Friday, 31 August 2007

Princess Diana - Ten Years On

So, today marks the 10th anniversary of of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. As someone who's been through the bereavement process a few times, I know that's a fairly significant date for her family, and, particularly, for her sons. They have my deepest sympathy for their personal loss.

But do we really, really need to see this issue plastered all over the media yet again? I never met the woman, and, from the way she behaved in the media, I didn't want to. During her last few years of life, I grew sick and tired of picking up a newspaper only to find her filling the first few pages.

Her antics were of no more than passing significance to me then, and they're even less interesting today. Looking back to the time of her death, I remember thinking, "Oh, that's sad. Her boys will be upset, poor lads. Handy for Charlie and Camilla, though. Now maybe we'll get some proper news in the papers." Whereupon I went about my business.

The outpouring of so-called public grief that followed was nothing short of ridiculous. Most of those people who insisted on hanging around, wailing and making fools of themselves hadn't met her either, didn't know her personally and couldn't possibly feel any genuine grief - certainly not to the extent demonstrated in the streets.

Rather, they were mourning the passing of a media-created facade that they had grown to identify with through endless publicity, in much the same way that folks can't seem to distinguish between actors and the characters they play. To make such a spectacle out something that, for those folks who really were close to her must have been agonisingly distressing, is, to my mind, utterly disrespectful to the woman those street-wailing fools were allegedly mourning.

And now, presumably as penance for whatever our national sins may be, we have to go through the whole tedious thing again, with every grim moment relived. "Where were you when... Did you go..." - I'm bored rigid with the whole damn thing!

Let the poor woman rest in peace, allow her nearest and dearest to get on with their grieving in private and let the rest of us - those who retain any sense of perspective, at least - get on with our lives with newspapers unsullied by mention of the whole turgid business.

Billy Seggars.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

The Rita Pal Complaint

I see the furore surrounding the General Medical Council's attempts to silence medical blogger Dr Rita Pal is refusing to go away.

Since online tech newspaper The Register featured this ludicrous attempt to prevent blogging doctors from linking to documents already in the public domain last week, the story has been picked up by numerous bloggers, including Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry, Seroxat Secrets, Furious Seasons, Soulful Sepulcher, KevinMD amongst many others.

And quite right, too! This sort of nonsense from a regulatory body - particularly one as disreputable and downright shoddy as the GMC - just won't do, and it's about time they were exposed to the public ridicule they so richly deserve.

However, it occurs to me that there's another side to this story. Certainly, as I and many others have pointed out, the GMC must be incredibly obtuse if it thinks such a complaint is worthy of even momentary contemplation.

But, in order for the GMC to parade their incompetence for all to see, they had to receive a complaint. Which means that someone had to make this bizarre complaint in the first place.

Surely, the criticism and ridicule currently being leveled at the GMC must be at least as applicable to this person, if not more so - after all, it was they who, for whatever unfathomable reason, initially devised this strangely illogical complaint.

So who was the person who thought that a doctor's freedom to link to a publicly available document was something that her professional body could - and should - interfere with? According to Dr Pal's blog, the complainant with these highly unusual misconceptions was a person called Penny Mellor.

A little research shows that Mellor is no stranger to controversy, and, more specifically, to complaints. Journalist Jonathan Gornall has collected a wealth of fascinating information on this woman and her antics on his website, but perhaps one of the most instructive is this article, reproduced from Hospital Doctor (the original appears to be offline at the time of writing - I wonder why!).

The entire article is well worthy of detailed study, but the following paragraph struck me as particularly interesting in the context of her complaint against Dr Pal:

"One thing that is certain, however, is that Mrs Mellor is, indeed, tireless: in addition to the GHC and assorted NHS Trusts, over the past six or seven years she has complained to everyone from the RCPCH, the Central Council for Nursing, social services and the police to the NHS Executive, Chief Medical Officer, Health Minister and Prime Minister. Another certainty is that the media seems never to tire of being easily persuaded that inside every eminent doctor is a Harold Shipman waiting to be exposed."

Tireless, indeed, and perhaps a little tiresome, too. Certainly, His Honour Judge Whitburn thought so, when he sentenced Penny Mellor to a year in the slammer for her part in "a wicked conspiracy to abduct [A Child] in February 1999." In passing sentence, he said: "Impervious to debate, convinced you are right, you have traduced, complained about and harried dedicated professional people working in this difficult area [Child Protection]. I do not punish you for that, let me make it clear, however tiresome and eccentric your views are, the toleration afforded to you who expressed them, by those who hear them, is part of the price we gladly pay for living in a liberal democracy."

Quite. Plus, of course, there's the entertainment factor to consider. There's nothing funny about abducting a child, but some of her other antics can't fail to raise a smile - although, I suspect, Mellor doesn't intend to cause hilarity with her actions.

This complaint against Dr Pal is a cracking example, her complaint about Dr Pal's websites to Tucows Inc is another. Dr Pal's webmaster, James Landon, puts it far better than I ever could in his article, Penny Mellor, MSBP Campaigner, in Domain Name Bungle, but broadly it goes something like this:

Apparently getting her knickers in a twist over criticisms on the NHS Exposed Blog, which lives on Blogger, Mellor found out that the domain name was registered via Tucows. Note, they're only the domain registrar, not the company that hosts the actual website, and have nothing whatsoever to do with the blog.

It seems from Landon's article that Mellor promptly bussled off to Tucows to complain. I have considerably difficulty in following the logic behind this decision - possibly because tears of laughter are rolling down my cheeks as I type. Certainly, I cannot imagine why anyone would think that a domain name registrar would give a damn about material published on a blog utterly unrelated to the domain the registered.

Come to that, I can't see them being overly interested in what happens on the site that really does belong to the domain, either - it's just not their business to know or care about these things.

Still, it obviously seemed like a good idea at the time to Mellor, just as this outlandish complaint to the GMC about linking to publicly available documents must have done - can't imagine why, but hey, there's one born every minute!

So, to summarise this already brief snapshot of the woman who stared this whole thing, we have a convicted felon and mega-complainer who can't seem to tell the difference between one website and another. Just the sort of person the GMC should take seriously when they bring an illogical complaint about a blogger linking to a public document, don't you think?

The GMC obviously did, but then, as I've said before, the world's gone mad!

Billy Seggars.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Wireless Network Bust

Earlier this week, the Daily Mail reported, in typically lurid style, that the new-fangled Police Community Support Officers solve, on average, one crime every six years.

Having observed some local specimens going about their business, knuckles scraping the ground as they walked, I was not in the least surprised by this revelation. So imagine my amazement when I read this BBC news report, which features these intrepid public servants actually making an arrest.

So what act of heroism did they commit? Thwart an armed robbery? Grapple with a mugger as he made off with an old lady's purse? No, nothing of the sort - these folks have really gone to town by, wait for it ... arresting a guy for using a wi-fi broadband connection without permission! You can just image the massive impact that's going to have on the local crime rate, can't you?

According to the BBC, "They became suspicious when they saw the 39-year-old using his laptop outside a house in Prebend Gardens. When questioned he admitted to using someone else's unsecured wi-fi broadband connection. He has been bailed pending further inquiries." Gosh, I can hardly contain my relief.

Don't get me wrong here - I don't condone unauthorised access to someone else's internet connection, whether it's wireless or wired, secured or unsecured. In fact, a small but significant part of my day job involves locking down wireless networks to prevent just this kind of thing from happening.
But I think that arresting the guy is a little extreme - unless, of course, he was using the purloined connection to commit further offences, in which case they should throw the book at him.

