefore no numbers, and therefore no meaningful percentages should assure you that the claims are unsupported by any evidence other than guesses and estimates). But the case is being made that we should end the 'anomaly' of allowing parents to take their children out of state school, on the entirely spurious grounds of child protection.

The argument is superficially attractive, until you realise that Khyra was taken out of school, not so that her parents could educate her better at home, but because the mother was frightened that she would be found out. The child was well-known to social services, and there were many opportunities to address the suffering in the months and years before she died. Saying this was the result of allowing home-schooling is a complete red herring.

I don't wish to be flippant, but if the home educators I have come across are anything to go by, the children are at far more danger of tofu poisoning, climate-change-induced panic attacks and being injured by a badly-constructed windmill. To use this tragic case as an argument that home educators are more likely to abuse their children is a travesty, and a nasty one at that.

If the state gets its way, you won't own your children any more. Not in that hippy "children belong to the future; we only look after them on their way" sense. In the "your child will be taken from you at five (or four, or three) years old and told by us what to think, and if you don't like it you can reflect on your unwisdom from a prison cell" kind of way.

In Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four, the state controlled everything by ensuring that it controlled children.

This is just another click of the ratchet.

Thursday 25 February 2010


I love 'em.

After giving the Pan a good clean a few days ago, I found I couldn't close one of the panniers. (These are integrated into the bike's design, not an aftermarket add-on, and are very well made and waterproof. The bike looks very odd without them on.) So I took off the locking mechanism to see what was wrong. What was wrong was 6½ years and 45,000 miles of muck and damp, leading to a bit of corrosion in the works. The bars that clasp the lid closed were stuck in the 'closed' position.

I cleaned it all up wth wire wool and contact cleaner, and put it all back together with machine oil and a little dab of grease where it looked like a good idea. It now works as good as new, which is rather satisfying. The mechanism itself it a minor work of art. It works in two dimensions, so imagine that the pannier is on the bike, and the bike is North. From a 90° movement of the handle, one of the clasps moves SE for about 1cm, then turns due S. It moves far enough to get past the locking bar in the lid, and then moves about 1cm W to get behind it. Further movement of the handle then pulls the clasp back due N to clamp the lid tightly shut, and then the last bit of movement goes over-centre somehow so that it stays there. Meanwhile, the clasp at the other end is doing the same in mirror-image. It achieves all this with half a dozen moving parts, mainly plates with curved slots in them and pins that locate in other similar plates , to achieve the complex movement. I cannot comprehend the brain of a person that could design something so neat and efficient. And that's just a minor component of the luggage system: comparatively very low-tech.

Once I got it moving properly and with a bit of oil on the moving/sliding parts, I stood and played with the movement for a good five minutes. I'm a bit sad like that.

There's a good rule that says if one part goes, the other won't be far behind, so my next job will be to dismantle the other pannier mechanism and do the same. I intend to take some photographs and then put them on an owners' forum that I visit, for the benefit of anyone else who has the same problem. The biking community tends to do things like that, which is one of the reasons I like being in it.

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Justice: what the police feel up to on the day

There's a very sad story in the Torygraph:

Police officers will not recover a victim’s stolen van believed to be at a “volatile” travellers’ site because it could “put officers’ lives at risk”, it has been claimed.

A market trader called Christopher Sims was approached by some shady characters asking if he would sell his Mercedes van for spares. He refused, but took a note of their registration numbers. A few days later, his van was stolen. He passed all the details to police, who confirmed that they knew the numbers he gave them, and that they knew where his van was (on a local travellers' site), but that they were not willing to go there because it might put officers at risk.

Impressed by the public service ethos, clear championing of the innocent victim, and sheer guts of our boys in blue? I am. It reminded me of an incident close to where I live a few years ago. I live near to the A40, on the route to the Fishguard ferry to Ireland. There is a small petrol station and convenience store there, where I often pop in for a newspaper. One day, the forecourt filled up with old vans and lorries, and the people in them got out and started swarming about the place. They filled up the vehicles, while their children went into the shop and started filling their pockets. They emptied the shop, and then advised the lone attendant that he would be well advised not to demand payment for the goods or the fuel, and left.

Shaken, he called the police with descriptions of the vehicles and their registration numbers. It wouldn't be hard to track them down - they were very distinctive, and heading for Fishguard, and there's only one road. All the police had to do was follow them, pull them over, and sort it out. In fact, the police did respond, although not quickly enough to apprehend the criminals near the scene, and met them instead at the ferryport. Did they stop them getting on the ferry, arrest them, and bring charges for, at the least, theft and threatening behaviour? Did they impound and then search the vehicles? No. They negotiated with the travellers' leaders, and suggested that they had a whip-round. The travellers collected £250, which they gave to the police, and then were free to go. The police then gave the money to the petrol station and told them that, as far as they were concerned, the matter had been dealt with as well as possible and the case was closed.

The loss to the garage (a small, locally-owned concern) was possibly ten times what they eventually received, and the poor lad who was serving on that day was so shaken that he didn't work there again.

There was a time when there was right, and there was wrong. The police supported those who were right, and pursued and arrested those who were wrong. There was no calculation of cost and benefit - if someone had broken the law, then it was imperative to make every effort to catch them, whatever they had done. Pour encourager les autres, if nothing else. Now, it seems that right and wrong are contingent concepts.

If someone burgles your house, it's partly your fault for not having better locks.

If someone robs you, it's partly your fault for using an expensive mobile phone in the sight of others.

If someone steals your savings, well, you shouldn't have been so rich, should you?

And if there is a crime that is going to be difficult or (God forbid) dangerous to investigate, then the police can refuse to do so, on the grounds that it was only an old van, and those travellers can be violent if provoked, and less said the better, eh son?

And so the police can sit on their fat arses eating doughnuts, and going after soft targets like speeding motorists, Christian hotel-keepers and people who have the foolish temerity to take photographs in public places. While the real criminals - the violent, the anti-social - get treated with kid gloves.

Ask anyone, ask anyone, whether they would prefer a country where dangerous and violent people were brought to justice, whatever the cost, or one where everyone kept to the speed limits.

Who do the police actually serve?

A Future Fair For All?

I typed that as 'A Future Fair For Al', which seemed fortuitous, but not my intention.

There is a new blog called Future Fair for All which aims to catalogue the failures and deceits of the last 13 years of Labour government. It's only just started, so there's not a lot of content yet, but if it takes off it could be a fantastic resource.

I suggest you take a look and, if you have a blog, link to it. The more linkies, the further up the Google page rankings, and that means that people searching for the phrase are more likely to end up there than with a load of spin and waffle from a Gordon Brown-supporting site.

You know it makes sense.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

non-PC joke

George is a widower and has decided he doesn't like living alone, so he finally moves into an old people's home. After a few days, he meets Alice, a lady of a similar age to himself, and they seem to get along well. On sunny days, they go into the secluded garden of the home and sit together, reminiscing about the good old days and talking about the grandchildren. This goes on for several weeks, and their relationship seemed to be blossoming.

One day, George said to Alice, "I know this seems a funny thing to ask, but I have been missing my late wife's company terribly. I just miss the daily contact, and the hugs and cuddles more than anything. Could ask you a favour?"

"Go ahead and ask," she says. "We're good friends now. You can ask me anything."

"Well, would you mind putting your hand inside my trousers and just - er - holding it for a while?"

"Well, that's a bit of a strange request, but I have been married myself and I understand. If it would make you happy, George, of course I will."

