Friday, 30 November 2007

Quote of the day

“ You have to be careful who you let define your good.”

Lois McMaster Bujold

New Labour - Is it time they went?

New Labour was looking pretty tired when Tony Blair was still in charge. They thought getting rid of him might mend their fortunes. It seems they were wrong. Now we know for sure it wasn’t ‘just’ Tony Blair at all.

First there was their Government by increasingly empty sound bite and spin.

Since then, they have definitively demonstrated their manifesto promises can’t be relied on, by Gordon Brown’s betrayal of the electorate over his utter refusal to allow a the promised referendum over European Constitutional ‘Treaty’ – Demonstrating New Labour’s word can’t be trusted.

Brown then demonstrated a contemptible opportunistic vacillation over weather he should call a ‘snap’ election, allowing his minions to make preparations, brief and bluster at first in favour, when they thought they could win comfortably, then pulling their necks in when they thought things might be a bit closer than they liked. Finally his bottle went and he precipitously called it off . There he trashed his reputation for nerve and decisiveness.

Then their handling of the problems of the Northern Rock. As it is more by luck than judgement if the Virgin deal goes through they should eventually get their money back, the shares will be worth something again in the long term and the employees will keep their jobs, but if the Government had handled the matter more adeptly the public money would not have been hazarded in the first place. Yes economic factors were involved and the management of Northern Rock business model was also at fault, but New Labour demonstrated they could not handle a financial crisis without having a crisis themselves. This has sunk their reputation for financial competence.

They have managed to loose the personal details of millions and millions of citizens with their loss of the child benefit data. This is not the only case, just the most prominent. Other details have been lost on several occasions and some were sent to contactors and had to be returned. And these are only what we are aware of. New Labour’s Darling glove puppet chancellor, twisted, turned and made explanations to parliament that were frankly untrue, pathetically trying to blame a clerk a long way from Westminster, the best light that can be put on his performance is that he is incompetent and so are his officials, but then they already demonstrated that by loosing the data in the first place. And they expect us to trust them with a national ID database they will let every Tom, Dick or Harry, junior council clerk, trawl through at their leisure.

Then there is their holier than though posturing over finances. They bring in a new system, trumpeting their virtue - and then break the rules themselves. Firstly there is the accusation of selling honours to enrich the party coffers where the police find insufficient evidence. Then this matter of the secret donations laundered through third parties, in at least one case is seems, by subterfuge. So much for honesty, probity and trustworthiness.

They have mismanaged the health service. It has had billions poured into it to no obvious effect. NHS Hospitals today are riddled with super bugs, where if you can get treatment it is a real threat. People are refused treatment because the hospitals have a policy against their lifestyles. All to the extent that those who can go private, or abroad for treatment.

State education has had it’s reputation destroyed. People no longer trust the exam system to be an honest indicator or ability or achievement. Again it seems so much so that people are willing to beggar themselves to send their children to a good private school if they can’t gain admission to a reasonable state school. Every interfering initiative or new target only seems to make matters worse.

Then there is the creeping slide towards some sort of soft fascism with their manufacturing alarming statistics in order to justify intrusion, social engineering/controls and increased taxation over aspects of our lives that should be nothing to do with the state. Threats of increased taxes on ‘fattening’ foods, alcoholic drinks, even dustbins, etc.

Endless un-needed duplication of legislation in order to appear to be doing something.

They ignore petitions when it suits them, no matter how many people may have signed them.
The catalogue seems endless. This isn’t a blip - it’s the way it is.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Quote of the day

“ Whatever religious people may say about their love of God or the mandates of their religion, when their behaviour toward others is violent and destructive, when it causes suffering among their neighbours, you can be sure the religion has been corrupted and reform is desperately needed.”

Charles Kimball

Teacher charged in Sudan inciting hatred and insulting Islam over naming of Teddy Bear

Many of us will now be aware of the plight of Gillian Gibbons, a teacher fairly recently arrived in the Sudan, who is in trouble because she didn’t prevent a pupil of her’s named Mohammed naming a teddy bear after himself. It has been posted about quite a bit on the net.

Teddy bears have a pretty positive image, so inciting hatred is difficult to see and if a president of the US did not find it insulting to have them generically named after him, then why should it be seen as an insult?

In any event, it was not Gillian Gibbons who named the Teddy.

Before this incident I had rightly, or wrongly, largely associated the place largely with the slaughter and beheading of General Charles Gordon, in Khartoum, by ‘mad’ Mahdi Mohammed Ahmed - Now I have something else to tuck into my mental ‘Sudan’ pigeonhole with that.

And before anyone says it - no I have not forgotten Darfur, or the Sudanese government’s semi official military arm the Janjaweed.

The Sudanese Embassy had previously claimed it was all "storm in a teacup" and she could be released soon, as the incident was based on a cultural misunderstanding.

It seems this is not the case and she has now been charged with insulting religion, inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs. This could result in a fine, prison, or 40 lashes. It’s just as well New Labour had the teeth pulled on a bill introducing similar legislation here - for the moment.

It is difficult to see what the Sudanese authorities are playing at, one presumes they are not actually trying to bring Mohammedism and Sharia Law into disrepute, or make the average Westerner more suspicious of their co-religionists, but they would have found it difficult to do a better job of it if they were.

Maybe they are hoping to use the affair as leverage...

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Browser Wars

Whoa! For the first time over half the Site visitors are browsing with Firefox.

