Friday, 29 February 2008

Return to Sender?

We live in a dangerous world and, for better or worse, we are forced to rely upon the military to make it just a little bit safer. Now don't get me wrong here, I have nothing against the military as such, they do a difficult job in dangerous circumstances and I wouldn't want to do that job myself etc.

But, equally, the modern world of warfare, with its high-tec, quick-kill weapons and mercurial targets, can live without Colonel Blimp. We need smart, savvy warriors, not some lantern-jawed mannequin in a uniform. Which is why this story in the Telegraph is very, very worrying indeed.

It seems that Mr Gary Sinnott, of Mildenhall, Suffolk, wanted to promote his home town and set a website for that very purpose at the address (I'm not giving the fully qualified URL, or linking to it, for reasons that should become obvious below). So far, so good, you might think, very public spirited of him.

Unfortunately, Mildenhall is also home to a bloody great US Air Force base, which appears to have a domain name remarkably similar to that chosen by Mr Sinnott - I have no idea what that domain name is, but I'd imagine, being of the military persuasion, it might be .mil domain. There'd be nothing unfortunate about that if various bods in the US military could tell the difference between a .com domain and a .mil domain, but that would be asking too much, wouldn't it?

Yep, you guessed it, poor Mr Sinnott's inbox has been inundated with confidential - as in VERY, VERY confidential - information, all mailed to a total stranger by the folks in charge of those high-tec, quick-kill weapons I mentioned earlier. In fact, the only way Mr Sinnott has been able to stop the US Air Force from spamming him with such minor information as presidential flight paths and top-secret passwords was to give them the damn domain name.

Which, if you think about it, isn't actually stopping the plonkers from making mistakes, it's just making sure that it doesn't matter when they do. I suspect it's rather harder to do that with other aspects of military operations - like, for eg, pointing missiles at the right target - and I very much hope someone rather more competent and technologically savvy is in charge of that!

In the meantime, I hope the US Air Force at least compensated Mr Sinnott for his trouble - sending spam's illegal in the US, isn't it?

Billy Seggars.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

In the Bag

By and large, the Daily Mail is a fairly decent newspaper. Oh sure, it has its annoying features, like a total blind spot when it comes to reporting anything remotely technical, but over all it's not too bad. Until, that is, they get some damn fool campaign into their heads.

It's an exceptionally irritating feature of this newspaper that's been around for a very long time, and I was hoping that, like a child growing out of an annoying habbit, they'd got it under control. How wrong I was!

The Daily Mail, in its raving lunacy, has mounted an all out assault on the common plastic bag, under cover of some evironmental clap trap. For a couple of days now, this usually sane newspaper has been stuffed with cute pictures of various animals in various stages of expiration due to plastic bags. Now don't get me wrong, I like animals and I'd be very happy to see them NOT dying in plastic bags.

But I can't help wondering what the damn photographers were doing whilst, seemingly all around them, the beasts of the land and sea were dropping like flies! And if they weren't, exactly, dropping like flies, the Daily Mail is being just a little disingenuous, isn't it?

But best of all, I just LOVE today's headline "Gordon Brown gives supermarkets one year to start charging for plastic bags ... or else" and the associated story which contains the words, "The Prime Minister is lending his voice to the Daily Mail's campaign against the blight of "plastic poison". "

I have lost count of how many times the Daily Mail, along with just about every other newspaper, has lambasted this incompetent Prime Minister on just about every aspect of his policy. And now, because he has, cynically, spotted an opportunity to smarm his way into the good books of Daily Mail readers everywhere, the Mail is singing his praises. Oh PLEASE!

Let's have a little reality here - a bloody awful Prime Minister, leading a government that's descending further into a midden of its own making every day, is in no position to ban plastic bags. Let's hear something about the election that never was, or forgotten donations, missing personal information or a European Treaty that we didn't get to vote on.

We do NOT need to hear about plastic bags, unless it's by how much the government is aiming to enrich itself when they enforce payments for them. Oh yes, Gordon Brown-Trousers SAYS he'll be donating the money to worthy causes. But we know that one by now, don't we?

