Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Gordon Brown-Trousers and the Treaty of Doom

It looks like the game's up for Gordon Brown-Trousers, as far as the hated EU Reform Treaty goes.

In the run up to the last election, the Labour party promised to hold a referendum, giving the British people their chance to agree with, or oppose, the proposed European Constitution.

Before that could come to pass, "no" votes in similar referenda held in France and the Netherlands effectively killed off the Constitution, much to the relief of the British government. In place of the defunct Constitution, member states began beavering away on something to replace it.

The result was the deeply disturbing EU Reform Treaty, signed by Gordon Brown-Trousers in Lisbon just a few weeks ago. Despite extensive criticism, including a finding from MPs in the European scrutiny committee that the Treaty is "substantially equivalent" to the discredited Constitution, the Prime Minister has insisted that the two are not the same.

He has clung to the largely fictional differences between these documents, using them as an excuse to avoid honoring his party's promise to hold a referendum. After all, his thinking appears to go, if the Treaty isn't the same as the Constitution, we're not actually breaking any promises, are we? Sure, a lot of people, including other European leaders, many members of the British Parliament and most of the British population think they're the same, but so what? We promised a referendum on the Constitution and this is a Treaty. Not the same at all. Nope, not at all.

This kind of childish deception pervades Gordon Brown-Trousers' government to an even greater degree than it did Tony Blair's before him, and it just won't wash. The British people may be laid back to the point of impending horizontality, but they know perfectly well that if something looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, there's a very good chance that it's a duck, no matter what you call it.

Until today, Gordon Brown-Trousers was looking foolish and cowardly; we all know that he daren't hold a referendum because he is bound to lose, and, as was shown by his recent humiliating election climb-down, the prospect of losing is something that terrifies him more than anything else.

But, today, his situation has changed for the much, much worse. In a story that I first discovered in the Sun, and that has since been covered by pretty much all of the media, the extent to which Gordon Brown-Trousers has deliberately misled the country and, apparently, Parliament, is finally revealed.

According to the Sun, Frenchman Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who masterminded the original Constitution, said it had simply been recast to avoid a referendum in the UK. He admitted that all the Constitution's key elements remained in the Treaty, and that the format had been altered because a referendum in Britain would “obviously lead to a no vote”. He said: “In the Treaty of Lisbon the tools are largely the same. Only the order in which they are arranged in the tool-box has been changed."

So there we have it, straight from the horse's mouth. A few weeks ago, journalists at a press conference openly accused the Prime Minister of lying about his reasons for not calling a general election. Everyone thought he was telling porkies, but there was no proof, no smoking gun, nothing to show beyond any possible doubt that he had lied.

And so, instead of doing the decent thing, Gordon Brown-Trousers decided to tough it out, to insist on his version of events and stick to it no matter how pathetically, childishly dishonest it made him look. That approach is not going to help him this time.

The British Prime Minister has not been honest with his people on a matter of far greater importance than the usual political double-talk that we have come to expect from all politicians in recent years. The Treaty that he refuses to allow us to vote on introduces sweeping changes to the way in which we are governed, and even on such a fundamental point, he cannot, or will not, tell the truth.

There cannot, now, be any doubt that the Treaty and Constitution are substantially the same in all but name - the guy behind the Constitution has said so. Nor can we realistically be expected to believe that Gordon Brown-Trousers doesn't know they're the same - and if, by any remote chance, he doesn't know, then he's plainly too stupid to be in charge.

The implications are unavoidable; the Prime Minister has set about avoiding his party's promise to hold a referendum, despite an overwhelming majority of the population demanding just such a vote. In doing so, he and his ministers have asserted time and again that the Treaty is not the same as the Constitution. That assertion has now, once and for all, been shown to be untrue.

If they are prepared to lie - for that is what it amounts to - about so important an issue, how can we ever trust anything that Gordon Brown-Trousers says? In short, we can't. Even if he were prepared to make another humiliating U-turn and accede to demands for a referendum, how could trust what he said in his inevitable campaign for a "yes" vote?

Nothing this devious, power-mad Prime Minister has to say can be taken at face value in light of Valery Giscard d’Estaing's revelations, and that is simply not a tenable position for any Prime Minister to be in.

It is time for Gordon Brown-Trousers to go. Now.

Billy Seggars.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Ghosts and guesswork

Halloween is almost upon us, and the Daily Mail is getting into the spirit of things by reporting that around 37% of 2100 adults surveyed for the National Lottery believe in ghosts.

Unfortunately, the Mail doesn't explain whether this belief stems from personal encounters with something that may, or may not, be of paranormal origin, or whether it is just a general belief in something spooky.

Being of the logical, scientific persuasion, I find it very difficult to say whether or not I accept the existence, or possible existence, of something until the something in question has been adequately defined.

