Saturday, 31 May 2008

Doctors Should Be Seen And Not Heard

Of late, certain elements of the medical profession are really starting to get on my nerves. What is it about possession of a medical degree that makes the buggers think they're entitled to tell the rest of us what to do? To make demands, and seek the force of law to back them up, just because they think we should behave a certain way?

Take Vivienne Nathanson, for example, although she is far from alone in trying to dictate to the general public. As head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association, she's been sticking her nose into things that shouldn't concern a doctor quite a bit recently. Her latest outing is in today's Sun, where she appears to support Dawn Primarolo's efforts to ban branding and logos on cigarette packets. Nathanson is reported as saying, "It is essential that cigarettes are made more inaccessible to children and one way to do this is to ban 10 packs of cigarettes and to get rid of tobacco vending machines."

Medicine is, traditionally, an advisory profession. We go to the doctor when we don't feel well, and we expect them sort the problem out. This is what they're paid for. They may well wish to give us some sage advice while they work, a friendly heads up that something might not be too good for us. Again, that's what they're paid for, and it's not only ok, but is expected.

But that should be as far as their influence goes. Whether we choose to follow their suggestion - and it should never, ever be more than a suggestion - or completely ignore it is none of their damn business. Most certainly, they should not be lobbying government with a view to imposing their opinions upon the rest of us in the shape of bans and restrictions.

Yet this is what Nathanson is doing here, and it's what she's done elsewhere, too. Back in December 2007, on the opinions website Yoosk, Nathanson was asked, "At the moment public opinion seems in favour of boxing but we don't hear much about the health risks and or progress of anti boxing legislation. What are the BMA doing to advance the anti boxing campaign..."

She replied, "The British Medical Association (BMA) has been an authority on boxing since 1982 and opposes both amateur and professional boxing and calls for a complete ban. In September 2007 the BMA updated its call for a ban on boxing to include other combat sports such as mixed martial arts fighting. The BMA along with the Australian Medical Association believe that ‘international events based on the spirit of goodwill – such as Olympic and Commonwealth Games – are no place for interpersonal violence and injury’ and that ‘it's time to remove boxing from the sporting line-up’. Boxing by men and women is equally unacceptable. "

Doesn't like smoking, doesn't like boxing, probably isn't so keen on drinking, either... oooh, look what I found: "Doctors call on pubs to display alcohol units" in which none other than our Viv said that the current voluntary agreement between the Government and drinks industry to include unit information on cans and bottles did not go far enough.

Gosh, that's a surprise, isn't it? What Professor Nathanson and the many other similarly meddlesome busybodies fail to understand is that this is simply not their job. If they want to lay down the law, they are perfectly entitled to quit medicine, resign their GMC membership and stand for election as a Member of Parliament, though I can't see many of them keeping their deposits.

All of which is not to say that they're not perfectly entitled to their opionions. They most certainly are, and they are equally entitled to share those views with the rest of us - or, at least, those of us who are interested in what they have to say. Where they cross the line is in seeking to enforce those views, and turn them into law, without any democratic mandate to do so.

Until they obtain such a mandate, the British taxpayer has shelled out an awful lot of money to provide them with medical degrees. They were granted those degrees to help treat the sick, not as a means to becoming Health Fascists, and I don't think it's asking too much for them to use them properly. They should get off their soapboxes, dig out their stethoscopes and get their shiny-trousered asses over to the wards.

If we want their opinion, we'll be sure to ask for it. Until then, I'm certain that the NHS could find them something useful to do.

Billy Seggars.

The Colour Of Smoke

Dawn Primarolo and her cronies at the Department of Health are, quite plainly, beyond help - and are certainly beyond the reach of rational thought. In their latest onslaught against the smoker, Nanny Dawn and co. think it would be a cool idea to replace distinctive cigarette packaging with something a little less noticeable, preferably in black and white.

Why? Well, according to the Telegraph, it's because kids allegedly make easy associations with branding materials, such as packaging. Even if that's true, and I've no idea whether it is or not, I can see no rational reason for that making any difference whatsoever. After all, the same Nannies are planning to force shops to keep their tobacco products out of sight under the counter, so how are the kids - who shouldn't be buying the product anyway - going to see them, let alone bond with a brand?

Clearly, they won't. "Ahhh," Nanny Dawn will no doubt say, "but what about AFTER someone has bought some ciggs for themselves? Kids might see them with 20 Bensons, and think it's cool to copy them." Well, yes, they might, it's true. But a little deeper thought - difficult for members of this Government, I know - will show that removing the branding won't help. In fact, it might just make matters worse.

See, if the wannabe smoker can't tell one brand from another because they all look the same, it doesn't matter which brand they buy in order to look "cool", does it? That's particularly true of younger victims of Britain's Labour-made lack-of-education system, who will really struggle to READ the wording on the packet. It's the same logic that persuades people to buy cheap "lookalike" products that are a fraction of the cost and quality of genuine designer gear, but will do the job - one black and white rectangle will be very much like another, and so the pack containing the cheapest cigg factory floor sweepings at a much lower price will be a perfectly acceptable substitute for Silk Cut - or any other more expensive brand.

Legal smokers (I wonder how long that term will apply?) on the other hand, are going to face yet more inconvenience, as it becomes progressively more difficult to tell whether the shop you're in actually has your fave brand in stock. The idea is clearly flawed at all levels - it won't work, it will make it easier for new smokers to look "cool", it will annoy legal smokers and might even encourage some of them who are sold the wrong brand by accident (you know it's going to happen) to switch to cheaper ciggs, costing the Treasury a fortune.

Thought is obviously just not possible in the corridors of power any more. Still, it won't be long before they're out on their ear, will it? In the meantime, when the crackpot scheme of hiding the smokes under the counter was first mooted some months ago, I drew parallels with the concept of buying "adult" magazines, and suggested that, before long, we'd have to buy our smokes under plain cover. Looks like I wasn't so far wrong - again.

Billy Seggars.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Chip Chop

I see that yesterday's Cambodian UFO story from the Sun has now become "real" news. It must be, since it's featured by the Telegraph this morning, along with a number of other stories that nobody in their right mind would ever believe.

