Thursday, 21 April 2011

A row of tents

NOT an Easter Egg...but usually given at Easter. I'm not expecting one.

Well we're cruising through to Easter quite nicely. Not religious by nature, I can't deny that the treat of having Hot Cross buns tomorrow and a big chocolate egg on Sunday is something to look forward to. As is a four-day weekend. With The Boy and The Cat returning after their long yomp in the Brecon Beacons, it promises to be a lively few days. Especially as, I hope, that thoughts of impending exams can be banished for a few days. There are some things that need to be given up AFTER Lent, not For Lent.

At the same time, the balance of who decides what will change too. The Cat's Mother and I when left to our own devices just muddle along, gently taking decisions because they suit....with the return of the offspring again, we will have to start thinking about their needs. That's democracy for you.

In the wider world. democracy is not all that it seems. You probably think you live in a democracy here in the UK, but there is democracy and there is democracy. An interesting piece of news yesterday was a report from the Constitution Unit at University College London that said the House of Lords is overly full. Indeed, that's not surprising given that David Cameron has taken it upon himself to create 117 Peers of the Realm since he took power, bringing the total to 792. That's 792 men and women who have not been elected yet are taking decisions about our lives on a daily basis. Worse still, of the 117 new peers, a large proportion are former MPs. Yes, that'll be people that we, the electorate, have decided we do not want to represent us, but are still part of the Parliamentary system. To my mind, that stinks of a 'ruling class' completely disregarding the desires of the voters...the people they are supposed to be representing. It's certainly not democracy in my books. David Cameron is the current villain, but it was Tony Blair's bunch who started parliamentary reform, but did it in such a half-hearted, half-arsed way that we're left with a whole house of parliament which is appointed. I don't think it's been that bad for 500 years.

The political system was much in mind yesterday, as we went off to London's last music hall (and best secret venue), Wilton's Music Hall to see Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe. Apart from Wiltons being such a special venue (have a look here), the production was equally special...the cast is entirely male. So there was a whole troop of male fairies. Judging by the audience, it was fairies playing fairies. And very splendid they were too. Sometimes 'camp' is wrong, but here they played it to the full and very fun it was too. In case you're not familiar with G&S (and I can't say I've seen more than a couple in my life), the story mixes true love and politics...involving fairies, Lords, an Arcadian shepherd, a Lord Chancellor and the beautiful Phyllis in a tangled-web of love and betrayal. There is conflict between the Peers and the Fairies and the as a punishment the fairy queen installs the lowly shepherd in the House of Lords, and he makes any decisions he likes because the other peers are charmed to support him. Naturally it's a happy ending and you can read the full plot here. But it's quite a smart political commentary.

So all in all we managed to travel full circle yesterday. Politics in the news, politics on the stage, camping in the Brecon Beacons and camping it up on the stage. Isn't symmetry nice?

NOT Gilbert and Sullivan:

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

No comment

Today is gallery day, so normally I'd be putting up a picture. The theme this week is 'My Blog' which is a tricky one...but there's nothing like a challenge is there? I'd decided exactly what I wanted to put up - a picture of the person that inspired me to start 'Don't panic RTFM'. She writes for a living, we worked together for a while, and now she lives in the States with hubby and offspring. It was her encouragement that got me going...but I've hunted high and low and just can't find a picture of her. So instead, here's the link to Nappy Valley's blog.

The Boy popped home the other night in between Adventurous training and going off on Silver Duke of Edinburgh Award in Wales. As ever it was an exhausting experience. That's not to say it wasn't certainly could it not be? He makes what would otherwise be a pretty gentle, quiet, even refined household a vortex of fun, noise and oooomph. He is like a cuckoo in the nest.

Although he was back for just a few short hours, one of his tasks was to start putting back in his room all the things that had been moved out whilst it was decorated. And it was a very, very telling time. Here is a picture of his bathroom cabinet. Can you count the number of face washes and deodorants he had previously hidden around the place.

Is it any wonder that my automatic response to any thing he asks for is 'No' on the basis that I know he doesn't need it. He is in truth more like a magpie....

I once had a letter published in The Times. Somewhere in the dark, dusty cob-web strewn loft the newspaper is waiting to be thrown away. I wish I could remember what it was about, but I can't really. It was quite a palaver. I wrote the thing; no I had crafted it and then faxed (!) it off to them. A while later, I had a call from them to ask whether it had been published elsewhere. When I said no, they asked me not to send it anywhere else. It felt like quite an honour, and I was pleased as punch when I bought a copy of the paper the next day. I showed it to all my friends and colleagues before carefully storing it for posterity. I have a feeling this was pre-Murdoch days, when The Times could still claim to be The Thunderer.

These days it's all a bit different isn't it? Sure there are letters pages, but most interaction with the press is by comment at the end of an article. But instead of carefully nurtured thoughts crafted into well-drafted pieces all we get to see are torrents of abuse and vitriol. A long comment is "This is shit. You are a moron" and that's after it's been moderated. I do feel that whilst the ability to express views and opinions is a basic human right and fundamental to a successful, functioning democracy, the ability to do it instantly in the interweb is just plain destructive. Once the preserve of drunken pub conversations, abusive commentary has become the mainstream. Perhaps it is the case that it is only the aggressive, uneducated, the Saturday night louts that have the time and adrenalin to put their fighting talk on line. It is absolutely the case that hurling abuse at your fellow man and womankind does not make for a happy, harmonious environment just one where the poison of negativity aggressiveness that permeates the very fabric of the society we live in.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The unholy trinity

As I road to work today I could see as the traffic slowed ahead a large red and white mess which was blocking the centre lane. At first I thought it must be a sheep, but given that this is an elevated section of a busy dual carriageway, even I realised this was unlikely. As it turned out, I rode past the dismembered remains of a swan...I've never seen that before. Plenty of road kill, but a swan is something different. I can't think how it happened, but would undoubtedly have left a very big dent on whatever hit it. Such a shame. Still that's one less for the Queen to count.

