Monday, December 29, 2008


I have just enjoyed a wonderful Christmas. Both my daughters are home and are well. My wife (at her very best around Christmas) and I have escaped from the stresses of work for a few days and are much the better for it. My mother and mother-in-law are in good health and clearly enjoyed Christmas Day which we all celebrated at my brother's house (with my sister-in-law and my baby niece) along with my sister and her family. We all ate a little too much; nobody drank to excess. We had a wonderful time coping with family banter around a large table. I missed my Dad (he died in March) but we exchanged some lovely memories of him between us all. Boxing Day was an equally pleasant occasion; smaller, at our house. The other days have been spent curled up with books, seeing friends, enjoying a well-earned holiday. Presents? Of course. Some really good presents from people who actually thought about what I would like. Likewise, me to them.
But I have to say, in all honesty, that Christmas without the people around me would be truly awful.
The perennial description of Christmas as a greed-based, over-commercialised, erstwhile-Christian excuse for gluttony and drunkenness is not recognised in my house or my family. We love Christmas for what I hope are the right reasons.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Before 9pm we get a lot of words (especially with programmes featuring Stephen Fry and/or Joe Kinnear) "bleeped out". You can still see that they are saying f*** (or whatever) but the noise coming from their larynx is obliterated. Interestingly, the phrase "cock-up" seems to have crossed some borderline into acceptability (i.e. it is said on the BBC News), although "cock", as used by James May, has not. Strange.
I worry about "new wave" swearing. Is "minger" a swearword? I was told recently that "minger" was harsh but just acceptable whereas "munter" wasn't. I was, duly, abashed. I wonder will "chav" ("charver" up this end of the UK) transform into a genuine "four-letter-word"?
Those "this will shock you" FCUK shirts are pushing it I always think. That said, I would love a t-shirt with "CNUT: Our Danish King" emblazoned on the front. That would turn a few heads.
I do like new or hybrid swearwords. The brilliantly descriptive "fugly" is a wonderful example of a hybrid swearword. But is it a bleepable swearword? I know not.
I have, in truth, just thought of an excellent, instantly bleepable hybrid. But I dare not write it. It is not yet 9pm and I would not like to offend.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Life: Quantity versus Quality

Every piece of advice that comes out of our Nanny State seems to focus on prolonging life at all costs without a second glance towards the real issue, the quality of people's lives. Admittedly, "quality of life" is a difficult parameter to measure, unlike "quantity of life" which is simply Date of Death minus Date of Birth. But surely to God we are not so facile as to believe that a long life automatically equals a high quality life.
When I read of the massive increase in Alzheimer's cases with our oldest citizens having to sit through fifteen years of absolutely nothing happening before their bodies finally pack in I am overcome with sadness. Far, far better to bid them farewell much earlier when they could appreciate the goodbye. Our memories of them would be far better for it.
So next time HM Government warns you off that bottle of beer and bag of chips (with extra salt) just remember, it is a lot better than staring at a wall all day and not knowing you are staring at a wall.
Quality or quantity? Quality every time.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Possibly Feeling Stupid

Returning to Global Warming for a mo (then I'll shut it for a while; promise); I wonder have the ecofascists considered the possibility of being wrong? As you know I agree with the obvious fact that the Earth is warming up, but I am most vehemently against the wholly unproven assertion that atmospheric CO2 is causing it. All we are doing by adding CO2 to the atmosphere is making it easier for plants to grow. Instead of 3 molecules per 10,000 they now have 4 that they can do something with.
If I (amongst others) have got it right, the CO2 lobby are going to look seriously stupid in a couple of years time. CO2 levels are not going to go down (India and China will see to that, and good luck to them) but the planet is going to cool eventually. What about all the money we've spent on carbon footprints, carbon taxes and a hundred other initiatives that use "carbon" as an adjective? My God, they are going to look like a massive waste of money in a time when wasting money is a genuinely terrible idea.
If we start to cool down with CO2 still going up then every ecofascist in the world is going to have to get their escape plans sorted. I am looking forward to the careers in ruins, the pointless projects abandoned and their hollow rhetoric being roundly ridiculed. They deserve it. The "scientific method" has been trampled by these self-seeking fools. The sooner we realise that and get back to doing properly argued and tested science the better.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


A mortgage (literally a "dead pledge") dies as a contract when it is paid off or repayment fails. I don't have a mortgage any more. We took ours out in 1981. In those days you had a proper interview with a Battleaxe Mk.1 from the Building Society. She scrutinised salary details very closely. She could (and did, to others) say "No". We went through interest rates as high as 17% at one stage. We never missed a payment.
We are obviously returning to those days but in the meantime we have thousands who are financing mortgages that they can't afford in houses that aren't worth anything like what they paid for them.
Who's to blame? The ones who borrowed the money or the ones who were prepared to lend amounts that were clearly unsustainable. I'm just glad it isn't me.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Memorials to Stupidity

A dozen bunches of flowers tied roughly to the railings, a partially-deflated balloon doing its best to be less dense than air, a teddy bear garrotted by a nylon tie. We see them every few miles these days. They are stark reminders that in the battle between pedestrian and car there is only ever one winner.
I pass three of these memorials daily. One is barely fifty metres from a set of traffic lights - and safety. The second and third are at places on a motorway that no-one should attempt a crossing, but these too are less than a minute's walk from a safe crossing point. One is virtually adjacent to a subway.
Nearly always, the victims are teenagers "chancing it" across a too-busy road.
I offer no solution to this problem, only my profound sympathy for those left to mourn their loss.
Please be careful.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Warming Other Globes

Now here's an idea. Tell your friends. It hasn't been done yet but it might answer once and for all the vexed question of what is causing our global warming.
As you know, I believe that carbon dioxide has absolutely nothing to do with our global warming. Our globe warms and cools because of a combination of solar activity and the Milankovic cycles. Well, I've come up with a test.
If solar activity is the global warming culprit it will be warming other globes too. Venus (closer to the Sun) and Mars (further from the Sun) will also feel the affects of solar activity, just like us. Venus is a bit of a dead loss because it has no built in "thermometer". But Mars - now there we have a really good inbuilt thermometer: Martian ice caps. If the Martian ice caps are growing/shrinking in sympathy with the Earth's mean temperature (or the Earth's ice caps to use the same measure) we can be sure it is the Sun that is causing global warming and not us. There. Problem solved.
When you've measured the changes, let me know. I expect an acknowledgement.

