Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Britain's welcome

I was speaking with a retired man today who had worked all over the world. My obvious statement was that England must be the best place to live if he has chosen to live here. I know there are lots of other influences on where we live and he answered that he prefered Australia and Brazil.

I know that there is racism in this country so I asked if he had met racism in other countries and he said that he hadn't. I mentioned the word limey but this did not stir any memories. I got the impression that nobody had ever questioned this man's ability to live anywhere he wished. I believe that if we have the ability to fund ourselves whether with work or with savings, we should be able to live anywhere we wish. If you accept this for emigration then it isn't too difficult to put forward the case for immigration, unless of course you are not as welcoming (according to the person I met) as people in many countries of the world.

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Monday, 30 August 2010


I have been politically active for over thirty years and I remember two occasions which motivated me to increase my political activity. The first was in the 1980s when I was delivering leaflets on election day. I had been taught to always fully post leaflets but I had not told another activist who was working with me. Around 10am I was handed around 30 leaflets by a Labour supporter and given the story that he had picked them up as litter. I never managed to thank him but the loss of these leaflets motivated me for quite a few years.

Around five years ago another Labour supporter tore up my leaflet in front of me. I still put in extra effort because of this. If you have been following my blogs then you will know that a UKIP supporter has been criticising my blogs. You will also know that this person has used profanity but I have not mentioned that he or she also feels that the number of followers for my blog is a source of merriment. It sounds to me like they have lost the argument and they have also managed to increase my motivation.

I didn't manage to thank the other two people but if you are reading this Anonymous, thank you.

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Sunday, 29 August 2010

Chester or Africa?

According to the RSPCA elephants shouldn't be in zoos as they have higher levels of obesity and shorter lifespans. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the controversy surrounding performing animals and concluded that animals may be treated well or treated badly in any venue and condemning animal performances mean that you have to come up with a code for all animals. So should Chester Zoo keep its elephants?

The zoo rejects the RSPCA's claim and conditions at the zoo are there for all to see. You can't judge lifespans by a visit but statistical evidence may say that Chester's elephants do not live as long as other elephants. I have visited this zoo in the last couple of years and it looked like the level of care and their conditions were excellent. I didn't count the number of elephants but even if there were twenty elephants I wonder if there is any validity to the results.

Compare this item of news with the recent reports on how wild animals are killed for their tusks. I don't think Chester Zoo's staff is cruel. I think the elephants are well looked after and if I were an elephant I would rather be in Chester than Africa.

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Saturday, 28 August 2010

Improving the traffic flow

Bollards, benches and bins made the news a couple of days ago because Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary has called for a reduction in "street clutter". He also includes items such as signs, advertising hoardings, and even traffic lights. Eric is concerned about safety and the damage done to the character of English towns and villages. I think we do have too many signs. We have too much paint on our roads and we are told to do things too often, but many people make a living out of painting white lines or writing signs.

My particular concern was the traffic lights. Inevitably when we have traffic lights that are out of action, the traffic flows easier. We have a T junction in Lancaster at Scale Hall. It was added while I was driving to Morecambe nearly ten years ago from the other side of Lancaster. It made matters worse. I believe it was part of a plan to make everyone want a link road to the motorway. Goodness knows the traffic is bad enough anyway but if it is so bad then everyone should support the link.

The one advantage of organising traffic jams is that you must lower the possibility of accidents at speed. I wonder if Eric thought about a better traffic flow when he asked councils to get rid of clutter.

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Friday, 27 August 2010

Why write anonymously?

Generally I welcome comments on my blogs but occasionally I receive advice that is usually anonymous and not quite on my wavelength. I received two anonymous comments recently from the blog written on the 18th August and I am expecting a further reply. As I didn't publish the last comment due to obscenity I will tell you about it in this blog. It was from a UKIP supporter who strongly believes that Liberal Democrats did not support a simple "in or out" referendum on Europe. This is wrong but it certainly reinforces my idea of the level of political knowlege of UKIP supporters. I have written previously about UKIP's inept leadership, poor local campaigning and limited political knowledge. So this time I will suggest that this particular supporter may have a good chance of becoming their new leader. They don't know what Liberal Democrats have said about a referendum even though they are convinced 'in or out' has not been mentioned. They demand evidence, so here it is.

