Saturday, March 31, 2007

We are Iran

I stumbled across an interesting book in a book shop in Tunbridge Wells today.

It is called "We are Iran" and is a collection of writings from Iranian weblogs. What they show is the variety of thought and outlooks from this mainly young nation and how they are often at odds with their leaders who have such control over their society.

In many ways, the hope for Iran and for the world, has to be that the majority of its people will have a say in the direction it takes in the coming years.

Here are a few extracts from that book:

Taken from Iranian weblogs:

"My blog is an opportunity for me to be heard…a free microphone that doesn’t need speakers… a blank page…"

" I keep a weblog so that I can breathe in this suffocating air… In a society where one is taken to history’s abattoir for the mere crime of thinking, I write so as not to be lost in my despair… so that I feel that I am somewhere where my calls for justice can be uttered…. I write a weblog so that I can shout, cry and laugh, and do the same things that they have taken away from me in Iran today… "

"On the one hand the French say women should discard their veils and on the other hand, in Iran, they believe in forcing the veil on women throughout the world. They both batter us on the head with the stick of Islam. Do women ever tell you men what you can and cannot wear?"

"I can see a war on the horizon…In the depth of my heart I want the people of Iraq and Afghanistan to reach peace and freedom , but it might mean that America will find even stronger reasons to attack Iran… I am scared. I feel incredibly helpless."

"And now is our turn to die. Because we are to pay for the actions of our rulers, whom we despise. We the ordinary people will have to pay."

" I hate war. I hate the liberating soldiers that trample our soil, home, young and old with their boots. Believe me I love freedom. But I believe that you have to make yourself free. No one else can free you."

"God invented war so that the Americans can learn geography!"

"As a nation we all have dual personalities… At home we are as free as can be… we have fun, drink, have parties… and pay no attention to the religious dictates of the Supreme Leader. But in public we are forced to act devout and show support for the regime… This has destroyed our culture and has turned us in to the worst kind of hypocrites… and as a society we are rotting from the inside."

Here are a few links to sites I have read today. While there are certainly grounds for disagreement, these sites and others like them show that ordinary Iranians are currently both willing and able to speak out and that they value freedom of speech. I have no doubt that they take more risks in their writing than bloggers in much of the world.

The hope has to be that the current crisises over Iraq, nuclear development and now the British sailors can be overcome and things will change when the "blogging generation" of Iranians comes to power.

For all our tomorrows, this is my hope...............

Thursday, March 29, 2007

75% of Brits in the wrong job !

A tongue in cheek survey on the personality fit of Brits to their current job. A whopping 75% have a personality unsuited to their current job including:

"40 per cent of bankers and accountants who described themselves as “warm” and “people-oriented”.

They're obviously in the wrong place :-)

The quiet kidnap of Britannia's children

When 15 British sailors and marines were captured by Iran last week, it seemed that the country at large was not really interested. After all, to be in the military these days is a career choice and not a duty. Therefore those sailors were there out of choice and capture by a foreign power is one of the risks that comes with such a choice.

However as the week has gone, Britain in its quiet way seems to have started awaking. True, there has been no mass outbreak of patriotic concern, no yellow ribbons on trees as would no doubt be the case if the sailors were American.

If anything the media and politicians have been overly restrained and it is the general public who are left to raise concerns.

The Times letters page gives a flavour of this today:

Principally the concerns focus around how 15 sailors on a Royal Navy patrol were left so exposed, close to Iranian waters and the fact that the British government's response has so far been far too weak and cautious.

The precise location of the sailors at the time seems almost irrelevant. They were stopping an Indian registered ship to search for smuggled goods. This was an entirely legitimate operation and the fact they were lightly armed and in dinghies hardly suggests they were an assault group.

Iran, despite its attempts to flex its nuclear muscles is fast becoming a pariah nation. While even China now votes for sanctions against it, Sunni muslim powers such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan form an unlikely alliance with Israel as nations that would suffer from a powerful Shia theocracy.

Iran has long caused problems for the world although on a personal level I studied with Iranians at university and found them all to be charming and cultured. It is unfortunate that Iranians have themselves long suffered from a revolutionary regime. This regime now spreads suffering to Iraq where they seek to encourage their Shia cousins in decimating the minority Sunni population.

It seems that the biggest killer of muslim people in the world is Iran and its radical Shia allies.

It is worth noting however that the majority of the worlds muslims, at least 85 % ,are Sunni. So many nations would suffer as a result of a Shia superpower that it seems more than possible to construct a broad anti-Iranian alliance. Nations such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE, even Turkey not to mention Israel all fear the vision of Islam favoured by Iran and its would be despot, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

So I feel it is time for Britain to wake up to the kidnap of 15 of its children. We are dealing with a cornered pariah whose economy is suffering. This is not about invading Iran but it is about dealing toughly with an unpopular bully. Bullies only cave in when they are treated with force and Iran's current leadership is no different .