So she discreetly unzips his trousers and slips her hand inside and holds his manhood. George smiles a blissful smile and closes his eyes. After a while, the sun goes in and they have to go back inside. A nurse approaches, she slips her hand out, and they return to the building and their separate rooms.

Alice really didn't mind doing this and, when George asked her the same request a few days later, she agreed readily. It seemed to give him so much pleasure, and she was glad she was able to bring some happiness to her new-found friend. Indeed, she was beginning to have some feelings for the old boy, and started to look forward to their meetings. As summer passed by, they were to be seen almost every day in the garden, their backs to the house, close together, just enjoying each other's company. What no-one else knew was that Alice's hand was inside George's underwear, gently holding his manhood. After a while, Alice even started to wonder if there was more to it than friendship, and that perhaps George might one day propose to her.

One day, she went out to their usual seat, but there was no sign of George. She sat on her own for a while, and then returned to her room, wondering what had happened to him. She didn't hear from him or see him for almost a week. Eventually, she decided to track him down and see what was going on. She checked his room, but he wasn't there. She went out into the garden, checked the usual seat, and then, puzzled, went off to explore the rest of the grounds.

A few minutes later, she turned a corner and saw George sitting on a seat in the remotest corner of the grounds. Next to him was another woman, slightly younger then Alice, sitting very close to George - suspiciously close, in Alice's eyes. She decided not to confront them, but went back to her room and sat for a long time in the gathering gloom, wondering what had gone wrong, or whether she had perhaps misunderstood George's intentions and the nature of their relationship. To be honest, she also felt a bit of good old-fashioned jealousy, an emotion she had not felt for many years.

After a few days of emotional turmoil, she decided to find George and have it out with him. She went to his room at a time she knew he would be there, knocked and entered. He was sitting by the window, reading the newspaper.

"George, I have to ask you - are you seeing someone else? Do you have feelings for that woman you have been sitting with?"

"Well, yes," said George, "Gladys and I have become very good friends."

"Does she do that thing for you that I do?"

"Yes, she does, and I have to say she does it very well," said George.

"George, I have to tell you that I am bitterly disappointed in you. I thought we had feelings for each other. I thought I could make you happy. What has she got that I haven't?"


Understand a little less

John Major's 1993 statement that "We must condemn a little more and understand a little less" horrified me at the time I heard it. How could a politician believe that anything could be solved by less understanding? It seemed a very anti-intellectual and populist thing to say, and he went down in my estimation when he said it. However, things have moved on since then, and now I am not sure that he wasn't right. Take these stories (1) (2) (3):

A teenage girl has been jailed for life for killing a Fife grandmother during a row over £5 and a borrowed cigarette. ... Mrs Gray, 63, died as a result of a head injury after she was knocked to the ground and repeatedly stamped on.

A man convicted over the death of a Matalan store manager in east London was on police bail at the time of the killing. ... Maina, of Canning Town, was bailed after Rizwan Darbar, 17, was stabbed in West Ham during a mobile phone robbery. He was later convicted of the 17-year-old's murder and jailed for life.

DOZENS of college pupils were involved in violent clashes with police yesterday afternoon (November 3), forcing the closure of Orpington High Street. ... The trouble flared at around 5.25pm when more than 40 Orpington College students waited for a bus outside Boots in the high street.... Around 15 of them boarded a route 51 before the driver shut his doors and a patrolling PCSO told the remaining teenagers they would have to wait for the next bus.

So we have a 16-year-old girl who lends and old lady a cigarette and stamps her to death when she goes to collect what she is owed. And we have a man who murders a 17-year-old while robbing him of his phone, and while on bail for that offence acts as look-out in a robbery where the store manager is stabbed in the neck and dies. And he wasn't idle in between the two killings, either:

In the ensuing 15 months Maina was involved in Mr Simpson's killing, was caught with a knife, cannabis, crack cocaine and heroin, before finally being charged in January last year with the 17-year-old's murder.

And we have a group of college students who think it is OK to riot (including hospitalising the PCSO who spoke to them and involving police from three areas, a dog unit and the TSG) because a bus was full and they were told they would have to wait for another one.

In each case, no doubt, there will be the usual pleas in mitigation, citing poor backgrounds, boredom, the newest excuse of "toxic upbringing" and probably racism, too. And the courts will listen to all this, and the sentences will be ameliorated to, if not quite a slap on the wrist, then something that most people will regard as utterly inadequate.

Nicolle Earley (the girl who killed the old lady) was given a life sentence for murder. As one who still doesn't support the death penalty, that seems about right to me. But wait - the 'life sentence' is really 14 years. That means she gets out and is a free woman at the age of 32. In what way that is an adequate punishment for murder escapes me.

Anthony Maina was given a life sentence for the murder of the 17-year-old - again, 14 years [1]. He won't serve a sentence for the manslaughter of the store manager, as he is already on a life sentence.

Several youths were arrested following the disturbances in Orpington. Who knows what chilling punishments await them?

Two things occur to me here: one is that there is now a large section of society that has no respect for human life or the law, and the other is that we don't seem to have any concept of punishing people in line with the seriousness of their offending.

I wonder if we had listened to John Major in 1993, and spent less time trying to understand people who commit crimes like this, and more effort in bringing home to them the consequences of their actions, things might be a little different? I might suggest:
  • If you murder someone, you go to jail for life, and you will never get out, regardless of your home circumstances, mental state or prior history;
  • If you deliberately injure someone, you will be taken out of circulation in very unpleasant circumstances and kept there for a time commensurate with your offence;
  • If you riot, damage property and frighten ordinary people half to death, then those ordinary people can take you out of circulation for as long as is necessary.
The principle that we should try to understand criminals in order to help them integrate in a peaceful society is a laudable one. But it would seem that we have taken the idea that 'to understand is to forgive' a little too far, and we now fail to protect ourselves and our society against people who have grown up with the idea that no-one can restrain them in any way.

[1] Yes, I know these are 'minimum' tariffs, but does anyone seriously believe that they will be kept in after this time, or even released early if the jails are crowded enough?

Monday 22 February 2010

Moron bullying

Sorry, more on bullying ...

Phil Walker has the best quote so far on this (on Gordon Brown):

" ... his detractors say he's a bully, his supporters say he's just obnoxious."

And of course this is not a new story. Indeed, my very own MP, Stephen Crabbe, had a question to ask back in May last year:

Go Steve!


What is bullying in the workplace? The trades union Unite has the following list of indicators:

  • Bullies may use terror tactics, open aggression, threats, shouting, abuse, and obscenities towards their target
  • Bullies may subject their target to constant humiliation or ridicule, belittling their efforts, often in front of others
  • Bullies may subject their target to excessive supervision, monitoring everything they do and being excessively critical about minor things
  • Bullies may take the credit for other people's work but never take the blame when things go wrong
  • Bullies may constantly override the person's authority
  • Bullies may remove whole areas of work responsibility from the person, reducing their job to routine tasks that are well below their skills and capabilities
  • Bullies may set the person what they know to be impossible objectives, or constantly change the work remit without telling the person, and then criticise or reprimand the person for not meeting their demands
  • Bullies may ostracise and marginalise their target, dealing with the person only through a third party, excluding the person from discussions, decisions etc
  • Bullies may spread malicious rumours about the individual
  • Bullies may refuse reasonable requests for leave, training etc, or block a person's promotion.
Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Young Drivers

Driving a car is a complex skill, requiring manual dexterity, spatial awareness and an ability to read rapidly-developing situations and plan responses in real time. It's enormously difficult if you look at it from that point of view, and yet most people manage it to a fairly successful degree.