"The Liberal Democrats believe we should have a real vote on Europe - whether we should be in Europe or out. ... the public back our position by a margin of 2:1: twice as many people think a referdum should be on whether we stay in Europe or not rather than only on the Lisbon Treaty. ...."

"Clegg pushes 'in or out' EU vote - The time has come for a referendum on whether Britain should stay in the EU, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has said. ....."

I remember so many leading Liberal Democrats talking about the in or out referendum but my memory is not good enough for Anonymous. There are many references that are so easy to find but Anonymous prefers profanity. At least I understand why Anonymous is anonymous.

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Thursday, 26 August 2010

Causeway warnings

Sunderland Point was in the news a couple of days ago because a car was stuck on the causeway. The passengers were rescued by helicopter but in the past many drivers have been rescued by local boat owners. It is nice to know that helicopters are available, especially as Morecambe Bay is notorious for its dangerous tides but it made me wonder how we could avoid cars getting stuck.

They have improved safety on the Ile de RĂ© causeway in France by building a bridge. Even before they built it they had a barrier on their road. It can't have been good enough as every so often there are posts with ladders for the stranded to take refuge. I suppose it was a little like level-crossings that don't have full barriers. You always get some drivers who feel they can get past obstacles within the safety margins built into the system.

I am always really careful when I cross a causeway. Earlier this year I visited Lindisfarne. I was looking for water every few yards. When you cross to Sunderland Point there is a sign that tells you to go no further if there is water at that post. It was raining the first time I crossed it and there was a pool of water at the foot of the post. Perhaps warnings need to be more sophisticated.

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Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Clamping Down on the Clampers

If anything symbolises the excesses of the "grab what you can" attitude of the Labour years, it has to be the cowboy clamper. One company recently even contrived to sue a restaurant owner in Andover for loss of earnings, because that restaurant owner was warning customers about his operation. "If you carry on to warn people away from the car park causing me loss of earning I will have to issue a county court summons in the region of £150 for each day you do this." That's what the letter actually said.

Produce nothing. Spoil peoples' day, giving them a £150 ticket to go with their £20 takeaway. Complain when thwarted. Sue. Don't even perceive the irony in the situation, where being a good citizen and warning one's customers about a potential problem is grounds for being sued. Fortunately that particular claim was dismissed, but there's plenty of other dubious things going on.

I was recently told about a family who went to Wigan to watch the rugby. When they returned to their car they had a fine, along with another dozen or so cars. There were no signs to say that they would be fined and they are fighting it. I'll let you know if their complaint is heard.

Could it get any worse? Well, it might have done under Labour, but fortunately we won't have to worry about that. The banning of clamping on private land has been a long standing policy and manifesto commitment for the Liberal Democrats, and now Liberal Democrat ministers Lynne Featherstone (Home Office minister) and Norman Baker (Transport minister) have announced the introduction of a new law that will do just that.

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Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Public Donations

Much has been written about Tony Blair’s motivation in giving the proceeds from the sale of his forthcoming autobiography to the British Legion. To me it seems quite simple. He had no choice. Many voices were being raised against him making money from his dubious decision to go to war, while the servicemen on the ground suffered the consequences. These voices would have grown stronger, and the likelihood of the book becoming an expensive and embarrassing flop was increasing. Tony Blair desperately needs the book to succeed, because what remains of his reputation depends on it.

It isn't often that a forced decision, where no other choices are available, can be seen as brilliant. And yet it's hard to avoid that description in this case. People can now order the book without any fear that in doing so they will be lining Tony Blair's pockets. Sales may go through the roof and the proceeds will benefit people who really deserve and need to benefit, as they will go towards a rehabilitation centre for injured veterans.

Could this set a precedent, with others being shamed into giving vast sums to charity? That might be nice for the charities concerned, but still I hope not. Someone told me that they came second in a quiz and team members won about ten pounds each. The winners were announced first and won double that amount. They gave their money publicly to charity. This put pressure on the second placed team that they could have done without it. It's nice to occasionally win something and to have the enjoyment of it, rather than feeling pressurized and guilty. Giving to charity is good, but it should be because that is what we want to do.

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Sunday, 22 August 2010

Textbook Censorship

I am not keen on the idea that we should have a "textbook case" for suicide but these were the words used by the pathologist who performed the post-mortem on Dr David Kelly. I have not looked for any books on suicide but I don't think hacking at my wrist would be the nicest way to go. I am not sure that this method would succeed because many doctors have dismissed this cause for Dr Kelly's death.

