Saturday, December 24, 2011

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Nothing stays the same

Future, n  That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness is assured.
Ambrose Bierce - The Devil's Dictionary
There was a lot of argy-bargy during the public sector strike yesterday, which didn't really accomplish anything. One young friend said that he'd gone on strike, "... if only to try to reduce the amount of rage I have been feeling after hearing people who know nothing start spouting off about how I shouldn't complain, because being a civil servant is such a cushy job that I'll never have to worry about losing. Believe me: it's not and I am." Now that he's got that out of his system, I hope he feels better.

I don't have a public sector pension or a private one; only a state pension plus pension credit. This is because I stupidly became ill twenty-five years ago, and consequently never made sufficient contributions when I was a teacher. Since then, I've never earned enough to pay tax. So none of this will make any difference to me.

Will any of it matter in a few years time? I don't think so. In my lifetime, there've been enormous changes. The Welfare State and the NHS were introduced soon after I was born, when everyone looked forward to freedom from poverty, free education and healthcare, and a comfortable old age. My first salary after leaving school, when I went to work in a bank (before equal pay), was £21 a month, of which I gave half to my mum for my keep. My parents rented our home privately - I never knew from whom. They didn't own their own home until after retirement, when they bought a small house with my sister's help. I've never owned my own home, apart from a small mobile home I paid a few £100 for, after my son was born.

In the last fifty years, improvements in healthcare have meant greater longevity for most people. Since Mrs Thatcher decided that "there's no such thing as society", most people have aspired to own their own homes, and, during the 1990s, many profited from the increase in their value. Salaries have increased, and so have the differentials between the lowest and highest paid. If I was a bank clerk now, I'd expect to be paid over £2000 a month. Where does the money come from, to pay the higher salaries and the country's bills? It's all created out of thin air. Money doesn't breed. It's printed.

Meanwhile, the world economic system has changed dramatically. Most people find it bewildering. What are bonds? Why are countries that appear affluent in financial difficulties? Why do so many people still live on less than a dollar a day? China has been keeping the American economy afloat for the past few years, as well as investing in schemes in Africa and elsewhere, but China's success has been built on the export of cheap tat to countries like ours, and now that everyone's feeling the pinch, they're buying less. This is a good thing for the environment - all that plastic rubbish, all that wasted energy in transport costs - but it's making it more difficult for economists, whose crystal balls are misting up, to say how or when things might stabilise. That's because they can't, because they won't.

The public sector pension row is largely about expectations. One of my friends says she just wants what she's entitled to. Trouble is, this notion of entitlement is based on a fallacy; that things will stay the same, or hardly change. When the state pension was introduced, and when pension schemes were started, assumptions were made about the rate of inflation, about how long most people would live, and about where the money would come from. So public sector workers feel aggrieved because they think that promises have been broken, and they have. Trouble is, it was foolish to make those promises in the first place. A young teacher, say, who's been told that he or she will be expected to work another forty-odd years before he or she can claim a pension, is feeling that's not fair. But think about it. Where were we forty years ago? Could anyone have predicted where we'd be today? In 1970, the world's population was 3,700 million. Now, it's about 7 billion. In forty years, it will probably be 10.5 billion. Even if governments come to their senses and do something, quick, to slow down climate change, it's likely that we'll have run out of fossil fuels, there will be more extreme weather, water will be in short supply, and there will be far too many people for everyone to have a job, of any sort. How can anyone predict what state the world economy will be in by then? Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, imagined a society without money that was basically fair because everyone played his or her part and didn't take advantage of the system. That sort of Utopia is only in science fiction. In the real world, few people see past their own immediate concerns.

I'd like to be an optimist, I really would, but, to paraphrase the Chinese curse, we already live in interesting times. They're going to get a lot more interesting. Public sector pensions? Forget about them. Concentrate on the important things, like where we go from here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Onward Christian proselytisers

From the Oxford dictionary -
proselytize or proselytize:  verb
[with object]
convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another:
     the programme did have a tremendous evangelical effect, proselytizing many
[no object]
     proselytizing for converts
The trouble with people who proselytise is that they don't see anything wrong with proselytising. Some use words like "witnessing", which mean the same thing. This is what missionaries do.

I recently tweeted several times, urging people not to support Operation Christmas Child, the ostensibly kind and generous scheme that invites children to fill shoeboxes with gifts for needy children overseas. The people behind it are evangelical Christians, whose activities are destructive, rather than constructive. To find out why, read what I've blogged elsewhere, and follow all the links: Operation Christmas Child - "racist and poisonous".

This resulted in an exchange of tweets with @mmmcounts, who doesn't seem to think that there's anything wrong with using charitable giving as an opportunity to foist your religious beliefs on other people, uninvited. This was the exchange:
Me (@Flashmaggie): Please, no shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child. It's a cover for evangelical missionaries. Please RT.
Him (@mmmcounts): Are you also opposed to the Salvation Army? World Vision? World Relief? Catholic Charities? Any, all, or none?
Me: Christian Aid doesn't try to convert people (as SP does). I prefer ones with no religious agenda, like @ActionAid or @Oxfamgb.
Him: Do you have a legal issue related to the line between church and state, or are you a Muslim who doesn't tolerate proselytism?
Me: I strongly dislike proselytising by anyone and think that aid should come without strings.
Him: I agree that aid should come without strings. But if a religious agency wants to do two things at different times, that's fine.
Me: So, you think it's fine for evangelical Christians to convert people of other faiths as part of the deal?
Me: Suggest you read my blog post and follow all the links. It will answer your questions.
Him: Christians may ask people if they would like to convert, but aid may not be contingent on that. That's extortion.
Him: However, if a Christian works for a relief agency, that doesn't mean no witnessing. It just means do it without extortion.
So, the reasoning is that it's OK to tell people (in this case, the people are children) that God loves them, etc., and that if you confess that you're a "sinner", you'll be forgiven. This is some of the nonsense contained in a comic strip sent with the shoeboxes  . . .

After some Bible stories, impressing that we were "created", mentioning "Satan", and explaining that Christ died for our "sins", a child tells his father, "I want to be God’s child, so I can be with him." The father replies, "This is the most important decision you’ll ever make! The Bible tells us our sin separates us from God. And it says, 'If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.'"

The child is shown praying, "Dear God, I know I’m a sinner. I made wrong choices and did bad things. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I know your Son, Jesus, died for my sins and I believe you raised him from the dead. I want Jesus to be my Lord. Thank you for loving me and making me your child. Now, please fill me
with your Holy Spirit, so I’ll have all the strength I need to obey you. Amen."