Most people learn to drive on the road. They are told how to start and stop the car, and then are expected to drive around some quiet roads to get the hang of it before venturing into more challenging situations. In this way, the muscle co-ordination required to control the car and the ability to read and respond to the events around you have to be developed simultaneously. It is very noticeable that people who learn to drive at a young age seem to be the most instinctive and natural drivers: those who pass their test later in life often remain nervous and reluctant.

I was very lucky. My Dad worked about half a mile away from where I went to school, and if I missed the school bus I would walk down to his workplace and get on with my homework until he was ready to leave. When I got to 16 or so, I used to ask him is I could get the car out ready to go home. He parked his car in a garage on a piece of private land, and if he was in a good mood I would take the keys and reverse the car out and perhaps shunt it to and fro for a few minutes. After a while, as my confidence grew, and as I learned his movements better, I was able to spend 10 to 15 minutes driving up and down this piece of land, changing up to second gear and getting used to the oddness of reversing in confined spaces. At this time, Dad would occasionally take me to Elvington airfield near York, where for a small fee you could drive about unlicensed, and there I learned about going faster than 5 mph and dealing with junctions and corners. Of course, when it came to 'proper' learning to drive, I had no fear at all. I could control the car quite well, and was able to concentrate on learning the roadcraft side of things. I passed my test first time, and have driven ever since. Driving doesn't hold any fear or apprehension for me, and I am sure that this level of confidence is because I learned to drive in easy stages.

So what? Well, it appears that this was a very unsafe way to go about things. The BBC reports (under the scary headline "Fears as children aged 11 take driving lessons") that:

Thousands of children - some as young as 11 - are enrolling for driving lessons at a growing number of specialist centres, but the trend has police and safety groups concerned.

A company called 'Young Driver', amongst others, is offering courses to children and young people who want to master the basics of driving before they ever get anywhere near a road. I would have thought this was an admirable aim. But the 'authorities' don't seem to agree.

But Insp Alan Jones, from the Police Federation of England and Wales, said he had reservations.

"Driving on one of these courses at 11 years old, it's another six years until you can get a driving licence. How does it replicate the real world, the spontaneous incidents?" he said.

It doesn't, you plonker. That's the whole point. Learning to deal with the real world, the spontaneous incidents, will come later when they get lessons on the road - but they will be better equipped to understand and deal with them because they have the basic control of the vehicle mastered already.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has warned the courses could make youngsters over confident and more likely to crash.

Kevin Clinton, from the group, said while early education was a very good thing, the same did not apply to driving a car.

"It will probably mean youngsters will take fewer lessons when they come to learn to drive and if they take fewer lessons they will get less experience," he said.

But they won't need extra experience, because they were already half-way there.

"That means when they pass their test they may be at greater risk of crashing because they won't have had as much experience when they are supervised."

Good God, these people are thick! Learning a foreign language as a child is a good thing; learning Maths as a child is a good thing - because learning young makes things natural and easy, and you are fluent and comfortable with the subject when you become an adult. But somehow this doesn't apply to driving a car? If time spent under the supervision of an instructor is desirable, than why not make it compulsory, as they do with pilots' licenses, where a trainee has to demonstrate a certain number of logged hours before they are allowed to fly solo? Deliberately hampering the acquisition of the skill to prolong the instructor contact time seems a strange way to achieve this.

Make no mistake - only about 10% of safe driving is about actual skill. I would say that another 40% is about observation and concentration, and a whole 50% is about attitude. A youngster who comes to driving lessons with a good degree of basic control over the car has got all of his or her mind free to concentrate on learning how to drive well. The instructor has the time to pass on all the good stuff about safe and efficient driving because he or she has to spend less time explaining how to use the clutch.

In Britain, one in five newly qualified drivers has an accident within six months of passing their test.

But in Sweden, allowing drivers to practise on roads from the age of 16 cut accidents amongst newly qualified drivers by 40%, according to a study.


Sunday 21 February 2010

A black person's view of Haiti

Courtesy of Anna Raccoon, there is an interesting piece in the Botswana Sunday Standard. It's apparently written by a black person with no previous knowledge of Haiti until the earthquake struck and it became news. Here's the gist:

Let’s start with a few basic facts. Until the earthquake, I never knew there was a place called Haiti. I was taught geography at school but I cannot remember a time when the mistress told us about Haiti. It must have been one of those insignificant countries that we had no reason to know about. Finally, when I switched on the television, I was informed that Haiti is an island out in the Caribbean. Television pictures revealed a place populated by black people. Like all places populated by black people, Haiti is poor. As I watched the television images, I felt very sorry for that forsaken place. Then I was hit by a thunderbolt.

I wondered what if there were no white people. You see, when the earthquake hit Haiti somebody had to come to its assistance. There had to be a rescue effort. The Haitians who survived of course did their fair bit by digging out their families from the collapsed ramshackle buildings. But such was the scale of the devastation and the loss of human life that a bigger effort was needed. For that sort of work, you need heavy lifting gear and other sophisticated rescue equipment. I have been following the story of the earthquake keenly. I can attest to the fact that the first people to arrive with sniffer dogs were white crews from all over the world.

The aero planes that set off carrying water and food were from white countries. Not only that, the teams of volunteer doctors that I saw on television comprised white people from across the world. As the sniffer dogs went into action, the organized rescue teams that carried the stretchers were made up of white people.

It was announced that a mobile hospital was on the way. It was coming from a white country. For all intents and purposes in the aftermath of the earthquake, Haiti was literally swarming with white people. They had all arrived to save the poor blacks. And the locals were so happy to see them. Granted there were teams from the Orient such as the Chinese and Japanese. They too had quickly left their homes and families to go and assist the stricken people of Haiti.

It is obvious to everyone that this was a devastating earthquake and the work to repair Haiti and return it to a modicum of normalcy will take many years. Somebody had to commit funds to this effort. Most of the countries that have committed funds to aid the recovery are white. In fact, it would seem the whites are running the show in Haiti.

What is my point?

My point is that ever since Haiti was hit by the earthquake I have not seen any of my folks from Africa. Unless the television cameras deliberately ignored them, I never saw a rescue team from my motherland. Nor did I see any sniffer dogs from down here. Heck, I never saw a single traditional doctor busy divining where to find people buried under the rubble.

Haiti is a land of black people. I would have expected the place to be swarming with black people helping their own. They were nowhere to be seen. I never saw any ships from black countries pulling into the harbour.

As the air traffic circled above the small airport, none of the planes was reported as coming from Africa. The blacks were nowhere to be found. They issued tepid statements of condolence to the people of Haiti and a few of the African countries donated small amounts of cash.

I am so disappointed by the black leaders that I hope never to hear them again bleating about how bad white people are. The earthquake in Haiti was the most opportune time to show the whites, once and for all, that we don’t need them.

From now onwards, I want black leaders to shut up and never accuse ever white people of being bad. I am sick and tired of big words such as imperialism and neo colonialism which are unable to rescue victims of the earthquake.

There were plenty of people, mostly white if I recall correctly, who were very quick to accuse the US of imperialism and aggressive neo-colonialism when they took charge of the airport in Port au Prince and managed the relief effort. But until I read this piece, it hadn't occurred to me what should have been blindingly obvious - that the whole relief effort was conducted, financed and managed by white people. Of course, the majority of black countries are poor, and it is unreasonable to expect them to have the resources to leap into action like the Americans and Europeans did. But the fact that black nations did nothing but express condolence had not come across my radar at all.