In this case, Wikipedia offers a helpful, if fairly broad, definition: "A ghost is defined as the apparition of a deceased person, frequently similar in appearance to that person, and usually encountered in places she or he frequented, or in association with the person's former belongings. The word "ghost" may also refer to the spirit or soul of a deceased person, or to any spirit or demon. Ghosts are often associated with hauntings, which is, according to the Parapsychological Association, "the more or less regular occurrence of paranormal phenomena associated with a particular locality (especially a building) and usually attributed to the activities of a discarnate entity; the phenomena may include apparitions, poltergeist disturbances, cold drafts, sounds of footsteps and voices, and various odours.""

I can safely say that I have never encountered an apparition of a deceased person, or anything similar to it that could not be explained by other, perfectly normal phenomena. So that's it, then? Case closed? Ghosts do not exist?

Well, maybe. Unfortunately, I can also say that over the years I have had one or two experiences that I cannot rationally explain without edging towards the paranormal, and, in particular, the discarnate entity end of the above definition.

For example, several years ago I was engaged in idle conversation with Mrs Seggars. For no particular reason that I could discern, I experienced a sudden drop in temperature and an uneasy feeling as though "someone had walked over my grave" as the expression goes. Unbidden, my thoughts turned to my favourite aunt - to whom I was very close - so strongly and suddenly that, much to Mrs Seggars' surprise, I spoke my aunt's name aloud.

The sensation passed after a few seconds, leaving me a little concerned. As I was attempting to describe the experience to a sceptical Mrs Seggars, the phone rang; it was my uncle, telling me that my aunt had just died. Needless to say, Mrs S was rendered somewhat speechless, for she had witnessed this event first hand and knew something unusual had happened.

But how to explain the observed phenomena? As a practical chap, who spends his time dealing with cause and effect, carefully putting two and two together to reach a logical, reasoned conclusion, "supernatural" explanations do not sit well with me. And yet, I can conceive of nothing in conventional science that can explain why, or how, this event occurred.

On another occasion, I was working late in the living quarters above an old Post Office, where the owner's computer required urgent attention before the shop opened its doors the next day. The room was large by modern standards, well lit and warm. My jacket hung behind the door, and I was working at the keyboard in my shirtsleeves. The only other occupant was the shop owner, sitting in full view several meters away as he watched TV.

Suddenly, I distinctly felt a hand come down on my right shoulder. Startled, I looked up and spun my chair around, expecting to see someone standing behind me. There was nobody there. The shop owner glanced away from the TV, eyebrows raised.

"I could have sworn..." I started to say, but he cut me off. "Felt something, did you, lad?" I admitted that I had, and he just nodded. "Happens a lot in here. Don't worry about it, nobody's ever come to any harm." And, indeed, I did not, but I cannot explain how this event occurred. I know the shop owner couldn't have caused it, because I could see him clearly. There was nobody else in the room, and nothing on the floor that could have fallen on me, or been thrown at me, to cause the touch on my shoulder. Again, I can conceive of nothing in conventional science that can explain why, or how, this event occurred.

Then again, isn't it the purpose of science to FIND explanations for things that are unexplained? Accepted scientific method is to observe first and reach conclusions later; it is the mistaken province of unimaginative "scientists" to assume something cannot exist because science cannot explain its existence. Rather, they should start with the assumption that an observed phenomenon must exist in some shape or form, and then progress to determining what it is and how it works. NOTHING is inexplicable, it is merely, as yet, unexplained.

So, do I believe in ghosts? As per the standard definition of chain-clanking, head-carrying, vengeful spectres, NO. But, based on my own experiences, I believe science has some work to do. Some form of communication apparently existed between me and my aunt at the instant of her death. What was it? How does it work? Might not something similar be responsible for other phenomena that might otherwise appear to be of "supernatural" origin?

Of course, there have been reports - usually difficult to verify reports - of ghostly goings-on for centuries, and still science has yet to come up with anything more than reasons why such things do not exist. Maybe, in many cases, science is right. And, in fairness, it is difficult indeed to tell the difference between hoaxes, errors and events genuinely in need of investigation.

Also, it may be that other branches of science have yet to evolve far enough to provide the necessary clues that will allow these events to be understood. Just as someone from the 15th Century would have struggled to understand, say, a CD player, we may be lacking vital information that would easily explain such phenomena if only we knew what it was.

In order for that understanding to come about, we need to stop thinking in terms of spooks and spectres, and start thinking analytically. The good old fashioned ghost story might be an entertaining diversion on a long winter's night, but it doesn't advance our knowledge beyond that of our ancestors. With open eyes, an open mind and rigorous scientific methodology we have the potential to figure out just about anything. Shouldn't we be using that talent to lay to rest the biggest ghost of all - that of our own superstitious ignorance?