At the end, the child and his family are looking straight out of the comic strip frame, as he says, "Hey! The best thing just happened! It can happen to you, too! You can believe and make the same decision I did! Pray, and God will hear you. He loves you. He’ll forgive you and make you his child." If you're converted, you can sign a pledge, there and then! Whoopee!

Christians who think that this sort of thing is OK are generally ignorant about religions other than their own, or even denominations other than their own. They're probably unaware that some non-conformists, such as the Religious Society of Friends (or Quakers) and the Unitarians, don't proselytise. They're unlikely to know much about the history of their religion, or to care that there's little or no archaeological evidence that the stories in the Old Testament are true. They think that Islam is simply wrong, or, as the man behind Occupation Christian Child, Franklin Graham, says, "a very wicked and evil religion". They think that it doesn't matter what you believe, you can be "saved", but people like me will go to hell. For uneducated, impressionable young people, the threat of fire and brimstone goes with nice presents - stick and carrot.

Mike (@mmmcounts) is typical of many, many evangelical Christians, mainly in the US, who see nothing wrong with trampling all over other people's faiths and cultures. They suffer from the arrogance of certainty and the blindness of ignorance. He says, "If a Christian works for a relief agency, that doesn't mean no witnessing...", oblivious to the fact that many Christians work for relief agencies like Action Aid and Oxfam that don't have a religious agenda, and don't feel compelled to foist their religion on the recipients. If they did, they'd be in trouble. Mike doesn't get it. Neither to thousands like him. They have no idea how much damage they do. And now gullible British teachers are asking the children in their schools to fill shoeboxes, and gullible parents think it's a lovely idea too. It drives me mad!

This is what a friend did, when her children were asked to fill an OCC shoebox:
When my children changed primary school few years ago we joined right in the thick of the OCC campaign. I discovered the school had been involved for seven years.
This gave me a real problem; as assertive as I am, I had no desire to mark my card in the first couple of weeks! I therefore did three things:
- I sat my children down and explained that if they wanted to fill a shoebox they could, but Mummy would send it to a different box scheme. Then I did my best to explain why - they get behaviour based on principles, as evidenced by the lack of Nestlé products in the house!
- I discussed it with parents, explaining that if the parallel was a fundamentalist Islamic organisation doing this in central London, would that be okay? Much as I didn't like using that example it seemed most effective for getting people to actually think.
- in February I gave a dossier of evidence (including alternative shoebox schemes) to the Headteacher along with a letter asking that both he and the Governors give serious thought to changing to an alternative scheme. Although not a faith school, many of the teachers are practicing Christians.
The outcome? No word from the Headteacher despite my chasing it up. But this is our 4th Christmas at the school and the school never participated in Operation CC again (despite a long history of doing so). That's enough of a result for me!
Sometimes, people do see sense.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Yeo Valley and homeopathy

I like Yeo Valley yoghourt and I've been buying Yeo Valley light spreadable butter because it doesn't contain palm oil, which I avoid because of the deforestation issue. So I was disappointed to learn that they were "treating" their cattle with homeopathy, which isn't treatment at all. I emailed them via their website:
Sorry, Yeo Valley. I like your products but won't be buying any more since you said you're going to treat your livestock with homeopathy. That's not treatment because there's nothing in it, so I regard it as neglecting to treat them.
This was their reply:
Dear Margaret
Thank you for your recent email.
The health of our cows is the top priority on our farms. Organic systems include a proactive approach to animal welfare and are designed to minimise stress on livestock that might result in illness; the routine use of antibiotics as a preventative measure to treat our cows’ ailments is forbidden.
As a result of this Steve, the Herd Manager on one of our farms began investigating alternative options to the use of antibiotics and began studying a course on homeopathic treatments. Since then, Steve has been implementing what he has learnt by using homeopathic treatments and remedies to treat his cows for a number of issues, including warding-off flies and easing the cows’ stress levels when having their feet clipped. The treatments have so far proved successful and, unlike antibiotics, cows don’t build up immunity to these remedies. In fact, they encourage the cows’ immune systems to fight bugs themselves. The use of homeopathic treatments not only helps to develop a more robust immune system, it also means no withdrawal periods for milk and meat while the animal is being treated, as would be the case when antibiotics are used.
However, this doesn’t mean we completely avoid more conventional treatments; if we need to treat an animal quickly and effectively we will always choose the treatment, either conventional or alternative, that will be most beneficial to the cow to aid its recovery and this may involve antibiotic use. I would like to reassure you that we operate the highest level of animal welfare standards on all of our farms. Not only are we strong supporters of the welfare system developed by The Soil Association for cattle producing organic milk, we also take care of the environment in which we operate and act responsibly and ethically in how we do business. Organics standards strictly admonish zero grazing techniques; cows cannot be permanently housed, but must spend the majority of their lives outdoors. The cows must have appropriate bedding and adequate space when they are brought indoors during bad weather during the winter months.
Being an independent, family owned British business, we value our reputation and the loyalty of every one of our customers who buy our products. We have built our reputation on a combination of quality and word of mouth and would never knowingly do anything to jeopardise this.
Thank you once again for writing to us.
Kind Regards
Sally Laurie - Marketing Team
I'd like to see farmers who "treat" their livestock with homeopathy prosecuted for a failure to ensure the welfare of their animals - they should call a vet, not a homeopath, when an animal needs treatment. I've changed to using the Co-op's spreadable stuff, which is made with rape seed oil. For more on homeopathy, see Skepticat's blog.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dale Farm: Monday was E Day

Sunday 18th September

With so many accusations and counter-accusations about the Dale Farm travellers flying about, it's hard for most people, including me, to understand how Basildon Council decided to forcibly evict about 400 people who are living on land they own. The problem is that they don't have planning permission to live there. Some travellers at Dale Farm are on legal sites; others are not. After ten years of legal wrangling, the bailiffs are due on Monday. Amnesty UK, Vanessa Redgrave, and a long list of the Great and the Good have been campaigning for a stay of execution of the eviction, arguing that the travellers have nowhere to go, that it's an infringement of their human rights, and that they must have a place that is culturally appropriate for the traveller lifestyle. And so on. A lot of supporters have turned up to help resist the eviction.

