Tuesday, 31 December 2013

RIP - John Fortune

The death of John Fortune has been announced. John will be remembered as a satirist - but all too often all he did was explain the situation. He could have an audience in stitches just by reading out government policy.  He would point out how businessmen got golden hellos and golden goodbyes and thus needed further incentives to do any work.

My tapes of the Long Johns (John Bird and John Fortune) discussing the electoral system, the euro-fighter and banking are amongst my most treasured possessions.

I always wished that the Long Johns had been massive - confined largely to channel 4 they reached millions but should have reached so many more.  I don't know if telling the truth is satire - satire is much like parody with a purpose - whereas the world we live in is as one satirist famously said - beyond satire.

The free market - question mark

The ongoing saga of pemier league football clubs is a welcome antidote to those who rave about the laizaie faire economics and 'free markets'

Chelsea Football club for instance http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/25564078
reported a loss of £49.4 million for the last year. It has reported a loss for every year 2003 (and possibly before that) bar one with a tiny £1.4 million profit.

Advocates of the delusional free market view of the world that bussinesses are only motivated by profit and that consumers have power. Yeah right, if I don't get

And where did Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea football club get his money from - google it and find out. 

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Season of Reason

lieving in nonsense hurts people, and that's why James Randi and The James Randi Educational Foundation work hard to promote critical thinking and skepticism as a form of intellectual self defense.
2013 — the last twelve months were our most productive ever — is quickly coming to an end, and as you would expect, we are busy with our plans for 2014. But only with your help will we be able to continue battling unreason into the New Year.
We have only a few days left in our Season of Reason campaign to raise the support we’ll need to continue fighting the fakers and enabling people to defend themselves from paranormal and pseudoscientific scams. Please join with Randi and our team at the JREF as we stand up for reason and continue battling for you and other science-minded folks in the coming year.
Your contribution will enable us to:
  • Continue exposing paranormal and pseudoscientific frauds. Uniquely among organizations who oppose unreason, we challenge the James Van Praaghs and the quacks with our $1 Million prize for anyone who can prove a paranormal ability under fair conditions. And we put the million dollar prize on the line at live events like at TAM 2013.
  • Produce more free courses on scientific skepticism such as our 10 part video lecture series by Ray Hyman titled "How To Think About Dubious Claims" and companion course guide released in 2013.
  • Create and inspire the investigative spirit in a new generation of critical thinkers by providing more grants and free teaching resources to educators, scholarships for students, and free resources for the classroom and parents. In 2013 alone, the JREF published four new hands-on classroom educational kits available free for the asking.
  • Organize the world's leading annual skeptics conference, The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM) in Las Vegas, featuring the brightest thinkers and skeptics from around the world, in addition to numerous activist and educator training workshops. Nearly two million people viewed videos of JREF’s free educational sessions online from TAM and other JREF events in 2013.
  • Support the skeptical community and important grassroots consumer advocates who fight for the public’s right to know the real facts by producing workshops such as 2013's "Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia" featuring Susan Gerbic, and providing activist resources to promote skepticism at the local level.
  • Publish more books for the public on skepticism, such as the more than a dozen titles the JREF published in 2013 on Science Based Medicine topics like Homeopathy, Chiropractic, Acupuncture and "Eastern" Medicine, and more.
  • And spread the "good news" of critical thinking through educational and digital outreach initiatives including podcasts, online articles, videos, special reports, and mobile apps.
And I’m very happy to say that thanks to long-time supporter of the JREF’s important work, someone who recognizes that Randi and the JREF team are uniquely positioned to respond to harmful claims made by peddlers of paranormal nonsense plaguing society, all donations up to $100,000 through the end of the end of the year will be matched – dollar-for-dollar!
For a limited time, you have an opportunity to take your support of the JREF’s unique and valuable work and give it a boost — to make your end-year gift go twice as far. Make a donation today, and your impact will be doubled — but only if you contribute now.
For these reasons and more, I’m asking you to support the JREF at this critical time. I’ve been working since the late-1990's to help make the world a little saner, and inspired by Randi’s decades of successes, all of us at the JREF are dedicated, more than ever, to promoting skepticism to the public, and to providing reliable information about psuedoscience and the paranormal. I’ve honestly never been more optimistic about the future of this project in the public interest, and with your help I know we can continue to do amazing things for scientific skepticism.
D.J. Grothe
President, The James Randi Educational Foundation
P.S. – Please make your most generous donation today in order to double your gift to the JREF.
P.P.S. – We still have a very limited number of Randi’s special gift to especially generous supporters of the JREF this year -- a rare poster from his personal collection. Don't miss this very chance to have a very special gift from Randi – and to help the JREF keep going strong in the process!

Monday, 23 December 2013

some sense from a judge


why another round of council bashing

According to the motoring organisation, in 2012-13 local authorities in England made a "profit" of £594m from parking charges and penalty notices (after deducting running costs)

However, 52 of the 353 parking authorities across England reported a deficit.  And just 10 Councils account for £188 million of the 'profit'.  Which leaves the other 291 Councils sharing £406 million, an average of £1.395 million.  Lets take a rough estimate then that most councils make about £10 per resident from parking charges.  Oh the outrage !

It is surely no surprise that many of the Councils with the biggest take form parking are also renown for low council tax levels - Westminster £39.7m, Kensington and Chelsea £30.44m, Hammersmith and Fulham £19.39m, Wandsworth £15.89m.

There seems to be an unspoken assumption that councils charging for parking are ripping off motorists.   But really - what people should think is that if councils didn't charge for parking and penalty notices they would either have to raise the money some other way or cut spending.  Secondly, they should think that it is good councils can manage assets on behalf of the community at a profit.  Car parks don't belong to councils but to residents who elect the councils.    Thirdly, when I think of Brighton - one of the top chargers, I also think of what it would be like if charges were lower and penalty notices not enforced.  Yes I wince a bit if I park in Brighton - but it makes me more likely to come in by train or bus or car share to avoid the charges. If people could park all day for a £1 - a few would be able to but most would find the spaces permanently occupied.  Traffic would grind to a halt as people park on double yellow lines or worse. 

So come on RAC - stop the council bashing.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Paddy Ashdown - lessons for the Lib Dems

Re-reading Paddy Ashdown's auto-biography, I am struck by the lessons for the Lib Dems.

Paddy was rightly keen on taking the Lib Dems into Government - but he made a number of decisions that the Lib Dems now would do well to ponder.
Firstly, he predicted that the smaller party in a coalition almost always comes off worse - hence a change in the voting system to proportional representation was essential to protect the Liberal Democrats.  On this I think even Paddy underestimates the problem with First Past the Post - which is one of mind set - there is always the desire amongst many in a party for one more election where the random effect of FPTP will throw up a single party Government of a party getting little more than 1 in three votes  - under PR, parties know the go it alone Government is much more unlikely.

Secondly Paddy decided that in the event of a coalition he would not take a cabinet post for himself - leaving himself free to promote the Liberal Democrats.

Thirdly Paddy lists Tony Blairs own view in 1997 of what would make him a Prime Minister of lasting impact like Margaret Thatcher.  1. Ending the schism between Labour and the Liberals 2. Changing the relationship with the EU with  the UK engaging constructively with the EU  3. Narrowing the gap between rich and poor.  On all three areas Tony Blair must be judged a failure.  The co-operation with the liberal was soon blocked by Blair, Brown and Prescott. The people of Britain have become more euro-phobe rather than euro enthusiasts and the gap between rich and poor widened to record levels.  Constitutional reform, the one area that bored Blair and in which he had no interest has been his lasting legacy - along with the disaster of war in Iraq. 

