Thursday, December 21, 2006

Dopey Doncaster Strikes Again!

May as well finish off the year pretty much where I started – somewhere not far from the Thickthorn roundabout.

Trouble is Neil Doncaster, erstwhile Chief Executive of Norwich City, is just too easy a target. He can't resist writing articles in the EDP and therefore seemingly never tires of making a complete fool of himself.

He's at it again. Somehow he has managed to raise his head above the parapet long enough to realize that not all the NCFC troglodytes are hungrily spooning the drivel he produces down their gullets without puking it straight up.

He decides to tackle some of the problems head on. He seems genuinely shocked that fans are questioning where all the money has gone! (Remember the 25 million for being in the Premiership, Neil?) He plumbs new depths of sickening obsequiousness by explaining that the directors of NCFC are not the money-grubbing misers that some think they are but fantastic football people who regularly buy their own drinks and food on match days. Hurrah!! And, Zippidy-do-dah with bells on it!

He pleads with the fans to applaud the board for not raising ticket prices to exorbitant levels during Norwich's short flirtation with the Premier League – despite the fact that some rise in prices might have produced the kind of team that could have stayed up – and not sunk without a trace! Oh, praise be to the Board for not raising prices!

He shamelessly casts aspersions on those owners who find (without going bankrupt somehow) the means to spend lots of money on good players. He views Chelsea's Abramovich as simply an aberration – and a simpleton. Stupid man! What makes him think he can buy success? Thank the Lord we don't have any such irresponsible spendthrifts at Norwich.

He deplores the other foreign owners who have grabbed a slice of the Premiership action. “What are their motivations? (Snidely!) Only time will tell.” Oh ye of little faith! Is it not written that as ye sow, so shall ye reap. (Yes, Neil, forsooth, it is. What we want to know is when is it our turn to do some reaping – instead of St Delia and her buddies?)

Finally, in a gob-smackingly gormless swipe at the fans he blames them for asking awkward questions and “continually scratching away at the reputation we have built up in Norfolk and beyond for being a unified, family, community club”. Oh praise ye, praise ye, oh saviour of the downtrodden for not mentioning: a successful club; an ambitious club; a well-run club; a club that spends its money building up its assets (no, not hotels and car parks!) but the players!

I really do wish he'd stop writing in the newspaper. It's just embarrassing.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Portman Road Pouncer


Lest I suddenly appear on a suspect's list as the Suffolk detectives trawl the internet for leads into the deaths of the Ipswich good-time girls, let me say, straight away, that I have not been to Ipswich for years; and, more importantly, I am not going analyse the evidence or suspects in the case. I'm going to concentrate on the “plight” of the coppers who are caught up in this investigation.

Not a day goes by but we are treated to either a crime scene or a suspect's residence surrounded by coppers. Spare a thought for those members of the “They Also Serve Who Stand and Wait” brigade who are forced to spend the whole day, or night, standing around in the freezing cold - doing nothing.

“Rent a Plod” has arrived in Ipswich.

Here we have the Suffolk Constabulary being overwhelmed by events. They are – we are constantly being reminded by the media – one of the smallest police forces in the country. Only about 2000 officers to deal with the tragic events at Tractor Central.

Has anyone noticed that a good proportion of them are standing around in the cold doing nothing? Where are they getting them? What are they doing? Have they really got the man-power to waste by paying coppers to stand around? Apparently, they do.

Every time the media power down to a camera shot of a murder scene, suspect's address, police HQ, or Ipswich town centre, the first shot will include three for four Plods standing around in their flashy day-glo jackets. Doing nothing or, perhaps, lifting one of the tapes they use to cordon off houses/streets. Now, there's a growth industry! By appointment to HM the Queen – Purveyors of Fine Tapes!

Can you spot the inconsistency? If the plods are so stretched for man-power, how come they can afford to pay beaucoup dinaro to Brainless Plod to stand around – while the “real” coppers get on with the job. What purpose are they serving? Where are they coming from? Surely, we are not paying Plods from County Durham to stand around the streets of Ipswich lifting tapes? Are we?

I'm hope not, but I'm not so sure.

I'm thinking of starting a franchise operation to provide: day-glo jackets and pull-overs (with Ipswich Bitches 2006 tastefuly embroidered on them); massive gloves (in tasteful day-glo colours, of course); day-glo tape (in a variety of colours); day-glo pens (in case Plod needs to write his shopping list whilst standing around doing nothing); day-glo underpants (in case Plod gets lucky with one of the spare good-time girls) and day-glo boots ( so Plod can pass the time away studying his flat feet – in the dark.)

Bet I could make money.

Speaking of money – for all my extraction of the Michael – it's your money that's being used for no useful purpose.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The God Delusion?

What's the point of it all?

Richard Dawkin's defence, or perhaps proselytization might be a better term, of Atheism in his book, The God Delusion, certainly is thought provoking. Since man first gazed up at the stars, or saw a baby being born, or watched an old person die; we've been asking the same questions. What am I doing here? Where did I come from? How long will I be here? Is this all there is? What happens next?

Richard poses some interesting questions and offers some thought-provoking analysis. He has, predictably, no real answers. We're still waiting for someone to come back from the dead and tell us about it – not counting Jesus, of course. Until this happens, we're all in the same boat. Ignorant. Question is: how do we deal with it? There's a great bit in one of the Indiana Jones films, I think it's the Temple of Doom, where a young accomplice stops a bullet meant for Jones and dies in his arms. His last words are (as I remember): “Into the great unknown, I go first, Indy!” We're all interested in this question.

Perhaps Shakespeare was right (after all, he usually is!!) when he wrote:

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Luckily you are free to interpret this as you like it (nice pun that – don't you think?). Perhaps he meant that there are some things we will never know. Dawkin's problem is: if we accept that this is the case, it makes thin material for quite a long book.

The central premise of Dawkin's tirade against organised religion can be summed up quite easily. He believes instead of religion comforting and inspiring people it is the root cause of much that is evil in the world. He proposes that the wars, persecution and intolerance caused by religions greatly outweigh any good they do. He is not content, as he agrees many people are, to silently “tolerate” religion on the grounds that it might be true, could be true, hopefully is true. He insists that we attack the evils done in the name of religion by attacking religion itself.

There is much to commend his thinking. His ideas are substantiated by some incisive “evidence” and speculation – as you might expect from a scientist. Problem is: in attacking religion he is almost as guilty of mysticism and intolerance as the religious zealots he so deplores. He never acknowledges the “slippery slope”he is on by even contemplating the good religion is capable of doing or has done in human history. His entire appeal is negative.

The most interesting part of his analysis is when he speculates on how religions have persevered throughout human history so as to be still with us today. Approaching this apparent paradox from the shadow of Charles Darwin (one of his real heroes!), he is forced to admit that there must be some Darwinian advantage to religious belief – or it would have died out long ago.

From Wikipedia: The final chapter asks whether religion, despite its alleged problems, fills a “much needed gap”, giving consolation and inspiration to people who need it. According to Dawkins, these needs are much better filled by non-religious means such as philosophy and science. He argues that an atheistic worldview is life-affirming in a way that religion, with its unsatisfying “answers” to life’s mysteries, could never be.

In other words – he cops out – simply unable to admit that there might be any redeeming features in religion at all. He has no answer to his own question – he wonders why humans persist with religion in the face of no evolutionary advantage, but cannot bring himself to admit that there must be some advantage – or religion would have died out long ago.

His unshakable tenet – that religion is the root of all evil is in itself a paraphrase of that well-known biblical injunction - money is the root of all evil. More properly, what it says in Timothy 6:10 is: For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

You might profitably enjoin Richard that it is not religion that is the root of evil – it's the love of religion. This is what causes men to abuse and even kill each other. No world religion that I'm aware of asks followers to kill others because they don't believe.

