Monday, 31 August 2009

When is it safe to break the speed limit?

I had a Sunday wedding this week which means that Sunday and Monday have both been busy days. It is now 10pm and I have just finished working on the photos and they are now ready to go for printing, so apologies for the late posting.

The topic for this blog is not from a Sunday newspaper as I have not had time to read one but the wedding was in Clapham and I have driven along roads where I am not used to driving. I can't remember exactly where this was but one roadsign gave me alternate smiley faces and then my speed. Well that's nice and I presume it reminds others who are speeding with a face that frowns. I wonder if the frown increases as speed increases!

Another sign told me to slow down but I was one mile per hour under the speed limit. I found this really irritating. A piece of machinery is telling me that I am driving too fast but not telling me how much below the speed limit my speed should be. Another sign tells me that I am entering a village (Halton) and then an electronic sign next to me tells me my speed if I am ove 30mph. This is not speeding as I am slowing to 30mph. Again this is irritating although it makes sure that drivers get to 30mph when they reach the sign.

The problem with this is that the people who drive badly will not be affected. It's the same with speed cameras. Just spend a few minutes near one and you will see the worst drivers brake going into them and then accelerate away. I even saw two motorbike riders pass me at what may have been double the speed limit. Almost immediately I saw perhaps 30 parked riders (it is a popular route for bikers) and there was one police motor bike rider. I didn't see him rushing to his bike or to a phone. Speed may be thrilling (I have just heard one engine outside my house that sounded like 60mph - the limit is 4omph) but have a look at the local papers. Many bikers get killed. They will say that they are safe and any errors are the fault of the car drivers, but try saying that to the funeral director.

Change the world.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Professionalism is not always good

Warrington Wolves were playing Huddersfield Giants in the final of the Challenge Cup and while they were playing I was asked about the differences between rugby union and rugby league. I started by explaining that there were 13 players in a rugby league team and 15 in rugby union. There are two players less in the forwards which means that the scrum in rugby union has 16 players, 8 from each side and in rugby league it is 12.

I was then asked if one was professional and one was amateur. Well the answer is both are both. A few years ago rugby league was professional and rugby union was amateur, but professionalism has spread in sport and probably a big thanks (if thanks is the right word) must go to satellite TV. The recent 'bloodgate' farce may be enough to put you off professionalism or you may be able to persuade yourself that most players remain honourable. The trouble with professionalism is that winning becomes more important to the point where cheating may be accepted. It sends the wrong messages to the viewers and is not good for society in general.

I fear that it is too late to turn the clock back, but at least I have registered one small protest in reply to James Murdoch's recent criticism of the BBC. Now there's a subject for another blog.

Change the world

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Arsene Wenger supports referees?

Arsene Wenger feels that one of football's oldest principles, that the referee is always right is being called into question because video evidence is being used against the footballer Eduardo. After looking at the video evidence (watching the news) I have to say that it looks like Eduardo was diving. Now referees do not always get it right and I don't think the referee made the right decision this time, but nobody is saying that the result should not stand or even that the referee should be reprimanded. I know that referees can be criticised from the terraces and from the media and critics even include football managers. It is not a question of whether the referee was right or not. This is a question of football's public image. If everyone in the world thinks that a footballer cheated and got away with it then he probably cheated.

Arsene finds it a complete disgrace the way Eduardo has been treated. I have asked a few people and they thought he dived. That doesn't make me and my friends experts and there is room for a difference of opinion. What is not in doubt is that everyone can have an opinion and some footballers cheat. It is very naive if Arsene doesn't recognise that footballers cheat. The only "complete disgrace" that I can see is that Arsene has made his "complete disgrace" comments.

Change the world

Friday, 28 August 2009

Disabled badges

Have you ever seen abuse of the disabled parking badge? If you are struggling to think of an example then just watch a disabled parking space for a few minutes. You will probably see some very fit looking individuals who march away from their car. Another method may be to watch people park their cars on double yellow lines and then walk round the park with their dog. It may be that these people are disabled but have temporarily improved. It may be that these people are not disabled.

This week in the local newspaper, the Morecambe Visitor, the headline on the front page is about a man who has months to live and has been given a parking ticket for displaying his badge upside down. The headline gives away the mood of the article - "How could they do this?" Well the answer is fairly simple, because they have left their badge upside down. My first thoughts were that it is petty bureaucracy. Why can't they produce a badge so it doesn't matter which way up you place it? I can only think that they make it this way so that fines can be given out to people who place it the wrong way up.

However the system is such that fines are given out for upside down badges. So on what grounds can appeals be justified. Is receiving a serious diagnosis good grounds for appeal? I presume that it is not petty bureaucracy and there is a valid reason to fine people like this. In which case it would be interesting to know where they draw the appeals line. Terminal cancer - upside down is fine. PMT, that's fine too.

