Thursday, 24 April 2008

Lofty Dalek Bid

According to the Sun, "A Doctor Who Dalek toy left in a loft for nearly 40 years has been sold on eBay for a whopping £3,200. " It seems that, of all the Dalek merchandise produced over the years, this one is particularly rare because only a very small number were ever made.

The "suit" - a Dalek casing in which an elated brat could wander around screaming EXTERMINATE - cost £8 in 1963, but the factory that made them burned down after shipping only a very small quantity. This one is even more valuable, apparently, because it comes with the original Police Box shaped TARDIS box.

Owner John Jackson, who sold the suit after clearing it from his loft, said he was only expecting to get a tenner.

Nice work if you can get it, isn't it? Don't get me wrong, I think Daleks are something of a design classic, an iconic form that has a lot to say about the modern age. And I've always wondered what these "suits" looked like, having heard of them many years ago but never actually seen one (at a quick glance it looks like a fairly reasonable replica of a Mk I Dalek, certainly as good as you'd expect for £8).

But would I pay over £3k for one? No way! Even if I were inclined to part with the cash for it, which I wouldn't be, Mrs S would have something to say. Well, no, probably not say. Not SAY, as such. It'd be more a LOOK. You know, the kind guys get when their other half wishes to silently imply that they, the male 50% of the equation, have lost the plot.

It has overtones of "You MUST be joking," implies that "You'd BETTER be joking," and hints that if you're NOT joking life will cease to be in any way amusing in very short order. Guys have no known defence to it, having found out early in their marriage that, despite this being the age of equality, the female's typical "you would if you loved me" line is unaccountably ineffective for them.

For this reason, I, and many other guys, remain happily married, Dalek free and £3k better off!

Billy Seggars.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Lock Up Your Budgies

Today's award for the weirdest headline has to go to The Sun, with the enigmatic, "Kissing Budgies Could Be Fatal." Really? Goodness, I'll try to remember that next time I get an irresistible urge to snog a (feathered) bird.

Do people really do that? I suppose they must, if the Sun sees fit to warn about the hideous agues the little buggers carry, though I can honestly say it's not something I've ever either done myself or seen done by anyone else. Or even heard of anyone doing, come to think of it.

The article goes on to warn about the risks of infection from reptiles and snakes, cats and dogs, but it's the budgies that I can't get to grips with. It adds a whole new meaning to "bird fancier", and my imagination is suddenly filled with visions of sinister individuals creeping up to bird cages in the hope of stealing a quick peck on the beak.

Do they say things like "Coorrr, look at the wings on that one," or, more worryingly, "Who's a pretty boy then!" Do they have glossy magazines, only available from the top shelves of back street pet shops? You know, the kind with blacked out windows, where you might encounter novel interpretations of requests for hedgehog feed and "feathering your nest" could mean just about anything!

Clearly, this is another world, which, hitherto, I had not even suspected might, or could exist, and I must thank the Sun for alerting me to the possibilities and dangers therein. Remember - lock up your budgies!

Billy Seggars.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

GMC's David Southall Fiasco

The Daily Mail (and the Mail on Sunday) is really going downhill these days, I'm afraid. Things started looking a little poor for them when they began writing about plastic bags in the sort of Messianistic tones usually reserved for Prime Ministerial comments on Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction. But their coverage of the Dr David Southall story in today's edition must surely represent the most pathetic attempt at journalism ever to disgrace a national paper.

This being a NEWSpaper, one might be forgiven for expecting to read something NEW in the material it features. However, the article in question begins, "A disgraced paediatrician has won a legal battle to overturn his suspension from working as a doctor after being struck off the medical register. David Southall was found guilty in December of serious professional misconduct. "

And those words, together with the sentence "The GMC conceded that the suspension order was fatally flawed" towards the end of the article, are the only things that could possibly be considered news - the rest is a rehash of the various allegations made against Southall by a succession of complainants. To be honest, I couldn't care less whether Southall is innocent or guilty - although I suspect he's probably innocent - and it's reasonable enough for the paper to bias the article towards a "guilty" perspective in the absence of any more recent finding.

But the point of the story is to reveal that he has managed to overturn the General Medical Council's ruling. So surely it might be appropriate to explain how, and why, this ruling was found to be total bullshit? The Mail apparently thinks not, preferring to fall back on its more traditional "awwww, guess what..." approach, but, for once, the BBC is a little more forthcoming with the facts.

Simply put, "The GMC told the High Court that rules used to apply for Dr Southall's suspension were introduced in 2004. As the allegations centred on events prior to 2004, the previous set of rules should have been applied, which would have meant the ban was not imposed. " I can't be the only person to think that's a terrifying admission from the GMC, can I?

