Wednesday, 15 September 2010

And Finally, Esther

Do you ever wonder why our governments seem quite relaxed about holiday companies collapsing?

Once upon a time, our glorious leaders would be at the microphone pretty sharpish to reassure and offer assistance in this situation, which happens fairly cyclically, and quite inevitably, which you will realise when you see how the business operates.

The reason being, of course, that politicians didn't want all of those electors to feel that no-one cared when their one holiday a year came to nothing, along with their savings. Of course, we've had a good insurance system for the travel industry for ages, but there's more to it than that.

You see, when a travel company or airline goes bust these days, air traffic is reduced, and that means a reduced carbon footprint. And that means the gov. gets better CO2 figures (at least temporarily) without having to tell people they can't go on holiday anymore.

Total recall: T. Blair, when asked if HMG intended doing anything about emissions from aircraft, replied that he wasn't going to tell people they can't go on holiday.

Don't expect anyone to offer much help to any travel company or airline in difficulties these days.

The Long Arm

We hear that an English teenager was visited at his parental home by the rozzers on the basis that he'd been very rude to Barak Obama in an email he had sent in a fit of drunkenness.

As we understand it, and the story is mainly one that comes from the youth in question, he didn't make any threats - he simply disagreed in a particularly Anglo-Saxon way. And I'm sure many of us are guilty of drunk-mailing. I know I am. It is the nature of the result that disturbs. And this is merely another example of a trend that is, frankly, dangerous.

The result being that one of the US security agencies - probably the FBI - having intercepted the mail, which I'm sure would have been flagged like a battleship at a coronation, then 'requested' that the UK authorities take action - that this 'request' was routed via the Met (most likely Special Branch or Anti-Terrorism) to the local bobbies, who then had to go round and castigate said hung-over spotty youth (m'lud).

Common sense prevailed - they left him without so much as a caution, but apparently DID take a photograph (why?) and left him with the thought that he was probably never going to be allowed to travel to the US again. Of course, this might have been a joke. Or it might have been an unwise remark based on certain knowledge. Given the nature of the Patriot Act, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Land of the Free has taken umbrage.

Hands up anyone who'd like to see Barak repeal this piece of discriminatory nonsense?

Hands up anyone who'd like to see the UK police stop acting on orders from Quantico?

(BTW, I have to add that I speak as one who discovered his phone was being tapped by MI5 shortly after 9/11)

The French Unveiled

The latest news from our Paris correspondent is that the upper house of the French parliament has also approved the legislation that makes wearing a face veil illegal.

To many of us, this must all seem rather inexplicable. Apparently, a woman found in public wearing a garment that covers the face will face (har har) a fine. And a man found to be forcing a woman to do so will also face the wrath of the law.

There are, of course, imbecilities in this. Covering up your face is illegal. The government defines what clothing you can and can't wear. But only if you're a woman. What if you were a man wearing a face veil? I don't know how many cross-dressing Islamic traditionalists exist, but surely there is a loophole here. How comfortable will it be for French police to stop and fine women in the streets for choosing to uphold their traditions and beliefs?

Oh, for sure, there will be many Muslim women who are expected to wear veils by their significant others. And by their male-dominated community values too. But what we seem to have here is a piece of painfully discriminatory legislation designed to combat.... discrimination? Well, maybe, but that argument has been weakly put. In truth, this is all about integration French-style.

We hear that word applied here on the same issues. We want immigrants to integrate. What that actually means is entirely open to interpretation, but in the UK we seem to feel, nutters excepted, that this means mutual respect. So we're not so bothered if a woman wants to maintain their traditional garb and religious views, but we are bothered if they never learn English, or are found to be treated as slaves in their community. And we understand that anyone can wear pretty much what they want, just as they can say pretty much what they want, inside a broad limit of decency. By and large, we seem in the UK to be willing to enjoy the rainbow effect that such immigration brings. Just so long as there aren't very many of them.

In France, the interpretation of liberty, egality and fraternity is somewhat different. Looking at what happened to the North Africans is a good viewpoint. The idea is that anyone can come to France (if they're allowed), but once there, it is expected that any cultural differences will be abandoned in favour of La Belle France, on the philosophical basis that France, embodied by those three words and a republican constitution, is a place of 'egal': "people should be treated as equals on certain dimensions, such as religiously, politically, economically, socially, or culturally..." (Wiki). And that translates as: 'we won't let you be different'.

