Thursday, 30 September 2010

Raw wounds at Labour's conference

I have been listening to the Labour Party conference in Manchester. I have heard guest speakers and the leader's speech or two. I have heard reports presented to conference. I have even heard the mention of debates but I haven't heard one speaker contradict another and I have only heard the result of one vote. How do they conduct debates? Incidentally the vote was 59,000 and something versus 24,000 and something so I am guessing it was nothing to do with conference. I did hear that one debate will be continued today but they use the word debate in a way that is strange to me. I think they mean rallying speech.

One guest speaker was from Denmark. it was Helle Thorning-Schmidt the leader of the Danish Social Democrats and she spoke about winning the leadership of her party. It was a difficult time for her and the party but their wounds were healed because the person who came second is now a close friend and ally. I wonder if she knew what she was saying as the wounds are a little raw for the Labour Party. Still there is hope by the sounds of it if David comes back to the fold.

Change the world

P.S. I guessed that David would make headlines (see yesterday's blog) and he did and now he is a backbencher behind the closed door of his home in London. At least he is willing to do everything he can for his constituents in South Shields as he is a "proud member of parliament" for this constituency.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

More charisma than Gordon Brown

The main item on the news yesterday was Ed Miliband's speech and more importantly David's reaction to it, in particular how David rejected Ed's condemnation of the Iraq war. It probably means that David will not take part in the shadow cabinet which is sad because the rhetoric led us to believe that the brothers loved each other.

I suspect that David knew that he would be seen not clapping enthusiastically when Ed was speaking. It was a definite snub. There is an alternative. David may not have known that he would be seen to snub his brother. Either way the split is there and in the latter case David would look stupid as well. After the speech David was asked about his plans. His reply was that this day had absolutely nothing to do with him. I would guess that he will make headlines tomorrow in which case David can't come out of this well.

The good news for Ed is that one member of the public thought that he had a lot more charisma than Gordon Brown.

Change the world

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Ownership of uncomfortable decisions

I recently received a request by my local council to participate in a budget forum to discuss how we can reduce or cancel services as part of a cost-cutting measure. Our council needs to save around a milliion pounds. I don't know how they got my name. Maybe they read my blogs!

I really don't think any councillor gets elected in order to rule over reductions in service. We still want our grass cut and our pavements in good repair. Our street lights have to work and our bins need emptying. I suppose there are some who get elected on a ticket to reduce services but it is not particularly pleasant to reduce a service and sack employees. There is a proposal in one Suffolk town hall to "outsource" its services. My gut feeling is that whatever level of service is provided by the council, a private enterprise should provide a similar service and take its share of a profit. It's a little like private funding initiatives to build hospitals and schools. Businesses step in not out of the goodness of their heart but because they want to make a profit. That profit has to be paid for by someone and it comes back to the tax payer.

Choose any aspect of council work and you want to see it flourish. Let's have beautiful parks, clean streets or an excellent library service. The one great advantage of holding a public forum is to give part-ownership of these uncomfortable decisions to as wide a group as possible.

Change the world

Monday, 27 September 2010

An example of a fair election

I was walking in Lancaster yesterday and I passed a couple who were talking politics. I only heard a couple of sentences but the man was saying that the leadership of Ed Miliband meant that Labour was moving to the left. He mentioned David Cameron and a movement to the right. I think he was saying there were definite differences between Labour and Conservatives. I don't really mind what he was saying as it was really good to hear politics being spoken about in the street.

The election does bring into question the methods of voting. One member one vote is obviously not good enough for the Labour Party to elect its leader. Ed has been elected but it is only because of a swing from the union vote. What sort of message is this to those he has to lead at Westminster? What sort of message is this to party members? Most of all what is this saying about Labour's links with the unions? How does the new leader show his gratitude to that part of the party that put him where he is?

There are so many failings highlighted by this election. The unions poured money into Ed's campaign. Hardly a great example of a fair election and Ed defended this by saying that it was not relevant because Tony Blair won the leadership contest without union endorsement. That's ridiculous! The system isn't fair but it's alright because sometimes the underdog wins!

