Friday, 31 July 2009

Military Pomp or non-violent protest

John Lennon wanted to 'give peace a chance' and is famous for staying in bed as a non-violent protest against the Vietnam war. He came eighth in a BBC poll of 100 greatest Britons in 2002 so he was fairly influential. Perhaps even more famous for non-violent protest is Gandhi. There are very many famous lovers of peace. When it comes to remembrance I prefer to remember peace lovers rather than famous soldiers, but there has been a lot of recent media time given to the glories of war.

Henry Allingham and Harry Patch have both died and they were our last living links to World War I. Henry was 113 and his funeral was significant for its pomp and circumstance. I can't help thinking that all the praises, all the medals, all the pomp and all the circumstance have been given simply because these soldiers have lived a long time. It is nothing to do with them as people and if it is nothing to do with them then what is it for? My answer is that there are many who want to glorify war. This may satisfy our soldiers and their families. It gives our soldiers who are fighting wars today some support in what must be a terrible ordeal.

However my preferences are for giving peace a chance. The Pogues have a song called 'And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda' which contains a section about a military parade as well as the lyrics 'and the young people ask me, "what are they marching for?" And I ask myself the same question'. I can understand the heroism of war. I see how soldiers can be brave and proud of their actions. I can't help thinking that all these positive values are overshadowed by the political failures that got them into war but this doesn't generally get mentioned. My recent blogs have looked at war in Afghanistan and Iraq but wars everywhere are signs of failure. War is not the best way to resolve conflict and this makes me have reservations about military pomp.

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Thursday, 30 July 2009

Let's look at political finances

A few years ago I was working in GP surgeries and every object in every surgery seemed to have the name of a drug or a drug manufacturer on it. Then there was a move to stop this practice. What was good practice previously was seen as poor advertising. Doctors should be above this kind of influence and only prescribe drugs on the basis of their efficacy. You still see some advertising but at least now it is not on every object.

The reason that I mention advertising is because it is in the news that some companies are moving their support towards the Conservatives. I know it is political funding, not advertising but both are looking to enhance business by spending some money. Of course it is not news that the Conservatives are funded by big business, just as it is not news that the Labout Party is funded by the unions. My concern is that when you get funding there are usually strings attached. Is it cash for questions? No that's too blatant but is this a practice that is continuing? Could it just be that these companies want some business? That sounds too much like corruption so it can't be true. Do they want someone to listen to their views? Well if they have sensible opinions then politicians should be more than willing to listen.

You may have guessed that I don't like the way the Labout and the Conservative Parties are funded. If politicians are serious about cleaning up their act then it is essential to look at how parties are financed.

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Wednesday, 29 July 2009

What is the definition of inept?

On the 13th June I wrote about the way the Student Loans Company Limited were dealing with my loan. I don't want to incur their wrath so I will just say that many of the things that they have done look inept. On the 6th July I wrote about them again. I won't repeat these blogs because you can go back and read them. Have a look at the comments too. I will just mention that they said they would deal with my complaint in seven days and shortly after this another reply said they would reply within ten days. Twenty one days later I have received a reply.

The letter is two pages long. the first page tells me about their role in general which is very nice but I could look on the internet if I wanted to know. The last sentence of this page deals with me individually. It asks for details of the calls that I have made so that she 'will attempt to investigate the matter further'. There are two paragraphs on page two. The first paragraph tells me of the arrangement that has been made for repayment of my loan. I will quote the last paragraph. 'I trust I have clarified our position. I hope that my response has addressed your concerns to your satisfaction. If I can be of further help please contact me'.

I will reply by post in response to their letter. I will follow their lead and use snail mail. My letter will say that I am pleased that they have written to me but they have addressed none of the points that I made and refer them to this blog.

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Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Is Afghanistan winnable?

The Independent has published the results of a survey which shows that a majority of the public believes that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable and British troops should be pulled out immediately.http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/voters-turn-against-war-in-afghanistan-1763227.html "Fifty-eight per cent view the war as "unwinnable", with 31 per cent disagreeing." While that shows a commendable shift towards realism, I have to wonder what the 31 percent are thinking. What would it mean, for us to "win" the war in Afghanistan? What are our goals there? How would we recognise when those goals have been achieved?

My memory says that we went in because of 9/11, to find Osama Bin Laden and fight the Taliban (though didn't we support and train them previously?). Bin laden may well have died years ago. His death was widely reported in December 2001, just not in the US or UK, and every alleged sighting or tape since then has been questionable. As for the Taliban, they were ousted in 2001. Yet here we are in 2009, 8 years and 191 British forces deaths and £12 billion further on, and there is no foreseeable end to the spiralling human and financial costs. We're still killing "Taliban" (who physically are indistinguishable from other Afghans, but if we killed them they must have been Taliban), and we're doing it to pave the way for elections in which many would vote for the Taliban if that was an option.

