Thursday, 31 July 2008

The Hottest Musical North Of Havana?

After the Rod Stewart, Abba, Madness and Queen musicals, prepare yourself for the next lyrical genius to have a musical made of his music, and yes it's a miracle because its only Barry Manilow.
He may have boasted how he wrote the songs that made the whole world sing, but he also wrote the song that made the whole world sick in Copacabana, a song so cheesy it could be cut into slices and served on a cheeseburger.
To be fair on the white shoe wearing warbler, he has a very good voice and can tinkle the ivories better than most but the thought of sitting through a musical comprising entirely of Barry Manilow songs leaves me as cold as poor Tony who was shot by Rico who went a bit too far, Tony sailed across the bar, and then the punches flew and chairs were....hell, he's got me doing it now.
Whoever thought this would be a good idea should be taken high upon a hillside, high up where the stallion meets the sun. And left there till he apologises.
Sorry, i am sure that you are a great guy who has bought enjoyment to millions with your ballads and songs about not being able to smile but Barry, we don't need you today, Oh Barry.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

British Gas Ripping Us Off Again

If ripping off its customers was an Olympic Sport, we would have the Gold medal winners in British Gas owner Centrica who have announced yet another massive fuel price hike.
Blaming “soaring wholesale energy prices” Centrica have announced it is to raise gas prices by 35% with immediate effect.
Centrica made a profit of £2 billion pounds in 2007, and British Gas announced that its profits for the first half of the year were down by 69% to £166m.
Now a cynical person would suggest that the only reason why they've increased prices by 35% is to protect their disgustingly high profits and very little to do with "soaring wholesale energy prices."
We have six utility companies and like the cartel that it is, all of them raise their prices within a few weeks of each other and rake in the profits, leaving the customer no choice whatsoever so where is the Monopolies commission investigation who are supposed to protect us from getting ripped off like this?
Does anyone in this country still believe that privatising utilities such as gas, water and electricity was good for anyone apart from shareholders?
Most will blame this on Mr Brown but it was Margaret Thatcher who privatised all these companies so the fat cats at the top can lavish themselves with massive perks and bonuses.
There are alternatives though. We can take to the streets in a repeat of the Poll Tax riots or the Government can nationalise the utility companies and have state-owned companies providing cheaper gas to customers instead of a private company making profits for its shareholders.
Gordon, this is your chance to swing the electorate behind you, nationalise the utility companies and the rail network. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain and probably about the only opportunity you will have to change the direction you and your party are heading.

UPDATE: In a massive public relations coup, the day after raising customers prices by 35%, Centrica announce half year profits of £1b for 2008.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Mr Burns Talking Nuclear Power Plants

The USA has agreed to participate in nuclear talks with Iran, but i can't help thinking that they are not taking them seriously. They are sending some chap called Mr Burns.
How can Iran take seriously a man who previously operated a biological weapons laboratory until it was destroyed by hippies?
Burns has also owned a number of business ventures in Springfield, including an ocean slurry manufacturing plant, Burns Slant Drilling Co., Burns Media and used his wealth to blackmail and bribe various members of Springfield, including Nuclear safety inspectors.
He once attempted to block out the sun to force Springfield residents to increase their use of electricity produced by the Nuclear Plant.
Mr Burns is obviously not the right person to talk to Iran about their nuclear ambitions so if you are not going to do it properly America, don't do it at all.
Mr Ahmadinejad, if a 100 year old yellow man is sat across the table from you and mumbling 'Excellent' under his breath when you turn up for the meeting, release the hounds!
Alternatively, if it is the US Under Secretary of State, Mr William Burns, carry on.

Englands Chance To Shine At Olympics

At the closing ceremony of the Olympics, during which England officially receives the Olympic flag and the mantle of the Olympic city, we will get a 10 minute slot to impress the watching billions that we are worthy.
So how to fill those 10 mins with so much Englishness that it will have the audience chomping at the bit for athletes running, jumping and throwing things under a rain leaden London Sky in 2012?
I have not been invited to participate in the selection process but if i had been i would be scouring the cities and towns for English peeps that have worldwide appeal. We want a family sitting on their sofa in Chile to be saying, "You know what Diego, England really is a cultural hotspot" and not "Who the bloody hell's James Blunt, and why has he not been put in the tower for crimes against humanity?"
David Beckham is a given although what he can do is a question. Maybe we can pencil him in for some serious standing there looking like David Beckham. Leona Lewis can sing something, maybe if we give her the full 9.48 minute version of Bat out of Hell it only leaves us 12 secs to fill although i think we can find something a bit more appropriate nearer the time.
Daniel Craig of James Bond fame can be lowered by helicopter into the stadium. Getting him to kick a few freeloading dignitaries in the face would be a nice touch and very popular.
It is unlikely we could drag the Queen into anything but we have to include some Shakespeare somehow and red telephone boxes, men in bowler hats, hackney cabs and London Buses complete with grumpy conductors moaning because you don't have the exact change.
I would like to see something that symbolises England so how about we save the expense and just have an old lady pushing out a tea trolley to the centre of the stadium while moaning about how the weather is playing havoc with her bunions. A cup of tea and moaning, you can't get much more English than that.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Another Nail In The Labour Party Coffin