Change the world

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Anecdotal Evidence

What was the news yesterday? What am I going to write about in this blog? Is it the Labour leadership or is it the progress of the facilities for the Commonwealth Games? Well I am going to tell you about a conversation I had with someone who had travelled from London to Preston this week with his wife. They told me they saw people running to catch the train in order to get a seat. The train was full but fortunately they did get a seat.

At one stage on their journey one young lady lay down under their table. At another stage one standing passenger accidentally stood on the foot of a seated passenger. He apologised but suffered verbal abuse and was made to apologise again. The couple that I was speaking to were from Canada so I think our trains made an impression on them.

I took a train earlier this year and my experience was not greatly different. If you were to describe such conditions without naming the country you would think it was the Third World. Still, this is only the story of three people who hardly use the train. Anecdotal evidence isn't strong evidence and I am sure our train service is normally excellent :-)

Change the world

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Heckling Nick Robinson

Nick Robinson was reporting from Manchester yesterday on the eve of the Labour Party conference. This afternoon we will learn the name of the new leader of the party and Nick was telling us about the contenders. It is now looking like Ed Miliband is going to win but whether he does or he doesn't the thing that struck me was a heckle (or three) from a drunken passerby.

Nick managed to complete his report very professionally despite the repeated interruption and even concluded with a sentence to the effect that the announcement of the leader may attract the attention of the heckler.

More important than the professionalism of Nick Robinson is that members of the public still have the ability to disrupt outside broadcasts. It gave me a smile, made me concentrate on what Nick had to say and understand that not everything in our lives is totally regimented.

Change the world (but keep the ability to heckle)

Friday, 24 September 2010

Guns breed gun crime

There was a traumatic news item on television yesterday. I know that most news is bad (and traumatic) but I am referring to the footage of the police video of Mark Saunders. He was the barrister who was shot dead by police officers. It's not a nice subject but I think it served a useful purpose. You heard the negotiations that were going on at the time. You saw Mr Saunder's behaviour. All barristers will know that interpretation of events may make black look white but this one wasn't communicating with the police, had a gun in his hand and was pointing it in their direction.

It is too easy to take the line that more could be done but I would consider the causes as I did on the 5th June this year. People don't get shot at their window unless they are pointing a gun at others. Sometimes they get shot if they are holding an item of furniture. Sometimes they get shot when they are not particularly threatening. However if we could do away with guns we could do away with gun crime and we could have an end to police officers not shooting members of the public. On the other hand we could keep the things the way they are because we can compete in the Olympic Games and support the rural economy.

Change the world

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Row continues

This week in the local paper the "bullying" row continues (see blogs on 10th and 15th Sept). We read that the cost of investigating the allegation that the town clerk was bullied amounted to £17,000. More support to criticise the councillor who raised the concerns? Of course, but this week her supporters get more coverage. In fact she was "fully justified" in her complaint.

If I were on her side I would agree that she was justified and the money didn't matter and shouldn't matter if anything like were to happen in the future. If my tent were in the other camp I would be highlighting the huge waste of money. There are lots of ways I could spend this amount of money. It's a pity the tax payer is caught in the middle.

Change the world

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Conference differences

I like Simon Hughes. I voted for him when he stood for leadership of the Liberal Democrats and as usual he gave a great speech at the conference. He welcomed two political editors from national newspapers and told them how you can tell the difference between the three main conferences. The Labour conference has delegates with lots of votes, The Tory conference has delegates with no votes, and the Liberal Democrats have lots of representatives with one vote each.

If you have been following the conference you will have heard dissenting voices. You would have heard debate. Some see this as a form of weakness. How can you lead when there is division? To me this is a form of strength. For me there should be more debate. However the other feature of a Liberal Democrat conference is the thought that the representatives put in to their speeches and their reasoned argument. The reason for this is that there is no string-pulling. Big business does not have to be supported and neither do the unions, but each may have valid points to make which may be seen through reasoned argument.

Change the world

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Rogue States

"Rogue states such as North Korea and Iran could use nuclear weapons to attack Britain’s vital communications and electricity networks from space, a security conference heard."