The clearest hint that the loonies are now running the asylum is in this report from the South West, in which the fire brigade has stopped doing live demonstrations of the dangers of chip pan fires. Think back to your school days - they've been doing these demos for over 20 years, so you might have to think back quite a few years! - and you'll remember being taught that the only way to safely deal with a chip pan fire is to place a wet towel over the top of the pan.

The absolute worst thing you can do is pour water on the blaze, and I'm sure the live demo has been instrumental is saving an awful lot of people from injury, or even death, over the years. It won't be doing so any more, though, because Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service has now withdrawn the dramatic chip pan demonstration for schoolchildren — in case it encourages children to tackle one at home. Isn't that the whole damn point? Where else would they be likely to encounter a blazing chip pan?

Then again, how many folks of child-sprouting age are likely to know how to make their own chips, these days? As products of the British education system, they're far more likely to buy them frozen and stuff them in the microwave.

Staying in the South West, the aforementioned Fire and Rescue Service has been swamped with emergency calls after flash floods tore through their patch, forcing them to request that folks only dial 999 if lives were threatened. Ironically, according to Telegraph, the Sunrise Festival, due to play host to around 20,000 tree-huggers in an eco-friendly way has been cancelled because of the bad weather. You've got to laugh, haven't you?

Unless you're Gordon Brown-Trousers, who probably wants to cry. A YouGov poll today shows the Labour party in its worst ever position since polling began, with the McBean even managing to do (fractionally) worse than Michael Foot. It will be no consolation to him to be on the same kind of ground as John Major at his lowest ebb, and he's going to be even more upset to find that this poll was conducted AFTER he'd poured over £2 billion into "fixing" the 10p tax debacle. What's it going to take to get him out of this mess? More than he has, I think - shouldn't have bottled out of that election he couldn't have lost, should he?

And then there's NASA. I like them. I really do. They do lots of cool (and very, very important) research, and come in for a lot of bad press for their efforts. Tiny minded people don't understand that the research they do into things that may seem a little "out there" to the average dweeb has significant applications in everyday life - an awful lot of the things we take for granted today sprang from their research. Plus, of course, they have cool toys like the Phoenix probe that's busily sending back pictures of the Martian landscape.

Again, very, very cool, even if those pictures are astonishingly similar to those sent back from the Viking probes 30 years ago - i.e. they feature a lot of red rocks! Of course, the purpose of the Phoenix mission is completely different from Viking, but I was just a little bit worried to read that "Mission leaders had begun giving names to the rocks and depressions in the 'work space' where Phoenix will spend the next three months digging, said Peter Smith, the mission’s chief investigator."

Naming rocks? Yes, I know why they do it, thanks, but wouldn't you think that some of the biggest brains in the world would find a way to express the concept in a way that wouldn't make them look quite so, well, odd?

Billy Seggars.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Life In The Sun

As I've said before, I like the Sun. There's something refreshing about a newspaper that, even in the gloomy times that have overtaken Britain of late, can run such an eclectic mix of stories.

Today, for example, the Sun's BIG headline is that the husband of Special Constable Nisha Patel-Nasri has been convicted of her murder. Apparently, he had his pretty young wife killed by a couple of very odd-looking guys whilst he went off to play snooker. Charming.

But, right alongside this grim article is a photo purporting to be proof that ghosts exist. It is claimed to show a spectral figure hanging on to the banister of a staircase at Tulloch Castle in Dingwall in the Scottish Highlands, which is supposed to be well known for its supernatural residents. Fascinating, to be sure, but I can't help wondering if all is as it appears.

And then, right beneath this, we have the massively urgent breaking news that Prince William is "top royal totty", with Harry not far behind. Can they do that? Are you allowed to refer to future heads of state and their brothers as "royal totty"? I guess so, though how folks are going to cope with bowing and scraping to someone answering that description I'll never know.

This being the Sun, boobs are never far from the headlines, and today's offering is no exception. But this is a serious article, honest, and isn't written for the purpose of displaying a pair of slightly concealed knockers at all, I'm sure. It seems that sports scientist (whatever that may be) Dr Joanna Scurr at the University of Portsmouth, has figured out that "The speed at which breasts move during exercise could be key to understanding breast pain."

No, really? Oh yes! Really! And, having studied more than 100 women running on a treadmill with sensors attached to their bosoms, she should know what she's talking about. I wonder if she needs an assistant? Someone to fix up the sensors, maybe?

Fascinating though high speed hooters may be, they pale into insignificance compared to the story right next to it: "UFO Explodes Over Island." Now that should have been a show stopper all over the world. Sadly, I don't see any mention of this vital development in any of the other papers. Nor has it made the BBC or CNN.

Still, the Sun, ever at the forefront of news gathering, the paper that only yesterday showed how to make Martian landscape pictures for rather less than the cost of Nasa's latest probe, says, "A UFO has EXPLODED in mid-air over a southern Vietnamese island, according to reports."

Dramatic stuff. The story continues, "Villagers say they heard a loud blast yesterday and later found shards of metal near the island's coastline. The sensational revelations come one day after neighbouring Cambodia's air force retracted a report of a mysterious plane crash. "

Retracted, eh? That's suspicious, for a start! And then, "The official state news agency added that soldiers were sent out to look for the wreckage and survivors, and local authorities contacted airlines in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, but received no reports of missing aircraft. " No reports? I wonder if that could be because the prior reports had been retracted?

We'll never know, of course, unless the alien's friends come looking for them. But, curiosity having gotten the better of me, I've been doing a little Googling on this story. There's not much information around, but what there currently is can be had at the following links:

Plane crashes in southeast Cambodia - official
Cambodian official backs off plane crash report
Unidentified flying object explodes over southern Vietnam - probably the most detailed article around at the moment, though I have no idea how reliable it is
UFO explodes over Phu Quoc Island
Unidentified object reported exploding off Cambodia coast
Vietnam reports "UFO" explosion - contains a few pictures of a guy holding an interestingly twisted piece of metal.
Vietnam probes mystery UFO incident

Fascinating, though not particularly enlightening. Of course, UFO refers to an Object that's Flying and is Unidentified - doesn't necessarily imply alien spacecraft. And given all the unfortunate events in that part of the world recently, I should imagine the whole are is alive with military, civilian and media aircraft.