Billy Seggars.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Italian Government Report Blames Aliens For Mystery Fires

"Aliens were responsible for a series of unexplained fires in fridges, TV’s and mobile phones in an Italian village, according to an Italian government report," according to the Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Scotsman.

All of these stories refer to the peculiar events in the Sicilian village of Canneto di Caronia, where, in 2004, electrical appliances - and, apparently, other things - began bursting into flames of their own accord. The fires continued even after the village's electricity supply was cut off, and one of the independent boffins drafted in to investigate reported that an unplugged electrical cable went up in smoke before his (presumably astonished) eyes.

Of course, these events are old news, but I've been following the story with mild interest since it first made the headlines in 2004. Now, following an investigation ordered by the Italian government, a team of scientists, engineers and military experts apparently believe that the fires "caused by a high power electro magnetic emissions which were not man made and reached a power of between 12 and 15 gigawatts."

In a leaked interim report, the team reveals that the most likely cause of these emissions was "aliens". The report also makes references to a possible UFO landing close the village, saying "burnt imprints which have not been explained were found in a field."

Francesco Mantegna Venerando, Sicily’s Civil Protection chief who coordinated the report, said: "This is just one possibility we are also looking at another one which involves the testing of top secret weapons by an unknown power which are also capable of producing an enormous amount of energy."

Aliens? Secret weapons? Unknown power? Good grief! Now don't get me wrong here, I've nothing against the concept of extra-terrestrial life. It's a damn big universe, stuffed with billions and billions of stars, many of which appear to have planetary systems. The idea that, out of all those suns, our small, insignificant yellow star should be the only one to have provided the ideal conditions for life to have evolved seems incredibly unlikely.

But just because life has probably evolved "out there" doesn't automatically mean that it's coming here - or has been here already. Of course, it doesn't automatically preclude that possibility either, but I must confess to being a little sceptical of the UFO conspiracy theories that seem so common these days.

Think about it. On average, there are several thousand reports of Unidentified Flying Objects every year. By the time you've weeded out the genuine errors, the cranks, the commonly misunderstood astronomical phenomena etc., you're left with maybe a couple of hundred reports each year that cannot be identified and remain unexplained.

Let's be generous and assume that half of them really are alien space craft - that's about 100 per year, or slightly less than one every three days. Now, these alleged aliens obviously aren't all that keen on making their presence known to the world at large or they'd just set their ships down outside the White House and say hello - or, perhaps, destroy it.

So, their alleged presence here is essentially covert. Yet they are spotted every three days or so. Hmm. Either they are INCREDIBLY unlucky, and always manage to choose a spot where there is someone around to see them, or the number of sightings is such a small proportion of the true number of largely unobserved visits as to be statistically insignificant and within their acceptable margin for error.

Neither of these positions is entirely satisfactory; even I'm not THAT unlucky, and the idea that there could be hundreds, or thousands, of alien craft buzzing around all the time raises difficult questions like WHY? Not for the purposes of invasion, obviously - with so many of them around, and technology advanced enough to get them here, I can't see any reason for them to wait, yet we don't appear to have been conquered either. Scientific observation is another common theory, but how many observers does it take to do the job?

Overall, I'm not convinced. Yes, maybe, occasionally the odd alien craft might take a passing interest in this small planet. But hundreds, or thousands, every year? No.

That said, there's an awful lot of serious scientific effort and interest going into the task of looking for indications of extra-terrestrial life, and even more popular interest in UFOs. Shouldn't a story like this, apparently backed by solid, serious, slide-rule-wielding propeller-heads be getting a little more attention than it has?

If it's true - or even partly true - it's something that we all should worry about. Quite apart from the sheer wonder of discovering that we're not alone in the universe, the concept of real aliens with the power to destroy electrical devices at will is more than a little disturbing. Powers like that could blast human civilisation back to the stone age with ease - how much modern technology can you think of that doesn't require electrical power, either in its use or manufacture?

And even if the alternative explanation of some unknown power testing super-weapons is true, that's equally worrying. If there's even a shred of evidence to back up these conclusions, this should be international, front page, breaking news; EVERYTHING pales into insignificance when compared to either of these possibilities, and it's a damning comment on human nature that folks are happily reading about almost anything else today.

We need to know one way or the other - is it true, or isn't it?

Billy Seggars.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Naked Ambition - Web Cam Sex Job Storm

"A Jobcentre has provoked outrage after it was found to be advertising for women to strip for web cams on Internet sex sites for £8 an hour," according to the Daily Mail.

The Daily Mail isn't a bad newspaper, as they go, but it does have a tendency to scramble for the moral high ground, even if it has to heap up a lot of dirt to stand on first. This story continues in typical DM fashion, with much wailing and outrage, not to mention a quote from Tory MP Anne Widdecombe, AKA Doris Karloff. Now THERE'S a babe I'd happily pay £80 an hour to keep her kit on!