This is not about destroying Iran or harming her people. However Britain, who as Britannia used to rule the waves, should stand up for the interests of all her children, particularly those who risk their lives for her interests. To do otherwise is national cowardice and would suggest to the world on the 25th anniversary of the Falklands War that Britain is no longer a sea power worth fearing.

Here's a reminder of how a previous Prime Minister dealt with her own Iranian hostage crisis at the Iranian Embassy in London back in 1980 :

(the recording ends prematurely- all hostages were fine. To avoid confusion, the hostage takers were themselves opposed to the Iranian regime. However the principle to be applied is one of the benefits of a tough response to such actions)

Come on Tony, we know you admire her ! It won't be easy but may your resolve in this crisis be equally tough. Now that would one "legacy" worth leaving !

Blown away

News that David Cameron's green statement, a tiny wind turbine attached to his house, has fallen foul of local planners, not to mention irate neighbours.

Not such a loss really. Rumour had it that it had to be battery powered in order to create the appearance it was going round ! West London doesn't have much wind, although is apparently no stranger to hot air :-)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Overcoming a hackneyed view of Hackney

A leafy part of Hackney- London Fields at twilight

As long as I can remember the name "Hackney" has conjured up all manner of horrors in my mind. Coming originally from a suburban and leafy part of the Midlands, London itself was scary enough. Crime was high, the pace was fast and the people uncaring- or at least that's how it felt to an outsider. Hackney along with such names as Tottenham and Brixton were virtual "no-go" areas to anyone visiting London from outside. They were like a British version of the Bronx.

Of course I now realise that London is not simply a city but a collection of a thousand villages. It can be as peaceful, as dangerous, as rich, as poor, as friendly or as sullen as the area you choose to visit or the time you go there. I've spent the last 15 years studying or working in or close to London so my vision of London through more rural eyes seems to almost belong to another lifetime.

Nonetheless, as any "Londoner" knows there is London and there is London. London is comprised of 33 boroughs ranging from the swanky millionaire ghetto that is Kensington and Chelsea, to leafy semi-rural towns with their own identity like Bromley to grittier areas like Barking and Dagenham.

Hackney definitely falls into the latter camp in most people's conceptions. Over the years it has become a byword for failing councils, high crime and urban poverty.

However like most generalised conceptions this does not show the full picture. Hackney has existed for hundreds of years, originally as a village outside London separated from the River Lea by marshes (now Hackney Marshes). In the Tudor period Hackney was a retreat for the nobility from London. As London grew it was subsumed into the city but offered many contrasts to the main urban area. On its eastern fringes large Victorian and Edwardian villas overlook Victoria Park. Hackney gave its name to horse-drawn Hackney carriages which originated there. The overused horses then lent their title to overused or tired phrases, hence "hackneyed expressions".

Modern Hackney was born in 1965 from the merger of the former metropolitan boroughs of Hackney, Shoreditch and Stoke Newington.

Today Hackney seems to be enjoying a renaissance. True, crime is relatively high but latest figures show this is falling sharply while it rises elsewhere. Hackney is also a borough of contrasts. To the north, the "murder mile" in Clapton well known for "black on black" shootings continues to be a scary place. However to the south trendy areas like Hoxton and Shoreditch border the City of London financial centre are now bristling with yuppie flats and artists. In the middle areas like Stoke Newington offer shopping bargains unfound elsewhere in London due to their slightly edgy reputation. Stamford Hill to the north remains home to many Orthodox jews who arrived as refugees in the 1930s.

Last weekend, Mrs. Donatella and I visited Broadway Market in Hackney. I had read about it and its interesting shops and Turkish hairdressers. Situated south of London Fields and to the north of the Regents Canal, it has a village feel and has obviously been discovered by a slightly off-putting group of trendy yuppies. That said it was not the gun-toting crime ridden image of Hackney I would have expected. Organic food stalls abounded overlooked by "real pubs" and hair salons. The main "business" was touted by pink-faced farmer like characters selling organic sausages rather than crack and more likely to be associated with Herefordshire than an inner-London borough. Nearby London Fields is a large green area from which the Gherkin and other City of London skyscrapers are visible little more than a mile or two away to the South.

Hackney lacks any London underground stations apart from on its borders although the Mainline from Liverpool Street stops there.

Hackney was refreshing. While it is increasingly being discovered, an edgy reputation ensures it is trendy without yet falling prey to the whims of the Waitrose classes. Hackney is independent and eccentric, it has a troubled recent past yet a long and distinguished history. It is one of the most ethnically diverse boroughs with only 44 % of residents calling themselves "white British" in the last census. Nonetheless, Hackney is an eye opener to the outsider with preconceived ideas. The 2012 Olympics which will be focused to the east of Hackney will bring wealth in. The variety and history of Hackney should combine to assure it a bright future.

I would encourage anyone to overcome their hackneyed view of Hackney.........

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Littlest Hobo

Simply nostalgia. The wonder that is Youtube carries so much that would otherwise be almost impossible to find. Anyone remember this ? The story of the dog who travels around helping people and then travels on again. The Littlest Hobo showed on BBC1 in the 1980s.............