When you lose a seat you have held for 60 years and is probably as close to a safe seat as is possible to possess, you have pretty conclusive proof that your Government is in trouble.
The voters of Glasgow East are the latest to pass an opinion on this Government and they have rejected it forcibly with a 23% swing away from the ruling Labour Party.
Some in Labour have privately reached the conclusion they'd be better off without Mr Brown but are aware that removing him would certainly be bloody and would lead to demands for a general election the party would almost certainly lose.
No-one is going to risk challenging for the leadership only to be totally annihilated at the General Election and be consigned to oblivion. Better to wait for the inevitable bloodbath and then step in to take over when The Party is at its lowest ebb.
And then there is the other option i feel should be considered, do nothing and let the Conservatives win the next election. Call it a tactical withdrawal and here is how i envisage it panning out.
Those in the know are forecasting difficult financial times ahead. House prices will continue to fall, food and fuel prices continuing their upward trajectory and pay increases pegged to below inflation as we sail into a full blown recession.
Financial experts are quoting between 24 and 36 months before we come out the other side and by then it is hard to think of anything other than a slow and painful recovery. Whoever leads this country through these choppy waters is on a hiding to nothing and that's where my gamble kicks in.
Call an election now, take the inevitable beating and sit it out in the safety of opposition while the inexperienced David Cameron and the Conservatives suffer the blows of a discontented public who by then will be ready to remove the party who had watched over them through the past 5 years of turmoil and be ready to take a chance on a new look, fresh, rejuvenated Labour Party.
It is a gamble but the only other option Labour have is to hold on for the next two years as the economy sinks even further and then get turfed out for the Conservatives to step in just as the good times are returning and condemning the Labour Party to a decade in the wilderness.
It may sound crazy but maybe the next election would be a good one to lose when you consider the long term picture.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Obama Does Europe

It would be fair to guess that even in his wildest dreams, Barack Obama never envisaged standing before 200,000 adoring Germans with euphoric applause washing over him.
I watched it live on TV and was genuinely surprised by the reception afforded to the Democrat nominee who was standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate delivering a message of mending fences between Europe and America.
The trip to this side of the Atlantic has been a resounding success which must really chime with the Republican Party who have been whistling in the wind at home for the past week as the focus has been on Obama who said all the right things at the right time in Berlin and Paris.
Tonight he was standing beside French President, Nicolas Sakorzy, decrying what he described as "caricatures" on both sides of the Atlantic, with Europeans viewing the US as militaristic in their foreign policy, and Americans viewing Europeans as unwilling "to get their hands dirty" in world affairs.
So just why has Europe gone crazy for Obama? The simple answer is that we see in Obama exactly what he hopes Americans will see in him when it comes to their trip to the voting booth in November, a complete and wholesale change from the Bush era.
Obama tops every poll in which Europeans choose between him and McCain for US President, but Obama is not standing here and we don't have a vote but his team will hope that it proves to watching Americans that he is a man who can confidently stride the world stage and regain his country the respect it has been leaking at an alarming rate for the past eight years.
Europeans know that America hold the key to war or peace, wielding enormous influence on dragging European governments into conflicts, Iraq is the only too painful evidence of that. It is no surprise that many Europeans are now crying out for a less aggressive, more altruistic America that they can look towards with fondness again.
If elected Obama will be facing some tricky decisions with regards to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Palestine and Israel, decisions that could yet rupture the good will he has built here but for now we are happy to heap praise and admiration on a man whose most favourable characteristic is that he is increasingly looking like the longed for antidote to George Bush.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

On Yer Bike Cameron

Whatever your views on capitalism are, the fact remains that taking something that doesn't belong to you is wrong and our sympathies should be with the victims. Unless it is Tory leader David Cameron getting his bike pinched from outside Tesco, then it is bloody hilarious.
The Conservative leader said he was "annoyed" and "pretty hacked off" at what had happened after he had left it locked outside a supermarket while he shopped near his home in west London.
"If anyone has seen this bicycle, I would like it back," he said, "I've reported it online... but I'm not holding my breath", the spoilsport added dashing the hopes of millions.
Cameron's two wheeled antics have been a rich source of amusement for us here. The limousine that followed behind him with his briefcase as he cycled to work to boast about his green credentials was funny and then there was the pictures of him gliding effortlessly through a red light to ride the wrong way down a one way street.
The bike is already open to offers on Ebay, presently going for £10.50 and described by the seller as being big and blue and despite looking quite well-balanced it leans oddly to the right and not exactly new but nearly new because it has only been used for a couple of photo-opportunities.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

All Summer Long

We are fast approaching the end of July and Summer has finally arrived in Britain with temperatures hitting the high 20's which has allowed us to partake in our greatest past-time. Moaning about the weather. I don't dislike summer, there is much to be said for it but much more to be said that's bad about it.

