Thursday, 29 July 2010

Swallows & Blind Amazonians

No. 1 son and his friend got a bit excited in the hire boat yesterday and managed to knock my glasses off while I was focussed on steering. My only pair of varifocals were caught by No. 1 son's flailing arms and ended up doing a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Managed to get back to the landing stage OK, despite being half blind, and purchsed an exhorbitantly priced pair of reading glasses to tide me over.

It's obvious to me that lost spectacles is a common occurrence here, and the local branch of Boots (the only purveyor of specs in the area) has taken advantage of this. The cheapest, half decent pair of glasses were £18, compared to the normal tenner. However, it's a clear case of the law of supply and demand and I can't complain.

No. 1 son was extremely distraught and consumed with guilt - unless of course he's using a particularly nasty and highly effective form of child psychology on me. Kids are very clever creatures and one should never underestimate their animal cunning.

I didn't give in to his demand that I hire a DVD for him so that he could assuage his guilt, so he and his mate went off to do some crabbing from the harbour wall instead.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

The London Borough of Salcombe

I used to wonder why older people let rip when sneezing and didn't try to stifle them. I can say now from personal experience that it's a fear of letting rip from t'other end (and following through).

We're currently having a few days in Salcombe in Devon. Half of London must be here!

The Londoners seem to have a uniform comprising lots of blue and white clothing combined with very expensive deck shoes, despite them obviously never having been near a boat in their entire lives. There are also lots of blinged-up women who seem to have spent a considerable amount of money on poor facial reconstruction and botox.

Salcombe, like St Ives in Cornwall, has a very narrow main drag called Fore St. It would seem to me that there's a local rule that you can only drive down Fore St if you have a bloody great 4x4 loaded with moody kids.

Went to the Salcombe Harbour Hotel yesterday to collect one of my son's friends who is going to be staying with us till Friday. Saw a woman who was trying to leave her parking spot back her humungous 4x4 into a Mercedes Kompressor, with a resultant expensive sounding noise. She immediately started to cry.

I'm hiring a small motorboat today to take the boys Swallows and Amazoning in the creeks. Just my luck that the 4 hours hire I managed to secure coincides with low tide. I guess the boys will resemble a couple of mud skippers by the time I get them back to the flat.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

BP - the Film

Not sure about you, but I sense another Michael Sheen film on the horizon.

Tony Hayward (left) and Michael Sheen (right).

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Call Out the Dogs

Saw a news article last night about the alarming increase in dog fighting in the UK and the legislation to prevent this. Personally, if someone wants to fight a dog then I believe no-one should interfere with this – I suspect the dog would normally come off best in such an altercation, unless of course one were to be fighting a Chihuahua or toy poodle or using knives.

What concerns me more than dog fighting is the increase in dog ‘grooming’. If it’s illegal to groom children, then surely the animal rights activists should be lobbying for dogs to be similarly protected from such perverts?

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Stage One

Boy-shed MkI - the start.

Friday, 23 July 2010

A Bigoted Study in Stone

Buckingham Palace yesterday banned a hideous, right-wing bigot from the Queen’s Garden Party. The Palace later apologised to HRH the Duke of Edinburgh for the mistake and allowed him to attend. The Duke said he relished the attention and publicity the Palace’s action provided him. He was later harangued by a bunch of bigots who called him a bigot.

A massive European study has shown that the key to losing weight is to eat less meat. I have a simpler solution that doesn’t require a cohort of 40,000 or millions of Euros – just eat less of everything.

Archaeologists have found what has been termed a twin to Stonehenge in Wiltshire, Who are they trying to kid? It’s obviously a Neolithic visitors’ centre.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

The Boy-Shed

My eldest son (aged 12) has come to live with us on a permanent basis. That posed a problem given we live in a 33 foot mobile home with one bedroom.

Our solution was to purchase an 8 foot by 10 foot shed, raise it in a platform butting on to the caravan, cut a hole in the caravan and join the two together, insulating said shed with 2 inches of polystyrene and sheathing it with ply. The hole between the caravan and the shed will enable a decent heat transfer in winter from the wood burner, which will be backed up with an oil-filled radiator in the shed.

A bit drastic, but needs must when you have an active 12 year-old to look after and both parties need a bit of privacy (and when he likes watching programmes we don't particularly enjoy, plays video games and has a bass guitar).

The shed will actually have better insulative properties than the caravan, which seems to have nothing more than a nanometre-thin layer of fibreglass between the inner and outer walls.

The plinth has been built and the shed arrives tomorrow - and we go on holiday for a week on Saturday.