And, in the meantime, what does he think we should be carrying our shopping in? The bags issued by most chain stores are already wafer thin and prone to disintegrating just as you get out in the rain - perhaps we should just give up and stop buying things right now?

As for the Daily Mail, well, these things are usually only temporary fads, lasting only until saner heads prevail. Until they do, I'll be sending the paper a get well soon card and heading for a rival that makes even a little sense - possibly, the Sunday Sport.

Billy Seggars.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Michael Martin Under Fire

I see Commons Speaker Michael Martin is completely failing to extricate himself from the shroud of sleaze that has descended upon him in the past few days.

Of course, there have been allegations of bias against him ever since he became Speaker, and even a casual observer could see where those allegations come from, even if they don't always agree with them. But the recent revelations are altogether more concrete.

People more or less expect politicians to be sleazy, slimy individuals, and the more senior they are, the more sleazy they are assumed to be. So when the Speaker is accused of favouring his (allegedly) former colleagues in the Labour party, we just nod, shrug and move on - it's just one more example of how our leaders treat us with contempt.

But when you start talking about money, and, in particular, financial impropriety, people pay a little more attention, provided that the story is relatively simple and suitably humiliating for the accused. In the case of Gorbals Mick, it's very simple indeed. No deeply devious allegations of complex fraud, or forgotten donations, for him. No, it's just air miles (allegedly earned on official business and then dished out to his family, against the rules), £4000 worth of taxi fares for his Mrs (which, apparently, the press were told were for official purposes when they were really shopping sprees) and expenses claims for a second home that doesn't, in truth, appear to have a mortgage.

Even if all of these allegations against the Speaker are upheld, they're hardly Earth-shattering. In fact, judging by the reaction of other MPs (well, Labour MPs, anyway) they're not even unusual. No, but for one hugely embarrassing detail, Gorbals Mick's snout-in-trough antics would be utterly unremarkable.

Unfortunately, he's the guy in charge of investigating MPs perks, and the ways in which they can be, and undoubtedly are, abused. Now, I'm familiar with the expression "set a thief to catch a thief", but I'm sure it shouldn't be applicable to the highest offices in the land.

And that is what's caught the public's attention - and the media's attention, too. The irony, the sheer arrogance of having MPs investigated by a body chaired by a guy under investigation himself is enough to make even the most cynical observer shake their head in disbelief. But, more than that, what does it say about the folks who run the country in our name? Couldn't they find even one straight guy to do the job? And what about the politicians flocking to the Speaker's defence? Are they, perhaps, more interested in saving their own perks and fiddles than Mick's reputation?

The Sun has a very nice summary of the situation, under the brilliant headline "Speaker well out of order, order" but the Daily Mail is far more detailed - and vicious, in a genteel way - when they point out that Gordon Brown-Trousers has uttered only restrained support for the Speaker, and a Minister feels that Gorbals Mick is damaging the reputation of Parliament. No doubt, but he's also inadvertently damaging the ability of expenses-grabbing public servants to keep their hand in the till - shame, eh?

So, will he have to go? Of course. If he were a decent guy, he'd do the decent thing and step down right away. But he's an MP, isn't he? He didn't get to be one of those through decency, not these days. So he'll probably cling on to his job for a little while longer, and then quietly step down at the first non-humiliating opportunity.

After all, clinging on to power is what politics is all about these days, isn't it? Gordon Brown-Trousers won't hold an election, has demonstrably misled the electorate on various matters, his Government leaks sensitive personal data like a very big sieve, his Home Office can't even hold on to prisoners, let alone information about them, and some of the biggest hitters on his side of the House have trouble recalling who donated what to their various election campaigns. Wouldn't any honourable PM stand down, and take his incompetent government with him? Not the McBean, and not, I suspect, Gorbals Mick, either. Why do we even bother voting, eh?

Billy Seggars.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Pulling our legs?

"Self-repairing tights are among the developments that could result from a remarkable material that is able to heal itself, once torn or broken," according to this fascinating article in the Telegraph.