And, as is often the case when the Mail is frothing at the mouth, it misses the point entirely. Clearly, there is demand for folks who are willing to disrobe on cam and act out clients' fantasies - the company involved wouldn't be paying the models £8 an hour if there weren't. This means there are folks out there (probably, though not necessarily, of the male persuasion) who want to watch these clothes-shedding birds, and are willing to pay for the dubious pleasure.

Have you ever used MSN Messenger? Yahoo Messenger? AOL Instant Messenger? If you have, you will know they all have the facilities to handle video chat. Or, in other words, anyone with a webcam can, if they wish, allow any other user of the software, anywhere in the world, to see them, live on cam, with or without their clothes, for free.

In view of the obvious demand for naked folks on cam, isn't it better that those who would wish to view such things use an appropriate service, where the performers are guaranteed to be adults who have a complete understanding of what they are doing for their £8 an hour? The alternative is that the "clients" will wander around the free messenger services looking for someone to show them what they want to see.

The world being what it is, they will surely find some exhibitionists, somewhere, who are more than happy to flash their cheeky bits from the comfort of their own rooms for free, just for kicks. And, you might think, that would be fine. But, in their quest for someone of that ilk, they're bound to bother a great many other folks who would, on the whole, rather not indulge a voyeur's fantasy.

And, whether or not the voyeur deliberately seeks out minors, some of the folks they pester will inevitably be under 18. That's a huge and unacceptable risk, and it seems to me that it's much better to accept that some folks want to watch babes getting naked on cam, and that some babes are happy to get paid for obliging, and then let them get on with it without disturbing anyone else.

Of course, that's too logical for the Daily Mail and the folks who have contributed quotes to the story, which goes some way to showing just how out of touch they are. This sort of thing goes on all the time. Prevention is impossible, even if it were warranted; a degree of control, by means of a legitimate business with appropriate regulation, is not and should be encouraged.

Billy Seggars.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Missing Moggies

Dastardly deeds are afoot in Bramley Crescent, Southampton. According to the Daily Mail, a disgruntled local resident is stealing their neighbours' cats and may be dumping them at least 25 miles from home.

Apparently, the evil catnapper is a bit brassed off about the miscreant moggies going wee-wee and poo-poo in their garden, digging up their flower beds and generally getting on their nerves.

Fair enough, I can understand how other folks' pets can occasionally be a bit of a pain. But there my sympathy ends. To steal - for that is what it amounts to - a treasured pet, for whom the owner obviously cares deeply, is cruel, heartless and evil. The distress caused, both to the owners and, in some cases, their children cannot be justified. But what about the animals themselves?

At least one of them is ill, and needs constant medication. Its chances of survival without that medication are slim. But even this wicked person's more healthy victims must be suffering some degree of fear and distress. Yes, I know, cats are independent creatures. Even so, to do this to one is unfair and inhuman.

Despite my disinterest in the fate of snails and other may-soon-be-extinct sob stories, I am, broadly, an animal-friendly kind of person. I LIKE animals, and have occasionally gone a long way out of my way to help one in distress. Over the years I have come to various conclusions about people too, one of which is that anyone who is unkind - or worse - to animals is not a very nice person. If they will be unpleasant to an animal, they're just as likely to be unpleasant to their fellow humans, too.

My theory seems to be proven yet again in this case, as the cat thief doesn't seem to care that the distress they have caused to the missing cats is reflected back onto their owners.

Fortunately, the perpetrator doesn't seem to be very bright. In fact, I'd suggest that, as well as being unpleasant and cruel, they're dumb as gravel. For, as the Daily Mail reports - and even helpfully reprints - the thief has written to the distressed owners explaining their reasons for stealing the cats.

Apart from the writer's obvious inability to express themselves adequately, the letter contains a number of clues. Assuming that they're not deliberately planted red-herrings, it really shouldn't be difficult to track this person down:

  • They live in the Bramley Crescent area (not necessarily on the Crescent itself) with their family, and have done so for many years. So a swift examination of the electoral role might be in order - newer residents can be excluded.
  • Their residence is somewhere on the map referred to in the letter. I haven't seen that map, but it must narrow things down a bit! If anyone would care to clarify the map referred to, I'd love to see it.
  • They, and apparently their relatively immediate neighbour, have young children - older children are perfectly capable of avoiding "cat poo" on their own! So long-time residents with children who live next door to someone with children, then. Or, perhaps, long-time residents with grandchildren who live with them, or visit frequently.
  • They like "(Very Welcome") birds, so look for bird tables and other assorted ornithological paraphernalia. Membership lists for organisations such as the RSPB might be a good place to look, too, although that might be a little hard to find.
  • They like "expensive shrubs", and have a garden. Presumably, such a garden would be fairly well tended and would look reasonably smart - suburban jungles need not apply. A look at Google maps, in Satellite mode might be handy.
There is much, much more to be derived from the letter - it's a veritable goldmine for anyone with the time and patience to identify this evil-minded individual.