Cuba is one of those places that I, like many others, would love to visit. I'm a great admirer of what Castro tried to achieve, even if the reality is that he failed. He wouldn't have failed quite so badly if the US had not adopted a policy designed to bring down the communists, and doggedly sticks with it in its complete absurdity. Changing US policy to Cuba is one thing Obama could have done relatively easily, but as with all things has largely ducked the issue, as he has in the Middle East. So it is interesting that the younger Castro is now bringing about reforms that could bring Cuba into the twenty-first century...the promise of limiting leadership terms and probably most importantly to start allowing the buying and selling of property...although recent US and European experience may suggest that keeping a very tight reign on the whole thing is the only way to survive. Let's hope that the gradual reforms are enough to make this a peaceful process before the current leadership expires...history tells us that is unlikely, but then Cuba has done a lot to change history.

I may have mentioned my thoughts on the bankings sector before. Have I? I may even have mentioned my thoughts on the credit rating agencies - Moody's, Standard and Poors and Fitch's. This glorious bunch of criminals are the ones that decide how financially worthy an organisation, a financial product, a sovereign state is. They're also the ones that merrily gave first class ratings to the bundles of mortgages that were never going to be repaid and precipitated the current financial crisis. With their failings laid bare before us, it has staggered me that any one pays any attention to them. It wasn't just incompetence on their part, many would argue that it was a criminal conspiracy. After all, their clients are the banks - the very ones that gain from any changes in credit ratings...after all they charge more in interest to the less credit-worthy.

Last week, Moody's decided to downgrade the Irish the face of very positive reports from both the EU and the IMF. And this week they followed this by downgrading further the Irish Banks to 'junk status'. This makes it more expensive for the Irish to raise money...increasing the likelihood of failure. Perverse on all levels, apart from the money markets who must be rubbing their hands with glee. The impact goes beyond the Irish borders,as once more the vultures are circling around Greece, and all the work of shoring up the Euro is being seriously undermined by these cowboys. Portugal could well be back in the firing line. Be sure that if one domino falls, the rest will follow suit...and we will be directly in the line of fire. That will mean crippling interest rates destroying any prospect of economic recovery and millions more unemployed.

And just to underline how these people operate, yesterday they issued a warning about the US, for its lack of a deficit plan, sending shares spiraling down around the globe. Potentially, that could devastate the global economy.

The question is why do we allow these people to have more power than Governments? Why do we give these private corporations which have been demonstrably incompetent, and perhaps criminally corrupt the power to devastate the lives of billions of people? Without question, they should be dissolved and replaced by an international body that doesn't have a conflict of interest, or commercial considerations, to do this job. Before it's too late.

Have a read about it on the BBC here

And here is an advert in memory of another fallen swan

Monday, 18 April 2011

A balanced view

Given the chaos that is The Middle East and Northern Africa at the moment, it may well have escaped your attention that Burkina Faso is also in the midst of some unrest, with soldiers rampaging on the streets. This follows a fevered February when it was the students' turn to protest against the Government. Burkino Faso is one of those countries that has no military, economic or political significance, rating just 161 out of 169 on the UN's list of national development, and most of us don't even know where it is (I had to check). So events there don't reach the front pages of our newspapers. I read about it on France 24 and Al Jazeera, which only goes to prove that need to get your news from one place to get a balanced picture of what's going on in the world. I'm not holding my breath that the UN will come and sort this one out, but the French may be on a roll, so don't be surprised if they send some assistance...although to which side I just don't know.

The Boy is back from Adventurous training in the Lake District, later on, but it'll be far from a return to normal as both he and The Cat are off on Silver Duke of Edinburgh tomorrow morning....six o'clock in the morning to be precise. I'm not sure what it is about the school that they feel the need to inflict such early rising punishment on the parents. So the prospects for tonight are a whirlwind of The Boy talking ten to the dozen (what does that mean?) as he washes and dries his clothes for the next couple of weeks...we'll be exhausted. The Cat's Dad has offered to pick them both up and take them to the school which is an interesting seems churlish to say no, even though The Boy (humourously I think) refers to him as El Bastardo in a heavy South American accent. But as I haven't seen The Boy much this holiday I quite fancy the early rise.

Talking of things South American, we went to see Rio this weekend. Inspite of the hype, it's really quite a disappointment. One of the great things about being a parent is being able to see those films that you would be seen dead at as a teenager, but as the years advance you know would be fun to watch, so it's a double disappointment when the film is not up to standard. We had to kidnap the Muffins to give us reason to go. Anyway, the two lead human characters are hopeless...completely dorky which is fine when they save the day at the end of the film, but they were just as dorky at the end as they were at the beginning. I can't even say the animal/bird characterisation was much better, and the 'Angry Birds' placement added nothing to the film. So save your money on that one.

On a happy note at the ned, Nigeria appears to have held reasonably free and fair elections, and it looks like the incumbent will win. His name is Goodluck Jonathan. So in the hope that some degree of democracy has been achieved in Nigeria, goodluck Jonathan.