Just a fortnight ago it was being reported that the Taliban were seen as liberators by the locals when they drove Afghan police out of a village. http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20090712/wl_nm/us_afghanistan_police Meanwhile in Pakistan, the Pakistani president cuts deals to impose Sharia law in Taliban-controlled areas. Is this what a potential victory looks like?

Saudi Arabian citizens had a lot to do with 9/11, and we haven't found Bin Laden. Other reasons for war which were floated in 2001, such as the plight of women, don't hold water because, for instance, while women are treated badly by the Taliban, they don't seem to fare any better under our protection. The problem is rooted in the local culture, not in the Taliban. So why are we there? I don't know. Do you?

Change the world.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Is bigamy a crime?

There is an old joke that if you are caught as a bigamist then the penalty is two mothers-in-law. Emily Horne was in court today in Manchester charged with serial bigamy. In fact she had married five times which means that there were four offences. What penalty did she receive? Was it five fathers-in-law? In fact she was sentenced to ten months but this was suspended for two years so many people would say that she got away with it. This equates to two months per wedding. If she did have to go to prison she would probably get time off for good behaviour. I can see the point of reducing sentences for good behaviour because I am a great advocate of prison supporting the reform of prisoners, but this court case makes it look like bigamy is no longer an offence.

There are some who relate social decline in this country with the decline of marriage. There is probably a link between the two, and with this court case and with the general marriage malaise. Many would just see marriage as a social union. It is obviously the case that two families are joined together. You see this at least during the wedding celebrations. Love should also play a central role, but what is love? To Christians the answer is given by St Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. Japan has few Christians. Most people are either Shintoists or Buddhists or both, but when it comes to marriage then Christian-style ceremonies are in fashion. These include hymns and a bible reading, and the passage read is almost always this one.

If you don't have a good definition of love then you may think that love will improve with the next person who comes along. Misunderstand love and you misunderstand marriage. I am not sure if Emily Horne has a good definition of love, but she must have had a good explanation for bigamy.

Chang the world

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Beware populist policies

I like inheritance tax, not because I don't want to accept what anyone wants to leave me, but because it is a tax on the dead. They aren't going to complain. If anyone is going to complain it would be the relatives. Now if you bring up your children with a knowledge of how to run their finances then they don't need any inheritance. Conversely if they need the money then it is just as likely that they would need more money a few years after receiving any inheritance.

We have stopped calling them tabloids because broadsheet newspapers are often tabloid size. There is still a tabloid mentality that means that their stories are driven by popularity. After all, the purpose of owning a newspaper is to sell newspapers. This is why I have written in previous blogs about sensationalist stories.

The problem with sensational stories, apart from the hurt that they cause to individuals and groups (notably the entire city of Liverpool) is that you get populist policies that are not necessarily the best policies, and this leads to further popularityof those policies. In politics this leads to policy by newspaper. Our justice system does it's best to avoid trial by tabloid press but influence is almost inevitable in both the justice system and in politics.

If you are a government and you have to raise funds then if you highlight those policies then you don't win votes. We have to have honesty in politics. We need our politicians to say where they will spend the money and where they will raise it, but let's beware populist policies.

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Saturday, 25 July 2009

How to deal with unprovoked attacks.

On Granada TV this evening (22nd July) is an article about a man in Failsworth who was attacked by a number of youths. It was a serious attack and the man lost his eye and he also lost his confidence. Only one of the youths could be linked to the offence and because of lack of evidence and because of his age he received a punishment of 150 hours unpaid work. If you can't prove that someone did something then you can't find them guilty but it must be hard for the man who knew his attackers. The irony is that the offender had pleaded guilty. I wonder what he said he was guilty of in order to get such a lenient sentence.

This puts the blog from two days ago and the offence of dropping litter into perspective. We want a tidy country but more importantly we want to eradicate violent attacks. How do we do this? Well this gentleman blamed the parents and the education system. If he is right and parent are to blame then should we put parents on trial, bearing in mind that the offender was 15 years old? As for education, he blamed discipline in schools but supported teachers becasue they had little power to discipline pupils. So if this is the case and we can't blame teachers where do we lay the blame? Do teachers have enough power? The perception is that they don't, but I know there are many schools with very good discipline.

When I was young and something went wrong then the teacher was right and the pupil was wrong and that is the way that parents saw it. The reverse is true nowadays. Children 'know' their rights and generally have the support of their parents. However there is good discipline in many schools. Regardless of the quality of the school we need to change attitudes and get parents to support teachers.

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Friday, 24 July 2009

Norwich by-election

The Norwich by-election took place yesterday and the counting started this morning. I suppose it is more civilised to count when people are awake but I hope this is not a general trend as I do enjoy staying up all night. This by-election was called because of the resignation of the Labour MP Ian Gibson. He was caught up in the expenses scandal even though he was not the worst culprit by far. In fact many residents have stated that they would have supported Mr Gibson if he had stood as an independent.

The problem that caused his resignation was the expenses scandal but he was deselected by the Labour Party in London not by the constituency party. It was an embarassing show of centralised control because many commentators feel he would have won if he had stood. As it stands the exit polls say it is a Conservative victory.