Most religions preach peace and respect for our fellow men. At Christmas time, it would be good to remember that the world would most likely be a better place if we all followed Jesus' injunction to love our neighbour as ourselves – even, for all his faults, our Mr Dawkins.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Post Haste

Post Office Blues

The government's rush to close thousands of post offices is inevitable, but they have the wrong offices in their sights!

Highlighted in every local news bulletin is the dramatic effect on an already fragile rural community of closing its post office. Pub's gone. Village shop's gone. Post Office goes: village goes – swamped by Chelsea tractors driven by interlopers who never buy stamps; they get their underlings to do if for them.

I have a solution!

Some post offices will have to close. It's patently obvious that when you can do almost everything on-line there isn't going to be enough trade to justify subsidising an unprofitable local amenity. The bean-counters win again! Well, there's a surprise.

So, offices will go. The question is where? Solution? Close the medium-sized post offices in medium-sized towns and villages. Keep the small ones open. Sound silly? Not on your nelly!

I volunteer Wroxham Post Office as a trial site. Now, please – before I commit hari-kiri in the queue. You see, a medium-sized office like Wroxham should be a real bonus to the community. Instead, it brings out the worst in both the customers and the staff.

Christmas is worse than usual. Every dough-brain in Wroxham feels the need to queue for hours in order to spend 15 minutes asking (inanely) when the price of stamps went up: does the new size limit on letters apply to Christmas cards: how long a card will take to get to New Zealand: will my sister have to pay postage if I forget to put a stamp on her card (as I have done for the last six years, isn't that hilarious!!): when does the Post Office close for Christmas (there is a very big sign with this information prominently displayed): and (my personal favourite), can I send important documents to the DVLA by regular post? I'm not making these up! I heard them all in just one session of standing in the queue to buy a few stamps.

Now, in a small rural post office some of these numpties would not be there. They would get on the bus and go to Norwich and plague the city-dwellers at the main post office instead. Locals could get in their cars, have a pleasant drive to Coltishall, visit the rural post office and have a pie and a pint in the local pub!

Bob's your uncle: Fanny's your aunt! Everybody wins! The village troglodytes are in Norwich where they will fit in very well. The Chelsea brigade are at home and not clogging up the car parks. The rural Post Office once again becomes profitable. I don't have to regurgitate a perfectly good meal on the clean floor of the Wroxham Post Office while Mrs Minge-Brain wets herself with apoplectic dismay when confronted by the concept of having to produce documents and a cheque made payable to the Post Office all in the same visit in order to tax her car (which she only uses twice a year).

My case is rested.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Yeah but, no but

Spoken English

Two reports and an editorial in the EDP seem to substantiate rumours that youngsters today are all Vicky Pollard sound-a-likes; or, possibly look-a-likes; or, possibly even worse, both.

No less an authority than the Chief Inspector of Schools (no not that fascist has-been Chris Woodhouse! but) Christine Gilbert called for action to improve the speaking skills of today's youngsters. She was responding to a study by Professor Tony McEnery of Lancaster University whose premise, that the Vicky Pollard stereotype was becoming more accurate, she supported. She went on to stress the importance of oral skills in procuring employment and in life generally.

So, what's new?

Like all good comedy, the reason Vicky Pollard and her antics and speech are funny is that they are true to life. Yes, children actually speak like her. Wake up! It's a bit like the “happy-slapping” craze a few years ago. Youngsters often wander around assaulting each other. They seldom need instruction, encouragement or a popular television programme to inspire them! Therefore, children are not mimicking Vicky Pollard; Ms Pollard is mimicking them. What is most disturbing is that the media provides an outlet to make sure her inanities spread to all teens – instead of just most. Teens shouldn't be watching Little Britain anyway – in my view.

What is important is that children are taught a range of spoken English and how to fit their speech to the purpose at hand. I'm sure I read that, or something very like that, in the National Curriculum for English. As long as children recognize that Vicky is a comic character and can adapt their speech to fit their surroundings and their situatiion, there is no problem.

Problems begin when children assume that their human rights are being violated because they are not “allowed” to speak any way they want. The culture of, “I'm entitled to do what I want when I want to” is more applicable to slovenly speech than the spurious notion that teachers don't try to teach children to communicate in a variety of forms and suit each form to its specific circumstance.

It is more important that children are taught that others are going to judge them (perhaps rightly, perhaps wrongly) in part by the way they speak. However much we might think this is wrong, there is very little we can do about it. Children can moan as much as they like about it being “unfair” (another favourite of teenagers!) as long as they realize that it is up to them to adapt their speech to suit prospective employers – not the other way round.

To be fair: most children, once they understand this, are quite capable of recognizing when and where speech needs to be modified so as not to disadvantage themselves. They really don't need the Chief Inspector of Schools to tell them. All they need is a modicum of common sense.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Dummy Doncaster

How Stupid Can You Get??

Before I explain just how stupid Neil Doncaster is and what a dissembler he has become, check out my fantastic football quiz at

Writing in our favourite paper on Thursday, our Neil attempts to quell the supporters anger at his lack of insight and ability by explaining why NCFC are not able to sign good players. He explains, as if we are all a little bit thick, that if a player is worth £15 000 a week in the market and Norwich are only offering £8 000 a week, it is plainly irrelevant how smashing a club NCFC is or what a great place Norfolk is to live – the player will go where he can get the most money. Gosh! I never thought of that!

He goes on to explain that despite the fact that Norwich are the best supported club in the Championship they will have no money to spend on luxuries – like good players. He “explains” to supporters that the club has a number of assets: “a number of talented and much sought after players” (how he squares that circle with his view that it is impossible to attract good players to the club beggars the belief!!!); development land (again he fails to mention that it was Bob Chase who had the foresight to get the land in the first place – and he refuses to explain exactly how much the land is worth??); “a 30% stake in the hotel joint venture” (sorry? I thought this was a football club – not a property company – wake up supporters and smell the roses!! The board is full of Delia's property developer buddies!); and, finally, the club is sold out of season tickets (as long as the Norfolk Dumplings who support the club remain as thick as they are – there is no need to change!!!).

He does admit that the loyalty of the supporters is a big advantage over clubs whose support seems to wax and wane. He thinks that the future is “far from doom and gloom”. Just when I was beginning to warm to him, he reverts to his “bean-counter” roots when he says, “Our debt is high . . . . “. Rubbish! For any enterprise the size of NCFC and with the assets and cash flow it generates, the club's debt is too low – not too high.

The real asset of the club is its ability to get to the promised land of the Premiership. Last time we were there we were told it was worth £25 million pounds. Where did all that money go? Come on, Neil – you'll have to do better than peddling the same old squit every day! You just can't fool all of the people all of the time!

Time's up.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Trousering the Lolly

NCFC Strikes Again!!

Norwich City's finances are in the news – again. Reporting on the state of the club's lolly, Neil (Mr “We Never Have Any Money to Spend on Trivial Things Like Players)” Doncaster bemoaned the need to publish accounts at all when he said, “In the year covered by these accounts, and despite a £7m parachute payment, the club's cash position worsened by £1.5m.”

Translation: “We are taking these accounts completely out of context and only talking about events during the dates we choose to report on. The club's cash position is a raw measurement – taking no account of other factors which may have resulted in money gains for the club. I am not reporting on my wages or on the wages of the many hangers-on and directors who make a tidy living out of NCFC. I am also not reporting any gains the club may have made from selling land originally purchased by former Chairman, Bob Chase – because, despite the fact that he is a hated man by the supporters – he was instrumental in putting the club into a position where I can be paid loads of money for cocking things up. Thanks, Bob.”

He goes on, as quoted in the EDP, “. . . the board believed that it should back the judgment of former manager Nigel Worthington and did so, sanctioning player wages during 2005/6 which were only marginally lower than our year in the Premier League.”

Translation: “Nigel Worthington (who has just pocketed £600.000 as a get-lost payment) was an idiot – but the board decided to pay his group of inept players loads of money anyway. We decided to live well above our means (if you believe the figures) in the hope that something would turn up – but it's not our fault that we're idiots – working with Delia has made us this way. Anyway, Nigel's group of players was never going to be good enough to stay in the Premiership. We knew that – but, of course, never mentioned it to the supporters – who may have asked awkward questions. Like, why didn't you make efforts to offer the kind of wages that would attract good Premiership players to the club?”