Lib Dems need to ponder what policy concessions they have secured that will truly be of any significance in 5 years, let alone 20. On constitutional reform - Nick Cleggs special responsibility, nothing has been achieved - unless you really want to count police and crime commissioners.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Oliver twist asked for more these days he'd have to ask for firsts :-(


Speaking to my father the other day, he said considering the Governments approach to welfare for young people he wouldn't be surprised if they soon suggested bringing back work houses.  He is old enough to remember when they were still around.  A few years back I would have dismissed such concerns as unfounded, these days all I think it would take is an opinion poll in the Daily Mail and ministers would be drawing up proposals.

Friday, 6 December 2013

What the European Convention on Human rights actually says on right to a family life

Right to respect for private and family life
1Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Special laws that only apply to some people are usually wrong

We live in a bizarre Britain where children are considered adult at 16 for some purposes yet treated as lesser people up to the age of 35 for things like housing benefit.

Labour in a typically confused announcement is saying that people under 25 won't have the same welfare laws as everyone else. There is a growing and alarming trend which has see special rules introduced for example for members of the armed forces.

Magna Carta as well as mentioning stuff like fishing weirs also started to establish the idea that everyone was equal under the law, but if you start having special laws that only apply to some people, that principle is undermined.


Brilliant example of people talking to the dead - and the human capacity to believe what they want despite the evidence


Oh my special powers are so weak the mere presence of a skeptic destroys them



Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Tudor Monastery Farm

Just started on BBC2 Wednesday Evenings 9pm - filming based at the Weald and Downland open air museum in West Sussex. Weald and Downland is a most magical place and has enchanted me since I visited on a school trip many years ago.

If you get the chamce to visit it, then do.

Dracula spectacular

Went to see the absolutely stunning Dance version of Dracula by the Mark Bruce Company.

The ten strong cast create the story in dance using a blend of contemporary and classical music.  You couldn't improve a single thing, the set, the performance the costumes and the choreography were all perfect.  If you want a chance to see something amazing checkout their website.


8.8 million household have savings of less than £250

I wish policy makers would take this into account when making policy such as paying housing benefit in arrears, taking months to process benefit claims and so much more.


Thursday, 7 November 2013

Spending Money

One in 11 people, or 4.5 million British adults, have less than £10 a month left over once they have paid their essential bills, new research has found.
With many households struggling to make ends meet, the findings from budgeting account provider thinkmoney reveal the worryingly small amounts of disposable income people have left once they've met all their financial commitments.
Of the 2,149 people polled, one in four said they had less than £50 a month to spend after bills.
Across the UK, the average monthly disposable income was £224.50. However, there was a wide gender difference with men reporting having disposable incomes averaging £272.50, almost twice as much as women (£190.20).
Young people reported having the least disposable income, with 18-24 year-olds averaging £174.20 – some 22% below the overall UK average. Almost one in three people in this age group have less than £50 a month to spend after bills.
By contrast, the wealthiest in terms of post-bills spending money are people over 65, with an average of £269.50 a month available to spend.
The amount of disposable income also varies depending on where people live. It is highest in London, at an average of £261, and the South East, at £244. People in the North East and Wales have the lowest disposable incomes, at £199 and £181 respectively.
Worryingly, one in six people questioned in Wales said they had less than £10 a month to spend after bills.
“It’s stressful not knowing if you will have enough money to pay the bills and afford added extras each month,” said Ian Williams, director of communications at thinkmoney.


Benefit sanctions

60,000 people a month are having their benefits stopped. 

If you have mental health problems or perhaps just depressed about the job centre plus giving you 36 stupid things a week to do it is all to easy to have your benefits 'sanctioned' for not doing something such as missing and apointment or not sending your cv out to firms who don't want it.

Why is it that starving people has become an acceptable punishment ?  Why is doing something that aren't breaking the law worse than the punishment for breaking the law ?


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

More spin doctors please

Has the Government no political antenna ?

When a respected cancer charity says terminally ill patients are waiting months to receive the benefits that are meant to help them cope with being terminally ill, how should the Government respond ?
My instinct is that on hearing or reading the story most people will assume that the charity is right and the Government is wrong.

If I was a Government Minister I hope that my response would be the same as the publics, that the charity was probably right, to show a bit of compassion and concern and say something like "My god that sounds awful, I don't think it is true but I will review the situation straight away and look into any cases that the charity can highlight to see what is going wrong or can be improved."

Instead what the Government trotted out is a rebuttal - the charity figures are not robust - which translates to voters as as the Government can't admit it is wrong and doesn't care about voters who will be dead in a few months.  Is that really what they wish to convey ?

Of course it is not just one charity, anyone involved with people on benefits have similar stories - whereas Government statistics - well we all know they pick and choose.


off the track

Trying to get some train tickets the other day I went through the usual hassle of looking up prices on line, going through the myriad complications of considering the pros and cons of booking a particular train but what happens if you miss it in the end the cheapest fare was £77. Luckily I didn't buy them on line but got them at the station where the very helpful member of staff found a better price of £43 !  The irony being that had they said £100 I would have accepted that as the price of not booking in advance. 

I love travelling on railways - especially for long journeys, avoiding parking etc but it seems to me the railways operators are doing their very best to put me off. Indeed, passenger journeys are at high levels and some lines at or near capacity at peak times. All of which means the companies have little incentive to encourage people to travel. 

If one looks at season tickets one might expect that buying a month would be cheaper than buying a week, 3 months cheaper than a month, 6 months cheaper than 3 months and a year cheaper than 6 months.   You will soon conclude that the only advantage of buying a longer period is that you don't have the hassle of renewing your season ticket. 

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

its a gas - and an electricity bill

It has been revealed that MPs are still claiming for gas and electricity for their 2nd homes.

You might like me wonder why MPs need any more money. 

You might like me wonder why when the average enegry bill is £1500 a year how it is some MPs manage to run up bills of £2000 or more for a property they only use part time (it si after all at least their second home)  especially as so many of them are busy in parliament and or being Government Ministers.

Maria Miller MP for Basingstoke managed to claim over £2000.  No doubt she works long hours as an MP and Government Minister - which makes me wonder - has she gone out and left the gas on ?
I expect she gets up, has a breakfast and goes to work, returning late in the evening.
Does she return home and turn every possible apppliance on ?

Its a mystery.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

from the people who brought you the spareroom subsidy reduction


A Conservative minister, Stephen Hammond, used an offshore company to buy his second home. 
By not owning the villa directly, in his own name, he was able to reduce his tax bill in both Britain and Portugal by an estimated £20,000
Mr Hammond has been the MP for Wimbledon since 2005. He employs his wife, Sally, as his office manager, paying her £45,000 a year from taxpayer funds.

How lucky we are that David Cameron has described legal tax havens as “morally wrong” and  George Osborne said legal but aggressive tax avoidance was “morally repugnant.

Lets hope they get to be in power one day and get the opportunity to do something about it.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Another reason to feel poorer

The Office National Statistics analysis shows the amount of our income accounted for by “essentials” – housing, water, sewerage, energy bills and fuel – has risen over a decade from 19.9 per cent to 27.3 per cent. Once food is taken into account, the numbers are more striking still. Cumulative inflation as measured by the Consumer Prices Index – the yardstick used by the Bank of England – has been roughly 30 per cent. Yet the Tullett Prebon Essentials Index – which takes in most of the necessities of modern living – has gone up by more than 60 per cent. Consumers’ discretionary spending has been eroded even more severely than that fall in disposable income suggests

Keep in mind these stats are averages - for very many people as we know - housing costs and other essentials can be way above 27%.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

What's it come to when you have to turn to John Major for your crumbs of comfort

Former Prime Minister John Major does at least have the knowledge from his youth of what it is like to be poor.  In a welcome intervention he said "it is not acceptable to me, and ought not to be acceptable to anyone, that many people are going to have to choose between keeping warm and eating."