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The bogeyman cometh.............

The attached link of a Youtube film hosted by political blogger Guido is not pleasant, not for the faint hearted and not really educational.

It does however shed some unpleasant light on the likely future Prime Minister of Britain....



No, it wasn't a football match, but 9.15am in the Finance Department of the Firm where I work in London. "Barry" my 46 year old colleague had just arrived and wanted to celebrate the result of the office quiz the night before.

Yes, Barry and I were on the team that marginally won the quiz. I had decided to keep things under my hat "the morning after" as the "night before" had ended with emotions running high. The quiz was basically a general knowledge quiz between 9 different teams drawn from the Finance Department in order to raise money for Comic Relief Day.

The team I was on had the advantage of a relatively high age, giving a boost where general knowledge was concerned. Barry even came within 3 of guessing how many countries in Africa there were- his 56 to the actual 53. We barely put a foot wrong in terms of silly mistakes although some questions were beyond our "senior" age profile. Despite being the "baby" of the team even I was stumped on the name of the newest "Sugarbabe". Slightly creepily but uselessly Barry said "I can picture her right now".

Despite these minor failings we scraped into a half point victory over our nearest rivals. At that point, under the influence of alcohol, rolled up balls of paper and accusations of cheating began flying.

I had to leave quite promptly for the journey home but not before "a good looking but knows it" female colleague had demanded my chocolate egg prize on the basis "that I'm 22 today". That seemed a flimsy excuse so much to her disappointment I declined. She ran out and angrily smoked a cigarette. Angry, because she had drunk a little too much of the Firm's alcohol and because she couldn't get her way simply by being 22 and pretty. Besides I had to take the chocolate egg to Mrs. Donatella !

I felt a little deflated. Such a fuss and all over a quiz that was to raise money for charity- Red Nose Day.

So Barry's loud victory chant the next morning was not too welcome as far as I was concerned. Everything's been forgotten now and all are friends again. Even my feisty young colleague is being more friendly- obviously trying hard now that she knows I don't give chocolate eggs away to people just for being pretty and 22 !

The last word had to go to Barry. The next day the result was still leading to controversy with the team, half a point behind. Barry's final retort to the Captain of the "We woz robbed" team was "I've got a chocolate egg, what have you got to show for it ?".

When it comes to office quizzes, winning a chocolate egg is all the proof you need !

A quiet end to the Party.....................

Blood is thicker than water- Labour brothers Scott and Danny were reconciled in the end..

Was it just me, or was the ending of Party Animals a bit disappointing ?

Ashika and James Northcote were well and truly outed. The younger Foster brother, Danny, got stronger as he turned his disappointment into grim determination. Labour's dinosaur candidate held the by-election (just). Even the minister with a drink problem, Jo Porter, managed to save her political skin.

In short, everything is lined up nicely for a second series which I hope happens as the series has a good cast, makes political life interesting and generally has a lively plot. Just a pity that the script writer appeared so prudent and cautious at the finale of the first series. Let's hope it's a case of jam tomorrow for a second series.........

A brief clip from epiosde 7...........

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Food costing £424 thrown in the bin.............

That is the extraordinary statistic for the value of food thrown away by every person in Britain each year.

In my household I am the " human composter", rushing to eat yogurts and similar just past their sell-by date. Sadly I fail sometimes and when food is uneaten by me as the last line of defence, it goes in the bin.

Contemporary methods of shopping build in or even encourage food waste. Often we simply buy too much.

Whatever the cause, it is a shocking waste of food others would give so much for, not to mention thowing our own money away.

I am not sure whether my household conforms to the average level of food wastage but Brits have no room to be complacent- we even waste more food than Americans !

WRAP, the organisation behind this statistic has some tips on how wasteage of food (and money) can be reduced.

Monday, March 19, 2007

"Money Isn't Everything" (especially if you're rich!)

I should confess that I was once a "Tory Boy" -one of those youths with an unusual interest in politics and support of the Conservative Party. I haven't been to an event in 3 years mainly due to other distractions and other interests. So this was a chance to see for myself afresh what the Conservative Party is really like as it gets into position to form the Government of this Country.

"Money isn't everything" was the phrase David Cameron used in his speech to the Conservatives this weekend to sum up the shift in position by his party.

This was the finale to the Spring Forum of the Conservatives in Nottingham this weekend.

If the opinion polls are too be believed, David Cameron will be the next Prime Minister of Britain, after the unelected Gordon Brown loses the next general election.

David Cameron represents a fresh face for the Conservative Party although ironically his Eton-educated background make him the sort of Conservative Leader who hasn't been seen for over 40 years.

David Cameron speaks about the environment as often as he breaths. This weekend he mentioned as a positive the fact that Al Gore (or Saint Al Gore) approved of his efforts in the field of the environment. In reality this means more taxes on air travel. There is currently little more substance than that.