Wouldn't surprise me if one of them had stopped reporting the news and starting BEING the news.

Billy Seggars.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Power To The People

Citizen Smith? Me? Hardly! But it's certainly nice to see that "the people" - presumably the same people who, not so long ago, were represented by "the people's party" ["We are back as the people's party, says Blair", The Times, 2 October 1996] - are still capable of wielding a little influence under Gordon Brown-Trousers' wannabe dictatorship.

To that end, truck drivers blocked roads in London and Cardiff as a protest against the ever-rising fuel prices, according to the Telegraph. And good for them, say I! I'm all in favour of law and order, but this is still - just about - a free country, and there's no harm in seriously aggrieved citizens making their displeasure known. It's a basic democratic right, and, as such, I'm amazed that the protest it was allowed to proceed unhindered and unharassed - always assuming that it was, of course.

Only a few weeks ago, such a thing would have been unlikely in the extreme. Spin doctors would have been gyrating in their efforts to portray the protesters as unlawful, ungrateful, unpleasant people who have no right to express their views in any way that might, conceivably, allow those views to become known to anyone else. These days, of course, the government has rather more to worry about than a few traffic jams.

It looks like the McBean is heading for his second humiliating climbdown in as many weeks, with whispers than the hugely unpopular hikes in road tax and fuel duty may be axed or, at the very least, softened. Of course, that's a welcome move, even though the PM will probably shrug it off as "listening" rather than frantically trying to save his neck.

Then again, they're probably one and the same thing - he's listened, and heard that everybody hates him. He's probably the most despised PM in living memory, exceeding (with some effort, I should think) the 1980s hatred of Mrs T by several degrees of magnitude. And as for bungling incompetence - well, John Major looks like a streetwise shrewd operator by comparison, doesn't he? Under those circumstances, a true leader who actually believed in their policies would grit their teeth, batten down the hatches and plough onwards. A true politician, on the other hand, looks for a way to get out of the mess, then looks for someone to blame. Easy to tell which is Brown-Trousers, isn't it?

And so, people power prevails. This time. But I wonder how many of those protesting trucks, that blocked the A40 into London, and brought the M4 to a virtual standstill, were caught on CCTV? And how many of their drivers will be receiving some sort of reprimand - or retribution? For this is Big Brother Britain (no, not the tedious TV show) where we're fined up to £110 for putting our bins out on the wrong day, overfilling them or putting the wrong things out for recycling while violent crime stalks the streets. Broken Britain, the Sun calls it, and they're not so far wrong.

Billy Seggars.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Crewe'd Contempt For Gordon Brown-Trousers

It's not looking good for Gordon Brown-Trousers, the most craven, incompetent and, above all, ridiculed British Prime Minister in living memory.

In the fallout from Labour's spectacularly catastrophic failure in the Crewe by-election, the Government's skin-deep show of loyalty to its embattled leader is already showing some serious cracks. Of course, it's not unexpected that a few likely lads and lasses would be calling for a leadership challenge - there are ALWAYS some malcontents in any political party, no matter how suicidal that would be.

Nor is it particularly surprising that Jack Straw, formerly Gordon Brown-Trousers' leadership campaign manager, is rumoured (despite denials) to be in the thick of the political back-stabbing. According to the Sun, "Last night Mr Straw’s team strenuously denied rumours he has appointed a leadership campaign team. And they insisted he remains 100 per cent loyal." So there you have it - I wonder who he'll be campaigning for?

Not that it really matters - they're all much the same, and similarly unelectable. No, the real interest lies in taking a step back from the mud slinging; look at these people, the folks who are supposed to run the country in our best interests.

In their hands - literally, in the McBean's case - the British economy has gone from reasonably healthy to terminally ill. It's all very well for the Prime Minister to bleat about international factors such as the price of oil. One of the many things influencing the price of oil is the unstable situation in Iraq - and who was very, very senior indeed in Blair's government, with specific responsibility for economic matters, at the time of the invasion? Wouldn't be Gordon Brown-Trousers, would it?

The fact is that Britain under Brown-Trousers is a mess and, worse, is perceived to be a mess. It's been a mess for a while, of course, with constant spin and deception required to keep the population sweet - or, at least, uninterested. But Blair was good at that. He was highly skilled at hiding the true depth of his problems, and keeping enough plates spinning to distract attention away from the more worrying parts of his policies.

Brown-Trousers is not, and as the ever-sharper pinches in their wallets cause people to cast a more critical eye over the government than they have for years, he is utterly incapable of inspiring any degree of feel-good factor whatsoever. And THAT is what's worrying the Labour rebels - not the economy, not the true impact of the 10p tax debacle, not the price of food or fuel, but their fear that Brown-Trousers can't win the next election.

They're right, of course. He's shown himself to be a ditherer, to hold the British electorate in utter contempt and to be incapable of fixing an economic crisis that has been shaping up since long before he left the Treasury. He is unfit to govern, and should not, under any circumstances, be re-elected.

But, again, that doesn't really matter. The Labour party, at this time of undeniable national economic and political crisis, is concerned only with itself. Again, according to the Sun, one Cabinet Minister, in discussing the possibility of ousting Brown-Trousers, said: "We have a collective responsibility to do the right thing by the Party. We have big problems and they have to be sorted out."

And Labour backbencher Graham Stringer told the BBC: "The real debate that goes on within the Party is, 'Is it more damaging for the Party to change leader, or to hope that things will get better in the next two years?'."

Did you ever hear a clearer admission of our Government's self-serving interests than that?

The Telegraph covers much the same story, but also comments on fears about planned hikes in fuel duty and car tax, which, it claims, has been likened to a poll tax on wheels. Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, is apparently facing yet more calls to abandon this autumn's 2p increase in petrol duty after a month of record prices at the pump and a recent surge in the price of oil.