Irish Referenda

You can't say "no" to Brussels, it seems. The Irish tried and have been told "wrong answer, try again". I'm no expert, but when the Irish people - some of the most politically savvy in the world I would suggest - say "No" it is because they mean "No".
I hope the next referendum is an even bigger "No". Not because I'm against the Lisbon Treaty (I'm actually quite a fan) but because the democratic process is much bigger and much more important than the beaurocracy of the EU. If a nation votes against something in the only process that even approximates to true democracy - the referendum - their choice should be recognised and respected.
So come on Ireland! If I promise to vote for Eoghan Quigg will you promise to vote "NO!" and uphold democracy for all of us?

PS: I know Eoghan is from Northern Ireland. I'm still in shock from Diana Vickers bombing out.

Congestion Charges

I don't want to come over as all Clarksonesque here but you have to ask: Why on earth is Manchester bothering to vote on a congestion charge? What will they do when the turkeys don't vote for Christmas? Run the vote again, no doubt [see Irish Referenda].
If only someone in the lying, festering, corrupt system that we laughingly call democracy would have the decency to admit that congestion charges are just another way of ripping hard-earned money out of our hands, I might be tempted to vote yes purely because I was in shock. But they won't. They'll tell us a shed-load of lies and expect us to believe it. In London the average length of a journey to work has increased since congestion charges were introduced. Well done. Use buses, I am told. A single bus causes more damage to the road than 50 cars. The typical engine in a bus produces more pollution than 10 cars and it runs all day instead of just two half-hour bursts. Absolute madness. And where does all the money go? Certainly not on our transport infrastructure. Our roads are a disgrace. Have a look at your road markings next time you are out and about. You will be doing well to find any. Happy motoring!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cigarettes, Whisky & Wild Wild Women

I don't think the jury is actually out on this any more: Cigarettes are harmful. Be that as it may, until they are made illegal we should get off smokers' backs. The next small lurch towards making them illegal comes with the suggestion that vending machines might be scrapped. For God's sake! Either do it or don't do it. We have been dithering now for 40 years. If they are SO bad, ban them. It could be the tax revenues. Ciggies bring in a LOT more than the NHS spends on treating the harm that they do [my thanks to GC for this research]. Or perhaps it is just the JPs, GPs, VIPs and MPs that like a smoke. Probably.
If we ever do get round to banning smoking we can be sure that the guns will then turn on other targets. Alcohol? Motorbikes? Toy guns? Darts? Sucky sweets? ad infinitum...
Lad's mags are yet another pointless target. As if "Rebecca Loos Naked" in big letters wasn't a clue, the lesbimafia want everything from Nuts to Practical Mechanics stuck on the top shelf with a big sticker on saying... Well what, exactly? "You'll go blind" perhaps.
At 5'8" the top shelf is already out of my reach. Tall teenagers are OK though.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Meat and Alcohol

Jo Brand once poses the rhetorical question: "If we aren't supposed to eat animals, why are they all made out of meat?" She has a point, you know.
Vegetarianism has always been a bit of a non-starter for me. We are not supposed to be vegetarians. Look at our teeth, our digestive system, our enzymes. Omnivores; that's what we are. We have all the anatomical traits of omnivores. Eating only plants is a choice driven by squeamishness.
For much of the human race, alcohol falls into the same category. We are equipped with specialised emzymes to be able to cope with alcohol. So drink it! It seems a shame to waste all that alcohol dehydrogenase. In the far East we humans made our water fit to drink (and hence cut the death rate) by boiling. That's where tea became important. In Europe we cleaned our water using the antiseptic properties of alcohol in ale, lager, beer - whatever.
Bacon sandwiches and Guinness - it's great being a human.

Enhancing the Brain

I was intrigued today to hear of a range of new "brain enhancing drugs" being developed (at great cost, no doubt) that will get us going in the mornings. Apparently, these drugs will make us more alert and able to think more clearly. If they are proven to be safe (a process that will take a few years and many millions yet) they might dramatically change our society. The effect is similar - they say - to having a strong cup of coffee.
So forget the drugs.
Have a strong cup of coffee.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


It's hard not to get poetic about snow. For a start, "snow" rhymes with loads of things. Then there is the complete and utter beauty of the stuff. Snowflakes; beautiful. Every one different, so we are told.
But hang on.
Britain has an average rainfall of about 900 mm. That's a sheet of water 209,331 km2 in area, 900mm deep. That's 1.8 x 1011 m3 of water every year. That's 1.8 x 1017 cm3 and there are 20 raindrops to 1cm3 so that gives us 3.8 x 1018 raindrops annually. If only one in a hundred of these raindrops falls as snow (it is probably a bit more than this) then we still have 3.8 x 1016 snowflakes every year. The land mass we know as "Britain" has existed in its present form for about 450,000 years so in that time, 1.7 x 1022 snowflakes have landed on British soil.
Now call me unimaginative, but I think that in 1,700,000,000,000,000,000,000 snowflakes there may be a good chance that two were the same. Britain is only a tiny fraction of the surface of the Earth that gets snowed upon. The total number of snowflakes that have hit the planet must be massively higher. No two the same?
I think not.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Those adverts about informing on your neighbourhood benefit fraudsters are a bit scary. What if you were wrong? How are we supposed to find out what benefit they are on in the first place to ascertain whether they are benefit frauds? I honestly don't know if any, or all, of my neighbours are on benefit. Furthermore, I don't want to know. What's it got to do with me?
Privacy, quite clearly, is becoming an obsolescent concept.
From what I can tell, our Civil Service (an oxymoron if ever there was one) have a massive system already set up to administer the "welfare state". It surely doesn't need to rely on a nasty old curtain-twitcher across the street with a spiral bound notebook from Woolies (RIP) and a pencil she nicked from IKEA.
What might be a shed-load of fun is if we ALL responded to that stupid advert by dropping someone in the clarts who was, blatantly, not guilty. That would flood them out with false leads.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Bus Lanes