Finally, he concludes that the club's financial position is “stable”, despite the large debt, which he said was, “structured and manageable”.

Translation: “Financial stability is dependent on remaining in touch with the top of the Championship – not gaining promotion. Promotion costs too much money in the long-term with supporters demanding big-money signings which, if brought to fruition, limits the board's ability to trouser even more of the club's cash. We are committed to earning a comfortable living from the supporters money and not answering questions about where the money goes. Our accounts are transparent – because it is transparently obvious to anyone (who isn't a professional bean-counter that is) that they are designed to disguise just how rapacious the board are and how glaringly stupid Norwich City supporters actually are. Therefore, we constantly bemoan the lack of money at the club, despite the fact that we are the best supported club in the Championship. We believe, and fervently hope, that the local press will continue to be slavishly sycophantic in their treatment of the club, thereby ensuring that the boat is not rocked and awkward questions will not appear in the Eastern Daily Press.”

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Cone Man

or "How I stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Cone".

Some jobs are tougher than others. Lion-tamer. Rodeo bull rider. Sewer cleaner. Wacko Jacko's publicity agent. It's tough out there.

My all-time favourite is cone-man. When I was in the classroom, I often launched into my “Cone-Man Routine” in response to the teachers' perennial favourite, “Why do we have to learn English?”

First choice answer was, “Because I said so. Shut up and get on with it!” When that wasn't successful, I might say, “So that you do not have to learn to say,””Would you like fries with your Big Mac?”” - or - “I'm sorry, we only have Macdonald's cola.” My last stop – Cone-Man.

I first saw the cone men in a late night documentary which (to my endless aggravation and chagrin) I didn't tape. It has, to my knowledge, never been repeated on TV. All of us have been annoyed at times by the plastic cones on motorways – used to cone-off lanes so that the road crews can work there safely. Or, perhaps, more safely than standing naked and unprotected in the midst of tons of hurtling metal might be more accurate. Anyway, you get the idea. The cones are there to protect the road workers. But, how do the cones get there in the first place I hear you ask?

I never thought about this until I saw the documentary about Cone Men. The cones don't appear magically, like garden gnomes. Oh no, cone men put them there.

Therefore, in an educational environment, Cone-Man is the ultimate deterrent to poor classroom behaviour and the nonpareil of the motivation stakes. “We are doing English so that you do not have to be a Cone Man when you grow up (aside – if ever!) becomes the ultimate deterrent!!

Here's how it works. Picture a crew of four men and a small open-topped van filled with cones. One man has a brain. He is, thankfully, in charge. He drives along the hard shoulder until he reaches the point where the cones are to be placed. He stays in the van. Told you he was the one with the brain. Say, the outside lane needs to be coned. Smeg-head numero uno hops out of the van, grabs a cone from the back, sprints across the motorway, places his cone neatly where it belongs, sprints back across the motorway, grabs another cone and repeats the process. Oh yes, I forgot. He passes his mates, Smeg-Brain and Numptie-Brain in the process. Much more interesting if you have three lads sprinting across the motorway at the same time. Gives the drivers at least a sporting chance of hitting one of them! Got the idea? Van-man drives slowly down the hard shoulder as they place cones for miles and miles. All the time, cars are being funneled into an ever-decreasing space. What the hell! Somebody's got to do it! To give the Cone Men at least a sporting chance, they do this late at night or early in the morning. It's only fair.

Eventually, they get all the cones out. Unfortunately, that's not the end of it, thanks to the “Cone Hot-line” Remember this one? The public rings a number to report cone problems on the motorway. Cone Men have to fix it.

“Hello, Cone Hot Line, how can I help you?”

“I'd like to report a missing cone, please.”

“Ok, where is it?”

“Junction 8 of the M6.” (For those who are blissfully ignorant, this is the epitome of motorway junctions and to real Cone Men - or Real Men of Cone if you prefer - attains the same mythological status as Davey Jones' Locker.)

“(Groan, groan), Ok, thank you, we'll get it fixed.”

And it's the cone men who have to risk death or serious injury to fix it.

Despite the fact that Cone Men were a marvelous motivational tool for the classroom, there is a very serious side to this. Perhaps cone men are not the most intellectually gifted members of the gene pool; perhaps they have the social graces of a chimpanzee's jock strap, maybe they will not inherit the earth – but they are performing an essential service that few others want to do.

As long as they do not try to dilute the human genome by reproducing, I say, “Thanks a lot guys – keep dodging those trucks!” Otherwise our roads would be in worse shape than they are.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


How fiction mimics real life

Avid readers of this blog (there must be some?) will remember my incisive analysis of how James Michener's novel, Caravans (12 June), echoes some of the difficulties encountered by coalition forces in Iraq as they strive to bring order to what is essentially a tribal and fractured society. Literature often apes life.

Another interesting literary parallel can be found in Dune by Frank Herbert. This is one of the best books ever written. Read it. It is thoroughly excellent.

Herbert's clever use of historical fact to draw the reader into his imaginary world of space and time has never been equaled. His imaginary world is the desert planet, Arrakis, populated by the “Fremen” whose religion is a quasi-distillation of Islam here on Earth – made all the more powerful by exposure to mysticism and the harsh living conditions of the planet. Coupled with their sense of being persecuted, conditions are ripe for jihad as the Freman explode across the galaxy under the leadership of their mystical fanatic leader, Paul Muad'dib.

Sound familiar?

It ought to, for it is similar to the conditions which have been the root cause of much of the violence in Iraq and the sense of dissatisfaction felt by Muslim minorities throughout the Middle East. Dune would be a very popular book if you were a fundamentalist, jihadist cleric seeking to foment anti-western feelings. Perhaps, fortunately, such preachers are unlikely to be fans of science fiction. Perhaps they are. We may never know. What we can say is that the present Muslim population of this planet feels that they are being “got at” and are not happy about it. Today's news that the authorities in the Netherlands are seeking to ban some Muslim dress for women on the grounds that the (normally super tolerant) Dutch need to be able to see someone in order to interact with them will send another shock wave of discontent throughout many law-abiding Muslims.

The tradition of science fiction being in tune with prognostication goes back a long way.

Disregarding Nostradamus the line can be traced from Galileo through Jules Verne and Isaac Asimov to Arthur C. Clarke. Today's science fiction is tomorrow's science fact.

When religion, any religion, becomes entangled with an “accepted” set of science principles; we are in big trouble. The fact that many authors are (seemingly) able to predict the scientific future says more, probably, about science than we care to admit. The “known unknowns” seemingly greatly outnumber the “unknown unknowns” - otherwise it wouldn't be so easy to predict the next great leap forward.

If only we could this principle to the problems in the Middle East, things might be working out much better. In the mean time, if you need a good read find a copy of Dune. You may be surprised at how much of the fiction applies literally today.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Pop or Other Idols?

Perhaps the most enduring, positive feature of blogs is the ability to stimulate debate on topics that may not be popular. I'm into that today.

Yesterday saw the return of the Pop Princess, Kylie Minogue, to the stage in Sydney after a long battle with breast cancer. It would be churlish in the extreme to denigrate her suffering or her determination to overcome disease and return to normal life. I will not do it. But, more important that Kylie's personal victory over disease, is her “power” to inspire others to succeed in their own battles. Here, she has failed – and failed miserably and dangerously.

What is dangerous and miserable about Kylie taking stage in Sydney? She presents not only an unrealistic image of suffering but also a monumental apathy towards the situations and suffering of normal 35 year old women who may be stricken with this terrible disease.