I wrote this in a blog some time ago but I am still of the opinion that I want the scandal to blow over. Everyone thinks that MPs are lazy cheats. The truth is much more likely to be that they are hard-working and honest. Moreover the extreme parties have taken advantage of this situation and there is no guarantee that the extremists are more honest. One candidate in this by-election is called Craig Murray standing for the "Put an Honest Man into Parliament" Party. I don't say this in an angry way but how dare he use this title? Is Mr Murray the man who has done nothing wrong? I think politicians have learned their lessons and change is certain.

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Thursday, 23 July 2009

Rousseau and Afghanistan

Yesterday I wrote about the problems of lowering risk. If you want to really lower your personal risk you may stay in bed but your life experience would not be great. There is a quote from Rousseau who said that “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.” He wasn't talking about physical chains but that would work to abolish lots of crime. However this would again not lead to a great life experience. That's the point. Legislation restricts our freedom (as well as all the social constraints that Rousseau was talking about). Red tape makes life harder for us. These things affect our lives even if we have committed no crimes. War is an extreme example of social constraint but that is what it is and in the example of war it is the soldiers who are carrying Rousseau's chains.

On the ITV news there is an article about a bomb disposal expert who has been killed in Afghanistan. Captain Daniel Shepherd was killed by a Taliban bomb. He had been doing his job and by all accounts he had been doing his job very well. The sentence that caught my attention was from a friend of his who said that the war against the Taliban had now become personal. My fear is that there are many more Taliban fighters who are saying exactly the same thing.

Change the world

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Risk Culture

There is a lot of sad news tonight (20th July). A father and daughter died when they fell 50 feet at a waterfall in Wales. A paranoid schizophrenic stabbed his parents to death in Liverpool. Children have been caught throwing bricks onto the motorway in East Lancashire. The news in general is not good and the trouble with bad news apart from the obvious story, is that there are investigations associated with each story and the investigators have to come up with ways to lower risk. Why is lower risk a problem? Let's take a look.

Should the waterfall be fenced off? It may save lives. Should the schizophrenic patient have been in hospital? That would have saved lives. How do you stop children throwing bricks from a motorway? Should we stop pedestrians from using motorway bridges? It should be common sense that we don't go swimming in the canal but a lot of children do it. Do we need to fence off every canal to stop children (or adults) getting near them. Methods of lowering risks may affect our freedoms like walking the towpath.

There was a comment yesterday about litter and lack of bins. One consequence of extremist action is that we don't have bins but there are so many other examples of restrictions on our freedoms. One example is the way that we speak about night club bouncers. The latest PC term for them, among others is "floor hosts" but I would have no idea what this means if I had not looked it up. Politically correct activity means that we have to be very careful about causing offence to floor hosts or any other group or individual even when absolutely no offence was intended.

This is a serious blog because the news is serious, but I think modern society magnifies the seriousness. Let's try to move away from a blame culture and accept that if people want to live their lives then risk happens and we should allow some risk and decrease red tape.

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Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Litter

I saw someone drop litter today (20th July). What do you do? Well like most people I ignored it. I have had conversations about litter with smokers who do not feel that the filter is litter. I have also heard it said that apples are biodegradable but I'm afraid they don't degrade fast enough on the streets of Morecambe.

The councils do pick up litter and there are a lot of good citizens out there who also play a part in keeping Britain tidy, but we are still an untidy country. Go abroad and see what their litter looks like. How do holidaymakers to this country react when they see our litter? If there is a league table of countries with most litter I think we would be looking to be champions.

The main reason that we are in this position is because we accept that we can drop litter. So how do we combat it? I have ruled out hanging the culprits. What about on the spot fines? I remember seeing an article about this on local TV and people felt that they were really hard done by. It seems that you can't win. I have seen take-away litter thrown out of a car driven at speed. If these people got a huge fine I don't think they would be cured.

We need to separate the accidental drop of a sweet wrapper and leaving pizza boxes on the street. We need to educate and we need to police this offence. Any offers for the correct punishment?

Change the world

Monday, 20 July 2009

Forty years ago today

The first space landing was forty years ago today. "One small step..." What are we celebrating? It was certainly a publicity coup for the Americans who were trailing to the Russians in the space race. Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon said the lunar landing helped to create ''co-operation between former adversaries'' and hastened the end of the space race. It may not be a race now but it remains an expensive expedition.

So what are the benefits? Scratch-resistant lenses for glasses are thanks to space space technology. NASA needed something to protect satellites and the same expertise went into glasses. There are many who benefit from satellite technology by watching TV. Our abilities to predict the weather have also improved due to space know-how.

I am not sure about the benefit of these technologies. Groucho Marx thought that television was very educational because he would leave the room and read a book. I have decided to ignore weather forecasts and just keep an umbrella in the car. Glasses are cheap enough so if you do damage them then get them replaced. I am also not convinced about the progress of associated technologies like computing and robotics because the market can drive progress. I am fairly sure that television has already played a significant role and will continue to do so in the progress of satellite equipment.