I hate bus lanes. Inner city traffic congestion is caused by bus lanes. My taxes paid for these largely empty ribbons of tarmac and I'm not allowed to use them. And buses; what's that all about! Never full. Three grannies and two students at best; running intermittently to places where people don't want to catch them. Since road damage goes up as the fourth power of axle weight we should be banning buses, not encouraging them. Anyway, they cost a fortune.
Then there's taxis. Since when did "bus" and "taxi" mean the same thing. Taxis are not small buses. They are not "public transport". Get out of the bus lanes!
Time for a beta-blocker, I think.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


The albedo of an object is the extent to which it diffusely reflects light from the sun. The Earth has an albedo of 0.29 (i.e. 29% of incident sunlight is diffusely reflected back into space). At present, the Earth is warming up. If the Earth's albedo increases to 0.30 we will reverse the warming process and Earth will cool down - it is that finely balanced.
So here's a plan: Let's pump seawater on to areas that are completely unused and essentially useless and let it evaporate. Deserts; about 30% of the Earth's surface. I'm thinking Sahara, Gobi, central Australia, the "Empty Quarter" in the Middle east and the Kalahari for starters. When the water evaporates (this by itself will cool the Earth) it will leave behind a highly reflective layer of salt. More sunlight will be reflected, the Earth will cool down, we will all be saved. Yay!
Since deserts do very little for the planet at the moment, it would be a pleasant change for them to be actually useful. That 1% increase in albedo might just do it.


They say that if you ask five economists about anything you'll get six different opinions. I think that old aphorism more or less sums up the mess we are in at the moment. With all the brain-power and experience at capitalism's disposal we have managed to screw up the whole global financial system. It beggars belief.
I was also astounded to hear that we might actually end up with deflation in the economy. Apparently this is even worse than inflation. I just don't see it. Petrol prices are deflating at present. I don't see much of a problem in this. Food prices will probably deflate too. Good. Energy prices - the greatest rip-off we face today - may also come down. Excellent.
On balance, the stuff about deflation being bad is probably a load of tosh. Even if it isn't, we are being told this by exactly the same people who got us here in the first place. I don't know how they've got the cheek!

Friday, November 21, 2008


We all know about the square on the hypotenuse but it was only recently I found that the semicircle on the hypotenuse equals the sum of the semicircles on the other two sides. Presumably the equilateral triangle on the hypotenuse etc. etc.
Except - I suspect - it doesn't.
Pythagoras' Theorem only works with planar figures. On the larger scale (say, parts of the surface of the planet) the sum of the angles in a triangle is not 180o and I imagine that the square on the hypotenuse thingy is a bit of a non-starter too.
Of course, the greatest gift that Pythagoras gave us was an understanding of music.
They don't tell you that when you are trying to play F#m7 for the first time.
I'm going to have a look at the inverse square law over the weekend. It all looks a bit cosy to me.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Organ Donors

The NHS and the Government are wringing their hands over the low level of potential organ donors. Here's a simple solution.
Instead of all these opt-in/opt-out schemes, why not make it desirable to be an organ donor. My scheme works like this: The only people who can receive an organ from someone else are those who are prepared to donate an organ of their own. Obviously, all those who need organs would join such a list straight away. But all those who might, some time in the future, need an organ would certainly be tempted to prolong their longevity. If we were denied the right to a life-saving transplant because we were not prepared - under different circumstances - to donate one of our own organs we could have very little to complain about.
You know where you heard it first.

Baby P

What really disturbs me about Baby P (not his real name) is exactly that; it's not his real name. Having robbed this beautiful child of his life, the evil bastards that killed him have robbed him of his very existence. Nobody knows him. Nameless child.
And we will soon forget.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Strictly Come Democracy

I am really enjoying "Strictly Come Dancing". I don't watch the show; I just love the ranting in the media about John Sergeant. The judges just don't seem to be able to accept that this talentless (in dancing terms) pudding of a man has a genuine following. My hope is that the more the judges and the media rant, the stronger his vote will become. Sergeant is, quite clearly, a two-left-footer. But it doesn't stop him being popular and that is where the rules of the game kick in. I don't know what the judges are bitching about to be honest; the business model for these shows is based on the number of calls coming in. They seem happy enough to take their inflated salaries from the income generation.
Over on the "X-Factor", similar things are happening with various factions launching missiles at Diana Vickers and her laryngitis. Let's be fair here, Diana is the ONLY contestant with any talent.
The others are doomed (I hope).