Forget the miserable history of Haiti, in which the whites have a lot to answer for. When push came to shove, the whites were there, in large numbers, risking their own lives to help. That is something that can't be conveniently explained away by post-colonial guilt. We just did the right thing, we did it massively, and we did it quickly, without being asked.

Anna's response to some of the comments seems to sum the situation up well:

That article has made me realise that we have become like parents to ungrateful teenagers – there to be routinely abused until they want to borrow the family car.

I wish it weren't so, but this all has the ring of truth. What's the solution? I haven't a clue.

Sparkly, no?

Today has been glorious. After quite a bit or rain overnight, today has been clear, sunny and (once you get out and start working) quite warm. An ideal day to clean two grubby bikes.

I've pressure-washed them both, then sprayed with special bike cleaner, then hosed again, and then - shock, horror - gave them both a coat of wax polish. Yes, even the XT. With the Honda I went one stage further and tarted up the black bits with some Simoniz black wax. Then I lubed all the bits than need lubing, and sprayed the vulnerable bits of them both with the wonderfully-named Muc-Off Motorcycle Protectant.

I've taken a photo, as I don't think I've had both bikes as clean as this - together - for a long time, and I doubt it will happen again this millennium.

An adolescent male of the species Trailbikius yamahorensis and an adult male Ceratotherium simum, grazing peacefully together in their natural habitat.

Brown isn't perfect - official

And in other shock news, bears are discovered to defecate in arboricultural areas.

Here's the story.

I ought to say that I am not a psychologist, so any remarks are just the observations of a reasonably-sensible mature adult. But I have been observing Brown for a long time.

Any stories from 'behind the scenes' are going to be to some extent unreliable, and those of Andrew Rawnsley are so explosive that one's bullshit detector should be on maximum. But Rawnsley is an ex-Guardian journalist and a long-term supporter of Labour, so I would think that a Daily Mail-style anti-Labour agenda is unlikely. In other words, unless there is convincing evidence otherwise, I would be inclined to believe his story is, at least in large part, true.

According to Rawnsley, Brown is a defensive, paranoid bully who manhandles his staff, shouts at both senior aides and secretaries alike, and takes his frustrations out physically, either by throwing things or shoving people about. No. 10 staff were so distressed by his behaviour that Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, investigated their claims and had a word with Brown, telling him that "this is no way to get things done".

According to the Prime Minister and the Dark Lord, this is all a fabrication.

This is easily resolved. Gus O'Donnell should make clear whether this happened in the way Rawnsley describes, or not. Either it is a fabrication, or it isn't.

If it is a fabrication, Brown has cast-iron grounds to sue Rawnsley and The Observer for punitive damages, as the allegations cast great doubt in the public mind as to his suitability for office, and with an election only weeks away, this is a serious and current issue for everyone. He could win millions, and donate it to charity (or to the taxpayer, if he had any conscience).

If it not a fabrication, then all our suspicions about Brown's suitability are confirmed. He is a paranoid bully who can't handle the responsibility of leadership, and he should be removed at the earliest opportunity for the sake of the nation. Even Labour supporters should be able to see this.

So which is it? Well, at the moment it is the word of Rawnsley against the word of Brown and Mandelson. A journalist against a brace of politicians. That's a bit like comparing estate agents and used-car salesmen, but I have read a lot by Rawnsley and I respect him. Brown and Mandelson, on the other hand, seem to make their living by telling lies while keeping their exact words within the strict bounds of truth (example: "I never hit anyone in my life" - he was not actually accused of hitting anyone). I know who I believe.

And Rawnsley's story seems to be based on a lot of interviews with a lot of people, and it is remarkably consistent. Surely they can't all be Daily Mail stooges out to discredit the Government? Then there is the drugs question, never satisfactorily answered. And the off-camera glowering at news presenters who dare to challenge him. And the shaking hand at PMQs. And the weird grinning on YouTube. Personally, I think Brown was never fit to lead the country, and I think that a lot of people in the Labour Party knew that. Shame on them for allowing him to accede to the throne without a leadership election. We're seeing him come apart now, but it has been on the cards for a long time.

Let Gus O'Donnell speak, and tell us what really happened. He is a civil servant, and it is his duty to the nation to do so.

Saturday 20 February 2010

Honda quality

It's bright but bitingly cold here, and not the day for a pleasure ride, but I passed the Honda sitting on the back drive and felt a little pity. It has been motionless there, in rain and snow and ice, since before Christmas, while I have been fixing, riding and generally enjoying the XT. So I rolled it out of its niche between the wall and the garden table and propped it up in the sun. I gave it a wipe down and then inserted the key and pressed the starter.

Click - whirrrrrrrrrr.

With a Honda V4, the 'whirr' is not the sound of a knackered starter - it's the engine running. It whistles a bit like a turbine. The engine started in the blink of an eye, so I rode it to the front of the house and left it idling for five minutes, until it was properly warm. I gave it a quick healthcheck in the meantime - everything still works - and then shut it down. The brake discs have a little surface rust and the whole thing needs a good wash down, but otherwise it's good to go.

I wonder what the forecast is for tomorrow?

UPDATE: I couldn't resist. Anna wanted a daily paper and was busy. I wanted a few minutes me-time and wasn't busy. So I hopped on the Pan and went in search of a Times. The bike felt a little stiff after such a long time idle, but I warmed it up and then let rip on the A40 for a while, taking it to 8,000 rpm through the gears and trying out some hard braking. All good. As it says in the side-bar, I admire and respect this bike. It is awesomely good at what it does.


“Labour needs to ensure that the next election is not seen as a referendum on the government,” says Gordon Brown's Operation Fightback leaflet for Labour candidates in the forthcoming election.

Say what? What is any election but a referendum on the previous government's performance?

Unless, of course, you reckon that your dire stewardship of the economy and your disastrous social policies have been rumbled by the electorate, and you need to shift the focus away from your record and onto something else ...

Ah, yes.

Instead, he will attack the Conservatives, as the party admitted in a leaflet for candidates that voters are attracted to David Cameron’s message of change.

And what will the message be?

" ... candidates should frame the vote as “a big choice about the change we want for Britain between Labour, which is on the side of the mainstream many, and the Tories, whose instincts remain with the privileged few.”

Pissing in the wind. We have had 13 years to make up our minds about Labour, and we don't like what we have seen. If any Labour candidate comes round here (unlikely - we have never seen one in the last 20 years) and tells me that I should be making my choice on the basis of what the Tories are proposing, I will hand them a copy of the following - no, I will read it out to them - before kicking them in the genitals and slamming the door.

Old Holborn calls it a 'cut out and keep' document, and I will have a stack of printed copies waiting by the door just in case:

Ballot Boxes are interfered with

Voting registers go missing

The Police can kill innocent people and get away with it

The state can kill people and get away with it

You can be put in prison for 42 days on pure suspicion

You can be put in prison indefinitely on the word of a politician

The State can torture people

Your children are monitored at School by Political Officers

Their behaviour is logged on a State database for their entire lives

Your innocent fingerprints, iris scans and biometrics are held by the State

You do not have the right to remain silent

You are watched on 4 million CCTV cameras

You may not photograph the Police

The media is controlled by the State

You do not have the right to protest peacefully

Curfews exist for entire communities

Your travel movements are logged and monitored

Who you vote for is logged and monitored

Your shopping habits are studied and logged by the State

Your emails and telephone conversations are recorded by the State

Your passport can be withdrawn at the whim of the State

Government agencies can use lie detector tests on you.