As I understand it Dr Kelly struggled to cut up meat with his right hand. His left wrist was cut. Now try this yourself (with a blunt instrument). Where are you touching the wrist. Almost certainly you are on the thumb side and the radial artery is likely to be injured. It was Dr Kelly's ulnar artery that was cut and one example of how this may happen is if someone were attacking you and you raised your arm to defend yourself. Try that too and where is your protection? The little finger side of your wrist so that the ulnar artery is under attack. Whether or not you bleed to death is a matter for debate, so I don't think I would find this method in any textbook on suicide.

I could go on at length about the anomolies of the case. You get experts saying one thing about the cause of death and others saying the opposite. The only sure thing to come out of this case is that we should not trust experts. There are so many discrepencies. The highlight for me is the embargo on the post-mortem findings which is supposed to be to protect the family. Rubbish. I would like to know what happened but my interest is nothing to that of the family.

About ten years ago a widow was asked about a post-mortem. The reply was "oh doctor, don't you think he's been through enough?" Well even if it is difficult for the family to have to go through more details of the investigation it is still really important information - more important than your regular post-mortem findings, I am not asking for a further expensive investigation just that we should have the results that are already known. As for the "textbook", I think we can dismiss the notion that this method is a good way to kill yourself and this begs the question of whether we can trust the rest of this pathologist's evidence.

Change the world.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

The Coalition

I was listening to Any Questions on Friday. It seems that the Liberal Democrats are calling the shots and this shouldn't be allowed. On the other hand Liberal Democrat members are upset because they are playing second fiddle (if that is not an inappropriate political term) to the Tories. Can you have it both ways? I think we are the lesser of the two parties in the coalition but that simply reflects the way the votes went. On the other hand are we calling the shots? Well partly yes, which also reflects the way the votes went.

So the answer is to be found in the definition of the word coalition. It isn't about calling shots or being upset if you happen to have less votes than your partner. That's life. All we now need is for the panellists on BBC programmes to understand that.

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Friday, 20 August 2010

A reply to the newspaper

For the first time ever someone has replied to one of my letters to the local paper. I wrote about this letter on the 15th July and then on the 28th and now here is my reply sent to the local paper today.

I am pleased to receive a reply to one of my letters, since I have written many over the years but nobody has ever replied, so thanks must go to David Whitaker. However, I'm not sure he addressed the points that I made. It is worth repeating that the Labour administration which he praises left a deficit of four trillion pounds - £65,000 for each and every person.

He writes “The Con/Dem coalition should be bringing down borrowing in a manner that does not damage our front line services”. So how do we reduce a debt of £65,000 per person without it hurting? We can't all win the lottery, even if Labour thought we could. I am surprised that someone who apparently supports all the policies that got us into this mess can tell us how to get out of it. However I do agree it’s important that we target cuts so the worst-off don’t become the hardest-hit. In fact, that is exactly what I said, and what the Liberal Democrats are fighting hard to achieve.

I prefer the term “the Coalition”, without the adjective Con/Dem but this is one step up from calling us Liberals. I voted for a change of name as a member of the Liberal Party in 1988 but many of our greatest Labour minds cannot give us our correct title. I spoke with Geraldine Smith on election day and she called me a Liberal. I don’t think it was an insult, however if David is going to use “Con/Dem” repeatedly as an insult then I'll mention a typo in one of my daily political blogs that I wrote before the election. I wrote about the Labout Party. It was an accidental insult as r is next to t but it did seem appropriate at the time.

Yours faithfully,

Michael Gradwell

Thursday, 19 August 2010

So much for modern technology!

I went to visit someone in hospital yesteday. On the way in I overheard someone on a mobile phone explaining how iatrogenic disease had affected the person they knew - they were complaining about problems caused by medical intervention. On the way out I heard someone else on a mobile phone who was upset because something had been left too long and now something else had to be done. I think you could soon write a book if you listened to conversations outside hospitals.

Very soon after this I met someone I knew and they had tried to phone the hospital to find out the name of the ward where they would find their friend who had been admitted two days earlier. They phoned one ward (A) and was told that he had moved to an assessment unit (B). They phoned this unit to be told he had moved to another ward (C). This ward said he was on another ward (D). This ward said he was back in the previous ward (C). In fact he was in ward D. I used letters and have not given the name of the hospital in order to protect the guilty but I don't think any ward in any hospital would be much different. So much for modern technology!