Is this a blip, or are the various versions of MS Explorer really loosing ground?

More interestingly - is this reflected on other sites? Does it depend on the type of site?

Comments welcome, especially if you can shed some light on any of the above.

Quote of the day

“ Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

Helen Keller

Health and safety. Is it time we did something about this ‘industry’?

We regularly read of cases where our way of life is being changed by health and safety for the worse, where things we have done and enjoyed largely safely as far back as living memory recalls are suddenly curtailed or banned.

The latest case is that 4 in every 10 employers will no longer make any contribution to a works Christmas bash. This used to be a perk that many enjoyed. Now apparently companies are shy of being sued because over things going wrong where they have made a contribution.

Bonfire celebrations, traditional charity races, Christmas lights, annual festivals, traditional celebrations events, private activities, amateur pantomimes, shows, flower shows, etc., etc.

The costs in complying with OTT rules, the vast number of man-hours used up in committees and assessments for every aspect of life. The huge sums spent employing health and safety experts. All this has gone too far.

No one would argue that we should not take care and try to be safe, but there is a reasonable limit. Too often this appears to be exceeded. Take things too far and dramatic as it sounds, you are in danger of having a greater detrimental impact on how we live our lives than the threat of terrorism.

It seems to be a combination of excessive backside covering by officials and businessmen afraid of being sued, or jailed. Using H&S as an excuse. The cost of complying with inappropriate H&S requirements. Plus a tendency on the part of those doing an assessment to want to find something just to show they are doing their job.

Carried too far Heath and Safety turns from a benefit into a curse that saps the spirit and enjoyment out of life and changes the way we live for the worse.

It is impossible to legislate all risk out of life and probably bad for society and the individual in the long run. Those who believe it is have good intentions but are misguided.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Quotes of the day

“ Free speech, exercised both individually and through a free press, is a necessity in any country where people are themselves free.”

Theodore Roosevelt

“Free speech is intended to protect the controversial and even outrageous word; and not just comforting platitudes too mundane to need protection”

Colin Powell

Controversy over Oxford Union Free speech event

The Oxford Union has decided to allow Nick Griffin, the British National Party (BNP) leader and David Irving, the historian who was jailed in Austria for ‘Holocaust denial’ to speak at a free speech event today.

This is billed as ‘examining the limits of free speech’ and should not be a platform for them to air any controversial views.

The predictable reflex protests have arisen from ‘advocates’ of free speech everywhere - including the Oxford Student Union, the university's Jewish society, Muslim society and Tory MP Julian Lewis who symbolically resigned his life membership of the union in protest.

The Muslim Societies apparent rejection of Griffin and Irving, presumably based on their views, seems promising, given the previous recent support of Islamist states for holocaust denial and genocide and certain parallels between the BNP and Islamists.

Though unfortunately their chosen means of expressing them tends to betray an authoritarian tendency and a cavalier attitude to free speech that we have unfortunately seen demonstrated so often before by their co religionists.

Also there are likely to be protestors intent on disrupting it. Weyman Bennett, National Secretary of pressure group Unite Against Fascism, showed just how much he knew about fascism when he smugly claimed:

"We are planning to have a big protest. There will be more people outside the Oxford Union than inside, and there will be more people outside the union than voted for this debate to go ahead."

He would have done better to ensure he was invited to participate and armed himself with all the arguments he needed to refute any attempt Griffin and Irving made to push their agenda and then went on to poke hole in anything else they said.

If you seek to suppress views you object to, and those who hold them, only supporting views compatible with your own – well frankly if you do not support free speech for everyone, including those you disagree with, then you do not really support free speech at all. You oppose it.

The whole point of debate is to air views and theories in the bright light of day, where they can be judged, if they are full of holes and do not hang together, it should be obvious to all - and then publicly shoot them down in metaphorical flames.

All extreme protests against these people and attempts to suppress, or silence them, does is make them look reasonable by comparison, hiding the faults in their ‘thinking’ under the fuss and demonstrate the poor thinking and authoritarian leanings of the objectors.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Quote of the day

“ Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other. ”

Ronald Reagan

Is UK Chancellor lying, or just poorly briefed?

There can be very few people in the UK who are not aware by now that the state has managed to misplace the personal details of millions of people. There are probably quite a few who are concerned about where their details will end up.

Your data – safe in their hands - just as well it wasn't the contents of a national ID database.

What’s more when the state is not loosing it they are parcelling it out to private companies.

Alistair Darling claimed in Parliament that the data was lost because:

“it appears that a junior official in HMRC provided the National Audit Office with a full copy of HMRC's data in relation to the payment of child benefit.

In doing so, the strict rules governing HMRC standing procedures were clearly not followed. Those procedures relate to the security of and access to data as well as their transit to ensure that they are properly protected."

Unfortunately it now ‘appears’ that this was nothing like what actually happened.

It seems the National Audit Office (NAO) were checking up on HMRC and needed some details to contact some ‘customers’ at random.

HMRC executives decided to provide the entire child benefit database (including bank account details, addresses and telephone numbers) or nothing, as it would apparently have cost £5K to filter the info – I bet they wish they had spent the money now…

Many of us who regularly handle databases for a living will wonder at this.

NAO insisted they did not need such details and urged the data to be sent as safely as possible. instead the whole database was sent in their internal mail.