- £22,500 of debt for every child born in Britain

- 111 tax rises from a government that promised no tax rises at all

- The longest national tax code in the world

- 100,000 million pounds drained from British pension funds

- Gun crime up 57%

- Violent crime up 70%

- The highest proportion of children living in workless households anywhere in Europe

- The number of pensioners living in poverty up by 100,000

- The lowest level of social mobility in the developed world

- The only G7 country with no growth this year

- One in six young people neither earning nor learning

- 5 million people on out-of-work benefits

- Missing the target of halving child poverty...

- Child poverty rising in each of the last three years instead

- Cancer survival rates among the worst in Europe

- Hospital-acquired infections killing nearly three times as many people as are killed on the roads

- Falling from 4th to 13th in the world competitiveness league

- Falling from 8th to 24th in the world education rankings in maths

- Falling from 7th to 17th in the rankings in literacy

- The police spending more time on paperwork than on the beat

- Fatal stabbings at an all-time high

- Prisoners released without serving their sentences

- Foreign prisoners released and never deported

- 7 million people without an NHS dentist

- Small business taxes going up

- Business taxes raised from among the lowest to among the highest in Europe

- Tax rises for working people set for after the election

- The 10p tax rate abolished

- The ludicrous promise to have ended boom and bust

- Our gold reserves sold for a quarter of their worth

- Our armed forces overstretched and under-supplied

- Profitable post offices closed against their will

- One of the highest rates of family breakdown in Europe

- The ‘Golden Rule’ on borrowing abandoned because it didn’t fit

- Police inspectors in 10 Downing Street

- Dossiers that were dodgy

- Mandelson resigning the first time

- Mandelson resigning the second time

- Mandelson coming back for a third time

- Bad news buried

- Personal details lost

- An election bottled

- A referendum denied.

New Labour. Stamping on the faces of the many, not just the few. Forever.

He also notes:

PS “A future fair for all” is an anagram of “Our fearful fat liar”


Mind you, I have no confidence that the Tories are going to be much better - BUT THEY CANNOT BE WORSE THAN THIS SHOWER. NO-ONE COULD.

Friday 19 February 2010

Want, want, want

Also courtesy of the 'tards at B3ta, here is a wonderful machine which appears to work rather well.

I can see plenty of sinister uses for it, spy cameras being the main one, but it's clearly a very clever idea which has been developed to a fully-working stage by a very clever guy.

And I want one. Now.

Thanks to B3ta ...

... this brilliant bit of flipbook animation:

They're all at it!

What's happening? Is it a peak time for sunspots, or something?

First Gordon Brown taking to the airwaves to blub publicly and tell us all that he loved his mother. Now this. Tiger Woods tells a room full of assembled journalists, and through them, the world:

I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behaviour.

What? I'm sorry, but why are you telling me? Listen, mate - you have been caught cheating on your wife. The only person you should be apologising to is her, and possibly your parents, for embarrassing them. There is no need to apologise to the 'Mrrkin People', or to the Sport of Gahlf, or to some random bloke blogging away in West Wales via the miracle of satellite. We have not been wronged by your porkings, and nor do we deserve an apology. It is irrelevant.

I simply don't care. I really don't. It matters as little to me as learning what the Duke of Edinburgh had for breakfast this morning.

The speech reminded me of nothing more than a naughty boy in primary school, who has been caught tearing pages out of library books. "Now, not only have you let us all down, but you have let yourself down, and I want you to stand up in class and say sorry to everyone." And he stands up, with a slight blush and a glint of determination in his eye, and says the words that teacher wants him to say, with a lot of sincerity, and after that he can be a good boy again.

I'll tell you what I really wanted Tiger to say:

Listen, guys, it has cost me a lot of money, a wrecked car, and possibly my marriage, but bloody hell it was worth it. All that totty; I couldn't believe how much was on offer. I was like a kid in a sweetshop, and don't tell me any of you would have been different in my position. Now, I need to get home, sort this out with Elin privately, and then see where I go from here. Thanks for listening.

Practical Man

Thinking about Gordon's Brown's current addiction to self-revelation in the media, I was reminded of this song by Clive James and Pete Atkin. The message: don't sell your soul for money or fame. Or, in Gordon's case, don't prostitute the memory of your dead relatives for a little bounce in the opinion polls.

Last night I drank with a practical man
Who seemed to think he knew me well
He had no debts and he had no troubles
All night long he kept setting up doubles
And he asked me 'What have you got to sell?'

'I'll see you right' said the practical man
'A boy like you should be living high
All you do is get up and be funny
And I'll turn the laughs into folding money
Can you name me anything that can't buy?'

'So you deal in dreams' said the practical man
'So does that mean you should be so coy?
I fixed one chap a show on telly
Who limped like Byron and talked like Shelley
Through a ten-part epic on the fall of Troy'

'I'll tell you what' said the practical man
As he tapped the ash from a purple fag
'Let's head uptown for a meal somewhere
You can sing me something while we're driving there
There's a grand piano in the back of my Jag'

So I sang my song to the practical man
It sounded bad but she couldn't hear
And the silent lights of town went streaming
As if the car was a turtle dreaming
The night was sad and she was nowhere near

'It's a great idea' said the practical man
As they brought in waiters on flaming swords
'You love this chick and it's really magic
But she won't play ball -- that's kind of tragic
Now how do we get this concept on the boards?'

'I see it like this' said the practical man
As he chose a trout from the restaurant pool
'We change it round so she's going frantic
To win the love of the last romantic
And you're the one, her wild creative fool'

So I thought it all over as the practical man
Watched them slaughter the fatted calf
I saw again her regretful smile
Sweet to look at though it meant denial
It was bound to hurt but I had to laugh

And that's when I told the practical man
As he drank champagne from the Holy Grail
There are some ideas you can't play round with
Can't let go of and you can't give ground with
'Cause when you die they're what you're found with
There are just some songs that are not for sale.

I am aware that this is copyright material, and if any copyright holder is upset by this and wishes me to remove it, I will do so.

It stops!

I got my 'new' brake bits for the XT last weekend, and found the time yesterday to fit them. It was dark and cold by the time I had finished, so I waited until today to test them. Whoopee! The front brake is now as good as it ever was. The caliper is a much newer one (with uncorroded pistons), and I have fitted an overhaul kit so it more-or-less as good as new. I can make the front tyre squeal on a dry road now. This is good.

Freezing my knackers off last weekend was worth it.

(Note to fellow bikers: I have now fitted 'proper' EBC brake pads to replace the ones I got off eBay last year. The cheap GoldFren pads were much less good than even the worn-out ones they replaced, and the braking was marginal. On a light and relatively slow bike like the XT, this is perhaps bearable, but I would not risk GoldFren pads on anything heavier or faster. If you Google it, reports are very variable - from excellent to rubbish. There's a feeling that a lot of the pads bought from eBay may be conterfeit, and that genuine GoldFren pads are good. In that case, I must have bought the knock-offs, but I wouldn't risk buying them again.)


He's at it again! A while ago, I commented on Gordon Brown's tearful performance with Piers Morgan and concluded that it was a cynical bit of PR.

Now he is appearing in Tesco's magazine talking about the death of his mother (source).

He is clearly being advised to show a more human side in the run up to the election. The focus groups show that people just don't connect with a lumbering, funny-looking Scottish control-freak bully, and the PM's advisers seem to think that all it will take is a few 'personal' interviews where he 'shows his pain', and all will be well.