Professor Ludwik Leibler and his colleagues of the Industrial Physics and Chemistry Higher Educational Institution in Paris, France, have come up with a marvelous new substance that behaves like rubber but is also able to repair itself when severed ends are brought together for a few minutes.

Sounds good, and I'm sure there must be a million uses for this technological miracle, but somehow I can't see self-repairing tights as being one of them. For one thing, unless I have misunderstood the Telegraph article (which is quite likely), I'd have thought that rubber tights would only appeal to a relatively small niche in the fetish market.

For another, it surely can't be an economical proposition - I'd have thought pantyhose manufacturers pretty much relied on them laddering in the long run. Anything that makes seamless repairs in a pair of tights is going to put a major hole in their profits, in the same way that a self sharpening razor blade would be BAD news for Bic.

On the other hand, or foot, as the case may be, consider this article, also from the Telegraph, which announces the impending arrival of self-cleaning socks, amongst other things. If self cleaning and self repairing properties could be combined into one product, you'd have the solution to one of life's greatest mysteries - why, when you're in a hurry, can you only ever find odd, dirty or holy socks?

The answer is probably because our long-suffering wives have removed all the socks they can find for cleaning and darning, leaving us, in our frantic haste, to recover the remainder from whatever dark recess we threw them into when we staggered into bed last night. But self cleaning, self repairing socks would do away with the need to for washing or darning, meaning that, as long as you could find any sock, anywhere, you could be sure that it was clean and in one piece. And, since odd socks tend to be the result of enforced separation during maintenance procedures, the chances are good that the recovered sock's twin will not be too far away, will be equally viable and will be locatable with only minimal effort - which, let's face it, is all the effort we're prepared to put into sock hunting when time's a-wasting!

You see, this is what science is for! Forget feeding the world, exploring space and easing communication with our fellow man. That's all just so much guff, and anyway, when you've done it, someone else comes along complaining that the world is now obese, overrun with aliens and has nothing to talk about. Get on with solving those niggling problems that have baffled and annoyed us for generations, and the world will be a better place!

Billy Seggars.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Diana Inquest

I've been trying to avoid the whole Princess Diana Inquest fiasco. Good conspiracy theories have their entertainment value, to be sure, but there is nothing "good" about the bizarre ramblings surrounding this woman's death.

The evidence more or less speaks for itself, doesn't it? A bunch of scoop-crazed press photographers (which is pretty much ALL press photographers, come to think about it) were in hot pursuit of the most famous woman in the world and her bit of fluff, who were trying to avoid the pack in a powerful motor, driven at high speed down a fairly narrow tunnel, at night, by a guy who may, or may not, be a little bit tipsy. What's going to happen?

Face it, the folks in that car were not candidates for a safe arrival anywhere other than the pearly gates, and the photographs released at the start of this inquest only add to the likelihood of this outcome. You know the pics I mean, showing the driver and front seat passenger BRIGHTLY illuminated by photographic flash, while the poor bugger's trying to drive. Do you think that contributed to his ability to safely control the vehicle? No, neither do I.

Then there's the story of a bright light in the tunnel just before the crash. Gosh, I wonder if that could have been more flash photography? Hmm, I don't know, though - maybe we need to factor in some secret service agents with a strobe light to explain away this phenomena? After all, the woman herself is alleged to have written that she feared for her life, and had a pretty good idea as to where the threat came from.

Maybe so, and maybe it was a genuine fear. But I see no reason to assume that the fear was justified, even if it was genuine. She was devious and manipulative, and lived in a world of intrigue - largely of her own creation, by the look of it. She utterly misread her ability to control her husband and in-laws, and it strikes me that she would be unable to accept or understand that failure. After all, everyone else thought she was wonderful, and did what she wanted, when she wanted, how she wanted, so why wouldn't they? Must have been a conspiracy, eh?

Nah, I think not. Neurotic women with death plots, former spies, corner shop owners and all the other B-Movie characters dredged up to keep the flame alight need not apply on this occasion - a very silly woman changed her plans, dodged her bodyguards but not the media and paid for her final miscalculation with her life. It's sad, but it's not surprising or even slightly mysterious.