How many times have we seen this kind of headline? Until the badges are produced so that either side is fine, I can't help thinking that the authorities want to make money out of disabled people, and I can't help thinking that non-disabled people want to abuse the system.

Change the world

Thursday, 27 August 2009

How to upset Catholics and politicians

Annie Lennox has informed us that politicians are "useless". She is deeply cynical of our politicians so it is not surprising that she has ruled herself out of becoming a politician. She has done politics a favour and encouraged people to become more involved but this rallying cry looks hollow to me. If you become a politician then you immediately fall into the useless category. If she is so passionate about her political causes then she should think about what she is saying.

One of her causes is the rise of HIV in Africa. She feels that HIV would decrease with an increasing use of condoms which goes against the teaching of the Catholic Church. Annie "wasn't having a go at the Pope" even though it looks like it. There is an argument that says the use of condoms promotes sex. As there is a failure rate for preventing pregnancy there must certainly be a failure rate for preventing HIV. If you promote protected sex you actually promote the spread of HIV. This is not a religious argument it is a logical one but there are additional religious arguments to support the Pope.

Change the world.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The best form of compassion

Gordon Brown does seem reluctant to comment on world events. He said that the release of the Lockerbie bomber was nothing to do with him. Well the British public do look to him for an opinion especially when many other world leaders including President Obama express an opinion. However he has given his opinion about the reception of bomber in Tripoli. This opinion is obviously secondary to an opinion about the release because if there was no release there would be no welcome.

When I hear of calls for capital punishment my first thoughts are that errors may be made and the state executes (murders) an innocent man. The state descends to the level of a criminal but defends itself with "due process". In the case of the Lockerbie bomber there are those who say there is the possibility of wrongful conviction. I don't know whether the conviction was just, but what I do know is that in this case "due process" has placed the state on the moral high ground.

There was no compassion shown to the victims of Lockerbie but this does not mean that we cannot show compassion. I wrote on Sunday about giving and expecting nothing in return. This is genuine giving. If we only show compassion to those who show it to us then it is not true compassion. It is you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. Let's hope no deals were done with the Libyan government but let us also hope that we are compassionate people. Compassion is a good attribute which is best shown to those who have not shown it to us.

Change the world

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Attack is the best form of defence

I am afraid that I have to admit that I haven't heard of The Equality and Human Rights Commission. I don't know where they are based. I don't know who is in charge. I am guessing but I think they are involved with issues of equality and human rights. They are taking legal action against the BNP for their membership restrictions for those with an ethnic background.

I have heard about the race relations act and I have found it surprising that nobody has questioned the BNP's policy before. So now this commission have started proceedings against the BNP leader. The reason why I have owned up to my ignorance is because the BNP described this as a "pathetic attempt" to divert attention from the commission's own problems. Now they may have problems but I don't know about them. If they really wanted to divert attention from their own problems, whatever they may be, their best method would not be to irritate an opponent. Even if you support the BNP please see this response as nothing more than a PR diversion tactic itself. They have not defended themselves but it looks like they will now get a chance to do so.

This is a very professional attempt by the BNP to divert attention from its own problems. It reminds me of the day after the European elections. Nick Griffin went to Westminster (why?) to get eggs thrown at him. Before the organised confontation began Nick got out of his car and waved to a crowd. Well when I say crowd I mean a crowd of cameramen. It is a slick image but no substance. How are we to believe that the BNP's policy is legitimate. Well it will be tested but before we get any answers why not divert attention from the problem itself.

Change the world

Monday, 24 August 2009

How to undermine marriage

Do big divorce settlements undermine marriage? This was the question on yesterday's BBC1 programme "The Big Question", which is the main BBC commitment to religion. What tends to happen on television and radio is that the demands for balance often mean that non-religious views are put forward in religious programmes.

So is marriage undermined? If someone said I would give you a pound to leave your spouse you would say don't be ridiculous I have entered into a commitment. Then raise the price. This is the storyline of the film Indecent Proposal. We may all have our price as we all have human weaknesses. Some would even say human strengths if this meant that they could safeguard the financial futures of everyone they know. This is what you would say if you saw marriage as a commodity. If you treat it as a commodity then divorce is taken lightly. So my assumption is that there must be a strong relationship between pre-nuptial agreements and divorce.

One person on the programme is getting married next year. There is no pre-nuptial agreement. If her fiance asked for an agreement then it would be a symptom of inequality. If you have the need for an agreement then you have inequality, and to accept this inequality is not a good start for a marriage. However in practice even though you may accept that everyone is equal we are also unique. We all have our skills and abilities that make us unequal. If we endow others with all our worldly goods then that is a good start for equality but it is not so good if you feel things are not going to work out.

One lady had studied this question so she should know what she is talking about. She said that there were three kinds of groups who explained why they chose marriage. There were those who married for legal reasons, the second group married because it was cultural but the third group, the majority married after they had lived together. They felt they had a good relationship and were ready for marriage.

