Thoughts from an active pensioner who is now somewhat past his Biblical "Use-by date"

"Why just be difficult, when with a little more effort you can be bloody impossible?"

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Let's have a go at the (Conservative) drinkers!

The Sunday Telegraph reports today that Darling is proposing to massively increase the tax on spirits, particularly whisky, gin and vodka. This is designed to appease the health lobby and show that ministers are serious about tackling the problems caused by binge drinking.
It is suggested that a bottle of A bottle of Bells whisky could rise from £14.79 to £23.73 while Gordon's gin would increase from £12.79 to £21.17. Note that there is no suggestion of any increase in the tax on beer, which is, of course, the main drink of working class Labour voters.
As I have a double whisky most nights before bed, and Mrs EP is partial to more than an occasional G&T, this is going to cause major budgetary problems in EP's household. Clearly an increase in the number of European or Irish holidays will be called for.
As you can bring back enough drinks for your personal use, I wonder what the attitude will be at our Customs. My double each night is a nominal 50ml (provided I don't pour with a too heavy hand!) so a litre bottle will last me 20 days. So 10 bottles would last me six months or so. Has anyone got any ideas as to whether I'd get away with that number as it looks as if I'll be changing from Famous Grouse to Jameson's!

Friday, 26 February 2010

Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust; Why no prosecutions?

Today, the headlines in the Daily Telegraph read:
"It is beyond belief that in a modern city like Birmingham, a child of seven was withdrawn from school and kept in squalid conditions for five months before finally dying of starvation"

But equally well, virtually the same headlines could have been used yesterday about the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust:
"It is beyond belief, that in a modern country like England, patients were kept in squalid conditions and robbed of their dignity before finally dying of  neglect".

When a child at home dies of neglect, quite rightly, the parents are prosecuted for murder, or as in in the above case, for manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Yet something like 1200 patients in a major hospital died after being thoroughly neglected and being "abused by hostile staff and left in humiliating and undignified conditions". They were "robbed of their dignity" and left in soiled bedclothes, unwashed and in states of undress in full view of others until the eventually died. Even Dr Shipman didn't do that as he killed his victims quickly with drugs.

What is the difference between a single child and a major hospital? In both cases vulnerable people were neglected by the very people who were supposed to be caring for them; the only difference is that those in the NHS Trust could hardly claim "diminished responsibility"!

So why the difference? When a single child dies those responsible are prosecuted. When a single doctor or nurse kills someone, even by accident, they are prosecuted.  When there is mass killing all those responsible seem to get off scot-free. Indeed, even worse, most of the senior management have resigned, received large pay-offs and gone on to similar jobs elsewhere.

When the Herald of Free Enterprise sank in 1987 killing 193 people, there were demands that the Company Directors should be prosecuted. Following the Paddington train crash in 1999 when 31 people were killed and 520 were injured, there were similar demands. But when a NHS Trust kills more people than were killed and injured in the previous two events, there is absolute silence and total inaction.

We need action from the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (or even the Health and Safety Executive); there is no reason why there should be one rule for the public service and another for private companies or individuals.


Wednesday, 24 February 2010

"Three strikes and you are out"

A 19 year old teenager has been convicted in Burnley of 101 offences, mainly burglaries,  committed since the age of 10. He is suspected of being responsible for many more. (Daily Telegraph)
The serial burglar is now serving a three-year prison sentence under the Government’s “three strikes and out” rule. 

For nine years he has carried out these crimes without getting caught. Regretably I must conclude that either he is very clever or the police very stupid.
It seems the later is most probable as Insp Mark Baines, of Lancashire Police, said: “Craig is a prolific, persistent offender who has blighted the lives of the local community.This sentence should send out a strong message that police take this type of crime very seriously and this behaviour will  not be tolerated." If he believes that there should be a squadron of flying pigs over Burnley any time now!

Another Officer involved semed to be more realistic : “It’s very pleasing to see him get locked up, but I’m sure it won’t be long before he’s re-offending again when he gets out"

It is clear from this episode that we definitely need police chiefs who are directly accountable to the local community. It also raises the question of why criminals like this serve concurrent sentences, as it seems that he would probably have got less except for the "Three strikes and out" rule!

I've never understood the logic of concurrent sentences; if this was America, he'd have served consecutive sentences and with, say, six months for each offence he wouldn't be out for fifty years. As it is he will probably be out in less than a year!

