Thursday, 28 April 2011

Dieu et mon goodness isn't it over yet?

I'm getting a little tired of the ceaseless coverage of an event which hasn't happened yet, isn't breaking news and is planned down to the last vol-au-vent.

However, the fault does not lie with William and Kate, but with the media. It's like the build up to the cup final, except the difference (barring a huge shock from one or other of them) is that unlike the cup final, we know what the result is going to be.

Your favourite Canis Lupus is working tomorrow, some non-emergency public servants are, and no, I don't get double time or a day in lieu. No biggie, I'm not that bothered about the wedding. I really hope that the pair have a long and blissfully happy life together, God knows the family could do with a break after the awful matches made by the generation before William. But it isn't my wedding, I don't know the couple involved, so it really doesn't matter to me.

That doesn't mean I'm going to start railing against the Windsors or the notion of a Monarchy though. I wouldn't describe myself as a Royalist, but nor am I a Republican.

One thing tomorrow will show is that despite all our problems, be they self inflicted or otherwise, this country can put on one hell of a show. We do it with magnificence, class and style. The Americans do it with magnificence, but they do it with such military overbearing. That isn't to say that there isn't going to be soldiers all over the show tomorrow, but we do it in a style which is not so overtly overt. It's a difficult feeling to express, but it doesn't have that 'America, hell yeah!' feel to it.

The French do it with class and style, but you can't help the feeling that at the big occasion they still feel that it is a shame that they cut all those heads off. A president just doesn't have the gravitas that a monarch, or a monarch in waiting has. It's just a little, empty. It's like comparing the photo of the meal on the menu in a chain pub with the grub put in front of you, it looks promising at the outset, but ultimately fails to deliver satisfaction.

I think the Royal Family is important, I'm not going to wheel out the old tourism line, I'm not sure I buy it. What I do think the advantage a constitutional monarchy brings is that the person in the very top job doesn't ask for it, doesn't want it and very, very, very, very rarely uses the power they have. It is, I think, a perfect balance.

I like QEII, but I think she's taken her eye off the ball, especially when signing away her and our sovereignty to Europe, but despite what Cast Iron Dave would have you believe, nothing is irreversible. I'm not so keen on Charles, and I don't think he'll make an especially good King, but then if QEII takes after her mother, he probably won't have much, if any, time in the big job.

With William it is too soon to tell, but I think the early signs are encouraging. Say what you like about Charles, but the fact he has been able, despite the circumstances, to raise such a well adjusted and personable son does him enormous credit.

I don't want a President, another job for a washed up politician if we follow the French/Irish model, or a power hungry grasping politician if we follow the American model.

It is far from perfect, it is elitist, it is archaic, it is a relic of history, but I can think of no better, or at least no more preferable fashion to choose the head of state than the method we have. It is apolitical, it is random, it is sometimes perfect, it is often disastrous, but it is way better than leaving it in the hands of career minded, ruthless, venal, deceitful politicians.

The constitutional monarchy allows us to be seen at our best. Even though it can and does go wrong, at least we have a fighting chance of promoting a positive image, an elected President would always show us at our worst. The constitutional monarchy is alright by me.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Perhaps we can concentrate on him now.

So one of the great conspiracy theories of recent years has been laid to rest with the release of Obama's full 'long form' birth certificate.

It was always a very lazy attack on a president which (at the risk of sounding like a Grauniadista) smacked a little of racism. There's plenty of things to take Obama to task about, but this was never one of them. Perhaps the public can now turn their attentions to the man's policies rather than his place of birth.

No doubt it will be decried as a forgery, counterfeit or some other sort of fraud now.

Meanwhile, what the hell is all this guff about Labour demanding an apology from Cameron over his 'calm down, dear' line to Angela Eagle?

Really? Really? Is that the biggest thing you have to worry about?

Stop being so bloody precious.

Or I'll start demanding she apologise for this comment, when the House was warned about the financial bubble in 2008:

"Fortunately for all of us...that colourful and lurid fiction has no real bearing on the macro-economic reality."

Policitians and conspiracy-theorists, I'm not sure which I have less time for, to be honest.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Happy International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day

We've been spared the usual arguments this year. This is probably due to the fact that St. George's day falls on a Saturday this year, coupled with the lateness of Easter which means it is book-ended by two bank holidays. But I think it is a point that needs consideration; what of England's national day?

Of course the Irish, and pretty much everyone else, celebrate their national day, which also falls in line with a patron saint with great gusto. The Welsh make a show of it on David's day. The Scots seem to be more fussed with Burns Night rather than St. Andrew. I like that, for reasons I shall go into later on.

The French and Americans celebrate the removal of an arrogant and thoughtless monarch, in South America the national days are centred around their independence from Spanish or Portuguese imperial control, in Europe it is independence from Moscow which takes centre stage in the east of the continent.

The Italians celebrate the unification of their country, although I doubt the Liga Nord are quite so enthusiastic. The Greeks celebrate both the day they declared independence from the Ottoman Empire and the day they told the Axis powers to bugger off in 1940 (The Day of the No - now there's an idea).

But what of England?

I'm not fussed about St. George's Day. That isn't to say that I don't think England should have a national day; quite the reverse, I'm just not sure St. George should be it. Firstly, St. George is almost like a default patron saint, with Aragon, Catalonia, Georgia, Greece, Portugal, Serbia and Russia also claiming him as a patron saint in Europe alone. Secondly, because he was Palestinian, not English. Thirdly because the stories about him are fantastical at best - are we really supposed to believe he killed a dragon? It is a simplistic story about the conversion of a tribe to Christianity, I'm not fussed.