It won't, because even my dog can see that this is a most cynical and hypocritical bit of showbiz.

It's too late, Gordon. Have some self-respect and just stop it.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Jazz Choir

Along with the song from the last post, this friend also sent me a link to another bit of YouTube musicality. Perpetuum Jazzile are a Slovenian choir who perform jazz and popular music. They had a great hit last year with a song called 'Africa', which I've posted here. The sound effects are brilliant and very imaginative. The song itself is a little cheesy, perhaps - it reminds me of the Swingle Singers and The Manhattan Transfer a bit too much - but it's incredibly well-executed, with tight timing and huge musicality, and (bearing in mind that I hate most jazz) I think I might be getting this album.

Some of the lady singers aren't too hard to watch, either.

What Goes A Round ...

A friend sent me a link to this, and I wanted to put it here.

It's a round, a bit like Frère Jaques, but the pauses have been timed to give a very pleasant off-beat effect, and there's a nice little trick when all four voices come together.

The friend who sent it to me reminded me of a group we used to belong to, way back in 1972-ish when we were at University together. We were the Bryn Teg Male Voice Choir, named with deliberate pomposity from the student house we shared at the time. There were three-and-a-half of us, all into Copper Family-type folk music, Steeleye Span, sea shanties and all that finger-in-the-ear stuff. The hardcore three were a bass and two tenors - one middle and one high - and the extra one was a chap who lived in the same house (but was a year above us and had a very different timetable and priorities), who chipped in when it seemed appropriate and filled out the middle of whatever harmonic gaps there happened to be. None of us could read music, but I had memories of Grade 1 piano when I was 11, so we worked something out. Most of the time, fairly obviously, it was in three parts, but when we got a fourth part in it was like another dimension. Knowing chords from playing the guitar helped, too, as the harmonic structures of what was fairly simple music became clear and understandable.

We practised frequently (the guy singing bass used to brew his own beer, so there was no shortage of volunteers to sing at his house) and used to sing publicly at the Folk Club every few weeks. It was scruffy, beery music, short on accuracy and tone, but very good on atmosphere and commitment. Having to work out all the harmonies from listening to records, and occasionally inventing our own for songs that didn't have a ready source to copy from, gave me an understanding and appreciation of harmony that has stayed with me for life.

The original building of the University at Bangor is (or was then) wonderful Victorian structure, full of dark oak panels and tiled corridors. It was called, in those days, Top College. We discovered a place which hardly anyone else ever visited -the Gents' toilets in the basement of Top Coll. This was a vast space, tiled from floor to ceiling in white. The acoustics were brilliant, and we often met here between lectures for an impromptu rehearsal. Three of us sounded like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in there. Truly happy days.

There is something about making music with other people - just the voice you were born with, no instruments or technology - which is indescribably good. When the notes fit and the rhythms are in time, it's a feeling of togetherness that can't be achieved in any other way. You feel it in the chest and in the head. I found it later in life by singing with some quite serious choirs, but the Male Voice Choir and Don's home-brew was where it all started. And of course, Steeleye Span's A Rosebud In June has led to performing in works which are now part of me, such as Brahms' German Requiem and Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

Anyway, enough wittering. Here's Liverpool Street Station:

Monday 15 February 2010

Sore Men Pex

Part 12.

I saw this coming, too. Fnarr.

I'm bored with this. If you want to see the rest, you'll have to keep your eye on Obo yourself.

Sunday 14 February 2010

All of which reminds me ...

... of the Whizzo Quality Assortment. Specifically, Ram's Bladder Cup:

"We use choicest juicy chunks of fresh Cornish ram's bladder, emptied, steamed, flavoured with sesame seeds, whipped into a fondue and garnished with lark's vomit."

As usual, the Pythons got there first.

Poncey Food

Wrinkled Weasel is having a go at posh restaurants over on his, and it has prompted me to add an observation or twain.

I tend to prefer my food plain and honest. That doesn't mean I am unimaginative: I have eaten some superb dishes that were probably best described as Nouveau Cuisine, and if a chef has used his skills to create something exquisitely tasty, then I am not one to decry his efforts. But I dislike pretentiousness in any walk of life, and there's certainly a lot of that in the culinary world.

Take the recent problems at The Goose in Britwell Salome, Oxfordshire. (Times report here.) The restaurant's owner decided that the food was too 'posh' and ordered his chef to go down a few levels and make things that people actually wanted. His phrase, which I love for its bluntness, is that the food was "too poncey". The chef, who had only recently won a Michelin star, and the rest of the waiting staff walked out.

Realistic, down-to-earth owner and a chef who is pretentious, precious and totally up himself? Or philistine, lowest-common-denominator owner and a talented but wasted genius of the kitchen? Without meeting them, it's hard to know. But some of the items on the menu suggest that the former is the more likely:
  • Pan-roasted Wood-pigeon
  • Carpaccio of Chiltern Hills muntjac
  • Roast saddle of Yattendon sika deer.
OK, where to start?

The first is a roast pigeon: a common enough traditional English dish. Why 'pan-roasted'? Surely everything is roasted in a pan? It's how you roast stuff, isn't it? I think this one is similar to the very common 'pan-fried' chicken. It is impossible to fry anything without a frying pan. The 'pan' is redundant. You don't hear of 'oven-baked' bread, do you? (Actually, you do, but that's another tautology.) If you were honest and said 'fried chicken', everyone would think of KFC, but the addition of the 'pan' makes it sound ever-so high-class and proper.

The second has been buzzing round my brain ever since I read it, as it is so utterly pretentious. 'Thinly-sliced raw local venison' is the translation, but the Italian name of the dish, the reference to the meat's origin in an AONB and the curiosity of the species (an descendent of an escapee from Woburn Abbey in 1925, if you are interested) make it just so ... well, poncey. (You can bet that no-one in that restaurant ever asked "what exactly is a muntjac?" Oh my dear, didn't Nanny tell you when you were little? Such a shame.)

I guess the same applies to the last one. We've all come across 'saddle of lamb', so a 'saddle of deer' is comprehensibly posh. But what is this sika deer? Well, same as a muntjac, only bigger and imported from the Far East.

I'm with the owner. That stuff is poncey. The food might have been excellent, but the approach is 100% poncey. If he asked the chef to change because no-one was eating there, he did the right thing. It's the culinary equivalent of conceptual art - a case of the Emperor's New Clothes if ever I saw one.

Today, I took Anna for a Sunday lunch at a superb local restaurant, Keeston Kitchen. I had roast beef, done to the degree of pinkness I requested, with beautifully-cooked vegetables and a couple of glasses of a very nice house red. Anna had the same, but with lamb. We enjoyed a drink with the owner first, and a chat with the chef afterwards, and were served by a local lad who was polite and helpful. No condescension, no attitude, no pretence that anything was other than it was. No "might Sir like to consider ...?" No disdainful waiter flicking your napkin and laying it across your knees (I hate that). Just good food, good company and a good atmosphere.

Perfect. Not poncey.

I'm off to have an infusion of Indian camellia sinensis, with kettle-boiled spring water and a dash of semi-skimmed cow-juice.

More pen sex

Part 11


Labour's track record ...

... is not all that good. You knew that, but Jeff Randall in the Telegraph has the numbers.

He takes a few comparative stats over the period 1998-2010, which is roughly from Gordon Brown's first proper budget to today. The results are damning.