I wish the residents of Bramley Crescent every success in recovering their pets and in locating the criminal who has so wickedly taken them away. They probably won't get more than a slap on the wrist in this permissive era, but the resulting publicity and vilification from society in general might be worthwhile - Britain is still a nation of animal lovers, and someone who would do this isn't likely to find much goodwill wherever they go.

Billy Seggars.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Gordon Brown-Trousers and the EU Treaty

Gordon Brown-Trousers is at it again. Tomorrow, he's off to Lisbon for a European summit at which he will agree to the proposed EU Reform Treaty.

Despite polls today showing that almost 7 in 10 (ok, for the pedants, 6.9 in 10) of people surveyed want a referendum on this awful treaty, Gord yet again made it clear that, in Prime Minister's Questions yesterday, that he will not put this matter to a public vote.

The Treaty won't lead to any "fundamental change" in the way the country is governed, he claimed. This is the man who, only a few days ago, had the bare faced cheek to stand before a press conference and insist, in the face of direct allegations that he was lying, that he had not planned to hold a general election and then called it off when Crazy Cameron did better than expected in opinion polls.

It is also the man who, just a few days later, stole Conservative and Lib Dem policies, and then claimed, with a perfectly straight face, that he had planned to introduce similar measures in the last budget, but didn't.

As Chancellor, he has presided over the pillaging of pension schemes, and a raft of stealth taxes, the most recent of which only came to light the other day. In a move that seems likely to impose taxes on pub quizzes the Treasury drew up new guidelines for the inspectors who determine the rateable value of pubs across the country. But, unlike the old guidelines, the new rules weren't published online, or made available in the Commons library until MPs started asking questions.

Taxes don't come much more stealthy than that, do they? So, after years of deceptions along those lines, why the hell should we believe this guy when he says the EU Reform Treaty won't change the way this country is governed, and is "substantially different" from the discredited EU constitution?

Instinctively, I don't believe him. But let's put that aside for a moment. Clearly, the vast majority of people would like to have a say in this matter. If the Treaty is as good as Gord would have us believe, where's the harm in putting it to the vote? Surely, Gord and his buddies are not incapable of explaining, in clear, simple detail, what's so good about it? And if it IS good, what is there to lose?

Unless, of course, they fear that other folks might do a better job of exposing its flaws? Fear is the key word, here. Brown-Trousers wouldn't hold a leadership election when he did Blair out of a job, he bottled out of a general election when he though Crazy Cameron might not do terribly badly and now he daren't allow the public to speak their mind on the EU Treaty.

Fear is the only possible explanation; if he thought he could swing a vote his way, it would be a massive boost for his utterly tattered reputation, and I doubt he could resist the temptation to do so.

It follows that he thinks he might lose a referendum on this subject, and from THAT we can deduce that there are points in the Treaty that even he cannot dress up as being beneficial to Britain.

If our own Prime Minister is too chicken to let the people decide, should we not be very, very concerned about this Treaty?

Billy Seggars.

Superbug Saga

The hospital superbug saga rambles on, with ever more depressing news emerging about the state of health care in the NHS. Last week it was revealed that C.diff had killed up to 90 patients at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Trust.

Today, more figures from the Healthcare Commission show that 44 Trusts are considered "weak", and that 16 actually lied about following the Department of Health's anti-superbug Hygiene Code, when in fact they had not. According to The Sun, under the wonderful headline The Good, the bad & BUGLY, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Trust was one of them - there's a surprise, eh?

Actually, I don't find any of these revelations surprising. Nor, I am sure, will anyone else who's had any dealings with the NHS over the past 10 years or so. The evidence is there for all to see - you just have to wander around your local hospital for an hour or two and it will be very hard to miss.

Basic hygiene just does not happen in the NHS, and, despite the protestations of various senior managers, this has nothing whatsoever to do with funding. Go on, go for a walk around your local hospital. Wander on to any ward you fancy (probably best to do that in visiting hours, mind!). You will find the place fairly bristling with sinks and soaps and alcohol disinfectant rubs for the hands, and BLOODY BIG signs urging folks to wash their hands as they come and go.

You will also notice that very few people use them, and that the majority of those that do are visitors. They've read the papers, they see the signs and they do their bit - possibly because of the novelty value. Staff, who see the signs all day, every day, breeze past them without a thought.

This is not about resources, it's not about training. It's about sheer, bone idle laziness. How much training is required before someone is able read a notice and follow it? Approximately none.