An unnamed junior minister said, "Every MP is getting it in the neck about the cost of driving and it isn't going to be enough to keep talking about world oil prices. We should be thinking about what we can do to help. It's going to cost money but we found money for 10p tax so if we have to borrow a bit more for this, so be it."

What kind of example is THAT to set to a public already drowning in credit bills? And, more worryingly, it sounds frighteningly like the old-style tax-and-spend Labour of the 1970s than Tony Blair's shiny-toothed New Labour. But then, so do the "class-war" tactics that served Labour so badly in the Crewe by-election. And, funnily enough, I keep seeing references to Gordon Brown-Trousers and Michael Foot in the same article - often for the purposes of direct comparison. Not a good thing for the PM, I should think!

So, will there be a leadership challenge? Maybe. After all, if they lose their seats, some Labour MPs might have to get a real job, and that would never do, would it? Desperate times call for desperate measures, and anything's worth doing to keep their seat!

But it's a risky business, and likely to get more so as the smarter members of the Labour party realise just how bad their internal bickering looks to the rest of the country. It's already starting to look like the Labour party cares more about its own affairs than our wellbeing, and the added distraction of a leadership challenge - and at a time of crisis, yet! - would just go to confirm that.

And once that is confirmed in the eyes of the electorate, it doesn't matter who they put in the top job because the next election will already be lost. Joe Public does not, by and large, care about highbrow ideals and political theory - mind you, neither do most politicians. We want someone who will get on with the hasslesom job of running the country for us whilst we get on with our lives, and politicians want power. It's a nice, symbiotic relationship that works fairly well.

But, when their cockups start to impact upon our lives, we don't like it and their days are numbered no matter what they do. Today, the Sun reports that soaring fuel prices mean that the average cost of Fish and Chips could rise by 50% from £4.05 to £6.75. That, along with the cost of fuel at the pumps, is something that hits just about everyone. The folks we (well, not me, but "we" as a people) put in charge are costing us money and fighting amongst themselves. Time for a change.

When the few remaining smart people in the Labour party realise that this is how the population as a whole is thinking, the knives will be out for those demanding a divisive leadership election, and I should imagine that the internal squabbles might become quite vicious. Of course, the good news for Crazy Cameron - and for those of us who have despised the devious, manipulative politics of New Labour from the start - is that, no matter what happens, Labour is in deep trouble.

The bad news is that, whatever they do, we're stuck with a doomed and inept Labour government for another couple of years, and it's going to get expensive. Still, at least the political fireworks will be worth seeing!

Billy Seggars.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Smoking Madness

A travesty of justice seems to have taken place in the High Court, with the aptly named Lord Justice Pill's ruling on smoking in a mental hospital.

The BBC reports that "[High Court] judges have ruled psychiatric patients should not be allowed to smoke at a high security mental hospital." I've been following this story for a while, and was outraged to learn that patients at the high security Rampton hospital, in Nottinghamshire, were not allowed to smoke, despite being detained there.

They argued that the hospital's no-smoking policy, which prevents them from smoking at all, anywhere in the hospital, breaches their human rights because, in their case, the hospital is "their own home" and they should be allowed to smoke in the privacy of it. After all, inmates in the nation's jails are allowed to smoke, and the situation surely isn't all that different for patients detained in a high security mental institution.

Not so, according to Lord Justice Pill and Mr Justice Silber. In fairness, there are elements of their ruling that make a degree of sense; it was argued on behalf of the Trust that, unlike other secure hospitals, Rampton did not have secure facilities to allow inmates to smoke in the open air with a risk of them running away. That's a pretty weak argument, in my opinion, but it does, at least, make sense. The report makes no mention of why a secure room with adequate ventilation could not have been allocated for the purpose.

Further elements of the ruling are much less acceptable. Lord Justice Pill said: "There is very strong evidence that smoking causes disease and endangers the health of the smokers themselves and other people who live and work in their vicinity. There is, in our view, powerful evidence that, in the interests of public health, strict limitations upon smoking, and a complete ban in appropriate circumstances, are justified."

Or, to dumb it down a bit - we think it's bad for you, so we're not going to let you do it. Seldom have I seen a more blatantly discriminatory ruling; members of the public are - for the moment - entitled to choose whether they wish to smoke or not. Even criminals are allowed that choice. Yet individuals who are, by definition, ill, are denied the right to make that choice solely on the basis of their illness. It's just one more example of the way that society stigmatises and discriminates against mental health patients.

You can bet that Health Fascists within NHS Trusts around the country are even now scheming to deprive their mental health patients of yet another freedom on the strength of this ruling. It's a disgrace, and anyone who thinks it comes anywhere close to justice should keep taking the pills.

The rest of us might want to wonder how long it will be before the judgment is used to further victimise smokers who are, by any classical definition, perfectly sane. "LOOK," the Health Fascists will say. "The Court ruled that smoking is bad for you, and people around you. You WANT to smoke? You must be mad!" And before you know it, smokers will be off to the rubber room - for their own good, of course.

Billy Seggars.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Denormalising Duplicity

Back in March, I commented on public health Minister Dawn Primarolo's fascist plans to force shops to remove tobacco products from public display.

Needless to say, I thought (and still think) such a plan is flawed, to say the very least, and is more likely to indicate the onset of terminal stupidity in any government flunky who gives it mind room. Unfortunately, our cousins north of the border seem to be doing exactly that.

According to the Telegraph, "Cigarette displays to be banned in Scotland - Cigarettes are to be banned from public display in shops under plans announced on Wednesday by the Executive." I'm ashamed that the land of my ancestors, once home to a proud, fearless people, has been reduced to such inexcusably gross stupidity.

Still, the evidence is there for all to see, and there's nothing left do but mourn the passing of both common sense and freedom of choice. You see, it isn't just the absence of publicly displayed smokes that worries me, although the implications and consequences thereof are grave.

No, it's the use - twice - of the word "denormalise" in the Telegraph article that really, really concerns me. Shona Robison, the public health minister minister, told MSPs on Wednesday that, "In a nutshell, we want to do everything we can to denormalise smoking within society."