After all, in order to reach their decision on Southall's future, the GMC's panel sat through hours and hours of cross examination, in a hearing that lasted for weeks. They were expected to carefully follow argument and counter argument from legal counsel for both sides. They had to get to grips with witness testimonies and determine whether the complainants or Southall were telling lies.

In short, it was essential that they should have fully understood the issues before them, and they had a fully qualified legal advisor on hand to help them out with any technicalities that might baffle them.

And now, months after the fact, it transpires that the folks to whom this monumental task was entrusted didn't even know which set of rules they should be following. It's not as though they have many options, is it? If they couldn't muster the mind-power to figure out the appropriate procedures, or to ask if they weren't sure, what possible confidence can anyone have in their final decision, or the means by which they arrived at it? In a word, none. The GMC's findings against Southall must now be considered absolutely unsafe, purely because those responsible for making those findings have shown themselves unfit to be let out on their own.

Such an outcome is unfortunate, to say the least. If Southall is innocent, it would be very unfair to subject him to yet more investigation. On the other hand, if he is guilty as charged, it seems most unjust to put the complainants through the distress of a further hearing. And yet the allegations they have made against him are very, very serious and it cannot be right to impose upon him - or anyone - the findings of a tribunal that has shown beyond doubt that it doesn't know what it's supposed to be doing. After all, how many more mistakes and misunderstandings might it have made over the course of the hearing? Even in the unlikely event that it hasn't made any, the public interest lies in being sure of that, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to find the matter sent back to the GMC for a fresh hearing in the not too distant future.

In the meantime, it seems that Southall will be back before the GMC on another matter in the next couple of weeks. Would you, in his place, have any confidence in getting a fair hearing? I certainly wouldn't, because it occurs to me that the GMC's very considerable embarrassment over this issue would be greatly soothed if Southall could be found guilty of something (anything!) else, and struck off as a result, before this fiasco gets anywhere near an appeal hearing.

Again, that seems unfair on both Southall and the complainants because, whatever the outcome, there will be questions as to its validity, and whether it was influenced by the need to justify - or disassociate from - an earlier decision. Sadly, the GMC's credibility amongst those it is supposed to serve and regulate is now so devalued that such an underhanded stunt seems not only plausible, but entirely likely, and, under those circumstances, I think Southall would be quite justified in boycotting the forthcoming hearing.

Even discounting the possibility of malice, however, both doctors and the public must now be asking - in very loud voices - whether the GMC is capable of performing any function whatsoever, no matter how trivial, without completely screwing it up. Based on its handling of the Southall hearing, it would appear not. I am, for the moment, at a loss to find words sufficiently vitriolic to describe the GMC's wholesale incompetence, but it cannot, now, be too long before demands for the abolition of this utterly incapable organisation become too loud to ignore.

Billy Seggars.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Child Benefit?

"Mothers should be paid to stay at home and raise their children, according to a report released today." This strange story from the Telegraph strikes me as being complete nonsense.

Why on Earth should mothers be paid to raise their own brats? If they can't afford them, they shouldn't breed in the first place! I see no reason to assume that other hard-working individuals should, through their already scandalously high taxes, fund a person's inability to get to grips with the basics of birth control.

No doubt a small army of wimmin are even now frothing with self-righteous anger, desperate to proclaim their right to produce yet more snotty-nosed sprogs. And, in general, I agree with them, although I suggest that it might be worth curtailing that right for the stupid, ugly and just plain promiscuous - more than 4 kids is TOO MANY! By all means, let em Rut - as long as they can pay for the consequences of their quick leg over, and can provide security to ensure its financial stability for the next 18 years, at least.

For those improvident enough to shag without the benefit of either contraceptives or financial planning, there is scope for the return of the old-style workhouses. A little research into the ancient poor laws is enough to show that the UK has never been overly tolerant of skivers and layabouts, whilst, at the same time, has been willing to offer alms to those in real need.

Motherhood - and fatherhood, for that matter, wouldn't do to inadvertently exclude myself from criticism! - is not a real need. It is, in most cases, a selfish desire to impose a brood on the rest of us, with the unspoken demand that we should pay for the so-called privilege. "But what about the child," I hear the massed ranks of wobble-chinned wimmin cry. And I say, "What about it?" The child is the responsibility of its parents. If they can't, or won't, pay for its upkeep then the workhouse beckons for them until they can and do - it is certainly not for the tax payer to foot the bill for their irresponsibility!

Billy Seggars.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Smoke Signals

Here's a cracking story from the Sun: "FAKE cigarettes being smuggled into Britain contain poisonous arsenic and even rat droppings."