Yet Gordon Brown-Trousers, the only PM in history to be afraid of winning an election, says the Government has pledged an extra £100 million to combat MRSA and C.diff. Fine, it can't hurt. But it won't help all that much, either - both carrot AND stick are needed here.

Something like this. Change the law. Make it so that any NHS employee failing to observe hygiene regulations can be (and is) sacked on the spot without any compensation, whether they're cleaners or consultants. Set up a hotline, and a web site, where patients, relatives and proper NHS people can pass on information, in confidence, about the dirty, unhelpful buggers who mess these places up. Encourage the public to take pictures of dirty hospitals, and staff ignoring the regulations, and submit them with their complaints.

Make it easy for patients, and their relatives, to institute legal proceedings against hospitals where they have contracted a hospital acquired infection, and ensure that staff, as well as the Trust, are personally liable. Damages should not fall below £100,000 and should have no upper limit, with the judiciary being encouraged to award compensation far in excess of the minimum.

Just making more cash available is not the way forward; making it financially more appealing to clean up than taken to the cleaners might be.

Billy Seggars.

Friday, 12 October 2007

The Fax of Life

It seems like management at the Royal Mail and those lazy, good-for-nothing layabouts currently masquerading as post men may have come to an arrangement that could end the recent bout of industrial (in)action.

No doubt that will come as some relief to folks eagerly awaiting mail that's languishing in a sorting office somewhere, and might be reasonably good news to mail-order companies. But, for the most part, it seems this dispute has served to illustrate how easily we can do without the Royal Mail.

Email is making the postal service increasingly irrelevant to many people - so much so, in my case, that I can't remember exactly when I last posted a letter. I do know that, so far this year, I have done so on exactly three occasions. When you compare that with the thousands of emails and dozens of faxes I have sent over the same period, the absence of a working postal service has approximately no detrimental impact upon my life. In fact, if anything, I've noticed a slight improvement - if postal strikes guarantee the continued absence of junk mail that usually floods through my letter box at whatever time the Royal Mail feels like delivering my post today, they can stay on strike forever as far as I am concerned.

Other folks seem to be reaching similar conclusions, too. According to Personal Computer World, amongst other publications, sales of fax machines and scanners have risen by 25% during the postal strikes. And why not? At around £50, basic fax machines are not unduly expensive, and the average fax takes only a minute or two to send - well with the minimum call charge of most telephone service operators.

Instant delivery and low cost compares very favourably with the Royal Mail's minimum first class charge of 34p, and they can't even promise to deliver your mail the next day. Whereas, a fax doesn't need to be sent before the "last post" deadline, you don't need to run out to a post box, or discover that you've run out of stamps again, and you can even send one on a Sunday - unlike the Royal Mail, which from Oct 28 2007, won't even collect mail on a Sunday, let alone deliver it.

It's a no brainer for anyone who sends even a moderate number of letters, or even for someone who just wants to be sure their correspondence is going to arrive. And, having bought a fax machine, you can bet folks will use it. The bone idle, belligerent lads and lasses at the Royal Mail are to be congratulated for selflessly demonstrating, by taking their service away, just how unimportant that service is becoming.

Sure, some things still need to be sent by post, and probably always will. But, for many other things, there are viable alternatives which are becoming increasingly popular. Pay and working conditions are the least of the moaning minions problems - ensuring that they have some work to be paid FOR might be more appropriate. If they want to keep their jobs, they need to prevent the Royal Mail from becoming so badly sidelined as to be a last resort in cases where alternative delivery methods are not possible.

To do that, the mail needs to be fast, frequent, reliable and, if not free, then at least reasonably priced. A minimum first class charge of 34p for a letter that might, or might not, be delivered tomorrow, but, if it is, probably won't be delivered until later in the day, and if it isn't, won't be delivered until later the NEXT day (assuming that's not a Saturday or Sunday) won't cut it.

There need to be two, or preferably three, domestic deliveries on week days, at least two on Saturdays and maybe one on Sundays. First class mail MUST be delivered within 24 hours of posting, anywhere in the UK, with no excuses for outlying areas allowed. First class mail posted within 20 miles of its destination should be delivered the same day. Collections must be increased rather than decreased, with late pick-ups up to 8PM being the norm at every post box. Pricing shouldn't be much more than the cost of a fax for letters.

These are the services that the Royal Mail is in serious danger of losing to alternative means of delivery, and, if it cannot compete, the loss is richly deserved. Where the Royal Mail could stand to gain is in package and parcel delivery. Until someone gets around to inventing the matter transporter, they will need to be delivered in person. That is a premium service, with the only realistic competition being expensive couriers. Prices could rise - in line with improved customer service, naturally - for rapid delivery, and, if people could be sure that their important package would be with its recipient within 24 hours (less for local deliveries), they would pay.