Of course, a simple solution would be to adopt the same day as a national holiday in celebration of a English figure. St. George's Day happens to be the supposed birthday of Shakespeare, it is also his supposed date of death as well (I just hope he got his presents and favourite birthday dinner before he popped his clogs), there is no doubt that Shakespeare as he is commonly thought of is probably the most important English cultural figure of all time. It sits nicely with the Scottish observance of Burns. Here's the controversial bit, I don't actually think Burns is that good a poet, but I like the way a tradition and ceremonies have grown up around the celebration of his work, the whole thing is great fun. He's a very important cultural figure for Scotland, but importantly, Burns Night isn't a holiday. Although I get the impression that many Scots would welcome it as a formal national day in place of St. Andrew's Day, because as with St. George, St. Andrew is not Scottish in the slightest.

I dismiss Shakespeare as the cause for a national day, though. There are too many unanswered questions about the provenance of his work, about him as a person. Too much of it too close to the border of myth for my liking, I think we need something to hang our hats on. With Burns the Scots have that, the English cannot be anywhere as sure with Shakespeare.

We have no indpendence to celebrate, until the EU and despite a brief episode under the house of Anjou, we've been free of imperial domination since the Roman Empire, and then England was some way from coming into being. I'd like to celebrate something that England has done.

November the 5th is a day some people would choose, but the weather in November ain't great, and do we really want to celebrate the torture and death of a Catholic who was prevented from doing away with a corrupt and rotten establishment? I don't.

Many people propose the birthday of Wilberforce or the day we became the first country to outlaw slavery. A fine proposition. Whilst we should be ashamed of our country's role in being one of the leading perpetrators of the slave trade, we should also be fiercely proud that we were the first to outlaw it. It sits very easily with the left, and as a Liberatarian, not celebrating the end of slavery is a bizarre position to take, but it cannot be that, because this was a British policy, not an English one.

Similarly, we cannot as the English alone, celebrate VE day, Trafalgar or Waterloo for these were not purely English triumphs.

Some advocate Agincourt. No doubt an English victory, but it is also a little imperialistic. This was a battle to take the French crown, unlike VE day, it did not mark our survival in the face of a ruthless and evil aggressor or like Waterloo celebrate our part in ensuring the liberty of a whole continent. No, I don't think Agincourt is right.

So, I propose 8th August. We can move the existing August Bank Holiday in England. So on an administrative level, it is easy. It also falls in the month with the best weather, so it should be a day most people can be enjoying the weather. I also remember a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the date when I was younger, with some really cool events.

What happened on the date in question?

The 8th August 1588 was the day the English navy defeated the Spanish Armada. We were not the aggressors. We were standing up the greatest power in the world, determined to impose their belief system upon us, to rule us with a puppet monarch, to force us to accept their way of life. A huge fleet was defeated by a much smaller force, led with flair and skill by Howard and Drake - Drake was an amazing character, not perfect, but he's a cracking story behind him. I remember the 400th anniversary, the re-creation of the beacons, I grew up in a location a couple of miles away from one of the original beacons. Just imagine the parks on a warm August evening, with the beacons blazing away, picnics and fireworks, it would be fantastic.

On 8th August we defended ourselves with honour and came out victorious. We have (until recently) been a naval power since then, and despite credible threats from Bonaparte and Hitler, have never looked like being conquered again. Surely that is better than some Palestinian bloke on a donkey stabbing a crocodile?

Friday, 22 April 2011

Don't mention the debt!

Let us suppose that after paying your national insurance, income tax, council tax, fuel tax, tax on that tax, insurance premium tax, road tax, value added tax and any other tax you can think of, that you've got a few quid left over that hasn't been swallowed up.

Let us suppose for a minute that you decide to invest that money somewhere.

Let us suppose for a moment longer that you've spent the last two years living under a log, delivering diversity training to a family of woodlice, and haven't really been paying attention to what's been going on.

So you scrape your few quid together and you seek the advice of someone who, you hope, has a decent idea of what he's talking about, what's hot and what's not. You rock up at his office and state that you'd been thinking of investing the cash into government bonds. Greek government bonds.

Assuming your chap isn't a complete mouth breathing simpleton, you'd expect him to say something along the lines of 'that's probably not a great idea, interest rates are through the roof on Bubble Bonds at the moment, it represents a great return if those bonds are honoured, but I'm concerned that the Greek government will default. It's a high risk investment, and I'd advise against it.'

You'd hope, wouldn't you?

However, it would seem that if your man does this, he's going to find himself in a spot of hot water. . .

The Greek authorities have asked Interpol to question a London trader over an email he sent which talked of the high chance of a Greek default.

The email, published in a Greek newspaper, refers to "increased noise" over a Greek debt restructuring as early as Easter.

Greece is highly sensitive to allegations it may not stick to strict repayment terms on its recent bail-out.

Sensitive? It is one bottle of ouzo away from not being able to cover the bonds. We're talking serious bankruptcy here. We're talking taking a hammer to the piggy bank and finding a button, an old washer and an escudo which is worth only slightly more than a drachma. When it goes down, they're going be broker than the brokest thing you can think of, and we're going to have to pay for it. They're sensitive? Well excuse me, I wouldn't want to hurt your feelings. Hang on, my chequebook's here, how much do you want?

The finance ministry says the incident amounts to "possible criminal conduct".

Really? Under what law? The we must never upset the broke bubbles act? Jesus H Christ on a little purple tricycle with a bell and hi-viz jacket.

Greece's Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou insisted on Wednesday that Greece could deal with its debt mountain. 