It was political and military competition that made Americans land on the moon but think twice about this and you could change the words to 'pride'. Now Americans are calling for missions to Mars. We should be looking to progress our technologies but space travel is an extremely expensive way to do this.

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Sunday, 19 July 2009

Would you like to emigrate?

I am always meeting people who talk politics to me. Even if they don't know about my interest in the subject, politics is all around us and we can't help talking about it. A couple of days ago I met someone whom I had not seen for some time. They brought up the subject of immigration. I did mention my blogs so they may read my thoughts in detail. Immigration is not just the agenda of a minority party, it is everyone's agenda.

Let's take migration of dentists as an example. When I moved to Morecambe I struggled to find an NHS dentist. The point today is that my dentist is Polish. She is an excellent dentist who provides an NHS service. A couple of weeks ago I was walking through Kendal and I noticed another dentist with a Polish name who provided an NHS service. If it weren't for these dentists would there be any NHS dentists available? I know I didn't find any within 10 miles of Morecambe.

Let's play devil's advocate. Why shouldn't we keep British dentists in Britain? Well this begs the question why shouldn't our dentists move abroad if that is what they wish to do? Migration should be allowed for our professionals and it should be allowed for professionals abroad. It is easier to stay in Britain if you are British. If you hear a conversation between young graduates see if they discuss working abroad. You don't have to have a degree. Do you know people with any skills who are thinking of going to New Zealand or Australia or many other countries? Are we really saying nobody can go anywhere?

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Saturday, 18 July 2009

Do you ignore the BNP?

So do you combat the BNP by ignoring their agenda or by arguing their points? I know there are people who have a coherent argument that you ignore them, but while there are voters who sadly vote for the BNP you have to explain to them why it is sad.

Even at the meeting on Monday the debate was going on. But the whole raison d'ĂȘtre of the meeting was to give the BNP (adverse) publicity. Take uncontrolled immigration. If EU job applicants have the right to work in this country then how is that controlled? If we don't deal with these fears then any voter may turn their allegiance to the BNP. We have to get the message over that immigration is controlled, and that it is much much easier for a British worker to get a British job if they want it. Put yourself in the position of an employer. Do you go to your local jobcentre or fly over to Poland? How is your Polish?

We have to get the message over that fundamentally we should apply the rules to others as we would have them apply to us. Can we retire to Spain or anywhere else that we choose? Can we do an 'Auf Wiedersehen Pet' and work in those countries? We must get the message over that migration is good (in both directions). Most importantly we must get over the message that racism is bad. There are no ifs nor buts. When I had a conversation last week (see previous blogs) I did not let the person get away with comments about racism like "fair enough" when a racist attitude was mentioned. No it is not fair enough. His answer was that it depends on your definition of racism. Well racism is based on racial intolerance and I can't stand intolerant people (that was a joke). Seriously, give racists the oxygen of publicity. That is what tolerant people do, but then counter their arguments with reasonable explanations.

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Friday, 17 July 2009

More on that meeting

There are many people who would deny the BNP the oxygen of publicity. There are some people who would like to deny them the oxygen of oxygen. On the whole I think the anti-fascist group are well meaning and non-violent. There was an egg thrown the day after the election in June but at the meeting one woman spoke passionately from the floor about how this group does not use viiolence. I did wonder if the BNP meetings are mirrors of this meeting and they condemn the others for violent tactics. The egg is the evidence. On the whole I think the anti-fascists are peaceful protestors.

I have to mention one man in the audience who shouted out the Polish didn't help us during the war. I think he had gone to the wrong meeting. I mention him because I have a Polish relative who fought in the war and has medals for it. Through him I have met many Polish veterans. They are gradually dying off and when they all die off we will only have historians and their evidence to rely on. Let's hope this member of the audience isn't an historian. One lady tried to explain that Nick Griffin recently spoke in front of a photo of a spitfire from a Polish squadron. I think the vast majority of people in the room already knew the story and I don't think listening to her would have made any difference to the loan Polish denier.

If Nick Griffin still believes what he said about the holocaust being the hoax of the century then he could look at my photography blog on the 20th April. It was about George Rodger, a photographer who took photos of Belsen. There is a lot of evidence for the holocaust. If well educated people choose to deny it and even choose to condemn the Nazi actions for the parts that they do believe then you really have to question their motives. Could it be that they simply want to pander to xenophobic fear?

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Thursday, 16 July 2009

Anti-BNP Meeting

I am concerned that the major parties are ignoring the BNP and so they are not addressing the concerns of the electorate who vote for them. However the major parties weren't ignoring them this evening (14th July) when I went to an anti-BNP meeting. The Green Party emphasised Nick Griffin's denial of climate change and how the BNP's vote was low where the Green Party was strong. I think the Green spokesperson had gone to the wrong meeting. She gave a party political broadcast for the Green Party even though she later mentioned that she wasn't going to do this.