The top official dealing with child tax credits, Nigel Jordan, was party to all this and could not possibly be accurately described as a junior official. He was senior enough to have chaired government committees on tax credit policy.

Is Alistair Darling telling Porkies, or just poorly briefed?

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Animal rights activists forced to hand over computer passwords

Now I don’t normally have much time for animal rights activists. Many of them seem to be more like people haters, than animal lovers.

However Tom Pain’s quote serendipitously posted yesterday eloquently points out why I and everybody else, should be concerned about their rights.

Earlier this month, some 30 animal rights activists are reported to have received letters from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in Hampshire requesting they hand over the passwords to decrypt data on seized computers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).

The PCs were seized in raids carried out in May 2007. Section 49, covering demanding keys only came into law on 1 October 2007, so presumably the authorities held onto the machines until they could use the Act and didn’t expect the activists would garner much sympathy in any case.

This Act effectively removes the right of silence from anyone who has something intensely private, or incriminating in any way on their computer, even if it is nothing to do with what is being investigated. It effectively forces a person to incriminate themselves and lays them open to a ‘fishing expedition’ on pain of two years imprisonment.

Another possibly even more disturbing part of the Act is section 54, a gagging order preventing the recipient telling anyone about the demand, thus presumably preventing them from making a fuss about it.

Putting recipients of the order in a similar position families who have had their children taken by social services who are gagged from defending themselves or complaining.

Not only that, it prevents anyone else, who subsequently may become aware of it telling anyone. In this case no such order was made, but if it had been it would presumably be an offence for the BBC to report on it or indeed for me to post on it.

The state will argue that they need these draconian powers to protect us from Terrorists, Paedophiles and Serious Crime. Is it really worth paying the price of seeing our freedom and rights eroded away by the state, piece by piece, to gain a marginal and possibly illusory increase in physical security?

Folks it’s not just the Terrorists, etc. you need to be afraid of…

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Environment Minister seeks to increase UK Cod Quotas

Jonathan Shaw, UK Environment Minister is planning to lobby the EU for an increase in cod quotas for the UK next month when they meet to decide 2008s quotas.

Predictably researchers, including the EU's advisers, say stocks are still too low.

Helen MacLachlan of the pressure group WWF UK complained: “I would say that 'business as usual' in the North Sea is not an acceptable position for a minister to be taking,"
"To be looking for an increase in cod quotas without changing fishing practices is unsustainable and untenable."

Callum Roberts of York university critiscised him saying; “If he's suggesting increases in cod quotas then he doesn't seem to be fully in control of his brief yet”

Their comments go with the ‘accepted wisdom’ of those who never actually do any fishing and rely entirely on theory.

Shaw may well have a point though.

Although it is seldom spoken of the UK has done rather badly out of the EU over fishing.

In order to be allowed the dubious ’benefits’ of joining the EU, the Government gave away fishing rights over the UK’s territorial waters it had formerly enjoyed - to allow them to be effectively plundered by European fishermen, to the detriment of our own. This over use helped damaged the stocks and devastated the UK fishing industry.

North Sea cod numbers appear to have experienced a small recovery in the last few years.

Also the fact is that the current EU quota system results in the needless killing and dumping of tons of cod. Thanks to the law of unintended consequences. When fishermen go hunting for prawn they often catch cod as well. If they are over their cod ‘quota’ these dead cod have to be dumped back into the sea.

So in fact many more cod are caught and killed than those setting the quotas realise and the quotas actually result in the appalling waste of tons of cod.

Quote of the day

“ He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”

Thomas Paine

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

UK Premier’s tough talking ‘War on Carbon Emissions’

Will climate change be Brown’s bid for world fame (or at least infamy)? His ‘War on Carbon Emissions’ to Blair’s ‘War on Terror’.

He is talking tough on carbon emissions. Legislation already in the planning stage sets the difficult target of cutting the UK's emissions by 60% by 2050.

Typical New Labour response to anything - more legislation than you can shake a stick at.

Not something Gordon will ever have to actually worry about the political chickens coming home to roost over though, as he is unlikely to still be in office then.

But that’s not tough enough for tough old Brown. He is apparently thinking of going even further, possibly even doubling of the targets to produce renewable energy by 2020. Again hopefully he will not be in office by then.

Renewable energy is OK, as far as it goes.

If Brown is actually serious about reducing carbon emissions he will stop playing around, get serious - and commit to a comprehensive nuclear generation program.

Quote of the day

“ Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises; for never intending to go beyond promises; it costs nothing.”

Edmund Burke

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Income Tax, Oversight and Government Accountability

Taxation is a bit like a multi-channel TV package crossed with a protection racket.

You get a load of rubbish that you wouldn't want for free - let alone actually have to pay for - forced upon you, along with a few things that you might actually want, some of the time – and if you don’t cough up the boys will be round...

Of course with the TV you are not actually forced to subscribe (except for the BBC TV Tax of course)

Most people don't know where their taxes are going, what they are being spent on, or why. If they did they probably wouldn’t approve of some of it - and until people can engage more with where their contribution goes they will be reluctant to endorse, or even support the expenditure. Voting just does not do it.

If it were actually the Government's money that would be no problem. But its' only the Government’s money in the sense that the proceeds of any robbery become the thief’s. Taxation is not voluntary.

So here’s an idea. What if only a 3rd of tax gathered actually went to the Government to do with as it would - But the rest the individual contributing it could, if they wanted to, decide where it went and on what, depending on their priorities.