She seems to be saying, “Wow, I've beaten breast cancer, and I'm going straight back to the vacuous life of a pop star.” Is she oblivious to the discordant note she is sounding? Most 35 year old women who conquer cancer return to their family with a determination to pick up their domestic life and make the most of it. Kylie has no domestic life, and she is no “Princess”. She is a 35 year old raunchette. Unrealistic role model raunchette at that. She should grow up and make the most of what time she has left. Hopefully, she is “cured” but that is not a word that is easily applied to breast cancer. She would be a better role model if she quit the pop industry and raised a family. That's what most 35 year olds' might aspire to if they “beat” this terrible disease.

At the same time, Jane Tomlinson continues to astound all. She cycles across the U.S.A. and from Rome to home. She runs marathons. She enters and completes “iron-man” competitions. She tirelessly raises monumental sums for cancer research. She is a marvel.

The real marvel is: this woman has been terminally ill with breast cancer for about six years. Yes, count them, six!

She is the only person with incurable cancer to complete a full Ironman (4km Swim, 180Km bike ride and full marathon – to be done inside 17 hours). Has completed two half Ironmans, the London Marathon 3 times (She’s the only person to do the marathon whilst on Chemotherapy), the New York Marathon and three London Triathlons.

Awarded the MBE by the Queen in 2003, winner of the Helen Rollinson Award at the BBC in 2002, twice recognised at the Sportswoman of the Year Awards, won a Great Briton Award and voted the most Inspirational Woman in Britain in 2003.

A comment from the ubiquitous internet: The terminal cancer tag is just for fund raising, media, publicity.... Go down to the cancer ward and they'll tell you that terminal means a few weeks left to go. Jane (fortunately for her) got the wrong diagnosis and could more correctly termed a 'cancer sufferer' or 'in remission'. Terminal cancer sufferers do not do Ironmans, Triathlons, they die.

This is not the only negative comment you can find about Jane on the net.

My concern is how her heroic exploits – never mind the vagarities of human illnesses (cancer covers a multitude of sins!) - affect the many cancer suffers who are bed-ridden and in terminal decline – too ill to get up, much less run a marathon.

So, whilst I must applaud her charity efforts – she has raised over one million pounds for Cancer research – I'm skeptical about her impact on other suffers. I would be more appreciative of her efforts if she focused more on the debilitating effects of cancer on the majority of suffers rather than her exploits, however courageous.

Last word to a disgruntled netizen: I think it is absolutely disgusting what you have been writing about Jane Tomlinson. She is the most courageous woman I have ever met. Do you realise that her children and family may search on her name and find your website looking for stories about their mum. I am disgusted that there are people out there like you. You should be ashamed of yourselves. What goes around comes around and I hope it certainly does in your case.

You choose!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Burn Your Boats Boys!

Ship Burning

When Cortez landed in North America, he burned his three ships and his soldiers marched -- no going back to Spain.

Right on! That'll teach the squaddies to grumble! I bet. Tough guy that Cortez - or did he know something the soldiers didn't. Namely, that he had signed on a few extra troops - Gen. Malady, Major Smallpox and Corporal Venereal Disease. It would be nice to think Cortez knew what he was doing , but it's unlikely. Most probably he was just lucky – if you call wiping out a thriving culture with a relatively small band of cut-throats lucky, that is.

Cortez was born in Spain. At the age of 19 he sailed for Hispaniola. With Diego Velazquez he conquered Cuba and settled there until 1518 when Velazquez appointed him to lead an expedition to Mexico. With his force of 700 men he landed on the coast of Mexico and founded the settlement of Veracruz. Cortez burned his ships behind him, thereby committing his entire force to survival through conquest.

Bet the troops were happy! Great move, Hernando baby! Here we are, the jolly seven hundred lined up against the whole of the Aztec nation (15 million) and you decide to burn the boats – our only means of escape! Now, that's what we call cajones! We'll follow you anywhere, Big Cajones! And, they did.

In 1520-1521, an outbreak of smallpox swept through the population of Tenochtitlan and was decisive in the fall of the city. It is estimated that between 10% and 50% of the population fell victim to this epidemic. Never mind Hernando's Hideaway – what about Hernando's Takeaway -the speed at which the invaders managed to start a smallpox epidemic is truly breathtaking. The Aztec population was halved in the sixteenth century – mostly through new diseases introduced by the Spanish. The population before the time of the conquest is estimated at 15 million; by 1550, the estimated population was 4 million and by 1581 less than two million. Somewhere the Aztecs seem to have misplaced 13 million people! Thus, the indigenous population of the Central Mexico Valley is estimated to have declined by more than 80% in the course of about 60 years. Now, that's what I call mortality!

If I were less than charitable, I'd guess that Cortez picked some of his minions less for their military prowess and more for their exposure to smallpox. Perhaps he saw what smallpox did to the native population during his time in Cuba. Nevertheless, the result was the complete decimation and destabilization of the Aztec civilization.

Fascinating – I hear you grumble, but where is all this leading?

To a familiar theme I'm afraid. First, a few more statistics (apologies). Only in the 19th and 20th centuries was population increase the norm. Throughout most of documented human history, population numbers have been relatively static. For example: Europe's population fell to two-thirds of its previous levels after the Black Death of 1348. That's a lot of bodies! Big Cajones favourite native-killer, smallpox is a relatively old disease. Only recently has it been considered under control. The disease is at least 3000 years old, confirmed in China and India, with a few isolated cases in North Africa. There is no mention in Europe until the 6th century. This means, obviously, it was unknown in the Americas during the Spanish incursions. Native Americans reached the continent about 12 000 years ago.

During the 17th and 18th Centuries smallpox was the most serious infectious disease in The West and accounted for a substantial proportion of deaths, especially among town dwellers. The mortality rate varied regionally, with 10% in Europe and 90% in America.

These diseases kept human populations relatively stable for millennia. Only recently has population growth become such a destabilizing influence.

To put this into perspective: new research suggests the human race was nearly wiped out 70,000 years ago, when a crisis reduced the population to about 2,000 people. In evolutionary terms, that's not a lot of people and not a lot of years! That's why we are all so closely related, genetically speaking.

And so, we come to bird flu – which is supposed to be the topic today. Told 'ya I'd get there!

We are currently waiting for the bird flu epidemic to strike. We are assured that it is only a matter of time. We are assured that it will be catastrophic. At least a million in the UK will die (that sure puts the Aztecs' suffering into perspective - don't it !). Bird Flu has become the designer disaster; chiefly because it is inevitable, at least that's what the scientists (who should know better) keep telling us. Therefore, we must gear ourselves for the coming crisis. Or, must we?

Of course, if bird flu does jump from species to species it will be a serious event. Many people will die. No amount of preparation will allow us to escape from this threat. It will be a disaster, but not on a biblical scale. Actually, compared to Major Smallpox, Private Bird Flu is a bit like a pimple on the bum of mankind – not a carbuncle.

It is a consequence of our hubris that we “must” believe that a serious natural disaster is just around the corner. What about the mega-volcano underneath Yellowstone National Park? What if the Cumbre Vieja volcano collapses into the Atlantic off Las Palmas – the resulting tsunami (5 – 8 metres would wipe out the East Coast of the U.S.)? What about civilization being plunged into a new Dark Age when the oil runs out? What about mega volcanic eruptions like those that formed the Columbia plateau or the Deccan traps? What about Global Warming, or Global Dimming or Global Thermonuclear War? It's a long list!

Fact is: unless we ascribe to the Cortez solution and burn all our boats, it's likely that it's our own arrogance that is the most likely cause of any disaster – not the myriad of unpredictable and unknowable problems waiting just around the corner.

Bird flu is something to be worried about and prepared for, but it is not likely to be the end of mankind or civilization as we know it. Get over it!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Don't Drop Labour Soap in Your Shower

Is anyone else perplexed by the sudden conversion of “The Tonester” and his new Labour cohorts into the Greenest of the Green? I am. Of course all political parties are entitled to change their tune when they see that the voters have a different hymnal in their hands. But, since everyone knows that governments never plan anything more than a week in advance (a week is a long time in politics) – the spectre of Gordo and Tone “solving” the global warming crisis with a 15 to 20 year plan is more than slightly amusing. It's downright worrying!

