30 December 2007

Picking the Crap Out of 2007

What happened in 2007? Here are some of the highlights …

January
US commits even more troops to Iraq in the name of preventing violence.

February
H5N1 Bird Flu confirmed on a turkey farm in Suffolk; it’s been imported from Eastern Europe.
Heavy snow in parts of western UK surprises everyone – can’t have snow, it’s winter!
One woman dies in rail crash in Cumbria caused by failures in track maintenance.

March
Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer found dead in Jamaica during Cricket World Cup amid match fixing row; cause of death never properly established. Negotiation of film rights expected to conclude imminently.
Power-sharing returns to Northern Ireland when Protestant Ian Paisley and Catholic Gerry Adams meet face to face for the first time ever; but they don’t have the courtesy to shake hands.
Unfit for purpose Home Office split into two unfit for purpose ministries, further confusing everyone including the judiciary.
BBC journalist Alan Johnston is kidnapped in Gaza; he is released in July.

April
Earthquake in Folkestone; no-one is hurt.

May
Blonde tot Madeleine McCann abducted in Portugal and we never hear the last of it.
Fire fails to destroy the Cutty Sark.

June
Tony Blair finally steps down as Prime Minister after 10 years and is succeeded by Gordon “Bottler” Brown – away with the deceitful, in with the asset-stripping accountant.
Crap logo for 2012 London Olympics unveiled; video version causes epileptic fits.
Two car bombs left in London’s West End; both fail.
Terrorist attack on Glasgow Airport causes little damage but paralyses everything. As a result thousands have their gas-guzzling, CO2-spewing holiday flights cancelled.
Jacques Chirac loses French presidential election to Nicolas Sarkozy. Anyone noticed the difference?
Severe flooding in Yorkshire at the start of one of the wettest summers on record. York is flooded – nothing new there then.

July
Severe flooding in western England following further interminable amounts of rain. Thousands of houses built in flood plains are submerged.

August
Outbreak of Foot & Mouth Disease in South-East England; turns out it is released from a government research facility and vaccine production plant.
Billions wiped off London Stock Market in sharp falls across the world caused by the collapse of the sub-prime loans market in the US.
Wildfires spread across Greece.

September
Bank of England has to provide £10B loan to prevent Northern Rock becoming bankrupt; the government continue to pump taxpayers’ money in to support Northern Rock and its shareholders
Bluetongue Disease arrives in England; this time the weather is blamed.
BBC admits to fixing the results of polls on programmes like children’s show Blue Peter.
Jose Mourinho (who?) sacked as manager of Chelsea FC.
Death of tenor Luciano Pavarotti; “Nestling Dormouse” is heard the length and breadth of the land.
“Saffron Revolt” of Buddhist monks in Burma is brutally crushed by the military regime.

October
Lewis Hamilton fails to win Formula One Grand Prix championship at the first attempt. It was ever thus.
Inquest into the 1997 death of Princess Diana finally opens in London. What’s the point, anyone?

Prime Minister Gordon Brown bottles it by not calling a general election when expected to do so.
Sir Menzies Campbell resigns as leader of the Liberal Democrats; he’s too old at 66.
Former US Vice-President Al Gore wins Nobel Peace Prize for flying millions of miles a year while campaigning on the environment.
Bush fires rip through California (no, not that Bush – for once!)

November
Four fire-fighters die in vegetable warehouse blaze.
Cruise liner Explorer sinks in Antarctica after hitting an iceberg; all passengers and crew cold but rescued.
The Spice Girls begin their reunion tour. Why?
The Queen and Prince Philip celebrate their diamond (60th) wedding anniversary.
HM Revenue & Customs lose 25 million taxpayers’ personal details on two lightly encrypted data CDs.
In football England surprise no-one by failing to qualify for the 2008 European Cup.
English teacher arrested and nearly executed in Sudan for allowing children to name a teddy bear Muhammad.
“Drowned canoeist” John Darwin reappears after 5 years and is promptly arrested for fraud.
Another outbreak of H5N1 bird flu threatens to disrupt the supply of Christmas turkeys; sadly it doesn’t.
Declaration of state of emergency in Pakistan, thus postponing elections and prolonging the military regime – a key ally of the US.