It would still have go on something, but they could decide what. That would surely be much more democratic, help to engage the public in politics and make them feel more empowered.

It would harness the so-called wisdom of crowds and reduce available Government spending where it was not generally wanted and increase it where it was felt to be more needed. That way it is unlikely anything worthwhile would suffer, as people’s views would probably tend to balance out generally. Maybe the poor old armed forces might do better out of it for instance

Pensions, as an example. One would want to make sure it was kept up, for the benefit of elderly relatives and friends. Also you never know you might need it yourself, what with the former Chancellor making raids destroying the value of pension funds, best be on the safe side there.

Ditto for most of the important stuff. Those who actually make the effort to do it are likely to operate on the principles of enlightened self-interest to some extent.

You would have to watch that the Government didn’t try to loose details of some of the worst unpopular wastes of money in some innocuous budget. So you would need to drill down into the categories in some detail.

This could be done by post (forms from the library or post office, completed ones to a freepost address) or via the internet.

As they say Tax doesn’t have to be taxing…

Quote of the day

“ Taxation is very much like dairy farming. The task is to extract the maximum amount of milk with the minimum amount of moo. And I'm afraid to say, that these days, all I'm getting is moo.”

Terry Pratchett

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Saudi rape victim gets 200 lashes and six months

While the great and the good were busy sucking up to the Saudi King Abdullah on his recent State Visit, no doubt salivating at the prospect of more arms sales to the regime, one wonders if they gave much if any thought to this:

A 19 year old Shia girl went to meet her former boyfriend to get any pictures he had of her, as she was due to marry someone else. (Note at this point that the Shia are a minority in Saudi Arabia.)

They were discussing the matter in a car when seven Sunni men kidnapped them both and gang raped them both - Her 14 times!

Naturally enough they complained to the authorities – big, big, mistake.

They were both tried under Sharia law for being unchaperoned and sentenced to 90 lashes.

She made the even bigger mistake of appealing - so the court upped her sentence to 200 lashes and sixty days behind bars.

Their lawyer, Abdul-Rahman al-Lahem, is facing disciplinary action. His comment:

“My client is the victim of this abhorrent crime. I believe her sentence contravenes the Islamic Sharia law and violates the pertinent international conventions,"

"The judicial bodies should have dealt with this girl as the victim rather than the culprit.

"The court blamed the girl for being alone with unrelated men, but it should have taken the humane view that it cannot be considered her fault."

There is something deeply repulsive about a system that will do this and feel it justified.

Maybe a word in the right ear during that visit could have made this appalling miscarriage of justice go away - like the suggestion of anything untoward concerning certain commercial arrangements with the regime did - when they felt it might be ‘appropriate’.

Quote of the day

“ Never esteem anything as of advantage to you that will make you break your word or lose your self-respect”

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

Friday, 16 November 2007

Today Europe – Tomorrow the World!

During a speech at the College of Europe, in Brugge, Belgium, Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, has suggested the European Union should work towards including Russia, Middle Eastern and North African countries,

I have often suspected that the EU secretly wanted to regain all the ground the Roman Empire once held.

He then told (with acknowledgement to Burger King) a double whopper: "The truth is that the EU has enlarged, remodelled and opened up.”

And here it comes…

“It is not and is not going to become a superstate. But neither is it destined to become a superpower."

He went on more frankly, that a successful EU must be prepared to "deploy soft and hard power to promote democracy and tackle conflict beyond its borders" and its goal "must be a multilateral free-trade zone around our periphery".

So one could be forgiven for interpreting what he is suggesting as; if you are a neighbour of the EU, then one way or another, you will be persuaded to fit in with what the EU wants and in the longer term will probably be swallowed up and if the ‘softly softly’ approach doesn’t work then there is always the hard way.

Quote of the day

“ They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Benjamin Franklin

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Innocent until proven guilty? Not in the UK anymore it seems

I was channel hopping last night and I saw one of those ‘enforcement’ programs where they follow police and bailiffs.

One incident struck me. Liverpool police were trying out this piece of kit that appeared to combine an automated number plate recognition camera with a database, or databases.

A car registered on their system driven by a woman on the way to help arrange her mother’s birthday party, she had the cake and children with her.

This wonderful piece of kit flagged her up as uninsured, the last one had recently expired.

When they spoke to her she was adamant they had cover. Her husband had arranged it with a different insurer. What insurer? Could she prove it?, they asked. Not right there and thenshe couldn't.

There did not appear to be any doubt as to her identity. They knew where she lived. The vehicle had current tax and you can’t get that without insurance.

Given her strenuous and obviously sincere insistence that they had insurance the sensible thing would surely have been to ask her to produce her documents within seven days at a police station and let her go on the way to arrangeing the party.

Not these boys though. Maybe they were performing for the camera - maybe not.

The computer says No!

So I presume the presumption of the law of the land is no longer ‘innocent until proven guilty’, certainly not according to the Liverpool Police.

They turned her out of her vehicle together with her children and the cake and stuck big stickers all over the windscreens saying the vehicle was uninsured.

At the end of the program it was mentioned that she had been insured all along. Her husband had changed companies and the new details had not found it’s way onto the clearly inadequate database.

So here we have a perfectly law abiding person forbidden from lawfully going about her business, on the whim of a police officer with a discretion (and common sense) bypass, on the basis of an inadequate incomplete database.

