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?"

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Cameron - No longer in control

In his blog today, Raedwald argues that Cameron has "gone native" and claims that "He's always been a lazy man, only motivated to reaction at the last moment, and appears to have allowed Whitehall to run the roost in exchange for an easy life  ".

Whilst I agree with Raedwald's excellent listing of the symptoms, I must disagree with his diagnosis. He believes that there was once a "Cameron of brave words and loud principles would not allow the civil servants at the MOD to spend £1bn on credit cards and then refuse to disclose what they had spent it on. That Cameron would not spinelessly give way to senior police officers - themselves mired in an endemic and institutional corruption - on matters of civil liberty.", whereas I would assert that such a person has never ever existed.

My belief is that he is a "Blair Clone", and his whole image has been designed by Conservative Central Office PR experts to meet the public's expectation of a charismatic Prime Minister as, in their view, none of the other candidates standing for leadership had what they would consider to be the necessary qualities. Nevertheless, I would suggest that any one of them would have made a far better Prime Minister.
I don't believe Cameron has ever had any ideas of his own, his every action has been carefully choreographed by experts in reaction to the latest public opinion polls. Unfortunately, all the PR experts in the world are no match for the Whitehall machine, and having no idea how to cope with determined opposition to change, he quietly gives in to the Mandarins.

Cameron has shown himself incapable of handling what Harold Macmillan considered to be the greatest challenge for a statesman,  'Events, my dear boy, events'.  Over the past few weeks there have been quite a few events which had not been included in the carefully pre-arranged choreography. Each event has shown him to be totally inadequate, particularly when you compare him with some of the great Conservative leaders of the past. His reactions to the various events Coulson / News International / Phone hacking / Police resignations / Norway shootings have, in my view, bordered on panic and clearly show that he is totally incapable of coping with the unexpected.

Raedwald might be correct in concluding that Cameron has always been lazy; that wouldn't be too bad in itself if he had appointed competent Cabinet Members and then allowed them to get on with the job; the problem is that they weren't appointed on the basis of competency but political expediency. My conclusion is that Cameron is simply a wimp; he is unwilling to stamp his mark on  anything in case his judgement is wrong, the more so since Coulson, and all we can expect is that things will drift along until the next General Elections, with the government merely responding to events rather than causing them. Let us pray that we don't have a crisis demanding real leadership

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

"Extreme Right Wing"

According to the criteria used by the BBC (and the Guardian), it would seem that I am "Far Right Wing".- possibly even "Extreme Right Wing".
Well I'm strongly opposed to the EU and I support UKIP, and if that is not enough, I agree with the aims of the EDL. I am opposed to mass permanent immigration into this country from anywhere in the world, whilst welcoming longer term visitors who have something to offer this country or whom wish to gain experience here and learn our language. I also support greater independence for England within the Union, and an English Parliament with broadly the same functions as that in Edinburgh.
All of the organisations that I have mentioned and all of my beliefs that I have listed have, at one time or another, been described by the BBC as either "Far Right" or "Extreme Right".

The BBC, when referring to UKIP, invariably manages to include the BNP in the same sentence and describe them as "Far Right organisations". Similarly, when referring to the EDL, it somehow manages to refer to the "Violence of these extreme right-wing organisations", when all evidence suggests that the EDL has never been associated with any violence except when attacked by "Far Left-Wing Extremists" (They've managed to get me at it now! ).
I am also a Christian (although not necessarily a very good one), this would mean that the BBC would be able to describe me as a Right-Wing Christian Fundamentalist should I ever have the misfortune to come to their attention.

So, following the Norwegian massacre and the claims made by the perpetrator, it seems that our security services will now be wasting their time in having a blitz on "Extreme Right Wing" organisations and those who might have had any involvement with such organisations.
As I clearly meet the BBC criteria, for being such an individual, presumably I will be getting a visit in due course.
 I just hope that whilst they're busy looking for all these right-wing extremists, they don't overlook that there are infinitely more left wing Islamic extremists in this country who are just waiting for a suitable opportunity.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

US Debt Ceiling

Does Vince Cable know what he's talking about? I ask because (according to the BBC web site) in the Andrew Marr show, Vince Cable attacked leading US Republican politicians as "nutters" who were "holding up a deal to reduce US government debt".
However, everywhere that I have read about the "US debt crisis" I am told that the problem is that Obama wants to raise the debt ceiling to enable the country to borrow more.
Perhaps Saint Vincent would like to explain to me how increasing the amount that you borrow can reduce your debt.
Which is why I no longer bother to watch the Andrew Marr show as he is apparently unwilling to challenge such ludicrous contradictory statements.