Oh well, that's fine then. What was I concerned about?

Tell the truth and say that you're concerned about someone not paying a debt, in an email, and Interpol get called in? They really are madder than Mad Stavros Theopopodopoloopyous, winner of Greece's maddest man competition.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Gosh! Really? Wow, thanks for telling me that.

Playtime at St. Arseclown's Junior School for the Terminally Hard of Thinking earlier today.
The Snowolf Den is undergoing a spot of spring cleaning today, the curtains are out on the line, the wardrobe has been cleared out and the stock evaluated and swapped for some of the stuff that was moved out in autumn, the light fittings have been taken down and cleaned and the furniture has been moved about and cleaned under.

Mrs. Snowolf is struck down with terrible hay-fever. She's been streaming and sneezing and snotting all over the place, therefore it's been down to me. I don't mind, I'm quite happy pottering about doing my thing. As an aside, and speaking as a non-sufferer of hay-fever, I'm convinced it doesn't exist, is purely psychological and a good excuse for the big pharma companies to hawk their lotions, potions and pills like some sort of latter day snakeoil salesmen.

Between the sneezing, blowings of the nose, rubbing of the eyes, popping of pills, administration of nasal treatments and increasingly violent exhortions of frustration and general yukness, we've had the shining beacon of public service broadcast; the finest purveyor of the televisual arts on the globe, the BBC on this morning. I've been exposed to one of the interminable programmes, that one with the slightly fey chap and the socially incompetent antiques 'expert' (and why do they always have such terrible dress sense and unfortunate hair?) who stomp around some old dear's house and evaluate the worthless tat she's managed to accumulate and then take her along to an antiques house, where she is coerced into jumping up and down in excitement at the thought that the sum total of the nik-naks in her house could cover the cost of a weekend in a caravan in bloody Frinton. I get the impression it is the commercial arm of the situation outlined by Leg-Iron the other day.

Anyhow, they uncovered a couple of well rusting 19th century cavalry swords. But, watch out, peasants! There's an important lesson to learn here, although to be honest the lesson I learned was don't watch daytime BBC whilst stood atop a ladder cleaning light fittings, as the effort expended in trying to come up with an inventive, eloquent, yet fatally offensive rant significantly raises the risk of falling off. The lesson?

Wait for it. . .

"You don't need a firearms licence for a sword. . ."

This brought forth one little explosion of enquiring as to why we have to hand over good money to the BBC for the privilege of watching this bilge. This was as nothing when compared to what followed:

". . . but swords should be kept well out of the reach of children."

Oh? Do you think? That puts me in a bit of a bind, because I've just uncovered a cache of weaponry whilst cleaning out the loft, all of it bladed, there's dirks and a cutlass, a broadsword, a battle-axe, a collection of lances, pikes and spears, I think I saw a mace as well. I was going to go and take it all down to the local primary school to see if they fancied having it, but now I've learned that bladed weapons may not be entirely appropriate playthings for kids. Who knew?

Oh, that's not all. Oh, no. Because the swords were rusted, it was also vital to be mindful of the risk of tetanus.

Listen mate, if I come bearing down on you with a five kilo cavalry blade, hell bent on cleaving your skull in twain, the last thing you're going to have to worry about is bloody tetanus.

Monday, 18 April 2011

I laughed until flapjack came out of my nose.

But that was because I happened to be eating a flapjack at the time. It's not like I've got hamster pouches where I store bits of flapjack just in case someone gives me a good old laugh and I want to show my appreciation.

Anyhow, this is doing the rounds on Facebook, you may have already seen it. I'f you haven't go and have a look before the listing expires, what starts off as a mundane advert for an old Ford Focus degenerates into one of the most surreal and funny things I've read in a long, long time.

As I seem to be stuck in a Sci-Fi bubble at the moment, I'll show you this picture which amused me greatly:

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The cracks widen . . .

I've always indulged my Trek geek side and drawn comparisons between the EU and Ceti Alpha V. Ceti Alpha V is a planet, which through an ingenious plot device, becomes exposed to the 'Genesis Device', a missile which is used in terraforming a planet, making it inhabitable in a very short period.

The problem being that as it whips an inhabitable ecosystem up in double quick time, shortcuts were taken and the planet disintegrates in double quick time. The moral of the story being that things like this cannot just be thrown together, there has to be a natural evolution and the imposition of man's will will lead to things falling apart.

The EU is the Genesis Device to the physical continent of Europe. We're seeing an artificially constructed economy fall apart at the seams, like tectonic plates forced together ripping themselves apart to follow the course that the physics of the planet intended.

Now we see two of the old apex predators, shoehorned into the new ecosystem turn on each other. France has effectively closed the border with Italy, furious that Italy has acted like a good European country by laying out the welcome mat for anyone who cares to turn up on the doorstep. Italy has been perfectly happy to dole out temporary residence permits, secure in the knowledge that the Francophone and Francophile Tunisians will head for France as quick as their legs will carry them. Poor France, they never asked for this, and they'd certainly never turn a blind eye at a press of humanity trying to cross their border to another member state, would they?

If you listen to the EU mandarins, the nation state is dead. France obviously doesn't think so. Nor do the people of Finland, who look like acting in the manner of a glacier and sweeping all before them. The parties who have had the country sewn up for so many years don't seem to like it one bit, but then that is the default setting of the Europolitician, the electorate's job is to vote them in, keep quiet and be thankful for anything they are lucky enough to get. Looks like the Finns have had enough of this, and if their wishes are not listened to this time round, well, the main EU poodle parties are just delaying the inevitable.