1. Insects. In the ideal world you would sit on the grass and enjoy the summer ambiance. In reality you spend five minutes slapping ants off your legs before running away from a large bee that seems to mistake your head for a sunflower.
2. Sunburn. For those of us with milk bottle white skin, sun block is essential summer wear but it is not easy to spend the entire summer months reflecting the sun rays. At one point you will let your guard down and within ten minutes your face is as red as Santa's coat and you have a week of wincing every time you move before returning back to the colour of cotton wool.
3. Hot summer nights. A handy tip is to place your pillow in the refrigerator 30 mins before you go to bed which gives you a ten minute window to drop off to sleep on a cool pillow otherwise its hours of tossing, turning and thumping your pillow before giving up and going down stairs to watch Knight Rider at 4am.
4. Hot Car Interior. Park in sun and you get third degrees burn off the steering wheel and seats the second you sit inside it. Park under a tree and your car is treated to a lovely covering courtesy of every pigeon in the City.
5. Short Temper. Probably due to number 3, the heat makes people cranky and irritable. I often spend the summer months dreaming up inventive ways of causing bodily harm to the slow moving customers in front of me in the supermarket queue. Amazing how many ways you can think of hurting someone with a box of tea bags when you put your mind to it.
6. People saying 'Is it hot enough for ya?'. Yes it is, as it was when the other 46 people said the exact same thing me previously. Now get out my sight before i perform Grevious Bodily Harm on your persons with my box of PG Tips.

Luckily our Summer is not that long in the UK, a couple of weeks of stunningly hot temperatures and then it is all over. Then we all start moaning about how rubbish our summer was.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Brown Out On A Limb Backing US & Israel

You can't keep a good Prime Minister down. or even - it seems- Gordon Brown as he turns up in the Middle East and throws his weight around.
Palestine, Israel and Iran have all felt the rough edge of the unelected leaders tongue these last few days as well as handing out cash and declaring Israeli alliance's straight out of the mouths of the nominees for the American Presidential election.
Either willingly or by sheer ignorance, Brown has walked straight into the trap laid by Israel and the US into maneuvering Iran into the gun sights.
Brown's remarks could well be seen as a signal that Britain would be prepared to support a military strike against Iran and that is not going to play well with the electorate for two reasons.
The first is that as the coffins of our servicemen are still being dispatched
back from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, there is little taste for yet more wars.
Secondly, and more controversially, a majority of the British have mixed feelings about Israel and find their treatment of the Palestinians abhorrent. The ongoing drama to boycott Israeli academics is just one example of the strength of feeling it engineers and it isn't improved any by the pictures in the newspapers today of the IDF soldier shooting the blindfolded and handcuffed Palestinian from a matter of feet away.
Brown may well be trying to soften us up for the next conflict with rhetoric and demonising Iran and its leader but hopefully we can see Brown for what he truly is. A drowning leader clutching at anything that he considers will give him a lift. By teaming up with the US and Israel in the 'let's threaten Iran' brigade, he has seriously over played his already weak hand. It may play well in the States with their religious voting block but Britain is a different kettle of fish.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Everyone Wants To Be A Guitarist

What do you call someone who hangs around with musicians? A drummer. With the popularity of music games such as Guitar Hero, a commonly held suspicion among musicians has been confirmed. Of all the members of a band, the lead guitarist is the one everyone wants to be.
It is very rare that anyone stands in front of the mirror with a tennis racquet pretending to play bass or bop their parents upturned pots and pans with a wooden spoon aspiring to fill Roger Taylor's shoes.
It is either the singer or lead guitarist the vast majority of people dream of being, the charismatic ones at the front of the stage taking all the glory while the bass player and drummer mumble under their breath about how they could do that, they just don't wanna.
Not to underestimate bass players, there have been some great bass lines like The White Stripes '7 Nation Army', The Hives 'Because i wanna', Queen's 'Another One Bites The Dust' and the Jets 'Are ya gonna be my girl' but memorable bass lines are very few and far between and the same can be said for those in the drumming business.
'Smells like Teen Spirit' has an excellent drum beat and 'My Sharona' is about the only song i play drums to on the steering wheel as i drive along, but then i put My Sharona up as pretty much perfect in every aspect, especially the guitar solo in the long version, although the lyric 'I always get it up for the touch of the younger kind' is highly suspect.
Bass and drums are an integral part of any band but they are mainly there as the background noise for the likes of Slash, Hendrix, Kirk Hammet, Matthew Bellamy and Brian May to look cool.
There are kids and adults clutching their guitar shaped game pad and prancing about their living rooms all over pretending to be Slash although i defy anyone to do the thing he does with a cigarette, it takes a special type of person to be able to smoke a whole cigarette without removing it from their mouth and you won't see Mike Mills from REM do that.