December
Several large food retailers fined for price fixing of dairy products. You mean you'd not noticed they all charged the same prices?
More outbreaks of Bluetongue Disease in different parts of the UK.
Christmas comes round again.
Assassination of Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto; turmoil follows, further threatening the prospect of elections.
Kenyan elections end in chaos and allegations of vote-rigging.
“Mini-Starlet” Kylie Minogue features at the top of the New Year Honours List.

So all-in-all a pretty crap year. Now can we rise to the challenge of making 2008 even worse?

29 December 2007

Quote: Furnishing the Mind

Since we are destined to live out our lives in the prison of our minds, our one duty is to furnish it well.

[Peter Ustinov]

Reflections of Sleep


H the Cat asleep this afternoon on my desk and roasting under my desklamp, taken from desk level. I like the way the reflection has come out. Other sizes available on my Flickr photostream.

27 December 2007

Assassination of Benazir Bhutto

Jilly, writing over at jillysheep has prompted me to write something about the assassination today of Benazir Bhutto, although I was not intending to do so as I don't usually descend into international politics.

Sadly I have to agree with Jilly's sentiments of being "shocked ... but hardly surprised" and hoping "this does not make the situation in Pakistan worse than it already is, though I can't help feeling it will do".

This was a disaster waiting to happen, entirely predictable and IMO should have been avoidable without Ms Bhutto having to return to exile. But of course her presence was unwelcome by the existing dictatorship who could well have had some part in the affair (not that we will likely ever know if they did) and she is less of a problem dead than waiting in exile.

I fear that Imran Khan may well be the next martyr (sorry, victim) on the list. I also fear that Pakistan is likely to descend into a blood-bath before the situation gets sorted out – and that the sorting out could well be at the hands of the Taliban. I also reckon South Africa won't be far behind once Nelson Mandela dies – I think he still wields a controlling influence over many of the factions. Similar internecine warfare seems quite likely in Zimbabwe too when Mugabe goes. And countries like Russia, while paying lip-service to democracy, seem still to be ruled by old-style dictators.

But should we really be surprised? I don't think so. We must remember that these people have no tradition of democracy; they've always had tribal, monarchical and/or feudal rulers of one form or another. We started on the road to democracy some 700 years ago with Magna Carta and to get to meaningful and stable democracy took us two civil wars, an interregnum, numerous petty squabbles and over 500 years. And we expect to be able to impose our view of democracy on these countries effectively overnight. I ask you: what chance do Pakistan, South Africa, Zimbabwe or even Russia stand? Absolutely none!

Another Afghanistan or Iraq anyone?

Hugh Massingberd RIP

It greatly saddens me to have to report the death on Christmas Day of Hugh Massingberd after a long battle with cancer; he was just days short of his 61st birthday.

"Hugh Massingberd was a true gentleman of letters" (Dr Nicholas Birns) who was variously a prolific author and editor of books on the English and country houses, editor of Burke's Peerage and Burke's Landed Gentry, book reviewer and writer. However he will probably be best remembered as the father of the modern obituary, being for some years Editor of the Daily Telegraph's Obituaries pages; "his creed was that an obituary should give pleasure to relatives and friends as well as to the general reader" (International Herald Tribune). He will also be remembered for being guyed in Private Eye as "Massivesnob" – something which greatly amused him.

More importantly for me Hugh was President, and latterly an Hon Vice-President, of the Anthony Powell Society, and had a quiet but significant influence on the early days of the Society. He was a great friend of the Powell family and of the Society. In December 2005 (when already unwell) he produced an entertainment "Love and Art" for Anthony Powell's centenary celebrations. He was also a major influence on the Wallace Collection's Powell centenary exhibition, being instrumental in suggesting (and helping locate) potential objects for inclusion; he seemed to know of, and know the whereabouts of, every possible Powell-related artifact that ever existed!

I had the privilege of knowing Hugh and sharing, all too briefly, his unending friendship and camaraderie. He will be very greatly missed by many.