The people at Dale Farm are Irish Travellers, not Romany Gypsies:
These are the so-called “Irish Gypsies”, who are Celtic by ethnicity. They are by tradition caravan-dwellers and metal-workers. Their origins are remote, very likely the ancestors of these Travellers were wandering blacksmiths already present in the island before the arrival of Roma in the British Isles, and this hypothesis would reasonably explain why Roma did not settle in Ireland.
They are Catholics with strong links to Ireland. In fact, some of them have very strong links to the town of Rathkeale in County Wexford, which some claim is their "spiritual home", though no one seems to know why. As Catholics, the families that live at Dale Farm, who spend their high days and holidays in Rathkeale, have gradually been increasing in number, as Catholics will. The Telegraph and the regional BBC TV News, Look East, have reported the link with Rathkeale over the last week, but it's old news. A Basildon Echo reporter, Jon Austin, did a story about the travellers' property interests four years ago, when he found out that traveller clans had land or rented homes in other parts of the UK, not just in Ireland. Although some of the travellers' supporters have said that this is all nonsense and a deliberate ploy to undermine the travellers' position, it does seem that their claims that they have "nowhere to go" are not entirely true for all of them.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of the Dale Farm situation, and whether or not some of the people there have anywhere else to go, the Government (the current one, and the previous one) has failed to ensure that there are enough sites for travellers around the country. It only "encourages" local authorities to provide sites, and as travellers's sites are deeply unpopular with non-travellers, local councillors know that they'll lose votes if they propose any. I was amused that a government website refers to "seeking to remove barriers that are stopping them from taking part in the Big Society." I doubt that travellers are any more interested in the Big Society than the rest of us.

The UN's got involved, and there are claims that the eviction is "racially motivated", however I'm having a bit of trouble understanding the pleas for a "culturally sensitive" solution to the problem. Since multiculturalism became all the rage under Tony Blair's premiership, when religion seemed to become more important than ethnicity, culturally sensitive people have been desperate to demonstrate how sensitive they are towards other people's cultures. At the same time, groups such as the conservative Lancashire Pakistanis and the Hasidic Jews in Stamford Hill, London, have shown absolutely no inclination to integrate into British society, but have carried on as living anachronisms, sticking to social rules that conflict with modern values and generally disadvantage women. The travellers' "culture" is about travelling, they say, but in reality it seems to be more about squatting wherever they feel like it, as they claim that they can't bear to lives in houses but want to be out in the open air. Romany gypsies and Irish travellers have been nomadic for generations. Some stick to their own tribal communities and avoid integrating with the Gorgios (as the Romanies call us) or the Gadje (the Irish Travellers's word for us). In effect, they impose their own form of apartheid. In many traveller communities, it's almost impossible for young people, particularly young women, to get involved with non-travellers. Their fathers and brothers enforce a strict non-fraternisation code. Domestic violence seems to be more common in the traveller communities than in the population as a whole, and "cultural barriers" prevent the women from escaping violent relationships. So which bits of their "culture" are we supposed to respect? And why should any group living in the 21st century in our over-crowded country, on our over-crowded planet, expect special privileges, such as being provided with land where they can settle as a group, rather than spreading themselves about, as other families have to do?

East Sussex County Council says it's a fallacy that travellers don't pay taxes, because those who live on legal sites pay council tax and rent like everyone else. But do they pay income tax? Since they transact business in cash and most older travellers are illiterate, I doubt that any of them fill in a tax return. Some may not have much money and rely on state benefits, for good reasons, while others are obviously doing very nicely, thank you, though you'll have a hard job to prove it. One of the men in this series of videos (You Tube - The truth about Irish Travellers), who earns a living laying tarmac, says he does a lot of work in America, where he has a house.

It seems that many of us who've taken an interest in the Dale Farm situation feel conflicted about it, including Richard Parry, who's got to know the families very well over the last six years. He, like many, queries the huge cost of the eviction and the problems that the families will face, but accepts that green belt land must be protected. Basildon Council has already spent an enormous amount of money on legal fees and is unlikely to have a change of heart at this late stage. It just seems absurd that it should have taken ten years to get to this stage, without taking up better, and cheaper, options. Perhaps Dale Farm has been a no go area for council officials, but if the site had been properly managed from the start, it should have been possible to turn away travellers who didn't have permission to stay before they got settled. It should have been possible to employ private investigators to check on the claims that some have made about having nowhere to go, and sort out the liars before finding suitable alternatives for the rest. It should have been possible for the travellers to cultivate better relationships with their neighbours, so that they weren't all tarred with the same negative brush. But compromise appears to have been impossible.

Here are more sites that you might find interesting:

As a footnote: 36 years ago, I lived on a council caravan site with Romany Gypsies as neighbours, after I'd been made homeless (that's another story). As an impoverished single mum with a small baby, I was grateful for the help and support I got from them, in return for helping them with letter-writing and form-filling. They gave me things, like an old stone sink that I still have in my garden, and a coal scuttle that I used for years, and my immediate neighbours, who traded in rags, used to set aside clothes, towels and bedding for me, after they'd collected the remains of jumble sales. We got along fine, and there was none of the mess and rubbish around the place that you see in many places after travellers have moved on. One old couple settled there when they got too old to carry on travelling. Other families stayed so that their children could go to school. Similar groups have settled in other parts of the country, some in houses, though they still maintain their close family ties. Click here for a film about a group in Lambeth, made to celebrate their way of life, and BBC Kent on "Romany Roots". Living with gypsies needn't be difficult.

Update: Monday 19th September

5.30pm, and there seems to be a stalemate. Some daft woman has tied herself to the gates with something so that if the bailiffs force them open, she'll be garotted. The bailiffs are saying it's a "health and safety issue".

I like the Daily Mash's version of events that starts "IRISH travelling folk will today reaffirm their ancient, mystic right not to have planning permission for their houses.":
Another local resident, Jane Thompson, said: "I've got nothing against people who roam the countryside while not leaving a horrible mess and being really nice to everybody. I would gladly grant them planning permission in my heart. But some of them have been at Dale Farm at least 10 years. Forgive me for saying so, but they don't seem to be very good at travelling."
Meanwhile, the local primary school has lost almost all its pupils. Out of 110, 107 lived at Dale Farm. For several years now, the school had plummeted down the league tables as non-traveller parents withdrew their children, the whole of the governing body quit, and teachers struggled on the brink of nervous breakdowns. It's had one of the worst attendance rates in the UK, which suggests that the travellers' kids' education was being disrupted long before the eviction loomed.

6pm, and the news that Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart granted the travellers an injunction so that the bailiffs can't do anything before another hearing on Friday. The judge seemed to think that there hadn't been enough enformation about what is allowed on each pitch, and what must be removed. Makes no sense to me. Half of Dale Farm is legal, the other half isn't. What could be clearer than that?

I spotted Gloria Hunniford at the gates of Dale Farm on the local BBC TV news. Irish solidarity? Stupid BBC presenter referred to "Romany gypsies", which they're not.