Even if those in Government won't admit it,the reality for so many people today is a constant grinding slide into poverty, deprivation and debt.  John Major talked about the poor - He argued that all parties had neglected the pressures faced by the “silent have-nots” and the “dignified poor, or near-poor”, as well as the “lace curtain poverty” endured by the elderly.

As even a commentator in the Daily Telegraph wrote: "The Channel 5 documentary On Benefits and Proud has grabbed headlines with its monstrous cast of unrepentant spongers – but where is the programme called “Struggling to Make Ends Meet and Ashamed”?"

The trouble is that John Majors remedy - a few pounds off peoples fuel bills is so inadequate as to be laughable. Sadly this has been the
The chairman of British gas I am told is paid £5 million a year - I am sure that is just basic pay and his real income (it would be a he) is a lot more  - pension,share options, bonuses - and what does he have to do to 'earn' that money - put the price of energy up - how hard is that ? Work - he wouldn't know the meaning off it.  David Lloyd George said money was like water - too much and it caused floods where nothing grows, too little and it caused deserts where nothing grows - it has to be irrigated and distributed.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Uk is the 6th richest country in the world and yet ...


anything you say may be taken down and used in evidence against you

As 'plebgate' rumbles on, I can't do better than agree with dan hodges in the telegraph:

The police and their supporters think we are stupid. Or if not stupid, deaf, dumb and blind. For some reason they cannot seem to understand we have seen the proof of the Plebgate deception with our own eyes, and heard it with our own ears.

If you log on to the Channel 4 news website now, you can hear Michael Crick’s phone call to the serving police officer who supposedly sent an email to the deputy chief whip, claiming to have witnessed the altercation at the gates of Downing Street. And you hear him confessing he didn’t actually witness anything at all. You can see the CCTV footage proving there were no shocked tourists at the Downing Street gates as the incident unfolded. You can hear the recording of Andrew Mitchell explaining to representatives of the Police Federation what he did actually say to police officers. And you can see the interview one of those representatives, Ken Mackaill, gave immediately afterwards, in which he claims Mitchell “would not tell us what he did say”.


Tuesday, 15 October 2013

House Price Madness

The average house price has doubled in a decade to nearly £250,000 according to
the Office for National Statistics.


People don't choose where they are born - phoney shock

Oh my god, can you believe it, people live in the UK who weren't born there :-OOOO 
Oh my god even more - some of  the people who weren't born in the UK are claiming job seeker allowance.

After you've picked yourself up off the floor following that amazing revelation, here is the good news - all the people involved where born on planet earth.   Intergalactic benefit tourism is yet to take hold. 

I don't know about you, I didn't have any say in where I was born or who I was born too. Yet there are people out there for whom it seems to be the be all and end all of life.

Are we seriously to believe that no one is ever to be allowed to move from country to country. Do we have figures for how many people born in the UK claim benefits form other countries. Do we tot them up and play I'll pay for one of yours if you pay for one of mine.

It used to be said that a to be born an English man was to win the lottery of life - frankly, I still think that holds true, but we have a small number of very miserable lottery winners who think that someone else's gain if their loss.

If the UK had a record of staying at home and minding their own business this might be understandable but no country has a longer and more through record of involvement in the affairs of other countries, often by the conquest and colonisation.

Stop attacking the unemployed

Jobseeker's allowance (JSA) for someone aged under 25 is £56.80 a week. According to the prime minster, this is too much and it will be set to zero if a Conservative majority is returned at the next election

Quite how the 1 million plus people on job seekers are meant to cope, the Prime Minister doesn't explain.
No one seems to care - after all already people have their benefits sanctioned - a posh word for stopped - on the flimsiest of reasons and are meant to live on fresh air. 

It is no wonder the Conservatives opposed human rights legislation - how can it be right to treat under 25ss as somehow lesser citizens. It is an outrage.

I find it difficult to understand how anyone can think £56.80 is enough to live on, it isn't.  In fact the very low level of job seekers allowance makes it more difficult to look for work. Car broken, need a new suit, tough.  Fridge broken, partner left you with debts, can't afford the rent, we can't help.

This is going on today in the UK, the 6th richest country in thew world.


Sunday, 13 October 2013

officials became suspicious when 77 claims were made from just 3 addresses :-O

I suspect the authors of this article want to add to the hate everyone on benefits atmosphere sweeping the country, but I ssupect the intelligent conclusions is different - that two much time is spent hassle the honest while fraud prevention management is woefully lacking.


Thursday, 10 October 2013

tax dodgers - getting something for nothing

Facebook paid no corporation tax in Britain last year despite raking in more than £200million from its UK operations. The internet giant has paid just £1million in corporation tax on the half a billion pounds of revenue it has made since arriving in Britain in 2007.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2449701/Facebook-depriving-British-taxpayer-paid-NO-corporation-tax.html#ixzz2hIkwslwg
Google - UK sales £3 billion, corporation tax £12 million

Amazon - UK sales £4.3 billion, UK corporation UK £12 million

Starbucks - UK sales £3 billion , UK corporation tax past 14 years totals £8.6 million

Apple - UK sales £6 billion - UK corporation tax zero, the year before £10 million

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

So the rich pay more pounds in tax than the power - not a surprise - but what about as % of their income ?


Top earners pay 1/3 of all income tax screams the headline.  Actually the treasury figures say 29.8% which is 3/10ths but not 1/3 !

"To qualify for that top 1 per cent, an individual would have to have an income of £160,000 a year. People who earn more than £1 million a year will contribute 11.8 per cent of all tax.
Total income tax revenue for HMRC is about £150 billion a year."

Note how income tax in has been replaced in the article by "all tax" - whereas income tax is less than 1/3, probably even 3/10 of Government income.

But before we get carried away with the idea that this shows the Conservative argument are right, several questions have to be answered.

1) Wouldn't it be better if the other 99% of people were paid more so they could pay more income tax ?

2) What % of their income do the richest 1% pay in income tax ? The top rate of tax is meant to be 45% but I would be astounded if the top 1% paid on average more than 10-20% of their income in income tax.

3) What % of "all tax" the richest 1% pay

4) What % of their wealth the wealthiest 1 pay in tax compared to the norm.


Friday, 4 October 2013

A parable for our times

I am reminded to the parable of the good Samaritan. A man had been attacked by bandits and left for dead at the side of the road. A Conservatite was passing and he kept to the other side of the road he said to himself "I have not been attacked by bandits, why should my wealth go to help these who have ?"