The leadership of the Conservative Party is new although the make up of delegates was more traditional. Plump County Councillors, gritty Northern Mayors, Tory Boys and "ladies" still make up the majority of the Party's grass roots.

The one thing that is still lacking is concrete policies. There are a lot of themes, words and noises but nothing substantive. The party is strong in marketing and spin but still underdeveloped in tangible proposals. Maybe this will change in time.

In the meantime, David Cameron (or "Dave" as he likes to be known), compared himself to a social Margaret Thatcher. In the 1970s the country had faced economic ruin and only Margaret Thatcher had the insight and policies to address this. Today the economy is not really a problem but the country is socially poor. Fatal stabbings occur frequently on the streets of big cities as gangs fight for territory. A generation of hoodies and feral children have no aspiration or vision to escape their circumstances. Family breakdown is rife and Britain is the worst developed country in the world for children to grow up according to a UNICEF report Intriguingly Holland is the best !

Against this David Cameron can be seen as justified in saying "Money isn't everything". It isn't, but as my friend immediately pointed out, a wealthy Eton-educated politician can more easily say that than the majority who have to work for a living. Working for a living is not something Dave needs to do.

"Money isn't everything" means that there will not be a traditional tax cutting agenda by the next Conservative government. Instead the main focus will be public services. One of the key themes of the weekend's conference was the NHS. David Cameron addressed a "Medics Revolt" of 12,000 Junior Doctors who marched in London. See the Webcameron propaganda video below:

(don't be put off by David Cameron- he only talks a short while- the doctors street protest is quite entertaining with a few rather scary characters I wouldn't want to be treated by!)

This is Cameron's modern Conservative party. The points he raises are huge. He may not have the answers but if he does, or someone else does, they could go down in history as a great leader of the nation. That remains to be seen..........................................

Sunday, March 18, 2007


Some alarming evidence that David Cameron may be part of some experiment to clone Tony Blair :-)

More Cameron

A quick search on Youtube reavealed a wealth of clips relating to "switched on" Conservative leader, David Cameron.

This one must class as "intraveinus cheese"- quite amusing but somehow I fear the creator was not being ironic ! Some people seem just a little bit too ken on David Cameron for their own good !

Cameron in Nottingham

I spent the weekend doing something I haven't done for two and half years. I attended a political conference- in this case the Spring Forum of the Conservative Party held in Nottingham.

It was an interesting weekend, maybe one more of style than substance and of soundbites rather than policies. That said, the tone was positive and in touch with real issues that effect the Country and world today. A lot has been written about the new Conservative leader David Cameron. This was my first chance to see him up close.

I am rather too jaded to write something that will do the weekend and subjects raised justice. Hopefully this will happen tomorrow. In the meantime here are some photos from today in Nottingham.

Hail from the Chief- "Dave" salutes the audience

DC on the big screen- suitable health service related photos adorn the stage !

Dave at the rostrum- the nurses to the right are just photos !

The press pack hovers waiting for action

Saturday, March 17, 2007

"I've won a chocolate egg, what have you got to show for it ?"

That is only the sort of rhetoric that can come out of an office quiz. In this case, to raise money for comic relief.

Needless to say some people took it rather seriously !

Back with details soon.

In the meantime, I am off to Nottingham to see what David Cameron's Conservatives look like these days.......

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Let's Party like it Sarbanes-Oxley 404 !

Here is some evidence that some stereotypes really are accurate.

In this case accountants can( at least in professional life) be incredibly boring. A friend of mine, who is an auditor with a major international bank, writes that he is attending a Sarbanes-Oxley 404 Party. The party is being held at a prestigious and trendy London location.

For the uninitiated, Sarbanes-Oxley 404 was the piece of American legislation that introduced rather bureaucratic corporate governance requirements following the Enron scandal. The "party" is being held to celebrate the fact that the bank now complies with this (or at least that is my understanding).

Still, a party is a party and I hope all have a good time at the bank's expense. It is difficult (and disturbing!) to imagine a group of accountants dancing the night of away to celebrate Sarbanes-Oxley. However that is what is happening tonight somewhere in London- sometimes you really can't make it up !

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Nightmare on Downing Street- Neil's Back- the Final Nightmare !!

Fifteen years after loosing the 1992 election and having made a fortune out of Brussels in the meantime, the original "Welsh windbag" Neil Kinnock could soon be promoted to the cabinet under the new unelected Prime Minister, Gordon Brown !

Ian Dale is reporting the grim details.....

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

New home for the Great Global Warming Swindle

Many thanks to Joanie from Allegiance and Duty Betrayed who pointed out that the original link to the Great Global Warming Swindle Programme no longer works.

I have no idea why this is- maybe there are copyright issues or maybe someone chose to remove it has it as generated a lot of controversy !

A slightly shorter version can now be found at :

For anyone interested, I recommend viewing as soon as possible in case this disappears too !

Would you like to talk to a Chugger, Sir ?

The answer to this question was "no" !