I know from personal experience that this model works very well for smaller (and even very small) independent courier companies who, despite charging whacking great fees, go from strength to strength. Surely, with all its existing infrastructure and expertise, the Royal Mail could provide a better service at a lower price and still make a go of things?

Well, maybe. But, at the moment, all the Royal Mail looks good for is pouring incorrectly addressed junk mail through my letter box. Once it was an institution to be proud of. Now, with greedy workers who can't even see that they're doing themselves out of a job, I'm not so sure.

Billy Seggars.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Place In The Sun

As newspapers go, I like the Sun. Its combination of small words, big print and even bigger knockers is easy on the eye and the brain. Matters of global urgency, so earnestly debated in other newspapers, are reduced to a few simplistic paragraphs and jammed between the celebrity gossip and the footy results.

There's a lot to be said for this approach, which should serve to remind even the most pompous broadsheet reader that there's more to life than "issues". It doesn't, of course, because they don't read the Sun. Which probably explains why the world is in such a mess; the pseudo-intellectuals who think they run the show are utterly out of touch with what the vast majority of people really care about - i.e. celebs, footy, the cost of a pint and a smattering of "news".

Naturally, I'm not suggesting that the Sun's worldview is the only thing worth reading. Far from it, in fact. But there is certainly a well-deserved place for it alongside the lofty broadsheets, the tittle-tattling Daily Mail and the slightly more boring Express. My suggestion to anyone who really wants to know what's making the world go round is to read them all.

Put them all together, and somewhere between the highbrow ramblings of the broadsheets and the Sun's catchy headlines you will find a fairly realistic picture of the average man in the street, what's important to him and why.

Gordon Brown could learn a lot from such an exercise, as he frantically and unsuccessfully tries to put the election-that-never-was fiasco behind him. He's not getting away with it, and he doesn't know why; the idea that people now see him as a devious, manipulative, cowardly liar, and always will, seems to have utterly escaped him.

Stealing Crazy Cameron's policies on Inheritance Tax, amongst other things, will not help him, either. Last week, some gullible souls might - just about - have believed that he really did think of it at the last budget, but decided not to do it then. Today, after the blizzard of deceptions he's put forward to explain away his reasons for bottling out of an election he could have won, nobody is going to believe a word.

So this once-popular (or, least, more popular than Tony Blair) Prime Minister stands knee deep in humiliation of his own making, his credibility in tatters, destroyed beyond all apparent hope of repair. And this is the man we're going to trust to fight Britain's corner in Europe, as the EU Treaty looms ever nearer?

Take a tip, Gord - read the papers. Carefully. All of them. You will notice an overwhelming demand for a referendum on this damned treaty. Actually, you'll probably notice an overwhelming dislike of it, but the only way the British people can convey that to you is via a referendum - assuming you are prepared to listen to them at all.

Let them have what they want. It will make you look good. Well, ok, nothing could make you look GOOD, as such, but it will make you look a hell of a lot better than you do right now. Whereas a further arrogant decision to do things your way, particularly over something this important to them, will finish you for good.

Yes, I know, Crazy Cameron will call it a U-turn. And, let's face it, it will be - you're PM and you have no desire to listen to the people. But it will pull your sorry, shiny-trouser'd ass out of the fire. Take the bull by the horns for once instead of regurgitating its excrement, do the right thing, and you will have ample opportunity to spin this to your advantage. What have you got to lose?

Billy Seggars.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Brown Is Yellow

So he's bottled it, then. Gordon Brown, possibly the most craven, self serving, power-addicted Prime Minister in British history, has finally announced that he won't be calling a General Election any time soon.

In an interview with the BBC, Brown said he wanted a chance to show the country his "vision for change" and to develop his policies further.

What he really means, of course, is that he's noted a small and no doubt temporary boost in Crazy Cameron's popularity, and has run like a rabbit. What's up, Gord? Are you afraid the electorate won't believe you if you simply tell them about your vision?

Well, in fairness, they probably won't. Why should they, after the way you, as Chancellor, have been conning them for years?

Apart from being a humiliating climb-down on a scale rarely seen in British politics, this incident shows Brown in his true colours - yellow, through and through. He's waited so long to get into Downing St, schemed so hard, that he simply can't stand to call an election, no matter how likely he is to win it.

And, at the moment, he IS likely to win. The Tories may well be on the up, but that's unlikely to last as things stand. Cameron isn't really popular, and a concerted Labour spin campaign (you know, the kind they're so good at, like they did with David Kelly) would probably deal fairly smartly with his temporary popularity.

But Brown - who was streets ahead in the opinion polls until a few days ago - is so happy to have finally become PM that he just won't risk it. The idea of Cameron doing even reasonably well fills him with dread, and so he clings to power at any price, no matter how bad it may make him look, or how damaging it may be for his party and the country.

