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?"

Saturday 31 December 2011

Thoughts on 2012

When I think about the year ahead, I fell terribly pessimistic.
In particular, on the political front, there seems few grounds for optimism with a total lack of real leadership anywhere in the western world, and reading John Redwood's Diary this morning simply confirmed my view.  He argues that politics, both here and in the US has been living through a long period of followership with policy being determined by focus groups and polls which are frequently both volatile and contradictory.
As John says,
Today we need leadership. The west needs leaders who will explain that we have to change our ways. The west is too debt soaked. The public sector needs to be transformed, to do what it needs to do for less, and to confine its actions to the those most needed. The Euro area needs to settle its intentions quickly – do they want to pay the massive bills needed to complete their union? Wouldn’t it be cheaper and wiser to cut the membership down now, before more economic damage is done?
Then I went on to read the Mail. Normally I take much of what it says with a large pinch of salt, but today, Dominic Sandbrook's comparison with what happened 80 years ago, in the thirties, rang only too true.
After the Wall Street Crash in 1929 — just as after the banking crisis of 2008 — some observers even thought that the worst was over.
But in the summer of 1931, a wave of banking panics swept across central Europe. As the German and Austrian financial houses tottered, Britain’s Labour government came under fierce market pressure to slash spending and cut benefits.
Isn't exactly the same happening now? The Euro crisis is spreading amongst all the countries involved and many informed observers believe that it will break up within the next year causing their banks to have similar problems to those of 1931.
There was weak government in this country under a coalition led by Ramsay MacDonald, and with the politicians seemingly unable to be able do do anything about the rising unemployment, many people lost faith in parliamentary democracy and looked towards Oswald Mosley's Union of British Fascists. In the United States, there were similar problems and President Herbert Hoover seemed impotent to deal with them, just as Obama is today.
One can draw numerous other parallels with the thirties, from the growing power of China (then it was Japan) to the way the dictators of the EU are trying to consolidate their power by appointing non-elected leaders in Greece and Italy.

Here in Britain we have, in my view, a similar weak coalition government to that of the thirties which is quite willing to appease the EU just as Chamberlain appeased Hitler. We are embarking on a similar pattern of disarmament (aka Defence cuts) and failing to stimulate growth. The coalition is constantly squabbling rather than looking for solutions and offers little in the way of real hope for the future.

There is however one big difference between now and the thirties. At that time both Britain and the US had potential future leaders standing in the wings. We had Churchill and the US had Roosevelt, neither of whom were universally liked. But when it came to the crunch, both were accepted as leaders capable of steering their countries to better times.  At this time I can see no such potential leaders in either of our countries.

As I quoted once before, Otto von Bismark, the German statesman said
“Fools learn from experience. I prefer to learn from the experience of others.”
I just wish our politicians would have a look at the thirties and see what lessons they might learn from the events of 80 years ago.

So with these rather pessimistic thoughts, we move into the New Year.

Happy New Year!

Monday 26 December 2011

My Proposed New-Year Message to the Archbishop of Canterbury

I have read or listened to a number of speeches and sermons lately and, as a Christian, I have found those from outside the Church of England to be more relavent that those from within. Having heard a recording of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas sermon, I am far from impressed and feel that, as a change from my writing to politicians from time to time, I should perhaps turn some attention to our church leaders and have been thinking of writing to him along the following lines:
In your Christmas Sermon at Canterbury, you stated that
The most pressing question we now face, we might well say, is who and where we are as a society, Bonds have been broken, trust abused and lost.
I can broadly agree with that statement, but then you went on to compare this summer’s rioters with greedy bankers, and I found it difficult to comprehend exactly what point you were trying to make. Such people represent just a small fraction of one percent of our population, and are, in my view, largely irrelevant when discussing the nation’s problems.

I personally believe that you, and indeed many of our senior Bishops and Clergy are totally out of touch with the reality of what is happening in this country, and I would, with respect, like to draw your attention to the King James Bible, Matthew 7 verse 3.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beame that is in thine own eye

This, I believe, is the crux of the issue. Your assertion that ‘Bonds have been broken, trust abused and lost.’ applies as much, if not more, to the leadership of our Christian Church in this country as elsewhere in our daily lives. Whilst you and your bishops are prepared to address various political issues, generally from a left-wing perspective, you have all singularly failed to address the matter of attacks on the Church and its adherents in this country by what I would describe as a combination of militant atheists and politically correct officialdom.