"In a stark warning, Dr Liam Fox (the Defence Secretary) warned countries that sought nuclear capabilities could attack Britain from the upper atmosphere" ... "Dr Fox also told the international conference on the vulnerability of electricity grids around the world to natural disaster and hostile attack, that an impending “solar flare” space storm could produce just as much damage to communication networks."

While I appreciate the sentiment behind this message - Dr. Fox would like us to spend many billions more on his department, just as every government minister naturally yearns to have as many billions as possible spent on their own department, and it's hard to justify spending billions without a powerful and resourceful enemy to point a finger at - I don't see why Dr. Fox didn't go the whole hog and combine the two threats into one. ""Rogue states such as North Korea and Iran could develop the technology to manipulate the sun's output, producing space storms which could damage our communication networks".

The reality is, neither North Korea nor Iran has the technology required to fight anyone other than their nearest neighbours. Neither has issued any threats against us. Iran is a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, is heavily inspected, and has displayed no desire to use nuclear technology for anything other than peaceful purposes, while North Korea is half a planet away and has a barely-functioning economy. Neither Kim Jong Il nor Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is likely to spend sleepless nights pondering how to explode an atomic bomb over British skies. They have other issues, closer to home, to worry about. As bogeymen, they just don't cut the mustard.
explains how the MOD wastes billions already, with "the MoD going an estimated £36 billion over its equipment budget over the next ten years".

Meanwhile the Conservatives want to increase rail fares above and beyond the rate of inflation, with the bulk of the increase going directly into government coffers, a move which would probably affect British business far more severely than even the worst electrical storm would, while netting the government maybe a couple of billion pounds at the most. At least you can be sure that they will be vigorously opposed on this by their coalition partners. Wouldn't it be nice if we could always decide our priorities sensibly, investing constructively in infrastructure for our future instead of squandering billions fighting non-existent threats?

Change the world.

Monday, 20 September 2010

The polite face of English football

American Football has a lot to teach us. It does help if your team are winning, and as I write this blog my team, the New York Jets are winning going into the final stages of their match against the New England Patriots.

I have seen technology being used to correct a decision made on the field of play. That's good on its own but the reaction from the commentators was an explanation as to why the error was made. They don't criticise their decision makers in the way we do in England. Whether you have the help of technology or not it is important that we treat our referees well.

What American sport teaches us, apart from the entertainment value, is that we need discipline in life. We can learn about team work or gain leadership skills. There are so many benefits from involvement in sport but what we learn from English football is how to criticise and complain - and this is the polite face of English football.

Change the world

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Morecambe by-election

If you have ever stood in a local election then you will know how difficult it may be to get into the papers, so well done to Darren Clifford for getting his photo into the paper last week. He is standing in a by-election in Morecambe for the local city council. Well he may have announced his candidature in the newspaper, unfortunately he failed to announce it to the local authority. Nominations closed last week and his name is not on the list.

I don't know why he isn't standing on behalf of the Labour Party. It may be simply human error and I really don't object to that. What I would like to see is all candidates getting a good and equal coverage in the paper (especially those who do manage to get their nomination papers in).

I wonder what will be said this week about the nomination failure. I also wonder how many photos and information will be printed about all the (other) candidates.

Change the world

Saturday, 18 September 2010

The Pope in the news

The Pope is dominating the news and it looks like mainstream faith is being mentioned rather than than the usual presentation of Catholic minority views. I have even written previously about Sunday religious programmes being dominated by non-religious views, but the general view of the way that Roman Catholic beliefs are presented in the media is to place a token Catholic into some stories on television. Think of Ivy Tilsley on Coronation Street, Father Ted or any of the Fathers on this show or the hocus pocus of Dan Brown's books. However much you may like or dislike the Simpsons, at least they are a family that are practising Christians and Homer and Marge have stayed together through thick and thick. There is a lot to criticise in the Simpsons but at the end of the episode they all live happily together.

At Westminster Hall yesterday, the Pope said that religion is 'marginalised'. It may be that many in the media turn to celebrities or scientists to explain what we do not understand. Yesterday the Pope said: "My question for you is this: What are the qualities you see in others that you would most like to have yourselves? What kind of person would you really like to be?' This seems to me to be an answer not just to religious questions but also to so many political questions. What is our immigration policy? How do we treat the unemployed or those suffering from ill health? How do we want our vote to count at election times?