So why shouldn't this long-drawn-out, tedious inquest be aborted, as many big wigs are now demanding? Surely, the events are now so clearly understood that it is a waste of taxpayers' money to continue?

No, not at all. For one thing, there's a certain perverse interest in each new "revelation". But, far more importantly, it's what has been demanded. The shopkeeper has whinged and whined and demanded and kicked up a fuss, insisting that an inquest be held. In so doing, he has convinced quite a lot of the softer-witted population that something shady went on, and that the couple were assassinated. Those are very serious allegations, made about someone who, for whatever incomprehensible reason, was a very popular public figure.

People - particularly people with nothing better to do - want answers, and, having had the questions forced on them, are entitled to get them. So by all means let the show go on, all the way to the bitter end. The shopkeeper has had his day in court, and turned out to be rather less convincing that we might otherwise have expected. In fact, he turned out to be rather more hilarious than his opponents could ever have dared hope.

Similarly, the ex-spy has had his say, and also failed to convince. The former spy master has uttered his piece, and I for one was surprised that the cross examination did not take place at a duck pond over a stale loaf. According to him, the British Secret Service are entitled to kill, if necessary, but don't, and, if they do, he doesn't know anything about it. Hmmm, but he would say that, wouldn't he - he's a spy! Well, ok, he WAS a spy, but even so, they don't get to be good at that job by telling folks how they do it!

Players in the drama, major and minor, are strutting their stuff and having their turn. And that is exactly how it should be. The outcome is inevitable, but, after all these years and all the money spent on one inquiry after another, let no party say they weren't given the opportunity to air their views, no matter how wacky they may be.

And then, maybe, we can put the sad but tedious death of this incredibly famous, mind-buggeringly boring woman behind us. I was bored of reading about her life, and, more than 10 years later, I'm even more bored of reading about her death. No amount of wishful thinking is going to endow her unremarkable demise with a shock twist, a longed-for continuation of the Diana saga. She pegged out in a car crash, probably caused by her possibly sozzled driver being blinded and disoriented at high speed by a pack of press hyenas chasing a pic.

Sometimes, fiction is stranger than truth.

Billy Seggars.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Licenced to Smoke

Just when you thought the Nanny State couldn’t get any more cretinous, or the Health Fascists any more insidious than they already are, Professor Julian Le Grand of the London School of Economics demonstrates that there is no depth of foolish bigotry to which pseudo-intellectuals will not sink.

According to this article in the Daily Mail, Le Grand thinks anyone who has the temerity to exercise their freedom of choice by choosing to smoke should have to buy a licence in order to do so, to the tune of £10 per year. Although everyone over 18 would be eligible to apply for the licence, it may have to be approved by their doctor, and would feature deliberately complex forms designed to put people off. Naturally, without the appropriate licence, folks in this allegedly free country wouldn’t be able to buy their smokes. Proceeds from the licence would, allegedly, be donated to the NHS.

I must admit that, having just read this outrageous proposal, I am struggling to find words sufficiently vitriolic to express my views on the subject. To say that I am incensed is a monumental understatement, as, I am certain, will be the almost 25% of people who choose to smoke. Of course, we mustn’t assume that smokers’ views will be worth spit to the preaching, self-satisfied, meddlesome individuals who dream up this kind of nonsense – after all, they have been stuck with a very unwelcome smoking ban for some months now, and, just because enraged citizens haven’t descended on Downing St with a cigg in one hand and a pitchfork in the other, they are deemed to approve of it!

I’ve never heard of this Le Grand guy before, but a little Googling turned up his LSE home page. His personal web site is here. Conveniently, his LSE page contains his phone number and email address – why not drop him a note and let him know exactly what you think of his proposals?

Mind you, I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised at this kind of persecution and interference with smokers’ rights from an individual who was Senior Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister (Blair, not Brown-Trousers) between 2003 and 2005. Anyone who was involved, even remotely, with the biggest spin machine in British political history is, by definition, suspect. Of what? Nothing specific, just generally suspicious and untrustworthy, as this paper readily demonstrates – almost 25% of the British population stabbed in the back AGAIN!

