Friday, December 8

MP’s pay and some questions

I’ve been recovering from the shock of the MP’s demanding a 66% payrise. I thought that it was some kind of April 1st joke or that the £100,000 was for the lot of them but reviewing the BBC News “have your say” section leads me to believe that these jokers just might be serious.

Their reason for claiming such a salary is that professionals such as Doctors earn in the region of £100,000 so they as similar “professionals” are somehow entitled to the same salary.

One of the discrepancies is that the Doctors salary is for the PRACTICE so they must pay secretaries, receptionists, cleaners, upkeep of the surgery etc. out of the amount. So the headline figure isn’t quite as rosy as things seem.

Contrast this with the whole gravy train and trough (paid for by the taxation on the serfs) that the MP’s have their snout and both trotters well embedded into.

Their proposed salary of £100,000 will be exactly that. A salary. They can claim additional costs for “office staff” to run their constituency offices back home but generally they pay their wives to be their secretary. So this is a way of generously paying a member of their family for doing naff all. Then they have their “expenses” which are totally without scrutiny. And the expenses claimed are revealing. It includes their travelling allowances at a VERY highly favourable rate and far in excess of anything I could claim from any company I worked for. I could go on listing the various expenses, perks and incidentals they can (and do!) claim but a quick trawl of the various websites (including the parliamentary website) will swiftly reveal the extent of their goldbricking. As a very conservative estimate, they would without too much trouble, double the proposed salary. A £200,000 package isn’t out of the realms of possibility.

However (and this is a big however) professionals are accountable for their conduct and are held to be responsible under law if they are guilty of professional misconduct. I am an engineer and if I made a mistake in a calculation or a design, then if anyone was injured (or even if no injury occurred but the possibility that an injury COULD have occurred) I could be in Court under various charges. Professional indemnity insurance would pick up SOME of the legal bill (not all – only that over £100,000 – THERE’S a coincidence in numbers!) but not any fine imposed by the Courts. I could lose my home and everything I have worked for due to an honest mistake at any time within my lifetime.

However (and it is a second big however) if you take a moment to examine the performance of these incompetents, you’ll realise that they have a sort of reverse Midas touch – everything they turn their baleful attention to turns to shit, not gold.

A cursory review of their performance and the state of the country will confirm the reverse Midas effect.

NHS – throw twice the money at it and look for improvements. The majority of the trusts report zero improvement and one or two only a marginal (1 or 2 percent) improvement. I wonder if you would conduct your own finances in such a way. Would you compare two cars, both identical as far as you could tell from equipment levels etc. but be told this one will do 2% higher top speed or a 2% improvement in fuel efficiency but will cost double the price of the first? Excellent value? I think not !

Immigration – lost the plot and definitely no particular interest in doing anything about it.
Welfare payments to illegal immigrants (sorry- I meant “asylum seekers”) – just like poor parents say about children “They are here and must be kept”. So as soon as these people set foot into the country, they are entitled to a host of welfare payments and help and a whole army of advisors, councillors etc. are there to ensure they get their “entitlement”. Again, would you run your own personal life like this? If I broke into your home and you came home from work and caught me, could I claim board, lodging and be fully entitled to be considered a member of your family without paying a penny? Of course, we can’t increase payments to our own pensioners who HAVE contributed to the system or relieve them of the burdens of paying out for fuel, Council Tax etc.

Crime and law and order – this whole scenario reminds me of Stalinist Russia when people were dying in their millions in the midst of a famine and the propaganda films were showing happy, plump, rosy cheeked peasants gathering in the bountiful harvest and feasting at tables groaning with the weight of food. According to official figures, crime is down, you have nothing to worry about, criminals are paying their debt to society etc. It’s all panic generated by those evil Daily Mail journalists and their readers. This is in fairly stark contrast to my own experience and people I work with. I see newspapers reporting serious crime on a daily basis, the local TV channels report crime and murders every night but I never see them saying “We got this wrong – this didn’t happen”.

In the course of my job, I travel around the country and it is surprising the way the country is compartmentalised as far as news coverage is concerned. Watching the Birmingham local news programmes shows Birmingham to have a shockingly high level of crime whereas crimes from the rest of the country rarely make it to the national news.