Change the world

Friday, 17 September 2010

Technology helps memory

I went to see 1984 at The Duke's Theatre in Lancaster yesterday. I'm sure you know the story but I did think about the ways George Orwell's vision has come true. Look up in any town and you will see CCTV. We are being watched continuosly. Maybe we are all observed to a much greater extent than in the story, but at least in the story they knew they were being watched and Winston Smith found a little corner of his room where he could hide. We don't think about how many cameras we pass when we leave our houses.

The main aspect of Winston's work is to change history. It may be argued that it is more difficult now to change history because of technological advances. Winston is challenged (tortured) to say that two plus two equals five. Two plus two equals four but in the social sciences results have to be interpreted. It happens all the time and as I was watching Question Time I heard that Liberal Democrats did not vote for cuts in public services. If you take a look at you will hear about cuts and where they should be.

Change the world

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Why is Morecambe closed?

Following on from yesterday's blog, the main headline in the local newspaper, The Visitor, is "Closed Down Town". Shops and businesses are closing in Morecambe. I know this happens everywhere but "Morecambe came fifth in a league table for having the most empty shops in the country". Our new Tory MP blames the previous Labour government for the lack of regeneration in the town along with the need for a sign pointing to the shops. A local shopkeeper reckons that a lack of parking has been the problem.

Signs are nice and they may influence some people to go to local shops. I would place this low in my list of causes. I don't think you have to look to far for the main cause. People struggle to get to Morecambe - see the blog on the 11th September. It doesn't matter whether it is a manufacturing business, a theatre or a local shop, you wouldn't choose to travel to Morecambe because a journey that should take five minutes takes thirty-five.

Businesses are struggling everywhere but there is nothing significantly different about people from the Morecambe and Heysham peninsula. You have to look for specific local reasons for local failures in the economy. You don't have to look too hard.

Change the world

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

An independent Independent

There were a few articles in today's Morecambe Visitor that caught my eye. I may mention others in future blogs but I will choose the article on page two entitled "Evelyn I'm no liar". It concerns the accusation that six Morecambe Bay councillors bullied the town clerk. You can read about it in my blog from Friday 10th September.

According to the investigation there was no bullying, so there was no bullying, but according to Evelyn she didn't lie, so she didn't lie. And that's the situation in a nutshell. One person's talking straight is another person's bullying. It is subjective and open to interpretation. It may be that no bullying was intended but it may also be the case that bullying was perceived. The investigation had the difficult job of coming to a conclusion and regardless of their findings it is still possible that the former town clerk feels that she has been bullied. I presume that she feels this way but hasn't told us.

The leader of the council "urged Coun Archer to apologise to the people of Morecambe". The words salt and wounds come to mind. The problem isn't that people have the ability to criticise but that it got to this stage. Further into the newspaper there is a letter from the six Independent councillors involved in the complaint. It is a strongly worded criticism of Councillor Archer. They point out that she did not follow the party line. Has anyone else noticed the irony that Coun Archer is criticised by the Independent Party for being independent?

Change the world

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Call me politically correct

I heard this story yesterday. A couple of pensioners were in the local park picking up litter in front of the people who had dropped it. I don't know if I could do this but it was a brave attempt to . I don't drop litter and I really don't have a problem taking my litter to a bin and I get a sense of satisfaction when my waste is recycled.

There is an addition to the story from the park. A child dropped some litter and their mother shouted for them to pick it up. Then they were told to put it in the bin. Unfortunately the child ran through a flower bed. They were shouted at again, ran back through the flower bed and got a smack for their trouble. Not the ideal training for a politically correct tidy adult member of society.

Call me politically correct but I dislike those who think it is alright to drop litter. They may be keeping council workers employed but I am sure they could be doing something else. I really don't think that most of those who drop litter think that far ahead.

Change the world

Monday, 13 September 2010

Jeremy Clarkson's Influence

I recently wrote about our attitude to alcohol and if we are to get the message across about the harm caused by its misuse then we have to win over the hearts and minds of those who portray it in the media. The same is true of many aspects of life. Are we to preserve the earth's resources and follow environmentally friendly policies? How does this link with programmes like Top Gear.