Obituaries: Daily Telegraph, International Herald Tribune, Independent.

26 December 2007

Dr Alice Roberts

In the latest issue (January 2008) of BBC Focus magazine (science for the intelligent 10-year-old) there's a mini-interview with one of the few females on TV who really do make my heart beat faster: Dr Alice Roberts, "clinical anatomist, archaeologist, TV presenter and author", also a very talented artist and a qualified medic. Those of you in the UK who've watched either Time Team (Channel 4), Coast (BBC2) or Don't Die Young (BBC2) will know Alice Roberts as the slightly off-the-wall girlie with the dyed red hair. The interview includes:

What's the greatest threat to humanity?
Humanity.

Who would you clone?
I wouldn't. Sexual reproduction is much more exciting.

What would your epitaph say?
Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni. And I'd be buried in a chariot just to fool future archaeologists.

Seriously Zen Mischief!

24 December 2007

Blair and God

The news a couple of days ago that Tony Blair has joined the Roman Catholic church should have come as a surprise to no-one. It's nice to see a couple of commenters to BBC News's story saying very much what I was thinking:
Quite frankly, who cares? Not talking about his faith previously was probably one of the few good decisions he took as prime minister. Running the country is not about what version of god you believe in, in fact religion should have no part at all in the day-to-day running of the country.
Alex Bailey, Corby

I would never have voted for him had I knew he was religious. The thought that people in power have gone to war based upon the voices in their heads fills me with horror. To not believe in fairytales is the norm, anything other than that is delusional. We need more normal atheist people to speak up for common sense.
D Johnstone, Birmingham

Condoms, sex, and 16 year olds

Skatje Myers, over at Lacrimae Rerum has written a very thoughtful post today about condoms, sex and 16 year olds. It is worth reading.

22 December 2007

Zen Mischievous Moments #136

Given the time of year this headline from the BBC News website makes the mind boggle slightly:

Turkey in fresh Iraq air strikes

Happy Yule to to all our readers!

Solstice Reprise!

Wow, things heavenly come in threes? It's probably always thus, but I've never noticed quite so obviously before a whole raft of heavenly celebration:
  • Winter solstice: 21 December, the winter festival of light
  • New Moon: early hours of 24 December, the monthly rite of the goddess
  • Christmas Day
  • Boxing Day (26 December): being one of the days for wassailing your fruit trees
  • New Year's Day: being another of the days on which one should wassail fruit trees
Looks like there's going to be lots of dancing naked round the garden in the next few days. ;-)

Rejoice!

Yes, Rejoice! The Solstice is gone! From here on it gets lighter -- though heaven knows it never feels like it until the end of February. But for those of use with SAD, the corner has been turned once more.

Fictional Flying Carpets

Magic carpets are GO! According to a report in the Daily Telegraph of 19 December magic carpets are no longer a flight of fancy confined to the realms of the Arabian Nights. Professor Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan of Harvard has shown that the flying carpet is possible under the laws of Physics, although to be useful a lot of work will have to be done on the power to weight ratio. Good news for those of us who hate wasting time travelling.

21 December 2007

Christmas Five

1. What is your fave thing about Christmas?
The anticipation; the excuse to do absolutely nothing quite shamelessly; the time off work.

2. Did you believe in Santa Claus? If so, what was the best gift from him?
Nope, I don't think I ever did. But I did get an electric train set from him one year.

3. Do you have a Christmas Tree? Ribbon, Angel, Star or ______ on Top?
Yes, it wouldn't be Christmas without a tree. And it has a star on the top.

4. Best stocking stuffer you got?
My wife. We got engaged just before Christmas and then had to spend Christmas itself keeping quiet about it until we had the right opportunity at New Year to tell our respective parents.

5. Wishing for a White Christmas?
Of course. In over 50 years I've never seen a white Christmas. Lots of snow on Boxing Day, and a couple of days before Christmas, and lots of frost on Christmas Day, but never snow on Christmas Day.

[Brought to you courtesy of Friday Five.]