It seems that these near-perfect fake ciggs (which, of course, are not subject to the Government's almost criminal levels of taxation) have allegedly been found to contain formaldehyde, cadmium and benzene, as well as sawdust, beetles and rodent droppings, according to the bods at HM Revenue and Customs. Unsurprisingly, they're supposed to be even worse for us than "ordinary" smokes.

Charming, but how do they know this? It's claimed that customs officers in the West Midlands seized over 50 million fake ciggs last year alone - did they peel them all open and examine their contents? If they did, it seems a bit of a waste of effort, and if they didn't the claims may be a little difficult to substantiate.

Of course, it may well be that these hard-working public servants are absolutely correct, and are just doing their public duty in warning us about the risk of contraband tobacco. But, cynical as I am, I can't help catching the whiff of rat. This would be the same HMRC that, only last year, couldn't manage to hang on to a couple of CDs full of sensitive personal information, right?

It would also be the same HMRC that must know perfectly well that they only ever manage to seize a small(ish) proportion of smuggled goods, whatever they may be. And if 50 million is a small proportion, just imagine how many fake ciggs must be flooding into the UK every year - and how much that is costing the Government in lost tax. Wouldn't it be cheaper and easier to stop people wanting to purchase illegal smokes than to make it impossible for them to do so? And wouldn't claims of poison and rat crap be a good way to do it?

I can see how the idea might appeal to the dark ops people in HMRC, but it's fundamentally flawed. Those of us who can afford it tend to buy legal ciggs; those that can't afford it tend to be, shall we say, a little further down the intellectual ladder. They are unlikely to be able to read the story, or remember it if someone reads it to them, or care about it even if they do.

Probably the best way to control the influx of dodgy ciggs and obtain the Government's desired level of taxation is, perversely, to cut the rate of tax on tobacco. That way, more people will be able to afford to buy them legally, and so will contribute to the Government's revenues. It won't happen, though - can you imagine the fuss from the Health Fascists if there was even a remote chance that smokers might be able to enjoy a smoke in peace?

Billy Seggars.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Crazy Cameron's Thirtysomethings

David Cameron, accidental future Prime Minister of the UK, is really, really trying to build support for the Conservative Party. But, in typical Tory fashion, he's going about it in completely the wrong way.

His latest wheeze, according to the Telegraph, is to reel in around 3 million "new" votes - 30 somethings whose first ever vote was for Blair in 1997, and who stuck by him in later years but aren't thrilled with Gordon Brown-Trousers (and, let's face it, who is?). So far, so good. And, to a point, his market research is close to the mark.

I can say that with confidence because I'm (just!) within his target age range of 29 - 40, although, unlike the vast majority of the British public, I saw Blair for what he was long before he was ever elected, and the current sad state of affairs in the UK comes as absolutely no surprise to me. It was a matter of when, not if, the Labour party would self destruct, taking Britain with it, and I, for one, am amazed that they've lasted this long. Then again, Blair's sharp exit was a pretty strong clue that the fuse was well alight...

Back to Crazy Cameron. His mob thinks, "the thirtysomethings are a demanding bunch, less forgiving than pensioners or middle-aged voters. As ambitious professionals they work religiously to deadlines and are deeply frustrated by not being able to get a doctor's appointment out of hours. They grew up with technology, expect things to work properly and do not see why there should be broken ticket machines at train stations. They come home late because they have been out drinking after work and want to see police on duty."

Deadlines? Check, though I've reached a point where I tend to set them then expect them to be met, rather than have to meet the buggers myself.

Ambitious? Well, maybe, but not in the conventional sense. Retirement, or at least semi-retirement, is an attractive proposition. I've done enough chasing around with my ass on fire, thank you, and the prospect of a quiet life appeals to me and Mrs S, whilst we're young enough to avoid compulsory termination in a NHS geriatric ward.

Out of hours GPs? HELL, YES. You can never, ever get one to turn out when you want one. You make the call, get bounced to some hopeless bimbo who takes a summary of your ailments, then promises that the doctor will call you back - ostensibly to assess the problem (even though the General Medical Council frowns on telephone consultations) but, in reality, to explain why you're not sick enough to warrant an out of hours visit.

Crazy Cameron is dead right about this one - do doctors think we make out of hours calls for fun? Trust me, I avoid dealing with doctors AT ALL unless I really, really have to, and if I'm calling for one out of hours it's because I (or the person I'm calling for) need to see one. This is not something they can judge over the phone, and nor should they be allowed to do so - a little work in exchange for their exorbitant salary might not go amiss!