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Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Lord Pearson is right

Lord Pearson the leader of UKIP has stood down because he is "not much good" at party politics and UKIP "deserved a better politician... to lead it". Well he can't have been too bad within his own party as I presume they are a democratic party and he was elected leader. The trouble is Lord Pearson is right. He isn't good at party politics and I don't think it is unfair to describe his leadership as shambolic.

So how did UKIP manage to increase their vote locally and nationally as the local campaign was shambolic too? I can only presume that people vote on image rather than content because whenever I have looked at the latter there is no substance and no answer to any serious questions.

Maybe the next leader will at least know what is in their manifesto and then a debate may take place. Radio and television interviews at the last election did not manage to engage in UKIP policy because Lord Pearson was so inept.

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Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Discrimination in hospital wards

It looks like we are going to see an end to mixed sex wards and many of you will be thinking about time too. What does this mean? Well the sight of someone of the opposite gender may be possible at the moment and this must be a bad thing. It may be a cause for the most evil of heterosexual thoughts to pass through our minds and occasionally result in evil actions that make headlines in the tabloid press.

When I first encountered same sex toilets in Europe I was surprised and a little shocked. it didn't take too long to get used to them as it is all about how we view acceptable behaviour. If you think about it this is exactly what we have in our own homes.

How do you deal with the most evil homosexual thoughts? Is there a difference? Is the whole essence of the proposed legislation sexist? I think the attitude to same sex wards should reflect the opinions of society and we shouldn't cause offence if we don't have to, but isn't there something essentially anti-heterosexual about this proposal?

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Monday, 16 August 2010

Could you live in Kendal?

Over the years I have written many times to the local newspapers. A couple of years ago I wrote in reply to a Green Party member who had written to oppose a link road from Morecambe to the M6. He had suggested that Kendal's traffic system was terrible and they had a link road. I believe the Morecambe link is vital to the local economy and it would help anyone who wanted to travel through Lancaster from the Heysham peninsula. I wrote this and I also thanked him for reminding me that I am passing a traffic jam every time I use the Kendal bypass. He didn't reply.

I am telling you this because I went to Kendal this week (I also went to Windermere on Saturday and used that bypass) and I was speaking with someone who was stopping there for a week. He told me that he liked Kendal and had seen quite a lot in the three or four days that he had been there. He liked Kendal a lot but couldn't live there because of the traffic. The same is happening to the Heysham peninsula. Nobody will want to live here with our traffic system.

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Sunday, 15 August 2010

Take it easy

There is an advert on TV asking for donations for Cancer Research UK. It seems that if we give just (new voice comes in as if the price will be different next month) £2 per month then "together we will beat cancer". I don't know how many people have to donate to make this dream come true or how long they have to give, but let's presume the advert is true.

In a world without cancer we will have to die of something else. Will it be coronary heart disease or will the British Heart Foundation stop us getting ill from this disease? Ask any elderly person. As we get older our systems slow down. Aches and pains increase. Life becomes a little more difficult because of medical conditions.

I am not sure that the emphasis is correct. Demographics tells us that we have to work longer because of our ageing population. Let it age further and we need to work longer. We are told that there are too many people on our island for the food available (I don't believe that as obesity is everywhere). How do we resolve all this conflicting evidence? My advice is to do less worrying. Yesterday it was worry about theft of PIN numbers. Today it is worry about health. One thing that is much easier to eradicate than cancer is worry. All you have to do is take it easy.

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Saturday, 14 August 2010

The fear of fear

Tony Benn was on Any Questions yesterday. He has been appearing on any Question since 1951 and is still going well. One of the things he said in answer to a question about the retention of Trident was that if you keep people frightened thay are easier to control. I am sure he is right. If you have confidence you will act and if you are fearful you will comply.

Earlier in the day I was taking money from a cash machine and there were two other machines nearby. One was broken and I commented to someone who was in the queue that I wouldn't use that one. When I took my money out she told me that thieves put cameras above the keypad and that is why we get the advice to shield our numbers. Maybe thieves could target us if they saw our PIN number but this lady not only fears anyone near her but also fears cameras that may or may not be there and then presumably fears the prospect of having her card stolen. Where does she put her hand? Where is that camera?