Update: Tuesday 20th September

Last night's Dispatches on Channel 4 was interesting. Reporter Deborah Davies spoke to travellers and some of the people who've had to put up with their anti-social habits, like crapping in field margins and near public footpaths. When she asked a couple of girls if they didn't have toilets in their caravans, they said they did but it wasn't their way to use a toilet inside a caravan, so close to where they cook food; that's disgusting, apparently. One woman spoke of seeing the kids walk off into the bushes clutching toilet rolls, and there were bits of used toilet roll all over the place. After they leave an illegal encampment, a specialist unit has to go in and clear up all the faeces.

What about sanitation at Dale Farm? Is there any?

Wherever travellers have parked as they move around in the summer, it's left to local authorities to clear up tree prunings and lumps of hardcore and asphalt that they've dumped, in addition to all the rest of their rubbish. This is stuff that they've collected while trimming hedges and laying driveways for people, so it's commercial waste that attracts charges for disposal on landfill sites. Rather than pay, they go fly tipping. It costs tax payers between £100 and £150 million a year to deal with fly tipping.

Candy Sheridan, who's related to the Sheridans of Dale Farm, is a Liberal Democrat councillor and a member of the Gypsy Council. She tried to achieve a compromise with the bailiffs about how the eviction was carried out, and has been threatened and warned that she won't be allowed back on the site.

The programme ended with a pony pulling a traditional gypsy caravan along a road, uphill. Not a horse; a pony. It made me wonder about the welfare of the travellers' dogs, ponies, horses and hens.

I get the feeling that even people who'd previously been sympathetic towards the Dale Farm travellers have changed their minds as they've learned more about them, such as the suggestion that Basildon Council should pay them £6 million for the land, which isn't worth a fraction of that, and their refusal to move into council accommodation or onto other sites where there are spare pitches. Unreasonable demands that can't be met, such as being offered one site where they can move en masse, have lost them support. Even Max Clifford would struggle to improve their PR ratings. Someone on Twitter responded to this blog:
Very interesting post. I really struggle with this myself. My experience (keeping poultry) with travellers was awful. Regular thefts of any bird they thought they could fight, breaking doors/gates to get in. A neighbour had bloodied birds thrown back over his fence (dead). When he built a shed to keep the birds safe, they set fire to it. Police not interested. Of course it's all anecdotal, and I wouldn't like to generalise but I have to admit it has tainted my opinion a little.
The general perception is that travellers want to be able to continue living as they please without accepting the same rules as everyone else, and without contributing anything to society outside their own insular community. News Thump sums up their image perfectly:
“We’ve highlighted the part of the statue book that we’re happy with. And firstly, you have to ignore the sections on tax – I think our relationship with the tax authorities could be described as tenuous at best. And is taking something that doesn’t belong to you really theft? I heard that possession is nine tenths of the law, so when I possess something it becomes mine and I don’t see how that can be illegal. And all this stuff about violence, I’m assuming we can ignore that amongst ourselves, right? We do love a good fight, you see. And ‘planning permission’? We’re not convinced this is really a law anyway.  Reason? Oh, say we don’t agree on religious grounds. But apart from that, yes, we’re as lawful as they come.”
Is it racial prejudice that's prompting criticism of them, as some suggest? How can it be? They're not a separate racial group, like the Roma. They're Irish. Irish people as a whole are probably just as fed up with the travellers as the rest of us.

When people start using words like "culture" to describe the behaviour of any group, they find themselves justifying all sorts of nonsense for fear of offending or upsetting people. Consequently, unreasonable behaviour remains unchallenged. This has been a problem associated with "multiculturalism" in the UK, which has led to honour killings, the unfair and medieval treatment of women, and a continuing reluctance of some minorities to seek proper healthcare or education. Ask yourself what sort of cultural values ought to be encouraged, and which ones deserve to be consigned to history.

According to Tim Black at Spiked (who thinks this is a freedom issue, not a humanitarian crisis), not being able to build on land you own is "a cruel restriction on people’s freedom and liberty." So, if I buy a field I can build a house on it, right? What, anywhere?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sunday voices on 9/11

There's a poem by Joyce Grenfell that I've often used at funerals:
If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower not inscribe a stone,
Nor when I'm gone speak in a Sunday voice,
But be the usual selves that I have known.
Weep if you must.
Parting is hell
But life goes on
So sing as well.
That line about a "Sunday voice" struck a chord the first time I read it. I've avoided listening or watching any of the 9/11 stuff on TV because I knew there'd be a lot of Sunday voices. And what about those pits in the ground where the twin towers stood? They're deep, and they've got water in them. The first time I saw them it occurred to me that they'd be a magnet for would-be suicides. It would have been far better to use the site for a practical, positive, life-affirming purpose.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Too much and too little

I've been listening to The Food Programme on BBC Radio 4. It was about food poverty and food banks. Like the Americans, it seems an increasing number of British people are relying on free food from food banks to avoid going hungry and to feed their children. One woman spoke about how her husband had had a wage increase, which meant that they lost some of their benefits, ending up worse off. An American academic was interviewed about the difficulties of distributing food vouchers in the US, where they're not necessarily used to buy the most nutritional food. I've read elsewhere that they've been used to pay for sugary drinks that rot children's teeth and contribute to obesity.

In England and Wales we're throwing away 3.6m tonnes of food waste a year, which adds up to £9bn a year. A lot of it is due to over-buying food in supermarkets and then throwing out stuff because it's past its "best before" date, which isn't the same as the "use by" date. See the link on the right (Love Food, Hate Waste).

I'm old enough to remember post-war ration books. I might still have one somewhere. When food was rationed, most people ate a healthy diet because it was carefully balanced by nutritionists. Many more people were doing physical work too, so they burned off the calories from saturated fats and sugar. When I worked on a farm, my breakfast (after I'd already done a couple of hours work) was double-yolked eggs, bacon, sausages, fried bread, tea and toast and marmalade with butter. I weighed far less than I do now, and was far healthier.

Maybe it's time to bring rationing back? It would make people think twice about throwing good food away, while ensuring the low paid ate properly. You could favour British producers and save a fortune on food-related health care. Yes, I know it won't happen, but I can dream.
Illustration: WW2 propaganda poster.

Who broke Britain? No one.

David Cameron goes on about "broken Britain", as though it was once a law-abiding haven where socially responsible people with family values lived; the sort that Margaret Thatcher was fond of referring to. Who broke it? And how? When did this happen? Cameron did history at A level, then PPE at Oxford, so maybe his grasp of history, particularly social history, is tenuous, but it doesn't take much research to discover that things have been a lot worse in the recent past. Far from being "broken", Britian's fixed a lot of things.