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Jean Charles de Menezes, Victoria Climbié and Baby P all have a lot in common. The authorities were all following procedures developed to deal with exactly the situation they weren't in. Banging several bullets through a defenceless man's skull was obfuscated as "the Police did nothing wrong". The murder of two children in Haringey was the result of all sorts of people actually following detailed procedures: social workers, doctors, health visitors, police.
Our obsession with procedures is linked directly to our fear of litigation. If something is to be done, it must be done by "The Book". The Book might be the untested ramblings of a complete moron. No matter, it is The Book.
We will eventually forget that something called common sense might have prevailed in these cases. We are expected to believe The Book and subsequent public inquiries.
We will, I am sure, learn to live with our doubts and then, soon enough, learn to live with the lies.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Whenever I am in northern France or Belgium I like to call in at the local Commonwealth War Cemetery (there is always one nearby) and pay my respects. I stand there in Flanders Fields in tears silently raging at the utter futility of the 1914-18 war and the loss of so many young lives. Tyne Cot near Passendael shredded me.
Every November 11th, we have Rememberance Day, or Armistice Day as it was. I am annually shocked by the comments that come out of people, but particularly this year. One man intoned that everyone should be forced to wear a poppy. He might as well have insisted that we all wear armbands. A more general opinion is that these boys gave their lives for our freedom. No they didn't. They were slaughtered simply to maintain the status quo. The 1914-18 war was nothing to do with fighting for freedom. It was a massive failure of politics and diplomacy that degenerated into a "defender's war" where massacre was the inevitable price of outdated generals fighting the wrong war. 1939-45 was totally different and had to be fought.
Yet on May 8th we will watch the anniversary of VE Day go by without a flutter.
Next time you are near Arnhem go to the Oosterbeek cemetery. Well worth your tears.

Monday, November 10, 2008

British Racism

Trevor Phillips claims that Britain could not repeat Obama's feat of getting a black or Asian to the top of the political tree. Phillips is the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, so he he should know; yes? No. He is most assuredly either mis-quoted (I hope) or wrong (I guess).
Britain has already had a woman Prime Minister, unlike the US which has never even had a female Vice-President. So we don't have a mental block on that one.
Also, Britain has never had segregated schools, buses, restaurants and the KKK. We've got the National Front but they aren't in the Ku Klux Klan's league. We've never had a George Wallace figure. Enoch Powell? Not even close.
I think Phillips might just be a bit cosy within his victim culture. Claiming that racism is rampant is part of his job, after all. It does exist, but on a minute scale compared to the USA of forty, fifty years ago.
Get over yourself Trevor; let your people go.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Pandemics: Wolf! Wolf! Wolf!

I'm lucky to be here. I might be the only survivor of the many great pandemics that have swept the globe in recent years. These pandemics were, each and every one, meant to wipe out vast numbers of us. I've survived the lot!
"Mad Cow Disease" (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease) should have taken me even if John Gummer didn't actually ram a burger into my face. Then I escaped AIDS. Phew. I haven't contracted MRSA or Clostridium difficile and I have dodged the bullets on Lassa Fever, Ebola Virus and anything to do with the nastier forms of E.Coli. I survived Edwina's curried eggs and, by skillfully avoiding birds with a cough, I think I might be clear of Avian Flu.
Ninety years ago, just as the 1914-18 War was closing, "Spanish Flu" ravaged through war-weakened Europe, killing as many as the war itself. It "preferentially" killed young, fit people. The same poor bastards who had done all the fighting in France and Flanders, only this time it killed their wives and girlfriends too. That was a bona fide pandemic.
I know that new diseases frighten the life out of epidemiologists but they do cry "Wolf!" a lot. Just like in the story, a real wolf will arrive one day....

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

King's Dream

The dream was that his children should not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.
We are much closer today.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Danger! Latin!

Oh God help us.
The thought police have now banned Latin. No more quid pro quo; no more ending your lists with etc.; no more using e.g. for for example for example. The rationale is that thick people feel intimidated by Latin in sentences and, since we are all required to be thick these days, Latin has to go.
Let's take the linguafacists to a logical conclusion here and carry out the linguistic equivalent of ethnic cleansing on our dictionaries. Good old Germanic words in our language; that's what we want. Let's get rid of all the horrible loan words that are polluting our dictionary and just use modern Anglo-Saxon. Let's get rid of kangaroos, aardvarks, bananas, algebra, ginseng, semtex, yacht, bungalow, autumn, sauna, beef, pork, amen, goulash, banshee, all operas in Italian, bamboo, kiwi, checkmate, sputnik and the thousands from Greek and Latin (virtually the whole vocabulary of Science).
Oh dear. We are starting to look a bit threadbare round the nouns.
Well, obviously. As ever, the idiots in charge have missed the point entirely. We don't need to know that e.g. stands for exempli gratia. We use it because it stands for for example. I'd bet that 99% of the population are happy with using e.g., i.e. and etc. without ever knowing what they are in Latin.
Presumably we will have to bin all our Status Quo and Ultravox CDs too.
Perhaps we should have done that already.

What's in a name?

We all know that a Rose by any other name would smell as sweet and that a Chrysanthemum by any other name would be easier to spell. But there are some odd ones out there, you know.
The patron saint of travellers, Christopher, is a case in point. He famously carried Christ across a river. Indeed, Christopher comes from Greek and means Christ-bearer. What was he called before Christ needed carrying? Sticking to New Testament stories, Saint Veronica was the compassionate woman who wiped Christ's face on his final journey. Veronica translates from Latin as True Image (vero icon) and this name was given to her - presumably - after the miraculous appearance of Christ's face on her towel. What was she called before her kind act? We know that Caligula was Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus and I applaud the abbreviation, but when did Ivan become Terrible, was Katherine always Great, was Richard born Lionhearted?
Will George W Bush be simply remembered as Dubya?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Inappropriate Behaviour