Questions Over Bin Laden?

I love a good conspiracy theory whether it be about the moon landings or who shot Kennedy. The usual process is to listen to them and then dismiss them as fantasy but the conspiracy theories behind the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001 keep bubbling up.
During a conversation with a friend it was mentioned that there is actually no evidence to connect Bin Laden to the events on September 11th. I scoffed until shown his FBI 10 most wanted poster printed from the Internet where his crimes are named as 'MURDER OF U.S. NATIONALS OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES; CONSPIRACY TO MURDER U.S. NATIONALS OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES; ATTACK ON A FEDERAL FACILITY RESULTING
IN DEATH'. See it for yourself here
His poster for Most Wanted Terrorist states the same crimes. See that one here
Interesting how he is wanted for events such as the 1998 US Embassy bombings and USS Cole but there is no mention of his involvement in the 2001 attacks.
Further digging has revealed that amazingly the reason the FBI haven't included his role as mastermind behind the attacks is because the FBI haves no hard evidence connecting Bin Laden to 9/11.
The obvious question is why was there enough evidence to invade Afghanistan but not enough evidence for the FBI to connect him to the September 11th attacks?
The US released a videotape that it said provided compelling evidence that Osama Bin Laden was behind the attacks. President Bush said of it that: "For those who see this tape, they'll realise that not only is he guilty of incredible murder, he has no conscience and no soul, that he represents the worst of civilisation," and the British Foreign Secretary at the time Jack Straw said: "By boasting about his involvement in the evil attacks, Bin Laden confirms his guilt."
Obviously the top man at the FBI is not as sure of who was responsible as his President who, if memory serves, was also certain that Saddam had WMD's and is pushing for armed conflict with Iran over its secret nuclear weapons programme.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Dwain Chambers: The Right Decision

There is one thing that i can guarantee about this summers Olympics, there will be athletes caught taking performance enhancing drugs.
Britain has had its fair share of drug cheats and our Olympic Selection Committee has a hard and fast set of rules stating that if you are convicted of cheating, you are banned for life. Dwain Chambers knew this when he was caught taking a cocktail of anabolic drugs in 2003.
Britain and China are unique in that although they allow their athletes to compete in other competitions once their 2 or 4 year ban expires, they do not allow these athletes to represent them at the Olympics.
In his legal battle to overturn the selection committees decision and win a place on the British team, Chambers cited several examples of other athletes who have recently returned from drug bans to compete at this years Olympics including Ukrainian heptathlete Lyudmila Blonska and the US trio of Kenta Bell, Torri Edward and Damu Cherry but this failed to sway the High Court who upheld the Olympic ban.
Undoubtedly there will be athletes this time around who will slip through the net and win medals due to their ability to mask their cheating and that is up to the International Olympic Committee to stay ahead of the cheats and there attempts at concealing their deception.
Team GB has rightly avoided setting a dangerous precedent by insisting that our fastest 100m runner stays at home kicking his heels. All our athletes know that being banned from the Olympics for life is the consequence of using performance enhancing drugs and if they still take that route and get caught, it is heartwarming to know that we will put doing the right thing above our final position in the medal table.

Friday, 18 July 2008

The End Almost In Sight

Much to my surprise, this is my 450th blog post. I never realised i had written that many in the 18 months or so i had been here and if you add in the 200 odd i wrote on my first blog, i have been sticking my two penneth worth in on quite a few things over the last few years.
I did plan to hand over this blog a while back but the person who was due to take over changed his mind and so i stuck with it rather than just let it die. Now as i close in on 500 posts i am thinking that would be the perfect time to stand down.
There is always something happening in the World and always something for a current affairs blog like this to get worked up about but i am increasingly finding myself unable to do credit to the blog by writing proper pieces, falling into the habit of dashing out a quick post and whizzing around my Google reader, bookmarked blogs and emails at the end of the evening.
The blog has done quite well and the occasional post has featured on some pretty tasty media sites so rather than just shut up shop, pick up my ball and go home, i hope to have an excellent replacement lined up for when i hit that 500 mark. More on that nearer the time but for now i have 49 posts left to push my annoyingly hippy agenda out there on the internet.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Johnny (Don't) B Goode