The Conservative spokesperson thought that BNP voters weren't racist but were worried about uncontrolled immigration. I can see his point because the people that spoke to him and the people that have spoken to me who said that they vote for the BNP deny that they are racist. However there was an excellent speech from someone who was from 'Unite against Fascism'. He emphasised that BNP voters were concerned about uncontrolled immigration and that racists were among their number. I have also met many people whose comments may be deemed racist and I have no doubt that racists vote for them.

I'll tell you more about the meeting in other blogs.

Change the world

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Non-transferable tickets

If you are organising a pop concert or any form of entertainment then how would you like the systems to work? Do you want genuine fans to get the tickets? Do you want to make a reasonable or even a good profit? Would you like ticket allocation to be fair to all? Do you want to control the merchandise so that you know they are good quality and at the right price?

Now think of another system, but in this one you get an underworld of wheeler-dealing. There are unscrupulous businesses that don't pay taxes and rip people off. The bona fide entertainment manager has no control of profits or where the tickets go. It doesn't matter if you are a genuine fan who goes to genuine efforts to get that ticket. What does matter is that you know a man who has contacts and that you have plenty of money.

The reason why I am writing this blog is because there was a comment today (13th July) on the BBC's Working Lunch that took my attention. Declan Curry thought that concert tickets were non-transferable. The answer was that tickets were definitely transferable except when the tickets have your name on. I would question whether these tickets are transferable. I have read that my tickets were non-transferable as I walked past the touts selling similar tickets. The point is that the interests of the honest promoter are undermined by ticket touts.

It was suggested that fans could buy unwanted tickets at a cheaper price and it is a win-win situation. I would suggest that a new unregulated business has been set up and touting only works when they make money. Genuine fans lose out. I want a system where you don't pay booking fees when you hand over your money or click on a website. I want a system where you can return your tickets if you find you can't go and you get your money back if they are resold. I want a system that allows genuine fans to put their names on waiting lists if tickets are returned. At the moment it is not a win-win situation.

The commentator on the BBC had one concern only that the tickets you buy from websites may not be genuine. I have a lot more concerns.

Change the world

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Immigration is good

I don't like long blogs with a lot of text and a lot of website references but I felt it was needed yesterday because I was faced with the argument that mainstream parties don't discuss uncontrolled immigration. Having said that we must not lose sight of the fact that immigration is good.

I also want to raise a couple more points, one of which was brought up by Sea as a comment to a previous blog. It is much easier to employ local people than it is people from abroad. There are practical problems of advertising, housing and language. I am sure that the list could be a lot longer but you get the point. If English people want work then it is there. It makes no sense to try to employ EU migrants if employees can be found locally.

The BNP aren't really concerned about Caucasian immigration, no matter what they might say. Their real point, which is whispered rather than stated out loud, is that other UK countries might be lax enough to allow people with a dark skin in, and they could then come over here. Let's see what Nick Griffin says in Europe. He may shoot at boats full of immigrants, but he would provide lifeboats. This is meaningless. Which boats? Which people? I would hope that the level of his debate is more mature when he speaks in the European Parliament. How does he get away with using such language? I know that he has been convicted of distributing material likely to incite racial hatred but it doesn't take much to realise that racism is the foundation of his main policies.

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Monday, 13 July 2009

The uncontrolled immigration myth

I had a discussion recently (10th July) with someone whose opinions differed from mine. This is good because it makes you think about what you believe. We spoke about many things but started with the BNP. I wrote about the BNP on the 15th June and the same points came up. His main point today was a concern that the political agenda of mainstream parties ignored uncontrolled immigration.


To start with, I think we need to tackle this myth. The BNP decry "uncontrolled immigration", of course. So do UKIP. This is to be expected. But even some mainsteam commentators talk about immigration as if it is uncontrolled. Conservative blogger Iain Dale, for instance, while commendably attacking the BNP for their hypocrisy and bigotry, nevertheless manages to echo one of their talking points: "And for the record, multiculturalism hasn't worked. Even Trevor Phillips says so. Uncontrolled immigration is a disaster for any country." http://iaindale.blogspot.com/2009/05/bnp-blasts-vc-war-hero-because-hes.html


The implication, at least, is that uncontrolled immigration is what we have currently got. But in reality we have a UK border agency. From its website: "The UK Border Agency is responsible for securing the United Kingdom borders and controlling migration in the United Kingdom. We manage border control for the United Kingdom, enforcing immigration and customs regulations." The agency has 25 000 staff, including more than 9 000 warranted officers, It is not just a piece of window dressing. http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/


Blasting away at the myths is important because it is the myths which feed the popularity of groups such as the BNP. So, what do Liberal Democrats say on this issue? Nick Clegg, when he was Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, spelled it out in the Independent: "Immigration policy should be based on facts, not fear". http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/nick-clegg-immigration-policy-should-be-based-on-facts-not-fear-402774.html You can go to the article to read it in its entirety, but in brief the Liberal Democrats do believe in controlled immigration, but with the emphasis on integration, not on exclusion or deportation or alienation.


