Thursday, September 29, 2005

Caring New Labour - Oh Yeah

Walter Wolfgang and 82 year-old life-long activist with the Labour Party and a Jewish escapee from Nazi Germany in 1933, was jumped on by stewards (bouncers) for having the cheek to shout 'nonsense' during Jack Straw's speech at the Labour Party Conference and was thrown out. His conference pass was unceremoniously removed and broken. Jack Straw was, yet again, trying to convince a skeptical world that it had been right to launch an 'unprovoked' and probably illegal attack on Iraq and preparing to stay on indefinitely.

Erith and Thamesmead constituency party chairman Steve Forrest, who was sitting next to Mr Wolfgang, was also thrown out after complaining about the stewards' response.

Free speech is alive and well in the 'People's Party'!

When Mr Wolfgang tried to re-enter the conference hall he was then detained under the Terrorism Act. Welcome to Blair's England!

Apparently, the Party has now apologised and allowed them both to return to the conference - so that alright then. Question is, why did it happen in the first place?

Shortly after the octogenarian hoodlum had been evicted, another trouble-maker, Great Grimsby MP, Austin Mitchell, had his camera phone confiscated for taking pictures of people queuing to get their passes.

Mr Mitchell, a keen amateur photographer, was taking photographs of the queues when stewards demanded to know what he was doing. He said: "The police were called over and asked if they could look at my pictures. I said of course they could but I did not want the pictures deleted. I kept repeating that I did not want the shots deleted and the police officer said it was alright because he didn't know how to use the camera. After he handed it back to me I found he had deleted every picture. This is security gone mad. And what's the point. The party has given the security staff absolute carte blanche and they have gone mad. It's completely over the top."

I can't decide whether this is just more of the party control-freakery or fear of terrorism. If it is the latter, then the terrorists are winning, and if it is the former, then we need to get shot of them and get a truly social-democratic party in power that is not afraid of free speech.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Blame Game Starts

That highly qualified horse show organiser and ex-head of FEMA, Michael Brown, said yesterday that he was not at fault for the poor response to Hurricane Katrina, but the fact that Mayor Ray Nagin and Governor Blanco were not talking to each other. That Louisiana was 'dysfunctional'!

He's even turning on his old mentor and job provider, President Bush, saying he told him and his staff the Katrina was 'going to be a big one!' I presume that's FEMA tech speak for a town-busting mega-storm liable to kill lots of people and destroy lots of property. I'll remember that in future - category five hurricanes are 'big ones' - or was he talking about what Bush did on the UN toilet that day?

I don't know, I'm just an old country Brit, stuck for the next 4 years with Blair and the constant talk of when Brown takes over.

One final note on New Orleans, the second casualty, after Brown, has been taken. Police Chief, Eddie Compass has resigned. Personal reasons were quoted, but it does look as if he was asked after it emerged that 15% of the force did not turn up to work after the hurricane had struck. This whole thing is going to get very messy!

Finally, Britain's second right of centre party, the Conservatives (Labour, or as Blair calls it -Noo Labour is the first right of centre party) has decided to go with the same, failed mechanism in electing a party leader as before. How can a party that can't get its own house in order ever expect to lead the country. Come on Charles Kennedy, seize the moment, get the message across that the Liberal Democrats are now the only true Social Democratic party in the UK and you will be flying!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

It's an ill wind....

Details of the contracts awarded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina are now emerging. Kellogg, Brown & Root, - a subsidiary of Halliburton who has been accused by auditors of submitting bogus invoices for services to the US military in Iraq, has got a £34 million contract to clean up the devastationn left by the hurricane. Its main task (apart from making their shareholders a lot of money) will be to repair the flood defenses around New Orleans, - the very same defenses that had funding cut by the Bush Administration prior to the disaster.

FEMA has been responsible for the award of the contracts, and has now awarded £840 million of repair work to various firms, 80% of which were awarded after a very limited tendering process. Its alleged that many were clinched by little more than a handshake! Who says it's not who you know that matters?

A £320 million deal went to AshBritt, a Florida based company that was a client of Barbour Griffith and Rogers, which was Republican Governor Barbour's very successful lobbying firm and at which he was in the position of CEO. (Funny how these CEO's keep cropping up in politics!).

Richard Skinner, of the Homeland Security Department, said there was concern on Capitol Hill about fraud and mismanagement. 'We are very apprehensive about what we are seeing,' he said.

I bet there's no apprehension or concern in the White House, - too busy celebrating a new success!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Turton Moor

On Saturday last the family and I, along with Bethen's friend Olivia, went on a walk around Turton Moor - part of the West Pennine Moors north-west of Bolton. This is a 7 mile walk around the base of Turton Heights. Starting point is the Black Dog pub in Belmont (operating on the old military axiom - ...time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted! - the end of the walk will be at the self-same pub). The weather was superb. The sun was out, the sky blue (or would be, if not for all the high level contrails) yet it wasn't too hot.

The first part of the walk is to Belmont Reservoir which was looking about three-quarters full. Quite a few yachts were out on the water which is a little startling given the moors back-drop. After walking across the dam, and stopping to watch a Heron stalking for fish, we started the walk up towards the moors proper, the final approach being through a farm.