Technology? Expect it to work properly? Do me a favour, Dave. I expect technology not to work at all, or to work in such a half-baked manner as to be totally useless for all practical purposes, EXCEPT, and this is important, where working as per spec would be the least useful, and most unexpected thing that it could reasonably be required to do. On these occasions, I expect the benighted stuff to work flawlessly.

Broken ticket machines? See below, though, in my case, it's purely hypothetical - I never, ever travel by train, save on the Tube, because the British railway network is about as close to a magical mystery tour as it's possible to get. You have no idea when a train is going to turn up, whether it's going to go all the way to its advertised destination or, indeed, whether its progress will be sufficiently inhibited by leaves or the wrong kind of snow as to prevent it from leaving base camp at all. It's a shambles, a joke - except that it isn't funny at all for folks who rely on it - and should be treated like one.

Home late? Yes, frequently - see above comment re: ass on fire.

Drinking after work? That might be the case for MPs - in fact, I have it on reasonable authority that a quick snifter is acceptable for an MP at ANY time of day, although the concepts of MPs and work don't sit well together, now I come to think about it. But for the rest of us, especially those with family responsibilities, a quick one on the way home is out of the question - we just don't have the time, and, anyway, a beer at the local isn't what it was now the smoking ban's in full flow. Much better to drive home and relax before the goggle box in the company of Mrs S, a bottle and a smoke.

Police on duty? Absolutely, I want to see them on duty at all times of day! If there were more of them about, the hypothetical broken ticket machines would be less of a problem, because there'd be less opportunity for hard-of-thinking scumbags to trash them.

Clearly, Crazy Cameron isn't entirely wrong on a lot of points, but, as ever, he needs to get to grips with reality on the fine details. But that's not what he's getting most seriously wrong - his major undoing will be his reluctance to preach the traditional Tory tax cut mantra. I work bloody hard for my living, and I really don't appreciate Labour's smash-and-grab approach to taxation, particularly when they spend it like water on things that amount to utter crap.

In these (Labour created) times of financial uncertainty, a hint that Crazy Cameron's future government will not be robbing us blind would go a long way towards setting them apart from Labour's badly discredited position. We already know what Labour would do if they managed to rig the ballot far enough to get in again - more of what they're doing now - and we don't like it! Cameron's cautious hand-wringing in the belief that his target voters understand the need for some taxation is far too LibDim for a Tory leader, and will surely alienate more traditional blue voters.

The same goes for his obsession with "new" and "change" and other similarly trendy keywords, and his plan to populate his front bench with yet more 30-somethings. They might appeal to his deeply desired 3 million voters, but what about the folks who would traditionally be voting for him?

I want to see tax cuts to stimulate consumer confidence, and hence lead to prosperity through economic growth. I want to see a wealth of real-world experience on the Tory benches, in stark contrast to the academic refugees whose presence besieges the Labour party. You can't get that from a purely baby-faced cabinet; the ideas and energy of youth certainly have a role to play, but so does the experience and foresight of maturity, and I don't think that's a benefit Crazy Cameron is in a position to give up. And, most of all, I'd like to see a Tory leader who isn't trying to be a cardboard cutout Blair-alike.

We've gotten rid of the real Tony Blair, his successor has, by dint of much effort, turned out to be even worse than he was, and the British people would like to get back to having a real government - no spin, no lies, no glitz, just good, old fashioned government. Crazy Cameron, should take note - on his own, he had no chance of becoming Prime Minister. In fact, a leadership challenge was not massively unlikely in the Conservative party just a few months ago. But, with a little help from Gordon Brown-Trousers, he might just make it to Number 10 despite his obvious failings.

That doesn't mean the British public like him or his policies, it just means they dislike them less than they hate the other side. If he's sensible, offers common sense, stability and economic well-being, he will be accepted as the best of a bad lot and thrust into power with almost indecent haste. If, on the other hand, he offers wild-eyed, idealist "new and improved" nonsense, he will be indistinguishable from the rest and will never achieve the unexpected success that Gordon Brown-Trousers' abject failure has so surprisingly offered him.

Billy Seggars.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Good Lord

I never thought I'd see the day that I'd be in agreement with a Labour peer, let alone the much behaired Lord Desai. But his recent comments on Velcro McBean, Gordon Brown-Trousers himself, couldn't be more true.

According to the Telegraph (and just about all of the other major sources) Lord Desai said, in an interview with the Evening Standard, "Gordon Brown was put on earth to remind people how good Tony Blair was."

Naturally, I can't agree that Tony Blair was actually a "good" Prime Minister. In fact, he was about as far from good as it was possible to be at that time. But, despite plumbing new depths of sleaze, his unsuitability for the job has now been surpassed by Gordon Brown's. Some weeks ago, I pointed out that, although Crazy Cameron had raised his game a little, his efforts were not sufficient to explain his explosive popularity in the opinion polls.