I hope to provide photos of the final boy-shed in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The War on Drugs

Nicholas Green QC, chairman of the UK Bar Council, has said: “"A growing body of comparative evidence suggests that decriminalising personal [drug] use can have positive consequences; it can free up huge amounts of police resources, reduce crime and recidivism and improve public health. All this can be achieved without any overall increase in drug usage. If this is so, then it would be rational to follow suit. A rational approach is not usually the response of large parts of the media when it comes to issues relating to criminal justice.”

Drug related crime costs the country £13bn per annum. Just think how much this could provide in terms of public services.

Some MP (and I can’t remember his name) has said that this is an argument for legalising everything. This is an example of the classic ‘thin end of the wedge’ argument, which is intellectually bankrupt and a well known red herring favoured by the bigoted and dull.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Operating on the Edge of Chaos

You know, the more connections something has the more unstable it becomes. I’m not talking in the engineering sense where additional rigid connections actually stabilise a structure, but loose connections affecting something – like the economy, your own brain or the weather. In these cases increasing the interconnected and dependent nodes adds complexity and moves the whole system closer to the edge of chaos, where it sits waiting for the final nudge from a totally unexpected source to tip it into a fully chaotic state of collapse.

Think of adding individual grains of sand to a pile of the stuff; before long just an additional grain can tip the balance, chaos is achieved and the whole pile collapses until it reaches a new state of equilibrium.

The world’s financial institutions and economies are linked in this manner; we buy each others’ derivatives and financial instruments, exporting them across national boundaries while all the time edging the system toward a chaotic state. When a critical point is reached the slightest critical factor among a myriad can result in a cataclysmic collapse of the entire system, which is just what happened when the global financial melt-down occurred (and why economics is no better at being able to predict a financial collapse than astrology).

Given the foregoing, I think that it’s high time that regulators introduced financial firebreaks to prevent too many interdependent connections.

I was reading a copy of Liverpool Life over the weekend (something about the Toxteth Literary Festival or the Everton Opera House) and thought Liverpool could be such a firebreak: before the system collapses in its entirety we arrange things such that Liverpool is obliterated from the map first as a warning of over-criticality.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Scouse Humour

Overheard while on holiday:

The Chairman and family were sharing a holiday cottage in North Wales with the Chairman’s brother and his wife.

Joe, the very affable Scouse owner of the cottage, commented: “Jan – your brother looks very much like you, but it doesn’t seem to bother him.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Come In Number 6

Guess where I've been for the last few days?

It's a really amazing place.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Gulf Spill

An item sent ot me by a friend in the US:

Some are attuned to the possibility of looming catastrophe and know how to head it off. Others are unprepared for risk and even unable to get their priorities straight when risk turns to reality.

The Dutch fall into the first group. Three days after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico began on April 20, the Netherlands offered the U.S. government ships equipped to handle a major spill, one much larger than the BP spill that then appeared to be underway. "Our system can handle 400 cubic metres per hour," Weird Koops, the chairman of Spill Response Group Holland, told Radio Netherlands worldwide, giving each Dutch ship more cleanup capacity than all the ships that the U.S. was then employing in the Gulf to combat the spill.

To protect against the possibility that its equipment wouldn't capture all the oil gushing from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, the Dutch also offered to prepare for the U.S. a contingency plan to protect Louisiana 's marshlands with sand barriers. One Dutch research institute specializing in deltas, coastal areas and rivers, in fact, developed a strategy to begin building 60-mile-long sand dikes within three weeks.

The Dutch know how to handle maritime emergencies. In the event of an oil spill, The Netherlands government, which owns its own ships and high-tech skimmers, gives an oil company 12 hours to demonstrate it has the spill in hand. If the company shows signs of unpreparedness, the government dispatches its own ships at the oil company's expense. "If there's a country that's experienced with building dikes and managing water, it's the Netherlands ," says Geert Visser, the Dutch consul general in Houston.

In sharp contrast to Dutch preparedness before the fact and the Dutch instinct to dive into action once an emergency becomes apparent, witness the American reaction to the Dutch offer of help. The U.S. government responded with "Thanks but no thanks," remarked Visser, despite BP's desire to bring in the Dutch equipment and despite the no-lose nature of the Dutch offer --the Dutch government offered the use of its equipment at no charge. Even after the U.S. refused, the Dutch kept their vessels on standby, hoping the Americans would come round. By May 5, the U.S. had not come round. To the contrary, the U.S. had also turned down offers of help from 12 other governments, most of them with superior expertise and equipment --unlike the U.S. , Europe has robust fleets of Oil Spill Response Vessels that sail circles around their make-shift U.S. counterparts.

Why does neither the U.S. government nor U.S. energy companies have on hand the cleanup technology available in Europe ? Ironically, the superior European technology runs afoul of U.S. environmental rules. The voracious Dutch vessels, for example, continuously suck up vast quantities of oily water, extract most of the oil and then spit overboard vast quantities of nearly oil-free water. Nearly oil-free isn't good enough for the U.S. regulators, who have a standard of 15 parts per million -- if water isn't at least 99.9985% pure, it may not be returned to the Gulf of Mexico .