No doubt the BBC and other EU and publicly funded media outlets will decry them as fascists and nationalists, following the good old example that Uncle Joe set out, they'll try to scare us with tales of the bogeyman, without realising that the vision they promote of a 21st Century Europe is far, far scarier than anything UKIP or True Finns could ever be or do. The further east you go, the fresher the memories are.

We've no doubt seen a good portion of the public of Iceland look at their recent referendum on whether they should allow themselves to be mugged by the UK and the Netherlands with one eye on their application to join the EU, and I've heard whispers that the Croats are re-evaluating their position on joining as well.

The political continent is starting to tear itself apart. The apparatchiks can stamp their feet as much as they like, but European history tells us that there is a tipping point. Whether it is Cromwell, the storming of the Bastille or the Winter Palace, the stringing up of Mussolini or the overthrow of Ceaușescu, once that tipping point is reached, you can do nothing about it. It is true to say that what replaces that which went before may not be better, and may even be worse, but that is the danger with revolutions, it does not invalidate the lack of credibility of the regime which came before.

In his quarters aboard the Enterprise, Spock had a painting of a scene from ancient human mythology - the explusion from Eden. It was there to serve as a reminder that all things end.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Or you could have just re-done the test.

I despair at sections of the public civil service who just seem obsessed with spanking public money in needlessly bureaucratic exercises that benefit nobody at all. I try to mount a considered defence of civil servants, because I am one, I am keen to let people know that we're not all incompetent wasters, but when faced with stories like this, it makes the task pretty much untenable:

A bull sentenced to slaughter after testing positive for bovine TB has won a reprieve after its South Yorkshire owners took its case to the High Court.

Ken Jackson, of Forlorn Hope Farm, Walden Stubbs, disputes the validity of a TB test that condemned Boxy the bull.

Defra ordered the bull to be slaughtered after a positive blood sample was taken last April.

Now, given the volume of TB tests done on cattle in the UK, it must be fairly safe to assume that a cost-effective test has been developed and also that from time to time these tests go wrong. The simple solution is to re-test.

Mr Jackson had told the court he wanted prize-winning Hallmark Boxter, also known as Boxy, to be re-tested and offered to pay for it.

He argued that the officers who took the sample mixed two half-full vials in the field, contrary to written procedures.

Now, had I been in charge of the office responsible, my response would have been to have said 'OK, let's do that, I understand you are anxious and as you've offered to pay, let's get it done.' But no. That hasn't happened at all.

Julie Anderson, appearing for Defra, argued that the bull posed a dangerous threat of spreading bovine TB and must be destroyed.

She submitted that there was "no evidence whatsoever" that the positive blood sample had been contaminated.

No doubt a little checklist on the inside cover of the file had been completed, signed by the officer in the field and/or lab, passed to the line manager who had given authority and then countersigned by a higher or senior officer. It is the mindset that if the checklist has been completed then everything is correct. The checklist can never be wrong. It is complete in its wisdom, everything that needs to be on it is there, anything that isn't on it is an irrelevance. This is a culture that prohibits the employment of abstract thought. It is not common for a civil servant to be thanked for saying to himself 'hang on a minute. . .'

But at the High Court in London Mr Justice McCombe quashed the notices of intended slaughter, ruling that the test taken in relation to Boxy was flawed.

Obviously nobody thought to tell Justice McCombe about the infallibility of the checklist. Or perhaps they did, but he didn't buy it.

He refused Defra permission to appeal, though the department could still make an application directly to the Court of Appeal in a bid to take the case further.

Or they could just re-administer the test. You know it is possible that maybe a human being made a mistake. I know you've got best practice and standard operating procedures and training courses and one day refereshers and e-learning and all that guff, but sometime people just make mistakes. It doesn't make them a bad person, it makes them a human person. Re-doing the test, making sure that it is robust and properly effective will settle this once and for all. The farmer even offered to pay for it.

Daniel Stilitz QC, for the claimants, said the Jacksons "are not wealthy people" and the case had cost them £28,000.

The judge ordered the defendant to pay £15,000 costs within 14 days.

So that's fifteen grand on top of what DEFRA have had to pay to get themselves to this situation, as opposed to what, a couple of quid for a test? A test, which I cannot outline enough, the farmer has offered to pay for.

Of course there is no culpability here from DEFRA:

A Defra spokesman said: "We are naturally disappointed by this judgment and will carefully consider its implications and our next steps, including whether to appeal.

"The judgment does not, however, undermine our comprehensive TB-testing regime for cattle."

They'll appeal, believe me. The fact it will cost the taxpayer a small fortune doesn't matter. Their rules, their decision. Who do these people think they are, going against DEFRA's judgement? Don't they know these people are highly trained experts in their field with years of experience under their belt? No. This cow must die. Without a re-test. It is impossible to think that a mistake has been made. Besides, we've got this checklist. . .

The spanking of public money is done unthinkingly. There is no connection between the tax take and the departmental budget sheet. It simply does not occur to them to not spend the money.

In my department, which I have decided to name the Dept of Beverage Transportation and Consumption Vessel Cleansing for comedy blog purposes, (it is headed up by Dame Greta Arseclown-Um Bongo following the retirement of Sir Norman Tedium-Custard in the new year), a number of front-line staff, most of them my friends, have toddled off into redundancy this week. However I received a message from the 'Religion and Belief Champion', Simon Supinely-Nice, about 'Holy Week'. Could they not get it darned?

'Savage' cuts? Don't make me laugh. I'd love to see what vital tasks are undertaken by Mr. Supinely-Nice over the course of a week, how much he is paid, and how many of those just handed their P45's could have stayed on if he'd been given the push with his ridiculous post instead.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Well, that's that then.