At the top of the farm, we joined the Witton Weaver's Way - an old path that we follow for about three-quarters of the way round the hill. Why it is called Witton Weaver's Way I don't know at present - perhaps it was a path used by weavers from Witton. I will investigate as it looks as if it could be one of the Pennine long paths. Just after Old Man's Hill; NOT named after me, we climbed up to the brow of Darwen Moor by a path called Tacklers Trail (again, no idea why its called that) this representing the highest point on the walk. Everyone was doing well, lunch had been eaten - even Olivia was looking good baring in mind that she doesn't do the mileage my family do.

Following the path down, this is where things started to go wrong. The path was good, but according to the guide, we needed to find a hawthorn bush and a gully where we would turn onto another path which would lead us close to the base of the hill. We saw hawthorn bushes, we saw gullies, but we didn't see a hawthorn bush, gully and path in close proximity to each other. So we just kept going on the main path until we reached the A666 having put on an extra 2 to 3 miles to the walk.

Everyone was tired at this point, but after a short break, we were ready to continue. Looking at the map, I could see a point along the road where we could regain the moor and continue the walk. So off we went. It was that tiredness that caused me to make a silly decision later on.

The path back onto the moor was well defined and fairly good walking - except for the boggy bits, and everything was going well until the path suddenly disappeared. It was at this point I made my mistake. I felt that we would regain the path if we continued on, so that is what we did. This could have been a serious mistake as the path did not return, but instead of retracing our route back the the path we had come along, I thought we could cut across the moor to where we needed to go.

This moorland consists of tussocks of grass that come up to the waist of an adult, - and up to Jaynes neck, and those tussocks are surrounded by very soggy mud and bog. This was very difficult to get across, and I became increasingly concerned that someone could twist or break an ankle requiring a call for help to the emergency services. After what seemed like hours, but was probably more like half-an-hour, we were stopped for a breather and a drink when from behind a small hillock came a horse and rider ambling along on what must have been a path. Immediately our spirits soared as we knew there was a path, and it was only about 20 meters away!

Once on the path, we knew exactly where we were and which direction we had to go. About 10 meters along the path, a track down from the moor joined it - the path we should have been following! The problem was that we just hadn't seen it within the sea of grass. Now it was just a case of following the path back down through the farm, across the dam and back down to the Black Dog. During this final part of the walk, a hot-air balloon came in close, and I got some good shots of it, I hope, as it skimmed the land before rising again. Spirits were still high as we got to the car and finally got our boots off.

All that was required was to get into the drinks in. I ordered 2 pints for myself - the first one didn't even touch the sides as it went down. At this time we could start to talk about the afternoon, and no-one seemed the worse for wear and attitudes were positive.

In retrospect, this walk will be remembered for its achievements. As a family we walked 12 miles across some quite difficult terrain, and got ourselves out of difficulty by pooling resources and keeping each other going - we really worked as a team during the last part of the walk and kept Jayne going even though she was quite frightened. I am exceptionally proud of them, particularly the kids who really did well. I now feel that we probably need to do the walk again, and this time get it right, but perhaps not just yet.

The main lesson for me is not to press on if unsure, but go back to where I know it was safe and re-assess. A strategic withdrawal is often the best decision when faced with uncertainty. Better to walk an extra mile than into difficulty. Moreover, I don't want the kids to get frightened each time we go for a walk, so the next one will probably be an easy walk around Upper Rivington and Anglezarke Reservoirs which is all well defined paths and bridleways and where the main problems will be avoiding the presents left by the horses.

Photo's will be on Flickr once they are developed.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Rita - The Aftermath

The main thing is that Meg and her family are OK and that it great. There sheltered and rode it out in a place called Spring (had to get the atlas out for that one) and it was so bad, she slept through it! The other irony is that the power went off in Spring, but not in Houston where they live!

Did they get it right this time? I'm not sure. Apparently, more people died on the evacuation than when the storm hit. After the chaos of Katrina, it was pretty obvious that there was likely to be an over-reaction with Rita. The only lesson to be learnt here, I believe, is look after the country you are charged with administrating and get it right there before invading or messing around in other people's countries and telling them how to live their lives. All thought and prayers for all victims of the two hurricanes.

Finally, just a brief note, we did an eight mile walk around Turton Moor yesterday, but as my wife had the map and compass, the total mileage was more like twelve! I'm sure she will dispute this (but I know I'm right!). I'll write about it once I have recovered both physically and emotionally.

New pictures on Flickr, a day out in Southport and a few others including the aged parents boozing at the Kirkless Hall and me and Jayne in Borsdane Woods, a local managed woodland close to home.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hurricane Rita

With 24 hours to go before predicted land-fall, this storm is looking more serious than Katrina. The Gulf states, and in particular Texas are in for a real battering. I hope lessons have been learnt. It's interesting that President Bush has issued an emergency decree before the hurricane has struck, so maybe the message is getting through.