Another man was passing a newlabourist and he too passed by on the other side of the road - He shouted out, "I do sympathise but woe according to the polling of the focus groups Samaritans are particularly unpopular at the moment, but if you do survive I may help if I get to advise the King. I have a five point anti-bandit plan."
Then along came a man called Deputy Dawg with his family of Liberals from the town of Democrats. His family saw the Samaritan lying in the road and said to their leader - "we must help". So the one called Deputy crossed the road and spoke unto the Samaritan saying unto him "Verily if I help you now there is a real danger you will become dependant on my help and trapped in a dependency culture. If I give you a handout to replace the money the robbers stole, in a way you will be getting something for nothing and opt to be attacked by bandits in the future so you can live a life on benefits. Get yourself to the job centre and do some voluntary work, then I will help you."
By this time the Samaritan with his wounds unattended felt his life ebbing away and breathed his last. The Samaritan lay still in the gutter but was still judged by aptos to be fit for work.
Thus it came to pass that when another man was attacked by bandits, he was not helped by the good Samaritan and Jesus had to make up the story on the basis of the ludicrous idea that people might help one another with their being something in if for them or worrying about whether someone was getting more out form society than they put in.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Daily Mail - what a croc of ...

headliens form today daily mail online:

"The mother who says her unplanned third baby will wreck her perfect life... and her dreams of sending her children to the best prep school "
"Check out her hair! Rita Ora eclipses Cara Delevingne"

A step too far? Kim Kardashian goes to extreme lengths to show off her post baby body in dress slashed almost to the navel

Alyson Hannigan shows off her incredible bikini body as she splashes around on family holiday in Hawaii

Forget your trousers? Scout Willis parades her legs in barely-there dress as she stops by hair salon with sister Rumer

The magic of make-up! Kate Upton reveals her spotty face hours after radiant turn at Chanel's Paris Fashion Week show

Dyeing to go back to her roots! Helen Flanagan spends three hours in hair salon to return her locks to their blonde glory

and my favourite -  the ex-husband or someone who was once famous is getting a divorce.

Anne Diamond's ex to face second wife, 33 years his junior, in court after bitter two-year divorce battle

The Daily Mail Hates Britain

The Daily Mail knowing that you can't libel a dead person is having a go at Ed Miliband father, attacking him as the man who hated Britain.

This is not only ironic but difficult to parody coming as it does from the Daily Mail which is one of the chief sources of hatred of Britain.

The Daily Mail editorial policy has long been to give readers a daily hate - benefit scroungers, immigrants, politicians, trendy teachers, the EU, trade unions, - well that's monday to saturday covered.

The Daily Mail doesn't really like Britain - feminism has gone to far, the country is full of workshy British and imigarnst who work too hard and our traditional christian values

In vain might one protest that far from having gone to far, a quick look at everyday sexism shows that feminism hasn't gone far enough. Indeed the Daily Mail coverage of women seems to be 90% about their physical appearance. In vain will one point out that millions of people work each day and don't earn enough to live on, that 95%+ of the unemployed get work within 2 years and don't spend a 'life on benefits'.   The Daily Mails 'christian' values usually come in the form of condemning trendy vicars, bishops in their palaces and  women priests.  Nobody has done more to spread 'political correctness gone mad' than the Daily Mail who delight in inventing stories of conkers being banned in schools and the EU banning curved bananas.  Readers take these stories at face value and start spreading them as the truth , delighting in martyring themselves and telling everyone else that things can't be done because of human rights/the eu/health and safety.  

The Daily Mail never lets the facts spoil a headline or a story.    So did Ed Milibands Dad say he hated Britain ?  Even if he did, probably not half as much as the Daily Mail does.

Monday, 30 September 2013

one in five people in the UK is paid less than £7.50 an hour

For the people at the top end of that range, that's earning of around £14,000 a year, before tax and national insurance etc.

The average income for someone working in the UK is around £26,000. But then we all ought to know that  there are averages and averages.

10 people, nine earning £20,000 and one earning £80,000 = average income £26,000
10 people,  five earning £14,000 four earning £20,000 one paid £110,000 = average income £26,000

Friday, 27 September 2013

Tax Cheats

As it keen support of at least the idea of a crackdown on tax cheats it is a disappointment to hear that HMCR have caught just 1 of the top 20 "most wanted" tax fraudsters on the list the announced last year.

Worse still though is the ease with which companies and individuals are quite legally able to avoid tax by thinking up tax breaks and lobbying behind closed doors for them to be implemented.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Preventing Crime

47% of prisoners have no qualifications - compared to just 15% of the UK working age population.

48% of prisoners have a reading age below that of an average 11 year old

65% of prisoners have the numeracy (maths skills) of below that of the average 11 year old

[in the general public around 23% of people have the maths and reading skills of less than an 11 year old]

41% of male prisoners and 30% of female prisoners have previously been excluded from school, rising to 52% of young prisoners.

Offenders who undertake prison education are three times less likley to reoffend than those who don't.

68% of prisoners were unemployed in the month before entering custody.

13% of prisoners have never worked

68% of prisoners beleive a job is essential in stopping reoffending

80% of prisoners are incapable of completing a job application form

Ex-offenders often make model employees as they are grateful to have a job and realise that their chances of getting another one are slim.

The cost of reoffending by recently released prisoners has been estimated as £11 billion a year in the UK.

So -  if the Government is serious about saving money as well as reducing the human misery especially for victims of crime it ought to be doing more.

Instead of overcrowded prisons, we need prisons where people can be educated and learn skills and obtain qualifications that will help them secure employment.

Length of sentances, parole and priviledges could be linked to engagement with the education system.

Upon release prisoners need to be found employment - paying employees to take people on could be cheaper than leaving ex-offenders unemployed.



Wednesday, 25 September 2013

TV in the 1970's

Nice to see it, to see it nice by Brian Viner (the 1970s in front of the Telly) isbn 978 1 41652 777

Is an excellent book, but only i guess if you used to watch a lot of TV in the 1970's.

If not, I expect even the programme title will past you by.  Viner is an entertaining writing and skillfully mixes just enough (not too much) of his own childhood in with his telly watching habits.

Fascinating to see a BBC schedule from October 1976.  BCC 1 came on at 8.50am and finished at 11.20.  BBC didn't even start 3.05 but did continue till 12.55 if you wanted to watch an old black and white film.  For me just Dr Who and the Two Ronnies stand out as something I would have wanted to to watch.  Probably Basil Brush and the generation game if I couldn't find something better to do and that made me nostalgic - today there is perhaps too much TV you can spend 10 minutes just flicking through the channels.  One theory is that programmes used to get huge ratings because there was nothing better on, but I am more sympathetic to the idea that for their time the programmes were the best that could be provided. Knowing one had to entertain a large part of the population was an incentive to make something worthwhile.  While there was certainly a lot of stuff that doesn't bera repeating, there was and is stuff of excellent quality and depending on ones taste in TV, entertaining viewing.

Perhaps my favourite bit of the book was Michael Parkinson saying "I don't believe in the honours system" Honours he explained should be for real heroes not  people like him did not deserve honours for "being highly paid and having the time of our lives. I've never ever woken up and and said sod it I've got to go to work."  He said too many celebrities did charity work in the hope of getting an honour.

That is the now Sir Michael Parkinson CBE.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Modern Conservatism

"we must advance our historic mission to free people and businesses from the state by letting them keep more of what they earn"

Given the scale of tax avoidance it is quite difficult to see how the super wealthly can pay less tax, and given the low level of wages and the high cost of housing, it is difficult to see how the Conservative Party intends to free ordinary people from the state.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Politics of Envy ? Wealth Creators or Greedy Rich ?

It is common amongst the Conservatives to trot out the line the other parties are all about "clobbering the rich" and "attacking the wealth creators" - this it is argued is bad for the poor as it will mean wealth creators are driven away, jobs will be lost and the poor will be worse off.

To those who might welcome the rich being clobbered, the first comment is to note how little either the Labour or Lib Dems have said about clobbering the rich - Labour rhetoric and more importantly policies have been little different to the Conservatives and while the Lib Dems talk alot about making the rich pay their fair share - fair seems to mean slightly more than they used to but not so much that you'd notice.

The Conservatives use the words "wealth creators" and "rich" inter-changeably, but by any normal usage they do not mean the same thing.