Mankind has created some mind-numbing pastimes in its short time but top of the list, A number 1 has to be Golf.
The Open Championship has started at Royal Birkdale and the TV schedules switch to watching men hit a ball and then walk 300 yards to hit the ball again. Viewers can either watch this over and over again or they can bang their head against the coffee table hard enough for unconsciousness to release them from the boredom.
Tiger Woods isn't present but let's be honest, he may be one of the best golfers ever to pull on a ridiculously embarrassing jumper but he was never going to miss a putt and in frustration wrap his putter around his caddies neck was he. But my new-found favourite golfer John Daly just might.
Obviously no stranger to the buffet table, the hard drinking and chain smoking Daly has the physique of a well fed hippopotamus and is known to throw tantrums that a particularly irksome two year old would be proud of.
Three stays in the Betty Ford clinic, four marriages and a refusal to visit the gym because he can't smoke in them makes me instantly warm to the man. Throw in the time that he gambled away $1.5m in one month on Las Vegas slot machines after winning half that amount at a tournament and you are almost willing Daly to be there at the end, standing on the podium and jubilantly holding up the pot. Hopefully half drunk and with a Benson & Hedges wedged in the side of his mouth although according to those in the know, his odds of winning are longer than a Taliban's beard.
Sport needs it colourful characters and heavens knows golf needs the likes of John Daly knocking about if only to save me having to re-varnish the coffee table.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Suppose You Gave A Funeral & Nobody Came

Margaret Thatcher isn't even dead yet, they are only planning her funeral and already there are so many people queueing up to dance on her grave that to keep up with demand they will have to build a disco on it.
Buckingham Palace are apparently mulling over granting the former Prime Minister the honour of a state funeral to 'acknowledge the exceptional impact of her 11-year premiership' although this kind of funeral is only usually reserved for the head of state.
There has been a few exceptions to this rule with Horatio Nelson granted one for his naval adventures which saw his body returned to England in a whiskey barrel and Winston Churchill who lived most of his adult-life in a whiskey barrel but does Maggie Thatcher the milk snatcher deserve such an honour?
I would guess if you were a miner you would disagree as she attempted to close the pits at a cost of tens of thousands of jobs. A year long strike by miners later and the NUM conceded defeat and she proceeded to close all but 15 of the country's pits, which were then privatised.
The woman privatised everything she could get her grubby little hands on, selling off most of the large utilities once they had been made profitable enough for the City to be interested in them and sold off Council homes to tenants which would ensure a housing crisis that is still reverberating today.
Her high water mark was the Falklands War and the victory over the military junta in Argentina that invaded the Falklands Islands and often repeated clip of her losing her temper with a member of the public who had the temerity to refuse her explanation of the sinking of the Argentine General Belgrano.
She will be remembered primarily for the Falklands Islands and miners strike but two other events stick firmly in peoples minds. The decision to stop free milk for school aged children and the poll tax which was a form of local government taxation which led to riots in the streets and her being bundled out of Downing Street and whisked out of power in a taxi.
She is 82 now and seems in fine health for a woman of her age so they may have to wait a while before putting in that graveside dance floor but when she does finally curl up her toes it will be like the Glastonbury Festival in that cemetery.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Obama's European Vacation

Barack Obama is on his way to Europe which is probably a wise move as his roadshow seems to have hit a few bumps in the United States. Today's Guardian/ICM poll shows that 57% of Brits want Obama in the White House against 11% for McCain and 36% telling the pollsters where they can shove their questions, but in the place where it matters, the Obama bandwagon is showing signs of a few wobbly wheels.
A series of disappointments for his supporters has given the Democrat candidate a rough couple of weeks that has seen his national 6 point lead over his rival John McCain cut almost in half and is now almost within the margin of error.
So swapping the shores of the US for those of Europe is a good move because the man is desperately in need of a few decent photo opportunities in front of the Eiffel Tower and Reichstag not only to show that France & Germany are now Americas friends and improve his slim foreign policy credentials but also a timely reminder to his fellow Americans that the guy they elect is going to be striding the globe on their behalf, and nobody wants to see their representatives berated and protested against everywhere they go like Bush has been.
Obama is expected to make Britain his final stop towards the end of July and he and our own Mr Brown will have plenty to discuss. Namely how to move from the left to the centre and not throw away a commanding lead in the polls. Then again, Brown with his record lowest rating for a sitting PM is probably not the best one to ask about that but the fate of the Labour Party should act as a warning against chasing the popular vote and forgetting what made you popular in the first place.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Playing A Dangerous Game

The sabres are being rattled just that bit louder over the past few days as all sides in the latest Middle East escalation have been testing and showing off their military hardware and making bellicose statements about what they will do if things get any hotter.
Iran test fires missiles to prove it can and will hit Israel if attacked while the Israeli defence minister has warned of his country's readiness to act against Iran. The third piece in the jigsaw is America which today said the US are: "sending a message to Iran that we will defend American interests and the interests of our allies."
We have been here before in the build up to the Iraq War but anyone with an ounce of sanity must hope that the bluster and posturing doesn't escalate to a level where bombs start dropping because the fallout we experienced from Iraq would be nothing compared to the chain of events following an attack on Iran's still hypothetical nuclear weapon capability.
This increasingly dangerous game is in a particularly delicate phase at the moment because of the uncertainties of the American, Iranian and Israeli leaders.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is facing an election mid-2009 which he is by no means the favourite to win as the economy continues to stagnate despite high oil prices while political scandals hovering over the head of Israeli Prime Minister Olmert are threatening either his removal from power or a snap election which he can fully expect to lose.
George Bush's time in power is almost at an end and there will be a new body in the White House come January although the time between the November election and the January inauguration could be the opportunity for America or Israel to strike, safely after the elections so the inevitable blow back will not impact on the result.
Israel and America easily have the worst record over the past 60 years for stoking up conflicts and not much caring who they launch their weapons at but as Iran have these missiles that can strike Israel, they would be totally justified in plotting in the co-ordinates of Israels 'secret' nuclear facility at Dimona in the Negev desert.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Canada Wants Us