My newly married niece lives on the outskirts of Houston. My thoughts and prayers are with her, her family and all those that are about to go through something so severe that I have difficulty imagining what it will be like. I trust that she will follow all sensible advice to stay safe.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Fear Across The Web

I've just been reading Raed Jarrar's blog Raed in the Middle to find that he has felt the need to close his comments section. Raed is blogging from Iraq, and portrays a rather different picture of life there under the occupation, than what you would normally hear. Having left a few comments and encouragements in the past, I regret no longer being able to leave them.

His family are also keen bloggers and his Mother's site; A Family In Baghdad is also worth a read. From this site, you can get to Raed's brother's site where comments can be left.

Raed, if you read my blog, please take encouragement that there are some over here who hear you and desire a peaceful and prosperous Iraq with a true and democratic and independent (from US or UK) government. I have always found your blog interesting and thought provoking.

Keep going.

Hurricane Rita and Basra

Looks like another major hurricane is on the way to the Gulf States. This time it looks like Texas is to be the one - particularly Houston which is still housing many of the displaced residents of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. I can only guess what they must be feeling knowing that they are about to go through it all again. Unfortunately my cynical mind is at work, and I wonder how quickly Bush will respond if it is Houston and Texas that is hit. I just pray that people are better prepared and suffering is kept to a minimum.

Yesterday, British troops launched an assault on a Police station in Basra to secure the release of two soldiers who had been arrested. No details as to whether the arrests were justified or not, but the fear was that the Police force had been infiltrated by militia who are more loyal to the insurgents, than the country. I believe the assault was justified, particularly as it was later discovered that the soldiers handed over to militants and had been moved to a house in the town - presumably to become the latest executions. What was notable, from accounts I have read, is that the troops carried out their mission without deaths or sustained fire-fights. In fact there were no reports of any shots being fired at all. It was, to all intents and purposes, a clinical, well planned (though it was put together quickly) assault that disarmed all opposition before it had time to react. What it does say, however, is that Southern Iraq that has, so far, been living peacefully with the British troops, are now starting to be roused - probably by the Mehdi Army militants, and are possibly being supported by the Shia population of Iran, just over the border.

The British honeymoon in Iraq is well and truly over and the exit strategy is effectively an illusion. This has happened to us before when in Aden, in the '60's, we had the task to hold the line while an effective security force was put in place, but the plan broke down when local groups took over. The exit strategy in Iraq, rests on 2 pillars: local security and constitutional government, and until those pillars are firmly in place, I don't think it would be right for the troops to leave and come home - much though I would like them to. This mess is very much down to the politicians who took us in there without a clear objective on what we would do and how we would achieve it. They should resign en-masse.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Google Bushwhacked and Politics by the Seaside

Have you ever typed the word 'failure' into google and seen what comes to the top. I have to admit, I didn't discover this myself, but found it on another blogsite. Talk about getting it right!

It is that time of year when our 'hardworking' politicians coming to the end of a short, but sweet three-month holiday (longer than Bush's) are invited to the seaside by their parties for the Annual Conference.

There was a time, many years ago, when I would avidly follow each and every conference looking for the kernel of truth that would offer the meaning of life. These people who feel they have the right to arrange, organise and control my life must be worth listening to. That enthusiasm then changed to one of Roman Games attendee, looking to see which party landed the best blows on the other parties - looking for blood on the floor. Now, for me, they have become an irrelevant anachronism peddling hope and fear in equal measure - particularly the 2 main parties, The Labour Party and the Conservatives.

This week it is the Liberal Democrats who have gone to Blackpool. I have been a life long supporter for the Liberals and then the Liberal Democrats as I feel that they are the party that consistently takes the moral and thoughtful line on the day's issues - even if what they have to say is likely to be unpopular. They were against sending troops to Iraq when the other 2 parties were falling over each other to prove how macho they were with other people's lives; they are the party calling for immediate recall of troops from Iraq to be replaced by a properly constituted UN force with all the equipment to do the job. But beyond that, they are the one main party that is not supported by vested interest such as big business or Trade Unions. They have always been a party of the grass roots, and it is from the patient growth from local to national party that has been the main secret of their successful growth. They have a tendency to keep their promises - how perverse!. As such, I believe they are better placed to speak to and on behalf of the vast majority of moderate, reasonably thinking people. I just hope that they can avoid the petty point-scoring and find something that will dispel the apathy and distrust that surrounds politics at the moment and make people once again believe that not all politicians are on the make.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

A Change of Mind, No Change of Mind and Loss of Mind

President Bush's and Tony Blair's favourite UK Colonel Tim Collins was the tough, no-nonsense, ball-breaking Colonel of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment - one of the toughest units in the British Army, - who told his men that going onto Iraq was a war of liberation, not conquest. Now he says it was naive to believe it. He says that at the time he didn't realise that there was no real plan at higher levels to replace the regime they had gone into Iraq to defeat. Indeed, he now feels that the invasion was based on a simplistic and unimaginative overreliance on the power of destruction and crude military might. They were there to beat the Iraqis. That simple. The entire article can be read at The Observer.