I saw part of a Top Gear programme yesterday. It is not a programme that I usually watch but I thought that Jeremy Clarkson was acting like a child with a toy. He was being fired at by soldiers (with lasers) as he drove through a mock town. I really don't think we have a chance when we try to put over health or environmentally friendly polices until we get people like Jeremy Clarkson doing their part. The environment is the last thing on his mind and the problem is that he has great influence.

Change the world

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Apologising for a good tax system?

Dave Hartnett is the country's top tax collector. As such he decided to tell us that there was no need for an apology for the six million errors in tax calculations. He was quite clear on the matter. He "saw no need" to apologise as tax reconciliation was a routine measure.There were no blunders and no IT failure. It seems it was just one of those things, or should I say 5.7 million of those things where "reconciliation" is needed. I pay PAYE and I also pay as someone who is self-employed. I write down all my income and expenditure, send the details to an accountant and wait for my bill. Maybe life is harder for some people and corrections are required.

However a great need for reconciliation was brought about by miscalculations made by HMRC tax officials. Now in my book miscalculations are errors. Why shouldn't you apologise for errors? Well one reason is if your motive is for a greater good. They can't use that one. They are human so maybe Mr Hartnett is being asked to apologise for being human - no that's not a good answer either. Well maybe he has a good excuse but I can't see it. If you can then let me know.

If there is a good reason to withold apologies then you have to explain why one was given later in the day. I don't mind if corrections are made after something has been said in error. I am now not sure if a reconciliation is a proper way to conduct the process of tax collection or whether it is a means to cause distress to taxpayers (this was the reason for the apology). It's all very well apologising but it may mean that the whole system needs changing.

Change the world

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Morecambe Link Road

It seems so obvious to me that Morecambe and Heysham need a link road to the M6. I have written about it several times as I do not see how businesses will stay in the area without it. So it was good to see the headline in the Morecambe Guardian yesterday "Link road limbo threatens jobs". Of course jobs will be threatened if it isn't built. If an employer hasn't already decided to move out of the area (and plenty have) then it is only a matter of time before they do. A spokesperson for Lancashire County Council estimated that "900 new jobs would be created by 2020 on just a few industrial sites and this did not take into account "new jobs created in tourism, leisure or retail or existing jobs maintained that otherwise may have been lost".

My gut feeling is that there is an extreme significance to the building of this road. Others, notably the Morecambe Bay Independent Party (see yesterday's blog) have nailed their colours to the mast of the ship sailing in the opposite direction. One councillor "could not see there being anything extra for Morecambe people". A remarkable lack of vision for someone holding this important office. However my main motivation for writing this blog was her last comment. She believes that other things are more important than "shaving half an hour off a car journey". This is a trip which would take 5 minutes and may now take 35. That's some shave!

Change the world

Friday, 10 September 2010

Morecambe Bay Indefensibles

The Visitor, the local Morecambe newspaper, has reported that the six Morecambe Bay Independent councillors who were accused by their former colleague Evelyn Archer of bullying the former town clerk have been cleared.

"An independent standards investigator found that June Ashworth, David Kerr, Shirley Burns, Geoff Marsland, Tony Wade and Roger Dennison had not behaved improperly towards Vicky Errington, who was sacked from her role as the first ever Morecambe Town Council clerk in April. Evelyn Archer, ex-leader of the town council, had alleged that the six members had bullied Ms Errington and treated her without respect."

So what actually happened? If there was no wrongdoing, why did Evelyn Archer feel compelled to make such accusations? Was she motivated by simple maliciousness? At least two of the "cleared" councillors would have us believe so, it seems. "This was a serious, malicious, orchestrated attack on honourable members of the town council" said Councillor Kerr, while councillor Ashworth spoke of "these serious and scurrilous allegations that Coun Archer made without any foundations". But why would Councillor Archer turn upon her former colleagues in such a way? Where is the sense in any of this?