The value of Sterling first. In the period in question, Sterling has:
  • dropped 14% against the Swedish Krona
  • dropped 24% against the Chinese yuan
  • dropped 33% against the Swiss franc
  • dropped 35% against the Japanese yen
  • dropped 27% against the Euro.
(The Euro did not exist in 1998 - this figure is an estimate on a basket of European currencies by the website x-rates.com.)

Next, the London Stock Market, where most of our savings are invested. In these 12 years:
  • The FTSE-100 has dropped 12%
  • The CAC in Paris has dropped less than 1%
  • The German DAX has risen by 12%
  • The Dow Jones in America has risen by 15%
  • The Hang Seng in Hong Kong has risen 77%.
Randall also looks at the Stock Market figures for the last three Labour administrations.
  • Labour 1964-70 - down 13% (including a forced devaluation of the Pound)
  • Labour 1974-79 - down 11.5% (and a bail-out by the IMF)
  • Labour 1998-2010 - down 20%.
Let's be clear. All Labour governments have presided over a fall in the value of the Stock Market, but Brown has comprehensively beaten both James Callaghan/Roy Jenkins and Denis Healey, which is quite a feat. We are a basket case.

My fear is that most of the voters in the coming General Election won't know this, because they were not alive, or old enough to follow the news, when these things happened. They won't know, because they haven't lived through it, that Labour governments always wreck the economy, and the following Conservative governments always pick up the pieces. In 1997, Labour had a golden opportunity - they inherited a fantastic economic climate from Ken Clarke, and it has been utterly wasted.

I'll leave the last words to Jeff Randall:

In short, sterling is in the toilet, our pensions have been slaughtered, cash savings yield almost nothing, the country is up to its neck in unprecedented debt, the banking system is awash with funny money, our gold reserves were sold off at rock-bottom prices, and Britain’s dole queue is considerably longer than before Crash Gordon began cooking the books.

Apart from that, it’s not too bad.

Saturday 13 February 2010

Valentine's Day

A couple of passages from Khalil Gibran's The Prophet:

From Love:

But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.

To know the pain of too much tenderness.

To be wounded by your own understanding of love;

And to bleed willingly and joyfully.

To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;

To rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy;

To return home at eventide with gratitude;

And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.

From Marriage:

Then Almitra spoke again and said, "And what of Marriage, master?"
And he answered saying:
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.

But let there be spaces in your togetherness,

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another but make not a bond of love:

Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.

Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.

Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,

Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.

For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.

And stand together, yet not too near together:

For the pillars of the temple stand apart,

And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.

It may mark me out as a child of the 70s, all loon pants and patchouli oil, but I still think they are good.

Happy Valentine's Day, Anna. You're the best.


All done and dusted. I went in to see my boss on Friday and told her I was resigning. We had, to my surprise, a very good and positive conversation. I was able to tell her how I felt about certain things in the business, and I felt that this had been heard and understood. Most of the content of my resignation letter was therefore irrelevant, so I took it back. Later, at home, I amended it and emailed it in.

I think it all boils down to the fit of the job and my personality. While the business was new, and I was in the 'building' phase, I could not have been happier. As things grew more complex and the demands of the business as a whole, and my part within it, grew exponentially, I found it harder to get any enthusiasm for what I was supposed to be doing. Eventually, it became clear to me that the job was bigger than I was, and that I was no longer enjoying the work. When I laid all this out on paper for an appraisal meeting (the first in over two years), and I got back the reply: "Well, funny you should say that, as I have been meaning to have a word with you ..." I realised that the feeling was mutual. When I was younger, this situation would have terrified me, and I would have been clinging on to my job for dear life, whatever the cost. Now, I am not afraid to admit that this particular part of my career has come to a natural end, and I am happy to walk away. The good thing about my Friday meeting was that I was expecting a face-off, and instead we had a very useful and positive discussion, and walked away with no hard feelings. I have been promised a good reference, too, which was another major concern.

I have one job application in the pipeline, and another couple ready to go.

Just for now, I'm going to have another Scotch and enjoy the weekend.

New bits

No, not those, although after riding to Swansea and back today I almost needed some.

I went on the XT in the end, as the temperature didn't seem too bad. I was wrong - it was bloody cold. RiDE magazine say that with heated grips and hand protectors you can ride through winter in summer gloves. No you bloody well can't. I was wearing my old Frank Thomas Aqua gloves (heavy and allegedly waterproof) and even with the grips on max for the whole trip, my hands were freezing. Even with thermals on, the ride was a pretty chilly experience.

It was worth going, though. I avoided the motorway by going to Llanelli by B-roads and into Swansea from a different direction. I passed through some nice countryside, and Llanelli was like a ghost town [1] because of the Wales-Scotland match. Cold aside, it was a very pleasant run. And the bike clearly enjoyed the run - it didn't miss a beat and now is running better than ever.

The bits I went to pick up (a new front brake caliper from a guy who is breaking a very similar bike to mine) were exactly what I wanted, and in excellent condition. And I got a couple of things I wanted from M&P Accessories as well. All in all, a good day's work.

[1] Why is it that, whenever I decide to do something else during a major Rugby match, something exciting happens, whereas when I settle in for a proper sesh with the beers and crisps the match is full of handling errors and no tries? Apparently, Wales came from way behind to draw level in the final ten minutes of the match, and win in the last few seconds. I shall have to watch the highlights later. Damn.

Sex, etc.

Part 10.

I just knew this one was coming [1].

[1] Sorry.

Choices, choices

I'm going to Swansea this afternoon to do a little trade with someone over some bike bits. I've already decided that I will go on two wheels: with the bad weather, the old bikes haven't had anything like enough use. The Honda hasn't turned a wheel in over a month.

But which bike? Do I drag the Honda from its little nest at the back of the house and use the M4, giving it a good blast and blowing away its, and my own, cobwebs? Or do I take the XT, go via the back roads, and pretend I am having a mini-adventure?

Taking the XT would be confidence-building, as I haven't had a decent run on it since I did all the work to the engine, and I am still not 100% convinced it is reliable and fit for anything I throw at it. A decent run out would settle that one. On the other hand, the Honda has a little surface rust on the brake discs and reproaches me every time I walk past it. It's built for motorways and 'quick trips round the block' of a hundred miles or so.

It's forecast to be dry, so I think in the end it will depend on temperature. If it's bitingly cold, the Honda, with its heated grips and fabulous fairing, wins. If it's warmer, we'll have a minor Ewan and Charlie fantasy.

Swansea - The Pontyberem Way Round.


Friday 12 February 2010


I had to change the blog layout to one with a wider text space, as the video in the previous post wouldn't fit in the column, even on YouTube's smallest setting. I don't like chopping and changing for the sake of it, and I think people deserve a consistent approach when they are good enough to visit. I did like the old layout and colours. But this one's growing on me. I've sharpened up the headers, too.

What do you think?


From Sussex Safer Roads, a completely stunning road safety ad:

This deserves an award.

Tear jerker

Having played my Christmas present (a John Williams and Julian Bream guitar compilation) over and over until it was almost worn out, I decided to change the CD in the car player. And what should fall to hand but a copy of Fauré's Requiem.

If you don't know this piece, it's delightful. It is a treatment of the Requiem Mass, but with Fauré's light touch. It is musically dramatic, but has little of the anguish and pain of Verdi or the the passion of Brahms. It's a joyful piece, almost a lullaby. Death not as torment or fear, but as a happy release, a deliverance.