At a basic level we have Christians being hounded by their employers for wearing or displaying a crucifix; we have an employee being told not to wear a tie with the “fish” symbol as it "would be wrong to show his religious affiliation”, whilst a fellow worker was permitted to wear a turban, which presumably does not! We have a nurse being reprimanded for being willing to offer a prayer on behalf of a patient, and of course the positions of “Sister” in hospitals no longer exist, presumably because of the religious connotations derived from the old Orders of Nursing Nuns. We have a local Council being challenged in court over the centuries old practice of saying prayers prior to a meeting whilst others gave up without a fight.
At a more political level, we have the various issues relating to homosexuality; firstly there was the issue of the adoption of children by homosexual couples and now the matter of homosexual “marriage” (an oxymoron if ever there was one). I cannot recall any senior cleric addressing either issue, presumably for fear of being considered to be politically incorrect. Nor has the Church spoken out about the large number of unmarried heterosexual couples living together and raising what are, in Christian terms, illegitimate children.

In the past, such matters would not only have drawn strong condemnation from the hierarchy of the Church, they would have been addressed from virtually every pulpit in the country as they would have been seen as an attack on the Church and its beliefs. Now they seem to be ignored, with the majority of our clergy seeming unwilling to speak out on matters of real concern to their flocks. It is for these reasons, amongst others, that I believe it is the Church that has "broken the bonds and lost the trust" of many Christians, rather than the reverse.

I would suggest that it is time that the Church returned to what, in modern parlance would be described as its “core business”, that of preaching and teaching Christianity with the objectives of inspiring existing Christians, attracting converts to Christianity and defending our religion and its members against attack. To my mind this is not being done, and I therefore believe that you and your fellow bishops are failing in your duties.

Finally, I would commend to you two recent speeches
Firstly the Christmas address by Her Majesty the Queen, Supreme Governor of the Church of England, in which Her Majesty seems to see a far different world than the one seen by yourself, and which I believe to be the more realistic of the two, and
Secondly that given by our Prime Minister at Oxford a few days previously in which he said, amongst other things, that
 “…… we are a Christian country. And we should not be afraid to say so”.
Unusually for a politician, he is prepared to say so, whilst many of our bishops seemingly are not!
Perhaps a little more polish is required, but in broad terms is summarises how I feel about the Church of England at this time.

Sunday 25 December 2011

Christmas Eve

I've just returned home from ringing our church bells for the midnight service. We managed to muster eight ringers and produced some reasonable ringing. When the ringers arrived to ring about 40 minutes before the service, and the Parish Church was already half full. I didn't stay for the service, but when I left, the church was packed to overflowing.
I'm ringing tomorrow, so I need to leave home just after 9 o'clock to ring for the main 10 o'clock service. Then a quick visit to my younger daughter, before she leaves to go to her in-laws for lunch and then to our elder daughter for our Christmas Lunch.
It's all go!

Thursday 22 December 2011

Iraq and Afghanistan - Libya and Egypt

Immediately the "peace keeping" troops left Iran, sectarian war broke out. Clearly this was totally unexpected by our western politicians, but to anyone who is familiar with the history of the area, it was entirely predictable. There has never ever been peace in the Arab world except where there was a strong man in control, and for all that has been said about Saddam, far more Iraqi lives appear to have been lost since he was deposed than during his tyrannical rule. Indeed the only peaceful area of Iraq is that inhabited by the Kurds, who would like to form their own independent country, but have been prevented from doing so by the West, largely at the behest of Turkey.

So moving on to Afghanistan, is there anyone who doesn't believe that exactly the same will happen there the day after the troops pull out? Why do we continue to allow our soldiers to be killed for a clearly unrealisable goal? Surely there can't be any of our politicians who are stupid enough to believe that Afghanistan will settle down to be a peaceful country with democratic rule?

I see exactly the same problem in Egypt and Libya The so called Arab Spring in Egypt is turning to a winter of discontent, and no doubt Libya is following not far behind.

The fact is that democracy in all these countries is still stuck in the 12th century in British terms, but unfortunately they have 21st century weapons at their disposal.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Quangos - New for Old

One of the early announcements made by the present government was that there was to be a "Bonfire of Quangos". This has obviously been similar to my garden bonfires, produced lots of smoke, very little fire and left a majority of the rubbish untouched!
Today's news item in the Daily Mail is typical -
What bonfire? New 'super quango' has already hired 5,000 staff sacked from abolished health bodies

Whilst the Health Protection Agency, the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, the ten Strategic Health Authorities and the 152 Primary Care Trusts are being wound up, the Department of Health has admitted that a ‘significant majority of staff’ will be transferred to the new organisation ‘continuing the roles they currently fulfil’.
So far the new quango "Public Health, England" has taken on some 5000 staff, although it doesn't actually formally come into being until April 2013! I expect that most of them will be collecting redundancy payments from their existing quangos, before being re-employed, no doubt at higher salaries, in this new one.