As we don't know when we are going to die, there must be examples of couples in this third group who never marry but one dies before the wedding. What this expert on the religious programme is really saying is that marriage doesn't matter at all. Just live together and see how you manage. This expert opinion undermines a religious marriage much more than any pre-nuptial agreement.

Change the world

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Influencing decisions

When I think of a subject for a blog I don't want to write about something that has made the headlines and is something that I agree with. My motivation comes from opinions that sound correct but I don't agree with them. This is what politics should be about. If you get politicians saying the same thing then you don't get a choice.

So following on from yesterday's blog I found some comments that differ from mine. "It isn't immoral for companies to donate to parties in exchange for policies". That's a good start. Take this to the extreme and you get the country led by - well pick a big company and take its managing director. If you think this is extreme then just come back to the present situation and see where you would draw the line. There is a point where anyone would say an unelected chairman of a company should not be directing the country.

"Anyone who gives to a political party expects something in return so there is not a problem". Well if you want to buy a knighthood that's fine as long as you tell everyone that they are for sale. Otherwise it is just letting your friends have an "honour". Pressure groups try to influence decision making but once you sponsor an MP then have you bought their opinion? I know of one MP who has been supported by the Communication Workers Union, but now uses a private mailing company. It is a good job she doesn't still receive financial support because this is how funding influences decision making.

To take a current example, President Obama is trying to implement an improved American health service. Who is stopping him? The rich private health companies who don't care for the poor, or even the rich who don't buy their policies. There is money to be made in misery, but should American businesses make policy decisions. Yes if you don't care for the poor.

Change the world

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Political funding

One of my main political concerns is about the funding of the parties. Everyone knows that big business funds the Conservative Party but why do they do it? The answer is that they want to get something in return for their financial support. Businesses who support the Conservatives will say that Conservative policies are more helpful than those of other parties, but even if you don't think there is a direct link between funding and political support (and there often is) it just doesn't look good. Even in the Labour Party you can buy influence in Westminster. If you don't remember just do a search on Lord Taylor of Blackburn. Earlier this year the communications union which donates one million pounds per year to Labour threatened to stop this funding if the government went ahead to partially privatise the Royal Mail. The link between funding and support may become blurred but if the link is not obvious then those who are doing the funding bring us back to earth and tell us exactly what they want for their money.

On Thursday the Conservatives managed to hold on to a council seat in Blackpool. The by-election was caused by the death of a Tory and a huge majority was reduced to 46. Our political system is far from perfect, but this election was particularly controversial because the Conservatives had accepted £10 000 from a building company who were applying to this unitary authority for planning permission to build houses. Who should be funding our political parties? Why are they doing it? Why should party politics bend in the wind of political funding? The only saving grace for Blackpool Conservatives is that we managed to hear about it. Unfortunately it didn't affect the result and the Conservatives have not been politically punished for decisions that could be seen as verging on corruption.

Change the world

Friday, 21 August 2009

Am I prescient, or what?

Yesterday my heading was "Best A level results ever?" So now that I have actually read the figures - guess what? They really are the best A level results ever. Am I prescient, or what?

Every year a bigger percentage of the pupils who are taking A levels pass. Every year, without fail, there are concerns raised about "grade inflation", and about how a reform of the system might be necessary. This is now such a regular thing, a failure for it to happen might seem like an indication that the world is coming to an end. Of course, this year is no different from previous ones. However, at some point there has to be a break in the trend, or else the pass rate will necessarily hit 100%, and then maybe the world will come to an end. Every year there are concerns about how it is perilously close to 100% already.Now it is at 97.5% meaning that only 2.5% of the people who took an A level failed to pass it. 'I passed an A level' is getting close to synonymous with 'I took an A level'.

How does this happen, year after year? Could it be that pupils who lack the ability to pass an A level are being steered away from them? I find it hard to reconcile this possibility with the fact that more pupils are taking A levels than ever before, both in absolute numerical terms and as a percentage of the school population.So could it be that pupils are being steered to "softer" A levels (see Matthew's comments from Tuesday's blog)? Maybe.

Is it that pupils are smarter now? I don't want to dampen the enthusiasm of anyone who is currently celebrating a good result, but I don't think pupils have become all that much smarter. Now 26.7% get the top grade. That is, coincidentally, exactly three times the 8.9% who got grade A's in 1970. I don't think that there are three times as many pupils who are 'grade A material' than there were in 1970.

This week teachers have a duty to support their pupils. I like to give praise whenever I can. It does good, and it helps build relationships. When it comes to telling 16 or 18 year olds how they have done in GCSEs and A levels, the tendency is to praise. You may send cards congratulating teenagers that you know. Teachers deal with pupils on a daily basis. I have met them at many parent teacher evenings and the tendency is for them to talk about something good, then something that needs improving, then something good. This is how it should be. But there has to be some way of providing praise and moral support without doling out three times as many grade A's as in 1970.