Saturday, 20 February 2010


I was sitting with my grandson watching a recording of one of his favourite night time programmes which I had made from the BBC a few days previously,  when I noticed this scene:

I wonder if the producers had ever seen this flag before?
It is, of course, the military flag used by the Japanese Army and Navy during World War 2
Probably they are all far to young to realize the significance of their design and the similarity to this flag, but I did wonder if there might be any ex-Japanese POWs who might also have been watching this video with a grandchild? I can just imagine the outcry if they had happened to use a very ancient design, now known as a swastika, in the program.

Thursday, 18 February 2010


I am a firm believer in assassination, I believe that targeted assassination could have saved thousands if not millions of lives in the past and could continue to do so in the future.
Just imagine if Hitler had been assassinated in 1938, Would the remaining hierarchy have still gone ahead with his plans; Would World War 2 have taken place? What about Saddam Hussein; would we have had to invade Iraq?
The recent assassination of a Hammas terrorist arms dealer in Dubai has my full approval, regardless of who carried it out. Personally, I do not believe that it was the Israelis as it does not seem to be their style. How many people do you need to carry out a killing like this. I know James Bond would manage single handed, as indeed did the Russians on at least two occasions in the UK. Thus it is difficult to understand why more than three people would be needed, possibly six at the outside if they didn't know at which hotel he would be staying. Why use European passports; surely it would have been better to use those of an Arab country. And as for disguises, surely Arab dress would have been more suitable, particularly for the women.
It has been suggested that it was a dissident Arab group; there is some suggestion of torture, perhaps they were trying to gain access to the Hammas funds.
Another reason is that, strangely, I trust the Israelis to keep a promise. They undertook, following the discovery of some British passports in the possession of a Mossad agent, not to use forged British passports again in exchange for being readmitted into the intelligence community. Now, as far as I am aware, Israel has always kept their promises provided that the other party has done the same, which is why I would trust them.
I am convinced that this killing was carried out by some Arab country who is against Hammas or by some other Arab terrorist group, and in doing so have tried to place the blame on Israel. I certainly don't believe that it is a double bluff by Israel!
I just look forward to a real Mossad assassination in Iran which could avoid yet another major conflict.

Incidentally, I wonder why on earth Milliband bothered to see the Israeli ambassador; Clearly the ambassador would not admit to his country being involved. Presumably it was just for the British public and media.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

A Regulator for Football - Yet another Quango

According to today's Sunday Telegraph, the Government is considering appointing a regulator to oversee football.
This has apparently been brought about by the recent string of financial crises which have occurred in some leading clubs. The proposal is that the game would effectively be run under licence from a government appointed regulator in a similar manner to the privatised utilities.
What on earth has a sport got to do with the government? I never understood why we had to have a Minister for Sport, this is an even more ridiculous proposal. If the clubs are formally constituted as companies, they should be dealt with under company law; no special arrangements should be necessary.
It is claimed that there is "a great deal of anger over what has happened recently", but this is hardly a reason for interfering. As far as I can see, the anger is mainly confined to the Revenue to whom Portsmouth owe £7.4 million in tax, and to the Portsmouth fans who object to their club being forced into bankruptcy by the Revenue. It is perhaps reasonable to ask why the Revenue allowed such a large debt to accumulate.
But Quangos can't resist expanding their remit. What about racial equality - do we have enough white players in the major teams? And they'd better keep an eye on school football (where it still exists); have the child protection laws been met?
How long before it starts to look at other sports such a Rugby and Cricket?
How do I apply for the job as Chairman?

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Is Local Government really a Job Creation Scheme?

On the 26th November last year I phoned our local council to report the state of the tree outside my house. During the winds, quite a few branches (1" or more in diameter) had fallen and I felt that it was potentially dangerous to passers-by. I removed the fallen branches from the footpath to the council-owned grass verge thinking that I'd leave them for the council's workers to see.
Yesterday, I received a letter from the council's transport department, thanking me for my phone call and advising me that the Forestry and Aboricultural [sic] Advisor for the County Council has been asked to make an inspection when he is next in the area, following which I will be advised of any action to be taken.
What happened to the good old-fashioned odd-job team of my era, a couple of men in a truck who would do deal with things like this along with other minor jobs like loose paving stones and minor pot-holes? Before anything can be done, someone in a (posh) car has to come along and inspect it first, probably costing the tax payer more than it costs to do the actual job.
Are these the people who have threatened to strike of the Government makes any cuts to publice services? If so, I'm hardly going to miss them!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Is it worth buying a daily newspaper?