Nick was echoing the official Liberal Democrat policy, which can be found at Colin Ross's excellent site http://colin-ross.org.uk/news/001429 liberal_democrats_debate_immigration.html
I hope you will follow both of these links.


Change the world.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

No such thing as privacy

I am writing this blog on the 10th July. The number of questions that the press want to ask Andy Coulson is increasing. He was the editor of the News of the World, and is now director of communications for the Conservative Party. There have been calls for his resignation on the grounds that he must have known about the eavesdropping, to put it in its mildest terms. Some would say that he has acted illegally but no action was taken because he resigned. It seems that journalists are not far behind politicians when it comes to escaping the full force of the law.

Andy Coulson should lose his job for no other reason than he has not yet spoken to the press. What kind of PR is that? The Tories are standing by Mr Coulson even though at best he is someone who is not doing his job and at worst he is deeply implicated in scandalous revelations. Were these revelations illegal? David Cameron says he deserves a second chance but a second chance for what?

The underlying theme is that it is alright to eavesdrop. Margaret Thatcher is famous as saying there is no such thing as society. It seems now there is no such thing as privacy.

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Saturday, 11 July 2009

Rousseau and Nick Clegg

A while ago I got an invitation to join facebook. Some people have reservations about joining because personal details may be found and used by others. I don't have this fear because I would like people who want to communicate with me to be able to do so. However my daughter put a stop to my membership because she said I was too old. I'll stick with blogs until I get over this.

Now with Twitter there is another method of social networking, but as I am so old I have not joined this too. I use emails a lot and if there is a group that want to communicate together then you can send group emails. I am sure there are lots of really good reasons to join Twitter and I may join in the next couple of days as Nick Clegg is doing a question and answer session on Monday 11th July. He usually tours the country but this time the meeting is on the internet.

I like Rousseau's idea that an ideal political community is one which self-governs, and he thought that people should discuss political matters under an oak tree. He tells us in his Social Contract, that “among the happiest people in the world, bands of peasants are seen regulating their affairs of state under an oak tree, and always acting wisely….”

Now we have an electronic oak tree and we can act wisely through Twitter. There are obviously some reservations as you will see if you read the internet. There are many different opinions some of which is not well informed. However there is a huge opportunity here for informed debate.

Change the world

Friday, 10 July 2009

Tap the phones as it doesn't matter

I wrote about the News of The World yesterday and how they have been hacking into private phone calls. Today we discover that the police are not going to investigate. They obviously have enough information to tell them that no prosecution will follow. That's not quite the same as nothing is wrong but I would still question whether it was the right decision.

Tabloid headlines are often offensive and the Crown Prosecution Service is continuing to review the evidence. The police are saying that no new evidence has come to light since January 2007 when two people were sent to jail. One was the News of The World royal editor and the other was a private investigator.

I am finding it hard to reconcile the statements from the police, the CPS and the recent reports in The Guardian. Many celebrities are finding out that their phones have been tapped but this is not new evidence. So the police must have known about this and not informed them that personal information had been 'tapped'. Not only do we live in a country that allows journalists to listen to our personal conversations (on the basis that the papers could make money from them) but we also live in a country with a police force that says this doesn't matter and we won't tell the people concerned.

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Thursday, 9 July 2009

Hush money may be worse than phone tapping

There have been surveys that tell us which professions are popular and which are not. Particular careers may be popular because they have a high salary or because there is a high demand for such careers or because these careers are held in high esteem. If we put careers into a popularity league table then some careers would be in the relegation zone. Politics would be a consistent contender but there is one career that may be even less reputable. Journalism.

In the news this evening (8th July) is the claim that The News of The World have been tapping phones and paying victims out of court settlements to keep quiet. If there is any truth in these allegations then we really have to question what kind of state we live in. This is not an example of the police tapping phones to make life more secure for us. Newspaper reports tend to hurt people because sensationalist news is profitable. The 'investigations' by journalists are often defended because it is in the public interest to know about the private lives of others. It sounds to me like criminal investigations should be taking place. We hear stories of photographers hiding in trees or harassing famous people by chasing them as a pack as their victim walks down the street.

We often hear the defence that if you have done nothing wrong then you have nothing to fear. This argument is used for CCTV cameras, ID cards and newspaper articles. The trouble with this argument is that we are all human, and even if we are doing nothing legally wrong we may be embarrased by what we are doing. You can make up your own examples of how embarrasment may apply to you. The point is that newspaper tapping must not be allowed. If there is hush money floating about then those giving and those receiving it may be doing something worse than tapping phones.

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Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Compare vegans to Uighur separatists

Yesterday's blog was about the way we treat animals. Today's news (6th July) is about the way the Chinese treat humans. In Xinjiang there have been at least 156 people killed and more than 800 people injured, according to state media. The news report has not really told us why some people are attacking others but the emphasis is on the extent of the violence. The news today is compared to the violence in Tiananmen Square. We see some clips of people walking around in blood stained clothes. Then we see bodies on the floor and we are told that they have been beaten to death.