The downside of this exam grade profligacy is that it leaves universities and prospective employers with no way of properly grading their intake (see Matthew's comments again). It also devalues the achievements of those who took and passed their O or A levels back in the 70's.

Change the world.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Best A level results ever?

A levels results come out today but as I wrote this blog yesterday I have not yet managed to read that results are better than ever. Our children are becoming more brilliant as the years go on. We should all be patting ourselves on the shoulder but we aren't because this improvement brings its own challenges. How do universities decide who gets a place and who doesn't when everyone is getting three or four A grade A levels?

When I took a maths A level in 1979 I was shown previous A level papers and they were much harder. I was given explanations like the syllabus was expanding so the questions could not have such depth. In 1999/2000 I took the equivalent of one and a half maths A levels and I hardly made a mistake. In 1979 my marks were far from perfect. I put it down to very good teaching, my greater maturity and my previous maths A level in 1979. Could there have been a fourth factor and the paper was easier?

If you believe the government and the teachers and we have the best ever results, why is there such emphasis on change in education? I suppose the argument goes that change has occurred and improvements have continued. I prefer the explanation that it is part of the role of politicians to offer alternatives. I wonder what would happen if we let teachers get on with it.

Change the world(?)

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Judge Dredd the hero

According to "warning over driving fines plan”, plans to allow police to issue on-the-spot fines for careless driving would undermine justice. John Thornhill, chairman of the Magistrates' Association, said “ruling driving careless was subjective. Police would be acting as jury and sentencer if they were allowed to impose the fines”. I have seen this before. It was said by the comic character Judge Dredd. I can just imagine the police, with terrifying shiny black uniforms and helmets shouting in their best Sly Stallone accents, "I am the law!"

Why do our politicians seem to think that anything they've seen that comes from America must be good, and must be copied? In this case it isn't even real life, it's only a film. I know that the film was based on a British comic strip, but I think the comic strip was firmly tongue in cheek. It wasn't really saying that the best way forward was to take the police and make them judge and jury rolled into one. Trust the Americans to miss all the irony, and make Dredd the hero. And trust our government to take a system which belongs only in fiction, and to make it real.

Change the World.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

More on league tables

Following on from yesterday's blog, I want to look a little closer at the Conservative proposals for education. I looked at how the Conservative want to improve the league tables and wrote that the system was flawed. We don't need league tables. There is another reason why we don't need league tables. Most of the criteria that are used for the tables are simply a reflection of the socio-economic climate of the school's catchment area. The only useful method of calculating the value of a school is by knowing how good the pupils are when they start at the school and relate this to how good they are when they leave. You don't need to go to great lengths to realise which schools are better. Parents know it already. You don't need to go to great lengths to know that some teachers are better than others. Just ask the pupils.

The Conservatives are also challenging the values of certain A levels. It seems that schools are pushing pupils towards 'softer' subjects like media studies so that these schools can improve their position in the league tables. I have a problem with this. The Conservatives are simply saying that teachers are acting unprofessionally. The guidance from teachers should relate to the aptitude of the pupil, and include how useful the A level is to university applications. It should also be concerned with the intrinsic academic benefits of that subject. Ask any teacher and I am sure that they could give many other reasons why their professionalism is being insulted by these comments.

Change the world

Monday, 17 August 2009

Fuel the social divide with league tables

If school league tables are based on those pupils who pass at grades A* to C then there is no doubt that schools will want to help those who are just below a C standard. This is not fair for those who are A* material. Equally this is not fair to those with special needs. Why should a small group of pupils be helped on the basis of a political whim? The Conservatives have noticed this and Michael Gove, the shadow education secretary has said that teachers feel pressured to concentrate on borderline C grade pupils.

The Conservatives have seen a problem in the system and will improve it by implementing a points scheme. That's great. We will be better informed, or at least pushy parents will be better informed. Those who are less pushy will just know the better schools in the area anyway. For every pupil who gets into a school which is "better" another pupil gets moved to one that is "worse". Wouldn't it be better to put all the effort into league tables into making every school better?

League tables have been abolished in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales and I haven't heard any complaints. If you want to improve the social divide in this country you don't do it by fuelling the social divide.

Change the world

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Life, inheritance and euthanasia

There is a widespread feeling that parents should hand down their inheritance to their children. Napoleon questioned this because he wanted to break up the French aristocracy and the French to this day can't pass everything to one child. I have previously written that if children need the money they will waste it and if they don't need it then it is a good opportunity to raise taxes. The dead can't complain. I would like to see an increase in inheritance tax.