They mentioned an interesting fact on QI; crime went up by 57% during the Blitz. Hitler provided a helpful distraction while home-grown criminals went looting. Some pretended to be ARP wardens, complete with helmets, so that no one questioned them when they were helping themselves. They didn't confine themselves to looting shops, the wartime criminals; some went into bomb-damaged homes and helped themselves to other people's valuables, even while there were bodies close by.

Last month's riots started when a few idiots high-jacked a peaceful demonstration. Once the fires started and civil disorder spread, urban criminals seized the opportunity to go looting. It was nothing like as widespread as what happened in the Blitz. The proportion of offences committed by people who already had criminal records has been disputed - Boris Johnson claimed it was three quarters (in one report, it said he referred to "three fourths"), while the police say that they targeted known criminals - but whoever was right, criminal opportunism seems to explain a lot of it.

It's been said that civilisation is a thin veneer. There will always be people who'll exploit any opportunity to get things the easy way; by helping themselves. There will always be people who behave as if no one else matters. They're a minority. Nothing is "broken".

As for "family values" - here are just a few examples of "the good old days":
  • The number of births outside wedlock shot up during and immediately after the war.
  • Infanticide was far more common than now in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, as girls in service who'd been raped by their male employers or their employers' sons were desperate enough to abandon their babies to die because they had no means of support.
  • During the same era, the fear of crime drove people to wear spiked collars, like the ones worn by modern S & M aficionados, to protect themselves from thieves who garrotted their victims - today's muggers are tame in comparison.
  • There were enormous numbers of prostitutes in London and other cities during Victoria's reign, and many wives were infected with VD by their erring husbands.

Since the 1960s, when many imagined that the introduction of the pill and women's liberation meant the end of civilisation as they knew it, we've become far less tolerant of drunkenness, domestic violence, and casual criminality. Most people's lives are far safer, healthier and more comfortable than the lives of their great-grandparents (as a funeral celebrant, I've heard lots of life stories about people who were born at the beginning of the 20th century).

Nobody broke Britain. Cameron's fluent in bullshit and crap at running the country.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Nuclear power? You cannot be serious!

The Japanese will have to deal with radioactive pollution from the Fukushima reactor for generations. A reactor in Maryland has been damaged by Hurricane Irene. Don't forget Sellafield. What they all have in common is that they're by the sea, which no one can control. We have a nuclear power station at Sizewell on the Suffolk coast, where a North Sea surge caused huge damage in 1953, and it's likely to happen again. I don't care what the nimbies say, I'd sooner have the whole country covered with wind turbines than one more nuclear reactor.

The Sizewell Debate

CANE (Communities Against Nuclear Expansion)

e-petition against nuclear power

Illustration © M Nelson 2010

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ernie the ignoramus

Ernie Rea presents a BBC Radio 4 programme called "Beyond Belief", described as "A series exploring the place and nature of faith in today's world." It's sure to irritate people like me because it's hopelessly biased in favour of the religious, who are given a sympathetic hearing and allowed to talk utter twaddle without fear of contradiction. For this reason, I don't usually listen, but the radio was on the other week when I was busy, and I didn't get around to switching it off before I became incensed over Rea's ignorant use of the words "secularism" and "secular" as synonymous with atheism or anti-theism. This happens a lot, you might say; religious leaders, such as pontificating bishops, do it all the time, but this was the bloody BBC! They're supposed to know what words mean. I expect BBC presenters to use the English language correctly. So I complained:
It's incumbent upon a Radio 4 presenter to use words correctly, even if his or her guests do not. During today's programme, Rea and his guests all demonstrated their ignorance of secularism by using the word to mean atheism or anti-religion. Secularism means the separation of religion and the state, so that no one religion dominates. It's the only system that allows everyone to practice his or her religion freely, or not to follow any religion, provided that he or she does no harm. The UK isn't totally secular, as we still have an established church, but the US, Canada, France (and others) have secular constitutions and are secular states, guaranteeing their citizens freedom of and freedom from religion. I spoke about this at a local Forum of Faiths a while ago: This isn't the only instance of the word being used incorrectly in BBC radio and TV programmes - it happens all too often - and it drives me mad.
I've just had a reply:
Dear Ms Nelson,

Thanks for contacting us regarding ‘Beyond Belief’ broadcast on 15 August on BBC Radio 4. We understand you’re unhappy with the use of the word ‘Secularism’ in the programme because you feel it’s used incorrectly.

The BBC is conscious of the need to maintain high standards of spoken English and pronunciation throughout its broadcasts; standards that not only include fairness and impartiality, but also proper use of language.

We’re sorry you feel this hasn’t been the case when using the term ‘Secularism’, we can assure you no offence or annoyance was intended.

We'd like to assure you that your feedback has been registered on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that's made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, programme makers, channel controllers and other senior managers. The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards
Leigh Mallon
BBC Complaints
Will Rea make an apology on air? I doubt it. You can still hear the programme, for a limited time.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

It's all those bloody cuts/foreigners/gangs/Tories/kids ...

My lovely home help commented on the riots, "They're all bloody foreigners, aren't they?" Have you noticed how many people have blamed the riots on whichever group they're particularly prejudiced against, or the group that fits in with their pet theory about what's wrong with society? I know I've done it myself. The list so far: poverty, the cuts, the Tories, envy of the super-rich, gangs, "bloody foreigners", "bloody kids". Think it's time that we had some solid research into the reasons that people behave the way they do. Evicting council tenants won't solve the problem. Understanding why it's happened might. These are some of the commentators who've made the most sense to me so far:

No shame, no limits: Has the behaviour of the mob destroyed the idea of British civility for ever?

Camila Batmanghelidjh: Caring costs – but so do riots

The London Riots - On Consumerism coming Home to Roost

None of these offers a total explanation but they're all relevant.

If MPs try to turn this into a party political issue, they'll confirm a popular opinion that they're all idiots. After all, as someone on the news pointed out, the 11-year-old who was arrested the other day grew up under Labour.

I wrote a blog post about this a few days ago, then deleted it when it became out of date. However, I haven't changed my view that there's been a large group of young people, mainly boys, that's been out of control for years; it's just that there are more of them. They haven't had good parenting, mainly because their parents didn't have good parenting either. There are more of them because it's a cycle of chaos and neglect. As Batmanghelidjh says, putting that right will take time and money. With everyone clamouring for swift action, it doesn't seem likely that that will happen.