Another article talks about Tony Blair's anger at the BBC for its "biased" reporting of the after effects and political fall-out from Hurricane Katrina. Apparently, Blair told that other paragon of virtue and responsible reporting, Rupert Murdoch, that the BBC was showing not enough support for Bush and his team - concentrating too much on bodies floating in the water and lots of poor, black people huddled in atrocious conditions and the fact that Bush took 2 days to respond. My God, Blair is getting further and further out of touch! The same tone re: the response, was struck by all other responsible news broadcasters, but it was only the BBC that got criticised. Typical of course, shoot the messenger for not following Downing Street spin as they should!

Finally, the Christian Right in America have, I think, finally jumped over the cliff. A French documentary on Emperor Penguins now provides absolute proof of God's Intelligent Design. Apparently, the images of penguins battling against the worst weather in the world to raise and protect their young demonstrates the way God wants us to live our lives. They are monogamous (but not for life, which is conveniently over-looked), and sacrifice themselves for the good of the family - all good, decent values that all good, decent God-fearing parents should follow. Apparently children are told to take note-books in to watch the film so they can make notes of any pious message that may come to them from watching the penguins. To me, they are just birds, with bird style brains and if there was intelligent design, I wouldn't be living there in the first place!

But hang on. Penguins are only one creature of God. What about Bonobo chimps who have sex at just about any opportunity possible, and with any partner - female or male. Sex is seen as the social glue that keeps them together - do they prove intelligent design? Or what about preying mantises, the females of which, practice murder and necrophillia as they consume their spouses while, themselves, being consummated! Obviously Intelligent Design is a lot more complicated than I thought. Maybe I don't have the intelligence for it - in which case, do I blame God!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Bush Needs The Toilet!

Dubya must be one of the luckiest Presidents ever to have the active support and decision making abilities of Condoleezza Rice. Every President needs his mother figure, and obviously, Condi is Bush's.

Mind you, I know she is Secretary of State and her job is to follow the President around and attempt to clear up his messes, but being in charge of his toilet training is taking the job a bit too far in my opinion.

I only hope she reminded him to wash his hands afterwards. I suppose listening to all those boring speeches about poverty and real terrorism was getting to his bowels! Mind you, it's only the United Nations - so nothing important!

After a quick trawl through blogland, this picture is just about everywhere. Maybe this is the defining moment for the Bush Presidency. Why didn't he just put his hand up and ask to leave the room like every good boy?

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A Day Off

After a couple of "heavy" posts, I'm having a day off both from work and "profound" thinking! Mind you, I am keeping a eye on the UN Summit, watching the politicians ruin an institution the rest of the world generally wants and respects. More on that another day.

Today I've loaded more pictures onto Flickr. These include the parents watching the boats go down the locks at Aspull while enjoying the Lancashire countryside and beer; a bike ride along the Bridgewater canal which I described in a previous post - the colour of the water at Worsley has to be seen to be believed. The local authority wants to "clean it up" but the local people want to keep it as it is, as it is very unique. On balance, I'm with the locals on this as it is only dissolved iron ore, and as people aren't drinking it or swimming in it, I don't think it's causing much of a problem - there's even fish in that part of the canal, - and the colour is a stark reminder of a previous, industrial age.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

I'm Poor!

We are at that stage in the month when money feels it has run out and we've still 2 weeks to go to the end of the month. The second half of every month is always one of belt-tightening and frugality. Clearly in this well-off world, we are poor! Mind you, I'm not as poor as some.

  • One-sixth, or 1 Billion people live on less than £1 a day.
  • 800,000 people do not get enough food to meet their daily energy requirement.
  • Less than 1% of the Worlds budget on arms and weapons would be needed to put every child through school.
  • A few hundred millionaires now own as much wealth as the world's poorest 2.5 billion people.
  • The developing world spends $13 dollars on debt repayment for every $1 dollar it gets in aid.
  • According to UNICEF, 30,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they "die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death."
    That is about 210,000 children each week, or just under 11 million children under five years of age, each year. - 200,000 people died in the tsunami earlier this year, and the world thought that was a disgrace, when in reality it was just an average week.

Clearly these people are making life choices, living the way they do. They are lazy, totally responsible for their predicament and have chosen to live in a country whose government has made decisions that have actually proved harmful to development.

Or is it because behind the increasing interconnectedness promised by globalisation, are global decisions, policies, and practices. These are typically influenced, driven, or formulated by the rich and powerful. These can be leaders of rich countries or other global actors such as multinational corporations, institutions, and influential people.

In the face of such enormous external influence, the governments of poor nations and their people are often powerless. As a result, in the global context, a few get wealthy while the majority struggle.

Globalisation has become a fact of life. I don't like it, but I'm not sure how I can fight it. The destruction of the local by the global is a trend that has no conscience and makes no moral judgment other than the requirement to make money. The world does not need another McDonalds; it doesn't need another Starbucks; it doesn't need another Tesco's yet we will get them because the aim is no longer to provide a service, but to make money that gets shared between a few.

The bottom line is that globalisation provide cheapness for consumers, riches for the shareholders and poverty for the suppliers and while we continue to support these companies, their disgraceful activities will continue unchecked.