Everyone likes to feel wanted and it seems that Canada is smiling and winking suggestively at us Brits.
The Alberta's minister of Employment and Immigration, Hector Goudreau, has made the trip across the Atlantic to encourage Brits to pursue the Canadian dream.
Canada does seem to have a bit of a reputation for being the place where, well, nothing really happens but if you are willing to swap football, bobbies and condensed milk for hockey, mounties and maple syrup, then Canada is ready and waiting.
Canada, and Alberta especially, is suffering a chronic labour shortage that it is struggling to plug and is hoping to attract all kinds of skilled workers especially doctors, teachers and constructions workers.
So why should we consider giving up the high crime rate, cramped cities and summers spent under an umbrella and move to Canada?
The member of staff at the Alberta Immigration Office that i spoke to listed low crime, cheap housing, low unemployment, clean air, rolling planes, snowy mountains, fresh streams, thick forests and sparkling freshwater lakes. Not mentioned was the -30C winters.
British police officers seem to be willing to make the switch with one in 10 of Calgary's police force former members of the British police force.
Immigration to Canada is done by a points system and depends upon your age, qualifications and experience. Then all you need before you jet off to your new life is the minimum £10,000 savings they insist you must have to tide you over on your arrival.
It was at this point in the conversation that i faked a coughing fit and accidentally turned my phone off so unless there is a Canadian reading this and is willing to make me a job offer that comes with a £10,000 advance, i will just have to make do with the Due South repeats on UK Gold. Whatever happened to that cute Paul Gross anyway?

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Let Them Eat Milk Fed Lamb

The worlds poorest may be languishing in half starved poverty, their only worldly possession a pot which has Do Not Fill With Urine written on the side of it, but they'll always have the knowledge that the worlds richest nations are in there scrapping on their behalf. Or at least they will once they have unfastened the button on their trousers and had a bit of a kip to sleep off the eight-course dinner they have just polished off at the G8 summit in Hokkaido, Japan.
What more could a world leader want after a hard days agonising over spiralling food prices and how to feed the Worlds poor than a menu containing hairy crab Kegani bisque-style soup alongside salt-grilled bighand thornyhead (fish) with a vinegary water pepper sauce followed by milk-fed lamb with cepes, and black truffle with emulsion sauce. Finally there was a "fantasy" dessert, a special cheese selection accompanied by lavender honey and caramelised nuts, while coffee came with candied fruits and vegetables.
You can't do global problem solving on an empty stomach, heaven forbid Gordon Browns stomach starts rumbling during Silvio Berlusconi's speech on the soaring prices of rice risking malnutrition for over 1bn Asians so they earlier sat down to a four course lunch of corn stuffed with caviar, smoked salmon and sea urchin, hot onion tart and winter lily bulb.
We can only hope that despite the tightening waistbands, our leaders will put their heads together and come up with some results to alleviate the escalating food crisis and not just leave Japan empty handed like when they left Gleneagles three years ago promising to help the Worlds poor and conveniently forgot all about it as soon as their planes left the tarmac.
We have to start seeing results from these summits that cost tens of millions of pounds and cause massive disruption or else people will begin to think they are just interested in looking out for their own interests rather than the people they are paid to represent.
These meetings already smell a bit fishy but that could just be the sea urchin repeating.

Female Bishops Get Go-Ahead

Seems that the Church of England has been getting its cassocks in a bunch over females bishops.
Some 1300 of the clergy had threatened to leave if the Church of England's ruling body, the General Synod, voted to confirm the ordination of women bishops.
In a narrow victory tonight, the Church of England voted to allow women Bishops so now it looks as though the new female Bishops will have the opportunity to step straight into Bishopless parishes.
This from a Church that only came about because King Henry VIII wasn't allowed an annulment under the rules of the Catholic Church so set up his own, named himself Supreme Head of the Church of England and granted himself a divorce and shacked up with Anne Boleyn.
So why were 50% of the population disallowed from taking up the cloth if they so wish despite the top dog collar belonging to the Queen who just happens to be female?
According to our neighbourhood Priest, it all goes back to a certain carpenter who chose men as his twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose them to succeed them and so on and so forth so the Church sees itself as bound by this choice made by Jesus himself.
The furore over women bishops comes after rifts within the Church over its interpretation of biblical issues. These disagreements centre on how strictly it should interpret the Bible, for example, whether it should be read as classing active homosexuality as a sin.
Such is the outrage over the direction that the CoE is taking, 1100 of the clergy have presented a 'Jerusalem Declaration' which is calling for Old and New Testaments to be read, preached, taught and obeyed literally.
Channel 4 has reportedly expressed an interest in bidding for the rights to televise the weekly stoning of non-virgins and blasphemers.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Denying Man Made Climate Change