No, the credit for that hitherto massively unlikely meteoric rise must lie with Gordon Brown. And now he's done it again - just when you thought a Labour PM couldn't be any worse than Tone, Gord proves you wrong. He's like a poster child for the opposition, isn't he? No wonder there are rumours of a leadership challenge afoot within his own party.

Trouble is, they've left it a bit late. The next election is almost upon us, and the chances of them dumping Gordon Brown-Trousers AND finding a replacement capable of out-smarming Crazy Cameron and out shagging Nick Clegg-over are remote. Should have gone to the polls when they had the chance, eh? Shame Gordon was too afraid of winning, though that doesn't seem to be much of a risk now.

Billy Seggars.

Thursday, 17 April 2008


It was never a problem for Yul Brynner. In fact, he went out of his way to keep his bonce free of fuzz. But a fine head of skin is less desirable for former teacher, James Campbell.

According to the Telegraph, it took an employment tribunal ruling to show Sir that a hairless pate was not an impairment within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination Act.

The reason for this seemingly self-evident revelation is that Mr Campbell claimed he was victim of disability discrimination because the children he taught used to call him "baldy". This led him to feel harassed and bullied. He told the tribunal: "How can I stand in front of a class with confidence to get on with my job when I am getting teased and bullied about baldness, when I think they are laughing at me all the time?"

Harassed? Bullied? By a bunch of snotty-nosed brats who probably can't even spell their own names? But it gets better. The shiny-headed Mr Campbell, who taught at Denny High School, Stirlingshire, said he did his best to avoid corridors, where he would meet pupils who shouted "baldy" at him, and left school late every day to "avoid the kids".

Teachers avoiding the kids in our schools? It's a sad reflection on Nu Labour's Britain, that's for sure. But, in truth, this is hardly something new. Although discipline in the education system may be at an all-time low, kids have mocked their teachers for... well, for as long as there have been teachers, I should think. Certainly, the small, bald, good-natured but incredibly geeky science master at my school came in for far more stick than he ever realistically deserved, and not just from the lads, either.

It was the poor man's fate to closely resemble a bipedal turtle bereft of its shell, and he attracted the kind of comments that pass for wit amongst adolescents everywhere. Never, ever, did this kindly chap let it get to him (or show it, if it did), and he went out of his way to run a science club in lunch breaks for interested students - no avoiding the kids for him! And you know what? Kids went to the club, because, bald or not, he made a potentially very dull subject FUN.

That is the skill of a true teacher. They make even the most tedious information interesting, and turn the drabbest subject into something alive with magical intrigue. In their classes, the kids, no matter how rebellious, are too entranced with the subject to bother about Sir's lack-of-hair-style.

As for Mr Campbell, I can sympathise to some degree. Although I've never given a damn about what folks think or say about me, I can imagine that, for a more delicate soul, it might be a little irksome to be called "baldy" every day (awww, bless). But that's life, isn't it? If you're going to deal with the public - even junior members thereof - all day, every day, you are going to run into this kind of thing pretty much all the time. It's human nature, and it's both unfair and unreasonable to expect an employer to do anything much about it.

The appropriate response is not to pursue matters through the courts but to find another job, with working conditions in which one's head-covering is unlikely to be the subject of much hilarity. Of course, in the litigation-obsessed, nanny-state world in which we live, such a common sense approach is shunned in favour of the compensation culture. But even today, one should invoke justice with caution for, as this story has made the nationals, I very much doubt that it will only be Mr Campbell's former pupils who now address him as "baldy".

Billy Seggars.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Supplementary Death

Life is not a long-term business. Sooner or later, some time within the next 100 years or so, every single human being alive today will pop their clogs. Consequently, death is not something to be feared. Rather, it is a natural process, a part of life, and something to be accepted with good grace - after all, who're you going to complain to, anyway?

I've held this view for a very long time, and the deaths of many close friends and relatives haven't changed it, nor is it likely to ever change. So it is with something of a sneer that I watch the common-or-garden Health Fascist / Freak going about their daily routine, swigging down vitamin supplements with a fresh orange juice chaser, eating only the food that is supposed to be good for you today (it will be bad for you tomorrow, of course, but that doesn't stop 'em!), eschewing the pleasures of tobacco and alcohol and generally making their bid for immortality.

Today, however, my habitual sneer has been displaced by howls of (probably quite inappropriate) mirth. For, according to the Telegraph, "Vitamin pills 'increase risk of early death'". Yes, as contrary to formerly received wisdom as it may appear, it seems that healthy folks who knock back antioxidant supplements, including vitamins A through E, may be increasing their risk of an early death by up to 16 per cent.