The picture painted by Chris Grayling (who's he ??)  one of the leading Conservatives is of the hardworking entrepreneur who puts their house on the line to launch a business for which they work 7 days a week.   Funnily enough that is rarely the kind of wealth creator or rich person people object to. 

Remember when Cameron did positive stuff ?

Matthew Parris calls for the return of Sunny Dave
"I persist in thinking, though, that another part of the answer lies in remembering what Britain warmed to in Early Cameron: a message of liking 21st-century Britain; of sympathy for hardship; and of confidence in the individual and in family; belief in a caring society where public-spiritedness was not expressed only through the institutions of the State. All right. You’ve got me cornered. I liked the Big Society. I’m sorry
the language seems to have been dropped. I want to see Mr Cameron return unapologetically to the tree, the clouds, the huskies — yes, even the hoodies — and, most of all, the blue sky. Last week Nick Clegg tried to cast the Conservatives in their ancient role of panto villains. For the party to confirm a stereotype that David Cameron has come so far in rejecting would be to walk straight into the Left’s trap." - Matthew Parris The Times (£)

Friday, 20 September 2013

Spoke to soon

Just days after posting on the life expectancy of a UKIP MEP, another one bites the dust.

Godfrey Bloom - once again showing the real face of UKIP called a room full of his own supporters "sluts" and they wonder why UKIp is less popular with women voters.

That's 8 UKIP MEPS down the plug hole in less than 8 years.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Plebgate - lies and injustice


The evidence of some of the Police lying and misleading people doesn't go away. Of course it is not all Police.

It is a scandal that what should have been a simple investigation has taken so long and will no doubt cost a fortune, which could have been spent on something more useful.

I even feel slightly sorry for Andrew Mitchell.

However, the people I feel really sorry for are all the other people who wait so long for justice.

The relatives of those who died at Hillsborough, the relatives of the Guildford 4 wrongly sent to prison, the relatives of the Deepcut Barracks victims - still waiting for the truth about their children bullied and killed by the army instead of lies about how they shot themselves in the head after they were dead.

For far too many people there is no way to right wrongs. Just a hope that perhaps it will never happen again or that someone else will be prevented from going through the same suffering.

That is what motivates people to keep on going, through the blocking, the bluster, the cover ups, the refusal to answer questions, the missing files, the legal wrangling, the lies, the rules, the financial and emotional hardship, the endless meetings, letter writing, publicity seeking, the impact on their lives, because some people will strive for justice - not just for themselves, but for everyone.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Life expectancy of a UKIP MEP

In 2004, 12 UKIP MEPs were elected - one resigned, one expelled for benefit fraud and one was jailed for false accounting and money laundering

In 2009 13 UKIP MEPs were elected 13 and so far 4 have gone and there is still 6 months to go!.

In 7 years UKIP have lost 7 MEPs for various reasons - probably more than all the other parties put together.  United Kingdom ? hardly a united party.

what of those who stay ?

UKIP Leader Mr Farage is ranked fifth in the league table of MEPs with the worse attendance record, while deputy leader Paul Nuttall is fourth, after voting just 46 per cent of the time.

Figures also show UKIP MEPs attend just 30 per cent of European Parliament committees

Mr Nuttall has turned up to only two of 56 meetings of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee since June 2010.

Mr Farage attended only just one of 42 Fisheries Committee meetings in the three years to January 2013. He has since resigned

You can starve on benefits


I fear there is too much emphasis on how to eat cheaply. Yes it is possible, yes I have done it, but there is a limit to how much an ordinary person can cut back on food.  Even a saving of £10 a week can be blown alway by misfotune.  I am not saying it isn't a help, of course it is, but you don't get  a fortune from eating more cheaply.

Rock Roadie - by James Tappy Wright

James 'Tappy' Wright worked with many of the 1960's rock stars - The Animals, Jimi Hendrix, Tina Turner, and he met with Elvis and a number of Hollywood Stars.

This is a odd book in that it jsut stops in 1973 despite being published in 2009, so more a memoir than an autobiography.  It is an entertaining account of rock bands in the early 1960's, it conrain rather a lot of references to the sexual exploits of Tappy and various band members

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Why do people get so angry at someone havinge a 'spare' room ?

Even the supporters of the spare bedroom subsidy have to answer the questions.  What about people who have no money to move - how does leaving them with less money help free up 'spare' rooms ?  What about the people who want to move but have no smaller accomodation to go to - how does that free up spare rooms ?  What about the people who live  in properties adapted to cope with disabilities - how does that save the tax payer money ?  And why the obsession with bedrooms ? what about the other rooms in the property ? Why should a couple and child people living in a house with two bedrooms, garden, garage, conservatory, kitchen, sitting room, bath room, loft, cellar, utility room and get full housing benefit, and an identical couple  in a 3 bedroom high rise flat, including two box rooms and a single open plan living area  and shower/toilet get their benefit cut ?

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc was really one of the most unusual historical figures.  It is startling to learn that she is one of the most documented figures of the middle ages.  For all that, like many famous people, the legend is better know than the reality.  Over time people reinvent Joan of Arc to fit in with their needs for a certain type of hero or certain reinterpretation of history.

The author goes back to original sources and meticulous research.

Joan wasn't a peasant or a shepherdess, not really, although she was from a modest background.
She did hear voices and was very religious. She did persuade nobles and the Dauphin (King) to follow her lead or at least let her get on with what she wanted to do, although only up to a point.  She was highly intelligent and her achievements changed the course of history.

Strangely, the main offence she was convicted of at her trail was the wearing of mens clothing.

The Virgin Warrior - the life and death of Joan of Arc by Larissa Juliet Taylor ISBN 978-0-300-16895-2

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

from the USA

I recommend a trip to the American Museum in Bath. The current guest exhibition is on gunslingers to gangsters - and has items that come from gunslingers and outlaws such as Jessie James to the gangsters of the 1920's and 30's such as Al Capone along with items that once belonged to robbers Bonnie and Clyde.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Book Review - Life in the BNP and National Front

Hate - my life in the British Far Right by Matthew Collins (ISBN 978-1849543279) is an insiders account of life as part of the leadership of the National Front and British National Party mainly in the 1980's.

It is rather short on revelations.  Life in the NF and BNP seemed largely to consist of being drunk, being angry with other people and random unprovoked physical assaults on other people.

A jumble of incoherent racists views, conspiracy theories and sectional infighting based more on ego and personalities than policies, life in the BNP/NF is a miserable existence, which is why Matthew Collins abandoned them and became a campaigner for anti-nazi organisations.

Despite the occasional attempts at pretending to be a political party, life for the BNP/NF continues much as it did then. 

Bewared, the book contains a lot of references to Collins unhappy sex (or lack of) life and sometimes distressing accounts of the attacks on old ladies and others.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Wales to leave EU and Great Britain ??

Opinion poll in Wales suggests 39% of people prepared to vote for the mindless nationalism of UKIP or Plaid for the Welsh Assembly - but not for where it would matters i.e, when electing MPs where their combined support falls to 17%.

July 2013 poll
Westminster: CON 23%, LAB 48%, LDEM 8%, PLAID 9%, UKIP 8%
Welsh Assembly (constituency): CON 19%, LAB 46%, LDEM 8%, PLAID 17%, UKIP 6%
Welsh Assembly (regional): CON 12%, LAB 25%, LDEM 9%, PLAID 23%, UKIP 16%
Just goes to show people vote for the oddest of reasons.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Bonking Boris -

Not long ago Prime Minister David Cameron wrote:

" I also think we need to make Britain a genuinely hostile place for fathers who go AWOL. It’s high time runaway dads were stigmatised, and the full force of shame was heaped upon them. They should be looked at like drink drivers, people who are beyond the pale. They need the message rammed home to them, from every part of our culture, that what they’re doing is wrong – that leaving single mothers, who do a heroic job against all odds, to fend for themselves simply isn’t acceptable."