I suspect the investigation had to arrive at the conclusion it did, not because nothing untoward happened but rather because there was little concrete evidence. Just the word of one or maybe two people against the words of six. The only record, for instance, of the 13th January meeting where Ms. Errington was alleged to have been bullied were the minutes written up by Ms. Errington herself, and they show little or no evidence of such bullying. See

But what do these minutes actually show? First, they show that for the six months when Ms. Errington was in the employ of the council, a lot actually was done, much of it by Ms. Errington. Whether it was the production of competent and regular minutes, the purchase of essential items of equipment such as photocopiers, computers and data storage or the development of costings, standing orders and much more, Ms. Errington is there at the centre of it all. For a time she seemed to be even achieving the impossible task of making the MBI's look good. Compare that with the time before Ms. Errington was town clerk (no minutes at all, no way of knowing if anything actually happened) and the time since (e.g. still says "The Town Clerk, Vicky Errington serves the members of the town council and assists in the organising of projects, events, meetings and is also the Responsible Finance Officer for the Town Council." fully six months or so after she was dismissed in April.

Secondly the minutes give us a glimpse, but only a glimpse, of how incredibly shabbily Ms. Errington was treated.

"Cllr Evelyn Archer met with Graham Cox to discuss the room in the Town Hall which the Clerk is currently working from. It was noted that there are no further rooms available in Morecambe Town Hall and the current state of the room will not be improved immediately. There are plans to replace the windows and fix the hole in the ceiling in due course. No time scale could be given for this work. ... Resolved – that Cllr Archer approach Graham Cox to discuss maintaining the room to an acceptable and comfortable standard."

So, the town clerk was expected to work in a room which it was admittedly not acceptable - one which sounds like it is several steps down from a broom cupboard, hole in the ceiling, windows needing replacing -. and there was no timescale given for improvement to this situation. Still, she was getting paid, right?

From the minutes of 2nd Dec 2009: "The council Chairman commented that no arrangements had been made as of yet to arrange the salary payments for the Town Clerk. It was agreed that it would be unethical for the Town Clerk to complete her own pay roll and that the advice of Lancaster City Council to employ an independent accountant to arrange this should be undertaken. " Note that at this time Ms Errington had been working for the council for more than a month and maybe as much as two months (if she was dismissed in April, after a 6 month probationary period, then she must have been taken on in October 2009). No arrangements had been made for her to receive payment. The only person who displayed even the slightest amount of competence and drive and desire to actually achieve anything (Ms. Errington herself) was barred from arranging her own payment on the grounds that it would be "unethical" (which will be news to all the thousands of payroll chiefs who process their own payslips along with all the others). She might get paid, someday, or maybe not....

It certainly seems to me like she was the victim of Morecambe Bay Independents incompetence and infighting. Does this amount to bullying? Well, let me put it this way. If I knew someone who was considering taking up the mantle as the new town clerk, I would tell them, "Don't even think about it." And that's despite the fact that I think Morecambe does actually need a competent town clerk.

I could go on, but I've already got carried away, and this blog is already much longer than what I usually write. So I'll sign off for now.

Change the World.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Who will read this?

My letter was published in the Morecambe Visitor yesterday. What was particularly interesting for me was that I gave a reference in the letter to this daily political blog. I'll make sure I check the stats to see if it made a difference.

Anonymous wrote recently to criticise the number of followers to the blog. I don't know his or her motive in doing so but I would be happy to have one person read it. In fact it is a record of my daily thoughts that I can look back on myself. Letters are generally read by one person, but a few dozen people tend to read this blog on a daily basis so I am very pleased. These numbers doubled when I wrote about Cyril Smith on Saturday so it just shows how popular he was.

Another thing that struck me when I read my letter was how newspapers will have to adapt with technology. Should they mention that people write blogs? I don't think they have much choice but at least local papers have the advantage over the nationals in that local news is harder to find on the internet or television.

Change the world

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Hurting the disabled

I was talking to someone yesterday who had a disabled badge but they had placed it the wrong way and had been fined. I forget how much they had to pay but in a sense it doesn't matter. The people who designed the badge designed it so that it could be only used one way. Why didn't they make it usable whichever way it is placed?