The more eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed that all references to the Libertarian Party have been removed from the blogroll and little clicky bits. Why?

Here's why.

I've only met Anna in passing the once, but she's had to put up with a whole barrow load of shit. I trust her more than many people for one simple reason; she never asks for anything.

Draw your own conclusions.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Filthy, disgusting, down and dirty porn.

... and a blatant plug.

A friend of the Wolfers Pack has hit cyberspace.

There's no politics, no swearing, just top drawer gastroporn.

Only a couple of items up at the moment, but go check it out, the parmesan lemon meatballs look especially tempting. . .

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Meanwhile. . .

. . . at Prime Minister's questions. . .

Looking past the decoy.

There were breathless reports in the British media yesterday about the actions of two women who went out defy the ban on the wearing of face coverings in France. The reports on BBC radio were of the tone that these women were being very silly and that the ban was a good thing.

My French ain't great, but as luck would have it, I was in the country yesterday and French radio was carrying a lot of vox-pops that suggested the general population was mystified at best by the ban, and in a couple of interviews the reaction was hostile.

Now, I don't like the burqa, I think it is a hateful item of clothing which disconnects the wearer from the rest of society, it also suggests that all women are sluts and all men are rapists. It is the physical embodiment of one of the things that turns me off from religion, the mania for collecting people whilst dictating their actions and thoughts and telling them they are worthless. I also hate socks worn with sandals and the old blazer and jeans combo, but because, like the veil, they don't actually do any harm, I am not calling for their prohibition.

But of course the story is a bit of a decoy. You see, the law in France doesn't ban the burqua or the niqab, what it does is ban all face coverings in public. Everyone is prohibited from covering their face in public in France now; this means that Old Holborn's little walk would be illegal. Well, when I say everyone, that isn't quite accurate. You and I would be breaking the law by going out with a face covering, whether the reason for doing so is malicious or not, but for agents of the state, it is perfectly acceptable for them to go out dressed thus:

The odd, non-assimilationist, muslim women wearing the burqa, the section of society that the rest doesn't trust because their behaviour is so different to everyone else, have been used as a smokescreen, a decoy, to prevent attention from falling onto the fact that every private citizen is being restricted here.

It isn't jsut that; as the Torygraph correctly reports:

But Alexis Marsan, a public order official, said they were solely given warnings for taking part in an illegal gathering.

Five men and another women were also held for taking part in the demonstration.

Whereas in the UK, it is illegal to hold a demonstration without permission within a certain radius of parliament, which is bad enough, in France it is illegal to hold a demonstation anywhere without permission. This is what was being reported in a very matter of fact way on French radio, that these people had been arrested for an unauthorised demonstration.

The BBC also reported on their TV news that the pair were spirited away to a police station to 'have their papers checked.' It should be noted that any resident of France is obliged to carry their Carte d'Identitie or Carte de Sejour at all times and you can be stopped and checked at any time, for no particular reason, I don't know if you can be obliged to go to the police station for your papers to be checked for no good reason, but given the reputation of the gendarmerie and the paramilitary CRS for being robust, I'm not too sure I'd be asking too forcefully.

So, just across that short stip of water we have a country where you cannot demonstrate against the state unless the state gives you permission to do so, where you cannot wear a face covering, for example a rubber mask of Sarkozy or De Gaulle, and where you can routinely be swept up off the street to have your 'papers' checked.

Am I the only one who finds this disturbing?

Normally, I'd be saying that this is a matter for the country in question, but reports are that Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands have plans along similar lines, and you can only wonder how long it will be before the same comes in over here, either through our own parliament or as the result of a dictat from Brussels.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

The cows refused to be milked.

I'll hijack an Orwellian metaphor here.

The farmer's house is on fire and his well is empty, the only way he can put out the blaze is by dousing it with the milk from his cows. But the cows know that the farmer enjoys watching old celluloid movies on his home projector, and will sit in his living room gazing at the old movies, his only other source of light is a candle, which he sits atop the open reels of film.

"Why would we give you our milk, when your own stupid actions have caused the fire?" they ask. "It isn't our fault." They refuse to give their milk.

That is exactly what has happened in Iceland where the population have rejected, for a second time, a cunningly worded invitation to bear the fallout of the Icelandic banks and politicians incompetence.

I applaud their actions.

Private banks, egged on by a venal and short-sighted political class, bankrupted themselves in an orgy of lending they could not support and returns on investments they could never meet. Why the hell should the public of Iceland be forced to pay the debts that accrued as a result?

The Icelandic Prime Minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, is not happy saying that this is the worst option that could have been chosen.

Really? For whom?

Why do you think that your population should pick up the tab for the idiocy of your class? If a private citizen in Iceland makes a stupid decision, who is there to bail them out? No-one, as is right. One has to take responsibility for one's own actions. Unless, that is, you happen to be a politician or a banker. How wonderful it must be to live in a world where every success is yours and yours alone and every failure is down to everyone else.

Apparently, when Landsbanki went under, the British and Dutch governments had to reimburse 400,000 citizens.

Did they? Why?

When you are putting your money into a bank, you are investing in that business, and every business that that bank invests in. How many times are we told if it seems too good to be true, that's probably because it is? This was a Ponzi scheme, the same thing we've seen repeated time and again since the 1920s and people still fall for it. Well, tough luck. Perhaps you'll show a little more thought next time.

The governments can't very well turn round and say that, as all over Europe and North America they were encouraging this behaviour, both from the banks and the individual savers. And having burned their fingers in the house fire, they now expect the cows to surrender their milk.