That isn't just bog standard political propaganda, is it? That's full-blown, high-grade psychological conditioning. Let us assume that Ms Robison truly believes cigarettes to be the ultimate evil. Odd though her position seems to me, she is, nevertheless, absolutely entitled to hold those views, and I could even be persuaded that - if they really are her views - her job imposes upon her a duty to "spread the word".

But there is a world of difference between seeking to warn, educate and persuade the public to do what you believe is best for them, and seeking to subtly - without their knowledge or consent - alter public perceptions so that they believe it, too. The line between the two is very clear - on one side we have the dedicated public servant, aiming only to facilitate change for the better, and on the other you have raging megalomania.

Extreme, you think? Really? Then let us consider the nature of "normality". It's pretty hard to define, but, broadly, it's a matter of perceived commonality - if a significant proportion of people perceive something as normal, then, by and large, it's normal, no matter how odd it may be to the rest of us!

In order for someone - a government, say - to "denormalise" something, they have got to adjust the perceptions of those who currently think it's normal. And that is very, very scary. Do you really want politicians telling you not only what to do, but what to think, without you even realising they're doing it? Because, if you realise they're doing it, it just won't work. Worse, do you want them telling other people what to think?

Remember, "normality" is a SHARED view of what is normal - even if you are unaffected by the proposed "denormalising" tactics, many other people will be. And for them, your views, or behaviour, or whatever is to be "denormalised" will suddenly become abnormal. Pause a moment, and bring to mind someone you, and your associates, consider "abnormal".

How are they treated? I bet they're the butt of a few jokes, at the very least. If you're a kind-hearted soul you might think of them as "OK, a bit weird, harmless but not someone you'd want to get stuck in a lift with." More likely, they're mocked, teased and maybe even bullied or discriminated against, because "us against them" is a very basic element of human nature; we look for things that we have in common with those around us, and things that set us apart from "them".

Most people prefer to be one of "us" instead of one of "them", which is why peer pressure can be so compelling. Now imagine what it would be like if almost all of your friends and colleagues, your family, in fact everyone suddenly started to treat you as an outsider, just because something "normal" that you - and they - have done every day of your life for years, or even decades, is suddenly considered "abnormal".

It's disturbing, but that's what "denormalising" means - take something that's normal, and make it abnormal, along with those who insist on doing what they want to do instead of what they're told they want to do.

In essence, that is what Shona Robison and her colleagues are threatening to impose upon the Scottish people. How long will it be before Gordon Brown-Trousers tries something similar in England and Wales?

Billy Seggars.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Drawers and Quarters

Once upon a time, an Englishman's home was his castle. But these days, according to this piece in the Sun by Michael McIntyre, we're reduced to one single drawer.

And he's dead right, too! Of course, the writing's been on the wall for a year or two, now. Master of all he surveyed he might well have theoretically been, but even my grandfather found it prudent to retreat to his shed when any seriously saw-dusty carpentry was on the cards.

My father didn't have a shed in the traditional sense, but he did have a garage, and it was there that he was expected to do, well, whatever oily / dusty / dirty tasks that houseproud wives don't want husbands to do on the living room floor - even if the wife is the ultimate beneficiary of their work.

But times move on, and a guy's mastery over his own home has decreased in line with governmental common sense and the honesty of politicians. Wives, like our mothers and nannies, are genetically predisposed towards "tidying up", which explains why nothing is ever where we left it - particularly if we left it there several weeks ago! It also explains why our forefathers began to fall back from the battleground of the kitchen table to the relative safety of their sheds.

Fortunately, technology, too, has advanced. The things my male ancestors wanted to keep NEEDED a room to store them in, but the ever-reducing size of modern male playthings means we can, in fact, get away with just one drawer. And, if we're truthful, a few jacket pockets, but they are strictly temporary storage - anything left therein come washing day is automatically forfeit.

So, what's in your man drawer, as Michael McIntrye calls this last bastion of the modern male? Mine contains a random scattering of floppy disks, content unknown and, after all this time, probably unknowable, a couple of screwdrivers, an ancient penknife, a bottle top, a lighter, an empty cigarette packet, an old comb, the remote for a TV that I haven't owned for several years, several watches, none of which seem to be working, various mobile phone chargers including some I don't ever remember having seen before and a whole raft of other assorted odds and ends - a USB cable, string, cough sweets, a pair of tights presumably belonging to Mrs S, a magnetic chess set (WHY??), paper clips, keys, some prehistoric Esso Tiger Tokens ...

Basically, it's junk. Most of this stuff could go in the bin tomorrow, but it won't. It's mine (except the tights, obviously!) and it's in the last, tiny part of the world that I can say falls entirely under my control. Castles, sheds and garages may have fallen before the ever advancing tide of politically correct equality, but in that drawer I reign supreme, and the battle for control of its content will be to the death!

Billy Seggars.

Follow My Leader

Goodness, I seem to have touched a raw nerve in my last posting, in which I discussed the Sun's coverage of missing NHS patient data. To recap, I mentioned that 38,000 NHS patient records had been lost in transit between London and Sandown Medical Centre.

In the article to which I referred, it was claimed that the missing medical records - travelling via City Link courier - were on a CD. However, more recent coverage by the BBC, Channel 4 News and ComputerWorldUK suggests that it was actually stored on a backup tape. Not that it matters one little bit, of course - essential, extremely sensitive patient data is still missing, and clearly demonstrates that the NHS, and the government that runs it in our name, cannot be trusted with even the simplest administrative tasks.

Again, I expressed these and other, similar, views in my earlier post, and it seems to have attracted some attention:

At just 10 minutes past eight this morning, someone, or possibly several someones, searched Google UK for the term "sandown medical centre, data", and, having apparently found something of interest to them, they visited my blog using an IP address that resolves to "Gb-colt-trustees-of-the-london-clinic-limited". Interesting.

By 09:31, word of the debacle was obviously spreading - someone using an IP address that resolves to "National Patient Safety Agency" was busily searching Google UK for "lost nhs records gordon brown the sun", and again they found their way here.

I wonder what they wanted? Surely, the National Patient Safety Agency, with its stated aim to "lead and contribute to improved, safe patient care by informing, supporting and influencing healthcare organisations and individuals working in the health sector" doesn't need to find out about developing healthcare catastrophes from the Sun? Maybe they just wanted to see how the government's line on the problem was being represented in the media?