This, in fact, mirrors what happened to me back in the 1970's. I was employed by the Department of Trade and Industry as an engineer in National Air Traffic Services, and the whole department was transferred to the new Civil Aviation Authority. All staff were compulsorily transferred (without any compensation) and the government of the day trumpeted the huge reduction in civil servants, some 7000 if my memory serves me correctly. But we were still all paid for by the state, as, at that time the Authority had no income of its own. But the overall number of employees increased; the "sponsoring department", the DTI, had to have a group to oversee the activities of the CAA, and of course the CAA had to have a Chairman, Board and all the associated support staff. Since then, the Air Traffic Services, for which I worked has been privatised, but the CAA continues to have something like a 1000 regulatory staff.

I'm quite sure that this "Bonfire of Quango" will be no more than what happened to me, all the same people will be doing all the same jobs (whether they are needed or not) in a new organisation which will generate its own overheads. But the government will be able to claim that 164 quangos have been abolished. Of far more interest to me would be "How much money has been saved?".

Saturday 17 December 2011

Christmas in our Woods

A few weeks ago, I posted a photograph taken in our local woods. The woods are popular with local dog-walkers and those, like myself, wanting a short-cut to our town..
Each year, about this time, a Christmas tree that grows near the edge of the woods is mysteriously decorated. The first time I saw it, the tree was only a couple of feet high, now the top is out of reach, and as the tree has grown, each year more decorations are required.

Woodland Christmas Tree

I don't know who decorates the tree, but I was told by one of the regular wood walkers that it is decorated by a local lady in memory of her young child who died about this time of year.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Metal Thefts

Metal theft is costing this country millions, both in terms of the cost of the stolen metal and making necessary repairs. In addition to these basic costs, there is also the cost of lost time to businesses and individuals due to delayed trains and the like.
In the latest incident, operations at Llandough Hospital in the Vale of Glamorgan have been cancelled because someone stole the cables connecting the emergency generators to the site. This is the latest in a spate of life threatening thefts which have seen railways brought to a halt, motorway warning signs disconnected and phones cut off.

Norman Baker, the local transport minister, said last month: "This problem transcends the railway. It has affected motorways, the coastguard and the telecoms industry. The level of theft tends to follow the price of copper and other metals on world markets."There is a general concern, which I am very happy to share, that the legislation in place isn't designed for the spate of thefts we are seeing."
I'm sorry Mr Baker, but this isn't enough. The government should have brought forward legislation by now to deal with the matter. In the past, governments have rushed through (often ill considered) legislation such as the Dangerous Dogs Act in a matter of weeks They can find time to talk about banning or charging for plastic bags and discuss issues like gay "marriage" in churches, but seem incapable of tackling something that is costing a fortune and putting lives at risk.

As they, or the Civil Service, seem deviod of ideas, could I suggest a few pointers.
1. All scrap metal dealers to be licensed, the licence fee being sufficient to encourage the consolidation of the industry into a few largish companies.
2. No cash transactions, all payments to be made to a bank account.
3. A record to be kept of all purchases in an approved register, the seller to provide identity similar to that required under the money laundering legislation.
4. Substantial penalties; loss of a dealer's license for failure to keep proper records or make sufficient enquiries about the source of scrap, and mandatory imprisonment for those selling stolen metals.
5, Amend the law in such a manner that anyone involved in metal theft is not brought before a court accused of simple metal theft, but is also accused of causing losses to the value of the repair cost, transport delays, etc.

This in some respect is the greater problem, a local church had lead stolen from its roof worth less than £50, but the repair cost ran out at something over £5000. Punishment needs to be in terms of the latter value, rather than the former.

We need action now, not once people have been killed as a result of, say, a major accident on our railways due to the theft of signal cable, or the loss of life at sea because the coast guard communications had been cut.

Monday 12 December 2011

A New Television - but No "OFF" Switch!