Politicians would argue that this bank held a good deal of public money from Britain in the vaults. Well, why? Firstly, taxes are not paid for local authorities to stick the funds in a high interest account. I expect the balance to be zero at the end of the financial year, if you've got some left over, then you've taken too much - you obviously didn't need it. If the balance isn't zero, then you reduce the tax burden for the next year. What you do not do is stick it in the bank and then come back for more, especially in light of the fact that levels of council tax went up pretty much every year under Labour.

Secondly, why the hell were you so bloody stupid? I can understand Joe Soap being taken in by slick advertising and glossy leafelets, but why the hell were supposed professionals taken in by this? Again, it was not your money, surely best practice would dictate that if you absolutely have to put your surplus in the bank, you pick the safest, most boring option. Local authorities and County councils should not be in the practice of making a profit, that is not what they are for. Any employee of the corporation that made this decision should be sacked for poor performance. Any elected individual involved should have this brought up at every available opportunity by his/her opponents at election time.

The Icelanders have said no. It looks like it will go to some court or other. Let them make their judgement, Iceland has not surrendered it sovereignty yet, what will these courts do if the Icelandic people refuse to pay if the court orders them to?

This is a very important point. Your government does not own you. Iceland owes no money, Iceland is its people. If it is judged that the government of Iceland owes this money, then declare the government of Iceland bankrupt - it doesn't matter. It has no assets, all those buildings, roads, vehicles, all the trappings of nationhood, they aren't owned by the government of Iceland, they are owned by the people of Iceland, the government is just the management company. If that goes bust, then you just make a new one. I really see no problem with that, for the politicians it would be a disaster, but for the man on the street, what difference does it make?

Go to Belgium and see how terrible life is in a country with no government. You'll not see a difference, honest. Business still runs, kids go to school, you can still get the bus, the streets are still swept. That's the frightening truth for the politicians, we don't actually need them that much. Looks like the Icelanders may be realising that.

More power to them.


According to Nanny Beeb, by voting no, the Icelandics are jeopardising their chance of joining the EU as both the UK and the Netherlands could veto their entry.

What are the chances that the good people of Iceland are well aware of this, and having seen what has gone on in Greece, Ireland and Portugal, have no intention of getting involved? Not a nation it is easy to pull the wool over the eyes of, is it?

I also love this comment:

the British and Dutch governments had to reimburse 400,000 citizens - and Iceland had to decide how to repay that money.
Evidently the people and President of Iceland do not concur with that.

So, if you spank your wages on lottery tickets, I'll stand your losses and then demand that the 'good-causes' reimburse me? Uh-uh, I don't think so. I'd love to see how they'll justify holding the population of a country liable for losses incurred via a private business, which they were silly enough to bail out without checking that the liability existed in the first place.

The perils of making a political decision rather than the right decision.

Friday, 8 April 2011

What's it going to be?

Is it me, or is it a mere coincedence that just as the weather turns nice and people walk around with smiles on their faces, this comes out to make sure we're all good and miserable?

Drinking more than two alcoholic drinks a day can significantly increase the risk of some cancers - with at least 13,000 cases a year in the UK linked to drinking.

Oh, really? Forgive my cynical response, it is just that if you take all these 'studies' at face value pretty much everything will give you cancer and result in an agonising premature death.

"Our data show that many cancer cases could have been avoided if alcohol consumption is limited to two alcoholic drinks per day in men and one alcoholic drink per day in women, which are the recommendations of many health organisations," the report's authors said.

*deep sigh* I notice a disturbing lack of hard numbers there. 'Many cases could have been avoided'? Come back to me with a definite number that would have been avoided, and how much those people drank, and how often, and I might start to show an interest.

"And even more cancer cases would be prevented if people reduced their alcohol intake to below recommended guidelines or stopped drinking alcohol at all."

Oh for crying out loud. Can you bunch of miserable, grey, nannying, hectoring, pouting, righteous puritans not just fuck off and leave us the hell alone for just one day? Just one day out of the year? No? Thought not.

But which is it going to be? I'm a little confused. You can't pass one day without hearing how doing, eating or drinking, well, pretty much anything, will kill us stone dead quicker than jumping in front of a train, and yet, we're constantly told that we're living longer than ever before, and we're slowly bankrupting ourselves in the process.

'Ahhh yes', the righteous say, 'but you'll die.'

I'll let you in on the worst kept secret in human history. We're all going to die. I will, you will, the President of Mali, the lad or girl who delivers the freebie local paper, the bloke who does the vision mixing on Coronation Street, all of them, each and every one of us will die. It is one of the things we will never have control over. I'm thankful of it, immortality would be a fate worse than. . . well, you get the idea.

'OK, but you'll die horribly.'

I'll let you into another secret, death rarely comes in an airy bedroom with the sun streaming in through the windows on freshly pressed linen with a collection of loving relatives surrounding the almost deceased. How often do you hear of someone who goes to bed at night a healthy person and just doesn't wake up?

We all die of something, and from where I'm standing one cause is just as good (or bad) as another. Mother Wolfers was a geriatric nurse in the public and private sectors for many years. I used to go in to her nursing homes on occasion, it used to cheer up the old girls to have a young friendly face from time to time. Believe me, living to an advanced age is not a blessing. Spending your last few years, and it can go on for years and years, mourning a long gone partner with little hope of replacing that loving companionship with even the flimsiest facsimilie must be utterly miserable. Spending your twighlight years in a home where you are out of sight and mind of your family, occasional visits where you have nothing to say, and they just want to go, that is if you get visits at all, can only be heartbreaking. You'll make new friends and see them disappear one by one, in the chair one day, gone the next, knowing that your turn is coming. It is little more than a waiting room, up out of bed, breakfast from a blender, sit in a chair with little or nothing to do, lunch from a blender, back to the chair, dinner, time for bed, lights out. One day it'll really be lights out. Am I to wait for that and be thankful for it?