Presumably causing her considerable inconvenience, stress, embarrassment and some expense. Her only 'crime' bing her husband changed insurance companies.

A database is not definitive proof someone is uninsured. She could and did easily prove she was insured given the opportunity, but surely it should be the job of the police to prove she was uninsured, not the other way round and their precious database did not and could not do that.

I remember thinking as I watched the segment unfold, that if the family had changed insurers the new details may have been slow finding their way onto the system. Why could the police officer not have worked that out.

More worryingly, one fears it is a taste of things to come. God help us all if New-Lab do introduce their precious Fascist ID cards and almost certainly unreliable (just like other systems they have introduced) database to go with it.

“Don’t have your ‘voluntary’ ID with you card? Can’t prove who you are then, can you? Must be an illegal immigrant. You’re nicked.”

Quote of the day

“The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. Instead of altering their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views. Which can be very uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.”

Doctor Who

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

New-Labs promises on education look empty ten years on

If you had ordered something ten years ago and paid through the nose for it you might have expected to have, at lest, had sight of it by now.

Lancaster University has conducted research into New-Lab’s specialist schools programme and it’s Excellence in Cities initiative. They have concluded that, despite billions being spent on them the government’s policies have provided "meagre" benefits.

Cambridge University have published an interim report from a wide-ranging, independent, two-year review of primary education pointing out that despite some £500m spent so far on literacy standards of reading have been "more or less static since the 1950s".

New-Lab’s ‘National Literacy Strategy’ had "a barely noticeable effect" on reading ability and has apparently managed to significantly reduce any actual enjoyment children get from reading – bound to make them want to read then – not.

Further the literacy levels of the poorest children have dropped even further behind their peers than anywhere else in Europe.

It is a damning indictment on the Government and it didn’t need the universities to find that out, as virtually any parent with school aged children will attest, though perhaps it does to provide concrete evidence of it that the government can’t ignore.

We can only hope that the government pay more attention to what actually really works and less to educational and political theory, though one fears it is unlikely given that government interference is so often the kiss of death to anything they take an interest in with their regulations, policies and omnipresent measurements and targets.

“Schools ‘n’ Hospitals”, “14 Days to save the NHS” - but only if you are actually com-pet-ent. It all rings rather hollowly now but the spin goes on.
It seems that the official reaction to the reports were right in the river with the Egyptian crocodiles :-)

High Speed Rail Link

As many of us are aware the first of the Eurostar passenger services to Paris and Brussels are due to roll out of the magnificently refurbished St Pancras International at 11:01 this morning.

An undeniably magnificent achievement.

The new high-speed rail link now means that it is possible to go from the heart of London to the heart of Paris in 2 hrs and fifteen minutes. With, it has to be said, considerably less bother than the flying and in greater comfort, but at greater expense by comparison to flying. Even so it is no so great when one takes in the convenience and lack of the sort of problems with check in and security encountered at airports – more civilised.

So that’s the good part. It is fine for those who can get to StPancras/King’s Cross easily. The High Speed line known optimistically as High Speed 1 cost £5.8bn.

Unfortunately there seem to be no plans for a High Speed Link to the North. So what does someone who lives in Manchester or Edinburgh do? Or those in the west? Given the comparatively steep costs of rail travel within the UK, they do what they are already doing - They fly. So that means it is probably of little practical use to the majority of the country.

So how much real utility will the high-speed line actually be, apart from to Euro MPs and the like?

And would the money have been better used on first building a high speed lines from/to the North and West?

Quote of the day

“ Bad law is the worst sort of tyranny.”

Edmund Burke

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Quote of the day

“ Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”

Mahatma Gandhi

Yet more ‘calls’ for increased UK stealth taxation on alcohol

The BBC Reports that an ‘Alliance’ has been formed by ‘medical organisations’ and ‘charities’ to increase pressure on the government to curb excessive drinking and provide more ‘resources’ for alcohol-related health problems and increasing tax.

An ‘alliance’ coincidentally makes it difficult to follow the money, but normally when an individual pressure group/charity sticks it’s head above the parapet individually, they have a strong vested interest in talking up funding for themselves, and/or they are directly, or indirectly, funded by the state - so have a strong vested interest in promoting more taxation for their paymasters. Alcohol Concern for instance is largely funded by UK Department of Health.

It is interesting to note that many groups that regularly call on the Government to raise taxation levels for various reasons are part of a set of Russian dolls, that if you follow the money, through various sources eventually turn out to be State funded.

These groups justify their claims by inflating the statistics on their particular bête noire to include not only examples of their particular ‘problem behaviour’ but by stretching the goal mouth a significant proportion of the general population. Alcohol being a particular case in point.

'Hazardous' drinking for instance - The way that is classified would effectively make the entire French nation, who are held up both as both healthy and as sensible continental drinkers, hazardous drinkers, according to the state-funded NWPHO. I am sure the French will be pleased to hear that.

The BBC report contains uncritically reported claims about under age drinking yet their own recent reporting points out that fewer underage teenagers are drinking regularly, due, according to a Trading Standards survey, at least in part, to more effective enforcement of the perfectly adequate existing sales regulations.

Is it not time the public stood up to these people and told them where to stick their dubious reports, authoritarian ways and continuous demands for higher stealth taxes?

Monday, 12 November 2007

Blog Readability

Some web fluff here - I am not sure if this is good or bad. I ran CFD through the Blog Readability Test (Hat tip to the Surreptitious Evil blog) it recons you need to be a genius to understand it.