After trotting out an “expert” to explain that the whole mess could be “solved” fairly painlessly if we act now, the game was rather given away in the post-match press conference as government spokesman after government spokesman lined up to refuse to rule out the need for tax increases to fund the one percent of GDP that the anti-global warming programme might cost. In other words – watch your wallet. Lots of money (ours) will need to be spent now in order to avert a global warming crisis in 15 to 20 years. Yeah – right!

Never mind that the UK only produces about 2% of global green-house gases. Never mind that the prospect of China, India and the rest of the developing world joining in a plan to limit carbon dioxide emissions is about as likely as George Bush getting the Nobel Peace Prize. Never mind that anyone who questions the need for such a programme is branded as a dangerous nutter! N o, says the government - let's set an example. Let's spend lots of money now on a plan that may not work and may not be necessary. Please, count me out!

Fact is we just don't know enough about climate change to make a plan. A large number of climatologists recognise that the Earth is warming up. Many believe that the greenhouse gases we produce are responsible for much of the warming. Fact is many cannot agree on how much and why the earth is getting warmer.

Trouble is – no one can be sure. We do not have the data. Reliable climate data is a recent development. Past about 150 years ago it does not exist. Yes, we do have tree rings and ice cores – but it's not the same thing as hard data. So, the planet may be warming up. It may be caused by burning fossil fuels. What no-one seems to want to tell you is – it may all be part of a natural cycle we are powerless to stop!

Recognising that I'm not the only one who thinks global warming may (I'm only saying may) be part of the natural cycle of things, I had a quick look on the internet. Have a look at this:

So many people seem to think that what man has done in terms of adding to greenhouse gases has never occurred before in the history of the earth and that we are creating a new process that will 'destroy the world" or some such nonsense. What I mean to point out by distinguishing between the two is that we are functioning within a system that is in continuous flux. There have always been and will always be changes in global temperature, changes in global sea level, etc. What we have to figure out before we cripple our economies and waste trillions of dollars is not only to what degree are we exacerbating the pre-existing process and to what degree we are capable or stopping or reversing that process. For example...if global average temperature has truly changed by 1-2 degrees as some suggest since about 1900, what part of that would or would not have happened without any man-made influence? If our influence only contributed to 10 percent of the change (0.1-0.2 degrees), and we determine that it is only possible to undo about 25% of what we have done through the expenditure of 2 trillion dollars globally, is that reduction of temperature by 0.025 - 0.05 degrees worth that expenditure? or if our models say that if we completely stopped emitting ANY greenhouse gases immediately (impossible obviously) our global temperature will still rise 10 degrees in the next 50 years, would we be better spending our money starting to adapt to the changes that are likely to occur than spending it to undo what we have already done?

Just one of the comments that asks us to consider (just consider) if spending lots of money is really the best plan!!

I admit that this is probably an American gas-guzzling rant; but, nevertheless, there is a serious point here that deserves serious consideration.

Trouble is the government seems to be holding a gun to our head. Anyone who thinks we might want to think about things before we go whole-hog for an ultra-expensive solution is branded as a nutter and told to shut up. Well, it's your money!

Think about it.

Tomorrow I'd like to introduce you to the Little Ice Age – something that no-one seems to be discussing – but something which has a verifiable historical basis – unlike man-made climate change.

Monday, October 23, 2006


Watching Lawrence of Arabia many people particularly remember the scene where Peter O'Toole rides back into the worst desert in the world, rescues the poor Arab who fell off his camel (they never explain how he failed to wake up when he hit the ground!), and rides back to the astonishment of his Arab friends. Very entertaining since most of us have never been lost in a desert or so thirsty that we were about to die. Most of us.

Kids do crazy things. Some of the crazy things we did as kids make me wonder how I ever made it to adulthood. Particularly, we liked to “play” in the man-made limestone caves left behind after mining operations had moved on to another, newer part of the mine. Check out:

For some reason this was a popular past-time in the summer. Probably because it was very cool in the mine – compared to the 90 degrees plus outside. So, off we would go. We weren't completely stupid – just mostly, so we would take acetylene lamps for light. Once you were in the mine they were essential as there was no light. I mean no light as in no “hand in front of your face” light! The lamps were essential, but had only a limited life-span. The key point was that mining operations were still going on. Therefore, large trucks were constantly going through the mine and loading up with limestone before making their way back. It was imperative that the truck divers did not see you. Even though we were stupid – we knew we weren't supposed to be playing in a mine. The danger, as we foolishly perceived it, was that we would be “discovered” in the mine by the workers and get into trouble.

Of course, we were too clever for this. Timing our entrance to the mine so that we would be well inside before the next truck appeared was not difficult. They ran in about ten minute cycles. Having got in we were free to wander around the disused portion of the mine with only the rumble of the distant trucks to disturb the tranquility. For some unknown reason we did not even see this as particularly dangerous. Our only concern was not to get caught by the mine workers. It was easy to get lost. After you left the well- traveled road the trucks used, the rest of the mine looked exactly like every other part. Good thing we had our lights as after wandering about for a while we would eventually get bored and want to get out. The key was being able to establish by hearing alone the direction the trucks were coming from. Then we could follow the sound to the road and make our way out of the mine in the gap between trucks. Challenging, but not too difficult.

Inevitably, one day we got well and truly lost. And, as luck would have it, we were short of the calcium carbide pellets essential to power the acetylene lamps. When the lights failed we would have to wander about in the pitch dark until we could locate the trucks by hearing only. If we did get close enough, we would see their headlights – if not we were stuck. I don't think we panicked. We should have, but we didn't. Some confusion was caused when some thought the sound of the trucks was coming from the left – and others from the right. It took a long time but (as you may well guess otherwise I would not be writing this now!) eventually we spotted a truck, homed in on its headlamps and found the road. Still dodging the trucks at ten minute intervals we made it to the entrance and got out. Maybe by then we were scared enough to realise the stupidity of our actions.

What I remember most is being thirsty. Very thirsty. More thirsty than I have ever been. We walked down the road looking for somewhere to get a drink. Any drink. Eventually we found a small store and bought an RC Cola with the only money we had. Never has a drink tasted so good – even though we had to share it and were still very thirsty when it was gone.

I don't think we ever went back into the mine. Evolutionarily speaking we were winners. I'm sure some kids have died in very similar circumstances. The Arabian camel rescue courtesy of T.E. Lawrence still makes me cringe.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


What are those cows up to?

An old man of Swaffham is in hospital after being trampled by a herd of cattle. The herd was apparently spooked by the sound of gunfire and bolted in the direction of the 87 year old who couldn't get out of the way. He has not been named.

This is no joking matter, but I fear not many 87 year-olds could outrun a load of fairly pacey cows. I wish the un-named victim well and hope he makes a speedy recovery.

I must confess, I have some experience with cattle. See my blog of 16 March at if you are not convinced.

I mention this because it is amazing how many young people have no experience of farm animals or any concept of their how the animals live or the part they play in providing us with food and other useful products. Ask most children where beefburgers come from and they will say, “Macdonalds”. It is only in the last 50 – 100 years that most societies in the Western World have divorced themselves from the rearing and subsequent slaughter of the domesticated animals which so deliciously provide us with Sunday lunch. One unplanned consequence of this has been the total ignorance of a majority of the population as to how food, in particular meat, is produced.

Many children are frightened of cattle. This is not surprising when you stop to think about it. Most children only see cattle standing in fields – large fields. Large cattle. They are big. They look stupid. Therefore, they may be dangerous. It's a bit like seeing an unknown, large and stupid man in the pub. He's probably a jovial giant, but most of us steer (pardon the pun) clear just to be on the safe side. So, a child's “fear” of cows is not entirely unjustified – given today's divorce from the natural world.