There is one part of it that I think is possibly the most beautiful sequence of harmonies ever written, by anyone, at any time, in the world in space, as Molesworth sa. At the end of the second movement, Offertoire, there is one minute and nine seconds of pure bliss.

Ne cadant in obscurum

Nor let them fall into darkness,

The choir sing the ne cadant part with slightly dissonant harmony, which gives a sense of unease and discomfort. This leads into the Amen, which is written with a soaring soprano melody, underpinned by the other voices, which rise in parallel and then interweave beneath, finally resolving through a simple perfect cadence into the final chord. It ends in a perfect place, reached by the perfect path. Every time I hear it, I feel that prickle at the back of the eyes.

If you want to know the piece of music that should be playing as I depart this world, that will be it.

Running on H

The M4 in south Wales is to become a "hydrogen highway", with alternative energy refuelling points, Welsh Secretary, Peter Hain, has announced. The scheme, to extend into south west England, is aimed at making hydrogen and electric-powered vehicles a viable alternative to petrol-driven machines. Under the plan, Wales will lead in developing alternative fuels, including hydrogen from renewable sources. The aim is to create an extensive renewable refuelling infrastructure.

So says the BBC today.

Now hydrogen power sounds like a great idea. It's completely clean - the only emission is water vapour - and a vehicle running on a hydrogen fuel cell will be quiet and eco-friendly. Just what our lords and masters want for us. But hydrogen has its problems too:
  • It is very bulky (remember the massive roof-mounted canvas tanks on cars in wartime?), so storage is a problem. To get the energy density of a fuel tank of petrol would need many cubic metres of gas storage: totally impractical, unless you store the hydrogen in a small tank under massive pressure. And the pressure involved would be many thousands of pouns per square inch. Think of the scare stories around LPG tanks in cars, and then multiply it by ten.
  • It is dangerous; probably more so than petrol. The Hindenburg didn't go up like that because it was made of wood.
  • Although it is a 'natural' substance, hydrogen isn't free. Getting pure hydrogen involves an input of huge amounts of energy. And where does that energy come from? The bulk of it will be from old coal-fired power stations. So all that hydrogen power does (and the same is true of electric vehicles) is to move the pollution from the vehicle exhaust to the chimney stack of the power station. And making hydrogen is a hugely inefficient process: lots of wasted energy just getting it into the right form to use.

If, and it's a big if, we could produce enough electrical power completely cleanly, then making hydrogen for vehicles might make sense. Replacing all current power stations with nuclear would do it. Wind will never be able to provide the reliable power necessary, and the geography of the UK does not allow any significant production from hydro-electric. But of course Labour's natural antipathy to nuclear has meant that this (even with their welcome late conversion) is not possible in time.

So, go 100% nuclear about 10 years ago, and you stand a fighting chance of hydrogen being a feasible fuel within the next 20 years. As things are, it's just another grand, green gesture.

And announced just as the climate change scam begins to unravel.

Great timing, chaps.

Aw, he's human

Sort of.

The Times has a transcript of the interview with Gordon Brown due to be broadcast on Sunday. And it is quite revealing. Not about Brown himself, but about his motivation (or Alastair Campbell's motivation) for doing it in the first place.

Brown is seen by many people as socially clumsy and inept, and the media stories we read lend weight to the idea that he is also a bully who won't tolerate dissent. Iain Dale makes a good point: whereas Margaret Thatcher was renowned for her 'robust' disagreements with members of her Cabinet, she was kindness itself to her staff. Brown, on the other hand, can't confront powerful ministers, but is well known for shouting at subordinates, kicking furniture and throwing mobile phones at people. Almost the breed standard for a weak bully.

"Psychologically flawed" is the polite way of putting it. Now he is in the media being 'human', crying a bit on camera and letting us all know that he is just a regular family guy. With a general election now only a few weeks away, it's not hard to see why he is doing this.

Just a couple of points from the interview.

PM: “Come on, you’ve been grumpy.”

GB: “Yeah but I’m not, I don’t sort of behave like that. I want things done, I’m strong willed, I want to get things done so I get up in the morning and say, ‘Look, let’s get this done'. And if that sounds grumpy, well, I don’t think so.”

Can you imagine any real human being getting up in the morning and saying "Look, let's get this done"? The "Look ... " part is straight from Tony Blair. And the "getting things done" part is from the official Party Apparatchik script - he didn't quite say "I'm getting on with the job", but it was close. Sarah, poor thing, must be driven to distraction.

PM: “What’s been the best present you weren’t allowed to keep?”

GB: “I think the different governments in the Middle East send huge presents. One after a dinner was a full pig that they sent, that had been roasted.”

PM: “Really?”

GB: “And I couldn’t accept it.”

Are you sure? A Middle-Eastern government sending a pig? Like the Israelis once treated him to a bacon butty? I hope someone does some fact-checking on this, because I suspect he made it up.

GB: “I had a flat near the university and it was one of these big flats with, I think, eight different rooms and eight people stayed. And I came back from a conference and my flat had been burgled. And I arrived back and there was a policeman there and we went into my study and looked round my study where all my books were and all my papers were and the police officer said, ‘Totally ransacked sir, totally ransacked'. I had to explain to him that the burglar had clearly not been in that room. It was exactly as I’d left it.”

An old joke, and obviously planted. In the original, the student replied to the policeman: "Actually, I think the burglar has done a bit of tidying up in here," which is funnier. And wasn't this joke made into a TV advert a while ago? Whatever, it isn't original. You can just imagine the planning meeting: "I say, let's put in a couple of amusing anecdotes to get the punters chuckling. I know a good one ..." And then there is this:

PM: “Let me take you back to the day before John Smith died, where for all intents and purposes he was absolutely fine. In your head Gordon, if you’re honest, you must have been not just hoping but believing you would be, after John Smith, the next Labour leader.”

GB: “I thought that would be possible and the first person I phoned when I heard John had died was Tony. And I said, ‘Look, Tony, you may not know this but John has died.’ So I said, ‘Look, we’ve got to sort this out', and so we started a conversation.”

This kind of settles it for me. The man is a self-centred, shallow creep, interested only in power and status.

The Labour Party, whatever its faults, tends to be quite comradely. You will hear ordinary members quite naturally referring to their party leader as 'Tony', 'John', 'Neil' or whatever, in a way that you hardly ever hear ordinary Tories talk about 'David' or 'William'. Now, imagine that you have just taken a call to tell you that your party leader, and someone who must have been something of a friend, has suddenly and unexpectedly died. What is the first thing you do? If it happened to one of my friends, I would be calling his wife straight away, giving my condolences and asking what I could do to help.

What does Gordon do? "The first person I phoned when I heard John had died was Tony."

He phoned Tony fucking Blair.

And why?

Because "We've got to sort this out", this being who gets first dibs on the job of leader, probably before dear old John Smith's body was even cold.

Shameful. It tells you all you need to know about the man's ambition and selfishness.

Then he goes on to talk about his daughter's death. Now I can't begin to understand how truly terrible this must have been for him. My eldest was in intensive care for a few days after she was born, due to low birth weight, and that was bad enough. So I am not belittling the experience in any way. But for a man who - quite rightly, in my view - set his face against using his children as publicity material to come out on prime-time television and blub publicly just as the general election campaigns get into gear seems to be the most transparent bit of fakery I have seen in a long time.

It will, no doubt, bring him a little bounce in the polls. An electorate that reads Heat and watches reality television is easily swayed. But it was the wrong thing to do, because it was wrong.

Shameful, condescending, and wrong.
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