I am proud to have played a miniscule part in the downfall of apartheid. Many people boycotted goods, services and companies who maintained connections with South Africa during the '70's and '80's to the point where some major companies cut their relationship such as Barclays Bank. Well, we would go into supermarkets with a trolley, put 1 tin of South African produce in the bottom, then fill up ttrolleylly with lots and lots of goods, take it to the checkout and in those days it was all manual, get it checked and when we got to the South African produce pull it out, look at it and then say to the cashier that we didn't shop in places that sold South African goods and just walk out. This happened a lot across the country which meant that major stores stopped selling SA goods. My point is that it is targeting the economic interests of these companies can, in some cases, change their practices. I'm realist enough to know that we live in a global economy, but the players in that economy must learn their actions have a reaction.

Any ideas?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

CIA Terror Flights from Britain

MPs from all parties are planning to campaign against the CIA's use of British airports and RAF bases when abducting terrorism suspects who are then flown to countries where they are allegedly tortured. The development was announced as the UN began inquiring into the operations, known in US intelligence circles as "extraordinary renditions".

To understand the true nature of what is going on with these renditions, Wendy Patten, U.S. Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch spoke about this practice back in March 2005. Click here to read the text of her statement.

Andrew Tyrie, Conservative MP for Chichester, is setting up the group in Parliament after demanding information from the Foreign Office about the UK's involvement in US prisoner operations. He said: "I am appalled by what appears to be growing evidence of complicity by the British government in torture of terrorist suspects or people whom the US may have information on, which could assist them to prosecute the war on terror. I don't think the information that comes from torture is reliable, but more importantly, the use of such practices undermines the values we espouse. The damage to those values is far greater than any benefit we might gain from these practices." One of the few times I agree with a Conservative, but he is right. We have a choice, either to command the moral high ground, or sink to the level of the terrorists. America's Administration appears to want to do the latter, ours should be doing the former.

Sir Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said the government was going to considerable lengths to enter agreements with governments to try to ensure deportees from Britain would not be subjected to torture. But, he added, it appeared the government was "allowing free passage to the Americans to transfer people from one jurisdiction to another where they are likely to be subjected to torture".

He has also asked how many detainees are being held against their will on US vessels in territorial waters off Diego Garcia, the British Indian Ocean Territory, on which the US has a large aircraft base.

Chris Mullin, Labour MP and former Foreign Office minister, said of the use of British airports: "If the government's policy is against rendition, then we must make that clear. The franchising out of torture is wholly unacceptable."

Amnesty International is demanding the US "ceases the practice of renditions that bypass human rights protections".

The Guardian has established that aircraft used by the CIA in renditions have flown in and out of the UK at least 210 times since the attacks of September 11. Some of those flights were connected to the abduction of terror suspects.

About 150 men have been abducted over the last four years and flown to countries where torture is common. A few have been released, and have given harrowing accounts of their treatment. Human rights lawyers say the operations violate the UN convention against torture, and say the CIA agents involved may also be in breach of the 1988 Criminal Justice Act.

The present US Administration appears to be getting away with some major human rights abuses, and that can only continue with the active support of friendly Governments. We may only be a small nation, but we have a loud voice and we need to make it heard!

Monday, September 12, 2005


England have beaten Australia in an Ashes series for the first time since 1987 - 18 long, embarrassing and difficult years and 29 days.

Of course, we couldn't do it the easy way. Oh no! We had to faff around, lose a few wickets, give us all a few heart attacks! Fortunately, Kevin Pieterson came in to steady the helm and nerves, and at just the right time scored his first test century of the series - what a time to do it. He was eventually out for 158, but by that time the match had been drawn and the series won by England. Ashley Giles put another 50 runs on the board, before the tailenders hung around and frustrated the Aussie bowlers for a few overs.

Over the past decade, Australia have assumed the mantle of number one, and this particular squad and team have been particularly good. We may have seen the last of some of those players - Shane Warne, the best spinner I've ever seen, Glen McGrath, one of the most accurate and hostile seamers of the recent game, its possible that Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden, along with Adam Gilchrist, the wicketkeeper.

Ricky Ponting, the Australian Captain is probably going to retire. As the first captain to lose the Ashes for 17 years, I don't envy his return to his homeland.

However, from what I've seen, there are some good players coming through, so in 2 years time, when the Ashes will be played for again, it should be a battle royale.

One thing all the Australians can take with them is the knowledge that they played in probably the finest and most exciting series ever. Everyone has been kept on the edge of their seats and England won the series by not much more than a whisker.

The series has brought me a lot of pleasure and stress to follow, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Well done both teams for a great series and congratulations England for a magnificent win. Now we've got to keep the Ashes - see you in Australia in 2 years time!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Last Night of the Proms

Last night, the one hundred and eleventh Promenade season came to an end. Instigated in 1895 in the Queen's Hall by impresario Robert Newman and conductor and organist Henry Wood. The concerts were designed to be accessible for all - smoking, drinking and eating were allowed, and the prices were very cheap - to stand in the auditorium, a season ticket cost 5 pence - not bad value, while others could pay more and stand in the gallery. That has led to perennial barriking of the two groups - the "posh" in the seats and the "prommers" in the auditorium which has lasted, good naturedly, through to today. It is the standing (or promenading) that has given this music festival its name.