The antics of Messrs. Brand and Ross have made all sorts of headlines and we now have the usual oscillatory statements from members of the public; some condemnatory, some ultra-forgiving. What I find odd is the description - virtually everywhere - of their behaviour as "inappropriate". I think "wrong" is the right word.
I have noted with rising depression this over-use of "inappropriate" when something is clearly "wrong". Am I missing something? Has "wrong" become one of those words we can't use any more? I've heard bullying in schools, vandalism, theft, public drunkenness and a dozen other similar things tagged as "inappropriate" recently. It implies that they are, in the right place, "appropriate". No they're not. They are wrong.
Watch out for this one. See if your blood pressure jumps every time.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Smelling Fear

Dogs, amazingly, can smell cancer. Thankfully, they don't appear to be able to smell fear.
When I was eleven years old I had the back of my right leg ripped open by a dog. The external scars have healed but I remain very wary of dogs. Two years ago we stayed at the Gateway Hotel Nottingham. Our visit coincided with the National Rottweiler Convention. Two hundred rottweilers. Scared? You betcha.
This weekend we paid another visit to the Gateway*. Same convention. Two hundred slobbering rottweilers from homes throughout the East Midlands and South Yorks. Owners in purple velour track suits sporting rosettes and fake tan; men with tattoos of dogs on their over-developed right arms; the words "he's quite gentle really" spoken by nervous people with bandaged fingers.
It was awful. Scared? You betcha.
But the rottweilers didn't notice. Perhaps Lynx drowns out fear.
*The Gateway Hotel Nottingham is generally OK by the way. It is dirt cheap and does a decent breakfast. The fact that it is the venue for the East Midlands Rottweilerfest is unfortunate.

Good: The New Bad

There is an assumption being made by just about everyone that Global Warming is a bad thing. I'm not so sure. It might be extremely good news.
Have a look at a globe without ice caps. The continent of Antarctica will be amenable to human colonisation and exploitation. Who knows what natural wealth lies beneath the ice? An Arctic free of ice will open up a whole new trade route - the North-West Passage that Franklin dreamed of. We already know that the Arctic Sea has oil fields. We will, globally, have lots more rain and this will ultimately render many now-barren lands fertile again. Lots of positives.
Of course, there are plenty of "downs" to match the "ups". Coastal flooding will become a major problem. We will need to move or perhaps imitate the Netherlands. We can cope. The Polar Bear will probably die out*. Everything dies out eventually. Ask Darwin.
The biggest problem with Global Warming is that it will make things different from what they are today and were yesterday. We are not good with the notions of tomorrow and change even when it might be absolutely fine. Be adaptable. It is the only strength we humans really have.
*Oh dear, what a shame, never mind.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Belief Systems

It must be true that if there is no God there would be no atheists. The fact that atheists do exist means that God must also exist, so that the atheists have something not to believe in.
Not believing in something is an interesting concept. For a good number of years I believed in Father Christmas; then I didn't. Then, it turns out, I was Father Christmas so, for a few more years, I not only believed in Father Christmas I had actual proof of his existence.
Extraterrestrial life is another issue where my beliefs oscillate rather wildly. The Drake Equation (go see Wikipedia) predicts that there should be around 10 Earth-like civilisations in our galaxy and, therefore, millions in the universe at large. At present, I just don't buy this. I am much happier with Fermi's question "Where are they?" than with Drake. There are so many, possibly crucial, terms omitted from the Drake Equation that I suspect that the actual number of Earth-like civilisations might be vanishingly small. Given half an hour any decent scientist could come up with 50 additional terms for the Drake Equation. Today, I think we might be alone in the Galaxy and possibly in the Universe. Tomorrow, I might think differently.
So, as of late October 2008, I am pretty convinced that we are unique, intelligent, conscious beings within a generally lifeless Galaxy and that to explain this uniqueness and to ease the ache that this loneliness brings, it helps a lot of people to believe in some sort of God.
On balance, me included.

Monday, October 20, 2008

America: Vote with your eyes shut!

In the forthcoming election in the USA there remains the nagging doubt that the colour of a man's skin will be the deciding issue. Unbelievable.
Obama is manifestly the better candidate. His speeches are redolent of the best of Lincoln and King. He is clearly unafraid to face America's future, whatever that might be. McCain should cash in his chips now. He is not even close.
And yet.
America may still discard the best hope for a generation based on nothing other than the amount of melanin in a man's epidermis. The same chemical compound that gives a lot of us brown eyes, incidentally.
The turnout in American elections is always low. About half of the electorate can't be bothered to cast their vote, although every American seems to have the right to bellyache afterwards. It is interesting that the world's only superpower will cross the globe to defend someone else's democracy but won't cross the street for its own. Let's hope that bigotry and apathy are mutually inclusive.
Perhaps America should just take the next two weeks to simply listen to Obama and McCain. If so, Obama has a good chance.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Conventional Wisdom

I am worried by the increasing weight of the dead hand of orthodoxy in our society. We are beginning to conflate "conventional wisdom" and "truth" and I, for one, am not in the least bit convinced that doing so is a good idea.
There are lots of examples: High fat diets cause heart attacks1. The National Curriculum is a good idea2. Iraq had weapons of mass destruction3. The Taliban are terrorists4. The Universe is full of Dark Matter5.
Global Warming is a good example of the triumph of orthodoxy over debate. We are told (in an infant school sort of way) that the overall warming of our planet is because we are releasing too much CO2 into the atmosphere and creating a greenhouse effect. To disagree is no longer an option. The "environmental thought police" will not countenance disagreement. It might endanger their funding.
Yet still, I disagree.
I am sure that what we are doing to the planet is not good and that releasing all the carbon dioxide that we do is not a great idea BUT I do not believe that there is an inexorable link between the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and the average global temperature.
To claim that such a link exists is to reduce the science to the level of a soundbite.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen from about 300 ppm* in 1960 to about 387 ppm now. Five hundred million years ago carbon dioxide was at least 20 times more abundant than today, slowly decreasing to "modern" levels. We know very little about what regulates the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere but we do know that the planet has survived much higher concentrations than 387 ppm.
Perhaps the eco-fascists would like to go and have a look at the work of the Serbian mathematician Milutin Milanković. His work has linked Ice Ages and the so-called Interglacial periods (like now) to the orbit and rotation of the Earth. Interesting. Non-political. Probably true.