Then again, I suspect that Gordon Brown-Trousers, the NHS and, in fact, everyone involved in this latest example of incompetence in civic life, would very much rather that nobody had found out about it at ALL.

With embarrassment heaped upon humiliation atop disgrace, mocked and satirised at every turn, how long can the Prime Minister hope to maintain the pretence that he is even capable of running the country, let alone that he is effectively doing so? Hopefully, not for very much longer!

Billy Seggars.

Monday, 19 May 2008

38,000 NHS Records Lost

Poor old Gordon Brown-Trousers must dread the morning papers. Well, actually, in this 24-hour, rolling-news society, he must live in constant fear and dread of newspapers, TV, radio and, of course, the internet.

Today's disaster comes in the shape of a report in the Sun, to the effect that the medical records of no less than 38,000 NHS patients have been lost. The records were on a CD that was sent from London to Sandown Medical Centre on the Isle of Wight, via City Link private courier.

The missing records include details of drinking habits, sexual diseases and disabilities, and there are fears that patients could be left open to blackmail if the information gets out.

Not unaware of the significance of the loss, which comes hot on the heels of a series of losses, including the disappearance of 25 million people's records on a lost HM Revenue and Customs CD last year, Gordon Brown-Trousers is said to be "fuming".

And I just bet he is, too. Would you, now, trust your confidential details to a National Health Service that can't even keep track of a damn CD, let alone secure servers from unauthorised access? In reality, of course, I have absolutely no doubt that this kind of loss - and losses on a much greater scale - happen all the time, and have been happening for years, if not decades.

Ever since information technology made it possible to cram hundreds, or thousands, of records onto an object small enough to be popped into an envelope, wrongly addressed and dropped into the post, you can bet that our private details have been turning up in dead letter offices all over the country - and that's only the best-case scenario!

This is not what Gordon Brown-Trousers and the overpaid clowns behind the National Programme for IT want to hear, of course, and it's certainly not what they want us to SAY. They want us all firmly behind the idea that computerising our medical records is the way to go, that nothing can go wrong, it's safe as houses and anyone who disagrees is a paranoid Luddite.

Well, I'm sorry, but I don't agree. I do not want my medical records to be stored on this, or any other, database, either now or in the future. Yes, I know all about the advantages - I work with computers and data all day, every day, and I'm fully alongside what they can do for me. I'm also well aware of the potential risks involved in such a system, and I judge them to far outweigh the advantages.

Take the current fiasco as an example. You need to make copies of 38,000 electronic NHS patient records? No problem! Just burn them on to a CD and the whole lot will fit in your pocket, to be lost at your convenience. You just try doing that with paper-based records - you'd need a pretty big pocket to take 38,000 of those little brown A5 envelopes, wouldn't you?

It's a shambles, a disaster and, worst of all, it's a taste of things to come. Even if the missing CD turns up today, or tomorrow (and I'd say there's a fair chance it, or something suspiciously like it, will) what proof do those patients have that the data hasn't been copied already? Medical histories aren't like bank accounts. You can't just change your details and assume that you're safe again - once you've had a sexual disease, you have always had it, and if that information gets into the wrong hands you could be in trouble.

This unfortunate event should be the final proof, if any were needed, that the whole online records scheme is an enormous mistake that isn't just waiting to happen, but is already happening. But that doesn't matter to Gordon Brown-Trousers - to him, it's just one more public humiliation, one more disaster to be smoothed over.

And, after all, why should he care? The NPfIT is so far behind schedule that there's no way he'll still be Prime Minister when all its chickens come home to roost - he'll be lucky if he's still PM next week, at this rate!

Billy Seggars.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Debugging - Texas Ant Invasion

Yesterday it was newts, today it's ants. I know, this blog is starting to read like a bestiary, but the story was just too fascinating to ignore.

For it seems that a plague of technology-chomping ants is sweeping through Texas, USA. No, I didn't believe it at first, either, but a brief Google search shows that it's true - or, at least, if it isn't, an awful lot of respected journals, including the Times, have been fooled.

Less than 1/8 of an inch long, the flea-sized super pests are resistant to over the counter insecticides, and, according to one report, use their dead to make bridges over any poison that DOES do the trick. Boffins don't know where they originally came from, although they are similar to a species found in the Caribbean, and it is speculated that they may have arrived in Texas aboard a cargo ship.

Wherever they came from, the interlopers are causing chaos because, for reasons that nobody fully understands, they are attracted by electronic equipment, and converge upon it in their thousands. They clog up fans and vents, short out circuit boards through sheer weight of numbers, nibble away at things you really wish they wouldn't, and, before you know it, your delicate equipment is toast. Computers, fire alarm control systems, a sewage plant and a whole range of other electronic gizmos have already fallen victim to them, and many more are likely to follow.

Now found in their millions in at least five counties in the Houston area, the ants - known as paratrenicha species near pubens, or commonly, crazy raspberry ants - look virtually impossible to get rid of. “They’re itty-bitty things, and they’re just running everywhere,” said Patsy Morphew, a resident of Pearland, on the Gulf Coast. She spends hours sweeping them off her patio and scooping them out of her pool by the cupful. “There’s just thousands and thousands of them."

In fact, there are more likely billions and billions of them, and they're spreading fast towards NASA's Johnson Space Centre and William P. Hobby airport. It all sounds like a 21st Century remake of the dubious 1974 movie Phase IV, but I could imagine that, if things are indeed as reported, these Crazy Raspberry Ants (crazy because they seem to run around at random, Raspberry after Tom Raspberry, an exterminator who first had dealings with them) could become at least a temporary problem.

After all, ventilation and heat dissipation are major issues in modern electronics, and most of the focus is on letting heat OUT of your equipment, rather than preventing tiny ants from getting IN. I suspect that's about to change as long-term R+D bods begin to contemplate the problem. And, in the short term, I expect there will soon be a booming anti-ant-product market in the Lone Star State, if there isn't already.