The season started back in July as London recovered from terrorist attacks. Much good music has been played, but the Proms has always been a showcase for new works. The Last Night is always been a bit of a party with much flag waving and patriotic fervour, but in recent years, that overt, nationalistic "flag-wrapping" patriotism has matured into something much more human and inclusive. Twenty years ago, you would have only seen English flags (not even Welsh, Scottish or Irish had much of a showing), but last night, there must have been up to a hundred different flags being waved from all over the world. Now that's a party I can enjoy. It shows that as a nation we have grown, and no longer feel the need to display overt, over the top patriotism to hide our fears and insecurities.

The music was superb with Guitarist John Williams playing Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez and the German Counter-tenor Andreas Scholl who sang arias from Handel's opera Xerxes. However, along with that were interchanges with Proms in the Park concerts that were going on up and around the country. In all it was a feast of music that was thoroughly enjoyable. The new conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Paul Daniel, has more than won over the Prommers, and the festival looks to be in good hands for the next few years.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Sky News Gets It Right

I bet Rupert Murdoch had a thing or two to say about the caption on this news report - even though it is probably the most accurate news flash I've seen for a long time!

I think it needs to be spread far and wide.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Pendulum Swings!

England's 12th player, the weather, took control of the match today, when Australia's steady and assured reply to England's 373 was stopped by bad light when the openers, Langer and Hayden had put on 112. I know that we are living in the 21st century, but this is Test Cricket and the environment has always been a part of the game. In this case, it has favoured England. Two hours of play have been lost, 2 very valuable batting hours for Australia, which means that they may be forced to take risks when they resume - good. Earlier, the England tail-enders put an extra 54 runs on the board, and, probably, more importantly took an hour to do it.

This looks like being another very close game, and I'm not sure I can stand the tension! Australia must not win!

One piece of news, Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats and the one party in the UK to oppose going to war in Iraq, has raised his head above the parapet again. This time attacking the Government's anti-terror measures. He said ministers were guilty of "striking stances or floating initiatives in response to very short term primarily media demands".

He also criticised Tony Blair's claim that the terrorist threat had produced a new political climate. "When I hear phrases like that being used I really do get concerned," Mr Kennedy said.
"Climate by definition can change from one day to the next. You don't change your entire fundamental approach based on something as passing as that. Politicians should not be governed by something as nebulous as the climate."

For me, before anything is done to affect Civil Liberties, the reasons for change have to be solid and definite. As Katrina has taught most of us, nature will always kill more people than any terrorist could even imagine; disease, drought, famine, storms, for me these are the enemies we should be pursuing, not a bunch of anorexic, hairy outcasts with delusions of grandeur. Yes, they will always get through, and when they do it will always be distressing, and for the victims and their families, World terror will have become a reality. However, for most of us, there is more safety in percentages, - and the chances of being caught up in even a big terrorist attack are very tiny, - and live my life knowing that I have more chance of dying, crossing the road, or being mugged, or having a heart attack, than being the victim of a terrorist.

I wish our Government would scrap its "anti-terrorist" agenda - mainly on the basis that, one; it won't do any good and two; it is an attack on everyone's civil liberties - something the terrorists would love!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Honours Even

Unfortunately, although there is much in the World I could be commenting on, there is a battle going close to home which will have my undivided attention for the next four days.!

It is the Fifth and Final Test Match between England and Australia. It's pretty straight-forward at this stage.

  • If England win, they win the Ashes.
  • If the match is drawn, then England win the Ashes
  • If Australia win, they retain the Ashes (if a series is drawn, then whoever presently holds the Ashes keeps them) because the series will be drawn 2:2.

I put links to cricket and the Ashes on a previous post it you are interested!

At the end of thee first day, England have scored 319 runs, but have lost 7 wickets - five of them to Shane Warne, the Off-Spinner! Pitches are such, that spin bowlers are a waste of time in the early stages of a match as the pitch tends to favour seam and swing bowlers, but Warne is unique! Strauss made 129 runs which saved England some embarrassment. Flintoff also had a decent innings, making 71 very valuable runs.

This match is going to be tough on everyone, and I think I'll book myself in for a medical once it is over.

New pictures on Flickr of our walk over the West Pennine Moors. I've noticed, with Flickr, that when the pictures are uploaded, they end up in reverse order. I'll have to remember that next time and start with the last picture first (he that is last will be first!).

I did like this picture of a plaque in the centre of Belmont.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Bush Finally Gets His Act Together!

The papers, today, report that Bush is to send the Vice-president, Dick Cheney, to the area to "assess recovery operations" and remove "...any bureaucratic obstacles that may be preventing us from achieving out goals". I do like that last phrase! What goals is he talking about? Presumably those that ensure that Halliburton can maximise profit from the disaster without restriction or criticism from "bureaucrats" charged with looking after all the people.

Bush also announced that he would lead an investigation into what went wrong in the wake of Katrina! Well that's alright then! No cover-up here! Make sure the blame for this national disaster is laid at the feet of the correct people - local (presumably Democratic) politicians, who had been denied the resources to make any real difference.