"Chuggers" or Charity Muggers to give them their full title are those superficial bubblingly good natured young people who stand on British High Streets asking passers-by if they've got a minute or "could I talk to you for 30 seconds?" or loaded questions like "do you want to help beat cancer?".
The charities concerned are rarely objectionable in themselves, in fact usually the opposite. However the manufactured bonhomie, the loaded questions designed to play on guilt and the embarrassing attempts to use flirting to get compliance all wear thin after a while.So much so that these "charity canvassers" have earned the title "Chuggers".

In London the vast majority of people are just a little too world weary and cynical to be effected by a question like "Do you want to make a difference ?". Everyone knows it will end with an attempt to get your bank account details.
It's not that we're anti-charity but going down the street in a busy city we resent the attempt to intrude into our time and schedule and being made to feel like a Meany for not going along with it.

I used to attract Chuggers like flies. Maybe it was my easy going approachable face :-) However a few years of working in London have put a "don't talk to me" message in my eyes and I rarely get stopped. This morning I was congratulating myself on my grim faced resistance to Chuggers as a lady got stopped with the flirty entree from a pony-tailed male tennis coach type "hey lady in red! ". "There goes another mug" I thought as she stopped, only to be approached myself with the counter-cynical ironic approach "Would you like to talk to a Chugger, Sir ?"

This was humour effectively deployed. I didn't stop but I appreciated the fresh approach. We all have limited time (and money) and few of us care to make decisions regarding donations (particularly long term regular donations) in the middle of a High Street. Least of all do we want moral lecturing on what we should be doing with our money from a paid collector who is on commission for the number of people they sign up.

Sorry if this sounds a bit world weary ! However Chuggers are one of my pet complaints in London. I am pleased if they themselves are beginning to realise their often counter-productive effect.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Second chance

The Channel 4 documentary "The Great Global Warming Swindle" has provoked a lot of comment and debate in the last few days.

For anyone who missed it the first time but wants to see it for themselves, it is showing at 10pm on More 4 in the UK this evening.

Meanwhile it remains available online.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Party Animals

It is a bit late to call this a new series but I still recommend it. "Party Animals", coming from the makers of "This Life" portrays the lives lead by those at the "sharp end" of contemporary British politics- researchers, political assistants and lobbyists.

It is a cross party programme in that both Labour and Conservative workers are represented. As well as the superficial differences in origin and motivation between the two sets of party workers, the most obvious detail is the many similarities between the two sides and how closely they interact in the Westminster Village. As political reality eats away at their original idealism the two camps become more and more alike although they'd rather die than admit this.

Highlights for me include Patrick Baladi (also of "the Office") who plays the incredibly sleazy (and realistic) shadow cabinet minister James Northcote and Shelley Conn who plays the "tick all the right boxes" new Tory candidate Ashika Chandiramani .

The series is now in the middle of a by-election campaign in a traditional Labour seat that pits Ashika against a dinosaur old Labour party candidate. Labour's only hope is Scott Foster who is drafted in to "manage" the dinosaur. The only complication is that Labour Party Scott is romantically linked with Tory Ashika when she is not involved with the disreputable Northcote.

As someone who has spent sometime on the edges of the British political world at a few conferences as well as campaigning in by-elections and general elections, I think this seems quite a realistic portray of British Politics in general. The current climate of a rejuvinated, if slightly insincere ,Tory Party making headway against a tired Labour Party is the particular backdrop for this series.

Worth a watch at least once- Wednesdays BBC2 9pm.

"Tory boys" are yesterday's news. Meet "Tory babe" Ashika who is seeking to inflict a by-election defeat on an old Labour dinosaur

Britain may "ration" air travel

Here is further evidence of the near universal acceptance of global warming theory by political leaders.

The leader of the Conservative Party in Britain, David Cameron, has announced plans to ration air travel.;jsessionid=RMRFRGZQPHDKFQFIQMGCFGGAVCBQUIV0?xml=/news/2007/03/11/ngreen11.xml

The proposals are rather vague at present but this could mean that all British citizens are restricted to one short haul flight a year. Thereafter flights will attract a potentially escalating level of penalty tax to discourage frequent flights.

With the doubts around this theory and the fact that Prime Minister Tony Blair said recently that even if Britain were to "shut down" (all factories, cars, planes, electricity use) in two years the industrial growth of China would have taken up the reduction in global CO2 output, seem to make this proposal policy an unnecessary and ill thought out assault on holiday makers and business travellers.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Great Global Warming Swindle

See link to the full length showing of Channel 4's "The Great Global Warming Swindle". Worth watching whatever your views on this subject. It certainly raises some interesting questions e.g.

1) Why do CO2 increases lag behind temperatures rises i.e. temperature rises before CO2 rises ?
2) Why do changes in solar activity provide a far closer "fit" to changes in temperature than industrial output ?

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Industry of Global Warming

I saw an interesting programme on Channel 4 last evening. It had the somewhat provocative title of "The Great Global Warming Swindle". However in contrast to much produced by Channel 4 it was an interesting are generally intelligent programme.