Sex for Sale

Oh dear; oh dear! They just do not understand do they! Harriet Harman, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, has decided to boil the ocean. According to various news items yesterday (including on BBC News) she has said she wants to make it illegal in the UK to buy sex. This seems to be on the grounds that it is (a) abuse of women and (b) it’s been done successfully in Sweden. At the very least Mistress Harman (and it seems safe to assume she speaks for the disreputable control freaks we have for a government) wants a major open debate on the subject.

The very idea of making payment for sex illegal I find totally abhorrent. And no that’s not because I use (or ever have used) prostitutes. It is a purely open-minded and pragmatic approach.

So here is my (first?) contribution to the debate:

  1. Objection the first is that the whole thing will be unworkable. So it will be illegal to pay for sex. Bystander, over at the Magistrates Blog makes a good point: how is it possible to prevent the oldest profession. He observes: “As a lawyer you [Harriet Harman] will be aware that you belong to the world's second-oldest profession. What chance have you got of outlawing the oldest?”
  2. No-one doubts that abuse happens within the prostitution trade. Equally everyone will agree it shouldn’t happen. But criminalising payment for sex isn’t going to make it go away; it’s going to make it worse: the protagonists will feel that as they’re already the wrong side of the law they have nothing to lose and that will just make the abuse and violence go underground. So everyone is actually worse off.
  3. Similarly with the drugs problem which many prostitutes are feeding, especially at the lower end of the market. If they’re engaging in a criminal activity already then they become even more vulnerable and potential prey for drug dealers. And there will be less funding etc. for those organisations who try to help the girls by providing needle exchange, condoms and sanity.
  4. There is also a major logic problem with the thinking. Apparently the idea is not to make it illegal to sell sex but illegal to buy for sex. What? How can you sell something legally when it is illegal for someone to buy it? Currently it is legal to sell and to buy sex; prostitution in the UK is not of itself illegal. But many activities associated with prostitution (kerb-crawling, soliciting, pimping, etc.) are illegal.
  5. Moreover there are ways round the “payment” restriction. As we know many “hostess clubs” already take large payments for bottles of champagne (or other food or drink) for which one gets the attentions of your chosen handmaiden. Said handmaiden is paid a wage by the club as a member of staff. How are the lawyers going to prevent such scams. John says he didn’t pay Kat for sex, he just bought an expensive bottle of champagne and some sandwiches; the fact that they had sex was because he came onto her ’cos she was gagging for it and so was he. Kat says she received no money from John, she had sex with him ’cos she fancied him and he seemed like a decent bloke. Case dismissed, M’Lud.
  6. In another BBC News article (from February 2007) they look at how the Swedish system – on which Mistress Harman proposes ours should be based – has actually worked. Answer: patchily at best. While it does appear to have reduced abuse and trafficking, it has also reduced the level of support for those prostitutes still working who have drugs habits; and the supply of condoms has also dried up.
  7. A third BBC News item (this one from December 2006) looked at the more liberal approach of the Netherlands, where they openly allow prostitution and protect their working girls. This works. Prostitution is legal (as long as the girls are registered), they can advertise their services, most work from rooms and few need to work the street. Those who do work the streets are looked after in safe zones. As one Dutch interviewee comments: “Prostitution is a reality … and in order to protect those women and men who engage in it, it should be given equal status to other occupations”. Incidentally for even further enlightenment read the readers’ comments to this article.
  8. "Equal status" is an interesting point. What is the human rights position on (the illegality of) prostitution? Is it not a basic human right to be able to sell ones body if one chooses to. And if that means a woman chooses to sell her vagina, mouth or hand in return of cash, or a pig, or loaves of bread, then why should she not be allowed to? I can sell my brain to the company I work for; I don’t get abused because the law says it’s illegal. If prostitution were legal then it would be easier for working girls to turn in those who abuse them, because that is already illegal. At the end of the day all work is prostitution of one form or another!
  9. Finally, something governments always seem to forget. If you make something legal, you can regulate it and tax it. In the case of prostitution this means that the girls would be paying tax and National Insurance, which is ultimately good for them and for the Treasury. It also means that if they’re regulated (as in Holland) then they can be licensed only if they have regular health checks, which should be good for the girls and ultimately save stress on the health service.