Who is to blame? Have the police fired indiscriminately? Have the Uighur separatists acted violently even though they say their protests were peaceful? What is clear is that a resolution to this violence is much more important than whether we are omnivores, carnivores, vegetarians or vegans.

Change the world.

P.S I wrote this a couple of days ago. Things have got worse and the BBC have started to report the causes of the unrest.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Carnivore, vegetarian or vegan?

Have you thought about becoming a vegetarian or even a vegan? Like most people, I grew up eating meat and I continue to eat it but I know there are a lot of people who don't. Vegans go one step further than vegetarians and don't use animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. I am sure that this lifestyle is chosen with a great deal of thought and care but it seems like a waste of animals to me.

If you become a vegetarian because you don't like meat then that is fine. If you don't eat meat because you object to the farming of animals then logically you should be vegan. If you are a vegan then we can start to discuss the merits of livestock farming otherwise we agree that we still need these farms.

Farmyard animals only live because of the farming industry. If we didn't eat steak we would only have cows in zoos. Being a vegan does not lead to improving the lives of animals. How we farm our animals is a totally different matter. A higher number of vegans just means a smaller farming industry not a better one.

I value humans much more than other animals. If we can get animals to work for us then we should, and that includes, among other things, allowing them to grow up so that we can eat them. There are humane limits to the level of this work, for example I wouldn't send ponies down the pit but when the ponies were down the pit so were humans. Don't become a vegan to protect animals as you will just limit the size of the industry.

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Monday, 6 July 2009

Harassing Letters

You have an additional blog today because I have received another letter asking for repayment of my student loan. I will be sending my blogs to them as a complaint.

On the 13th June I wrote about an agreement that I made with the Student Loans Company Limited. Back in May we agreed that I should start to pay back my loan at a very reasonable rate because I was unemployed and this should start in three months (August). In June I got a letter asking for payment in full because they had received no payment. I phoned them and the first person I spoke to said that this sort of agreement was never made. I phoned back an hour later so that they could check their records and I was told that they could not check telephone recordings if they are only given one hour. Surprisingly, exactly the same agreement was made. The only difference was that I thought I had set up the standing order to begin in July (not August - see my added comment on the 13th June blog).

Today I received another letter asking for full payment. The standing order has been set up for the 8th July and they will phone me back in a couple of weeks if the first payment has not been received.

There are two conclusions from my dealings with the Student Loans Company. Firstly they are incompetent. I don't think this is the case which leads me to my second conclusion that they deliberately harass people for money.

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Cheating leads to a poor education

I know what schools do. I even know that the word educate comes from the latin educare. There are a few translations but it means something on the lines of to rear or to draw out. The abilities of the children are drawn out of them. Later the word education developed to mean to provide schooling. We take it to mean that our children go to school and learn about maths and English and a few other things. I never had lessons in citizenship or personal, social and health education but I still managed to have life skills drawn out of me.

A couple of days ago I wrote about the cheats who try to get their children into schools without an entitlement to be there. Some will be successful. Their children may then get a better understanding of maths and English but if these parents want their children to be reared correctly then there are some more fundamental concepts like honesty and integrity to be considered. If you feel like cheating to get your children into a better school then you end up giving them a worse education.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Another political gimmick

Yesterday I wrote about a political gimmick which is to give parents a choice of school for their children. In reality a small minority of parents can buy private education for their children and a few more parents may be able to move house to affect their choice of school. Today I'll talk about another political and educational gimmick, how to sack poor teachers.

This week a white paper tells us teachers will need a licence to teach and this licence must be renewed every five years. Weak teachers will now be weeded out. What is the government trying to say? Do we really have no system in place to weed out weak teachers already? I am sure that there are systems in place that weed out poor teachers already. There must be appraisals, disciplinary procedures and probably (and most commonly) resignations caused by leaning on the teachers, that weed them out.

I don't know what teachers think, but I think it is outrageous that if I were a teacher then members of the public may think I could continue to teach even if I were incompetent. This political gimmick is a slur on the competence of all teachers. Let's stop the licences (and the licence fees), stop the gimmicks, and stop the emphasis on school comparisons so the privileged can manifest their privilege.

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Saturday, 4 July 2009

Cheating to get a school place

Mrinal Patel is the parent who is in the news (3rd July) because she lied to get her child into a school near her mother's house. She said she had lived their for 14 years. She might have done but it wasn't in the last 14 years. The charges have been dropped against her because of a 'legal loophole' and now she thinks her innocence is confirmed. Of course it isn't. Even the commentator on the BBC news feels this could be a green light for those who wish to cheat the system.

No two schools are the same. This is the reason why Mrs Patel and so many other parents want to choose the school for their children. It sounds like a Margaret Thatcher argument but why shouldn't people be able to choose the school for their children? The answer is easy, because we need all our schools to educate all our children. A migration of some children towards better schools means that there is a migration in the opposite direction.