Ever since I started work, I have bought a daily newspaper. When I first went to work, I bought the Daily Express, which was somewhat different in those days than it is now. It cost me 1d (approx 0.4p). As I obtained more qualifications I changed to the Daily Telegraph, mainly because it had most of the job advertisements for my chosen profession. This cost 1½d (approx 0.6p).
Although I tried other papers at various periods in my life, since I retired I have continued to read the Telegraph, and of recent years have paid for it annually.
Now I am beginning to find that there is less of interest to me in the daily newspapers. Much news seems to consist of Big Brother, sex scandals, sport, and what I regard as trivia. Rarely is there much more detail than on the television or radio news, the only advantage being that I can skip the parts in which I have no interest. If I want any detailed foreign news, it is far better to read other countries' newspapers on the web. Indeed, when I first went to America, I found their newspapers and news rather strange; rarely did anything outside the particular state get a mention. Regrettably this now seems to be the same with the British media. Look for news about Australia, New Zealand or even Canada, and the chance of finding any is minimal. The same applies to Europe; rarely is there news about anything other than the EU, the only exception being Presidents/Prime Ministers and their wives and girl friends.
So should I pay for another year's subscription? I don't really want both a Saturday and a Sunday newspaper, the news is usually unchanged and the supplements almost identical. Frequently most of the supplements go straight into the bin without being read, I just don't have the time. But that would only save me £1.90, which still means that even if I went without a paper on another day, it would still cost me 20p more than a subscription!
On the plus side is the fact that I invariably walk to the newsagent to pick up my paper, as having paid for it, I am determined not to waste the money! I suspect without this incentive I'd probably be sitting in front of this computer reading blogs and getting absolutely no exercise!
Decisions, decisions, decisions! No escape, even when you retire!

Incidentally, when I first started to buy my newspaper, as I said it cost 1d. Postage at that time cost 2½d, two and a half times the cost of my daily paper. Now I'm no great supporter of Royal Mail, but however you look at it, their prices are now considerably less than my daily newspaper!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

What is "A Professional"?

The three traditional professions were considered to be the Church, the Law and Medicine. Anybody else who had skills gained as a result of an apprenticeship was considered to have a trade. Over the years the meanings of these words has changed and by the time I started work it was generally accepted to apply to corporate members of certain Chartered Institutions such as the Institutions of Electrical/Civil/Mechanical Engineers, the Chartered Institute of Architects, the Chartered Institute of Accountants and perhaps a few others. Not included at that time were teachers, nurses or "managers"; certainly not football players or estate agents!
So what was a professional?
It is difficult to find a clear definition, most being based on today's misuse of the word; however one of the best that I have found is that
"The hallmark of a profession used to be a period of prolonged study resulting in formal qualification, followed by a period of apprenticeship or on the job training followed by independent practice. Independent practice is then subject to standards of behaviour and competence set by one's professional body. An important characteristic of a profession used to be self-regulation, that is the standards and levels of competence are set by the profession themselves."
Independent practice has now largely disappeared as the result of changes in society and the nature of modern business, but even so, professionals remained generally answerable for their own actions rather than being able to blame their employer for any mistake until comparitively recently..

And so it was in my case. I studied at various Technical Colleges and elsewhere whilst working for a number of electronics companies, gradually obtaining formal qualifications along with ever increasing responsibility for projects. In due course, having obtained references from other professional engineers under whom I had worked and undergone a lengthy interview, I was admitted to the erstwhile Institution of Electrical Engineers and at last could call myself a professional.

Things are different these days, virtually everybody except labourers and supermarket staff claim to be professionals; looking at the list of professional institutions it now seems to be endless. The clue, in my view, is that the real ones don't have the word "professional" in their name! Not one of the senior professional organisations actually uses the word!

Which brings me to my subsidiary question; What is a "Professional Manager"?
I remember talking to a German engineer a few years ago and he commented on what he regarded as our excessive use of the word "manager". He found it strange that our Chief Engineer's title had recently been changed to "Engineering Manager". As he pointed out, surely it is a prerequisite of being an engineer was that you are able to manage. In Germany the word was only used in shops and supermarkets! It is of interest that in Germany (and I believe in France) an engineer rates in status above lawyers and below doctors!
Managing isn't a task that can be carried out in isolation as required by the old concept of Independent Practice. Managing in the modern context obviously requires staff to manage. When many of these staff are qualified in their own right, and are often professionals themselves, and thus by the German definition, competent managers, one has to ask what these extra "managers" contribute to the organisation, particularly as many earn salaries far in excess of the genuine professionals.