I assume he will be having a word with London Mayor Boris Johnston, who was revealed the other day to have fathered at least two children other than by his wife.

Oddly, Boris 's behaviour is widely treated as endearing rather than hypocritical - Boris himself treats it as a offensive if anyone asks about it, although he himself is not slow to moralise about the behaviour of others.

Trident - the part-time bomb

Old joke -  what are you doing ? Sprinkling woofle dust. Why are you sprinkling woofle dust ? To keep the elephants away  of course ! But there aren't any elephants in Clacton.  Just goes to show it works.
Trident is much the same, it has deterred attacks on the UK in much the same way no one has nuked Peru, i.e. not at all.

The Government has published a review on possible options to replace the Trident Nuclear Missile System with  a slightly less expensive alternative.  The Conservatives have already denounced the option as a part-time deterrent.

Trident is inherently useless.  Lets save the money and spend it on something else. My favourite is more overseas aid.  Funny how people you are helpful too are less likely to go to war with you.

Monday, 22 July 2013

The Legacy of Arabic Science

The Forgotten Legacy of Arabic Science
The Bristish Humanist Association are proud to announce that the 2013 Holyoake Lecture in Manchester will be presented by BHA President Jim Al-Khalili on 22 October. The topic will be the forgotten legacy of Arabic science.

In the ninth century, the Abbasid caliph of Baghdad, al-Ma'mun, created one of the greatest centres of learning the world had ever seen, known as the House of Wisdom.  Focussing on the story of how the scientists and philosophers he brought together sparked a period of extraordinary discovery, launching a golden age of Arabic science, this lecture will cover the next few hundred years which saw great advances in medicine, astronomy, philosophy, mathematics and many other disciplines, and highlight the birth of whole new fields, such as algebra and trigonometry.

This is the forgotten story of one of the most exciting periods in the history of science, full of wonderful characters and geniuses, such as al-Kindi, Ibn al-Haytham, Ibn Sina and al-Biruni – names that should be spoken alongside Newton, Galileo and Aristotle. Jim will argue in this talk that the world needs to look at the achievements of these scholars with fresh eyes, and the Arab and Islamic world needs to take greater pride in its rich scientific heritage, far removed from the dogmatic anti-scientific attitudes found so widely in the Islamic world today.

Farewell Mel Smith

Comedian and actor Mel Smith - best known for his work with Griff Rhys Jones has died :-(   Perhaps that ought to be comedic actor and director, as that was more what Mel Smith was.

One of my favourite no the nine o'clock news sketches involved Mel Smith going into a gift shop and buying the most tacky souvenir just for the pleasure of smashing it to pieces. 

All deaths are sad, and it was strange to think that despite much wealth and huge talent, Mel Smith spent many years addicted to simple pain killer tablets and in pain from gout. 

Despite a number of achievements - hit TV shows, successful film director, stage performances, even a  hit charity single there was a slight feeling that Mel Smith perhaps could or should have achieved more. I am reminded though of the comments of someone about Peter Cook - he was known as the funniest man alive and created some of sketches and jokes that inspired a generation of more of comedians, isn't that enough ?

50 Books that changed the world

Books that changed the world - the 50 most influential books in human history by Andrew Taylor  ISBN 978-1-84724-602-8

This is an excellent book about books.

I suppose a list of the 50 most influential books is meant to provoke some debate, so perhaps my knowledge of books is lacking but it was hard to argue with the choice.

Some books, the Bible, the Qu'ran are obvious - most of the others have a very strong case.  I won't spoil the fun by iving the full list now.

The writing is concise and informative giving reason for inclusion, context, influence and a flavour of the book.

As an overview of books and their inluence, it is probably hard to beat.

Time for a real benefits cap

Here's an idea - why doesn't the Government limit the amount of tax relief available to anyone individual to £26000 a year. There seems to be a dreadful 'entitlement culture' amongst some better off people who seem to think the taxpayers should fund their lifestyle choices - so for example an wealthy individual can claim tax relief on pension contributions of up to £40,000 a year.

Clearly the ordinary family  we hear so much about these days can't possibly be in a position to put aside £40,000 a year towards a pension, let alone claim tax back.

Incredibly the individual lifetime allowance is £1.25 million.  An individual putting aside every penny of their £26,000 a year income for 45 years would still have plenty of their lifetime allowance left.   Someone on minimum wage would have to put in every penny for 114 years to reach the cap.

So people on minimum wage and on average incomes don't benefit from these tax breaks, but the very richest, those who need it least get the most help.
There seems to be a "dependency culture" amongst the wealthy.

Oddly you never seem to read about it in the Daily Mail.  You never get articles pointing out the landlords charging excessive rents with 40 properties all being funded by housing benefit - ie the taxpayer. 

You never hear of the Tesco subsidy - where the tax payers fork out billions in tax credits so people who work for Tescos can afford to eat and rent somewhere while Tesco avoids tax by pretending it's CD's are sold from the channel islands.

Tose of us who know about these things realsie that Housing Benefit goes to the Landlord - not the tennant - so if the Government wants to reduce costs rather than saying tennants can claim only £26,000 a year - lets make the rule the same for landlords.  If they find that they can't afford their buy-to-let properties without the huge state funded subsidy they get, then they can sell them off.  We can't expect the taxpayer to fund them. If this was British Leyland, the Conseravtives would be going up the wall. Yet here we are with private sector landlords provding a shoddy, expensive service and being funded by the taxpayer to do so.

If the benefits cap is good enough for the poor- it's sure as hell good enough for the rich.

The paranormal

It is often assumed (good word often, very vague) that skeptics would be disappointed if something paranormal like esp was proved to exist, when in fact they would be delighted.

My own brushed with the 'para normal' include - several out of body experiences, visits by demons (sleep paralysis), vivid dreams about dead people and many times having an overwhelming feeling of a sense of deja vu.

None of which I consider para normal and all of which I fell have excellent scientific explanations.

Professor Richard Wiseman is a leading media figure in explaining science - but probably not very well know - as explaining science is rather seen as not very media friendly.

This book is a great starting point to understanding cold readings (how people might seem to tell your fortune or speak to the dead) and a variety of other strange phenomena.

It also includes practical guides if you want to experience table turning/tipping and lucid dreaming and out of body experiences.

People and opinion polls

Be careful about confusing support/oppose in polls with salience. Most people don’t notice most political news stories, especially rather insidery ones about the workings of government (and the people who are most likely to notice will have the most fixed political views). So if you ask people if they think that the PM’s advisor should be working for other companies too people say no… (Only 18% think it is acceptable for Lynton Crosby to advise the Conservative at the same time as he works for other commercial clients)  but if you ask people who Lynton Crosby is only 11% know who he is, what he does and something about him. Ask people what news stories they noticed this week cigarette plain packages, Lynton Crosby and so on don’t even show up (suggesting they must have got below 1.5%). Doesn’t mean it can’t be an issue of course, that it won’t get noticed if it has legs and is kept going.

People will answer polling questions if asked (they’re helpful like that!)… but remember it doesn’t mean they necessarily had an opinion before the pollster forced them to have one, nor that they were even aware of the story.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Will anyone win the next General Election ?

Many commentators are expressing the view that many in both Labour and Conservative parties expect to lose the General Election.

It seems that key strategists in both parties are working to win on what is called a 35% strategy - that is that they should aim to win 35% of the votes cast at the General Election and that this may see them elected.