The BBC goes on to add, "Dishonestly obtaining free internet access is an offence under the Communications Act 2003 and a potential breach of the Computer Misuse Act."

I'm not too sure about that, either. Breach of the Communications Act in this context seems a little uncertain to me, even though Gregory Straszkiewicz was convicted of "piggybacking" on an unsecured wireless network using this Act in 2005. Section 125(1) of the Act reads:

A person who—
(a) dishonestly obtains an electronic communications service, and
(b) does so with intent to avoid payment of a charge applicable to the provision of that service,
is guilty of an offence.

The key word here seems to be "dishonestly". Consider the nature of a wireless network - it is set up to broadcast signals to computers capable of receiving them, and receive responses from those computers. In many, if not most cases, those signals can, and will, extend far beyond the limits of the network owner's property. For example, computers in my office are aware of a (secured, before anyone asks) wireless network that exists in my neighbour's property, over 50 meters away.

Now consider the nature of the signals put out by a wireless network. Alongside the basic network "chatter" of data being transmitted and received, the wireless network usually broadcasts a Service Set Identifier (SSID), the very purpose of which is to advertise the presence of a wireless network, so that a suitable computer can connect to it.

If the network operator does not want unauthorised computers to connect to his or her network, it is very easy to ensure that they don't - or, at least, to ensure that they can't do it easily.

Firstly, they can easily set up encryption on both the networking devices themselves and any computer that they wish to connect to the network. Broadly, this means that the network is transmitting its signals in code, and only computers that have been set up to understand the code (again, an easy thing to arrange) can connect to the network.

Secondly, they can easily stop the network from advertising its presence to all and sundry simply by telling it not to broadcast its SSID. Every wireless networking device that I have ever encountered offers these basic functions, and they are not difficult to use. If the owner of the network chooses not to use them, or can't be bothered to spend a few moments understanding their importance, they are effectively broadcasting an electronic invitation to any wireless-capable computer within range to connect to the network.

Under those circumstances, it is difficult to see how it is "dishonest" for someone with a wireless-capable computer to accept the invitation and log on to the network - they know all about the available security measures, how simple they are to implement and that many people deliberately leave their wireless network open to outsiders as a "public service". They could, quite reasonably, conclude that if a wireless network is left unsecured, when it could so easily be locked down, then it must have been left so deliberately.

I have similar reservations about the Computer Misuse Act in this context. Section 1 of the Act reads:

A person is guilty of an offence if—
(a) he causes a computer to perform any function with intent to secure access to any program or data held in any computer;
(b) the access he intends to secure is unauthorised; and
(c) he knows at the time when he causes the computer to perform the function that that is the case.

If you accept, as I do, that a wireless router is a computer for the purposes of the Act, then unauthorised access to the network seems to fall within the bounds of (a) and (b), but what about (c)?

For much the same reasons as I've mentioned above with respect to dishonesty, it's easy to see how someone connecting to an unsecured wireless network could argue that they didn't know the access was unauthorised. After all, no technical means of authenticating their access to the network was in evidence; they were allowed to connect unchallenged.

Of course, in both cases, one could draw an analogy with an unlocked door and a burglar - if a burglar enters a property via an unlocked door to commit his crime, is it still a crime? And the answer is, naturally, yes.

But what if the victim pinned a note to the outside of the door - "Dear All, my door's open, come on in, help yourself to my stuff!" Is it still a crime to enter the property and help yourself to their stuff in that case? To my mind, that situation is far less clear-cut, and yet that is exactly what the owner of an unsecured wireless network is doing.

You could argue that this may not be their intention, and that they may lack the necessary technical skill to secure their network. But, if an unlicensed driver is in control of a car when it kills someone, do we say that it wasn't their intention to kill, they just lacked the necessary technical skill to avoid doing so, and then let them off? No, we don't. So why should we make excuses for people who don't take the trouble to understand their other toys?

For the incompetent wireless network owner doesn't just expose themselves to risk. They also provide a relatively anonymous means of internet access for those who set out to commit a whole variety of online crimes, and it seems reasonable that they should take some responsibility for the open networks they are operating.

Again, I don't say that it's right to use someone else's internet connection without their permission, whether or not they have bothered to secure it, and some form of legal protection is probably a good idea. But, in the case of an unsecured network (a secured network would be a different matter altogether), neither the Communications Act nor the Computer Misuse Act strikes me as the best way to do that. It can only be a matter of time before someone successfully argues that use of an unsecured network isn't dishonest unless they know in advance that they do not have permission to use it, and if they don't know that then they can't be in breach of the Computer Misuse Act either.

Much as I dislike the idea of giving the already power-crazed British Government an excuse to impose yet more red tape on the beleaguered electorate, I can't help wondering whether some more specific legislation might be in order. Perhaps something that actively prohibits access to a wireless network originating from business or domestic premises without the owner's explicit permission, save in cases where a network is specifically created for public use. And, at the same time, imposes obligations on the owners of such networks to ensure that they are locked down, again with the exception of networks created specifically for public use.

Such legislation would doubtless be unpopular, but the Government could always argue that it's intended to counter terrorist activity - after all, that's what they say about everything else!

Billy Seggars.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Old Age Sex

According to a survey reported by the BBC, old age isn't a barrier to a healthy and active sex life. It seems that geriatric Americans are at it like rabbits, even well into their 80s - of those aged 75 - 85, 26% reported having sex with a partner in the last year.

And if it's happening in the good ol' US of A, you can bet your bottom dollar it's happening here too. It's almost too horrible to contemplate, isn't it? But next time you're stuck behind some grumpy old codger at the supermarket checkout, cursing as they "Eh? You what? SPEAK UP..." their way through counting out their loose change from an old leather shovel purse, you might just want to keep that survey in mind.

Let the mind's eye zoom out from the humdrum of the checkout line, and see the object of your irritation in a whole new light. Peel away the hair net, the surgical support stockings and orthopaedic footwear, then, in your imagination, replace them with the latest little number from Figleaves or Anne Summers.

Add subdued lighting, romantic music and a strategically positioned zimmer frame, and you've probably got a pretty good picture of what at least one in four of the pensioners in the checkout line got up to last night. I'm not going to mention unspeakable acts with walking sticks, dentures and KY because they are, well, unspeakable, but you've probably got the idea.

And, despite the odd shudder, I think it's really cool! As pointless and slightly terrifying as this survey is, it offers hope to those of us who have dim but pleasant memories of getting our leg over once in a while, before real life chained us to a keyboard for up to 18 hours a day.

Billy Seggars.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

MyT - Madness At The Telegraph - Update

Wow, those boys at the Telegraph don't mess around, do they? As a followup to my last posting, Dr Pal posted a link on her MyT blog to my post, MyT - Madness At The Telegraph at 23:57 on 22 Aug 2007.

By 53 seconds past midnight on the 23rd Aug 2007, someone from the Telegraph had followed the link to my post, presumably to see what Dr Pal was writing about. If that's not bloody-minded determination, I don't know what is!

Oh, and I see they've pulled several more repostings of the Register story from Dr Pal's MyT blog, but left her link to me in place. For now, anyway. I'll be watching to see what else they get up to - I have all night:-)

Billy Seggars.

MyT - Madness At The Telegraph

Sometimes I wonder about newspapers. Earlier, I posted about the Register's article concerning Dr Rita Pal, and the General Medical Council's attempts to silence her blogging activities via the blunt instrument of disciplinary proceedings.