The essence of the programme was that while in the last few decades the Earth has got a bit warmer, this is not a particularly unusual event as the earth has at various times, even in "recent" history been significantly warmer and colder than it is today. It also put forward that the view that the contributions of mankind to the recent increase in temperatures are essentially negligible.

Before anyone who has started reading this, decides to stop reading this on the basis that I must be some heretical "global warming denier" who cares nothing for the planet and supports only big industry, let me say I am none of those things. Even if global warming was complete fiction there are still many good reasons for reducing reliance on oil and gas and for caring for the environment.

The programme did however raise a valid point that a whole industry of people from funded scientists, journalists, alternative energy suppliers, "environmental consultants" and politicians all depend on global warming for their very livelihood. None of those who depend on global warming for their living are particularly stupid in terms of intellect and all have a vested interest in putting forward an argument to support the theory of global warming.

In the interests of scientific truth, there should still be opportunity to debate something that is really no more than a theory.

The arguments in favour of global warming are well known and there would be little point in spending time repeating them here.
The arguments against global warming are less well known and include:

1) The sun has by far the biggest impact on the earth's temperature. The sun is not and never has been a constant. Its activity fluctuates significantly. Most significantly, solar activity over the twentieth century correlates directly to the earth's temperature. This includes a significant dip in temperatures in the period immediately after WWII when industrial output and CO2 output from industry was rising. The earth got cooler because the sun was less active. The impact of industrial output was largely irrelevant here. Equally the recent increases in temperature are largely due to increased solar activity.

2) The theory of global warming is not wrong per se. CO2 and other gases do cause the trapping of heat. It is just that the impact of human activities has only a negligible effect. Volcanoes belch quantities of gases into the air equal to whole nations. Bacteria and animals also produce massive quantities of CO2. Scientific evidence shows that the percentage of CO2 produce by human activity is small compared to the natural activities.

3) Destructive weather in terms of hurricanes and tornadoes would decrease and not increase in a warmer earth. Therefore horrifying pictures of hurricane damage are not relevant to global warming. Such weather is formed when cold air reacts with warm oceans, not when warm air meets warm oceans. Equally, the breaking off of large ice bergs from the polar icecaps in the summer period can be described as being "as natural as the falling of autumn leaves". What the news reports never show is the ice reforming the following winter.

Remarkably for a theory now supported by most of the left, global warming's most powerful early supporter was British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. At a time of industrial disputes in 1980s Britain that involved coal and a reluctance to rely on the unreliable middle East for oil, Margaret Thatcher saw global warming theory as a useful "tool" for backing the development of nuclear power.

Only later did disillusioned socialists looking for an ideological home after the failure of the communist experiment, find global warming environmentalism as a suitable base for renewing their attacks on capitalism and industry. Since then, the theory has rapidly gained ground. Journalists have found a story that reliably sells newspapers- the risk of global destruction and now legions of "environmental journalists" owe their livelihood to the maintenance of global warming theory. Scientists find it easier to get research grants if their research involves and supports global warming. UN bodies also align themselves here creating a global industry around global warming. Finally, mainstream politicians, who want to appear fresh faced and trendy are now all "waking up" to the reality of Global Warming. See for example Britain's David Cameron successfully using global warming as a tool to challenge old stereotypes of the Conservative Party. When he first appeared with a wind turbine on his west London house and rode a bike to his office (not forgetting the chauffeur driven car following behind with a brief case and leather shoes !) he spoke directly to a sizeable demographic. He spoke to socially concerned metropolitan, Waitrose shopping, skinny latte drinking people who like to think of themselves as "nice people", saying "I share your self-doubts and media generated guilt and I will make gestures to assuage that guilt and enable you to do the same". Every intelligent person knows a wind turbine in central London is unlikely to power more than a doorbell and that cycling to work in front of your chauffeur driven car is a completely empty gesture, but by adopting global warming as his cause, he has become trendy in a way that hanging around with a 100 pop stars would not have achieved. Arnold Schwarzenegger in California also used global warming to show he was a "switched on" Republican.

Despite the stereotype of a disinterested America, the reality is that President Bush is now a major funder of global warming research and no doubt presidential candidates in 2008 will fall over themselves to be seen to be concerned about global warming.

Like any popular theory, those supporting it have a variety of different reasons for doing so. Few journalists and politicians are in a position to judge the science themselves so they are reliant on the scientific theories that are themselves funded with agendas in mind. Somewhere in this the truth gets lost in a cause that unites anti-Capitalists keen to attack industry through a spectrum of supporters to President Bush keen to reduce his nation's reliance on Middle Eastern oil.

For the general population, after enough respected and apparently intelligent people repeat the same thing, it becomes accepted fact.

A number of scientists don't accept global warming theory but their funding and profile often suffer as a result.