Reading Level

So regular visitors and new visitors who can make sense of it – Congratulations you a clearly genius level great thinkers – and so must I be ;-)

The downside? Maybe I would improve my web traffic if I stopped being so high brow…

Chavez meets his match

During the closing speeches of the 17th Ibero-American Summit (a sort of Spanish version of the meeting of commonwealth head of states) on Saturday evening, in Santiago, Chile. Venezuelan President Hugo Chav-ez barracked the Spanish PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, keeping interrupting his speech.

Eventually it got too much and probably with the prospect of getting out of there any time soon receding before his eyes, the Spanish King Carlos demanded; "¿Por qué no te callas?"("Why don't you shut up?") - As one head of state to another.

Probably not the first, by any means, to harbour those sentiments, but one of the few able to say it to his face.

Quote of the day

“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”

John F. Kennedy

French territorial ambitions over Wallonia?

It seems the French may be harbouring territorial ambitions over Wallonia, (Région Wallonne) the largely French speaking part of Belgium, now Belgium has no government, presumably on the basis of finders keepers if the original owner can not be established.

Up to their old tricks? The French First Republic annexed the area in the 18th century.

Of course there are a significant number of German speakers live in the east of Wallonia (Wallonische Region) - Could get interesting…

The lack of government is not such a problem for Belgium as they have regional governments that can manage quite well

UK – Rubbish at Rubbish?

The Local Government Association (LGA) are reporting that the UK dumps more rubbish in landfill sites than any other country in the EU, despite massively increasing our recycling, reducing the amount of rubbish landfilled by 3.6% it seems European countries had also cut their landfill amounts.

I would be more impressed by these figures if I could find out the actual tonnage. As it’s easy to reduce the percentage of 100 things but 1,000,000 is much more difficult to influence.

Also It would be interesting to know exactly what these European paragons of rubbish disposal actually do with their rubbish when they are not using landfill as a means of disposal.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Quote of the day

“ the nature of the people is variable, and whilst it is easy to persuade them, it is difficult to fix them in that persuasion. And thus it is necessary to take such measures that, when they believe no longer, it may be possible to make them believe by force.”

Niccolo Machiavelli

Founder of weather channel says global warming is a scam

Some interesting comments on Global warming from the weather channel man John Coleman. Coleman, now the weather anchor on KUSI-TV, San Diego, California and the meteorologist who made it his business to be right about the weather founding the weather channel.

So presumably he must know a thing or two about the climate.

That is why it is so interesting when he says that manmade climate change is a scam. You can see him here if the video above does not work.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Book Review

The Weapon
by Michael Z Willamson

Published by Baen ISBN-13 978-14165-2118-1
Science Fiction

At £4.40on Amazon UK
or $7.99 Amazon US

Ken Chinran lived on an independent minded Freehold colony world that had declared independence from earth. A very bright and somewhat disaffected youth who joins the military and is recruited to an elite military unit.

The story follows his incredibly tough training and subsequent military career and development, during diplomatic postings and in combat, as he matures and his career progresses.

Meanwhile the diplomatic situation between his home world and the Earth Government deteriorates and he is recruited to lead a deep cover operation on Earth against the possibility of war.

Plenty of military action with a ring of truth, the novel also considers the impact of combat and war on all those involved, on causes and motivations. An excellent read, both entertaining and thought provoking.

Nu-Lab look at increasing Speeding penalties

According to the BBC ministers are looking at a scheme to increase the penalty points for drivers caught speeding. So travelling at 15mph above the 30mph limit could result in 6 points and £100 fine.

This seems a far cry from where Blunkett in one of his incarnations was talking about a graduated scheme where the penalty might be less for minor infringements.

The fact is, that this form of stealth taxation on drivers is now so prevalent, that having points on your licence has virtually lost any stigma - and is only relevant (to the generally law abiding) in so far as they mount up to a ban. That on some routes you see far more speed cameras than the Belisha beacons of zebra crossings.

Surely it would make sense if one got a point and a £25 fine for every 5 miles an hour over the limit you were clocked at. With the first 5 mph free. Oh and get rid of 80% of the ‘speed' traps.

Reasonably fair simple and easy to understand - so there is no way Nu-Lab will adopt that idea.

Quote of the day

“ We should be careful to get out of an experience, only the wisdom that is in it - and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid.

She will never sit on a hot stove lid again - and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.”

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain)

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Quote of the day

“ As soon as any man says of the affairs of the State "What does it matter to me?" the State may be given up for lost.”

Jean Jacques Rousseau

UK Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – Yet another threat to free speech

Remember the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill? It has been hanging around since 2006.

It is another of the endless series of legislation the government like to trot out to make it look as if there is any point to them - which it seems there is not, as Belgium, the heart of the EU, are about to celebrate 150 days without a government, hat tip to the ‘Looking for a Voice’ blog.

The bill is actually a multitude of barely related things, many of which it would be difficult to object to that cover for some innocently packaged bits of legislation with some dangerous consequences to liberty, if taken any distance at all.

One of the bits they are trying to slip in (and what it has to do with immigration or indeed criminal justice is difficult to see) is: “Outlawing incitement to homophobic hatred and hatred against transgender people by amending the current offence of incitement to racial hatred in the Public Order Act 1986.”