1. Not proven and not even remotely likely to be true. Ask the Inuit and the Eskimoes (yes, there is a difference)
2. Independent schools that don't follow the National Curriculum always outperform State Sector Schools that do.
3. No they didn't; but we still have our forces over there fighting and dying because someone believed they did!
4. The Taliban have never been terrorists. We don't like them now but we cheered them on when they were kicking seven bells out of the Russians in 1980.
5. See an earlier blog.
*ppm = parts per million

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The House of Lords

Thank God for our upper chamber!
We might not elect them but they played a blinder last night in chucking the Government's plan to detain WITHOUT CHARGE for 42 days.
So we are not quite a facist state yet.
Well done Lords!


The good people in Powys are up in arms because their streetlights - most of them anyway - are being turned off. They are grimly anticipating a crimewave and a succession of nasty accidents. The county council is dressing this up as a "save the planet" ploy by claiming that it will cut greenhouse gas emissions . Bollocks; they are out to save money. Let's stop being so coy.
Actually, I'm fully on the side of the Council here. We don't need and have never needed streetlights. At a rough guess, 99.99999999999% of the light generated by streetlights is used by absolutely nobody, ever. We pay a fortune to illuminate areas that need no illumination. We will not have a darkness-fuelled crime wave. We will not have gangs of hoodied youths clustering on unlit corners dimly lit by the orange tips of their shoplifted fags.
Perhaps, when the lights are off, the good people of Powys might look upwards to the black - not orange - night sky and wonder at the beauty and splendour of the Universe we all share.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Top Ten Handshakes

We all have people we would like to meet. People you would like a chat with; just to get them into a corner in a pub or cafe and find out what makes them tick. At the very least we would like to shake their hand. These (with reasons, and in rank order) are my Top Ten Handshakes:
  1. Nelson Mandela - runaway leader; turned apartheid over through sheer moral power.
  2. Mohammed Ali - an awesome man; greatest sportsman ever
  3. Pope Benedict XVI - an intellectual giant.
  4. Steven Fry - I have a feeling that we have much in common.
  5. Ralph McTell* - My favourite musician/songwriter
  6. Ian Botham - greatest cricketer ever
  7. Boris Johnson* - an enigma; a deep, intelligent character wrapped up in a buffoon
  8. Bill Gates - I have a book that belongs to him and I really should return it
  9. Patrick Moore - My love of Astronomy comes directly from him and "The Sky at Night"
  10. Charley Boorman* - Well worth a beer.
Those marked * I have already met, but they stay in the list for when we have a beer/coffee.
I am puzzled that there are no women in my list.
Who have I left out that I really should meet?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Dark Matter

One of the great puzzles in Physics today is the supposed existence of Dark Matter. The theory goes like this: We observe galaxies far away; these galaxies are rotating at a certain rate; the rate is too high given the amount of matter we can see in these galaxies therefore there must be an invisible type of matter that contributes to gravitational effects but is otherwise undetectable.
Now, hang on. That is exactly the same as saying "it's magic".
Invoking a magic ingredient (up to 90% of the mass of some galaxies, "they" say) is completely against the "rules". It explains everything and nothing in the same breath. If Science goes down this route elsewhere we might as well stop doing Science.
My own view is that Dark Matter is complete bollocks.
To adumbrate a little. Physics can explain the movement of two bodies moving in response to their mutual gravitational fields. It can not explain the motion of three bodies (called, quite unimaginatively, the Three-Body Problem). Attempting to explain the movement of billions of stars and planets in a galaxy far away might be a bit beyond our capabilities. Additionally, we can explain all sorts of orbital motion in our local area (Sun, planets, comets etc.) without wheeling in the smoke and mirrors that is Dark Matter. Surely it exists here as well? If not, why not? Is that magic too?
In his masterful book Most Secret War, R.V. Jones (a personal hero) outlines what he calls "Crow's Law": Before you think what you want to think, know what you need to know.
Wise words for modern Physics, I feel.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Ralph McTell, my favourite musician and national treasure, ends one of his songs:
"Autumn makes me sad."
I think his hypothalamus might be short of light. The hypothalamus and its good friend the pituitary gland are extremely light-sensitive and they control all manner of mood swings and seasonally-activated depression. Paradoxically, it is right in the centre of the brain; exactly where the light isn't.
I've taken to shining a very bright LED torch in my ear, and it appears to work. I feel much happier.
The other thing I'm doing is breathing through only one nostril. The logic is this: breathing in cold air into one side of your nose cools and slows down the brain activity on that side. So if you want to enhance your creativity and "right-brain" activity, breathe through your left nostril to slow down the analytical "left-brain" chemistry.
So I'm the creative one with a finger up my right nostril and a torch shining in my ear.
Easy to spot in a crowd I'd think.