Personally, I think this bit of research should have been kept secret, on the basis that those who seek immortality are the least suitable people to attain it; the world could well do without at least 16 per cent of its vitamin chomping Health Fascists, and giving them advance warning of their imminent demise seems altogether too sporting. Still, the cat's out of the bag now, and I fully expect the financial impact upon the supplement manufacturers to be catastrophic. They, unlike the Health Fascists, have my sympathy - after all, they're only supplying demand, and if the Health Fascists will insist on trying to live longer, healthier lives by buggering about with their own immune systems, they have only themselves to blame. Buyer Beware!

Billy Seggars.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Mesothelioma Drug Found

According to the Telegraph, "A drug that could protect people from the harmful effects of inhaling asbestos fibres decades ago has been found."

That's got to be great news for the many, many people who were unfortunate enough to have worked or lived with asbestos, and may have inhaled its fibres, before the deadly side effects of the substance became known. Asbestos was used in all kinds of building and engineering work, becoming ever more popular because of its pliant nature and resistance to heat, electricity and chemicals.

But it was found to be causing mesothelioma - an untreatable cancer of the membrane that lines the chest - as well as lung cancer and asbestosis. Around 3,500 people die from mesothelioma every year, and the disease can develop up to 60 years after exposure. The side effects of asbestos inhalation are expected to eventually kill 200,000 people in Britain alone.

Now, it is hoped that a drug called Anakinra may help to prevent the onset of mesothelioma and other problems associated with the inhalation of mineral fibres. Previously used successfully to treat gout, which apparently works in a similar manner to asbestosis, boffins are cautiously optimistic about the anticipated benefits of Anakinra for those at risk of mesothelioma, asbestosis etc.

In fact, as far as I can make out, the only folks who won't be too pleased about it are the lawyers who are making a killing out of mesothelioma-related litigation. Still, that, too, has got to be good news in my opinion!

Billy Seggars.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Plodding On

According to the Telegraph, all 31,000 serving Metropolitan Police officers are to be issued with an electronic tag that will allow their supervisors to monitor their exact location to within a few feet for the entire time that they're on duty. Use of the tags will, apparently, be compulsory, and they are expected to work just as well above or below ground.

It's an interesting idea, and could, potentially, be very useful. Control will be able to see, at a glance, where their officers are, and should be able to deploy them to potential trouble spots far more easily, for example. It should also have some positive impact upon officer safety, too.

Not surprisingly, however, the Bobbies who are to be tagged are not entirely in favour of this new-fangled gizmo, and I can't say I blame them. Unless it's handled very carefully, this is going to look like a Big Brother, time and motion type of scenario, with each officer being required to account for his whereabouts at all times - was he in the right place, at the right time? Why? Why not? Where should he, could he, might he have been to better, more efficient, CHEAPER advantage?

The police force is not without its micro-managers, and you just know that some paper-pushing control freak with a warrant card will use this system to make life hell for those officers who have worked out that life - and therefore police work - doesn't work to a timetable. It also strikes me that when (not if, WHEN) security of the system is compromised, it could be a very, very useful thing for potential villains to know where the long arm of the law is right now - with that sort of information, the arm's length might shorten considerably!

And then, of course, there's the dual problems of beer and sex. Yes, I know, neither are supposed to happen while officers are on duty. The key word here is "supposed" - they happen from time to time, and, as far as I can see, they don't do any harm for the most part. But I can't imagine that it would be helpful for coordinators in control to notice sudden clusters of Plod Tags in the Rose and Crown, or to question why two - or more - officers enter into unusually close proximity (the tags are accurate to a few feet remember) in the back of the van during a quiet hour or two.

In short, although I can see advantages to the system, it strikes me as unreasonably intrusive. Good coppers will feel unable to carry out their duties to the best of their abilities, for fear that the unseen monitors in control will question their motives and reasoning. If we want to have an effective police force, its officers must be allowed a degree of autonomy that these tags will hamper to the point of extinction. It's worked until now, and I see no reason to change that - just because something can be done doesn't mean that it should be!

Billy Seggars.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

No Flies On Them

Back in September last year, under the subject Snail Mail, I was just a little sarcastic about Professor Steve Ormerod, a researcher at Cardiff University. More specifically, I was (justifiably, in my opinion) somewhat scathing about his time spent counting snails in drainage ditches, only to conclude that some of the slimy buggers were on their way to extinction. Quite a few folks from Cardiff University visited my post, and at least one of them put forth an opposing view - quite a tricky thing to do whilst embracing a tree, I'd have thought, but full marks for trying.