As usual it seems to me that the pragmatic Dutch – who incidentally also have the lowest teenage pregnancy rate in the West; a quarter of the UK rate and 10% of the USA’s rate! – have got it right. Legalise prostitution, don’t drive it further underground. Openness and trust does actually work!

17 December 2007

Pretty Blue Pussy

Pretty Blue Pussy

Pretty Blue Pussy, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Sally the Cat trying to look demure!

16 December 2007

Creationists Plan British Theme Park

There's an article in today's Observer which, at a personal level, I find more than somewhat disturbing. It begins

A business trust is looking at sites for a Christian showplace to challenge the theory of evolution.

Apparently there are plans being laid to build an intelligent design (ID) theme park (my phrase) in NW England.

At a personal level I find this deeply disturbing. Christianity, indeed all religion and politics, is about belief. But those who believe in ID claim it as science. Science is about knowledge. Thus belief does not (and by definition cannot) equal knowledge. ID is not science, or knowledge, but belief.

What's more I find this Christian proselytising of their (to me misguided) beliefs objectionable. For me it is a basic human right that everyone is allowed to believe (or not) whatever they choose without having someone else's beliefs rammed down their throats, as is the Christian way. Don't get me wrong. I find all proselytising just as objectionable; it's just that Christians seem to have a particularly well developed, self-righteous and nauseating form of it.

But this does give me a moral dilemma: freedom of thought and speech. Everyone is entitled to their opinion/belief, however misguided. And they are entitled to be allowed to express that belief. So morally I have to allow these people that freedom. I just find their beliefs, their methods, their self-righteousness and their closed minds deeply obscene.

15 December 2007

Wizard of Id

This Wizard of Id cartoon earlier in the week amused me; as usual there's the usual slightly zen quality to it.

14 December 2007

Friday Five: The only nasty thing I like

1. What's the last movie you saw?
At the cinema: probably Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Pictures at an Exhibition in 1973. On TV probably some Lord of the Rings-ish thing last Christmas. See, I keep telling you I don't do films.

2. Are you gentle?
Me? Gentle? Oh do be realistic, I'm about as gentle as a clumsy hippo!

3. Do you sleep with your bedroom door shut?
Nope, not at home, not usually even when we have people staying; we both hate shut doors. Tend to shut the door at other peoples' (except my mother's) but really only 'cos most of them do. And when I was a student, although I shut my room door at night it was never locked, and often left ajar when I was in during the day. In this house shut doors are really only for one thing: to keep a cat penned in - and even so most of the doors can't shut 'cos there are things (like a pile of books) in the way.

4. What's your middle name?
Cullingworth -- my mother's maiden name. Not many around and none now in my line of the family as my mother was one of four sisters. Cullingworth is a small village in Yorkshire, so the family come from there originally.

5. Friday fill-in:
I could learn to like
not having to work to eat.

[Brought to you courtesy of Friday Fiver]

13 December 2007

Quote: The Before

Much human ingenuity has gone into finding the ultimate Before. The current state of knowledge can be summarized thus: in the beginning, there was nothing, which exploded.

[Terry Pratchett, Lords and Ladies]

11 December 2007

Nuclear Sunrise #1

Nuclear Sunrise #1

Nuclear Sunrise #1, originally uploaded by kcm76.

This morning's cold December sunrise, reworked artistically in Photoshop.

10 December 2007

Quote: Atheists & Conscience

Atheists have as much conscience, possibly more, than people with deep religious conviction, and they still have the same problem of how they reconcile themselves to a bad deed in the past. It's a little easier if you've got a god to forgive you.

[Ian McEwan; Sunday New York Times Magazine;
02 December 2007]

08 December 2007

Sunrise with Crow


Sunrise with Crow, originally uploaded by kcm76.

Taken early this December morning through the study window.

06 December 2007

The Secret

The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing.
If you can fake that, you've got it made.

Groucho Marx

Wizard of Id

Yesterday's (or was it today's?) Wizard of Id cartoonfrom comics.com is another with a really zen quality to it (well at least if you think about it):


05 December 2007