Ultimately, time will tell how real global warming really is. Most theories involve predictions for 2050 or some now for 2080. By then, of course everyone involved today will be retired or dead and the inaccuracy of a theory today will be of only academic relevance.My own view is that there is a lot of doubt around global warming theory. The fit between solar activity and temperature fluctuation is a strong argument in favour of doubting it . The earth may be getting warmer at present but the impact of human activity may not be the main cause. I also get suspicious when those raising scientific objections to the dominant theory are so aggressively treated. If global warming is so accurate a theory with support from most journalists, politicians and increasingly many industrialists, why do those who doubt it have to be silenced so forcefully ?

For my own part, the reality or not of global warming theory will make little personal difference. Personally I will try to save fuel because it so expensive. As a nation we would also be well advised to reduce consumption of oil as accessible supplies diminish and are concentrated in volatile parts of the world. For me to realise this does not require an apocalyptical theory. It is about saving money and not being reliant on some very unreliable energy suppliers.

Also other environmental concerns remain valid. The absence of global warming does not mean we are any more justified in destroying wild habitats, decimating rain forests or polluting the seas. I can want a nice environment without doing so in fear of my life.

Global Warming, true or false, is about fear. Fear of the future and fear of catastrophe. I would hope that one day there can be an honest debate about global warming . In the meantime the media and political orthodoxy around this theory will no doubt mean that those who doubt it are demonised and the majority who take theory and opinion spouted by journalists as fact will see no grounds for doubt.

Even those "heretics" who doubt global warming and threaten the livelihood of the global warming industry can still support reduced reliance on oil and protection of wildlife and nature. The "heretics" just don't need to live in fear in order to do what is sensible and right.

Link to Channel 4's Great Global Warming Swindle

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The rise and rise of Waitrose

Thanks to a correspondent who sent me this story:

Waitrose is now officially the nation's favourite store, if such a thing can ever be "official".

While I don't object to Waitrose the store, merely pointing out that a pint of milk or a pound of bananas are likely to be a bit more expensive there than elsewhere, I do object to the attitude and pretensions of some Waitrose shoppers.

I wrote about "Waitrose man" a while back and nothing has changed my views on that. Going to a particular shop can never be about more than nice food and good bargains. Those who feel morally superior or "ethical" by shopping at Waitrose are deluding themselves.

RIP Mr. Humphries

The late John Inman as "Mr. Humphries" in "Are you being Served?"

Very sorry to see that John Inman died today. He was 71.

I am sure he achieved much and did much in his life. I will always remember him as Mr. Humphries in British TV's "Are you being served ?". He was best known for being Camp with a capital C and his famous catchphrase "I'm free".

All the series of "Are you being Served?" are available on DVD and for anyone who doesn't know the series it gives a comic but realistic image of an England that has since passed through the lens of a not very fashionable department store.

In many ways the 1970s and early 80s represented in the series was a more innocent time when humour could be suggestive without being vulgar. The dingy high street department store of Grace Brothers is almost unrecognisable in contrast to the mega retail groups selling fashion through shopping centres and malls that blast piped pop music at all potential shoppers.
It is amazing how much things have changed on the British high street in 30 years.

Living in Malta in the early 80s I even remember that the series attracted viewers of all ages from that Mediterranean Island ! In fact "Are you being Served?" was popular across much of the world.

You will be missed, John Inman and Mr. Humphries.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Temple of Artemis near Ephesus

Another recent holiday photo.
This was once viewed as one of the seven wonders of the world. Difficult to see now, but the Temple of Artemis still has a majestical spirit even if the stones have largely gone.

We were the only visitors at this site on the February day we saw it. When a Turkish gypsy approached to sell guidebooks, I decided a change of nationality would be wise. English are too easy and "nice" as targets for sellers so I answered "Russki" to his question of where I was from. I thought this had put him off as he disappeared only to see him reappear moments later with a Russian language guidebook ! A retreat to the car was in order shortly afterwards !

The bitter sweet taste of Turkish Delight

We recently returned from a week in Turkey.
Right from the point of landing, Turkey is a land full of contrasts that leave memories tasting both sweet and bitter.We landed at Izmir International, a gleaming new airport as good as any medium sized airport in Europe and certainly more inspirationally designed than London's Gatwick where we caught the direct flight. That was the sweet.

Then came a mild dose of bitter. Most nationalities require a Visa to enter Turkey and this include the Brits. It is a Visa on arrival and consists of a sticker exchanged for cash. There is little attempt to pretend this isabout border control rather than revenue generation. Brits must pay £10 for their sticker or 15 Euros.Mrs. Donatella has a Russian passport and the rate shown was $20 or 15 Euros. Coming from London we had neither Euros nor Dollars but I foresaw no problem. Why not pay £10 which equates to the 15 Euros that Brits can also choose to pay ? The Turkish Bureaucrat collecting the money was having none of it. Brits can pay £10 or 15 Euros, Russians can pay 15 Euros or $20 but they cannot pay £10 ! After a fruitless "discussion" a Turkish woman suggested giving him a couple of extra pounds. 2 extra Pound Coins did indeed open the Turkish border ! The bureaucrat presumably accumulates quite a lot of "extras" which from planeloads of passengers must add up into a reasonable bonus.
Then we were met by the property developer we are buying a flat from. He is a cheerful sales manager to whom everything is generally possible. We were driven to our hotel in Kusadasi on the Agean. The next morning we visited our flat which was supposed to be "finished". "Finished" obviously doesn't fully translate as balcony railings on a fifth floor appartment were not yet available. A large hole in the bathroom ceiling where an extractor fan should sit was explained in terms of "letting bad smells out". This is obviously an eco home ! Other minor points remained and we all agreed that the apartment was not yet "finished".That aside we set about enjoying a week by the Agean Sea.