When someone called Tom Harris, Executive Director of the Natural Resources Stewardship Project and Manhattan Declaration signatory issues a challenge for me to attack the message and not the messenger, it should be time to wave around the mountain of evidence of man made climate change which he refutes. Instead, let's keep it as simple and straightforward as possible and deal with facts.
Climate change is happening, that much we agree on but where we differ is just how the alarming amount of Carbon Dioxide got there.
Picture a timeline in your mind and let's go back 800,000 years. Analysis of Antarctic ice shows us that at no point in the past 800,000 years did levels approach today's carbon dioxide concentrations of around 387 parts per million (ppm).
These studies indicate that atmospheric CO2 levels were around 260 – 280 ppm immediately before industrial emissions began and did not vary much from this level during the preceding years.
In the Ice core, the fastest increase seen was 30 parts per million over a period of approximately 1,000 years. In recent times we have seen a 30 ppm increase in just under two decades.
What this tells us is that over the last 200 years, something has increased carbon dioxide by 30%-40% to levels unprecedented in the 799,800 years that went before.
It really does not take a genius to look back at what has been pumping the CO2 out since the 1800s.
Global Carbon emissions from Fossil fuels in 1800 equaled 0 million tonnes. Today it equals almost 9000 tonnes with power generation (41%) and transportation (20%) being the chief culprits.
And there we have our timeline stretching back 800,000 years with CO2 in the atmosphere keeping at a steady 260-280 ppm until the early 1800's and then suddenly shooting up to 387 ppm at exactly the same time the Industrial Revolution stuttered into being and we started burning fossil fuels. Is there seriously anybody still ignorant enough not to see this, know where the blame lays and realise that we have to change our ways drastically if we are to avert a disaster?

Earth Policy Institute
Antarctic Ice Analysis

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Is Obama Losing His Shine?

Barack Obama is getting a bit of a rough time from some quarters over a shift towards the political centre in an attempt to mop up a few more votes from the electorate who don't particularly follow his more leftist agenda.
Nothing wrong with that of course, his rival John McCain has tacked further to the right to gain more votes and all politicians wiggle up and down the ideological line trying to appeal to the greatest number.
The Iraq War, and his objection to it from the off, just happened to be Obama's greatest selling point and this is perhaps his greatest and most uncomfortable shift for many who held this policy up as an example of the 'change' which Obama was promising.
His unswerving support for Israel was what caused me to question his 'change' credentials but since then there has been his decision to support immunity for phone companies helping government eavesdrop on citizens and his new found opposition of gun control which have made a few more people frown but the switch in tactics in Iraq has been what has caused many to take a step back and take stock of the man they have been holding up as some sort of saviour of America for the past six months.
All this has given the Republicans a golden opportunity to label Obama as a flip-flopper, a term that was used with such devastating effect on John Kerry at the last election.
In Britain Margaret Thatcher stated that she was not for turning and Tony Blair said that his Government had no reverse gear but all they got for their refusal to yield was an early removal from power. A leader who refuses to listen and adapt when the evidence to change course is overwhelming is of little use to anyone and is potentially disastrous but despite making this same argument about his policies being adaptable, this is not how the Democrat's actions are being perceived with a growing number of voters.
The problem Obama has is that the u-turns he is performing look like grubby and blatant vote grabbing tactics and making a move for the centralist vote is going to lose him votes from the further end of the left where he could reach from where he pitched his flag at the beginning of his campaign.
An ability to re-evaluate ideas is a massive advantage for a politician to have in his arsenal but the growing view seems to be that possibly the death of John Mccain's Presidential hopes have been greatly exaggerated.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Hello America, Can I Interest You In...

It is hard to ignore America. That great wedge of land beneath Canada and above Mexico has spread its tentacles all around the globe and no more than to Britain where we have a history of borrowing some aspects of the American lifestyle. Cody of the It Is What It Is blog and i have put our heads together to thrash out the things we would take from each others countries and what we feel we could offer in exchange.

The first thing i would ask for is the US National Anthem. Great tune which soars to a passionate crescendo of pride filled gusto. Ours is so bland and tuneless even a rockets red flare up the backside wouldn't be enough to breath life into it. For this we would give you changeable weather. Yes we are obsessed with it here but that's because it is so unpredictable that we literally can have 3 days of weather in 1. It is what ex-pats miss the most apparently because the weather in most of America is so reliably unchanging.