The Guardian reports that it's setting up a survey to get to the bottom of why people riot, and have referred to a survey done after the 1967 Detroit riots. The results were interesting:
"One theory was that the rioters were poor and uneducated. No, the survey found otherwise. There was no correlation between economic status and participation in the disturbance. College-educated residents were as likely as high school dropouts to have taken part."
As British rioters have been appearing in court, people have expressed surprise about who they are, as some don't fit the stereotypes; a primary school teaching assistant, students, a graphic designer, etc. If those who've already made up their minds would pay attention for a change, they might find more of their prejudices challenged.

As for my home help and her willingness to blame "foreigners"; it's a familiar theme in her family, where periods of joblessness have been attributed to "foreigners coming over here and taking our jobs". I resisted the urge to tell her about the tweet that said,
"Turkish and Asian groups have stood up to, chased off rioters. Coming over here, defending our boroughs & communities."

Sunday, July 17, 2011


I had a haircut the other day at a place in town where you don't need an appointment. I don't remember how we got around to talking about dirty people, but the young man who cut my hair told me that sometimes he'll ask a customer if they'd like a shampoo first and they'll say no, so he has to cut hair that hasn't been washed for days. I said that I feel sorry for dentists, when they have to work on smelly mouths with rotten teeth. I don't suppose that dentists can refuse, but I don't think I'd be willing to cut someone's smelly hair.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Grumpy old Goddess

If there was a god, and if she was any use at all, she'd get her act in gear and consider the following:
Smite all the despots, tyrants, bullies, and anyone who's really annoying, like Piers Morgan.

Control humankind's fertility, as the super-breeders clearly can't do it themselves. Place similar restrictions on the fertility of dogs, cats, domestic livestock, and those annoying little thrips that drive you mad before harvest-time.

Introduce a few predators and acts of goddess to cut down the numbers substantially, only with minimum pain and suffering.

Make all the homophobes homosexual - it's possible that many already are, but in denial.

Punish any misogynist, patriarchal women-botherers by instantly tying their penises in a very painful knot whenever they have any misogynist, patriarchal women-botherering thoughts, until they stop.

Instantly correct the malfunctioning thought processes of any women who utter the words, "I'm not a feminist, but..." to preface some half-baked whinge or other. There is no "but"!

Make money vanish, so that humanity adopts the Star Trek system ("Money doesn't exist in the 24th century." - Picard), which is like the old socialist system of "from each according to his/her means to each according to his/her needs", but with everyone playing a useful role in society that won't involve things like producing moronic Saturday night television.

Make it impossible for news outlets to tell an untruth.
Humanity really isn't as bright as it thinks it is.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Google maps memories No.2

I've found a few more of the places where I've lived on Google Maps - see yesterday's post.

As far as I can tell, as Google only drove past the end of the drive, this might be the farm on the English-Welsh border near Chirbury, where I worked when I first left home. It was called Moat Farm, but I like to think of it as Cold Comfort Farm, only worse. I got the job through an advert in Farmers' Weekly. It was no rural idyll. For the first few weeks, my friend Ann kept me company, before she left to go to university. After that, I was on my own with a weird family - Mum, Dad, chain-smoking Auntie, several unpleasant kids, and an old man whose origin I never knew, who wore creaky gaiters and lived in the attic. They bred Friesian dairy cattle, now commonly bred with Holstein imported from the US. If you've seen black and white cows in fields, that's them. They also produced fertile hens' eggs to be sold to the hatcheries, so we always had the double-yolkers, which were rejects, for breakfast. I milked cows and cleaned up after them, as well as a variety of other jobs, from 6.30am to anything up to 10pm, and all for a few £ a week. In those days, the milk was collected every day in large churns that had to be loaded onto a lorry from a milk stand about a metre high. Some churns were aluminium, some were steel. They were all heavy, but the steel ones were heaviest. I soon grew muscles on my muscles from lifting the damn things. The best thing that you could say about the place was that I was well fed. I had to be, all the calories I burned every day. Apart from that, it wasn't great. They sacked a couple of men the week before I started, and I was expected to do a lot of the work they'd done for less money. It didn't take me long to realise that I was being exploited, so I left. I spent the winter of 1962-63 on another farm, near Flint, where my boss was a kind man who'd survived the war as a prisoner of the Japanese in Changi Prisoner of War camp and working on the Burma railway. Bill said that the film The Bridge on the River Kwai was nothing like his experience; it wasn't horrible enough. One of the other prisoners was the illustrator Ronald Searle, most well known for the Belles of St Trinians, who drew everything that went on around them. When I left the farm to go back to Liverpool and art college, Bill said that he'd always think of me when he saw a box of Kleenex; we'd spent a lot of time that winter delivering milk around Flint with a box in the van, suffering from never-ending colds.

After a year at Liverpool College of Art, Ann and I spent the summer working in a market garden in Poeldijk, Holland, run by the Van Wingerden family. Ann lived in the house on the left with Papa and Mama and their unmarried son and daughter, while I lived next door in the bungalow, with the married son, his wife and baby. There were acres of greenhouses at the back, where they grew tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, peaches and other crops. We were very healthy, with so much fresh food. We mostly worked with the tomatoes, either pricking out seedlings or picking ripe fruit. We went on a barge to take them to market once or twice. The family was very kind. Papa spoke no English but that didn't stop him telling long-winded stories about the war, when they'd been occupied. One of his favourite stories was about fooling the Germans when they came to inspect the house with a view to billeting soldiers there. Papa borrowed some babies and small children from friends and deliberately made them cry, so that the Germans decided the house was far too noisy and crossed him off the list. He used sign language when Theo (his youngest son) couldn't translate fast enough to keep up. Papa smoked fat cigars and whenever he laughed it set him off on a wheezing session. Ann and I learned enough Dutch to get by; enough to fool the tourists when they saw us walking down the street in our wooden clogs and assumed we were local. We'd wave and smile and say a few words of Dutch, and the Americans (it was usually Americans) took photos and went away happy. One weekend, Papa decided to take us to the museum in The Hague, where we joined a party with a tour guide. She was giving a commentary in English, Dutch and French. For some reason, she thought Papa was English, so she directed some of her English commentary at him, while Ann and I were assumed to be Dutch. Papa played along, nodding furiously and saying "O yes!" now and then, while we said "Ja!" whenever she looked at us. As we left, Papa was laughing so much that he couldn't stop choking on his cigar.Theo was a student at the university in Amsterdam, where he shared a house, so we were able to stay there some weekends, drink a lot of lager, and explore the clubs and galleries. It was a good summer.