If you're lucky you'll drop your marbles. It is often the way in geriatrics (or palliative care as it is now called by the PC), either the CPU goes or the motor goes. You want the former, I've spoken to an old lady who was convinced I was a sailor and that the nurses were her working girls. She'd been a madam in the 50's. She was gloriously happy. If the motor goes you're trapped in a body that can only be escaped by one means. I remember another lovely old lady, totally dependent on diamorphine, fading away before my very eyes, totally bedridden but with a mind as sharp as a razor. It is the manner of the life that is tragic, not the death.

No. Life is to be lived, not spent cowering in a corner fearful that it will be running away. Life is running away, it has done since the moment of your conception, take that time, I beg of you, spend it recklessly, there are no instalment repayment plans, when your account is called in, it is called in in full. Take every opportunity, your life is yours, it does not belong to the politicians, the doctors, the priests, rabbis or imams. The academics and scientists have no claim over it, it is yours and yours alone.

Have that third drink. Have that rare steak. Have that cigarette or cigar. The reaper will get you, he is inescapable. The only way you can be ready for him is to have a bloody great long list when he asks 'What did you do with your life, brief mortal?' Can you imagine answering that question with, 'Well, nothing really'?

So, why do they need it then?

The thing about public spending cuts is that everyone will agree that cuts need to be made, (unless you're Mark Serwotka, in which case you just demand that the Treasury go down to the garden centre and buy another magic money tree), but of course the cuts can't possibly come in the area which concerns you. It is economic nimbyism on an epic scale.

Hence this:

Sir Patrick Stewart leads actor protest over arts cuts.

Oh god, here we go. Now, I like Patrick Stewart, your favourite canis canis is a bit of a geeky Star Trek fan, and as soon as Patrick Stewart comes on TV and give me tips on how to be a cracking good actor, I'm all ears. When it comes to governance of the public purse, I'm not going to be quite so receptive to what he has to say.

Some of the UK's leading actors have gathered in London to protest against the recent round of Arts cuts.

Sir Patrick Stewart, Penelope Wilton and Samuel West are among the stars who have signed and delivered a petition to Downing Street calling for a "coherent" arts policy.

How's this for coherence? We don't even have the money to run an effective navy, so we certainly don't have money to spend on the arts. Is that clear enough?

Sir Patrick told the BBC he felt the cuts were "unnecessary".

Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?

The petition asks the government for an "arts summit" involving funding bodies and artists to give the industry a clear direction.

Bums on seats, darling. Bums on seats, that's what it is all about. This is why London's West End is the most profitable theatre district in the world. If people put shows on that other people want to see, the people go and the tills start ringing. If people put shows on that other people want don't to see, you may as well rip the set up and put in a really large scalextric track because the people will stay at home and the tills will sit there collecting cobwebs.

Some 695 groups will get funding for 2012 to 2015 - down from 849 - while 110 new groups have been successful.

Funding for what? If this is some sort of troupe of lesbian amputee trans-gender Peruvian alpaca herders doing a season of Brecht on stilts, in Swahili, then why are they getting money? Where is the benefit to society here?

Yes, I understand that the arts are an important part of our heritage, but times change, and we are not living in a museum. If people don't want to see it, you're wasting your time. Demanding public money is akin to shouting 'I don't care if you want to come and see our show or not, you're still going to be paying for a ticket'. Longbows are an important part of our heritage, but the MoD doesn't retain a regiment of archers for old time's sake. It just isn't feasible.

Samuel West is also in on this, but perhaps he should stick to the script rather doing improv;

West said the arts industry was the "second most profitable sector in Britain"

Then why does it need money? If you're making a profit. . .

Oh, hang on. You're not counting the profit against the money thrown at you, are you? I could be profitable at selling second hand condoms if the government agreed to cover my losses.

I'm no businessman, but even I understand that profit = sales in - (money out + debts repaid). What you're talking about is the sum left when you count sales in - money out, then + cash handed to you by the government.

I think the word you're looking for is largesse. 

Commander Data, lay in a course for facepalm.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

What front-line services look like.

Who would be first for the chop, do you think?

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

And so it grows.

So Portugal have become the latest region to move from sovereign state to component of a Federal Europe by asking for a bail-out.

No doubt we'll have to put our hands in our pockets to support them. I feel for the Portuguese people. They are our oldest allies.

Actually, I don't feel for them at all. They have demanded that they continue the lifestyle that has proven so unsustainable and so they see their country's independence sold for 70 billion pieces of silver. We may have gone wading in during the peninsula war, but in the end it looks like Portugal will become a part of a super-European state after all. What a good job that France isn't governed by a touchy, short-tempered short arse anymore.

Oh. . .

It isn't all bad news, as this brings the gaze firmly onto Spain's economy as people run from one burning house to the next in an attempt to safeguard their cash. I just don't see how Europe will be able to afford a bail out for Spain, and the request will come. If they say no, then all bets are off. If they say yes then watch the German financiers have a fit to end all fits.

Interesting times. . .

I HAVE to get one of these. . .

Monday, 4 April 2011

Dear Ed

I received a nice letter today from the leader of the opposition. It is part of Labour's 'Fresh Ideas' programme. Mr. Miliband is keen, it would appear, to hear what my hopes and concerns are. Unfortunately the box to put your ideas in is a little small, so I'm hoping that he'll get a copy of my open letter below instead.