In the 1930s FDR told us we have nothing to fear but fear itself and for the vast majority of us he words are still true. Yes be careful with all your possessions but we shouldn't live our lives as if we are victims.

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Friday, 13 August 2010

Animal entertainment

I was in Kendal yesterday and saw adverts for a circus. I even passed the big top which is not difficult as it is next to the main road that leads into Kendal. I heard that this circus has been criticised for using animals as part of the acts and the advert that I saw had the ringmaster on the back of a horse. Is it wrong to use animals in performances? The answer, like most answers in the social sciences, is not a clear yes or no. It is wrong to beat animals, treat them badly and get them to do things that they don't want to do for the sake of human amusement. If animals are treated well then their performance may be entertaining and informative.

If you are an animal rights activist and don't want any animals in any circus where do you draw the line. Is it wrong to ride a horse in a performance? If so would it be wrong to ride horses in films? Some may not like these questions because they think it ridiculously easy to say that horse riding is fine, horse racing is fine, riding a horse for a big movie is fine but a tent in Kendal is a totally different matter.

I think you can abuse animals at Hollywood or in your own home. Conversely animals may be treated well at any venue. If you condemn the concept of animals in a circus then you really have to come up with a code for using any animal for any purpose, including pet ownership.

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Thursday, 12 August 2010

Maybe we need more managers

I had a chat yesterday with someone who happened to have his arm in a sling. He fractured his clavicle a few weeks ago and is well on the mend. He told me that he went back to the consultant and had to go for another x-ray. When he got there he was told that he would have to have an x-ray of his knee. Many years ago he told me that he had been to his GP about his knee but nothing had happened since.

It made me wonder how many people go for a medical appointment and something goes wrong. I was told that patients don't lose their records but they are often lost by hospitals. How can you go for an x-ray with your arm in a sling and then be asked to have an x-ray of your knee? What if this person couldn't speak for themselves?

We often hear about the number of NHS managers increasing out of proportion to frontline staff. Maybe we need a few more managers (this is irony).

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Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Early notice

I have been out all day and not seen much news but I have driven on the M6 between Preston and Lancaster. There are two sets of roadworks and in both the road narrows to two lanes. In both you get ample warning that that one lane is closing, but also in both you are notified that the speed limit is 50mph when you are already driving in the roadworks.

Why don't we have notice of a lowering of the speed limit. It would make much more sense to inform us before the change happened.

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Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Assault and Self-Defence

Did you know that if you touch someone this may be termed as an assault? I don't think you would get very far in court if you said someone touched you in a packed train but as a physiotherapist I was always careful to give an explanation of what I wanted to do and why and then say "is that alright?". Many years ago I was on a course about the law and physiotherapy and the motto that I remember is a smile a day keeps the lawyer away. I thought it was good advice.

You do hear stories about those who use self-defence and find that they end up in court. It is over ten years since Tony Martin shot and killed a burglar but he certainly stood out as a victim ending up in prison. The trouble was that self-defence has to be with the use of reasonable force. So if the burglar ends up dead then force may not have been reasonable.

Yesterday Benjamin Netanyahu was defending his forces robustly for their assault on the Gaza flotilla in May. The trouble was that of the nine deaths none were Israeli. I don't know if you saw local reports of the aid workers who were helping on the flotilla but if you gave one a stick and matched them against an Israeli commando I would put my money on the latter.

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Monday, 9 August 2010

Do you want a local MP?

Should an MP be local? There is strong criticism of my MP in the local paper because it was his third attempt at gaining a seat and it was his third different constituency. The author wonders if our MP would have moved on and made somewhere else his primary aim at the next election if he had lost.

Does it matter if an MP is local? It certainly matter that an MP knows and understands local concerns. Knowing how an MP views certain problems is also important. It may be that you can guess how they would react because of their party affiliation but many times you can't. You don't even know if your elected representative will do a stroke of work. There is, of course, a far better chance of them working hard when their majority is small but it is still no guarantee. MPs don't have to clock in or do a full week's work. I proposed in one blog that we should know that our MPs are working full-time. If they choose to work longer hours that's great, but some may choose to work less and do some moonlighting.

As for the main question in this blog, we could ask football fans if the England manager should be English. Some would say it doesn't matter as long as you have the best man for the job. Others will say that it does matter. I guess both answers may be valid and you can ha ve superb MPs parachuted into a constituency, but I am sure that local candidates have a definite advantage to understanding local matters.