Sadly, however, after a long innings, Professor Ormerod's efforts have finally be knocked off the top spot as Daftest Research I've Seen In A Month Of Sundays. For, according to this article in the Telegraph, "One of the most exotic and elusive flies known to science has been rediscovered, four decades after it was first found buzzing around a Caribbean crab."

No, really? Perhaps a rolled up newspaper might be in order? Not according to the Telegraph: "To me it was like seeing the Yeti," exclaims Dr Marcus Stensmyr, one of the team that made the find in an expedition to Grand Cayman in the Caribbean, the sole known home of this species, to resolve enduring questions about how the fly fits into the tree of life.

A Yeti? So he was looking at this fly through a (presumably rose-tinted) magnifying glass? And what's this about the Caribbean? No drainage ditches for the boffins from Professor Bill Hansson's group at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Germany, then? Seemingly not, although their efforts did involve vacating their jeep and dashing up to a roadside land crab in the hours of darkness, then inspecting it in the beams of their flashlights. And, having spotted the aforesaid flies living on it, they picked the crab up despite it offering some objections. I know, it's a tough job, but someone's got to do it - though I must admit I'm not sure why.

Nor am I encouraged by the closing paragraph of the article: "There are still many unanswered questions regarding the flies which we hopefully will be able to address in the coming years. A key mystery is what the heck the adult flies are doing on the crabs. When you see them they most of the time just sit there, they don't seem to be doing anything."

YEARS? It's going to take them YEARS to study a virtually unknown species of fly, so they can find out why it sits on a crab? Is this piece of groundbreaking research likely to change the world in any significant way? Does anyone (beyond the Grand Cayman-visiting boffins, the fly and the crab) give a damn why it sits there? Somehow, I doubt it, but it makes Professor Steve Ormerod's ditch-diving exploits look positively reasonable, doesn't it?

The world's in deep economic trouble, there is civil (and not so civil) unrest around the globe and we need all the qualified scientists we can get to sort out minor issues like famine and disease. And these folks want to spend years studying a fly that nobody's even seen for 40 years. The world has, very definitely, parted company with its senses!

Billy Seggars.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Torch and Go

Sport is not my thing. I'll watch a big footy match, if I happen to be around at the time, but I won't go out of my way to be there. I'll watch snooker, given half a chance (which I never am), but the thought of sitting through days and days of the imminent Olympic Games fills me with dread.

Consequently, the ongoing hassles with the Olympic torch relays are, for me, both a source of irritation (the damn games haven't even started yet and still they're all over the news) and unending amusement. The Telegraph's pictures of dozens of gasping London bobbies jogging through the streets, doing their damnedest to keep up with the inner cordon of terrifyingly identical Chinese security bods (who were at least dressed for the occasion in blue tracksuits) surrounding the athlete and the torch, were utterly priceless. This panting, wheezing thin blue and yellow line looked incapable of seeing straight, let along arresting anyone!

Of course, the surprisingly well organised protests over China's record on Human Rights are understandable, though I'm inclined to think they'll be about as effective as attacking a tank with a tin opener. China, soon to be the most potent economic force on the planet, is unlikely to give a damn about the bleeding hearts of a few Western pansies, and I can't say I blame them - they hold, or about to get their hands on, all the cards, and much as we may not like their methods, we don't have much to bargain with at the moment, do we?

At this point, it might be worth our while to wonder WHY we don't have much to bargain with. And the answer, inevitably, is because we in the West are soft, namby pamby wimps. We worry about things like human rights, we care about health and safety, but we're really terribly bad at getting things done. For example, in November 2004, the Telegraph published an article about a planned new airport in Beijing. It was to be the biggest in the world, and would take about three years to build.

Now fast-forward to February 2008, and this BBC article about the opening - yes, OPENING - of the same airport. The article says, "Beijing's terminal is twice the size and about half the cost of Heathrow's new Terminal Five, which is due to open next month. Beijing has got from start to finish in four years. Heathrow has taken nearly 20. There is no lengthy public consultation process here. No demonstrations are allowed. There are no unions to make labour demands. And building work has gone on for 24 hours a day."

You can bet they weren't too bothered about the Ewman Rights of the construction workers, or Elf 'n' Safety, either. And you know what? The place works. No monumental cockups there, or, if there were, they didn't make the international media. No cancellations by the score, no sign of travellers still hunting for their luggage, no international humiliation, just quiet, almost terrifying efficiency. Compare to Terminal 5 - 20 years to build, and even then it falls over on the first day.