When ships in U.S. waters take in oil-contaminated water, they are forced to store it. As U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the official in charge of the clean-up operation, explained in a press briefing on June 11, "We have skimmed, to date, about 18 million gallons of oily water--the oil has to be decanted from that [and] our yield is usually somewhere around 10% or 15% on that." In other words, U.S. ships have mostly been removing water from the Gulf, requiring them to make up to 10 times as many trips to storage facilities where they off-load their oil-water mixture, an approach Koops calls "crazy."

The Americans, overwhelmed by the catastrophic consequences of the BP spill, finally relented and took the Dutch up on their offer -- but only partly. Because the U.S. didn't want Dutch ships working the Gulf, the U.S. airlifted the Dutch equipment to the Gulf and then retrofitted it to U.S. vessels. And rather than have experienced Dutch crews immediately operate the oil-skimming equipment, to appease labour unions the U.S. postponed the clean-up operation to allow U.S. crews to be trained.

A catastrophe that could have been averted is now playing out. With oil increasingly reaching the Gulf coast, the emergency construction of sand berns to minimize the damage is imperative. Again, the U.S. government priority is on U.S. jobs, with the Dutch asked to train American workers rather than to build the berns. According to Floris Van Hovell, a spokesman for the Dutch embassy in Washington , Dutch dredging ships could complete the berms in Louisiana twice as fast as the U.S. companies rwarded the work. "Given the fact that there is so much oil on a daily basis coming in, you do not have that much time to protect the marshlands," he says, perplexed that the U.S. government could be so focussed on side issues with the entire Gulf Coast hanging in the balance.

Then again, perhaps he should not be all that perplexed at the American tolerance for turning an accident into a catastrophe. When the Exxon Valdez oil tanker accident occurred off the coast of Alaska in 1989, a Dutch team with clean-up equipment flew in to Anchorage airport to offer their help. To their amazement, they were rebuffed and told to go home with their equipment. The Exxon Valdez became the biggest oil spill disaster in U.S. history--until the BP Gulf spill.

- Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and author of The Deniers.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Dogma & Paul the Psychic Octopus

The C of E is set to rip itself asunder again as the ordination of women as bishops comes under discussion at the general synod in York.

Traditionalists say they could not serve under women, in part, because Jesus chose only men to be his apostles and to lead the early Church. He also chose Jewish men – that therefore, ipso facto, bars anyone who is not Jewish or does not keep kosher from being a bish.

You could also argue that Jesus chose a traitor and therefore traitors to the faith are eminently acceptable as bishops.

The arguments put forward by the traditionalists are positively antediluvian and lack any scrap of logic – but that typifies religion and dogma.

Speaking of dogma, there’s a story in the news about a father who was banned by a teacher from watching his son compete in his school sports day because he was not CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checked. The lunatics are indeed running the asylum.

This bloke Raoul Moat! How come the police can’t find the bugger? I’d bring in Her Majesty’s Tax Inspectors to locate him; they manage to find me no matter where I go.

Paul the psychic octopus might be a good bet too.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Oh No - Not the Spanish Inquisition?

Well, it’s to be Holland v Spain in the World Cup – the Spanish being an even older enemy than the Germans. It goes back to the 80 Years War that culminated in the proclamation of the Dutch Republic and liberation from the Spanish Habsburgs (although they were Swiss in origin).

A distant forebear, Adriaen van Bergen, had no small part to play in the Dutch revolt at the liberation of Breda – although the silly bugger overslept and the whole plan was nearly called off at the last minute. He probably had a skin-full the night before and had been drinking on an empty head.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010


The Dalai Lama celebrated his 75th birthday yesterday by showing his unequivocal support for the Netherlands football team. Dressed in his familiar orange football strip he watched a cultural performance in Dharamsala that had been put on especially for him. He left early, however, so as to be able to watch another cultural performance - the Holland v Uruguay match - which his favourite team won 3-2.

The Dalia Lama is shown wearing the latest saffron Netherlands supporter T-shirt

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Government Nonce Tells UK’s Foremost Anti-Terror Expert He’s Talking Out of His Arse

Francis Maude, MP, alleged expense fiddler and ex banker, has told the UK’s foremost expert in anti-terrorism policing that he’s talking out of his arse when he says the budget cuts to his department will increase the risk of a terrorist attack. I’m not sure which to believe – the expert who is paid by the government to be the expert and has done time in the job to warrant being an expert, or the ex banker who was a director of an outfit that profited from subprime mortgages and who allegedly purchased a flat in London, close to a house he already owned, before claiming expenses on the flat and renting out the house. You, the public, must decide.