Now, this matter is hardly a secret, particularly since the Reg covered it. In fact, a quick Google search for the article, "Doctor faces High Court battle with GMC over weblink" shows way in excess of 200 sites featuring the story, probably through the Register's RSS feed.

So why is it that, when Rita Pal posted a link to the story, with a brief description of same, to her My Telegraph blog, it was removed forthwith. And removed again, when she reposted it. And again, and again. As I type, the story is on it's twelfth consecutive reposting and removal, and I don't suppose that will be the last.

Clearly, someone at the Telegraph thinks that by refusing to publish a link, the story will go away - guess again, guys. Or could it be that their moderators are members of the medical profession, moonlighting as mods until they can find a job? For, as the Telegraph reports today, 10,000 docs could be out of work - maybe they fear a GMC investigation if they publish a link to a link to something the GMC doesn't like?

Whatever the reason, My Telegraph is now starting to look ridiculously partisan in refusing to accept a link to an entirely legitimate news item that was not accompanied by anything that could possibly breach MyT's terms and conditions. Come on, guys, wake up and smell the coffee - this is the internet, and you can't stop a story from spreading just by pulling it off a blog.

Billy Seggars.

No Sense of Humour

The British sense of humour is a funny thing, enabling us to laugh at ourselves in a way that other countries just don't understand. It is harmless, wry, and, if recent media reports are anything to go by, a very seriously endangered species.

Today, the Sun reports that Mr Craig Taylor, a supermarket manager from Somerfield, was unfairly dismissed after posting a short video of colleagues clowning around with plastic bags to YouTube. I can't imagine why Somerfield would want to sack him for showing one guy whacking another over the head with a plastic bag filled with other plastic bags, and neither could the Employment Tribunal, who awarded Mr Taylor over £2000 for his trouble.

If the bags had been filled with something more solid, or the video had shown someone getting hurt, then maybe Somerfield might have had a point. But plastic bags? Oh come on, get a life.

And then there's the Daily Mail article about the 17 men and women who dressed up in fake Muslim burkas for a carnival. Calling themselves the "Page Three Beauties from the Ramalama Ding-Dong Times", they carried placards with made-up names such as "Miss Hairyarmpitsbad", "Miss Slackistan", "Miss Notbadinbedabad" and "Miss Reallyamanistan", and were shortlisted for a prize until some miserable bugger complained and the police were called.

In the Mail's article, various individuals from the carnival make half-hearted and embarrassed attempts to "defuse" things by pointing out that there was no intention to cause offence etc.

No, I'm sure there wasn't. It's called HUMOUR, and is a very good sign that cultural integration is getting along very well indeed. As I've said, British humour mocks itself more than anything - the fact that these guys and girls chose this subject means they see it as part of British society. Congrats, guys, you're well integrated. Now quit moaning and join in the fun.

Clearly, the whole idea of fun is no longer acceptable in the UK, which probably explains why the Telegraph reports record numbers of people leaving this country. That, in turn, might explain why we're so reluctant to deport illegal immigrants - it's just a stunt to keep the population up!

Billy Seggars.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

GMC Tries to Silence Blogger

A blogging doctor is facing investigation by the General Medical Council - for the heinous crime of linking to a document on another website. According to the Register, the GMC thinks the link, posted by Dr Rita Pal on her NHS Exposed Blog, may amount to a breach of confidentiality, even though the original document had already been published by another website and was effectively in the public domain.

Interestingly, the blogger who originally posted the controversial document today had this to say on the subject, in a post called Muzzling Academics, British Style : "Eventually, an anonymous reader forwarded me a copy of the transcript. I read through it, decided that the hearing was a rigged process, ascertained that the document was genuine and I posted it on my blog. This came roughly 10 days after I had posted the leaked Zyprexa documents on this blog. I then turned my attention back to Zyprexa matters and watched as hundreds of people began to download the Blakemore-Brown transcript. "

Clearly, the material that has the GMC in such a lather could hardly have been confidential if it had already been accessed by hundreds of people. Equally clearly, the GMC simply does not like the fact that the internet allows people - and particularly doctors - to blow the lid of dodgy dealings.

Certainly, they get very touchy when people blog about them, as Rita Pal has done many times. I've written about the GMC before, in fairly unflattering terms, and was amused to find them showing up in my logs almost immediately - presumably desperate to find out what was being said about them.

Anyone who's read those posts will have a pretty good idea of what I think about the GMC. For those who haven't, my opinion of the GMC can be very briefly summed up as: An incompetent, inefficient and largely irrelevant organisation with a vastly over-inflated opinion of its own importance and a penchant for hiring clueless, vindictive muppets in place of real staff.

Naturally, that doesn't apply to everyone at the GMC. There are some upstanding individuals who try to provide decent service to both the public and the doctors that they're supposed to regulate, but they are vastly outnumbered by lurching drones who manage to make a retarded mannequin look smart.

Through indirect dealings with this body spanning several years (no, I'm not a doctor), I have come to realise that there is almost no depth to which they are incapable of sinking as they bungle their way from creative misunderstanding, via bloody-minded and misplaced arrogance, to absurd conclusions that bear no relationship to the matter in hand, whatever that may be.

Even by their standards, however, this business of investigating a doctor for linking to a publicly accessible document is bizarre. But behind the bizarre lies the sinister, and it doesn't take much to figure out what the GMC's sinister ulterior motive may be in attempting to take Rita Pal to task over this issue.

Although Rita Pal was the first UK doctor to set up a controversial, NHS-critical website when she established the pioneering NHS Exposed in 2000, she has been followed by a small - but rapidly growing - army of medics. Blogs have made it quick and easy to publish their views online, for anyone to read, without the need for more than a smattering of technical knowledge.

Dr Crippen, Dr Rant and a whole host of others regularly say exactly what they think about the NHS, the GMC and other related issues. The commentary offered by all these websites will strike a hauntingly familiar chord with anyone who's ever had dealings with the NHS.

And, to be blunt, the GMC doesn't like. In fact, they hate it. The idea that doctors - the very people they're supposed to control - can openly criticise them goes right against the grain. Hence this seemingly ludicrous attack on Dr Rita Pal, the biggest, most outspoken critic of them all. In the GMC's tiny mind, they see this as an opportunity to strike back, to send a message to medical bloggers that they are watching, and they will act against anyone who rattles their cage too much.

After all, the web would be nothing without links - that's the whole point of it. If medical bloggers can't link to something that interests them without fear of the GMC popping up like the Spanish Inquisition, they may as well give up.

Of course, all responsible bloggers will check their facts before publishing a link, reviewing the material to see if it is reasonable, sustainable etc. But who could expect them to wonder whether a publicly available document, already published on another site, could be confidential? For that matter, ALL external documents could be confidential to someone - or, at least, someone could wish that they were, even though they are clearly not.

And that someone could then very easily make a complaint to the GMC, as has happened in this case, leaving the blogging doc to fight for their right to say anything at all. That takes months, is stressful, expensive, time consuming, and might even cost them their job! Who's going to risk all that for the sake of running a blog?

Well, thankfully, many people, including the indomitable Rita Pal, whose blog is still going strong. But the GMC's objective is clear - put the fear of Fitness to Practise in 'em, give 'em a taste of power-mad bureaucracy, and they'll shut up for a while.

Of course, it's not going to happen, and the Register's mention of the story has made sure of that. Bloggers are cover the story in their droves, and links to the article are sprouting around the web even now - free speech will not be subdued, no matter how much the GMC may wish to do so.

Billy Seggars.