And as for the BBC's line that the US will be unable to pay any employees or pensioners if an agreement is not reached perhaps they would like to explain why? Taxation revenue will continue to come in as usual, all it means is that the US government will not be able to increase its expenditure.

I just wish we had a similar arrangement in Britain, with a cap on government borrowing. Perhaps if we'd had such an arrangement when Brown was in financial control, we might not be in the mess we are today.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Discretion in Public Life

I read once that a newly elected MP once asked the advice of a very highly respected backbencher whether it would be wise for him to take a particular course of action. The response was that he, the senior backbencher, was not prepared to give advise on particular issues, but a good principle to follow would be to ask yourself whether you would be happy if your action was reported in large headlines in next Sunday's News of the World.
The News of the World has gone, but the principle still applies; Unfortunately too many people in public life seem to have forgotten it.
This is the problem with public life today; people in power seem to have forgotten that it is not what you do that matters, but what the public perceives that you might have done. Too many seem to have forgotten that once you enter public life that you need to exercise great discretion in everything you do. Long time friends might have to be discretely avoided because their interests and yours might conflict; if they are real friends they will fully understand the situation, and indeed should feel the same need for discretion. I think it was Norman Tebbit who said that people in public life no longer seem to consider the "what ifs". To me this failure means that these people are either terribly naive, or simply don't live in the real world -  either way they are unfit for high offices of state.
They need to remember that in these days of instant communications such as twitter, mountains can be rapidly made out of molehills and news of any indiscretion can be spread literally at the speed of light!

"No Smoking" - Let's take drugs instead!

The Daily Mail today reports that in spite of it having been made illegal, mephedrone or "Meow Meow" is still the "drug of choice" for the younger generation.

I just wonder if this increase in drug taking has any connection with the smoking ban. You can no longer smoke in Pubs or Nightclubs and will get thrown out if you do so. But when was someone last thrown out for taking drugs? Its unlikely anyone would notice and even if they did, would they say anything?

I don't smoke, but I still think that the non-smoking fanatics have done far more harm than good, increased drug taking being yet one more of the unexpected consequences of the ban.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Politicians Covering Their Backs!

Politicians of the Defence Select Committee are busy covering their backs over the war in Afghanistan by deciding that the Ministry of Defence didn't give them enough information about what was going on and criticising it for failing to warn ministers of the dangers facing troops. This may, or may not be true, but don't MPs read newspapers, listen to the BBC or even listen to the relatives of those soldiers killed in Afghanistan? On the basis of what these MPs claim that the knew, it would seem that the average member of the public was better informed than the Select Committee! The shortage of helicopters, for example, received considerable publicity when we had to borrow from the Americans, yet the MPs were "unaware" of this.
The members of this select committee are doing nothing more than trying to ensure that the blame for the many shortcomings can be placed elsewhere prior to the next General Election. Personally I don't find the excuse "We weren't told" a valid excuse for a committee whose purpose is to ask questions and to seek answers.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

News International

I am far more interested in the fall out from the phone hacking scandal than the phone hacking itself. In practice, it is not phone hacking in the strict sense, but voice-mail hacking. From what my friendly experts tell me, it is very difficult to know whether your voice-mail has been hacked, and the fact that NotW reporters had someone's phone number, even their ex-directory phone number, is no proof that they have hacked your phone. Personally, I suspect that a lot of people are making these claims in the hope of either getting publicity or compensation.

To me, the most important issue is the involvement of the Metropolitan Police at all levels. Since my childhood, I always believed that the Met was totally incorruptible and could be held up as an example to police forces all over the world. Yes, like all organisations, you might have the odd "Bad egg", but generally they were found and removed before they could do any harm. Officers at Commissioner and Commander level would be totally beyond reproach, not only in their work, but in any activities outside work. To my immense sorrow, such days seem to have long gone, and it is now very hard to find anyone in the top echelon whom one can believe would meet the standards set some thirty or more years ago. It is not that I think they are corrupt, it is that they do not seem to have the common sense to avoid situations which might lead people to thinking that they are corrupt. Like our Prime Minister with Andy Coulson, they do not seem to have looked ahead; they do not seem to have asked the "what if" question; they have not acted with the discretion that the public have the right to expect from someone in their positions.