No.1 son is coming to live with us today, so blogging may well become somewhat curtailed and sporadic.

I bought him an old Vaio laptop from eBay a couple of days ago. It was very good value but came with only 512Mb of RAM and no office applications. I’ve bought a 512Mb RAM upgrade and downloaded OpenOffice, which is a free office package that’s owned by Sun Microsystems and is aimed at breaking Microsoft’s market dominance. Looks good, reads all common MS document formats and does the job.

So, he now has a decent laptop for under £150. No doubt he’ll start his own blog before much longer, or create artificial intelligence. Hang on, that’s already been done by the creation of Francis Maude.

Ain't it strange how people Tweet about the trivia in life and miss the important stuff because they don't value relationships? It's a fact that relationships are what make people happy (or unhappy), not possessions. The joy experienced from owning something is transitory and fades quickly.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Saatchi Donates Contents of His Rubbish Bin to the Nation

I hear Charles Saatchi is gifting some of his art collection and his gallery to the nation. The ‘works’ donated will include Tracey Emin’s seminal work (or should that be semen-stained work?), 'My Bed'. I’d have thought he’d be better off tipping this health hazard into a skip or landfill site somewhere, although there’s probably some Health & Safety legislation prohibiting it.

I guess he’s finally worked out that this stuff has as much intrinsic worth as an ant farm and he’d have been better sending the money to a Nigerian con artist.

The contents of a skip somewhere in London

Somehow I feel the nation will not appreciate the donation – ungrateful Philistines that we are!

I wonder whether I should tip our wheelie bin out and call it art?

I’m always amazed by the number of people of my age who go on holiday around this time of year, rather than sometime in August.

I know the usual excuse is that holidays are cheaper now, but I think I’ve stumbled on the real reason – they want to ensure they’re back at work when their grandchildren are on holiday, thus neatly side-stepping having to look after the hideous little buggers while their parents have some free time together at a pop festival during the last two weeks of August.

Saw someone with four St George’s flags on his car while driving into work this morning. Obviously he’s not heard that England have crashed out of the World Cup – nor the rumours about John Terry and Stephen Gerrard.

I hope Holland beat Brazil this afternoon, but I'm not betting on it.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Let 'Em Out v Lock 'Em Up

Yesterday morning, while driving to a meeting in Milford Haven, I was listening to some interviews on the radio about the ConDem plans for the UK’s prison population.

It seems some sections of the population want to send even more people to prison, but they neglected to say who. At a guess I’d say that those proposing it are Daily Mail readers, and they’d select litter louts, anyone between 12 and 18, anyone who can’t prove their great grandparents were British and anyone with a foreign-sounding name - plus a few random people from the electoral roll.

One commentator suggested that our prisons are academies of crime where young inmates learn the tricks of the trade from old lags, coming out after having served their time well equipped to live a life of crime. Well hang on – if those doing the teaching are in prison, then they obviously aren’t all that good at being criminals. Young inmates will only learn how to ensure being caught – which is no bad thing.

Our Justice Minister, Ken Clarke, is worrying me; he’s increasingly just stringing random words together between the odd lucid sentence. It’s almost stream of consciousness stuff, except when he launches into pure gibberish.

Apparently the prison population has doubled from 40,000 to 80,000 in the years Labour was in power and obviously this is a national disgrace. The fact that crime has concomitantly gone down has somehow escaped Mad Dog Clarke and he seems intent on releasing these recidivists, who are responsible for 90% of the nation’s crime, onto the streets so he can save some dosh.

Why is it we get these see-saw policies that seem to have no firm evidence behind them other than untested party ideology. I wish that just one government would occasionally conduct an evidence-based experiment to test their ideologies before inflicting them on the nation. The problem is that such trials would need to extend beyond the term of a single parliament and the initiator of the trials would not be around to claim the kudos. The political driver is immediate gratification and a result within 2 years, which is insufficient for any decent social experiment and the cause of see-saw political initiatives. The actual result is lack of evidence for anything.

My solution to crime and the prison situation?

  • Release all those who were led into crime through having to fund a drug habit,
  • Legalise all drugs and fund drug dependency units through the NHS,
  • Enforce attendance by all drug addicts,
  • Of the remaining prisoners, anyone who has offended more than 3 times is locked away for life (or turned into a council serf and condemned to live in an institution and work for the state for the rest of their life),
  • Initiate a scientific trial of different rehabilitation methods on a section of the prison population, which will take a decade at least.

That way most petty crime is eliminated at a stroke and with the exception of the trial population, the small percentage that perpetrates most of the remaining crime is not at liberty to reoffend - ever again. Crime would plummet, we could reduce the police force by half, insurance premiums would come down dramatically and we would return to the halcyon days of steam trains and pipe smoking doctors.