However most people will still want to leave something to their children. Ideally the children would make good use of it and some would say even if the children take a holiday and relax then this is good use of the money. This is a cause of pressure that people face when they are not well enough to look after themselves at home. Do they receive extra care in their own home? Do they move into a care home? Do they take a visit to Switzerland? All options have financial implications and even though it is expensive, going to Switzerland may be the cheapest option. The pressure regarding inheritance becomes a pressure to take your own life. If the children are unscrupulous the pressure will be significantly increased.

We all want euthanasia - it means good death; but the term has been hijacked to mean "I can take my own life whenever I want". It means I can go off to Switzerland and not come back. There are many people who see this as a good thing. There are two problems with this. We do not know the conscious or subconscious pressure going on to choose death. The second and major problem is that anyone who advocates the right to take their own life uses illness as an excuse. This undermines the value of life. It implies that if someone has MS they should die. If they have breathing problems they can die too. If they get headaches once per week then that is also a good reason to end life. You may know when you feel you should die but you are insulting someone who is more ill. The attitude that "that's their opinion and this is mine" is not good enough. There are forceful arguments that those who use a wheelchair should have access to a building. Those who raise this point may also argue that if they had to use a wheelchair they should be allowed to travel to Switzerland. We need to value life.

Change the world

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Consistent advertising

Have you driven on motorways and seen those adverts in farmers' fields? I am told that it is very distracting for drivers if they are on motorways and suddenly they see an advert. However it isn't a distraction if that advert is on private land and placed on something that is mobile like the side of a van. Now you are probably thinking like me, that it makes no difference whether the advert is permanent or temporary, they are both distracting. There is a loophole in the law which means that drivers may have their attention diverted and accidents may happen. Well you either believe that the risk is high and you ban advertising or you allow it.

The reason for today's blog is that this week I have seen adverts hanging from lamp-posts advertising the TV digital switchover in November. If you haven't read about it in the papers or seen the adverts on TV, there will be a booklet coming through your door. If all else fails you can ask someone when you find your TV doesn't work. A couple of years ago this type of advert was used for local music concerts and plays. It was a great method of advertising and I still miss them. However they were stopped for reasons of safety. Well there may have been accidents caused by these signs but I never read about any. The point is that this sort of decision should be left to local people. There are distractions wherever you drive and some may be more hazardous than others. It may even be the case that these adverts on lamposts were dangerous a few years ago but they are not dangerous any more.

I am not convinced that adverts are dangerous but let's have consistency in decision making whether it is at the side of a motorway or in the centre of Lancaster.

Change the world

Friday, 14 August 2009

Part-time MPs and Alan Duncan

The news on Wednesday and Thursday was that Alan Duncan had been caught on camera talking about the MPs' expenses scandal. He has apologised without reservation for saying that MPs have to "live on rations". Why has he apologised? Is it because he lied or is it because he was caught on camera? Well he says it was a joke but I don't think it sounds like he is happy with his terms and conditions of employment. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and think that he is funny.

It is harder to give the benefit of the doubt to Nigel Evans MP. He was caught on camera making similar comments about the poor salary received by MPs. Nigel's spokesperson tells us he doesn't need to say anything. Why is this? Has he spoken to David Cameron? Nigel may not need to apologise for saying that he cannot survive on an MP's wage, but he should carefully consider his position. He needs to show commitment to his constituents and you can't do this on a part-time basis. I think we need to know about this commitment. Take a look at my blog on the 1st July to see the detail on how to raise the esteem of MPs. What we don't want are MPs who are arrogant and treat the electorate with contempt.

Change the world

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Karl Marx and bus passes for pensioners

I think the big difference between a good care home and a great care home is having the opportunity to go on trips or do something extra on a regular basis. You don't have to take the opportunity. We don't all like opera or pop music but we all want opportunities even if it is just to say no thanks. Think of it as going into work and talking about what you did at weekend. You might not do anything special but you could still talk about the football or a film on television. It really doesn't matter what it is as it is just a subject for conversation and something different has happened.

Now put yourself in the position of the majority of pensioners. They have a bus pass and they have no financial excuse for doing something different. They can get on the bus and visit the local town or venture further afield. I didn't travel too far at weekend but I have never been to Ingleton or Clapham, both are lovely places. I was listening to Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 two days ago and the subject of bus passes was discussed because it is so expensive. There were people speaking for and against the passes.

My view is that if the passes are taken off the pensioners then we will head for revolt. Marx said raise expectations and then lower them and you get revolt. Karl would be waiting for the pensioners' revolt. It costs money to provide free transport but a system that limits this benefit would be costly to run and whenever you get a safety net you get a poverty trap. The people in the poverty trap are the people who have worked hard all their lives and find that they cannot afford to get out for the day.

If the bus pass scheme is stopped then pensioners may lose their topic of conversation. I believe this is vital to the health of the nation. It might be expensive to allow pensioners to have free travel on the buses, but the cost of taking away this benefit could be increasing ill health or even revolution.