Not content with this it seems the government are actually touting for other categories of people to include such as the disabled and transsexuals, to push to 'make the case' to extend it to cover them.

On the face of it like much of New Labour’s government by facile sound bite, it sounds ok. The devil, as they say, is in the detail – Much like the ‘Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill’ and the ‘incitement to religious hatred’ tucked away in it, that could have resulted in someone criticising, or satirising religion, or some aspect of it doing 10 years in pokey.

That was rightly watered down when people realised the actual implications and what the government were trying to get away with.

So should this ‘Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill’ be.

This government has a sinister compulsion to legislate to control and criminalise social mores, manners and interactions time and time again.

What will happen to the Little England team if this new bill is enacted? They press so many of the bills buttons they could end up doing life - yet what they do actually seems to increase tolerance.

You may well think that would never be a problem, but there are people out there who seem to make a profession of being offended at the drop of a hat over anything - and there are always ambitious ‘human rights industry’ lawyers willing to try to make a name for themselves.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Site Stats and Browser Wars

Looking at the site stats it looks as if Firefox is a fraction ahead of MS IE7 at 44% and 41% respectively. IE6 is fading at 15%.

It would be interesting to know how this compares with other sites traffic. And if different sorts of sites get visitors who use browsers in different ratios.

Selective inactivation of micro-organisms - Zapping Bugs

This could have far reaching consequences.

Specifically ‘Selective inactivation of micro-organisms with near-infrared femtosecond laser pulses’ - That means zapping targeted bugs with lasers to the rest of us.

The process is being proved by a team of 4 (K T Tsen, Shaw-Wei D Tsen, Otto F Sankey and Juliann G Kiang) in the US, based in Arizona.

Just the sort of thing they promised us in the late 50s and early 60s - and it seems that someone may be finally set to deliver on it.

Seriously, if they can bring it off practically, this could have very far reaching consequences indeed. They may be well on the way of developing an effective way of using lasers to selectively kill bacteria and Virus organisms without harming the cells that we are made of. Because of the wavelengths used the lasers will be able to penetrate body tissue.

A way of sterilising an object a room or a whole body, inside and out, that could stop and cure any germ, or viral, infection, including aids, or a flue pandemic.

Lets hope the bugs have no way to adapt to it.

Now - Where is the flying car for every family…

Quote of the day

“ To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.”

Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Quote of the day

“ The highest manifestation of life consists in this: that a being governs its own actions. A thing which is always subject to the direction of another is somewhat of a dead thing”

Thomas Aquinas

EU moves to tighten controls on movement and the internet

Franco Frattini, the EU Justice Commissar Commissioner has a plan, a cunning plan.

It involves ’tough new anti terror proposals’ – and we all know that’s good, don’t we?

Especially the, highly trained, crack BBC old lady interviewee squad. Who will generally enthusiastically approve anything, up to and including, summary executions on street corners, on the grounds that ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’.

It seems one of the things they are looking at is based on the practice of gathering Passenger Name Record (PNR) data, adopted by the US post 9/11.

Frattini wants to make it obligatory for all EU states to collect 19 pieces of personal information about people flying to or from member states and store it for up to 13 years. Including a phone number, e-mail address and payment details.

The plan apparently also pays special attention to the internet…

Even some EU legislators have voiced privacy concerns over the proposals, but the steely Fratelli said: "There is no room for complacency - for letting our guard down,"

Some EU parliamentarians questioned the EUs enthusiasm for yet more and more anti-terror measures, when the effectiveness of those put in place following the Madrid and London have not even been properly evaluated yet.

They also pointed out that some of them, such as the restrictive rules limiting liquids allowed on EU-bound flights show no indication at all of having any positive impact on security.

Martine Roure, MEP for South East France, argued “We should look at the efficiency of the EU legislation in this area. Some extremely restrictive measures have been adopted. Some haven't had the results expected, and some might even lend a false sense of security."

Monday, 5 November 2007

Quote of the day

“ When a thing is funny, search it carefully for a hidden truth.”

George Bernard Shaw

Lawyers batoned by Pakistani Police

The BBC are clearly shocked this morning about a Reuters report quoting Akhtar Hussain, a former president of the Sindh High Court Bar Association.

He is quoted as saying: "Police beat lawyers with batons as they came to the High Court in the morning” - "Many of them have been arrested."

This was because they were protesting outside the High Court in Karachi, Pakistan against the state of emergency, declared in the country over the weekend.

As I read it, the thought occurred to me. They are significantly more shocked than if this had happened to any other sorts of protestors. They expect their readers to be more shocked too. It is an almost subconscious assumption. As if lawyers should have been immune because they were lawyers. As if the rules that apply to the rest of humanity should not apply to them.

Then the black humour of the situation hit me and I thought. “It’s about time, they had it coming if anyone did”.

Now I am not commenting on the current situation in Pakistan here, or the rights and wrongs of it.

What I am commenting on, is that the BBC’s reaction tellingly reveals just how well the political elite have the public and the media conditioned.

The legal profession is, for want of a better word, the spawning ground of many politicians in the West and the Anglosphere, for some reason we do tend to think of them as untouchable, either in one sense of the word or the other ;-) No doubt they would prefer us to continue to think they should be viewed that way.

With the BBC projecting that unconscious assumption no doubt it will…

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Getting Warmer?

The Devil’s Kitchen makes some interesting arguments concerning the methodologies of the Anthropomorphic Global Warming cheering section. I recommend you have a look at his post.