This has already backfired spectacularly - just look at the Paris Banlieue. You can't let people from utterly different traditions and cultures come and live in your place and expect them to be exactly the same as someone from Nantes (or expect the same from them in contribution). The end result was that these people were disadvantaged from the start. And hence the riots.

It is evident that the French have learned nothing. Or perhaps it is the reactionary knee jerk of a society under tremendous pressure to change. As Joseph Maila of the French Foreign Ministry said 'To hide behind the veil is to barricade oneself against society.'

Right. So you're legally not allowed to be antisocial?

What makes me laugh is that the French Constitutional Council, which does all the oversight for legislation, has repeatedly said that it will almost certainly have to strike down the bill as unconstitutional.


Saturday, 11 September 2010

Brave New Rant

So I suddenly found myself ranting on Facebook. Looking back, I concluded that I was slightly proud of this particular rant, so I've decided to put it here too.


It would make a difference if some UK govt (any govt) would take a look at what the people of the UK can do for a living. There has been complete inaction by all sides on this score ever since WW2.

Basically, the left has believed in state subsidies for individuals left without meaningful employment, while the right has believed that market forces will provide a new gold dream to replace industry. Neither works - market forces drove the working classes into unemployment in the first place. What market will provide without an incentive?

Now, an incentive could have been a workforce willing to work for next to nothing, but with our cost of living, that's not going to happen. Current Osbornism suggests we should go down this route anyway. Consequently, our Govt is proposing a return to 19th Century social mores in a form way more acute than any accusation thrown at The Blessed Marge.

Stick and stick.

(TBH, though, this has been happening for a while. We are expected to live poorly in a very expensive country. Remove opportunity (because it costs) but leave high taxation. This is not a model that you'll find being advocated in many other countries. Of course, our politicians tend to suggest this is a modern dilemma that is an unsolvable balancing act. Only if you allow it to be. And they do. And we let them.)

And, worst of all, this current infantile yearning for creating a cheap whore of a country completely misses out on our actual advantages. Sure, we don't absolutely NEED comprehensive free healthcare and a complex and expensive welfare system. But we decided that we WANTED and DESERVED it, and history has shown that 'mature democracies' include these ideas because it takes these societies into areas where they can SHINE, like education, research, new technology, creative industry, and so on. And to do this, you need to subsidise the poor so that they have time to re-educate and adopt new skills for the future.

This, apparently, is a recipe no UK govt has been willing to follow properly, and some, as at present, find it ideologically impossible.

So we turn our education sysytem into a money-grabbing free for all and watch universities that ought to have remained colleges go bankrupt, while kids sink under the millionth curriculum change in a system still dedicated to top-down teaching for providing imperial cannon fodder, while we argue about whether private companies should be directly paid taxpayer's money for doing a public service we pay others to do anyway, while people who are primarily the casualities of this very political malaise have their subsidy made conditional on doing pointless tasks.

We, the people, need our governments to lead properly on forming the sort of society we want. Isn't it time we sorted this all out?

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Dorkins Cometh

This post dates back several years, but the current barrage of TV Dorkins has led me to re-post.

Richard Dawkins. What a guy.

You know, I read some of his early works (Blind Watchmaker, for instance) with genuine pleasure and a real sense of awe. He made me think. And mostly, what I thought was, 'Oh, yeah! Of course!'. He even helped me through an ecology course, in a third-hand kind of way.

Ever since then, he's been becoming an angry, unlanceable boil on my bum, to the extent that I think he's now generating real hatred in me. Or maybe just a lot of pus. (Did I ever tell you about my blocked sweat gland? Oh boy.)

Basically, he's turned into anti-spiritual fascist.

He commands us to abandon our foolish ways, and overturns the market stalls of the credulous. He wishes us to turn the other cheek to the matter of the meaning of life, for there is none. There is no God, no spirit, no afterlife. Just us, our genes, and a planet. Believe in me, he says, and you shall believe in science, and if you do that, you shall be happy for all your days in the full and certain knowledge that your life is utterly meaningless outside of what you make of it.

He might be right, but you know what? Try it. I dare you.

Try not believing in anything, deliberately. For evermore.

You know what happens? You go bonkers, that's what. And how do I know? Because I'm a depressive with an ancient history. I've spent some 30 years denying the existence of any God, and I can tell you from the heart that it is a truly painful and nasty experience.

You know why Dawkins isn't hurting? Because he's got religion.

Believe in me, sayeth the Dawkins....

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

My Kingdom For A Brain Cell

This is not to be expected - a midweek special.