"What I intend to do is to lead an investigation to find out what went right and what went wrong," says Mr Bush. "We want to make sure that we can respond properly if there's a WMD attack or another major storm." I thought that the Department of Homeland Security, which brought in FEMA, was set up after 9/11 for just that reason - ensuring that the most wealthy and resource rich country in the World can cope in an emergency.

Moreover, Republicans are now starting to see that nailing their flag to such a buffoon is not good for their future careers. Susan Collins, a Republican said "Government at all levels failed. It is difficult to understand the lack of preparedness and ineffective initial response to a disaster that had been predicted for years, and for which specific, dire warnings had been given for days." If she had been part of the real world for the past few years, she would have known what the rest of us have known for some time.

Finally, it is interesting to note that when a hurricane hit Florida the other year, Bush had set the wheels in motion within 2 hours, declaring a State of Emergency and initial relief package for all those white, Republican voting people who had suffered in the storm. How different this time.

P.S. Don't "Tricky" and "Dubya" have lovely smiles?

Uncle Joe's Mint Balls

It is a tradition in our office, that when we return from holiday, we bring something (usually something nice to eat) from the place we went to. Well as we didn't go anywhere this year, I decided to bring in something from Wigan. Fortunately, the best sweets in the world are manufactured in the town - Uncle Joe's Mint Balls.

These little spheres of mint-flavoured boiled sugar are one of the most heavenly confectionery ever made, and if every person in the world was required to put one in their mouth - all wars and conflicts would end immediately. If you can get hold of some, then you are lucky. Please visit the site and find out more. There's even a song about the sweets on the site!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Will Bush go to New Orleans?

At the time of writing, Bush has yet to set foot in New Orleans. He's flown over the place a couple of times, but not yet visited. Why?
  • It wouldn't be anything to do with the fact that New Orleans is a Democratic stronghold - or was?
  • It couldn't be anything to do with the fact that there might not be any reasonably good looking black people he can impose a hug to?
  • It wouldn't be anything to do with pictures of Bush with an entire city lost on his watch?
  • It couldn't be because he is frightened of being pictured with bodies floating down main street in the background?
  • It couldn't be because he is worried about people being less than appreciative at his efforts?

Thank God he's got Clinton and his Daddy to hold his hand! Thank God, that one man stayed at his post and did his job. Well done Dick Cheney - it was vital that he got all the contracts for his company set up and signed as soon as possible so that he and his friends could make some money out of this. Let's face it, some good has to come from all this.

I suppose the other good thing for Bush and Republicans is that if they can keep the reconstruction going for another couple of years, and dilute the evil Democratic voting people among good, honest, God-fearing Republicans, then that's one less Democratic enclave they have to worry about. Mind you, maybe some of those Republicans who come into contact with these people, might just realise the buffoon they have voted into office, and vote the other way.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Back to Work

Today is my first day back at work after my 2 weeks off. There's lots of news I could be getting into, but the "joy" of being back at work, has driven all other thoughts from my mind!

It's good to know that jobs and responsibilities left to colleagues to manage and mind while I was away, were just left undone, for my return! I was ecstatic to find a report I had taken 3 days to set up so thoroughly messed up that I now have another 3-day job just to sort it out! It was lovely to get a call asking me to come in early, as a new campaign needed setting up, as no-one had bothered to do it while I was off. I just love arriving at work to find my inbox with 236 messages waiting for me! I'll need another holiday soon.

The news is still full of Katrina with the British embassy now getting a battering for lack of response. Just like the US Administration, clearly they don't listen to the weather forecasts, and were totally unprepared. Their excuse for not getting there were numerous and humorous. Apparently they needed "permission" to go to the disaster area, and they couldn't get in to the towns. Why didn't the cadge a lift from the news reports who all managed to get in pretty easily! Maybe its just a facet of Government that to get anything moving requires a great boot up the bum.

Finally, the White House has got its act together. Rice is now telling everyone that they should not play politics with the disaster as it would be dis-honourable to the victims, and un-named White House spokes-persons are saying that the mistakes were all made by the local politicians, so it's good to have that all cleared up. It's the Mayors fault that funding for Coastal defense was cut by 44%, it's the State Governors fault for allowing the wet-lands, which could have afforded so measure of protection, to be developed. Clearly it is not the White House's fault, because they say it isn't. Great - I wonder how many believe them?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Sunday Papers

It's the last day of my holiday, and the weather has been superb. We spent the day in Southport having got there by train. It's the first time we've ever traveled that route by train, and it goes through some really beautiful countryside. It also follows the canal which we will have to cycle in the near future.

Southport is an up-market Blackpool with a wide variety of attractions. The main one is the beach, and when the tide goes out, it can go out for a mile or more! Did the usual things; walked the pier, had an ice-cream, went into the 'Penny arcade' - which uses old, pre-decimal pennies, went to a pub for lunch, had a pint and a half of Thoroughbred - so did Christine, Fish and Chips, more time on the beach and tried to get to the sea, then back home on the train. During all this, I read the Sunday Papers and a couple of articles caught my eye.