So bizarre are the suggestions in this paper, and so self-evidently out of step with the views of a very large part of the population, that I wonder whether the Government, while contemplating this farcical notion, might consider introducing some other licensing requirements. For example, anyone in line for a Professorship in the field of Social Policy may have to prove, before a panel of qualified cartographers and contortionists, their ability to reliably find their own backsides. Sadly, on current evidence, I suspect that such a requirement would leave the posts largely unfilled.

Billy Seggars.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Watching the Defectives

Up until yesterday, I'd always thought that Neighbourhood Watch schemes were a good idea; they allow public-spirited citizens to help the police to maintain law and order, and perhaps regain a sense of lost community involvement and interaction that seems to be so lacking in modern life. There's nothing like an "Us and Them" mentality to foster camaraderie - Us, in this case, being the actual and prospective victims of crime, and Them being the villains - and I'm certain than the harmless-but-useful activities hitherto undertaken by Neighbourhood Watches all over the country must, until yesterday, have been the starting point of many friendships.

And then I read this article on the front page of yesterday's Daily Mail. For those of you too lazy to follow a link, the article begins, "Teams of Neighbourhood Watch members are to be asked to do jobs previously left to the police. The civilian groups could spy on villains, patrol crime-hit estates at night and even check car tax discs. In some cases they would form secret groups to gather intelligence. "

At first glance this seemed so unlikely that I assumed the Mail had, once again, got hold of completely the wrong end of the stick. But then I read much the same story at the BBC, so I assume it must be at least partly true. And, frankly, I am appalled!

For one thing, in my experience, the vast majority of Neighbourhood Watch members are elderly or infirm. They are willing to donate their time and experience for the good of their community, and are to be commended for it. But can we really expect them to patrol our streets for us as well? What happens when they encounter a few armed, drunken thugs intent on mayhem, as they inevitably will in today's Britain? Can we expect pensioners, no matter how brave, to lay about machete wielding murderers with nothing but a walking stick and Dunkirk spirit? And, if they do, can we be sure they won't be charged with assault for their efforts?

Then again, there are always one or two members of the Neighbourhood Watch who take their duties far too seriously. You know the type - officious amateur Adolphs, who were probably hated at school and feared at work, people who, once given even a hint of authority will exert it at every opportunity. They're the ones who turn up to Watch meetings in cammo gear. Do we really want these folks to think they're in charge of anything whatsoever?

In the Neighbourhood Watch as it largely is today, they do no harm. In fact, they're an unwitting figure of fun. But would you want these folks creeping around in "secret groups" intended to "gather intelligence"? That kind of power just begs to be abused, and it surely won't be long before "denunciations" are running at levels unseen since the Gestapo held Nazi Germany in its iron grip.

For, although the Gestapo had a fearsome reputation (which it no doubt worked hard to achieve) of being all-knowing, the truth is that most of its information came from ordinary Germans who were only too happy to grass up their fellow citizens for one reason or another. Jealousy, petty disputes and love intrigues probably provided far more reasons to report a neighbour to the Gestapo than genuine threats to the Nazi regime ever did, and you can bet it will be the same here if this crazy proposal is taken up.

At present, the Neighbourhood Watch is, more or less, respected by the community, even if most people can't be bothered to join it. They do no harm beyond the odd twitched curtain, and they sometimes do a lot of good. But if the more than 75% of folks who AREN'T members of a Neighbourhood Watch scheme start to see them as a threat to their privacy (for these purposes I discount the inevitable argument that only villains will dislike the NW - they must dislike them already!) there WILL be trouble.

Citizens who have, up to now, merely scoffed at old ladies lurking behind net curtains with binoculars and notebook, may start to see them in a totally different light. There will be tension and unrest in communities where there has never been any hint of it before, simply because our already diminished privacy will become virtually non-existent. Try an experiment if you don't believe me - pretend that, although you have done nothing wrong, your neighbour is snooping on your every move for the Notional Watch. Try to keep out of their sight. Make it impossible for them to know what you're doing, at what time and with whom. Hard to hide effectively from your neighbour ALL THE TIME, isn't it?