I am reminded of George Orwell's comment about how he got the idea for Animal Farm. George, who was living on a farm in Oxfordshire at the time, saw a a small lad leading an enormous cart horse along a cart path. He speculated that if only the horse was aware of its size and power the lad would have no chance of controlling it. The rest, as they say, is history – though Orwell's real genius was in making the horse the stupidest animal on the farm – despite what horse-lovers choose to believe, this is manifestly true.

Most people in the 1930's would have recognised that cows and horses are not inherently dangerous because they have been thoroughly domesticated. They are large animals and if they should, for example, fall on you or step on you it would hurt. Fortunately, they do not “attack” humans by choice. Why should they? Because we feed and protect them their numbers are vastly inflated over what evolution and Mother Nature intended. In evolutionary terms the cows are winning. The price they pay is many of their genus are slaughtered to provide us with food. Still, there are millions more of them than would normally be expected to survive in the wild.

The idea that cattle might take umbrage at this “travesty” is, of course, suicidally nonsensical. They may as well complain to their MP about the quality of their feed.

That's why Mr 87 year old-timer being trampled by a herd of rampaging cows is news – just as man bites dog is bound to make the papers. This does not diminish his pain and suffering, but it does support the mistaken idea in many children's brains that cows and other farm animals are dangerous. This is silly. Children should be educated by having, if possible, opportunities to visit farms and abattoirs to form an opinion of their own. Bet we'd get a lot more veggies!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Veiled Threat?

Muslim - British Relations

Most of our politicians are missing the point in the debate about Islamic dress codes. As more and more prominent figures jump on an (apparently) anti-Islamic bandwagon, more and more seem to be taking a mistaken and possibly dangerous view. By refusing to put the debate into a proper historical context, leaders are mis-leading the British public, of Christian, Muslim or other faiths.

What's missing? Any analysis of Muslim integration into society must take into account the experiences of previous generations of immigrants. This is not being done. A useful contrast would be Afro-Caribbean immigration in the 1950's and 60's. Blacks who came to do the jobs whites wouldn't in the 60's soon ended up in ghettos. They replaced the earlier immigrants (Jews, Eastern Europeans) as the residents of our inner cities. Those original immigrants kept their colourful language, their culture and their sense of being outsiders. Their children and their children's children have not. Young black people in Britain today have many problems to overcome. They suffer from poor housing, poor educational opportunities and racism. They are still mostly ghetto-ized in our largest cities. They have, quite rightly, kept some of the elements of their native culture.

Yet, there is no debate regarding black hoodies. Are they a separatist movement? Should schools ban black idioms in speech? Should young blacks be forced into accepting main-steam British culture and be made to abandon their cultural heritage? Emphatically no!

There is no real debate on the above. Quite rightly. Because, most sensible people recognise that it is quite possible to integrate into society while retaining and celebrating elements of your original culture. Quite right. Young blacks in Britain may be of a different skin colour, have different speech patterns and noisily celebrate their cultural differences – what they don't do is retreat into a facsimile of their parents culture and refuse to interact with the rest of us.

Some young Muslims, apparently, do. Instead of looking for areas of common heritage, some young Muslims (who, by now, should be fully integrated into society) are going out of their way to emphasize their differences – instead of celebrating their common values.

This is very dangerous. At a time when differences should be becoming less important, some Muslims seem intent on making sure they remain. The outward, and very visible sign, of this is the “retreat” into Muslim dress by second or third generation Muslim Britons. At the very time you would expect young Muslims to be celebrating their integration into main-steam British society and values, the very opposite seems to be happening.

The debate is not about the right to dress however you wish. That is not the question. The debate should be about why you would want to dress in a way that sets yourself apart from the rest of the citizens. I expect to see white, British, non-Muslim women (say TV reporters) dressing appropriately if they are reporting from a Muslim country. This shows respect for the Muslim culture.

We could use some reciprocal respect from Muslim women in the UK. They have a perfect right to dress as they wish. They should wish to dress as others in their country do. If they don't – we should find out why? Fast.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Dr Pepper, Macdonalds and Rugby

Missed Opportunities

In life I have missed out on so many opportunities it makes me want to cry!

I like Dr Pepper. Always have. Given a choice I would choose a Dr Pepper over any soft drink. Always did. When I first moved to England there was no Dr Pepper. None. None, as in rarer than an aromatic anal digestive discharge. I was not amused. I wrote to the Dr Pepper Co. of Dallas, Texas in 1976 and politely asked if they had any plans to export my favourite drink to the UK. Their response? Not on your nelly.

What I should have done, of course, was borrow millions from a trusting bank in order to bankroll the importation of Dr Pepper. I would be living in a large house today and worrying about how to minimise my children's exposure to crippling inheritance taxes.

Within fifteen years Dr Pepper was available in every store and petrol station and was selling in the millions. I never even got a belated thank you from the Dr Pepper moguls for pointing them in the direction of vast profits.

The ubiquitous “Super-Size-Me” fast food chain that is Macdonalds is a similar story. In the early 70's fast food in Britain consisted of fish and chips and Wimpy. Both may still be with us but have been transformed by the might of corporate burger greed.

Wimpy was very odd. It was possible to get take-away burgers and chips – but they were exorbitantly expensive and distinctly unappetising. Mostly you sat in a very unwelcoming, small “greasy-spoon” and ate your choice of burger (there were only two choices as I remember, Wimpy or Wimpy with onions) from a plate with a knife and fork.

I distinctly remember suggesting that (surely) you could sell fast food hamburgers in the UK. I was laughed at. Ridiculed. Patient English “wise-achers” gave me pitying explanations (as if I were a small child in need of redemption) that it would be impossible to get the English to eat without a knife and fork. Could not be done. More chance of Maggie Thatcher being found in flagrante delicto with “Red” Ken Livingstone in the back of a Hillman Imp.

Stupidly I listened and the rest, as they say, is history. History would have judged me to be far-sighted, and (incidentally) very rich, had I sold the family silver and bought a Macdonalds franchise.

It is against this background that I read in the Sunday paper about a plan to make rugby both popular and competitive in the U.S.A. Some wise and rich man, whose name escapes me, has decided to set up a professional rugby league in the U.S. For players, he proposes to recruit some of the thousands of college American football players who have no chance of making it in the NFL.

Needless to say, I had this idea first! And, just like the others, did nothing about it. There is a pool of very fit, very fast, very athletic, and very large players in America just waiting to be tapped in to. College footballers could easily pick up the skills required to adapt to the rugby code. Current plan is to bolster the U.S. Eagles Rugby Union team. Perhaps a better plan would be to tackle Rugby League first. The learning curve is less and the sport calls for all-rounders rather than props who can scrummage and line-out jumpers who can soar. From there it would be a short step to Rugby Union.

This would have the added benefit of redeeming my long-lost faith in the importation of world-beating products from America. The Rugby League world would be conquered in less than five years. Max for Union? Less than ten.

You heard it here first!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Neanderthal Cojones

Scientists researching the DNA of another human species (if indeed it was one) Homo Neanderthalensis – or Neanderthal Man as he is better known – are in danger of muddying the already murky waters of human evolution.

Countless reports from reputable scientists tell us that there is no trace of Neanderthal DNA in the genome of modern humans. Anyone with an IQ three points higher than whale manure should be able to see that this must be nonsense. If you think modern man wouldn't jump on a Neanderthal woman - check out the city centre any Saturday night!

From the Sunday Times:

The jaw (of a Neanderthal), discovered at Kent’s Cavern, a complex of caves near Torquay, in 1927, was assumed to be that of a modern human. Initial radio-carbon dating suggested it was about 31,000 years old, putting it among the first modern humans to arrive in Britain.

However, new evidence suggests the jaw is at least 4,000 years older than that — and that it could be that of a Neanderthal. Archeologists say the fossil could yield vital information on how early humans spread across Britain and Europe in that period.