Change the world

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Gender issues need to be addressed

The US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was upset when she was asked about the thoughts of President Obama. Unfortunately it got translated as what were the thoughts of her husband. Hilary answered that she was the Secretary of State, not her husband, but the main point is that she was irritated by the question. Politicians are supposed to remain calm when questioned so regardless of the subject of the original question we found out that Hilary's public face can be one of annoyance. Even if the question had been about her husband she could have calmly answered that she cannot speak for him.

This reminded me of Any Questions last week. Judith Hackitt is chair of the Health and Safety Executive and she works to prevent injury in the workplace. There is a lot I could say about the HSE but I'll confine myself to one comment on the programme. There was a question about Harriet Harman's role when Gordon Brown was away. Was the gender balance correct? Judith told us that she wanted a meritocracy but there was a caveat. Even though she had risen to a high rank, she could still be ignored at meetings and there are cultural issues that need to be addressed. The next comment was from a man and I hope the irony was not missed. He simply said that he would return to the original question, thus ignoring Judith's point that she can be ignored. I thought it was the stuff of comedy programmes, and with a little adapting you could also use the Hilary Clinton response for a comedy sketch.

I think we do still need to actively work for gender equality but let's not lose the ability to laugh at irony.

Change the world

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Soccer is unfair

Yesterday I signed up for Sky Sports. When satellite broadcasting began I had a satellite box that received all the movies and all the sports but there was no slot for a card. At that time you didn't pay a subscription. Then you had to pay so I upgraded and continued to get the sport. I moved six years ago and hadn't signed up to Sky again till yesterday. I will watch football. I really like rugby but my favourite sport is American Football. So you now know that I will not be following any of my other interests when the dish gets fitted.

There are many things that I like about American Football but today I will just share two of them. It is a family friendly sport. The fans can mix. They don't chant rude things to each other. They must be intelligent because they know at least half the rules of the game. The second thing is that the organisation of the sport is such that there is a bias towards the underdog. If you finish as the worst team in the league then you get the first choice from the best players who are turning professional that year. There may be teams that can dominate for up to a decade but American Football teams have lean years.

I think there is a link between these two points. Soccer, as the Americans refer to our game, is unfair. The big four teams remain the best teams because they have the most money, they buy the best players, they win and they get more money. If the organisation is unfair then why not the tactics on the pitch? Just the way that commentators treat referees reinforces the idea of unfairness. In England referees are wrong. In America they are right, and if there is a probability that the fans are right and referees are wrong then don't be surprised if abuse is chanted from the terraces. Fortunately you can't usually hear the fans on television.

Change the world.

Monday, 10 August 2009

What one minute's applause means to me

This weekend football fans were remembering Bobby Robson. He seemed like a nice person and came across well on the television. Certainly many people have described him as a gentleman and he has received very many tributes. Among these tributes he was given a minute's applause before each of the premiership football games this weekend.

I like watching football on TV. Occasionally I go to a live game, usually Blackburn Rovers but I have been to most football grounds in the North West. However I am not a great football fan (some would say uncharitably that is why I go to Blackburn) and one reason for this is the minute's applause. It just makes me think that the fans in the ground cannot be trusted to remain silent for a minute. Silence is a much more powerful tribute. It gives everyone thinking time. It means that every single fan is prepared to do something. Some may not have applauded but with silence at least they would have had the respect to remain silent.

I don't like the way that footballer's feign injury. I think that top footballers are vastly overpaid. The way that footballers treat referees is appalling. There are many reasons why I don't go to football matches very often, but among them is the attitude of the fans. With the move towards a minute's applause my opinion is reinforced each time there is this form of tribute.

Change the world

Sunday, 9 August 2009

How to solve rush hours

I don't think it is just Lancaster that has a rush hour problem although if you live in Morecambe it looks like the traffic congestion between Morecambe and Lancaster is the worst in the country. If you live here then even shift workers may be stuck in traffic. You may be able to nominate your town as a contender for the title worst traffic in the country so let's think about how we could deal with the problem. One answer is to build a bypass. This is not the cheapest or best answer but it does help those who want to go past the town. That's what bypasses do but they aren't too useful if you want to go into that town. Alright they will help a little because some vehicles have joined the bypass.

How can you avoid a rush hour? People want to shop in the towns but they aren't the problem because they don't shop in rush hour. The problem is caused by people who work normal office hours. If you work shifts then that is fine. So the answer is to get people to move the times that they work.

Parking is a problem in Nottingham. They decided to tax parking spaces, so if you are a company with eleven or more spaces then you have will have to pay £185 per space when it starts in 2012. If the question is how to irritate businesses and get them to move out of your area then this is the answer. It doesn't solve the question of how to solve rush hour congestion. If you have eleven spaces then you will be busy losing one. Let's hope the loss of these small numbers will not just mean wasted space and a really upset workforce. What happens if you have thousands of spaces? Well you may pass on the costs to the staff or the company may pay, but regardless of who pays it is an additional tax on business. If they pay then rush hour stays the same. There is a good chance that companies with thousands of employees will consider relocation, but who will buy a factory with lots of taxable parking spaces?