The weather was gently warm, the sea clear and the sky blue. All around a friendly people worked and played. Prices for the tourist are so much cheaper than Europe at the moment. Dinner, bed and breakfast at a 4 star hotel cost £20 a night for Mrs. Donatella and I.
We hired a car and drove to a nearby National Park. Unspoilt forests roll down to the Agean. The Greek Island of Samos lies a couple of miles away in the clear sea. Yet here amongst the sweetness of a rural idyll there are twangs of bitterness. The area was largely Greek until the mid 1920s. A Greek village is preserved as a tourist attraction. The leaflets explain that it is similar to many Greek villages in the area prior to "the exchange of populations in 1924". "The exchange of populations" is a polite term for successful ethnic cleansing. Like all such acts such as that which occurred in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s or the Sunni- Shia struggle of modern Iraq there is never truly one aggressor and one victim. It is shades of grey rather than black and white. Turks suffered atrocities in what are now Greek islands just as Greeks suffered terribly in what is now the Turkish Republic. The result was partition and a grudging peace. Life continued and nothing changes the past. The sun still shines on the Aegean but while it can look like paradise, ghosts whisper of something that was once lost.
The Aegean coast is truly historical on a vast scale. Ancient Greek settlements abound. The Pope visited Ephesus in 2006 following in the steps of St. Paul, 2000 years ago. The Virgin Mary is venerated by many in a small house reputed to be her final home. While the history is sketchy there is no doubtinh the scale of the history of the area. St. John is buried near to Ephesus and it was he that Jesus asked from the cross to look after his Mother. Pre-Christian sites such as the one-time world wonder, the Temple of Artemis also lay nearby.
Up the coast we drove to Izmir, a large city of 3 to 4 million people. Light Railways and tower blocks are sprouting up in the Springtime of a potential Turkish boom. This was once the Greek City of Smyrna. A scattering of mosques can be seen in this relatively secular area of muslim Turkey. Suddenly from behind a wall on a commercial road, Christian Crosses can be seen marking a Greek burial ground. In this instance the "exchange of populations" did not disturb the dead.

"The Father of all Turks", Ataturk, can be seen on the wall of almost every restaurant, office, hotel reception. He is the focus of the Turkish state. A strong army keeps unwelcome forces in check. Road blocks are relatively common either manned by the Police or the more paramilitary "Jendarma". The fear is often the Kurdish PKK rather than islamists although both have struck in Turkey in recent years. Nonetheless most of the people follow the spirit of Ataturk and extremism seems rare- certainly in comparison to muslim communities in London or Birmingham.
Shopping Malls, Starbucks, McDonalds all sprout beside main roads. On the country roads shepherds watch their sheep and donkeys are still used to transport produce. Stray cats and dogs abound. Alley cats can be seen "Top Cat style" in bins in at the back of apartment blocks. A few pampered pooches and moggies can be seen in the style of their spoiled and surgically de-gendered European cousins. However the majority of cats and dogs live and die intact in a more natural state than Europe.
Food is good and cheap and wholesome. It is quite accessible to English palates as their is little attempt to disguise good quality produce with excessive sauces or pickling.
Last but not least a visit to a men's barber is a memorable experience. Blades flash, flaming alcohol soaked sponges are used to remove an stray hairs from ears. There is much more attention to detail than a British barber and this I think is shown in the result !
Turkey is a large and interesting country. It is friendly to the visitor and is generally managing well in its traditional role as the bridge between Europe and Asia. While its history is certainly mixed, there seems much hope for its future. If their southern neighbours in Iraq could only learn a little "Turkish" the whole world would be a safer place.
The Greek island of Samos as seen from the Turkish coast. So near yet so far.........
The ruined Basilica of St. John at Selcuk, Turkey.

Bafa Golu

This is lake Bafa Golu in Turkey as seen from the ancient settlement of Heraklea. It is less than 90km from the modern resort of Bodrum but is a world away with shepherds minding their flocks and some people still using donkeys to tranport goods.

If such a large lake was in Britain, it would no doubt be drowning in B & Bs and "organic" restaurants. Turkey is still effortlessly organic and thankfully our visit to this lake involved no one else apart from two friendly (but large) local dogs (one pictured with his back turned !)