Fine. Except that this report makes no logical sense. The scientists (and I use the term loosely) would have us believe that they have had a specimen, which they were sure was a modern human, hanging around since 1927 – but have now seen the error of their ways and have “discovered” that it's really older and from a Neanderthal. Since they couldn't even get this simple bit of identification correct, why must we believe that there was no interbreeding between early modern man and Neanderthals? Just look around you. There are plenty of Neanderthal-types wandering the streets of our fair cities today. Many of them get arrested for public order offenses on a Saturday night. I used to work with an Irishman who was a modern Neanderthal – short, stocky, large nose, bulky arms and legs. Nobody is going to convince me that no Neanderthal DNA made it to modern times

From the same article:

Its aim is to draw up a chronological sequence for the arrival and spread of humans in Britain. It has made some spectacular finds, including evidence that dated the arrival of early humans in Britain to 700,000 years ago, 200,000 years earlier than had been thought. It also found that massive changes in climate drove human inhabitants out of Britain many times over.

Massive climate change? Heard that one before? Check out my blog of 12 September, Sandstone and Woolly Mammoths!

Sorry, I digress.

So, if the scientists can not readily identify such an obvious thing as DNA from another, albeit human, species; why are we so eager to send people to prison, or worse, on the basis of DNA evidence? Case after case of people being convicted using nothing but their own (purported) DNA for evidence litters the legal system. It's a modern litany. The Cold Case Scenario rules! People are going to jail all the time with nothing but “expert” DNA evidence to thank for their conviction. It's a travesty. What's worse, it's sloppy science. The problems which may arise from trying to extract Neanderthal DNA are exactly the same as extracting and processing modern DNA. That bit, unfortunately, you never hear about. Picking up a scrap of clothing from a murder victim 40 years ago and extracting a DNA sample is functionally the same as getting the sample from a long-deceased human – be he Neanderthal or Cro-Magnon. The only difference is the time scale.

People should not be convicted on the basis of DNA evidence alone. Let's stop it now, before it's you doing 20 to life.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Dangerous Dogs


The death of any child is a tragedy. It is a particular tragedy for the parents and other family members, though the public can often be moved, quite rightly, to empathy.

Lee Burchell and his girlfriend Amy were looking after a pub, The Rocket, in Leicester and their daughter is dead. It's difficult not to feel distraught for them.

The Times reported: Neighbours said that the Glaze’s dogs, Bess and Bruno, were a familiar sight, prowling the roof of the building to discourage burglars.

One mother, Amy Grimbley, said: “Most adults are terrified of them, never mind kids. I’ve got a three-year-old and I don’t feel at all safe walking past them.

The dogs are known to be vicious. They are guard dogs. They stay on the roof during the day and whenever you walk past you get the feeling they could just jump down and attack you.

They are very aggressive. Everybody around here is petrified of them. The dogs were never allowed in the pub; they were kept upstairs in the living quarters.”

Please don't bomb my house or attack me in the street, but I'm more upset at the parents and relations of the dead baby than I am with the dogs. These were clearly dangerous guard dogs, trained to guard and attack. What were they doing in a pub in Leicester? Is Leicester a third-world enclave in the East Midlands where vicious guard dogs are necessary to protect the local boozer from roaming gangs of Taliban? And, if, as it seems apparent, the dogs were known to be dangerous; why did the parents of Caydee-Lee even bring the baby into the pub?

It is, of course, easy to be wise after the event. I've no doubt that her parents are suffering everyday with the remorse of not seeing the danger and doing something about it. I've no doubt they will suffer for the rest of their lives. I only wish the media would focus on the real issue.

Apparently, because they were on private property, the dogs were not subject to the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991. This only applies to dogs in public places. What a crazy piece of legislation. I'm sure the public thought that the Dangerous Dogs Act was there to prevent attacks by dogs. Now we know this is simply not the case. Keeping vicious dogs in your home, pub, or place of business is fine and if they attack someone, well, so what.

It would seem to be little compensation to Caydee-Lee's parents to know that the dogs were being kept perfectly legally. Better compensation might be found in the sensible application of a Dogs' Act – which might prevent property owners from insisting that a grotty pub in Leicester needs the same level of protection from intruders as Fort Knox.

So, who is ultimately responsible? As harsh and uncaring as it may seem, it is the pub owners. Those dogs should not have been in the pub. The owners should have placed them in kennels whilst on holiday. I conclude that, tragically, in an attempt to secure their pathetic premises, the owners, the grandparents of Caydee-Lee, have contributed to her tragic death. I pity them.

Why the Super-Chavs of Leicester should be allowed to name an innocent baby Caydee-Lee is altogether another matter.

Dangerous Dogs

The death of any child is a tragedy. It is a particular tragedy for the parents and other family members, though the public can often be moved, quite rightly, to empathy.

Lee Burchell and his girlfriend Amy were looking after a pub, The Rocket, in Leicester and their daughter is dead. It's difficult not to feel distraught for them.

The Times reported: Neighbours said that the Glaze’s dogs, Bess and Bruno, were a familiar sight, prowling the roof of the building to discourage burglars.

One mother, Amy Grimbley, said: “Most adults are terrified of them, never mind kids. I’ve got a three-year-old and I don’t feel at all safe walking past them.

The dogs are known to be vicious. They are guard dogs. They stay on the roof during the day and whenever you walk past you get the feeling they could just jump down and attack you.

They are very aggressive. Everybody around here is petrified of them. The dogs were never allowed in the pub; they were kept upstairs in the living quarters.”

Please don't bomb my house or attack me in the street, but I'm more upset at the parents and relations of the dead baby than I am with the dogs. These were clearly dangerous guard dogs, trained to guard and attack. What were they doing in a pub in Leicester? Is Leicester a third-world enclave in the East Midlands where vicious guard dogs are necessary to protect the local boozer from roaming gangs of Taliban? And, if, as it seems apparent, the dogs were known to be dangerous; why did the parents of Caydee-Lee even bring the baby into the pub?

It is, of course, easy to be wise after the event. I've no doubt that her parents are suffering everyday with the remorse of not seeing the danger and doing something about it. I've no doubt they will suffer for the rest of their lives. I only wish the media would focus on the real issue.

Apparently, because they were on private property, the dogs were not subject to the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991. This only applies to dogs in public places. What a crazy piece of legislation. I'm sure the public thought that the Dangerous Dogs Act was there to prevent attacks by dogs. Now we know this is simply not the case. Keeping vicious dogs in your home, pub, or place of business is fine and if they attack someone, well, so what.

It would seem to be little compensation to Caydee-Lee's parents to know that the dogs were being kept perfectly legally. Better compensation might be found in the sensible application of a Dogs' Act – which might prevent property owners from insisting that a grotty pub in Leicester needs the same level of protection from intruders as Fort Knox.

So, who is ultimately responsible? As harsh and uncaring as it may seem, it is the pub owners. Those dogs should not have been in the pub. The owners should have placed them in kennels whilst on holiday. I conclude that, tragically, in an attempt to secure their pathetic premises, the owners, the grandparents of Caydee-Lee, have contributed to her tragic death. I pity them.

Why the Super-Chavs of Leicester should be allowed to name an innocent baby Caydee-Lee is altogether another matter.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

More Male, More Risks

Reading in the paper the other day that the male gene may disappear one day – outlived its usefulness. Could happen, I suppose. Don't hold your breath!

Article was expostulating that because males are prone to risk-taking being male is a risky business and, therefore, not a good strategy for long-term survival. Possibly the article is correct, but we will have to wait a few million years to find out.

It is true that males take more risks. It's in their genetic make-up . And, when you stop to think about it – it makes good genetic sense. Males need to take risks to provide for their families. Exactly the same today as it was 20 thousand years ago – only the risks today are in the boardroom - not the backwoods. Being a man means you trade off the comfortable (genetically speaking) life of a child-bearer for the uncertainty of attracting a mate and keeping her – a risky business. Putting it bluntly: women always know that the child they bear is genetically theirs; men are never 100% sure. That's the facts boys – get used to it.

So, in order to maximize their chances of passing their genes on to the next generation, men take risks to attract and keep a mate – and to provide food and shelter for their mate and their offspring as part of the bargain. I know this doesn't sound very romantic – but then again it probably worked for 1000 generations before anyone “invented” love and relationships, so maybe it has got something going for it!