Billy Seggars.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Pissed At A Newt

Madness stalks the land over in Leicestershire, where, according to the Telegraph, the County Council shelled out £1 million protecting a colony of rare newts on a building site - only to find that there were no newts there.

The so-rare-as-to-be-totally-absent-newts in question were (or weren't) great crested newts - an endangered species that the Council was legally obliged to protect. So, when a group of mental enviroists produced a report claiming there was evidence to suggest the presence of between one and ten of the absent amphibians on the site, the Council swung into action.

A major road building scheme was put on hold for at least three months, and the authority stumped up hundreds of thousands of pounds for special newt-fencing and traps. A 1000-yard exclusion zone was erected around ponds on the site, and it was hoped that the traps would capture the newts and allow them to be moved. Staff were required to check the traps twice a day once temperatures rose above 41F (5C).

But the great crested newts were nowhere to be found, and Council officials are hopping mad to have spent so much money, not to mention delayed the new road, for the benefit of a few six-inch newts that were never there. Derek Needham, council engineering manager, confirmed: "We have caught a number of normal newts but no great crested newts."

And yet, despite spending a fortune and looking totally foolish, the Council can, quite rightly, claim that it was carrying out its legal duty; had they failed to protect a single genuine great crested newt, or colony thereof, officials could have faced a hefty fine or even jail.

Clearly, a change in the law is required. I wouldn't go out of my way to harm any living creature, be it a newt, a snail or something even more primitive like a politician, but nor am I unduly concerned if a few of them go West in the name of progress - there has to be some common sense involved. Are the lives of up to ten (or, in this case, no) great crested newts worth a sum anywhere close to £1 million? If so, why? Lets see it on a balance sheet, clearly broken down into quantifiable components.

If they're worth the money, then by all means protect them. If they're not, they must take their chances. Although, in fairness, it might be reasonable to allow a short period in which armies of bewhiskered tree huggers are given the chance to capture and transplant the beasties before the bulldozers roll in - on a voluntary basis, at their own expense and using their own equipment, of course.

Billy Seggars.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

May The Force Be With Them

Some guys have all the luck! According to the Telegraph, Star Was fans Bramwell Brightey, 33, and his 29-year-old girlfriend, Tamsyn Lofts, have just gotten hitched. Nothing particularly unusual about that, you might think, except this particular couple did it in full Star Wars costume, with a host of appropriately costumed guests looking on.

Congratulations, guys! But I wonder if they realise just how lucky they are, both in sharing such a powerful common interest (they've both seen the Star Wars movies over 500 times each, and I don't suppose they'll get bored of it any time soon) and in having the freedom to do things their own way. Can you imagine how many parents, in-laws and other minor marital inconveniences would make such a terrible fuss if their offspring announced an intention to get married dressed as Leia Organa or Han Solo?

Even if it were just a disapproving sneer and a refusal to participate, it could serious put a damper on the whole, very special, day, and I suspect many wouldn't stop there. Of course, they're both consenting adults, and can do whatever they please without needing anyone's permission, but it helps, doesn't it?

And it makes a refreshing change from all those dull, dull church services which, as Han Solo so rightly points out, are DULL and BORING. If you must participate in some organised fiction, I see no reason why it shouldn't be Star Wars instead of Christianity.

Maybe I can put the idea Mrs S - it's a bit late for the wedding, of course, been there, done that, but, if she'll dress up as a wookie I promise to ignite my light sabre...

Billy Seggars.

Saturday, 10 May 2008


"A PSYCHIATRIST has told a court that a man accused of gross indecency and intercourse without consent, may have suffered "sexsomnia" which caused him to have sex with a woman while he was asleep." At least, that's what the Sun says, and I have no reason to doubt it.

Apparently, the defendant is a known sleepwalker, and was depressed about the break-up of his marriage, on medication and had been drinking heavily at the time of the incident, all of which are said to be potential causes of the incident. Maybe so, but I have my doubts.

For one thing, sleepwalking or not, the expression "Brewers' Droop" springs to mind. A few beers too many are more likely to reduce his erm, effectiveness, than enhance it, as Mrs S would be all-too-ready to confirm.

Then there's the complainant's assertion that he didn't seem to be sleep walking when he got in her bed, and was fully prepared to commit the act. Wouldn't she know whether the dude about to bang her was awake or not? You'd think so, wouldn't you?

No, plausible as the defence sounds, I'm not buying it, and, from the comments left on the story so far, neither are Sun readers.

Billy Seggars.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Gordon Brown-Trousers Gets Trounced

The recent local election results came as absolutely no surprise to me - or, I suspect, to the Labour party. How many loyal Labour reps - Peers, MPs, local flunkies, BBC anchors - did you count saying "we have to listen..."

It's an understandable line, in the face of utter defeat and humiliation, but it won't really do, will it? You have to listen? You mean you haven't been listening up to now? Wonderful! The UK is in very, very deep trouble, with fuel, food and energy prices rising by the day and recession now, it seems, inevitable, and the elected Government has just decided that maybe it might not be a bad idea to listen. Joy.

Perhaps, if he'd listened to the more than 80% of voters who said they wanted a referendum on the EU Treaty, they wouldn't have given Gordon Brown-Trousers such a bloody nose. He might not have been quite so humiliated if he hadn't bottled out of a general election that he couldn't lose, and his standing wouldn't have been so badly dented if his government didn't look like a shambles. Face it, even the Speaker of the House is looking dodgy, donations to various Labour party causes stink and the general consensus is that you wouldn't trust the Government as far as you could throw it - assuming its meddlesome Health and Safety policies allowed you to throw anything, anywhere.

But he didn't listen, and now he's paying the price. According to a YouGov poll published in the Sun, Labour is doing so badly that it is now 26% behind Crazy Cameron's newly revitalised Conservative party, compared to 11% ahead when Gord took over in September last year. That's not just a collapse, it's an unmitigated disaster, and I love it!

Not because I'm particularly in favour of Cameron's bunch. They're not bad, but they're hardly in Mrs Thatcher's league, are they? And, embarrassingly, it seems that even Cameron has figured out that (barring a BIG mistake) he'll be coming to power in 2010 not because people want him, but because he's not Gordon Brown. No matter how awful Cameron may turn out to be (and let's not forget he was facing a possible leadership challenge only a few months ago) he's got to be better than the bungling, arrogant, incompetent twits currently running the show.