Spy in the Tie

The long summer holidays are almost over, and, as always, the shops are full of "back to school" type goods. Everything from laptops to pencil cases, and, of course, school uniforms are on offer, but one company has come up with a new twist on the traditional school wear.

Trutex, a 130-year-old firm based in Clitheroe, Lancashire, is contemplating a line of school uniforms with built-in satellite tracking gadgetry, that would allow parents - and schools - to know where kids are at all times. According to this article in the Daily Mail, parents are keen to know that Little Johnny has made it to school in one piece.

Not an unreasonable desire in this day and age, but, I suggest, they could achieve the same result by personally delivering their spawn to the school and picking them up again later. Technology is a wonderful thing, but it is no substitute for actually being there for your kids, and it's a mistake to rely on it too much, anyway.

The idea of bugging your child's blazer might seem like a quick fix to one of the 21st Century's problems, but it overlooks several enormous shortcomings. Firstly, in cases of child abduction, it is usually the child that is kidnapped, not their blazer. And since the media will be alive with descriptions of the missing child and what it was last wearing, you can bet it won't be wearing it for very long.

Secondly, kids lose things. Blazers, pullovers etc., get dumped on floors, piled up and used as impromptu goal-posts, hung on the backs of chairs, taken off, put down and forgotten. Anyone wanting to rely on their kid having the bug with them at all times would be far better off looking to fix it permanently to the child rather than hiding it in their clothing. Failure to realise that is only going to lead to a false sense of security.

Thirdly, as they get older, kids like a little privacy and independence. Yes, I know, they want it perhaps before they're really old enough - and wise enough - to have it. But they want it, nonetheless, and they will go to great lengths to get it. It's already possible for worried parents to remotely monitor the location of a child's mobile phone - a fact which annoys the hell out of some kids, and may even encourage them to go out without this very useful means of calling for help if they really need it.

For kids who already feel over-protected (and note I'm not saying there's no need to protect them, just that some kids don't like it), tracking devices in their clothing may be the final straw that leads to rebellion against much-needed protection.

And even if it doesn't, this concept raises some significant privacy concerns. It seems to me that, for a society already more obsessed with surveillance than any other in the world, this is a dangerous step. It encourages youngsters (those who don't rebel, anyway) to feel comfortable with remote monitoring of their activities, which can never be a good thing. Privacy is already a scarce resource, and it is becoming more rare every day. If upcoming generations don't recognise its value, it will soon be a thing of the past - for, once it is lost, it will be practically impossible to regain.

Billy Seggars.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Vibrator Thief Caged

If you were going to commit an "armed" robbery, and didn't have a gun, what would you use instead? (KIDS! DO NOT try this at home - or anywhere!). Chances are, you'd find something around the house that looked slightly gun-like, and use that.

Whatever you chose, it would almost certainly be more suitable than the item picked by Nicki Jex, of Braunstone, Leicester, when he set out to rob his local Ladbrokes bookmakers. Jex, who was jailed for 5 years this week, grabbed his girlfriend's vibrator and concealed it in a carrier bag, then pretended it was a gun.

I don't think I've ever heard of a more unusual use for a sex toy! The BBC News article covering the hearing doesn't go into details, so we don't get to find out what kind of vibrator it was, but, unless it's of a pretty unusual design, you can bet it doesn't look very much like a weapon. Well, ok, not very much like a gun, anyway.

Nor does the article say whether Jex got a buzz out of it, or whether his girlfriend got her toy back after he was arrested. It's to be hoped so, since, after his cock-up with the vibe, she's going to be without his services for a while.

Billy Seggars.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Getting the Hump

According to this mind boggling article in the Daily Mail, an Australian woman was killed by a pet camel given to her as a 60th birthday present after the animal apparently tried to have sex with her.

Yes, I can imagine how having a 24-stone camel try to hump her would not do this poor woman any good at all, although the article says it's extremely rare for camels to actually kill people.

Nonetheless, a decision will be taken later this week on whether this randy animal should be destroyed. Although I have every sympathy for the victim and her family, I very much hope that the poor creature is allowed to live - after all, it's only young, and was only trying to do what comes naturally. Then again, I don't have much experience of camels, and may see things differently if one tried to mate with me.

Billy Seggars.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Ear to the Ground

According to this fascinating article in the Telegraph, students are using hidden earpieces to cheat in school exams.

Apparently, "The wireless earpiece is so small it cannot be easily seen. Students using the device in an exam hall could be silently called on their mobile phone by an accomplice outside while they could talk back to them via a tiny microphone sensitive enough to pick up whispers."

These gadgets, sold by a Canadian-based company, are specifically targeted at students, with a view to helping them cheat in exams.

Naturally, speaking as someone who has never in my life cheated in an exam, and, indeed, has never needed to, I deplore any means of fiddling the results. That said, cheating has always gone on, and always will. In the end, it's the student who loses out.

But I find it amazing that anyone sitting exams in the UK - certainly, GCSE and A'Level exams - should need to cheat. Face it, GCSEs are hardly rocket science; they are the result of years of inadequate education, leading to a dumbed down qualification that is barely worth the paper it's printed on. If today's students really need to cheat in order to pass one of these lightweight exams, they have far greater problems than the lack of moral fibre that allows them to contemplate dishonesty.

GCSE results for this year will be unveiled in a few days, and I fully expect the media to be full of the usual mixed bag of "better than ever results" and "easier than ever questions" stories - it's so predictable that it's almost become a tradition. I can't help wondering if the Telegraph article, which extensively quotes Isabel Nisbet, director of regulation and standards at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, is a sort of preemptive strike on behalf of the QCA to explain away another embarrassingly high pass rate.

Certainly, Ms Nisbet has previously worked for such disreputable organisations as the General Medical Council, and would therefore be familiar with the technique of damage limitation via the press, even if she did not indulge in such things on their behalf herself. Then again, I must say that I agree with her sentiments on these little contraptions when she says, "the way in which this device has been advertised is absolutely disgraceful."

Yes, it is. But it's even more disgraceful that today's school-leavers should feel the need to use one in the first place. Maybe, if we taught them properly, and quit worrying about stressing the little darlings, they'd be able to cope with a depressingly simple examination like the GCSE - goodness only knows how they're ever going to cope with real life!

Billy Seggars.

Dr Anyetei Murder

Police investigating the horrific murder of paediatrician Dr Victoria Anyetei have issued a statement in connection with their inquiries, which, if the BBC has reported it accurately, absolutely boggles the mind.

Firstly, witnesses apparently recall hearing a car horn sounding at about 7:30AM on the day Dr Anyetei was murdered. Det Ch Insp Anne Brittain said: "We have witnesses who say they remember a car horn sounding at around 0730 BST. It is possible this is linked to the murder of Dr Anyetei. The horn may have been sounded during a struggle with her killer, or she tried to raise the alarm."

That certainly sounds plausible on the face of it, and, in this day and age, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if everyone else in the neighbourhood completely ignored this poor woman's desperate honks for help.

Oddly, though, the same article goes on to say: "Dr Anyetei left home for work at 0800 BST and was found by her 19-year-old son at 1020 BST. "

Honks at 0730 BST, but Dr Anyetei didn't leave for work until 0800 BST? Seems unlikely that she'd be struggling, or honking for help half an hour before she left the house, but I can't imagine that DCI Brittain has missed that fact. With incredible insight, and demonstrating a phenomenal grasp of the case, she went on to say: "Either the attack was targeted or it was a random attack and Dr Anyetei was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Well, that narrows it down, doesn't it? With deductive reasoning of that calibre, I should imagine that an arrest is anticipated shortly after Satan is seen skiing down the snowy slopes of Hell - doubtless honking a horn as he goes.