Dear Ed,

Thanks very much for your letter which was delivered today. I must say how refreshing it is to have a senior politican contact a member of the electorate in this fashion, it has oft been a complaint of mine that politicians are distant figures, detached from reality, surrounded by an army of SpAds and completely disconnected from those they claim to represent.

I sometimes get a little angry when writing about politics, I suppose it is because I become so frustrated and feel so powerless, it is almost as if my opinon and my voice are an irrelevance. I will attempt to keep my temper in this letter, as I figure you are unlikely to pay much attention if I employ one or two of the more colourful metaphors which can be common in the blogosphere.

So, shall we start with my concerns?

I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a little scared, Ed. Actually, I'm quite a lot scared. Not by 'hoodies' or 'yobs' roaming the streets, not by the threat of 'cuts' to 'front-line' services, nor by the prospect of a 'privatised' NHS. What scares me is what little voice I do have is being ever more marginalised. I hear talk of a 'post-democratic' age, and it chills me to the bone. It is easy, perhaps even lazy, to draw comparisons with the European dictators of the mid-twentieth century, but I understand why these comparisons are drawn. I'm talking about the European Union, of course. I'm not going to stamp my feet and make demands, but I must point out that we were never really given the option to vote on this political union.

It may be fair to say that this was clear when the referendum on the common market was held, after all, how much more explicit can 'ever closer union' be? But it was hidden in plain sight, there were weasel words used, perhaps the politicians at the time were not being entirely open with us. I'm not demanding we leave the EU, but I think it fair and proper that the electorate be given one last chance to pass judgement on this project once and for all. The Lisbon treaty is the vital link between a trading block and a federal European state.

Now Mr. Cameron gave me, us, a cast-iron promise to give us a referendum on Lisbon. He lied to us, Ed. He looked us square in the eye and lied to us. I will never, ever, trust the Conservative party again. You really could show that you stand for democracy and the sovereignty of the British public and parliament, by allowing us an in-or-out vote, once and for all to decide our fate.

I am also concerned about the levels of spending and debt which has been, is, and will continue to be wildly more than we can afford. I speak as a public servant who did not go on the march in London the other weekend. Whilst I may sound like a turkey voting for Christmas, I cannot in all good conscience support a programme where we condemn our children to penury just so a section of society can continue living in the manner to which they have become accustomed. It is not fair, and from what I gather, Ed, I understand that fairness is important to you. Is it fair that many people will lose their jobs? No. However, I sumbit that it is less fair to saddle our unborn children with a massive debt so we can remain in clover. I've seen your party speak with great passion and strength of feeling about tuition fees saddling young adults with crippling debts when they graduate from university, so why is it fair to saddle those even younger with a greater debt?

What else concerns me?

I'm concerned at the level of interest that politicians take in every aspect of our lives. We cannot seem to do anything without some restriction, prohibition, regulation or advice or suggestion from politicians or interested professionals. It just isn't warranted, Ed. You and your class have to learn that we do not belong to you, the NHS, the LEA, the State or anyone but ourselves. You simply cannot go around browbeating us like this. If history about these islands of ours tells you anything it is that we do not respond well to being dictated to, just ask King Charlie no-head or Tumbledown Dick, or the poor old Roman chap who was stood on the pallisade at Verulamium as the Iceni came thundering into view. I know it is done with the very best of intentions, but you have to let us make our own mistakes. What would have happened if your mother had prevented you from going to Corpus Christi or the LSE because she didn't think it was good for you?

What do I hope for?

I hope that I can be left to live my life in peace, free from interference, free from registration, regulation, licencing, monitoring, evaluation, means testing, investigation, interference, hectoring, nannying and Bono from U2 (I really hate that guy, and Ed, he, Sting, Lennox, Geldof and Chris Martin don't speak for the youth anymore than that mad fellow with the hook speaks for Muslims).

I hope to be given a say, a proper say, not some half-hearted attempt whenever an election, be it national, local or European, rolls around.

I want to feel valued. But I don't, I feel like a serf, I feel like my sole purpose is to toil in the field to ensure the continued prosperity of the lord of the manor. You can change that, but do you have the cojones, Ed?

I see you want some ideas. OK here's a few:

As mentioned before, give us an in/out referendum on Europe. Watch your popularity sky rocket if you make it a stated policy. Your name will be mud in Brussels, but the people in Brussels don't vote for you. If the referendum says stay in, you can devote us to the project with a new vigourous zeal and the Eurocrats will love you, if it says come out, then their opinion will be of no relevance.

We have to cut jobs in the public sector, it is bitter tasting, but true. Set a 3:1 policy, for every front-line worker sacked in national or local government employ (that is someone with regular public facing duties), three people who do not work on front-line services must go. Hit the managers and hit them hard, they are wasterels on a titanic level.

Stop forcing kids through exams if they don't suit the system. It isn't the kids' fault, it is the system. Three GCSE's should do it, get them trained by proper craftsmen and tradesmen, it is industry that made our country great, it can be again, but you can't have cookie cutter children, let the kids play to their strengths.

Abolish Thursdays, I don't particularly like them - I understand that is tough, so I'm going to cut you some slack.

I hope this has given you food for thought. If you want to chat, drop us an email, or friend request me on Facebook, we can chat in real time there.

All the best,


P.S. - Don't trust Ed Balls, he's a wrong-un and no mistake. Try that nice Mr. Field in your party. He seems like a good chap.

I'm not holding my breath on a response. But then I understand he's a wedding to sort out, so he might be a bit busy.