So much effort goes into grading schools in order that parents can have evidence on which to base their decisions to move their children from the local comprehensive schools. Some parents are lucky enough to be able to pay for their children's education. Others are lucky enough to be able to move to the catchment areas of good comprehensives. Those who aren't lucky have to fit in with what is left. So much for social mobility.

Education should be about teaching children to the best of their ability. It looks like it is a lottery. Let's take the emphasis off grading schools and put it into teaching.

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Friday, 3 July 2009

Security Punishment and Rehabilitation

On the 15th May I wrote about prison and its purpose. I summarised this by mentioning three uses. It is there to protect us from the guilty, to punish the guilty and thirdly to rehabilitate them. It may sound wishy-washy but I made the case for rehabilitation as the priority. It is so easy to see that prisons could be criminal universities in which case the result of poor rehabilitation is a hardened criminal community.

I am writing about prison again because Ronnie Biggs is in the news. He has been refused parole by Jack Straw even thought the parole board supported Biggs. The board's decision must have been carefully considered, but so too must have been Jack Straw's decision. Just because someone is not a risk to society does not mean that punishment should stop. Ronnie Biggs' son is reported as saying "This is not justice," as his father was in a "life-threatening" condition. On the other hand how many times have we heard the victims of our justice system say that life should mean life and an early release was a flagrant miscarriage of justice.

I gave three purposes of our prison service. I may be in a minority if I prioritise rehabiliation. Ronnie Biggs has clearly not been rehabilitated as he is "wholly unrepentant". So on my scale of values he deserves to continue his sentence. I would also guess that most people see their security from prisoners as a matter of course and they highlight punishment as their priority. In this case too just because a prisoner is unwell does not mean that they should not be punished. If this were the case I am sure we would have a long queue of prisoners telling us how ill they were.

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Thursday, 2 July 2009

Should we ban the burka?

President Sarkozy has recently raised awareness of the burka by saying that this garment that covers Muslim women from head to toe reduced them to servitude and undermined their dignity. That is his opinion but I don't think he would find many women who wear the burka agreeing with him. His reply would be of course they wouldn't agree because they live a life of servitude. How do we know who is right? The simple answer is we don't. We can also say that we don't truly know anyone's full motives in doing anything. The question is 'is it any of our business?' When a husband or wife does anything at the request of the other is it a life of servitude?

President Sarkozy is looking at whether burkas should be banned. This would be outrageous to the Muslim women because they are wearing them to maintain their modesty. My concern is that beautiful people should not be judged by their looks but by their actions and these clothes pander to superficial rules of attraction. Some may consider that the person under the burka is fairly ugly. Some may be attracted by their wonderfully beautiful eyes seen even when they wear the burka.

Much more important is the separation that this clothing causes from society. People who wear these clothes are saying I want nothing to do with the rest of society. I know there are lots of people who have nothing to do with me anyway, but they don't go round with banners saying that.

Ultimately it is the decision of individuals what they want to wear and how they want to participate in society. I support full participation but this opinion is superceded by the wish for individuals to wear what they want in public. There is one caveat. If you are on private property then you have to comply with the rules of being there. Security officers may want to see faces. Passport controllers have to see faces. Doctors and nurses may need to care for the face, and people who work in schools may have to communicate facial expressions.

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Wednesday, 1 July 2009

How to raise the esteem of MPs

If an MP earns £64 000 per year should this stop them working elsewhere and receiving an extra salary? At first glance the answer is yes. How dare they become a part-time MP for what is a very demanding job. However there is a defence that a career in politics is not a stable occupation and the MP may be unemployed at the next election. If they continued to spend a little time carrying out their second career then no harm will come of it and the constituents will continue to receive a good, if not excellent service from their MPs. An even stronger argument is why shouldn't an MP do what they want in their own time?

An MP must do enough to keep the nomination of the party to which they belong and then they must work hard enough to convince the electorate that they deserve another chance to represent them. The problem is that many MPs don't have to do much to overcome both hurdles and so can perform poorly as an MP and get very rich in the process. This doesn't do much for the esteem of our politicians.

So here is my answer. Let us expect our MPs to work a full working week, say 40 hours. Don't count travelling time because that's what they signed up to do when they stood for election and if they don't like travelling then they have a second home to make life easier for them. Of course they can count time on a train if they are working at the same time as travelling. When I go to work my employers have always known how many hours that I have worked. Let the same principle apply to MPs. Make them publish their hours as well as their expenses.

MPs may do a full working week but I would expect the ones that are really interested in doing a good job to do a lot more than this. You can count working at Westminster, working in the constituency office, knocking on doors, holding surgeries, going to public meetings and even sitting on the back benches. There is a lot that they can put down as official work. I expect we would find many of them would be doing 80 hours per week and we may start to appreciate our MPs more.

Once we have this information and the MPs are full-time, then they can start to think about doubling their salary or multiplying it by ten by working elsewhere, but their Westminster work has to come first.

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