According to the BBC's article - and, in fact, every other article on this case that I've read - it is believed the killer may have lain in wait in her car, a silver Toyota Avensis. Hmmm, here's a random thought that may, or may not, be of use to DCI Brittain - did that Avensis have an alarm system fitted? And if it did, would it, by any chance, be attached to the vehicle's horn? If so, the honking may have been caused, not by the victim, but by the culprit as they gained entry to the car. As I say, just a thought, and probably way off base. But, based on her statement above, it seems that the bobbies need all the suggestions that can get right now.

It may well be that the honking horn has nothing whatsoever to do with this tragedy. But, if it did, it's a sad and depressingly accurate snapshot of the times we live in. Burglar alarms, car alarms, personal attack alarms, gunshots and final gurgling screams are almost always seen as somebody else's problem; the motto is Don't Get Involved, right? Well, maybe, if you're a lame-brained, irresponsible wimp, you might think it's right to go on your way and never pause to investigate.

I don't, and never have. Despite being cynical and bad-tempered, I've always been willing to help someone in real trouble - if more people thought that way, instead of burying their heads in the sand, maybe Dr Anyetei would still be alive.

Most of the papers are also suggesting that the perpetrator of this vicious attack may have been one of Dr Anyetei's patients, or an aggrieved parent of one of her patients. Yesterday's Times went a little further, pointing out that, as a paediatrician, Dr Anyetei was likely to have been involved in child protection cases and could have been used as an expert witness.

Whether or not she was an expert witness - and, after a brief search, I have found no information to confirm or refute that theory - child protection is a dangerous business, as anyone who has followed the decade-long witch-hunt against Professor David Southall will know.

And, although the campaign against Southall - orchestrated, in large part, by a small group of medically untrained oddballs who hang out on the Mothers Against Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy website - is probably the most famous case of persecution, it is far from unique. The Times reports that, according to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, one in seven paediatricians has been the subject of a formal complaint, whilst, last year, 75,000 health workers were attacked by relatives, patients or carers.

So, on top of a heavy workload and the difficulties of a National Health Service that's collapsing around them, paediatricians also have to put up with an endless stream of meaningless complaints dreamt up by a clueless pressure group and constant threats of physical violence - which may, or may not, be encouraged, perhaps even inadvertantly, by the barrage of misinformed propaganda put forth by the said pressure group.

Yet, so dedicated are these men and women that they still go to work every morning. To my mind, they deserve a bloody big medal just for getting out of bed!

Billy Seggars.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Put 'em to the sword!

Here's a great story from the Daily Express. It seems that a bunch of teenage muggers took it upon themselves to steal from a group of fringe theatre performers who were heading home to their lodgings.

Nothing unusual about that, you might think - happens all the time, everywhere. Yes, but it's not often that one of the victims is dressed in character as the Greek hero Odysseus, complete with a damn great broadsword. Needless to say, Odysseus, AKA Oxford student and martial arts expert Tom Clews, was less than happy to have the £20 earmarked for the cast's supper snatched from his hand, and set off in pursuit.

The Express article doesn't describe what the villains must have thought when they spotted an enraged, sword-wielding lad hurtling after them, but I, for one, hope they have nightmares about it for a very long time to come. I don't suppose it will deter them from a life of crime - anyone who chooses a victim armed with a bloody big sword isn't really a contender in the high-IQ stakes - but, thanks to Clews, this group of thugs' crimewave is over for now.

Despite being belted on the bonse with a bottle, he was able to trip the villains up with his sword and detain them until the police arrived. Good going, Mr Clews!

Billy Seggars.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

The Prescott Memoirs

Former deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, is said to be in discussions with a publisher on a book about his life story.

I can't imagine that very many people would be all that interested - certainly not enough to make the rumoured £500,00 fee worthwhile. Prescott was famed for making utterly incomprehensible speeches in the Commons, and there is nothing to indicate that his outpourings would be any more intelligible in written form.

It seems to me that, if such a book deal were to go ahead, the services of a very talented ghost writer and a whole bunch of interpreters would be called for. Or, alternatively, the publishers could save themselves an awful lot of money by sitting a trained chimp at a keyboard, letting it bang away at the keys for an hour or two and printing the result unedited - chances are, nobody would notice the difference.

Billy Seggars.

Police Have It Taped

Everyone likes to see the forces of oppression getting a taste of their own medicine, and the Daily Mail's article, "Foul-mouthed traffic police caught on their own speed camera" seemed to offer plenty of scope for some Keystone Cops style mirth.

And, indeed, the article left me frothing with indignant rage - but, I suspect, not quite as the journalist intended. The gist of this piece is that a couple of bobbies were dumb enough to record themselves making "inappropriate" comments about members of the public as they drove around looking for traffic offenders.

It seems that, prior to feeling motorist James Chinn's collar for speeding, PCs Robert Topliss and Adrian Wootton had been engaged in putting the world to rights in a more prosaic manner. Their idle chitchat about their "lazy" bosses, their desire for promotion and what they'd like to get up to with the pretty girl they'd just driven passed was interrupted when Mr Chinn allegedly overtook their unmarked police car at some speed, which led to his arrest.

At his appeal hearing, the officers' conversation formed part of the tape recording presented in evidence. Mr Chinn's appeal was successful, and the bobbies in question now face disciplinary action.

WHY? What, exactly, have they done that warrants even a stern talking to, let alone an inquiry? As far as I can tell from the Mail's article, their discussions happened before they encountered Mr Chinn, and I can't see how it could have had any impact upon his arrest whatsoever.

At that time, the officers' job was to drive around in an unmarked police car, looking for speeding motorists. Now, I'd be the first to suggest that that's underhand behaviour, typical of modern policing, and it's a shame they don't put so much effort into catching proper criminals. But that's not the point. They were doing the job they'd been assigned to - i.e. driving around - and, until they located some poor sod in a hurry, they had nothing else to do.

Are they supposed to drive around in silence, fingers on lips (except for the driver, of course!). Perhaps they're expected to recite the Road Traffic Act over and over until they're word perfect? Polish their truncheons?

Come on, get real. This is two blokes, who just happen to be bobbies, doing what blokes everywhere do when they're driving around. And it's not just the blokes, either. I challenge you to sit by a road and watch the behaviour of drivers for half an hour. Specifically, target vehicles with a driver and one passenger in the front. You will notice that, where you have two guys in the car, they're both talking, but both looking forward at the road. Where you have two birds in the car, they still talking, but in most cases they're looking at each other, with the driver's head ratcheting back and forth between her passenger and the road.

Now, what do you think they're talking about? What do YOU talk about in the car? Life, the Universe and Everything, that's what. What they had for their tea last night, what our Shirl said about aunty Joan at Keith's wedding, what their dumb-ass boss has done now, isn't that guy / girl / other CUTE...

To expect anyone - particularly police officers - to behave differently is unfair and unrealistic. Coppers are human too (well, sometimes) and the more human they are, the better they are at their job - which, after all, requires them to deal with ordinary people all day, every day. The worst you can say about Topliss and Wootton is that they were careless in allowing their perfectly normal conversation to find its way onto an official recording.

But I bet most people have done something - and probably several somethings - at least as dumb in the past week, and they will do something equally dumb next week, and the week after. If you've ever sent a sensitive email to the wrong person, accidentally forgotten to mute a phone call while you curse the caller or even locked yourself out of your car or home you know these things happen.