We have just ordered a new Television for our Daughter and Son-in-Law as their Christmas present.
In spite of all the EU green pontificating some months ago about not leaving TVs in standby mode because of the electricity consumption, this TV does not have an "ON/OFF" switch - when plugged in, it is permanently is standby mode.
From the manufacturer's web site it appears that the standby power consumption is 0.3 watts, so if it were to be left in standby mode for a tear, the consumption would be in the order of 2.6 kWh total, roughly equivalent to around 40 hours viewing.
Not a huge amount, I agree, but I'm waiting for the "Greens" to react :-
"If every household has one (or more) of these televisions, the amount of carbon produced would be . . . . . . . . . . . . ". "They must be banned!"
It doesn't worry me, I was just somewhat surprised at the absence of the "ON/OFF" switch, surely it can't be a cost cutting measure.

Sunday 11 December 2011

Cleggiband says "Britain is Isolated"

We have a new joint leader of the opposition,  Edick Clegiband!
The phrase "Britain is now isolated" slips off its forked tongue so smoothly, along with other phrases like "We will no longer have any influence in the World", "isolated and marginalised",  that it is effectively a single entity.

Perhaps we should look at the "British Veto".
What, of course, we don't know is whether any of the other EU countries would have vetoed  the deal; the thing about a veto is that the first country to use it effectively brings discussions to a halt. We will never know if any of the other countries would have got around to using it, simply that we were the first.

The instant reaction of Labour (who automatically oppose the Government without thought) was that this would "Leave Britain isolated" and it was therefore a bad thing, although they gave no indication of why this should be so. Norway and Switzerland are "isolated" in Europe, but this doesn't seem to be doing them any harm. Numerous other countries, with much smaller populations than Britain, are also "isolated" in terms of not being part of a political union - Australia, New Zealand and Canada to mention but three. So isolation doesn't seem to be a bad thing; indeed one might argue that it is advantageous in that these countries can "do their on thing" without having to consult anyone.
"We will have less influence in World Affairs". We don't seem to have much now, so it's hard to see how we could have much less. Why do we want influence anyway? Again you rarely hear mention of the countries that I've listed seeking to influence world affairs and they don't seem to mind.
Of course, politicians and civil servants love to get involved - all that travel to foreign parts at the taxpayers' expense is part of the job!

The LibDems said much the same as Labour with their leader doing one of the fastest U-turns in recent political history. From reluctant acceptance of Cameron's action to outright opposition has taken less than 24 hours, this must be a record! But we are also assured that this won't lead to the break-up of the coalition. You bet it won't - if it did the LibDems would soon learn the meaning of "having no influence"!

But the Clegiband has spoken; it's now a question as to whether anybody considers it worth listening to, particularly as snap surveys apparently indicate that the majority consider that Cameron has done the right thing.

My Picture of the Week

I think this must be my favourite picture of the week.

Photo: Telegraph: Stuart McMahon

The futility of windpower !
This is just one of the 1500 reportable accidents/incidents which have occurred on wind farms in the past 5 years, almost one a day. These included 4 deaths to workers and some 300 injuries.

We are told that last week's incidents were caused by "freak weather", when in fact such weather must be expected as part of Britain's ever changeable weather patterns. In fact the only "freak" weather we might expect in Britain is if the wind blew steadily at around 40mph for a continuous period of more than 24 hours actually allowing electricity to be generated

If this had been a fire in the Generator Hall of a Nuclear Power Station (which is remote from the reactor), or if the Nuclear Industry had had the number of incidents as mentioned above, I'm sure that all hell would have been let loose by now!

Friday 9 December 2011

The EU - Status Quo prevails

The media today seems to believe that Cameron has had a great victory by standing firm at the EU summit and not conceding any treaty changes. I fact it was not even a good defence as all he has done is to say "No" to any further EU financial powers which might affect this country, and in doing so has upset Sarkozy, and of course avoided any immediate pressure to call a referendum.
In medieval terms, when you are under siege in your castle, it is not a victory to have merely repulsed the attackers and shouted a few nasty words at their leaders; victory comes only when you have totally removed them and their influence from your territory.

But meanwhile, the EU bureaucrats in Brussels continue regardless.
According to the Telegraph
The European Commission is considering introducing rules that will make the UK's 6,850 companies with final salary pension schemes pump billions of pounds into the schemes to reduce their deficits. The rules are designed to make pension schemes in EU member states more financially robust.
So regardless of what happens at the summit, bureaucrats are still trying to make financial rules and Cameron is pretending it is not happening. There has been no great victory, as the BBC would have us believe. Not one single regulation has been repatriated to this country, the status quo prevails.