And now, just to twist the knife a little more, it seems that Cheri Blair is saying that Tone never trusted the McBean. Again, no surprise there, for all her claims of not wanting to add to the Brown-Trousered catalogue of disaster.

The most hapless, disaster-prone Prime Minister in living memory, if not the whole of British history, most be regretting the day he ever moved out of the Treasury. Well, insofar as he DID move out - everyone knows the Chancellor is little more than Gordon's sock puppet! But the best is yet to come, for the Sun's poll shows that things would only get worse for Labour if they tried to replace Gordon Brown-Trousers with a new leader at this point.

Which means that we can look forward to another two years of disaster after debacle after fiasco, safe in the knowledge that Gordon won't dare go to the country until he absolutely has to, and Labour won't dare replace him before then. AFTER they've lost the next election is another matter, of course - he'll be out on his ear so fast the political knives won't even have time to cool down. And, again, I love it - it's great to see such an awful, objectionable regime, such as that which Gordon Brown-Trousers has participated in since 1997, finally getting what's coming to it, hating every moment of it, but not being able to avoid it.

And not before time, either!

Billy Seggars.

Piffling Epiphany

The human mind is a powerful, but delicate, instrument. Capable of the most sophisticated thought and intricate reasoning, it is, nonetheless, poised on a knife-edge over the abyss of gibbering insanity. One small jolt is all it takes to plunge it into the depths of lunacy, and I fear that just such a descent may have befallen one of my regular visitors.

In cyberspace, as in the physical world, people are creatures of habit. Just as you might become accustomed to meeting the same people on the same bus every working day, so you get used to seeing the same users crop up time and time again in your website logs. You recognise that they visit your site several times each week, and, sometimes, every day. You know what time they are likely to visit, where they are likely to have come from, and so on.

And then, for no obvious reason, one of them starts behaving weirdly. Instead of visiting once, or maybe twice a day, as they have been doing for months, they appear in your logs ever more frequently, sometimes five or six times in a few hours. I could understand it if the blog had been updated between their visits; that would be flattering, but understandable. But this sudden upsurge in interest appears to have taken place while I have been away, leaving the blog to survive unattended for a couple of weeks or so.

Eager anticipation akin to withdrawal symptoms might, perhaps, explain it, although I can't imagine many people being that interested in my ramblings. And then there is the matter of epiphany.

On 2 May 2008, at 09:10:12, this unusually frequent visitor made their first appearance of the day. Nothing too unusual about that, but within 30 seconds they were searching the blog for a very specific word - epiphany. Why?? Did they just wake up one morning and pick a word to search for at random? And why that particular word?

Imagine if one of the aforesaid bus passengers, with whom you were expecting to exchange "good morning" type greetings, as you have done every day for weeks, had suddenly leapt from their seat, screamed "epiphany" down your lug hole and then run for it. Finding this wacky search recorded in my logs just now had much the same effect on me - all the more so because, as far as I am aware, I've never used the word in my life, and, beyond a few suspiciously religious overtones, didn't even know what it meant.

Naturally, I've now looked it up, and, in a pleasingly recursive result, it has become its own epiphany. I still don't know what could drive an apparently normal surfer to such an unexpected search, though, or what on Earth made them think they were likely to find the word on my blog. People, as I have often observed, are weird. Still, the incident has not been repeated, and I have high hopes that they're feeling a little bit better.

Billy Seggars.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Blow Up Doll

Women, wonderful though they are, do the strangest things. Every bloke will know what I mean - the odd little habits, endearing in their own way, that defy all attempts at logical analysis and rational debate.

Take Mrs S, for example. The family Seggars has just returned from a few days' break at the seaside - a pleasant excursion to a smallish coastal town, well provisioned with comfortable accommodation, delightful scenery and more eateries than you can shake a stick at. Naturally, as is her traditional wifely duty, Mrs S has tended to the packing / unpacking with typical skill and efficiency, helped just a little by my insistence that we were not, absolutely not, under any circumstances, taking our laptops with us.

There was some resistance, but I held out. We live our lives surrounded by computers of all descriptions, and, for the time that we were away, I wanted to be free of them. And it was wonderful, let me tell you! In fact, I was still reflecting happily on their absence when we got home. I was unloading the car (Mrs S packs / unpacks, I load / unload, everyone else gets in the way - a pattern many guys will recognise, I'm sure) when I spotted IT tucked away in the back of the boot.

No, not a guilty laptop or other piece of I.T. kit, but IT - the subject of many a bickering session over the years, none of which has ever come to any meaningful resolution. IT is an inflatable mattress, of the kind often advertised in the Sunday papers - you know, pumps up in a matter of hours, just in time for you to gasp you last on it as you expire from bloody hard graft with the tiny pump provided.

Mrs S insists - INSISTS - on taking this wretched thing with us whenever we go on holiday. In vain do I point out that we're staying at a hotel, and their rooms often come complete with a bed. And, if there is a mysterious sleepware malfunction, we can demand a new one, or, for that matter, a new room.

Reasonable, rational questions like "Why?" or "What the bloody hell for?" run into those typical female responses: "Might come in handy" or "You never know." Never know? I DO know that in all the years we've had IT, and, come to think of it, I can't recall how long that is, we have never, ever needed IT. Nonetheless, every year IT emerges from wherever Mrs S keeps it for the rest of the year and makes its way to the heap of stuff to be loaded.

This year, I made a stand for common sense and didn't load IT into the car. Clearly, with endearing strangeness and unexpected guile, Mrs S wasn't in the least bit fooled and loaded IT herself. Words, of course, have been exchanged. Nothing serious, naturally; just the usual sarcastic comment and feisty riposte that remind me why I married her in the first place.

And, of course, nothing has been resolved. IT has returned to its burrow (maybe I can find IT and dump IT while ITs hibernating!), Mrs S is being slightly smug and I am contemplating the consequences of almost two weeks without touching a computer. Aren't holidays fun?

Billy Seggars.