To me the other issue is the future of News International and in particular Rupert Murdoch.
According to the Daily Mail, Rebekah Brooks is in line for a 3.5million pound pay-off in exchange for a gagging clause. Normally when one resigns, one would not expect any pay-off, especially when one has made a hash of the job. One wonders what she knows about News International for Murdoch to be paying such a sum!

I await developments with interest

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Independent Press Regulation

I think everyone will now agree that self-regulation of the press has failed and that some form of external independent regulation is highly desireable.
But how is this to be achieved? Certainly putting regulation in the hands of politicians would be a total disaster; as in France, it could totally emasculate the press to such an extent that the misdeeds of politicians would never be revealed. It is also worth looking at Raedwald for an explanation of how the ruling party in Hungary has total control, and effective censorship of the media.

If you look at the so-called independent regulators, one has to ask "how independent are they?"
How independent is the Bank of England? The Governor and Board are appointed by politicians, and at least at the time of their appointment will be of the same economic, if not political, persuasion as the government. The "Independent" Charities Commission was Labour appointed, and is clearly following left-wing principles in their hounding of independent schools, whilst allowing so-called "fake charities" to prosper. We even seem to have a new breed of professional regulators and Quango apparatchiks whose names appear with sickening frequency.

So, how does one get a genuinely independent body of regulators?
I would suggest that the only way is by some form of lottery or draw, as with jury service.
There would need to be a a number of differences, as a start I would suggest that those selected would need to be volunteers, not pressed as in the case of jury service. And unlike jury service, where over-70s are no longer eligible, I would suggest that any volunteers should be retired and over 60 thus ensuring that they have had some experience in  the world and hopefully capable of distinguishing between "Public Interest" and "Interest by the Public". Clearly one would need a minimum standard of education, and hopefully volunteers would have worked at a reasonable level of responsibility.
I would like to see the government calling for suitably qualified volunteers and then selecting an appropriate number of names at random with total disregard their for sex, sexual orientation, ethnic origin or any of the current politically correct criteria.. There would be no pay, just reasonable expenses, a maximum of, say, a three year term, and any necessary staff would be seconded from the civil service for a limited period.

Can anyone think of a better approach to having an independent regulator? 

Friday, 8 July 2011

News of the Word !

Is there a vacancy for a Proof Reader?

I assume one of them will be into this headline!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Phone Hacking

With phone hacking taking over virtually all of the news programmes, I was idly wondering if the rest of the world has come to a standstill.
However my interest, as a retired electronics/computer engineer, is in the mechanism of phone hacking and how one can know whether one's phone has been hacked.
Firstly, this phone hacking has to be distinguished from phone tapping, which is where someone listens to an actual conversation as it takes place, and their seem to be no allegations that this has happened, mainly, I assume, due to the difficulty of intercepting the digital mobile phone signals.
In fact the phone hacking seems to be a matter of access to the victim's voice mail. With a mobile phone, as I understand the situation,  this is held as some form of digital recording by the phone company, and is accessed via a phone using one's password. I have never used this facility (and rarely use a mobile phone) but I note that messages on my "answerphone" at home can be accessed remotely if I should want. As I haven't set it up, and people leave us occasional messages, I assume anyone could access it remotely should they so wish. This would, of course, really be my own fault as I haven't set any password, but then who'd be interested to know that our daughter rang, and she'll ring again later.
What does interest me however, is how all these victims of hacking know that their voice mail has been accessed. There is no counter which might indicate the number of times a message has been accessed, and it would seem that the only way of knowing is in the event that someone has left you a confidential message which has become known to a third party. But this relies absolutely on the fact that the person leaving the message can be 100% certain that he/she has not mentioned it to anyone else, a rather dubious assumption in my view..
So How can anyone be certain that their Voice-Mail has been accessed?

Another strange aspect is that there has been no suggestions of hacking into e-mails.
Depending on the settings of one's e-mail client, these can be deleted from the ISP's server immediately they have been transferred to one's computer, although some users, myself included, tend to leave them there for a while. Either way, until they are deleted, they can usually be accessed as web-mail if the password is known. As the e-mail address of a potential victim is known, and complex passwords are rarely used (mine is limited to 10 characters), I would have thought it a reasonably simple task to work ones way through a list of potential passwords. A competent programmer could probably automate the whole affair.
And of course this gives rise to the same question as above,
How can anyone know if their E-mail has been accessed?