After a year at Liverpool College of Art and a summer in Holland, I went to Exeter College of Art for a three year course in Fine Art. To begin with, I had digs with a family in Topsham, on the River Exe, a short train ride from town, then I rented a flat here, in Monmouth Street, with another eccentric family. The house with the arch over the door on the right is where I lived. The couple who owned it dealt in junk of one sort or another, so the hallway was always full of the overflow. The wife's standard of hygiene left a lot to be desired, so it wasn't surprising that her husband, a small, weedy looking man, was frequently ill with stomach claimants. Apparently he'd been a prisoner of war too, which hadn't done his health any good. His wife's cooking didn't seem to be doing him much good either.

Wile I was in Topsham I worked here, at The Lighter Inn, for a man called Harold, who had a heart attack late one night after a lock-in. Small cargo boats used to moor at the quay next to the pub. I was going out with (or staying in with) one of the regulars, a former professional footballer called Patrick, when a small Dutch crew invited us aboard after closing time for a few drinks. I was so busy enjoying myself that I didn't notice that my glass was being surreptitiously topped up with Dutch gin as fast as I was drinking it. When we went up on deck I was so drunk I couldn't stand up. Patrick gave me a fireman's over the gangplank. The next day, with the worst hangover I've ever had, I realised that (a) he was almost as drunk as I was and (b) the tide was out, so there was just thick mud under the plank, and (c) I can't swim anyway. If he'd dropped me, that would  have been it. Patrick and some of the other guys took me fishing with nets in the Exe, so I often got to keep the smaller fish they'd otherwise have thrown back. I used to collect buckets of mussels along the shore as well, which were good with brown bread and butter, and if I hadn't been fishing, there'd be fresh mackerel for sale off the back of a van in the pub car park at weekends.

After a year or so in Topsham, I moved into Exeter, where I shared a flat in Wonford Road, on the left of this photo. I bought some old furniture for my room, including an enormous desk where I worked, kept my pet rat, Oscar, and a collection of skulls and pickled creatures in formaldehyde (I got there before Damian Hurst). While I was in Exeter my friend Lyn (who shared the flat for a while) got married one summer. We trooped off to the register office and then went paddling in the park with another friend's baby. Lyn and Nick are grandparents now.

Google maps memories No. 1

I started looking for places where I've lived or worked on Google Maps the other day, to see how they'd changed. I couldn't find some. I'd either lost the addresses or they'd changed so much I didn't recognise them. Some buildings have had a change of use. Some have deteriorated, others have been done up. Hardly any were as I remembered them.

This is where I was born, in Waterloo, Liverpool. In 1944, before the establishment of the NHS, it was a Catholic maternity home. My family wasn't Catholic, but it was local and my mum didn't want a home birth. In fact, she'd have preferred not to be at the birth at all, just like she'd rather not have been at the conception, so my dad had to find the money (over £100, which was a lot in those days) to pay for private care. It's called Park House, and it's still run by nuns, though now it's a bed and breakfast. Nathan and I stayed there when we went up for a family funeral a few years ago. It was very clean and the breakfast was good, but Jesus and Mary were everywhere, and there were crucifixes over our beds. I told the nun who brought our breakfast that I'd been born there and she said we were in what had been the nursery.

This is Fernhill Avenue, Bootle, where my paternal grandmother lived in the first house on the left with her youngest son, my Uncle Colin, who didn't marry until I was in my teens. My mum and I stayed here when I was a toddler, while Dad was still away at the end of the war - he served in Norway. Mum and her mother-in-law didn't get on especially well, from what I can gather. Nana wasn't a generous woman. She continued to use war rations in her cookery long after rationing ended. We always celebrated Christmas here on Boxing Day with my dad's family, when I'd have to share a bed with Nana. It was hot and uncomfortable, as she had a feather mattress with a big dip in the middle, so you slid together however hard you tried not to. Her hair was long enough to sit on (it wasn't cut until she got old, to make it easier to care for her), and seldom washed, so there was an overpowering smell of unwashed hair in bed. It was always a relief to go home, and back to my own bed.

We moved a couple of times after my birth in 1944 and my sister's in 1949, until my maternal grandmother died in 1953, the same year as the king, as Mum pointed out. This nana wasn't especially old - she couldn't have been more than her early sixties - and my mum was devastated. Nana had raised five kids virtually single-handed, as my granddad was a merchant seaman, so away a lot. When he was home, he wasn't much use about the house. When Nana died we moved into their rented home so that Mum could care for her dad, who was a miserable old man. I didn't like taking friends home while he was still alive, because of his antisocial habits. Mum had a lot to cope with; caring for her dad, fostering a baby nephew when her sister had a breakdown, and two stroppy daughters. The house has changed a lot. New rendering on the walls, new windows, and the shared access to the rear of the houses, where a crazy neighbour once tried to set fire to Dad's car, divided up and fenced off. I left here as soon as I could, when I was about seventeen or eighteen, to work on a farm in North Wales, but had to come back for about a year when I went to Art College in Liverpool. That was on condition that I worked at weekends and paid all my own expenses. Mum used to complain that I embarrassed her because I came home on the bus covered in paint or plaster dust.

This is where I had my first job when I left school at sixteen, as a clerk with the Midland Bank. It's not a bank any more. It was near the docks but not so far from home that I couldn't cycle to work. It was before equal pay, and I got about £21 a month and gave half to Mum for my keep. On the weekends that I didn't have to work (we did alternate Saturdays), I sometimes took my rucksack to work on Fridays so that I could meet my best friend, Ann, who worked in another branch of the bank nearby, and we'd go and catch the ferry to Birkenhead, then a bus to North Wales, where we went youth hostelling.
This is a view across to Liverpool from Birkenhead. The ferry was always packed with commuters on Friday evenings, and we delighted in walking around the deck with our rucksacks on, in the opposite direction to everyone else.

After a couple of years working on dairy farms in North Wales for £4 a week plus my keep, I got a place at art college and Ann went to university. I worked here at Lewis's department store on Saturdays, moved from one department to another to cover for absentees. When I was working in the cafeteria on the top floor, the manager asked to see some of my drawings, took the nudes from my life drawing class into his office for half an hour and appeared rather flushed when he emerged, saying "Very nice", before rushing off to do something he'd forgotten to do. Some of our regular customers were prostitutes who worked on Lime Street, including one whose face was covered in pock marks. She was always very friendly. I worked with a woman called Joan, who wouldn't wear the regulation nylon overall but brought her own semi-transparent one with a pleated skirt. You always knew when she was coming because she had so much cheap jewellery on that she jingled like Santa's sleigh, and she used to whoop with laughter at the slightest thing. She was great fun to be with and had a fund of funny stories to tell, including the one about how her friend had sat on a man's knee in a pub loo during the war, because it was the blackout and she'd been in so much of a hurry to pull her knickers down that she hadn't checked that she was in the ladies. The man got the surprise of his life.