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Sunday, 8 August 2010

Are things too easy?

Following on from yesterday's blog about theatre prices I was thinking about entrance charges for art galleries and museums. I thought that it was now free to go to them but whenever I go it seems that I have to pay. Art galleries and museums are closely related to libraries in that one of their purposes is to educate. I suppose they entertain as well but if we are to do anything to alleviate the differences between rich and poor then we have to give access to a good education, to museums and to the arts. There are other matters such as the need for better facilities including toilets in libraries. How can you study for a few hours without going to the toilet? However to do any study you need motivation. You won't go to an exhibition if you aren't motivated.

I was talking to a chemistry teacher yesterday who was orignially from Nigeria. Last year I spoke with a well-educated teaching assistant from Senegal. They both said the same thing. Motivation is much better in Africa. How do we bottle their motivation? Maybe we make things too easy and failure is rewarded. Any advice?

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Saturday, 7 August 2010

A taxing matter

I like going to the theatre and I often get my tickets on the internet. I bought some tickets this week for a comedy and this time I was asked if I wanted to give to their charity. The wording was quite good and I was persuaded to give them something. I didn't go for the gift aid which would have given them more money from the government but it did make me think that the theatre could take money rather than give it to the government.

I am sure that the tax man is already involved, but what could the theatre legitimately receive from him? Let's say the tickets were £24 and the donation was £1. Could those amounts be reversed ? If you have a theatre management that is so persuasive could they pay no tax and get a lot of money back in gift aid? I wonder if there have been experiments in which theatres just asked for donations and gift aid.

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Friday, 6 August 2010

Naive and ignorant

Does Naomi Campbell's testimony irritate you as much as it irritates me? She says that she gets gifts at all hours of the day and doesn't know who gives them. This is the same person who is so protective of her privacy that she doesn't want to be photographed as she enters and leaves court. I simply can't believe that if I send her a token gift to be delivered at 4am that she would accept it (don't worry I won't be sending anything). Can you believe that she thought that she was accepting "dirty stones"?

She also said that she didn't want to give testimony in a war crimes trial! She couldn't be bothered about justice being done when she has a direct bearing on it. I would say that she was naive and ignorant (in a polite sense) but I really don't think she is, and there are many aspects of her testimony that are outrageous.

You may agree with Naomi and not recognise bags of diamonds, be welcoming of gifts of dirty stones at all hours, and consider this an unimportant trial. Compare that with the months of harrowing testimony from the victims of the Sierra Leone civil war and you may choose to disagree with her.

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Thursday, 5 August 2010

48 hours is ample

How many hours should you work per week? My first reaction to this question is that I am always doing something and I should be able to call it work. Let's say I sleep eight hours per night. Add another 30 minutes either side of sleep to wind down and to get ready in the morning. That leaves fifteen hours per day when I am doing something. As I would not get paid for meal breaks let's reduce that by another hour for two meals which leaves me working 14 hours. Let's also say I was 30 minutes from work. That make 13 hours. If I did nothing else but work I could manage a working week of 91 hours. The problem is that I may want to do something else. I may get tired.

This week the working time directive has been criticised by doctors. 48 hours is supposed to be the limit for the working week but you can do extra if you do less in other weeks. Doctors want a 65-hour working week and presumably with variations in shifts this would mean some weeks they are working all their waking hours. This is a large proportion of a maximum possible working week.

I thought we had advanced from doctors coming to patients at 10pm having started work at 7am. This isn't a training experience, it is a form of extreme sport and patients don't want to play. Doctors have had plenty of time to get their act together and should work a 'normal' working week. I expect them to study around their subject in their own time and it would be nice to think they had some rest too. A working week of 48 hours is ample.

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Wednesday, 4 August 2010

CCTV may help

In my blog on the 23rd July I wrote about the death of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 protest. I concluded that all is not well with our police force. I came to the same conclusion with the news this week of CCTV footage of Mark Aspinall's arrest in Wigan. The initial claim was that he assaulted the police officers but due to CCTV a special constable was found guilty of assault.

My concern was raised by the comment that the other officers, who were holding Mr Aspinall down while he was being thumped, were cleared of all charges. What were these charges? If they were about punching a member of the public then they should be totally exonerated - at least as far as this CCTV footage goes. If the charge was about doing the right thing then I would question the result. Maybe our police officers have been taught not to question another officer beating up a member of the public and they were simply following instructions.