As men we like to think that we do the choosing when it comes to picking a mate. Wrong. Women do the choosing and the criteria they use hasn't changed much in a very long time. They want a man who will provide for them and stick around! No good fathering children all over the place and abandoning them. Well, no good for women – great idea if you are a man and can get away with it!! Women need men who will stay around and provide. And provide. And provide some more! So, sorry, no commitment – no sex and no children. Simple plan – and it works.

Men pay the price. Because they take risks to attract a mate and risks to provide food and shelter, they may lose everything. They may be gone before they reproduce. That's the trade-off. Men are genetically programmed to take risks. As a way of compensating, mother nature provides about 105 males for every females born.

Don't believe me? Check out:

Globally, there are about 105 – 107 boys born for every 100 girls. And, in the highest sex birth ratio in the United States, which occurred in 1946, there were 105.9 boys born per 100 girls: at the lowest sex birth ratio (in 2001), there were 104.6 boys born per 100 girls. There were 104.8 boys born in 2000 for every 100 girls. Statistically, 1946 was a good year for the boys!

Now, this is interesting. Did mother nature realize in 1946 that a World War had just ended and more men were going to be needed to replace the ones who died in the war? Could the same thing have happened in 1919-20? Could the intervening 50 years of peace after 1946 have fooled Mother Nature into a false sense of security and account for the fall in the number of boys born? Sounds an interesting research problem to me!

Statistically, by about the age of five the numbers even out. Being a boy has risks. Male babies are not as likely to survive infancy as females. They are more susceptible to childhood diseases.

So, next time your young son is found climbing a tree and dangling from a high branch – don't shout too loud. You may frighten him and he may fall – taking your genes with him – and he may just be following a risky biological program which is beyond his power to add or detract.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Sandstone and Woolly Mammoths

It's almost impossible to pick up a newspaper or watch TV now-a-days without being accosted by some commentator or “expert” giving their alarmist views on climate change. It's good, of course, to bring to the public's attention legitimate areas of concern, but I'm not convinced by the arguments and there is functionally no debate on the scientific merits of climate change. The only debate “allowed” seems to be how much the climate is changing and how fast. That's it.

What is not in dispute is that the climate of the Earth has changed many, many time in the past. Changed - and changed dramatically. Evidence of early humans being driven out of the British Isles by shifting climate has recently been in the news. Our ancestors were here – left – came back – got cold and left again – etc. Some of these climate swings took place in relatively short periods of time – say 50 to 100 years. This occurred long before the advent of burning fossil fuels to power the industrial revolution. The truth is climate changes are a regular occurrence and a natural phenomenon. The problem is: climate change has become an industry and the intellectual property of some scientists who really ought to know better.

For example, consider the Woolly Mammoth. Some of these large herbivores have been found, preserved and frozen almost intact, in Siberia and Alaska. Many people wrongly see these creatures as being adapted to the cold climate of the northern latitudes. This is plainly nonsense. Anatomically the mammoth is very similar to the elephant. They require large amounts of vegetation to survive – in a cold climate they would need even more. The only sensible solution to the woolly mammoth “problem” is to assume they lived in a temperate or savanna type climate. Something very dramatic happened to the world's climate when the mammoth became extinct. And, it happened very quickly. Proponents of rapid climate change would do well to investigate the demise of the woolly mammoth. Their disappearance is recent evidence of rapid and dramatic climate change – and no fossil fuels were involved.

Where do fossil fuels come from? Our gas, oil and coal reserves are the carbon-based remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. Some people seem to think that we “make” greenhouse gases. We do not. Nature makes them. We are simply returning to the atmosphere the carbon that was removed from it many years ago. We are not “making” greenhouse gases and it is nonsense to present the arguments in this way.

Where does sandstone come from? Sandstone is one of the most widely used materials for building. Layers of this rock were laid down during hot, dry periods in Earth's history – sometimes over millions of years. For millions of years the “normal” climate of the Earth was very much hotter than it is now. This is not disputed. Check out this web page for some interesting facts about the Earth's climate:

Perhaps the most interesting part of this web page tell us that:

Average global temperatures in the Early Carboniferous Period were hot- approximately 22° C (72° F). However, cooling during the Middle Carboniferous reduced average global temperatures to about 12° C (54° F). As shown on the chart below, this is comparable to the average global temperature on Earth today!

Similarly, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Early Carboniferous Period were approximately 1500 ppm (parts per million), but by the Middle Carboniferous had declined to about 350 ppm -- comparable to average CO2 concentrations today!

Earth's atmosphere today contains about 370 ppm CO2 (0.037%). Compared to former geologic times, our present atmosphere, like the Late Carboniferous atmosphere, is CO2- impoverished! In the last 600 million years of Earth's history only the Carboniferous Period and our present age, the Quaternary Period, have witnessed CO2 levels less than 400 ppm

Better read this again!! None of the commentators so concerned by “Global Warming” ever mention this!!

Conclusion: Climate change is part of the natural cycle of the Earth. Man's activities in burning fossil fuels are undoubtedly having some influence on the rising level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but present levels are historically low. It is a myth that rapid climate change has never occurred before. It has – and may well do so again.

In my opinion, we should be devoting just as much time, effort and money to combating population explosion and developing new sources of energy – chiefly fusion as pursuing “pie-in-the-sky” “Green “solutions to a problem we only understand imperfectly.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Wrong Way, Corrigan!!

East Dereham is a strange place. It is quite close to the Twilight Zone – but, incidentally, nowhere near West Dereham! No matter how many times I go to Dereham – I always have an uneasy feeling that I'm just about to get lost. It is very odd and very disconcerting.

Good to know that I'm not alone. Lots of people seem to have problems going the correct way on the A 47 near Dereham. Road was closed again this week as the Norfolk Constabulary vainly attempted to put right the chaos caused by someone merrily driving to their doom on the Swaffham bound carriageway – but going to Norwich. Wrong way, Corrigan!

Why does this happen so often in or near Dereham? Since you ask, I'll tell you. The road network around Dereham is the most poorly designed, ill-conceived nightmare ever constructed in the Western hemisphere. It's that simple. It's no wonder all except the locals find it difficult to drive to Norwich without killing themselves – or others. For example – as you wander around the Dereham one-way system near the town centre – vainly trying to follow the carefully misdirected signs to Norwich A 47 – eventually you reach the east end of town and are (seemingly) directed to turn left into an industrial estate in order to join the main road. Not surprisingly, this seems odd to anyone who does not live in Dereham – or have six fingers. I have driven past this sign many times secure in the belief that this cannot be the turning. It is. (Don't believe me – go to Dereham, if you dare, and look for yourself).

Going the other way is just as bad – but of a different style. Getting off the A 47 you find yourself on the slip road. It is a travesty. It is the shortest slip road in England and has the sharpest radii turn outside of Brands Hatch. I'd love to see the stats on how many accidents there are on this wonder of the road builders art. Think I'm exaggerating: log on to:

Here you will find useful info about Dereham – such as the best description of Dereham I have ever seen – Dereham, a cemetery with lights. And, Dereham: The one-way system, you kinda get swept along, like a little fish in a river.

Enough about Dereham. The other really disconcerting and obtuse journey is from Gt Finborough in Suffolk to RAF Wattisham – a distance of about 10 miles. Now, this will make your blood run cold and possibly turn your eyeballs to ice-balls. If you leave Finborough School and turn left you go through Stowmarket and Needham Market and get to Wattisham. I f you turn right you go through the villages of Finborough and Hitcham and Bildeston and still end up at Wattisham? How odd is that? Typical Suffolk if you ask me. There is another more direct way to get there, but it is so confusing that I can not do it. Lest you begin to think I am just a little backward when it comes to navigating – I assure you that this is not the case. I'm very good. It's Dereham and Finborough that are the problem. Try them. You'll agree.