One of my targets in today's blog is the NHS which seems to have more managers than doctors; it was brought on by a Consultant friend of mine who mentioned that she had been told by the "Services Manager" that her office would no longer bbe dusted to cut cleaning costs, "surely she could find time to run a duster over her desk!".
Co-incidentally, in searching for a definition of "professional" I cane across a blog entitled "GP Informed" from which I must admit to have stolen the definition.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Our new defence allies - France

The government has said we must have closer defence co-operation with France due to the need for spending cuts.
Anybody with the smallest bit of common sense will realise that the biggest producer of military equipment in the western world is the United States. Because they are the biggest producer and tend to order hundreds of items where we would only order tens of the same things, the Americans have unit costs which are far lower than ours, and by placing our orders with US manufacturers at the same time as they place theirs, we can also get the advantage of these reduced prices.
France, on the other hand, has a much smaller defence budget and even combining orders with them, it would be unlikely to result in any significant reduction in price. I also know from personal experience in another field that the French idea of a joint project is 90% to France and 10% to Britain, largely as a result of our useless Civil Service negotiators. (Remember how Blair gave up our EU rebate in exchange for a promise from the French that they would consider altering their agricultural policy - has there been any change?) A number of British companies in the defence industry already co-operate very closely with American companies and indeed, some actually own subsidiaries there.

The Conservatives, quite rightly, questioned how much the UK could afford to rely on European allies after the Government statement..
Dr Liam Fox said: 'For us there are two tests: do they invest in defence? And do they fight? Sadly, too few European allies pass both these tests.'

Now whether you agree with the war in Iraq or not, it is this country's sovereign right to go to war without consulting anyone outside this country. France opposed that war, which is also their right. This could conceivably happen elsewhere in the future where our interests did not coincide. Under these circumstance, would they continue to supply us with arms?

The Americans, on the other hand, fall into what is often called the Anglosphere, an unofficial grouping of mainly English speaking countries who tend to think alike and generally have interests in common. It is far more likely that in any future conflict we will, once again, be fighting alongside the Americans; if it is anything like Afghanistan, we will also be having to borrow American equipment on occasions. It makes far more sense to have equipment in common with our most likely ally in any conflict rather than anyone else.

And of course, any co-operation with the French will take us even further into the E.U., which of course maybe among the ulterior motives for this government move.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Showbiz Awards

What other business seems to spend all its time inventing awards for itself and then throwing great parties to announce the winners and tell us how good they are? When will, for example, the Institution of Electrical Engineers (or whatever it calls itself these days) start to give awards for the "Electrical Engineer of the Year" with all the surrounding publicity? It could be divided into quite a few categories from Computer engineers (3 categories, software, hardware & peripherals), Systems engineers (probably dozens of categories), Power generation and transmission (even more categories) and of course the best committee chairman.
Does this sound ridiculous, if so why?
The recent self congratulatory Grammy Awards [here] had something around a hundred and twenty winners in different categories, most of whom I'd never heard of. I don't know how long the ceremony took, but allowing a minute for each person to go and collect his/her award it would take two hours for them to parade past. Rather like when my daughter collected her degree at LSE, rather boring except for just one person's appearance!
Then we had the Golden Globes awards, I've no idea what they were all about.
Now we have the Oscars. Here they manage to get double publicity, once by announcing the nominees (which apparently is a great honour!) and then by having a separate awards ceremony. There are many more to come - The Variety Club ShowBiz Awards, BAFTA Awards, the list seems never ending. [See here] And that's without starting on the British list.
All these seem to merit prime time TV coverage and headlines in the media giving great publicity to people who are just doing their chose job and in most cases being paid very well for it. And in the UK, many of them seem also to end up with honours awarded by the government in the name of the Queen.
Perhaps it is that in Britain and America we prefer to live in this make-believe world. In Victorian times they did celebrate great engineering and similar achievements. Huge parties were held to mark the opening of major projects; engineers, scientists etc became major public figures because of their achievements.
Am I the only person to feel that we've gone wrong somewhere?