I am not particularly interested in the court case of one special constable. I am concerned about police tactics and it would be nice to see this making the headlines. One metaphor could be a rugby match and a fight breaks out. A player is sent off but really it was caused by a message from a coach. The headlines are all about this player but sometimes they are made by the coaches who organise the violence.

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Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Investigating tittle tattle

I sent an email to a Lancashire County Councillor on Sunday. I was told, before I sent it that it might be read by council officials. I suppose this is alright. I did send it via the official council website and if I had sent a letter it may have been opened by an employee of the council. If I had something private to say then I could have sent a letter to his private address. And at least there was that advance warning. But what if all our communications were accessible to officials, and we had no warning about it?

On Sunday there was a news article about two Gulf states, UAE and Saudi Arabia, banning the sending and receiving of emails on the Blackberry mobile phone, as well as internet access, because they are unable to monitor these things. Other mobile brands are no problem because their services can be tapped into locally, but the Blackberry services are encrypted and are processed in Canada.

This makes me wonder what the situation is like in other countries. I've found that a bill was introduced in the Canadian parliament last year to require wireless service providers to make the service easier to tap. I don't know if that bill has passed or not. Finding details of such things is surprisingly tricky, since they tend not to make a big splash on the front pages. But I remember one Barack Obama, prior to his inauguration as US president, vociferously defending his right to keep his Blackberry. I wonder what the White House reaction would be to the US president's communications being subject to covert surveillance by shadowy Canadian organisations.

At the other end of the scale, it seems that in the UK, surveillance can be requested by a vast number of organisations, from the Charity Commission to Her Majesty's Chief Inspector for Schools, and there are maybe a thousand instances per week. In one well known case three children and their parents were put under surveillance to check if they were in their school's catchment area, while other cases involve under-age smoking and drinking. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulation_of_Investigatory_Powers_Act_2000

The original motivation for all this may have been to combat terrorism, but it has spread far beyond that, and in any case real terrorists would presumably be smart enough to encrypt their communications. I don't know if surveillance does help in the war against terrorism but, in the words of John Prescott, we may find out mor tittle tattle.

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Monday, 2 August 2010

Ian Huntley's rights

Prisoners have rights. When Ian Huntley had his throat cut by another inmate it may have been that the prison authorities were partly to blame and that they failed in their duty to protect him from harm. I don't know the details but let's say for a moment that he wins his case and receives £100 000 (which would be ridiculous). I don't think he should receive an amount that is far in excess of that received by the families of his victims. If there is a legal case for this then the law needs changing.

The reaction that I saw on the news was one of fury. This reaction was from people who live in Soham but I think opinions would have been similar in any town. He has tried to take his life three times. Is there a case for him suing the authorities because they failed to stop him from hurting himself? The world may have gone mad. It just seems wrong but I may have an answer.

Don't stop prisoners having human rights - they are humans. However if they have money then let them pay for the costs of their incarceration. I felt that it was also wrong when Jeffrey Archer was in prison and writing bestsellers. He spent a lot of his time in isolation while he was writing, but this was hardly a punishment for him as this is how he writes. As for Ian Huntley, £100 000 may not go far for in paying for his security.

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Sunday, 1 August 2010

Iraq intelligence

John Prescott has given his statement to the Chilcott enquiry on the Iraq war - and what a statement! "When I kept reading them (intelligence reports), I kept saying to myself, 'Is this intelligence?' It was not very substantiated but clearly was robust. ..." There's plenty more where that came from. In particular, the bit about Lord Goldsmith being "not a happy bunny" because of the weight put upon his shoulders to come up with a legal justification for war - that was pure gold.

Lord Prescott's use of the word "robust" leaves me wondering if he actually knows what it means. The definition at dictionary.com says "(of an object) Sturdy in construction". I'm not quite sure how something which is "not very substantiated" can be sturdy in construction. I suspect that Lord Prescott was trying to have it both ways. His testimony was nevertheless incredibly revealing, if not outright damning. The big question has to be why he couldn't have said these things at the time, when they might have made a difference. He said that “true leadership is not about having the benefit of hindsight”. Well there were very many at the time without the benefit of hindsight who knew that war with Iraq was wrong.

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