Weights and Measures

We British are clearly insane. We torture ourselves with all manner of units with which to measure things. We buy our petrol in litres but we talk about miles per gallon for fuel consumption. Almost nothing is measured in feet and inches, except our height. In B&Q you can't buy 5 ft of wood. It has to be in metres, even if the wood is labelled 4"x 2". We hung on to pounds (£) through decimalisation but our over-50's still talk about "ten bob" (£0.50). We still auction horses in guineas (£1.05). We drink our beer in pints and halves but buy our milk in litres. Nearly all the measures in a pub are imperial. We sell our fruit and veg. in kilogrammes but have a sly nod to pounds (lbs) every now and then. We weigh ourselves in stones and pounds and buy our sugar in kilogramme bags. Recipe books seem to have ditched ounces and have gone for the pragmatic: teaspoons, tablespoons and the indeterminate "dash". A hot day to a youngster will be "getting on for thirty" but for our older bretheren it will be "pushing a hundred". (By the way; I REFUSE to use Celsius. It will always be Centigrade to me)
This debacle really does have to stop. Before my generation Brits had to deal with the Imperial System. In school today they are taught Metric. I was caught in the middle but, now, we are sending kids into the outside world who have absolutely no idea how things are weighed or measured.
Every year, at GCSE results time, the BBC dredge up some "captain of industry" who pontificates on the low standard of mathematics coming out of our schools.
The poor kids don't have a chance!
Colour code: Imperial in blue, Metric in red. Confused? So are the kids.

Monday, October 6, 2008


I am a great fan of laws. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is a personal favourite; it makes sense and - the best bit - it can't be broken. Laws that we have to obey to be part of our society aren't so impressive. They can be broken. And they are. Regularly.
The real bind with so many of our laws is that we don't know what they actually are. We could do with a book: "DON'T DO THIS" or a similar title, that tells us what we can and can't do.
We still have lots of obsolete laws. I recall that the requirement to walk in front of a car whilst waving a red flag was still on the books until 1968 and I have a sneaking suspicion that Hackney cabs are supposed to carry hay (for a non-existent horse). Having a book that actually spells out what you must not do would also allow us to clear out this dead wood from our 21st Century lives.
It would also remove that "bloody hell, I didn't know that" moment when the Police pull you in for drinking a Coke whilst driving or getting on to an aeroplane with a biro.
A book full of laws (with subsequent average penalties in the margin) really would be incredibly useful. We have a highway code; why not a life code?

Friday, October 3, 2008

My Father's Lifetime

Chaos theory is well worth curling up in a chair and reading about. Butterflies creating hurricanes. That sort of thing. Here's one I'm exploring as a "chaotic event": my Dad's life.
In 1929 the world was rocked by a massive Wall Street crash. Nothing like it had shaken capitalism so badly. The world (or, at least, the bits that America was interested in) plunged into depression. October 29th 1929 is the start date for this crash. On November 20th 1929, my Dad was born.
This year, so far, the world (or, at least, the bits that America is interested in) has been spiralling down into another Great Depression. Capitalism has hit the rocks again. Black Monday, 29th September 2008. Billions wiped off the value of shares around the globe. On March 3rd this year my Dad died.
In the same way that it was good of my Dad to mark the 1929 Depression by being born, I think it was fitting for capitalism to put on a good show in the year he died.

The Terrorist Threat

Baron Imbert, once Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, was speaking last night (2nd October) on the BBC News about the removal of Sir Ian Blair from the Met. Police. During this he made what I think was an extraordinary statement: that the terrorist threat facing The Metropolitan Police has never been higher.
Eminent people spouting utter bollocks is, I am sure, as common now as it ever was, but this will go down as a pretty good example of the type.
Does he not remember the IRA?
I do.
They were proper terrorists. They terrorised.
I have a sneaking suspicion that (and Baron Imbert isn't alone in doing this) ramping up the "Islamic terrorist threat" is a subtle manifestation of a general shift in national opinion towards being anti-Muslim . If enough people are afraid of Islamic Extremists then that fear will spill over into the wider community. Job done.
But in doing so, we repeat the stupidity of a previous generation when "The IRA" became conflated with "Nationalists". The argument is hopelessly flawed: the IRA are terrorists; the IRA are Nationalists; therefore Nationalists are terrorists. Are we going to be as idiotic again and do the same with "Islamic Extremists" and "Muslims"?
Knowing us, probably.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


I have been reading a lot recently about the derivation of European languages and trying to tie in the whole idea of a "proto-language" with the fairly well-established findings of Prof Bryan Sykes on our genetic links. The PIE (proto-Indo-European) camp has it that our language (and that of just about everybody from Bantry Bay to Bangladesh) stems from a common source. There have been some excellent attempts to reconstruct PIE from the common threads of many words and "a trained linguist" can see the commonality immediately (they say).
The genetic story is very different. PIE - in mitochondrial-DNA terms - must have come from the "Jasmine" clan that moved out of Syria into Europe and India, bringing their farming techniques with them. Europe was, by the time the "Jasmines" arrived, populated (albeit sparsely) with "Ursulas", "Xenias", "Helenas", "Taras", "Katrines" and "Veldas". These were all hunter-gatherer people and, although they might have absorbed some of the "Jasmine" words (especially farming-related), I can see no reason why they would take a language hook, line and sinker when they will have had their own, possibly interrelated, and quite ancient languages.
I personally think the PIE people might, in fact, be talking "bhel-oks" as the "Jasmines" might say.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Identity Cards

I'm looking forward to the new identity cards. All that biometric data. Excellent idea. That will mean that anyone with a card reader can access all sorts of stuff about us. What might be even more useful is if "they" could fingerprint our mitochondrial-DNA and find out which Clan Mother we came from (you really MUST read "The Seven Daughters of Eve").
If all this was on our new identity cards...what fun. We could wear special clothes depending on our clan. Or our religion. Or blood group. Or whether we had AIDS or not. Actually, simpler than special clothes, we could just go for armbands. Different colours for, say, Catholics or Moslems or Jews. That might not be enough for some groups though. They may take their armbands off. If you were a paedophile you might get painted yellow. Bankrupts might be painted red - head to foot; just to let everyone know.
We might need to set up special camps for these people to let them - what's the word - concentrate. We wouldn't want the un-British walking the streets now would we?
So bring them on, these new identity cards.
We will probably be able to collect them at special government agencies. They will "give" you a card. In return, you hand over your freedom.
Seems fair.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Bizarre. After eleven years of serial cock-up the Government says sorry, let us put it all right. God, I wish we lived in a democracy. "We do.", I hear you say. We most certainly do not. We are governed (indeed, ruled) by an increasingly arrogant pseudo-elective oligarchy. The UK has never, ever, been a democracy (literally "people-ruled"). We now have an unelected Prime Minister presiding over nothing more than a kakistocracy. I just love the Cabinet Chorus: "We know it is bad here, but everywhere else is worse".
Phew. Thank God for that, eh.
The trouble with our Government is that they are addicted to their own nanny state. Democracy? Not even close.