Did the designers deliberately choose to make the badge unusable if placed the wrong way, cause the owners to be liable to a fine and allow the use of the badge to be a money-spinner? How could this possibly be the case when we are dealing with the disadvantaged in our society? Well those who run the badge system aren't stupid so I can only assume that they want to hit the disabled financially.

Change the world

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

A blog on a comment

One person wrote anonymously about my blog yesterday and I think it is worth turning what they have written into today’s blog. He or she wrote “ But let's leave out the idea that because we can't (yet?) come up with the full explanation of its creation we can put it down to some supreme being. Balderdash”.

You will notice that nowhere in yesterday’s blog entry did I state or even suggest that we could put the explanation for the creation of the universe down to some supreme being, though now that Anonymous has mentioned it, I have to say that this does seem to me to be the most likely explanation. What truly is “balderdash” is the approach which contemptuously dismisses any ideas we feel uncomfortable about without giving them even a moment's thought, e.g. substituting "balderdash" for reasoned argument.

He or she disagreed with my comment about the hope to change the universe and wrote “we are changing (mostly for the worse) some aspects of Planet Earth - I can't see us getting on to Universe scale”. Every action we take changes the universe in some small way. For instance when anonymous wrote balderdash in response to my comment, the universe (that is, the entire universe, not just this small planet) changed from one in which anonymous hadn't responded to my comment with balderdash, to one in which he or she had. If anonymous or anyone else finds that idea too much to understand then I'm happy to revert to my usual piece of advice, the one with which I sign off every entry in this blog.

Change the world.

P.S. I'll admit that anonymous does make one point which is worth some attention. Please try to make sure that the changes you make are changes for the better.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Creating the universe

Many parents will recognise this scenario. A child asks why, you give an explanation and the child asks why again and continues to ask why to every answer. Science is a little like that. You make an observation, possibly through experimentation, repeat it and if it happens enough times you may predict that it will happen again. A hypothesis may be put forward to explain the observations. Scientific laws, like Newton's laws of motion are reserved for matters that are considered universal and invariable. Then you get people like Einstein who realise that these laws aren't really laws at all but just the best ways of explaining things until something better comes along.

Therefore it was surprising to read last Thursday that Stephen Hawking had discovered that God did not create the universe. In his new book Stephen decides that the Big Bang was an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics. If I could have a debate with him about the creation of the universe I would listen to his explanation and ask why. Like the child with their parent, I would continue to ask why until he gave up and I would win the debate. And people say Stephen Hawking is clever.

To be serious, I do suspect that Dr. Hawking might actually be clever, since you probably don't get to be Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge (a seat formerly occupied by Sir Isaac Newton) by being a dunce. However, even the cleverest people make occasional mistakes. What science ought to tell us is not how much we know about everything, but rather how little we know about anything. That is what the child's "why" game actually does tell us. No matter how clever we are, we will always reach a point where we have to respond to the latest "why" with "Because. Just because. Now get to bed, it's past bedtime".

We occupy and know about only the tiniest pinprick in a vast universe. The nearest star (apart from the Sun) is a hundred million times more distant than the Moon is, which is the furthes place where humans have stood. The furthest star is, as far as we can tell, more than a hundred million times more distant than the nearest star is. Out of the billion billion or more stars that the universe contains, all except one are just points of light to us. Even most of our own planet is a mystery of which we know very little. And the sole real evidence that we have for the Big Bang is a reddening of light from the more distant of those distant points of light, something which is guessed to be caused by their receding from us, but which might have any number of causes. Given the amount that we still can't explain, I think it would be presumptuous of us to claim to understand the universe. At this point, I think the best we can hope to do is change it.

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Sunday, 5 September 2010

The Marmite of politics

I particularly enjoyed the last contribution on Any Answers yesterday. A staunch Conservative supporter came on to challenge the two answers from panellists who didn't like Margaret Thatcher. She thought that Mrs Thatcher was a marvellous leader and Gordon Brown was a terrible person who has done a lot of damage to the country.

It wasn't the fact that the lady who made these comments chose to be so prejudiced but that she chose to preface her comment with "without being biased at all". Not only has she decided that Margaret Thatcher and Gordon Brown are extreme opposites, but she also has the idea that she has no partiality.