In this financial climate what we really need is no disruption to business as they are suffering enough. It would really be quite simple to charge those companies who used their car parks in peak times. Get the employees to get up early - no charge. Let them have a lie in - no charge. Use rush hour then you have to pay. Rush hour problems solved.

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Saturday, 8 August 2009

Some criminals are heroes

Ronnie Biggs has been released from prison yesterday. He has pneumonia and is unlikely to recover so in practical terms it has made no difference. Theoretically it shows that the government can show compassion and that for the family Ronnie has served his sentence. This isn't practical compassion because it makes no difference to him in his hospital bed.

I can't help thinking that it would have been so useful if Ronnie had shown remorse. I felt that he treated the police disgracefully. I wasn't very keen on the initial theft and the associated violence. Some people may even have considered him a hero for his actions. He was bold in his actions and even bolder when he thwarted the police. I don't believe a word of it. For bold read shameless. His criminal activities were wrong and hurt all law-abiding citizens. If he apologises it would lower the esteem of criminals. We don't want heroes from a life of crime but we do want to improve the respect for the police.

Could someone have a word with him for an apology?

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Friday, 7 August 2009

Police tactics

In the news today (6th August) the police have been criticised for their tactics at the G20 protests. These tactics have raised concerns about the way that the police act, and among these concerns the police were criticised for refusing to let a woman who was bleeding leave a cordon for five hours. In my opinion it doesn't matter if you are ill or in perfect health but if you are held in a cordon for five hours then this may be enough for many peaceful protestors to think about turning to violence.

I wrote about the police tactics at the time of the demonstations and pointed out that there were questions to be answered. One chief inspector, Denis O'Connor has now said that the actions of some G20 officers was "unacceptable", and according to the Independent Police Complaints Commission the police need to look at the tactics they use and to change them.

It is good to read that an inquiry has highlighted shortcomings and hopefully action will follow, but I am concerned that someone in the recent past has decided that the police can act anonymously, that they can push over peaceful people who may not even be part of a protest, and that a cordon is a useful technique to prevent riots.

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Thursday, 6 August 2009

You make no mistakes if you do nothing

Today I thought I would use a comment that I placed on the Liberal Democrat Voice at

Take a look to follow the whole line of comments and why not add your own?

"Andy H is right. It is daft and illiberal (the proposal to ban airbrushing of adverts aimed at children). I don’t think it is dangerous because I think it is easy to see how daft it is, and (I meant to say but) it has inspired debate. I like Duncan’s wider point about what Liberal Democrats may and may not say. In our local party we have the very liberal policy of anyone saying what they want as individuals. If they mention a party title in a letter to the press then it goes through a committee. We don’t want to stifle debate. We don’t want to stifle speech or using the media. We want people to have opportunities to give their opinion and I believe in the inalienable right of every Liberal Democrat to make an arse of themselves (as Duncan puts it). We have to allow our MPs to make mistakes. If they don’t make mistakes then either they are doing nothing or they are told to do everything. My bigger concern is that all serious politicians wear smart clothes and are the sort of people who don’t need photo manipulations. Spin and image dominate politics. We need to emphasise substance over superficiality. Give me an ugly politician who says the right thing any day. I know that we don’t want Liberal Democrats to make fools of themselves but I would much rather be in a liberal party that allows for freedom of speech than in another party that dictates what can and can’t be said".

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Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Bring on the 'perfect' models

Liberal Democrat Voice is a website that allows members and non-members to express their opinions on many political subjects. I joined in for one debate caused by Jo Swinson MP calling for the banning of airbrushing for children's adverts. I write a photography blog and on many occasions I have defended photographic manipulation so I was destined to give my opinion.

I couldn't see how legislation would work. Sometimes there are signs that manipulations have taken place but you just can't tell with simple changes. Even more complicated changes can be disguised if time is taken. It would be difficult to define what constitutes airbrushing. If a photo is converted to sepia has the photo been manipulated? I am sure that years could be spent trying to draft this legislation and still you would not get anywhere.

I was also concerned because there would be a move towards 'perfect' models, expensive studios, better lighting and a trend for better lying through manipulation. Advertisers are already saying "I am now going to lie to you through this photo" and banning airbrushing would make them better liars. I have seen photos of MPs that have been manipulated. Should we worry about this? There is a genuine concern about body image but this would still be a problem if unworkable legislation was passed.

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Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Minister defends the indefensible.