Next on the table is your sportsmen. I don't know if you have noticed but our sporting fraternity is a bit rubbish. We have terrible tennis players, awful athletes, god awful golfers and shite swimmers. We will take any on offer, we are not proud as this summers Olympic medal haul will prove.
Your sportsmen in exchange for the British Communications Regulator (OFCOM) who ensure that the television news channels keep to a Broadcasting code of accuracy, impartiality and fairness in television and radio programmes. I have seen Fox news. You need OFCOM.

Something we need that you have is exciting politics and politicians. Watch our House of Commons, most of them are either asleep or have lost the will to even pretend they are not bored to death. No Obama-esque orations or Clinton style passion. Heck, i would even settle for some Hillary type pointing and manic grinning over Gordon Brown and his strangely eerie smile.
For this we offer you the letter U. The amount of times i have been accused of having the spelling skills of a monkey by you Americans. It's our language, we had it first so would it kill you to stick some U's into words? We would throw in an -ise to sweeten the deal so you can get shot of that -ize.

With the exception of a few bands you could count on two fingers, British music is in a bad way. You have more decent bands than you could shake a Amy Winehouse spliff at so throw a few of them this way and we give you the ability to not applaud every ten seconds. It drives me crazy trying to listen to someone over there and the speaker is constantly interrupted by applause and whooping.

Judges that hand out creative sentences like the man who called a police officer a pig and was ordered to stand on a street corner next to a pig with a sign saying the pig was not a police officer. You can have our game of football, or soccer as you insist on calling it. American football just looks like a load of men who jump on each other and then get substituted by another group of men who do the same thing over and over again. Seriously lacks the poetry and skill of a good old fashioned soccer match.

Finally, David Boreanaz, George Clooney, Brad Pitt. We have no good looking male actors. We have Hugh Grant and Bob Hoskins. Not very fair but i think you will be more than pleased to accept a selection of British swearwords for the trio. I know you don't have 'T*s**r' and its stronger cousin 'W*a*k*r' but how about ar*e, bo**ocks, bugg*r, sod and git? Tempted?

That's that then, mull it over and let me know what you are interested in.

Cody has his own ideas on what we need from you and what you need from us here.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Pi, Calculus & Clay Jugs

Despite a five year, multi-million pound recruitment drive, Britain is struggling to recruit maths and science teachers which sends my mind back to my own schooldays.
1985 and Michael J Fox is back in the future, Emilio Estevez is in the Breakfast club, Freddy Kruger is back in Elm Street and i was in Class 72 not listening to the Maths teacher tell us how important it was to learn the value of Pi.
Of course what the Maths teachers never told us was that unless we planned on sewing leather patches onto cardigans and becoming Maths teachers ourselves, 99.9% of us will never actually use Pi but that little gem is kept quiet because otherwise they will have to fill the time trying to explain long division or another thing i have managed to survive the past 23 years since leaving school without ever contemplating using, calculus.
Things like Pi, Calculus and the Periodic table of Elements stayed in my brain for as long as it took for the teacher to say them and i couldn't tell you the chemical symbol for Mercury without googling it first and that's exactly what i would do if for some unfathomable reason i needed to know.
I also spent a whole year making a clay jug. What practical use that is to a person in the world outside of secondary education i don't know unless you are unlucky enough to find yourself in a desert with only a lump of clay and a potters wheel and then you will be glad you didn't fake a period pain every Monday afternoon in that final year.
What it comes down to is that a number of lessons we sit through at school are actually useless and just there to pad out the curriculum but we don't know that at the time and pay attention because we never know when the ability to name the wives of King Henry 8th in chronological order will pop up in the course of the working day.
So pay attention kids and listen to the Maths teacher because the chances of ever hearing anyone mention the word Pi again once you have left school is 3.14159265 or something.


I have a new favourite TV show and blimey, it is a science show.
Mythbusters is special effects experts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman using scientific methods to test the validity of various rumours, urban legends, myths and internet rumours.
This week they tested the 'Brown Note' theory which saw Adam stood amongst some huge speakers and swamped with an infrasound frequency that is said to cause humans to lose control of their bowels. He never unfortunately.
Britain has its own version of Mythbusters called Brainiacs but that is played more for entertainment but there is a certain amount of crossover such as running on custard, mobile phones at petrol stations and the aforementioned Brown note experiment but Mythbusters seems to have a much larger budget and can therefore smash cars between two trucks, build an Archimedes Death Ray and attach rockets to a car to see if it would take off.
Brainiacs is one of Sky's Televisions best viewed programmes and Mythbusters seems very popular on the web so there is the call for science based programming as long as it's done the right way and doesn't blind you with unfathomable science.
One thing is the lousy British accent that Adam Savage seems to launch into at least once a show, it sucks dude. Stick to burning off your eyebrows or making fun of Jamie's impressively ludicrous facial hair.