After my Pre-Diploma course at Liverpool College of art, which I did in a year instead of the usual two because I was classed as a "mature student", I spent a summer working with Ann on a market garden in Poledijk, Holland, before leaving home for the last time to study in Devon. Every time I went home, things had changed, so that eventually I hardly recognised lots of the places I'd known. I haven't been back for years.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How to beat cancer with money

I contributed to an online focus group for Cancer Research last week. They wanted to know what we thought of the various ways they use to get their message across. Obviously, those of us who've had cancer, or who've known someone with cancer, are far more receptive to their appeals.

It reminded me of a Thought for the Day I did on BBC Radio Suffolk in October 1998. This is an edited version:
My life is divided into two — BC and AD — Before Cancer and After Diagnosis. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve conducted too many funerals for people who died from cancer, and every time I think that could have been me. I’ve lost friends and relatives, and so have my friends and relatives.

Breast and testicular cancer are two of the commonest cancers. Both involve wobbly bits of our bodies that help to generate and nurture new life, so it’s especially cruel that those same bits can kill us — or maybe not, if we catch the disease in time and take effective action.

Since cancer drew attention to my mortality life has changed. I’m less tolerant in some respects, more in others. It infuriates me to see people doing stupid things, like driving one-handed with a mobile phone clutched to their ear as they take a corner, risking their life and mine — the life I wanted to live for much longer. What sort of pathetic excuse would they offer my family for killing me with carelessness? I’m less inclined to sympathise with whingers who don’t know when they’re well off. I tolerate things that used to bother me, things that really don’t matter. I worry less. I value my family and my real friends, those who’ve seen me through the bad times. I’m more inclined to say what I think, but maybe that’s just my age?

If you value your life, take care of yourself. Feel your wobbly bits regularly in the privacy of your bathroom or bedroom, and if there’s anything there you’re not quite sure about, go and see your doctor. Stay well. Be happy.
There are several charities that cancer patients and their families donate to, often after they've lost someone, including MacMillan Nurses, Marie Curie Nurses, and their local hospice, but what about a donation to Cancer Research UK, who've helped to keep many more of us alive? Just click on the logo at the top of the page.

Oh, with reference to my previous post about reports that people have "beat cancer", or lost a "fight" with cancer, and how annoying they are, wouldn't it be good if, just sometimes, journalists would drop the tired old clichés and give credit where it's due, to the medical profession and the research scientists, when one of us survives?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Too much to tweet

On super-injunctions and Twitter

The Lord Chief Justice is quoted as saying "modern technology is totally out of control and everybody can put anything on it". The Iranian and Chinese governments (among others) would probably agree with him.

On the Rapture and the End of the World

The end of the world story has attracted a lot of attention because it's absurd and the jokes keep coming. Meanwhile, the consequences of climate change, which threaten everyone on the planet one way or another, are ignored. The sort of religious fundamentalists who issue dire warnings about salvation are often the same people who deny that there is such a thing.

On Monsieur Strauss-Khan and his embarrassing and inconvenient difficulties
Hugh Schofield of the BBC wrote:
I have always thought the British-French dichotomy to be hokum of the highest order. The basis of the idea is that while the British are prudish and repressed about sex, the French are triumphantly open about it.

Therefore it would be impossible to conceive of a French sex scandal, because no-one would find it shocking if prominent people were engaged in extra-marital affairs. It would just be perfectly normal behaviour. But I think this view of the French is wrong.

It is the same lazy stereotyping that perpetuates the notion that the French are extraordinary lovers. They have no hang-ups about sex, so they cut to the chase and perform the act with all the fiery passion of their frenetic Gallic genes.
One must presume innocence until proven guilty, but Dominique has a reputation for not keeping his trousers on in situations where it would be wiser to do so. "The great seducer" appears to be nothing more than a clumsily randy old man. The fallacy that French men are all "great seducers" and the convention that the sex lives of the rich and powerful should be protected by powerful privacy laws (unlike the UK) seems to allow no end of sexual shenanigans to be ignored. Not in New York, though.

Silvio Berlusconi also fancies himself as a great seducer. What is it with these ugly old men, that makes attractive young women prostitute themselves? Oh, silly me. Money.

Whenever she heard of male sexual misbehaviour, my mum would suggest that whoever had misbehaved should "tie a knot in it". If only.

On Netanyahu saying no to Obama

It would be political suicide for Netanyahu to agree to President Obama's suggestion that Israel should go back to its pre-1967 borders. He referred to "certain changes that have taken place" but the biggest change wasn't mentioned, which is that Israel has accepted thousands of immigrants since 1967, while thousands of Palestinians have been displaced by this influx. Le Monde says, "The 2.6 million immigrants who have arrived since 1948 have made Israel the only country whose population has multiplied by nine in the space of 50 years".

Immigrants from America appear to be some of the most ignorant and prejudiced Zionists, as recent TV programmes by Louis Theroux and Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou suggest. Dr Stavrakopoulou found Israeli tour guides giving very fanciful explanations for the archaeological evidence for Israel's claim to the "Promised Land". She said that her research led her to think that much of what's been taught about King David and the Jews right to the land is simply untrue. However, as long as a majority of Israelis believe the stories they've been fed since childhood, and as long as they keep building to house the next influx, no Israeli Premier can afford to agree with Obama.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Letter to my MP

Dear Mr Yeo,

I’ve relied on the NHS more than most people. I was born in 1944, so I’m just a few years older than the NHS. Soon after it was introduced, I had pneumonia. I remember very little about it except a frightening visit to hospital for an X-ray with my mother.

About 30 years later, my son was born in an NHS hospital after a procedure to prevent premature birth, because I’d previously miscarried.

I’ve had treatment or care for hepatitis, pyelitis (thanks to a kidney deformity), depression, cancer (twice), heart disease, asthma, arthritis, cellulitis and macular degeneration. I’ve had ME for 25 years, and I’ve had a hysterectomy, a lumpectomy, a mastectomy, an abdominal sacrocolpopexy, and surgery involving a plate for a broken ankle. Before it was computerised, my file at my GP’s surgery was enormous. My hospital file is similarly large.

Without the NHS, I’d have been dead a long time ago.

So you can imagine that I feel very strongly about the NHS, and how it should be managed. I do not accept that increasing privatisation will benefit patients or reduce costs. PFI, used to build hospitals like the Norfolk & Norwich under Labour, has been enormously wasteful of public funds. I see no good reason for extending its use. I fully agree with all the points made by the BMA:

Please restrain Mr Lansley and urge your colleagues to think again about the changes being proposed to the NHS.

Margaret Nelson