According to 'Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell has defended the government's decision to appeal against compensation given to two wounded soldiers. He told the BBC that accepting the payouts awarded to them would have been "unfair and disadvantaging" to more seriously injured personnel'. I agree with Labout MP Eric Joyce who said the appeals were profoundly wrong. If you are shot and there are complications it is really hard to argue that the complications are nothing to do with the shooting so no further compensation is required.

It is not clear to me how making reasonable payments to two wounded soldiers is going to be "unfair and disadvantaging" to others. Unless, of course, the government intends to compensate for these two payments which it considers excessive by reducing the payments to more seriously injured personnel. Which actually wouldn't surprise me.

Also not surprisingly, there has already been a bit of an outcry. Simon Weston, the Falklands veteran, has told the BBC that the soldiers' treatment had been appalling. But what I wonder is, is there anyone who actually sides with the government on this one? Anybody else willing to defend the indefensible? Does anybody think that the government is more qualified to determine soldiers' compensation than the tribunals which have been especially set up for that purpose?

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Monday, 3 August 2009

We deserve better media

On Saturday 1st August 2009 a French soldier was killed in Afghanistan and two were injured. You may say that there is nothing exceptional in this and many more British soldiers have died, but how do we know if our soldiers are suffering more than others? The answer is that we don't because our media emphasises British news. I didn't even know that the French were there but I was reading French news. During the European elections (some may say this is our most important election) we did not hear any European news. We are not well informed.

I bought a well known Sunday newspaper yesterday. It had a headline 'MPs are working fewer hours than ever - but costing us much more'. It is based on an official report about the hours spent in Westminster. A similar question was put to the panel in Question Time last week. George Galloway was specifically asked about his poor voting habits. He was ready for this question and his answer was a direct contradiction to the questioner. He was in the House of Commons every day, including Christmas Day.

MPs don't just work in Westminster. They work in their constituencies. They hold surgeries. They deal with individuals. They go to meetings. They write for the papers. They give radio interviews. I am sure that MPs could give a much longer list. So the simple deduction is that this Sunday newspaper is not responsible. How would you feel if a paper wrote that you were lazy? Then you found out that the paper only wrote about a tiny fraction of your work. Unfortunately there are many people who believe what they read. We deserve better media.

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Sunday, 2 August 2009

48 hours is quite reasonable

What is work? Well it is something that you get paid for, that's for sure because that's how we pay our bills. Work may be a manual skill or we may have work in the service or manufacturing industries. Work may be playing a small part in a production line or it may require a skill like playing football. Some people may work with computers at work, then come home and work with computers. The reason why I am asking is to try to define when we are working and when we are relaxing. What happens if we sweep the roads for a living but go home and sweep the yard? Are they both work?

Saturday 1st August 2009 was the day that European Working Time Directive prevented doctors working more than 48 hours per week. I cannot understand the opposition to these rules. The government tells us that 97% of the NHS is already compliant. Is it right that children were working in dangerous occupations in the mills? Of course it was wrong but where do you draw the line for doctors at 48 hours? I would expect that many doctors would read around their subject and this would take them over their 48 hours if they were reading in 'working' hours. I don't want to go to hospital and see a doctor who has been working more than 12 hours. I do expect doctors to work and study and it may well be that this work is for much longer than 48 hours per week. The big difference between studying at home and working a shift at hospital is that you can put a book down and relax.

The capping of junior doctors hours is for reasons of safety but we are hearing warnings that patients may suffer along with patient safety because there are not enough doctors. Another argument is that doctors may not get the training that they require because their hours have been reduced. This argument seems quite lame. Shame on the doctors for putting forward either of these arguments. They have had long enough to train more doctors, and if they need more than 48 hours per week to receive their training then the system is wrong. Working longer than 100 hours per week, as was done in the 1990s is quite unsafe. If there is less cover in hospital then that it is the fault of the medical profession. They really do need to sort out their training because a maximum of 48 hours is quite reasonable.

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Saturday, 1 August 2009

How to hack into military computers

Gary McKinnon couldn’t face court today. Is he ill? Well he has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism but I am sure that I wouldn’t feel well if I had been charged with hacking into American military computers. Although he looks well he was diagnosed after talking about his crimes on TV.

Mr McKinnon tells us he was looking for evidence of UFOs and I think this is plausible but that is the sort of thing that is decided by courts. Should the court be American or English? The DPP say that the bulk of the evidence is in America so that is where the trial should take place. Should he be extradited? I can’t think of a good reason to stop extradition although it is easier to extradite to the USA than it is to Britain. If doctors say he is unwell and cannot travel that’s another matter but are we really saying that if you have Asperger’s then you don’t face trial. Are we saying that justice will not be done in America?

There are three factors that I would highlight from this case. Firstly it looks like it is far too easy to hack into military computers. Secondly extradition agreements should not show bias. It should be just as easy or just as difficult to move suspects in both directions. Finally, if you want some really good military intelligence then start employing staff with Asperger’s.

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