Whoever wins is likely to break some records.  Rarely have Governments been more popular at a second general election than they were at a first. Rarely has an opposition been as unpopular as Labour are now and gone on to defeat a Government.

The logic for the Conservatives is painful, if they couldn't win a majority facing an unpopular Gordon Brown after 13 years of Labour Government, what chance of them doing better are 5 years of cuts ? For Labour the reverse is true, here is a Government making cuts and yet, Labour are barely ahead in the opinion polls and their Leader has failed to impress the public.

Support for the Lib Dems could revive, specially if they choose a new leader, or it might collapse further as it did in the Scottish Parliament Elections.

Despite the current collapse of support for the Lib Dems, the rise of UKIP means that it entirely possible both Conservatives and Labour could get a smaller share of the vote in 2015 than they did in 2010.

That is deeply worrying for a democracy. 

Some commentators are predicting another hung Parliament - it may be that the Lib Dems could do better in areas where they have MPs and that a  surge for UKIP could mean the Lib Dems holding on to or even winning seats they might otherwise lose.   To be honest, I think both of these scenarios are overplayed. Both might help the Lib Dems slightly, but unless the base level of support for the Party rises, they face a return to 20 or so MPs.  Frankly that isn't enough to be part of a coalition nor to hold the balance of power even in a hung Parliament.  A minority Government by Labour or Conservatives, probably with the tacit consent of the other would be a near certainty. For the Lib Dems having gone from 53 MPs 25 or less would be traumatic. To risk another coalition and another halving of their MPs would be madness.

So who will win the General Election - not the public, who may wake up to a "democratic dictatorship" elected by around 1/3 of those who voted and perhaps 1/5 of those entitled to vote.

Lead on Mac Duff

Watching Macbeth at Shakespeare's Globe in London was an amazing experience.  It is terrifying to think that without the First Folio, there would be no record of this play and no performances.

The production was brilliant, the genius of Shakespeare being that his plays can be refreshed and reinvented, this was certainly the case in this production.   It is slightly odd to realise how little time is given to the three Witches and Lady Macbeth yet their impact on the play is enormous.

The players were excellent, Macbeth in the David Tennant mould, the costumes of Shakespeare's time.

The drumming, music and dancing were a treat. The battle scenes dynamic, the ghost scene entirely memorable.  Two many superlatives and too little description on my part I fear.

The only disappointment was the program which far from being a souvenir was big on adverts, short on photos with none of the play itself, just a few early rehearsal pics.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

here comes a policeman, a big friendly Policeman PC McGary number 452

I suspect my introduction to the Police was the children's TV show Camberwick Green (see wikipeadia) and hence the song lyrics above.

I respect to the Police, I like the Police. I turn to them when in need and don't envy them for the job they do, but, since 1990 almost 1000 people have died in Police custody yet, not a single police officer has received a jail term as a result.

That is a bout one person a week dying in Police custody.  The issue is that the Police investigate themselves and the  Iindependent Police Complaints Authority  can drag investigations out for years on end.  The system need to change and soon.

Monday, 24 June 2013

wish I'd said that


When the government talks of “ring-fenced” spending, it is referring to health, education and aid. But, in effect, the protective cordon extends well beyond these areas. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, despite forecasts of higher employment and lower unemployment between now and 2017-18, social security spending – in cash terms – is not coming down. Neither is Britain’s interest bill, as it would be unthinkable to default on our sovereign debt (currently £1.3 trillion and rising).

Add up all the “untouchable” expenditure – social protection (£220 billion), health (£137 billion), education (£97 billion), debt interest (£51 billion) and international aid (£11 billion) – and £516 billion of the Chancellor’s annual outlay of £720 billion is hermetically sealed. Thus, if he is to make a dent in his £108 billion deficit, i.e. the annual difference between tax receipts and state spending, he has only £204 billion to shoot at. This, given the constraints of political realities, is a mathematical impossibility. It simply cannot and will not be done.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Lord oh Lords

I think it has been said that the cure for admiring the House of Lords is to go and see it in action.  Watching the debate on same sex marriage on BBC Parliament can be just as effective.   What a shame that the debate on Lords reform took place before the this debate.

I've never understood why anyone should be concerned about anyone else being Gay or Lesbian.  Listening to the odd views of various members of the House of Lords was quite scary in the parade of irrational and illogical prejudice, feeble arguments and fear mongering.  Of course people are entitled to their views, I am sure I have held wrong, idiotic and silly views myself and still do - but the level of debate in the Lords was really quite depressing.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

No one wants a referendum on EU membership - so lets give them one

Get opinion pollsters to ask people if they want a referendum on UK membership of the EU and they will say yes, by an overwhelming majority. In fact ask them if they want a referendum on almost any issue and they will say yes by an overwhelming majority.

UK Polling Report - run by Anthony Wells, probably the most respected talker of sense on opinion polls  (well he ought to be!) has only discovered one subject where more people didn't want a referendum than did want a referendum, and that was on whether the UK Monarchy should continue.  His conclusion was that people were so sure they did want to keep the Queen they didn't want a referendum.

So who really wants a referendum on UK membership of the EU ? No one. People who want to leave the EU don't really want a referendum, they want top leave the EU. poeple who wnat to stya in the EU have no incentive to hold a referendum they could lose.

It is usually argued that people don't have a choice at elections time because all the main parties support staying in the EU.  Actually, people do have a choice, If you want the UK to leave the EU all you have to do is vote for one of the minor parties that wish the UK to leave.  The every fact that all three main parties want the UK to remain in the EU should tell people something important. It's not that all the parties are the same, but despite their differences they all think the UK is better off in.   In fact as the EU has grown more and more countries have joined or want to get in - only one has left - Greenland ?  Well, you get the idea if it was such a terrible thing why would so  many parties in so many countries want their country to be members ?   It's because unlike the public, they engage with the EU and understand it a lot better. They don't get their information about the EU from the Daily Mail, well if they do, they can check it and find out that there are more myths about the EU than about the Gods of ancient Greece and Rome. 

It is sometimes argued referendum resolve issues, one way or the other. This is rarely true - the losing side is rarely content to accept the verdict and usually pushes for another vote.  In 1983 Labour advocated leaving the ECC (as it was)  soon the Conservatives might be led by a leader advocating exit - but everyone would do well to remember that leaving the EU is not a magic wand.  Anyway - despite being on the whole opposed to referendums, because so many politicians have promised referendums on the EU and then wriggled out of their commitments - they electors deserve a referendum. I hope we can vote to stay in and get on with deciding what sort of EU we want.

Crime in the UK in WWII

An underworld at war - spivs deserters, racketeers and civilians in the second world war by Donald Thomas  ISBN 0-7197-5732-1

This is a fascinating book - if a little over long about crime in the UK in World War 2.  While there was undoubtedly a lot of sacrifices made by many people, other saw the war as an opportunity or reason to turn to crime.

Theft and fraud make up the biggest amount of crime - be it stealing or forging ration books, whole lorry loads of supplies disappearing or fraudulent claims for work or wages.

It is informative to find out how the Government tried to counter crime and how some relatively trivial matters were punished harshly while some more serious ones

Often the stories are almost incredible. In 1941 a Liverpool ship repairer cheated the Government out of £20 million (at today's prices).  Soliders and others would steal equipment needed for the war effort. 

Of course these are just the records of the crimes that were recorded, no doubt there were many more that weren't recorded.

Private Walker from the TV series Dads Army is most peoples idea of a spiv - before that there was Arthur English (are you being served) and Sid Field and a host of others who played to audiences who new spivs not just from 6 years of war but the years of rationing the continued after 1945.   This book shines a light on those that make Walker look like a boy scout.