I don't think you have to step back too far to find out that Margaret Thatcher is the Marmite of politics. Some people love her and some hate her. I don't think Gordon manages to divide the nation to such an extent but he does have his supporters and detractors. The point is if you are going to put forward your views on national radio it is probably wise to not say something that is so obviously wrong.

Change the world.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Two of Cyril's jokes

I was sorry to hear of the death of Cyril Smith yesterday. I have been active in politics all my life and I heard Cyril speak three or four times. I never heard him say anything with which I disagreed and I was able to tell him this a few years ago. He was respected by almost everyone. In fact I was speaking about him two days ago to someone who was from Rochdale and she had only good memories of him. I say almost everyone because I wrote a blog last November about a former Labour supporter who thought he had been parachuted in to Rochdale. He hadn't been, but I had been told this error with conviction. The conviction was ill-founded.

On the news yesterday I was told that Cyril's political dream started with the Labour Party. It hadn't but it must have sounded good to the reporter and it was said with conviction. Many will believe it and as I see the former Labour supporter occasionally I may get the BBC interpretation of Cyril's political history passed back to me.

I did hear Cyril say that if you showed him the fence he would sit on it. I also heard him refute the claim that the Liberal Party could hold meetings in a taxi - well they couldn't after Cyril was elected.

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Friday, 3 September 2010

Restraints on freedom

What constitutes freedom and constraints to liberty has occupied the minds of great philosophers over the centuries. We generally think that prison is a deprivation of liberty but prisoners have unrestrained use of their imagination. Is it possibly a state of mind that leads us to unrestrained freedom? Do you go to work because you have to pay the bills or do you go out to play and just happen to get paid for it?

I remember being taught one aspect of psychology in the 1980s that we should not confirm things that were wrong. Someone isn't knocking on the window as we are on the fifth floor. However this lesson has progressed. Sometimes the truth hurts and a repetition of a painful truth, like a reminder that a spouse has died, may not be the best thing to do.

This leads me to the Chilean miners. They were told that there would be delays in getting them out and it may be Christmas before this is possible. We were told that it was psychologically right to tell them there would be a delay. Then another shaft was proposed and the miners were told that they could be out sooner than Christmas. I didn't hear how this may affect the miners state of mind. I think the truth is the right way to go even if the truth hurts. If it is bad news and a further delay is envisaged then the miners are bound to find out. The way you tell them is the important part. David Blaine may think of their hardship as a basis for his next show. One person's suffering is another person's pastime and another person's source of employment.

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Thursday, 2 September 2010

Winning hearts and minds

I saw on the news last night that there is a report on the harm caused by alcohol and there is a much greater problem in the north of England. In particular Blackpool was highlighted as having a significant problem. The misuse of alcohol may be a factor in losing employment, medical conditions and higher levels of crime. It seems that if all alcohol-related deaths were prevented, men would be living on average nearly two years more. Perhaps we should be looking at preventing misuse.

I say perhaps, because you have to compare this with another programme shown yesterday evening about Alex Higgins. He was seen as a hero to many, and a lot of famous names were telling us how Alex was a man that we should hold in high regard. There are many examples of stars who were popular but died because their lifestyle was not healthy.

If we want to improve healthy attitudes it is not much use just having an education system in place. We need to win over the hearts and minds of our role models. I think we have some way to go.

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Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Toll Roads

The M6 toll road has been in the news recently. It has been criticised because it seems that toll roads don't solve congestion. It was opened nearly seven years ago and I have travelled on it a couple of times. Generally I stick to the M6 and there has only been one occasion when I regretted my choice of route. However I don't usually drive at rush hour and I can understand that many regular drivers would prefer to avoid the jams.

There have been many times when I have been told that there was congestion on the M6 and the toll road was clear. Mostly I have been told that the toll was clear regardless of congestion on the M6. It seemed to me like a big advert for the toll company, but in spite of these adverts they are still making a loss. There are suggestions that the government may be looking for more private initiatives but I don't think that there will be a great rush to join this initiative.

As for the answer to M6 congestion, drivers do have the opportunity of missing the jam and joining the toll road. So do toll roads solve congestion. The answer has to be yes.

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