From The Observer:
  1. Bush at Bay; From Baghdad to Biloxi, the President has never been so assailed by such vitriolic criticism.
  2. Hurricane Katrina; Special Report - a compilation of reports on the devastation and its aftermath, both social and political.
From The Independent on Sunday:
  1. New Orleans; Highwater Hell; A detailed report on conditions in New Orleans, with links to other articles reporting on the hurricane and aftermath.
Bush appears to be an easy target, and clearly many others have to shoulder blame for what has happened - but the "buck stops at Bush's desk". Everytime some major disaster occurs, he looks just like a scared rabbit caught in the headlights, and it's not helped by the fact his mouth appears to be smirking. I'm sure he is genuinely horrified, it's just that America is burdened by a President, that is effectively clueless and helpless when it comes to protecting people at home. He, and the American people, have much, much more to fear from nature, than any terrorist attack. Nature kills a lot more people!

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Parents Visit

The newspapers are still full of Katrina, and I'm sure there is probably a lot I can write about, but I'll return to the subject another day.

Instead Christine and my parents visited today for a bar-b-que. Wigan is famous for it's pies, and so first thing this morning, Bethen and I went into Wigan to the market where, possibly, the best pork pies in the World are sold. When we got there, there was already a queue of about 20 people - they are that good. The pies consist of a lightly baked pastry, filled with pink, lightly seasoned and spiced ground pork and then baked. While baking, the juices from the meat ooze out, so that when the pies cool, they are topped with a juicy flavoursome jelly which really makes the pie. (Any vegetarians reading this - I apologise for any discomfort I may of caused - but those pies are really something else!)

Meanwhile, Christine and Jayne went to a local vegetable shop to get some salad - a shop that has yet to be forced out by the supermarkets, whose quality is nearly always first rate. The fruit and veg may not look as perfect as it does in the supermarket, but it seems to taste so much better.

When the parents arrived, the girls and I cycled round to our favorite pub on the canal, and the others followed in the car. New beer on tap - Adnams Broadside bitter - very nice and went very well with the pies. During lunch, 2 boats were starting to long climb down the canal to Wigan Pier - 22 locks, the longest set of locks in the country, and would probably keep them busy until sunset (we've cycled up and down those locks many times). Anyway, a couple of pints of that, and then back home for a couple of pints of Cains IPA and Bitter. A lot of discussion about America, and bearing in mind the conservative views a couple of the parents have, a lot of agreement that Bush is not doing a very well at the moment.

Bar - B - Que lit, started cooking. Veggies, it's probably best you sign off now 'cos I'm going back to "meat-land". Some really good burgers to start, brought by Terry, and while we ate those, I started to cook the Black and White Puddings. These were delicious, with a little English Mustard. These were consumed like canapes, and are a really delicious starter. During this, Christine had been slow roasting a rack of ribs, cooked with a honey, sugar, mustard and green pepper sauce and red-wine vinegar. The meat just dropped off the bone. Finally came the steak, which we ate with salad. This was all followed with fresh strawberries and cream.

All the meat, apart from the burgers, came from Wigan market, and you would have to go a long way to beat that quality. But the most important thing was the company. It is hot, sunny days spent with the people you love that are remembered for a long time, - but for me, the food and beer comes a close second.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Katrina - The Questions Raised

As the massive tragedy that is New Orleans and Biloxi and other places cross the southern gulf states of America certain questions come to mind. Watching the news, this morning, I was struck by the total inability of Bush to cope. I can't think of any other President in recent years who would have pulled in the previous incumbent and the President before that to bolster his image. I was even more amazed when Clinton said we mustn't make political capital out of this disaster. I'm pretty sure that if Clinton was still President, the Neo-Cons would be lining up to put the boot in!

Anyway, not wishing to make political capital, the following article by Sidney Blumenthal is well worth a read, and raises for me some questions that, unfortunately, are political in nature. Even here in the UK, we've known that things needed to be done to bolster the protection from the sea in the southern states.

But for those of us who do not live in America, the most shocking and shameful images have been the absolute poverty that people in the Worlds richest country, America, have to live. At times, I've thought that I was watching yet another disaster from Africa - even down to the colour of skin.

apparently, the Mayor knew 24 hours before the news was released to the population, that this was going to be a bad hurricane and that people should leave. Why wasn't that information given out immediately? Why wasn't that time used to gather together as much public transport as possible? Given it's long precarious position in "hurricane alley", why wasn't there a comprehensive evactuation policy and set-up?

Here in the UK, the impression is of a country that was prepared to allow New Orleans to go down. Those that had the means could get out - and boy did they get out, leaving those who couldn't, or didn't have the means to tough it out to survive as best they could.

This could be the biggest loss of life in America since 9/11. I just hope that Bush finally declares war on climate change and it's effects. His argument that soldiers are in Iraq to protect America, no longer seems valid, and those 300,000 men and women might now be better served at home caring for their neighbours.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

It is now being reported that there could be thousands dead as a result of the hurricane in the Gulf States of America. Rather than come out with something banal or irreverent, I just want to note that my thoughts and prayers are with all those who have suffered as a result, and wish them every success in rebuilding both their lives and their world. God bless.