To me, answers to these questions would be far more interesting than the knowledge that various people believe that their phones have been hacked!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Australia and the Burka

A case that has hit the headlines in Sydney recently concerns a burka wearing woman who was stopped for a traffic offence, and subsequently accused the police officer concerned of assaulting her. This was proved to be untrue because the incident was recorded on a video camera attached to the police car. As a result, she was charged with falsely accusing the police of assault and found guilty. On appeal, her lawyer claimed that it was not his client who had made the complaint, and the judge cleared her on the basis that the police were unable to make a positive identification.
As a result of this, within days, the New South Wales Government has changed the law and as a result any person who refuses to remove a head covering for police will face up to a year in jail or a $A5,500 (£3,600) fine.The other states are now considering similar legislation.

I'm just wondering what the situation is in this country. Can the police ask for a burka to be removed for the purpose of identification? If not, how do our police carry out their duties?
For reports see Sydney Daily Telegraph and Daily Telegraph

Another question which I would consider to be relevant is whether it is safe for a female to drive whilst wearing a burka which must restrict her field of vision?

But the main thing to notice here is that government acts in Australia and that it acts quickly.
Our government is still talking of emergency legislation concerning the issue of Police Bail which has had wide reaching effects; I prefer Australian action to British talk!

Smoking and Heart Disease

According to the British Heart Foundation, amongst others, smoking causes heart disease. I don't think even the most rabid smokers would disagree with this statement, but my short search of the internet failed to reveal any actual figures, although no doubt they exist. This does tend to suggest to me that they are actually quite low, so it is perhaps better not to actually mention them!
But this figure in today's Daily Mail is worth noting
Chantix, the No.1 anti-smoking drug in America, 'increases risk of heart disease by 72 per cent'
The drug is also associated with other reported side effect such as people trying to kill themselves, depression and unprovoked attacks on others.
So if you can't give up smoking without any chemical aids, it would seem that your best bet is simply to continue smoking, as I'm quite sure that smoking does not increase the risk of heart disease by anything like 72%.
I don't smoke, but I do object to the constant harassment of individuals whether they are smokers or drinkers by people who want to "improve their life". Sorry, my life would not be improved without my glass of beer or drop of Scotch, and I assume that smokers feel exactly the same about their cigarettes. We are aware of the risks, and it is our lives which are at risk; just leave us alone.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Someone is responsible.

According to the "No Win - No Fee" lawyers, whatever happens, someone must be responsible; which, I suppose is generally true if you discount so-called "Acts of God" such a lightening strikes and thunderbolts.
Why then, is no-one apparently responsible when, as reported in the Daily Mail today, a child of three is caught vandalising a number of cars? Indeed why is no-one responsible for some 3000 recorded crimes by children under the age of ten and thus below the age of criminal responsibility?
Surely if the child is too young to assume responsibility for his/her actions, then one must assume that the child should be in the care of an adult and in this case surely it is the adult who should be held responsible. Whilst it might be more difficult to maintain a constant watch over, say, eight or nine year olds, surely a three year old should not be out in the street without an adult.
Why were the child's parents not prosecuted for neglect or their failure to safeguard the child?

The actual number of crimes committed by the under 10's is unknown, but it is believed to be many times the actual recorded figure as some police forces don't record them.
Surely it is time for the law to be changed so that "Someone is responsible" and by default this somebody should be the child's parents or legal guardian. By their act of permitting a child to commit a crime, they should be held responsible for the crime and charged as if they had committed it, and, if guilty, suffer appropriate penalties.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Scottish By-election.

I don't really care who wins a by-election in Scotland, but what I did notice was that it takes far less votes to elect an MP is Scotland than in my part of the country.
Working on the figures provided by the BBC news report, it would seem that Inverclyde constituency has an electorate of about 60,000. whilst where I live, the electorate for my constituency is just over 75,000.
If this difference is typical, and to simplify the maths, if one takes an area of Scotland with a electorate of, say, 300,000, it would get five MPs, whilst a similar electorate in England would get only four.
This is gerrymandering of the worst kind, particularly as Scotland now has its own parliament and there is no excuse whatsoever for enhanced representation in Westminster.
Yet for some reason any thought of boundary changes to remedy this situation seems to have been lost in the debacle over AV.

Perhaps we should have a campaign for "One man, one vote" rather than "one man one vote" in Scotland, and "One man, four-fifths of a vote" in England.