This kind of attitude is why, thanks to Gordon Brown-Trousers, the UK is following our Western allies into a recession. There is no get-up-and-go about our society - it's got up and gone to places where it can get things done. Once upon a time that was here, in the UK. We invented things, built them, used them, improved them and exported them to the rest of the world. Now we're bogged down in a swamp of regulations that hamper our progress at every turn.

We might well have moral objections to China's methods, but, unless we have the clout to make our objections count, we have no chance of improving the situation. And, until we can compete on equal terms with the mighty Chinese economy, we will never have that clout. In creating for ourselves a society in which every little thing is regulated by the nanny state, where human rights and other useless legislation govern our every move, we have also created the foundations of our own economic downfall, and, with it, lost the chance to hold back some of the more objectionable excesses of the less well-meaning nations. Ironic, isn't it?

Billy Seggars.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Chloe Marshall - Miss Surrey

I've been keeping half an eye on Chloe Marshall's bid to become Miss England for a little while. Ordinarily, I have no time for beauty contests - they're nothing more than opportunities for vanity-obsessed wannabe clothes horses to totter around making trite, well-rehearsed comments. As for the beauty aspect of things - it's a beauty contest, remember - it seems to be sadly lacking in the vast majority of contestants.

Not so with Chloe Marshall. At 12st 8lbs, this size 16 young lady puts her more skeletal competitors to shame. She is a stunningly beautiful, and, more importantly, all natural babe who, unless I miss my guess, is destined for great things whether or not she becomes Miss England. According to the Daily Mail, she's already seen off some much skinnier competition to become Miss Surrey, and I, for one, am delighted to hear it.

Why? Because, like most guys, I loathe and detest trendily thin women. Trust me, ladies, you're doing yourselves no favours by constant dieting - all you're doing is putting the blokes off. We do not want to look at bags of skin and bone, and we absolutely don't want to wake up next to a badly concealed skeleton. Real people eat, and look as though they do. Guys like to hang out with real people, who, as a rule, will not look like an escapee from a museum's display of miscellaneous bones.

We look for intelligence in a woman, too. They don't have to be a genius, but it helps if they're smart enough to work out how dumb their eternally slimming buddies really are. Chloe Marshall seems to got these points all figured out - she IS beautiful, and is clearly a very real person. In short, she looks like someone you might meet in the street and, if you did, you just know you could have a real conversation with her without having to dumb it down to the subterranean level of her stick-thin, drink-of-water-dressed-up competitors.

Unlike them, she has curves in all the right places, is clearly intelligent enough to know that they are attractive and is confident enough to make use of her very obvious charms. That, rather than the artificial, follow-the-crowd, must-be-thin stupidity of other contestants, is true beauty, and this girl deserves to be Miss England.

Billy Seggars.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Heads Up

The discovery of a plastic bag contain a woman's severed head has caused something of a flap in Arbroath, Angus, according to the Sun. Clearly evidence of some hot-headed crime, the gruesome find was made by a children playing on the beach. They told their mother, who informed the police.

Tayside Police conducted a search of the beach, and found also found a severed hand - presumably belonging to the owner of the detached head. It is, apparently, assumed that the remains were washed ashore after a bungled attempt to conceal a murder by chopping up the body, wrapping it in plastic bags and dropping it into the sea.

Terrible though murder may be, I fear that Tayside Police may be overlooking an even greater crime. After all, as the Daily Mail and other born again tree huggers have been telling us for weeks, plastic bags are Bad News. Anyone recklessly dumping them into the sea, particularly with content that may attract marine life in search of food, must surely be guilty of a crime that stands head and shoulders above one piddling murder.

I have no doubt the environmentalist lobby will have something to say about it, and woe betide the head-bagging murderer if a Friends of the Polar Bears representative should find him before the police do.

Billy Seggars.

April Foolishness

I see the papers managed to produce a fine crop of spoof April Fool stories today. The majority are summarised in this short article from the Telegraph, although I notice that the Telegraph's own contribution is omitted :-)

Shame, really, because the "Flying penguins found by BBC programme" article is one of the funniest and the film of penguins flapping to a vacation in the Amazon was cleverly done. Mind you, I liked the Sun's effort, too, which claims that diminutive French President Nicolas Sarkozy is to undergo pioneering surgery to increase his height by 5 inches - making him one inch taller than his stunning wife. Surely, those measurements should have been in centimetres though?

The Daily Mail's attempt wasn't so bad either, although the notion that Chancellor Alistair Darling enjoys a regular flutter on the lottery - and never, ever wins - is probably too close to reality to be all that funny. The spoof article contains an equally fake quote: "I was trying to see what numbers he put on his card. Then I'd do anything but those numbers. They've got to be losers, haven't they?"

Fake it may be, but it sounds about right to me!

Billy Seggars.