But here's a question: If Brown and the crowd around him know best, why do they not put up huge pictures of him with the caption "BROWN KNOWS".

Thursday, September 25, 2008


This has been a really busy week at work. Relentless. One thing after another. Paperwork by the shed load. Irritating meetings. Timetable problems.

But a star has been shining through this week that makes it all worthwhile. Our international students have arrived.

To meet them is a humbling experience. Thousands of miles from home, seventeen years old, full of expectation, dreams, hopes. They engage in conversation in halting English, unsure of protocols, trying so hard to do/say the right thing without actually knowing what that is. Confidence without arrogance. Here for a year and then into a UK university (probably). Lots from China, but plenty from the Middle East, a range of Asian countries and a few from states in Africa.

It is great to meet them. It restores my optimism levels.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ebay worries me...

I love eBay. The whole "will it sell?", "will I win it?" thing. Great. Better than a brisk walk.

But I am worried.

Have you read the descriptions of the goods on eBay? Oh my God! Who writes these things? Semi-literate children? An infinite number of monkeys on typewriters? Apparently not; Joe Public writes them.

Joe has, it seems, never been able to spell, punctuation is a completely lost art and the whole act of creating a sentence seems to have skipped by. We are ultimately faced with a melange of text-speak, incorrect spelling and complete disregard for our beautiful language.

Does it matter?

Of course it matters! We communicate with others, in the absence of aural information, by written words. The spelling of a word is not optional in any sense. Words should be spelled correctly. This is one of those occasions when it is just as easy to get it right.

I know our language is changing. In my own lifetime there have been thousands of additions to English. Great. All for it. But when words are mangled and battered out of all recognition, we are doing something wrong. English is a superb language. We have traces of many other languages within ours. All the Germanic languages, the Romance languages, languages from the former British Empire - they are all there. English is a genuine polyglot. We should take more care of the amazing communication device that is English.

I blame the teachers. Oh damn; I am a teacher.

Monday, September 22, 2008

My Favourite Joke

Favourite joke:
A woman goes into a bar and asks the barman for a double entendre.
So he gave her one.

You never know when you are going to fall under a bus and I'd feel aggrieved if you didn't know my favourite joke to tell at the wake. By the way "The Last Spring" by Grieg at the funeral; Okay? There won't be a dry eye in the house. It makes me cry now and I'm not even dead.

Counterfeit Coins

Interesting article on the news this morning: there are an estimated £30 million fake £1 coins in circulation. Usual wringing of hands followed.

So what?

Admittedly, the counterfeiter makes on what he/she does but after that; who cares? If I receive a fake £1 for goods or services and I pass it on to someone else for their goods or services it behaves exactly like a real £1. After all, a "real" £1 is not actually worth £1. It is a token we accept as being worth £1. The mint probably strike them out for a couple of pence.

Part of the problem is that our coins change every couple of minutes anyway. There are loads of different types of £1 in circulation. "Decus et tutamen", Scottish, Welsh, Manx, Jersey and plenty of others. It rather plays into the counterfeiter's hands.

If you identify a coin as counterfeit you are supposed to hand it in to the authorities; for which public-spirited action you receive precisely nothing. So next time you get a fake £1, hop in your car and drive the 5 miles to the police station, sit for 30 minutes whilst some already busy officer comes to deal with you and the seven glue sniffers you share the waiting area with, answer a shed load of questions lasting another half hour then drive the 5 miles back home. Ten miles of petrol (about £1.50) and an hour of your time (£6 at least) for nothing. I can't wait!

Next time you get a coin that you think might be a fake, try it in a parking meter. If it is accepted it probably wasn't fake. If it was fake then you will never know and you can't do anything about it. Anyway, parking meters are their own kind of robbery. Let's not get started on them.

Counterfeit, by the way, looks like a fake word. That "e" before "i". Very suspicious.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Battle of Britain Day

So, here we are on September 21st and - apart from a couple of desultory air displays and "The Battle of Britain" on Film 4 - there has been virtually no mention of Battle of Britain Day 2008. I don't get it. Across the 120 days of Summer 1940 the Third Reich got its first bloody nose and failed to subdue the British people. Consequently and subsequently, Hitler and all he stood for was defeated. And what do we do now? We forget it.

September 15th is loosely remembered as "Battle of Britain Day". I would bet that less than 1% of the British public knows this. More will know that July 4th is Independence Day in the USA; more still will recall a failed "gunpowder plot" on November 5th. The Scots will rightly remember St Andrew's Day, the Welsh will do the same for St David's Day. If the Irish do it properly, they won't remember St Patrick's Day the following day. St George's Day? Lightly remembered.

But Battle of Britain Day deserves better.

I am coming across as very nationalistic here and I'm really not. I am very pro-EU. I am certainly not anti-German; I love Germany, its people, places and language. It is my travel destination of choice.

But I am anti-Nazi and it remains a constant source of puzzlement to me that - given the chance - we would rather forget our "finest hour" than remember it.

Raise a glass to "the Few" when you remember. They are worth our memories and our thanks.

Genesis Chapter One

I suppose everybody starts their blog like this: Oh my God; What do I do? What do I write?

Well my dear world, you are in for some pretty dull stuff on this here blog.