It's a very depressing sign of the times that something like this can lead to an inquiry, and could potentially damage the careers of these two assiduously motorist-trapping coppers. Yes, there's a lot wrong with the way this country is policed, much of which should be the subject of detailed investigation, but two bobbies eyeing up a pretty girl is not on the list.

Billy Seggars.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Hemmed In

Mr John Hemming, Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley, has done well for himself in today's Telegraph. He's quoted in the article, Court secrecy rules hide child abuse errors, and has even managed to pen an opinion piece under the title, Bullying, secrecy and the legal baby-snatchers.

Not bad going for a relatively obscure MP more usually famed for serial bed-hopping and being the first MP to convert his car to run on vegetable oil - there's always one, isn't there? Unfortunately, the rest of the week hasn't been quite so successful for Mr Hemming.

On the 8th August, Guardian writer Johnathon Gornall wrote a thought provoking and well reasoned blog posting called Hemming's Way, in which he was critical of the MP's campaign against child protection agencies. Gornall suggested that John Hemming may be at least partially motivated by personal experiences, that he indulged in "strained logic" and "fanciful interpolation" of facts and sees his crusade as an opportunity to make tabloid headlines.

The post prompted a lengthy debate, in which Mr Hemming and several of his supporters from the Mothers Against Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy website - to which John Hemming is a regular contributor - sought to counter Mr Gornall's observations. Having read the debate - now, sadly, closed to further comment - in detail, it doesn't look like they did a very good job.

After unwisely referring to the abduction of Madeleine McCann and the actions of her parents in leaving her alone, Mr Hemming became trapped in a logical stranglehold from which he first attempted to extricate himself by casting aspersions upon his critic. Failing to do so, and digging himself into a deeper hole in the process, he was only able to disentangle himself by admitting that he felt "that an adult or responsible child should be in the same building" as opposed to leaving young children home alone.

Meanwhile, as though his blustering on this point wasn't enough to support Mr Gornall's hypothesis, Dr Rita Pal, the feisty editor of the NHS Exposed website and blog, set about challenging the embattled MP's public comments and assertions on paediatric medicine. Needless to say, the outcome was Hemming nil, Pal several dozen. As a result, the MP's populist stance against Professor David Southall - whom he has likened to Josef Mengele - began to look increasingly tenuous.

Fortunately for Mr Hemming, the Guardian automatically disables the option to post comments on blog entries after 72 hours, so he was spared the need to respond to calls for him to publicly justify the Mengele allegation. A shame really, as, by the end of the debate, I was dying to see how he would attempt to get himself out of that embarrassing predicament.

Even so, his behaviour under fire seemed to me to be close enough to Mr Gornall's descriptions to lend a ring of truth to the original blog posting, although, in fairness, it may be that he was more hindered than helped by his supporters from the Mothers Against Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy website.

As anyone who has had the misfortune to visit this site (I don't intend to dignify it with a link) will know, many of its regular contributors express views thereon that are bordering on the rabidly weird, most of which revolve around their ongoing persecution of Professor David Southall and anyone who might question their opinions of him. The Mothers Against Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy website and its members will definitely be cropping up in future posts - having had a quick shufti around, some of the material on there is just too bizarre to ignore!

But, for now, John Hemming is the star of the show. I cannot help thinking that it does not do for an MP to take part in, or even be seen to be a member of such a web site. It lends credence to the actions of a very small group of serial complainers, some of whom already have criminal convictions, and encourages them to continue their half-baked vendettas.

Still, this remains (just about) a free country, and there is no doubt that some members of the site attract a fair amount of publicity. If, as Mr Gornall suggests, John Hemming is always happy to make the headlines, I suppose he's entitled to bask in their reflected publicity in exchange for a little credibility - I doubt either commodity will last for long.

Billy Seggars.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Electric Chairs

Look, furniture and technology just do not mix. Yes, I know, Captain Kirk had a really cool chair with lots of whizzy buttons on it. So did Jimmy Savile. But they were just TV props. Real people, in the real world, do not need high tech furniture - except, perhaps, in the case of Old Sparky, whose occupants are not expected to remain in the real world for very long.

So why a bunch of Japanese researchers have developed a table and chairs that glows different colours according to the colour of things put on the table is utterly beyond me. It seems that sensors in the table-top detect the colour of items on the table, an apple mac built into the table relays the data to the chairs, and they obligingly light up in colours to match.

Oh, and the strength of the colour varies according to the weight of the person sitting on the chairs. Great, isn't it? Once upon a time, your weight was a private matter between you and the bathroom scales, perhaps coyly divulged to close friends over a guilt-laden cream cake. Not any more! Your own chair will now demonstrate, in neon hues, exactly how hefty you are. Forget loose clothes and flattering lines. Give up on gripper knickers - the damn chair is broadcasting your weight as clearly as a neon sign.

According to the BBC, "The designers say that instead of furniture being inert and silent, it should be given a chance to interact with the people that use it."

No. Nonono. I do not want my furniture blabbing about my weight, or bringing on a migraine by changing colour every time I put something on the damn table. I chose the colour of my furniture because I liked it. I do not what it suddenly changing colour after I've bought it. I want inert, silent furniture that is comfortable to use and otherwise doesn't do anything at all.

And, while we're on the subject, I don't want any of those damned LCD photo frames, either. I spend my entire life surrounded by various display devices - LCDs, TFTs, CRTs - all glowing to their heart's content. When I get a little time away from them, the last thing I want to see is yet another screen cycling through a bunch of images.

Call me old fashioned, but I'm quite happy with a flat, non-interactive, non-luminous piece of paper in a frame. It's static, relaxing, doesn't consume any power and it works perfectly well. Leave it that way.

Billy Seggars.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Our Lord David Shayler

It's not every day someone thinks they're God, and even less frequently do these folks get any media coverage - most just end up in the nearest nut house.

But things are different if you're an ex-spy, alleged whistle blower and jailbird. Such is the pedigree of Mr David Shayler, who, in an interview with More4 News, last night announced that he was God.

Strangely, this revelation doesn't seem to have excited a great deal of interest in the Almighty's more conventional representatives - there are no reports of the Archbishop of Canterbury hurrying over for a quick natter. I do not propose to comment on Shayler's loaded question: "What I'd say to people is: Do I look mentally ill? Do I sound mentally ill? "

So, is he God? If he is, it would have been handy to keep him in the secret service, wouldn't it? Most parties to a conflict claim to have some form of supernatural backing, but very few can actually produce the Deity in question. The best Al Queada can do is a mangy pic of Osama Bin Laden in a cave somewhere - imagine the propaganda potential if we could trot out the Man himself, complete with MI5 ID!

And, of course, when he's not busy dealing with the knotty problems of world peace, famine, flood, Gordon Brown and getting Middlesborough into the UEFA cup final, there's always the lecture circuit to fit in.

Shayler's already pretty busy in that respect, and it remains to be seen if his new-found divinity will leave him with enough spare time to cope with demand, although I suspect it probably will.

As I've already documented on this blog, I'm not a religious kind of guy. But that was before. Now Our Lord David Shayler has revealed himself, I know exactly who to complain to, and believe me I'm going to make the most of it. A few Commandments on the subject of Smoking bans, Health Fascists and Environmental Zealots wouldn't go amiss, for starters!

Billy Seggars.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Facial Crossdressing

Time was when men were men, women were women and everyone knew where they stood - except, perhaps, in certain parts of the fetish community. Not, it seems, for much longer.