I just wanted to share my sense of utter exasperation for today. Although it comes with a sense of surprise and satisfaction too.

I've been doing up a bicycle for a friend. It's been hanging around on the To Do list for quite a while, and, as the summer has now passed, I thought it would be a good time to catch up a bit.

After having cleaned and polished and adjusted and inflated and what not, I was quite pleased everything was in good order. But then I couldn't seem to get the front gears to work. 'Bugger', I thought, 'Indexed gears. Hmmm. Well, I'll just have to give it a go.'

In the end I realised that the whole shifter was KO and would need replacing.

Now, Ayrshire prides itself on being very keen on cycling. There are cycle shops in most towns, including mine. In an emergency, there's even a Halfords.

So off I toddled to my local independent bike store, where I admired the packed displays and rows of interesting but unidentifiable gadgets, together with lots of neoprene and Lycra, and some very expensive bikes.

Now, I used to build my own bikes, back in the 1880s, so I do know a wee bit about bicycles, even though the whole twist-gripped-shock-absorbed-perforated-disc thing has passed me by.

Anyway, there I was standing in front of a slightly chubby young man who looked far more interested in his computer than in me. 'Can you help?' I asked. 'The barrel adjuster on this shifter has broken and I'm not sure the cam is working.' I handed him the offending lump.

'Um, you mean the while thing snapped off?'
'No - the barrel adjuster has broken off.'
'Oh.' [Goes in the back. Comes back a few seconds later]
'The barrel adjuster is broken and and I don't think the cam is working. I can't get another adjuster to fit. It's quite old.'
'Yesss. Well. You don't have any spares hanging about do you?'
'OK, what can I do?'
'That's up to you.'
'They come in pairs. Cost a bit.'

At which point I thanked him and left, walked across to Halfords and had a concise conversation with a sales assistant while he cycled round the aisles. (Really.)

'Yeah. I think you're screwed on that. Try Ebay.'

So I did. And I found an exact replacement in 2 minutes. Thank you Halfords.

And you won't hear that said very often.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

The Times They Are A'Changing....

If they were talking about the newspaper, I wish they bloody would, but however....

I recall the time when I got very bothered by an infantile editorial from Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger on the occasion of the anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. It was pretty much a 'Hey! Hey! LBJ' kind of piece, and, being keen on history, I was irritated by the amount of utter bollocks the article contained.

So I wrote a letter to the editor, calmly highlighting his inaccuracies and making a few points about the mythology of the war. And it was published. I felt quite warm inside. Until the next day, when I read about 10 reader's responses which ranged from the hysterical to the downright sinister. I became an Imperialist Lackey for a day. I was shaken, but nevertheless quite proud of the temporary notoriety. I also changed newspapers. These days I don't read them at all, and make do with alerts from Reuters and the BBC, which seems to work reasonably well.

Which leads me to the Russian spies. The one's the US just deported, right? And without a hint of Harry Palmer in a hearse, so it wasn't really very much like the Cold War at all, despite the dribblings of the press. (I know a guy who used to get paid to transfer people between West and East Germany, so really...)

Anyhoo, what erupted in my psyche was the image of Anna Chapman.

You see, what bothered me was that, apparently, out of all of the sleepers the FBI rounded up, Anna Chapman is in some way more evil. At least, that's what TV and Print seemed to be saying.

By the time Channel 4 news gratuitously described her as 'infamous', I was beginning to get a bit annoyed. The only way in which Ms Chapman is infamous is because the media have decided that she is so, and that's because she is an attractive young lady. She has done nothing more than any of the other agents; and in fact she seems to have gone native, if anything. She wants to stay in the UK.

Teresa May, of course, wants to see her hanged, but can't, so is seeking to have her declared persona non grata instead. But is she really the baddest apple? Or is she the target of prurient chauvinism?

Honest to God, I am beyond exasperation with UK journalism. Making stuff up was always in the mix, but has now become the default for news. I'm beginning to think it might be a GOOD THING (see 1066 And All That) if individuals and organisations simply stopped speaking to the press in entirety.

It would be more entertaining, for example, to see Jon Snow (whom I used to respect very much and now have only contempt for) continually interrupting his own tendentious monologue.

Anthony Bourdain wrote of a chef friend who described keeping his bread dough on the make as 'feeding the bitch'. Perhaps we should stop feeding this bitch and see what happens.

BTW, in assembling some tags for the above, I've noticed I have some witty combinations to choose from: Politics, Porridge and Power Lines seems like a good one to quote.