After a while the accounts seems to blur and a few more statistics and a few less examples would have been a good idea, however for a topic that has been overlooked, it is a good read.

Meat is a treat ?

It was interesting to see a committee of MPs suggest that meat ought to be a treat and that we would all benefit if the amount of meat eating was reduced.

I took this view many years ago and became a vegetarian.

What always puzzles me is the requirement some people feel to 'jazz up' vegetarian food to make it 'less boring' - this usually involves asking a clutch of non-vegetarian chefs to come up with dishes they wouldn't normally make using ingredients they wouldn't normally use.  Few things can be thought more likely to put someone off becoming a vegetarian than the instruction to tramp around health food shops and delis looking for silken tofu, artichoke hearts, beetroot essence and pink Himalayan salt crystals. It's enough to make you go home and eat beans on toast in protest. And there perhaps is the point - beans on toast is a perfectly acceptable vegetarian meal.

So many vegetarian dishes are incredibly versatile.  Vegetarian Curry can be made with an endless list of vegetables, beans, lentils and pulses. The choice of different veggie burgers or vegetarian sausage is huge.  Pasta, potato and rice lend themselves to vegetarian food in a way that conjours so many meals.

There are more cheeses available than for many years.

So if you want a vegetarian meal - first think of the ones you have already and then ask a vegetarian.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

RIP Tom Sharpe


I will always be grateful to Tom Sharpe for his "Wilt" books and 'Indecent Exposure' which brought me many many laugh out loud moments.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Liz Fraser and other characters

Liz Fraser and other Characters - my autobiography 

I really liked this book - it is very candid, although not sensationalist.
Liz Frazer had an absolutely prolific career - she did masses of live TV in the 1950's , became a film star in the 1960's and had a varied set of parts in the theatre.

At one time she had cornered the market is portraying a certain type of sexy and comic blonde, so much so that directors would ask for a "Liz Fraser type",
but there was clearly a lot more to her talents than just comedy. As one of her neighbours said to her - "I didn't know you could act"

As in all lives, there is the unexpected - born in 1930, she was evacuated to Kent, next door to Winston Churchill ! who used to sit her on his knee and allow her to collect acorns for his pigs.  Then of course people realised evacuating children to the part of England nearest Nazi occupied Europe was not entirely wise - so she was moved to another family in Devon.

Her father died when she was just 11 :-(

Liz has worked with almost anybody who was anyone, a veritable A-Z.  I counted 36 famous people just in the b section of the Index - but it is never done in a  name dropping way - just little pen portraits of what they were like to work with.  Liz's huge affection for Tony Hancock and Sid James is very touching.  She doesn't hold back from the less pleasant side of Peter Sellers or a few others, but never in a nasty way.

Ironic is too weak a word, it is truly unfair that someone who was sought by so many men had two unhappy marriages.  The first to someone who was a thief and a liar, a fantasist :-(  the second was to a TV producer who was also a womaniser and  an alcoholic.  He dropped dead aged 41.

Who would guess Liz Frazer was a volunteer for the Samaritans charity for years fielding calls form wold be suicides ? Or her battle with breast cancer? Her love of boxing, football, playing bridge and investing in the stock market ?  her Conservative politics ? That she wanted to have children but was unable to or that she wrote poems and her own lines for pantomines.
I haven't mentioned the Carry On films, as I hope she will be remembered for much more than that.

The Staves

The Staves are a band composed of three sisters form Watford.   Jessica is the one who plays guitar, Camilla plays the Ukelele (don't panic, it's not George Formby) and Emily gets to do the occasional keyboard or drum.

A review in the Guardian described them as like Angels forced to make their way in the music business.

The songs are all credited to the Staves, so it is not possible to disentangle who wrote what or how the writing partnership works.

It is difficult to describe who they sound like - I would suggest they are like singer-song writers form 70's California (in a  good way) - Crosby Stills and Nash ? Peter Paul and Mary ? but with the voices of three women.

The harmonies are Divine - who knows they could go on to be massive stars, have a cult following or just fade away.  I suspect they haven't yet written a chart hit - but who cares ?

and perhaps the best way to find out is to listen.



Getting phophecies wrong - Nostradamus

I have a book - Nostradamus - the end of the millennium prophecies 1992-2001. It was publsihed in 1991.

Well - you might be able to predict how the prophecies got on.

Gems from the book include the following

1992 Geoerge Bush Re-elected (er, no, he lost to Bill Clinton)

1992 The Coronation of Charles III, the present Prince of Wales - (20+ years Later and his mum Elizabeth II is still on the throne !)

1993 California Earthquake plunges half of California underwater [California has lots of earthquakes so bravely they predicted the day and the very time itself - 7.05 on 8th May 1993]  It was going to be BAD. San Fransico, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego and Lower California all lost beneath the ocean and a new coast line formed.

"Nothing comparible to the predicted earthquake in 1993 has yet been experienced in America. Even the worst quake in 1906 ..... is likely to be viewed as minor by comparison (sic)"

- you've guessed it no earthquakes in California in 1993.  (you probably missed the predicted mass evacuation between 6th March 1992 and 3rd April 1993, the giant wave hitting Mexico, Hollywood being destroyed)

The humans landing on Mars in the year 2000 either never happend or was kept secret.  
The admission of women priest to the Church of England did take place - but it was predicted this would be on 2nd and 5th May 1995 and it actually happened in 1994.

What to conclude ?  Fiurstly, Nostradamus is not making these predictions - he is dead and it is other people in this case using a 'decoding method'. Secondly,  that people won't stop buying books about Nostradamus and his predictions.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Nothing new under the sun


The Sun makes up a story and runs it on the front page - a tiny correction is printed much later.

An interesting story, I remember reading reports of the Sun report and giving it the benefit of the doubt as being true.

To my mind, not only should newspapers who are shown to be wrecklessly and deliberately wrong be made to print apologies  with same prominence as the original article, the offended against person should be given control of what is printed.  So instead of the weasel word such as the sun is delighted to set the record straight - the article could instead say there was never any evidence of this story but such are the low journalistic standards employed by the sun, they ran it anyway as they thought it would boost sales.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Ignorance is bliss ?

Last night the Hansard Society published its10th annual “audit of political engagement”.

We learnt that barely 20 per cent of the public can name their local MP, half the number of just two years ago. Just one in 10 of 18- to 24-year-olds say they are certain to vote, down from three in 10 two years ago. Only 41 per cent of adults say they are guaranteed to vote in the next general election, compared to 48 per cent last year. And 20 per cent of voters are certain not to vote, twice as many as two years ago.
The scale of public ignorance is impressive: one third of voters are under the impression that they elect members of the House of Lords.

The burning of the Wickerman

A Day in May
the scarecrow
for titans
watches the celebrations
from afar
a corner of a field
hemmed in by trees
there will be no escape

the old play
reenacted once more
boasts and battles
life and death
reborn heroes
is this how it must be?

the music
drifts across the houses
drifts across the generations
to Romans, Jutes and an age of iron
carried on the wind
carrying backwards and forwards
thoughts to and from another time

children dance in front of the stage
like licks of flame
joy like fire
bursts from within
it spreads by contagion
to the youths and the women
and finally the old men

the sun sets
and the lot is drawn
no Tullund man today
not that kind of sacrifice
the match, the torch
the white light doubles
and doubles again
the yearning to touch the danger
is so strong
the dance continues

alive the giant
and dies
the straw
like the wishes and dreams
so carefully attached
sent skyward
and blown
to dust
by it's own inferno
the wickerman is gone