A survey has found that female humans prefer more feminine-looking guys when it comes to planning a long-term relationship. It seems that 'masculine' looking men were judged to be less faithful and worse parents, men with feminine facial features are seen as more committed and less likely to cheat on their partners.

I use the term "female humans" deliberately, because, as far as I can tell, the survey makes no mention of whether the participants were genuine, common-or-garden women, or the increasingly common, depressingly belligerent and universally unappealing "wimmin" variety.

Not that it matters, I suppose. You just know that love-lorn "new men", who have already been tempted into the cosmetics marketplace in recent years, will now be even more inclined towards feminising beauty treatment. A few of them - Tony Blair included, it seems - have already made a start by acquiring moobs (that's man boobs for those of you, who, like me, had never heard the term until the other day).

Still, to look on the bright side, it's news to delight drag queens and closet cross dressers / transvestites everywhere. No longer will they have to hide - when their wife catches them unexpectedly en femme, they can just say they were trying to strengthen their relationship. Whether that cuts any ice with wives and girlfriends outraged to find their fella decked out in their makeup and clothes remains to be seen.

Conversely, it's not such good news for those savvy ladies of negotiable virtue who have figured out that certain guys will pay lots of money to be "forcibly" dressed as a maid and made to clean the lady's house. The nature of fetish being what it is, I wonder, in light of this survey, how long it will be before those same guys are paying the same ladies to be dressed in a lumberjack shirt, heavy jeans and steel-toe'd work boots while they sit around, beer in hand, watching the women work?

And now, if you will excuse me, I must make good my escape - I see Mrs Seggars advancing with bra, panties and face pack in hand, and they look just my size...

Billy Seggars.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Foot and Mouth Disease

Foot and Mouth Disease, eh? Things just aren't going well for Gordon Brown, are they? Less than two months after forcibly extracting Limpet Blair from his perch in Number 10, he's had to deal with a bunch of inept-but-worrying terrorists, floods of almost Biblical proportions, and now Foot and Mouth Disease. Why did he want this job, again?

Still, no matter how badly things may be going for Gordon (and therefore for the public), I can't help feeling sorry for the farmers caught up in this latest fiasco, not least because this outbreak appears to be less an Act of God than and Act of Man. According to the Telegraph, the current Foot and Mouth outbreak almost certainly originated from the Pirbright labs close to where the infected cattle were discovered.

Astonishingly, bods from the Health and Safety Executive have torn themselves away from the pressing business of bath towel research, to produce an interim report on this incident. Broadly, the report concludes that airborne contamination from Pirbright was very unlikely, waterborne contamination was more likely but still a negligible possibility but that contamination due to human movement was a real possibility. Specifically, the report says:

"There are various potential routes for accidental or deliberate transfer of material from the site. We have investigated site management systems and records and spoken to a number of employees. As a result we are pursuing lines of inquiry."

"Release by human movement must also be considered a real possibility. Further investigation of the above issues is required and is being urgently pursued."

The keywords here seem to me to be "accidental or deliberate" - the idea that somebody may have deliberately released Foot and Mouth into the environment is chilling, but, in view of recent terrorist activity, not all that fanciful.

Indeed, the possibility does not seem to have been lost on the mainstream media either, as the Times reports here, and the Independent reports here. I'm not sure whether accidental or deliberate contamination is the preferable alternative, but, for Mr Brown, neither one presents an appealing prospect. He must be wondering why he ever moved out of Number 11.

Billy Seggars.

Madeleine McCann Mystery

To date, I've avoided commenting on this case, not least because I'm more than a little sick of reading about it; Madeleine isn't the only missing child in the world, y'know!

But this article, Madeleine parents' anger as police say she 'died in bedroom' in the Daily Mail is just too much to ignore. There are so many questions in this case that it's difficult to know where to start, but a good entry point is the incredible delay in asking British police officers to help in the investigation.

Now that the Portuguese police have made the request, British experts, sniffer dogs and all the usual wizardry of detection seems to be in place. And oh, look. The first thing they find in the apartment where Madeleine McCann was allegedly kidnapped is a cleaned-up blood stain on the wall.

Despite their being no publicly available information to that effect, the Portuguese police said, "Madeleine McCann was not kidnapped but died in her bedroom," according to the Daily Mail, and the Portuguese media seem to be taking the same line.

Of course, this is the same Portuguese police who seem to have messed around doing nothing very much for a very long time, and their conclusions must, as a result, be suspect. Similarly, the blood stain upon which this speculation appears to be based has yet to be identified. It could very easily belong to someone else who's stayed at that apartment, either before or after the McCanns, it could belong to a maid or other service staff or it could belong to the person who allegedly kidnapped Madeleine.

But what if it doesn't? What if the blood is that of Madeleine McCann? Under those circumstances, some very significant questions have to be asked. For instance, who cleaned up the bloodstain, and why? Would a kidnapper have the time, and the presence of mind, to start cleaning up behind him (or her), not knowing when the victim's parents might return? Would they even care - unless, perhaps, the blood is theirs rather than the victim's?

And would a kidnapper be able to enter the property, injure themselves or the victim, spirit the victim away and then clean up without waking the other two children asleep in the room? No, something is not right here.

According to the Daily Mail, "Madeleine's parents were forced to give a television interview today to counter growing claims in the Portuguese media that they were linked to their daughter's death in some way. " You can see why the media would be thinking along those lines, can't you?

For example, The Jornal De Noticias reported: "The discoveries made by the sniffer dogs, taken together, strongly support the theory that the girl (Madeleine) died in her parents' hotel room, either - as Portuguese detectives believe - the victim of an unexplained accident, or as the victim of a crime. The theory that she was kidnapped seems more and more remote."

Perhaps so; certainly, on the face of the material available in the media, it doesn't seem unlikely. But it must be remembered that the Portuguese police force has hardly distinguished itself in this affair, and such a conclusion may be no more credible than their previous comment, as reported by Mrs McCann: "Even last week the Portuguese police said, 'We are looking for a living child'."

Further, the McCann's are reasonably well educated and are probably at least as familiar as anyone with modern criminal investigation techniques. Wouldn't they do a better job of removing a blood stain, if they had, in fact, attempted to do so? Who knows.

Nonetheless, I'm astonished that it has taken so long for folks to even think about asking this kind of question. The media circus that has followed the McCanns around for weeks seems to have been almost entirely focused on the "human interest" angle of the parents' frantic search for their child. And, of course, that's a perfectly reasonable angle. But shouldn't the media also be asking searching questions?

Apparently not. When, in June 2007, German reporter Sabine Mueller asked Kate and Gerry McCann: "How do you feel that more and more people seem to imply you might have something to do with it?" there was outrage in the media, with the Mirror calling the question a slur.

No, it wasn't a slur. Whether the McCanns had anything to do with the events under scrutiny or not, it was a perfectly reasonable question, and seems all the more reasonable in light of recent developments. Naturally, I don't expect Joe Public to see things that way; to the vast majority of them, even thinking about asking such questions is a travesty of justice. Nonetheless, in the interests of everyone involved - not least the McCanns, and Madeleine, if she is still alive - they need to be asked.

A cloud of apparently not unreasonable suspicion - if the media reports are to be believed - seems to be forming around the McCanns, and, if it is unjustified, it needs to be dispelled with speed. The only way to do that is to ask the questions, examine the evidence and reach a logical, reasoned conclusion. Only then will the truth come out. The process, although belated, has started, and now needs to continue apace.

When the truth is known, the search for Madeleine McCann will be able to proceed without further trivial impedance, or be called off altogether. Time will tell.