Meanwhile, the remaining EU countries seem to be continuing their meeting without Britain and Hungary (the only country to take our viewpoint), no doubt with the objective of finding ways to impose their will on us without our consent, just as they appointed unelected Prime Ministers in Greece and Italy without the consent of the people.

Thursday 8 December 2011

The Euro Crisis - Lack of UK leadership

The Telegraph reports that the Prime Minister is again under pressure, this time from some senior  Tories,  to hold a referendum on the EU as they are particularly concerned that Britain could be adversely affected by the proposed fiscal union being proposed by the Eurozone members as the provisions would extend to all EU members my means of the EU treaty.

What I find disturbing is the last couple of paragraphs in the report:
"In a tactic designed to isolate Britain and split the 10 non-eurozone EU members, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday invited the 23 members of a “Euro Plus” economic pact to monthly summits.
The move, which splits non-euro countries such as Poland, Sweden and Denmark away from Britain, will lead to decisions on broader economic policy being taken without British involvement.".
This is a typical "Divide and Rule" tactic which has been used over the centuries, but it seems that our government has accepted it without murmur, which is perhaps not surprising seeing that most of our representatives in Europe are Gordon Brown's failed EU advisors.

Just as Germany and France have appointed themselves as the de-facto leaders of the Eurozone countries, I am sure that any previous British  Prime Minister  worthy of the name, would have done something similar and called a meeting of the non-Eurozone EU members in London to discuss the issues involved, and in doing so making Britain effectively the leader of these countries rather than allowing Merkosy to take the initiative. But no, whereas once we invariably took the lead in any discussions, Cameron is now allowing us to be being led by the nose.
I would suggest Daniel Hannan and Nigel Farrage as joint Chairmen for such a summit, together I would suggest, they would represent some 75% or more of public opining in this country!

Sunday 4 December 2011

Motorway sped linits - Dutch Style

I'm rather intrigued by this item from DutchNews

"New 130 kph speed limit will raise millions in petrol taxes

"Thursday 01 December 2011
"An increase in the national speed limit on most roads to 130 kph (81 mph) will generate an extra €50m to €100m in petrol taxes, the government’s environmental assessment agency is quoted as saying in the AD.The agency says the higher speed limit will encourage motorists to drive faster and so spend more on petrol.Transport minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen is planning to spend €130m increasing the speed limit on 60% of the nation’s motorways from next September."

A novel way to increase taxation income, I wonder what the Greens think about it?
Perhaps Osborne is hoping for the same results by increasing our motorway limit to 80 mph.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Jeremy Clarkson

I don't usually watch  "To Gear" or indeed many other BBC programmes, so unlike most, up to now, I've had no particular views on Jeremy Clarkson.
But it seems that yesterday, he made some remark on another BBC show that I don't watch about "shooting the Civil Service strikers", which to me seems to be a pretty harmless thing to say, and something that I have said myself in the past about groups of people that I detest.
He was forced to apologise by the BBC, as did the presenter of the programme, et al.

Now was this offensive? Not in my terms. Certainly in no way as offensive as the attack on Andrew Sachs by two so-called comedians or the attack on the disabled by another immature so-called comedian. Neither were condemned by the BBC who described it a "edgy humour", whatever that is and defended the remarks to the limit.
So as far as the BBC is concerned you can say almost what you like about anyone, however crude you care to be, as long as you don't say anything against a left-wing BBC supported cause.

But the BBC isn't the only organisation to come out of this looking ridiculous in the eyes of the  majority of the non-state employed working population, for example

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: "Clarkson's comments on the One Show were totally outrageous, and they cannot be tolerated". "We are seeking urgent legal advice about what further action we can take against him and the BBC, and whether or not his comments should be referred to the police."
What an idiot!

And then the Prime Minister, "That’s obviously a silly thing to say and I’m sure he didn’t mean that. I didn’t see the remark but I’m sure it’s a silly thing to say".
No Prime Minister, what you said is silly; can you imagine any of our Great Prime Ministers even condescending to mention the matter? You should stand aloof from such trivia, and by commenting you degrade the office that you hold.

Now doubt there are numerous other useful idiots out there all feigning outrage for the benefit of the media, but I just can't be bothered with them.

Viva Jeremy Clarkson!

The Bleeding Obvious!

The BBC informs us that:

"The drought that has affected parts of England since June will last into next summer if there is insufficient winter rain, the Environment Agency has said."

So if it doesn't rain, we will have a drought, now who would have thought that?

Or is our standard of education now so poor that there is no connection in people's minds between rainy weather and water coming out of their taps?