Just the sort of chap we need for Prime Minister, isn't he? The irony is that, even though he would probably win if he calls an election now, he probably won't if he waits. His policies are dire, particularly where Europe is concerned, and it won't take people long to get really fed up with him. They're already showing signs of doing so, as demonstrated by the temporary interest in Cameron; anyone willing to consider Tory rule under Cameron must be really brassed off by the current government!

That discontentment will only increase as Brown blusters and spins his way towards the time when he must, by law, call an election. By then, the Tories will probably have found a real leader - maybe William Hague - and Brown will be well and truly sunk. In selfishly clinging to his position like a spoilt child, Brown is merely ensuring his eventual downfall - and what a downfall it will be! An enormous majority, and the benefit of the so-called Brown Bounce, squandered in the interests of self-preservation.

Unfortunately, much as I can hardly contain my glee at seeing the smug, overbearing, pompous, power-hungry Gordon Brown belittled in comparison to his hated rival Tony Blair's resounding victories, it means that the country will have to suffer under the heel of his repressive government for a year or two yet.

Stoic though Brits are, I'm not sure the British way of life will survive for that long - Gord, and Tone before him, has already decimated so much of what was good about the UK that by the time he is thrown out on his ear, there won't be very much left.

Billy Seggars.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Dog End Wardens

It's never ending, isn't it? A few days ago I posted about new Highway Code regulations that look set to stop folks from smoking while they drive their own cars.

Of course, it's been illegal to smoke in company vehicles - unless the smoker is the only person who ever uses the vehicle - since this country's ridiculous smoking ban came into force a few months ago. But how many people would expect that law to be enforced by a Dog Warden, of all people?

Lorry driver Leonard King certainly didn't, and paid for his lack of insight with a £260 fine, according to the Daily Mail. Yes, I know, he broke the law, pathetic though that law is, and a fine may well be in order. It's not the fine that bothers me, it's the folks who made it possible.

Apparently, "A spokesman for the council in Conwy - the town where the offence took place - said its three dog wardens were spearheading enforcement of smoking laws and had issued four fixed-penalty notices. He said police community support officers would soon also be given the task. "

Dog wardens?? Well, that's a novelty - bet it's been a long time since you saw one of them spearheading anything at all, eh? And as for the PCSOs, those would be the same kind of staff who aren't allowed to fish a drowning child out of water and must run away if their decrees are resisted, right? But I see it's ok for them to hound respectable citizens for lighting up. Nothing like going after the easy targets, is there?

What has happened to the UK? Dog wardens grassing up smokers, cardboard coppers, logged telephone calls, CCTV on every corner - doesn't all this sound just a little bit sinister? Add in the proposed ID cards and DNA databases and it starts to sound more than a little bit sinister.

Not long ago, this was a free country, but that fundamental aspect of life in the UK is being eroded at a frightening pace. In just a few short years those freedoms will be gone, or be so seriously constrained as to be meaningless.

Something must be done, but I'm damned if I can see what. Revolution really isn't in the British character, and anyway would probably be quelled by brigades of highly trained combat librarians - egged on by power mad dog wardens, no doubt. Emigration has its attractions, but this is my country - why should I be driven out by the Health Fascist contingent and other assorted loonies?

For now, there seems to be nothing for it but passive resistance. Joy.

Billy Seggars.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Phone Log Law

New laws came into force yesterday (1st Oct 2007) requiring information about every text message, landline and mobile phone call made in the UK to be logged and stored for one year.

The information will be available to over 600 public bodies and quangos. Naturally, this will include the police and intelligence agencies, and it's even just about possible that one could construct reasonable arguments in favour of granting them access to such information.

But it doesn't stop there. Other bodies, including the Gaming Board, the Food Standards Agency and every local or district council in the land will have access to it. So far, I haven't been able to find a complete list of bodies who will be able to access this information, but I've seen enough to know that, without a shadow of a doubt, yet another aspect of our privacy has just been given away.

For example, anyone who's ever had the opportunity to observe the internal workings of a local council will already know that some of what goes on there is only loosely associated with civic duty. Associations are made, nods and winks are exchanged, strings are pulled and things of benefit to local officialdom happen unopposed.

It's a way of life for them, and is so commonplace as to be barely worth mentioning save as an example of how easily records of your phone calls can now fall into unscrupulous hands. Yes, I know, there are supposed to be restrictions on what this information can be used for. There are supposed to be restrictions on a lot of things, and without them there'd be no need for nods, winks and strings, would there?

It won't be long before local politicians routinely, albeit illegally, check out their opponents' phone records in their quest for something they can use against them. And that will only be the tip of the iceberg, the thin end of the wedge. Big Brother may well be watching, but he's about to find his vantage point becoming increasingly overcrowded as Medium Brother, Little Brother, Uncle Tom Cobley and all move in beside him.

Billy Seggars.