Billy Seggars.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Hi-De-Hi Doctors

How often do you wash your hands? Several times every day, I should imagine. Let's assume that you wash them just three times every day. That's 21 times a week, 90 times in a 30-day month and 1095 times every year. By the time you reach the age of 25, that's 27,375 hand washes - ok, I know, kids aren't so good at washing their hands. So, for the sake of argument, lets forget the first 5 years - by the age of 25, at three washes a day with none at all in the first 5 years, that's 21,900 hand washes.

Now, you could be forgiven for thinking that, after 21,900 attempts, even the most intellectually challenged hand washers might have mastered the technique. Certainly, you might imagine that highly trained medical staff, to whom we are happy to entrust our lives, would be fully alongside the basic idea of washing their hands.

Sadly, in Worcester at least, this doesn't appear to be the case. According to this mind boggling article from Channel 4 News, Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust wants to combat hospital infections by installing loudspeakers to play messages reminding staff to wash their hands.

When staff members wash their hands, a pre-recorded message will play, which will remind them what to do.

Eh? You mean they don't already know?? I fully appreciate that doctors and nurses like to think they're very busy people, and, of course, they can't be expected to remember everything. But if they really can't recall how to wash their hands then something is very, very wrong.

Surely, they will have been told of the importance of hygiene at medical school? Have they really managed to go through years of training, and then on to employment in the NHS, without knowing how to wash their hands? If so, wouldn't you think these allegedly intelligent people would have had sufficient initiative to go and find out? No wonder MRSA and other hospital acquired infections are rife in our hospitals!

Indeed, the situation is apparently so grave that these motion-detecting speakers are being paid for out of Government funding set up to combat hospital acquired infections. I wonder if the budget will stretch to include hiring Ruth Madock to record the messages:

" Hi de Hi Doctors!
It's time to wash those hands again.
Now, remember how we do this...
Turn on that tap, wet those hands, and squeeze out some soap.
VERY GOOD, now scrub, scrub scrub.

Let's clean off those nasty bugs.
Well done. Now, remember...
Read your name badge so you know who you are...
Then on to the next patient.

See you soon, Doctor. Hi de Hi!"

Of course, these oh-so-useful devices aren't just to remind forgetful medics how to wash their hands. Oh, no. They can also be used to speak ward visiting times, or so it is claimed, although the volume will need to be turned right down so the constant repetition doesn't drive staff and patients any more nuts than they are already.

It seems to me that this is a solution looking for a problem. Every hospital ward that I have ever visited - and that's a lot of wards - has had a perfectly serviceable notice board, with visiting times pinned on it in LARGE letters. Why would a recorded message be any better? I suppose it might help the blind and those who can't read, but then, how the hell would they find their own way to the ward in the first place? And what about deaf visitors? They won't be able to hear it at all, particularly if the volume is low.

Come on, guys, get a grip. If you really want to fight MRSA etc, quit buggering about with these toys and invest in a few more cleaners. The NHS in Worcester has more than a few failings to make up for, and I don't think recorded messages are going to go very far towards that objective. Get real.

Billy Seggars.

Saturday, 4 August 2007


Greater Manchester Police are trying to put their hands on the owner of a severed fingertip. The detached digit was apparently discovered when a woman from Farnworth went to walk her neighbour's dog, and found it on the floor of her neighbour's property.

GMP are appealing for anyone who has lost a fingertip in an accident in the last few days to contact Bolton CID, although the spokeswoman did not say whether they would be put through to the lost property department.

In the meantime, forensic test are being carried out on the gruesome find - perhaps in the hope that it will finger someone.

Billy Seggars.

Bath Towels and Blithering Idiots

Just when you think you've plumbed the murky depths of Health and Safety lunacy, you realise that you haven't even scratched the surface of this festering make-work blight on society.

Today, several newspapers, including the Sun and the Daily Mail, have featured an astonishing piece of research from the Health and Safety Executive. Not, I hasten to add, astonishing in terms of the results it has produced, which are, apparently, inconclusive.

No, the sheer amazement comes from the fact that it has taken place at all. It seems that the HSE bods have spent several months and £12,000 researching bath towels, and have produced an official report to prove it. The report, called "Role of Towels as a Control to Reduce Slip Potential" - catchy title, eh? - explains how these terminally under worked researchers tried out towels on various surfaces, both wet and dry, to see how easy it was to make them slip. Or, to put it another way, they were examining the friction between the towel and the floor, in an effort to determine whether wet or dry towels slip more easily on each kind of surface.

Friction? More like fiction, except you just couldn't make this kind of nonsense up. If ever there was proof that the Health and Safety Executive spends its time (and our money) on utterly useless interventions into every-day life, this report is it. But it gets better. The report, they say, is inconclusive, and more research is needed. For which they want another £12k and year in which to conduct their study.

Clearly, these folks have too much time on their hands, and far too much tax-payers' money to waste. Far from letting them spend more time and money on research that anyone with any common sense whatsoever could explain to them in roughly 45 seconds (if they're a slow talker), they should all be forced to get a real job. Or, failing that, they should be forced to pay for research into how many people think they're a bunch of skivers with less grip on the needs of society than a dry towel has on a dry floor - and yes, that was one of the permutations they tested.

Billy Seggars.

Neil Bacon of DNUK resigns?

Rumours are reaching my ears that Dr Neil Bacon, founder and CEO of the doctors-only website,, may have resigned. At this time, I have no idea whether they're true or not, and I can't find any references to his alleged departure on the web.

If anyone knows anything about the current real status of management at DNUK, I'd appreciate confirmation about this one way or another.

Billy Seggars.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Print And Be Damned

Is there no end to the ever-growing list of things that are "bad for you"? It seems not, and nothing is immune from scrutiny in the ongoing quest to unmask the latest "threat" to our health.

Obviously, the humble cigarette, not to mention the luckless smoker of same, has become a social leper at the hands - and propaganda - of the Health Fascists. But, unsated by this "glorious" victory, they have now set their sights on an even more insidious evil - nothing less than the common laser printer.

Now, in my not inconsiderable experience, laser printers - and, for that matter, all forms of information technology - can be cranky, capricious pieces of equipment, capable of inducing stress and frustration in even the most placid tech or office worker. But, apart from in fairly obvious and limited ways - such as dropping one on your toe - they've never struck me as being particularly hazardous to health.

Evidently, I was wrong, as a team of boffins from Australia have now discovered. It seems that a third of computer printers - and photocopiers - produce high concentrations of ultra-fine dust that can damage the lungs in much the same way as tobacco smoke.

I am outraged! Appalled! What is the government going to do about it, I want to know? Surely, it's time to rush through some emergency legislation? I know, how about this: ban all printing in enclosed public places, including offices and company cars, and force employers to pin up damn great "NO PRINTING ON THESE PREMISES" type signs! That should do it!

I fully expect all NHS Trusts to immediately implement a ban on printing anywhere on the premises, including in your own car on the car park, and remove any public printing shelters that they might have inadvertently set up. Staff will, henceforth, be seen nipping out to a side street off hospital grounds to print their letters, although I don't expect this to have any noticeable impact on appointment bookings, which are already shambolic to a degree beyond my ability to vilify.

Far fetched? I doubt it. Once the Health Fascists get hold of an idea, it won't be long before they're using it to exercise ever more control over our freedom of choice - for "our own good", of course. But it does beg the question: will they be using laser printers to push their half-baked ideas this time? And did the report's authors use one to print out their findings?

We deserve to be told!

Billy Seggars.