And, for some people, it will be impossible. Terraced rows or blocks of flats will be particularly vulnerable to the Greater Domestic Snooper, and before long some otherwise-law-abiding citizen will become so very annoyed at being spied on - for that is what it amounts to - that there will be a "scene". As if it isn't enough that the government we pay for and supposedly employ is both obsessed with spying on us and incapable of holding on to the information it obtains, we now have to contend with our friends and neighbours forming secret societies to spy on us and "inform" on us.

I suppose that could even be justified in cases where the victim (note the contrast with Us and Them, above) is a genuine villain. But, in my experience, Joe Public is not all that bright. That's not a problem when he's not in any position of authority, real or imagined, but when he thinks he's got an "official" job to do it might become a very serious problem indeed. For example, don't you, very naturally, become "suspicious" when someone does something "odd"? And, if you're in the Notional Watch, isn't it your duty to make your "suspicions" known? Wouldn't it be better if "someone checked"?

And thus, many a dawn raid on perfectly innocent citizens will be launched because some nosey bugger thought they'd seen something "odd". The trouble is, most folks are inclined to leap to conclusions without wondering if there might be some logical, rational, INNOCENT reason for what they have seen - indeed, many of them are incapable of the thought required to discount the possibility, or to even see that there might be such a possibility. Is it really wise to give these over-zealous, under-bright monkeys the key to the banana plantation of our remaining (and sadly diminished) privcay?

I think not. It seems to me that a far more useful thing would be a Parliamentary Watch, in which each and every MP, including Gordon Brown-Trousers, should be subjected to public scrutiny 24 hours a day. Never mind keeping the John Lewis List quiet, and not letting on about how much they spend on sundry bits and mistresses. When politicians are both open and SEEN to be open, to the point of indecency and beyond, that is the time when they can start to impose yet more surveillance on this very long-suffering population - and not before.

Billy Seggars.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Short Marketing Puffs

I see the anti-smoking brigade are "furious", according to today's Daily Mail. Gosh, that's a shame! The meddlesome, arrogant, interfering, do-gooding busybodies should be made incoherent with tooth-grinding fury 24/7, in my opinion. In fact, "enrage a smug anti-smoker" would make an entertaining Olympic sport - it's more interesting than, for example, Curling, and less wasteful on yard brushes! Though, come to think about it, "conceal a brush about an anti-smoker's person" might make an even more amusing game.

Entertaining though it is to infuriate anti-smokers - particularly those who adopt that irritating "it's for your own good" attitude - I really can't quite figure out what's got up their snouts on this occasion. It seems that tobacco firm Philip Morris has devised a "mini-cigarette", perfect for those unfortunate smokers who have been forced to sneak outside like a leper when they fancy a smoke at work and elsewhere. And this, apparently, is what's bugging the anti-smoking campaigners.

Why? I have no idea. Nobody is making them smoke the damned things, so why it should disturb them that things are being made a little more convenient for adults who wish to smoke I have no idea. Then again, freedom of choice is not something that they understand, and so anything that allows smokers to do as they choose - you know, exercising their freedom of thought and deed, as is their right - must be frowned upon, mustn't it?

Actually, I can't see the new mini-cigg taking off all that well in any event. It's a good thought, and has caused the anti-smoking health fascists some well-deserved distress, but smokers are, by nature, quite attached to their chosen brands. They don't really like switching, even for convenience. How often have you seen one smoker offer a cigarette to another, only have them respond, "No, thanks, I'll have one of mine..." for example? Often, I'll bet.

Besides, most smokers who knock off work for a tea and cigg break have managed to make their smoke last just long enough to go with their brew. A shorter cigg will not do, and they'll just end up smoking twice as many. Hmmm, crafty marketing on behalf of Philip Morris, I wonder?

Not that it will matter too much, if certain rumours are true. I have heard mutterings that the smoking ban - particularly as it applies to pubs - could be up for review, having turned out to be massively unpopular with Labour's core voters, the working class. No idea whether it's true, but it ought to be!

Billy Seggars.