From what he quotes it sounds as if, effectively, they may be fiddling the figures and any rising temperature trend since the 60s may well be in their adjustments, or ‘corrections‘ ;-) to the actual figures.

Quote of the day

“ There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.”

John Adams

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Quote of the day

“ One of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them:

It is a well known fact, that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.

Anyone who is capable of getting themselves into a position of power should on no account be allowed to do the job.

Another problem with governing people is people.”

Douglas Adams

Friday, 2 November 2007

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November...

“Remember, remember, the Fifth of November,
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.
I know of no reason,
why Gunpowder Treason,
should ever be forgot…”

It is at this time of year that we, in the UK, celebrate ‘Guy Fawkes night’, November the 5th. Though more often at the weekends either side of it. In remembrance of a plot to blow up parliament in 1605.

It is said that that Fawkes was: "The only man to ever enter parliament with honourable intentions"

These days it sometimes seems we celebrate it, almost as much for the fact that someone actually had a go in the first place - as for the foiling of the attempt.

Guy Fawkes (13 April 1570 – 31 January 1606), b. 13 April 1570 in Stonegate, in the city of York and former centre of power of Richard III.

Christened 'Guye Fawxe and raised a Protestant Anglican he became a Roman Catholic at 16, possibly because his tutor at school was Roman Catholic possibly because his stepfather was.

He joined the army of Archduke Albert of Austria and went to fight alongside the armies of Catholic Spain, against the Protestant United Provinces in the Netherlands.

It around then that he took to calling himself Guido, the Spanish version of Guy. He served for many years as a soldier and in the process gained became an explosives expert.

A group of English Roman Catholics, lead by Robert Catesby, hatched a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament, during the state opening when all the movers and shakers would be there.

The plan being, killing King James I of England and ending Protestant ascendancy by wiping out everyone crowded into parliament. They probably picked Fawkes, as much for his expertise with explosives, as his muscular devotion to Roman Catholicism.

James was a moderate for the time, criticising both fundamentalist Puritans and Catholics. So there was little assistance on offer from an over extended Spain.

The plan was due to be carried out on November the 5, 1605. Guy was looking after the explosives hidden in the cellars of Parliament in the early hours when he was caught red handed and arrested.

One of the plotters had let the cat out of the bag by warning William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle, not to attend the sate opening. William Parker went to the authorities and that was the end of that.

Fawkes was made of pretty stern stuff and refused to reveal who his fellows were, even under torture – until they did the job for him. Realising it had all gone wrong they rather gave the game away by taking up arms against the authorities.

Fawkes was found guilty and executed.

The BBC ran a poll in 2002, to find out who the public thought were the ‘100 Greatest Britons of all time’. Guy came in at No 30…

Thursday, 1 November 2007

UK think tank wants to Downgrade Christmas to be 'even-handed' to non-Christians

The Institute of Public Policy Research in all it’s think-tanky ‘brilliance’ has decided it might be a good idea to downgrade Christmas.

I know it’s become too commercial over the last few decades - but why? To help make the UK more multi cultural. That’s why?.

Just when the consensus amongst the ‘great and good’ had worked it’s way round to the conclusion that ‘multiculturalism’ does not work, is devisive and causes more harm than good. The IPPR is marching the other way.

They are suggesting it in the interests of even-handedness and argue we should mark other religious festivals in the same way.

Some problems there – Exactly how many of them?

If you are not going to accord all religions the same treatment what ones do you ignore and how do you justify it?

Should they all be Bank Holidays? When will anyone work if they are?

Their ‘solution’ looks rather more like just another opportunity for the law of unintended consequences to wreak damage and cause ill feeling, just another bunch of cognoscenti eroding of social cohesion…

UKERC worried they have their sums wrong.

The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) recons it may have got it’s sums wrong by up to 30%.

Firstly we need to realise that the figure up to 30% clearly includes zero percent, the weasel words are ‘up to’.

Of course the underlying implication is that just persuading people to buy energy ‘saving’ devices is not going to do it, because those wacky citizens will just waste the money saved by using less energy on something else that uses energy and destroys the planet anyway.

So ‘SOMEONE’ needs to ensure they can’t spend all that extra money that would otherwise just be burning (and that produces CO2 too, doesn’t it) a hole in their pocket.

Well taxation ought to solve that problem and it will be a ‘GOOD’ and ‘MORAL’ tax that saves the planet too.

Now lets follow the money…

The UKERC are funded by three ‘Research Councils’:
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

And who finds them? Why the UK Government - they are basically organs for distributing tax payers money. Much from the Department of Trade and Industry’s share of it.

Now lets look at the UKERC’s argument. Take Compact Fluorescent ‘bulbs’, leaving aside the mercury pollution they can cause and the fact that, at least in my actual experience, they do not last anywhere near as long as advertised.

An equivalent 60-watt bulb that can actually be used with a dimmer would cost around £11.60. The saving that can be had from using it is around £7 per year. Even a standard 100w equivalent would cost around a fiver. So in fact initially one would have less money to spare having paid out more for the bulb than normal. One could not expect the bulbs to have paid for themselves before at least 9 to 19 months.

Only then can you nip out and waste your extra £7 a year on a 4X4, or a plasma TV. Or maybe loft insulation, or another CF Bulb, or double-glazing - Because if you are into saving energy then that is the direction you will probably be thinking in.