Conversely when I am back home (generally at the weekends) and I chat to friends up here about the news, they report crimes that occurred on Tyneside and a review of the local news reveals that Tyneside has a shockingly high level of crime. Anyone who listens to or watches their local news channels will conclude that anywhere else in the country must be an improvement on their own location.

So my conclusion is that crime of all descriptions is much higher than most people realise but the divide and conquer policies of the Government hides the real level except from determined researchers.

Just today, it has been revealed that ASBOs aren’t really working. Now there’s a surprise! People who have been committing crimes for a long period are told by the Police and justice system “If you promise to be nice, we won’t prosecute you”.

The Metropolitan Police also report that (and here is another surprise!) the recent knife amnesty hasn’t achieved the reduction in knife crime that they expected. The differences in the rate of knife crime is statistically insignificant. I would expect that the “reduction” was caused by the criminals being away on their summer holidays. Not surprising really as only honest and law abiding people would dutifully hand in a knife under these circumstances and someone who is prepared to casually stab someone just for the thrill of doing so is unlikely to do so.

Taxation – the levels of taxation under this spendthrift Government are truly mind boggling. Goondoom Brown must be the greatest genius that ever lived. I never realised that the solution to so many problems was to tax it. Green credentials? Put up tax on fuel. Roads congested? Tax driving by putting in a pay per mile scheme. People save for their retirement and make themselves independent of the State? Tax it. The simple, obvious solution is always the best, isn’t it? So much so that the feeling among many of the people I speak to is that although bonded servitude was abolished a while ago, this Government is trying to reduce the whole of the country to such a state with the Government being the ultimate slavemaster. Just like Soviet Russia.

ID cards? – do it by stealth. If you don’t want to queue at the airport, just stroll up to the special counter, get fingerprinted, have your Iris scanned and leave a DNA sample. That way, if you are a terrorist wanting to destroy a jumbo jet in flight, the government will be able to identify your remains. Then once a sufficiently large percentage of the population are recorded make it compulsory.

Lest you think I am a particularly critical individual, I would urge you to look at the Blair Broadcasting Conning website (that’s the BBC website to the less cynical) and look at the “News” section then click on the “Have your say” link. There are several topical subjects that the moderated (i.e. any comment posted will be reviewed and deleted if “Inappropriate”) I personally just look at the “Recommended” comments. The comments are quite scathing in their condemnation of the policies and methodology of the Government. Count the “people recommending this comment” and form your own conclusions.

One HYS topic was “Who should lead the Labour party?”. I suggested the Pied Piper so that the whole rats nest could be drowned but the comment didn’t get past the censors. Ah, well….

Lots of questions in the above but there is just one that I’d ask the Politicians.

Do you really want to be re-elected?

Saturday, March 25

Pensions and crisis

So there is a crisis in Pensions and our Governmint (they govern and it costs us a mint) is seeking public consultation about what to do about things. The 85,000 people whose self funded pensions have simply disappeared are another factor in the “consultation”. I wonder if I held you up at knife point and robbed you of £5, you would want me prosecuted. If I rob you of your life savings from a pension fund, well, that’s just one of those things and nothing to be done.

Usually with the Governmint, they are careful to pitch things so that the result will be as they intended. It was a bit careless of them to ask an independent Ombudsman to produce a report that they did not have any control over, or at least set the terms of reference to produce the “correct” result. For instance, they could have asked the Ombudsman if the method of determining the pension amount paid to people is being correctly administered and fair. If the framework was couched in those terms, then the Ombudsman would have been severely limited in what she could have reported and the overall report would have said, in essence, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the present system of paying pensions. No doubt the headlines in the newspapers would have reported the synopsis as “Pension payments OK”.

So I was a bit surprised when the report was so damning and I enjoyed seeing the politicians squirm and try to discredit both the report and the Ombudsman.

Taking a step back from the pensions question, it is a microcosm of the relationship between the Government and the population who more and more taking on the mindset and reverting to the rights of pre-medieval serfs. Let me explain and illustrate that by examples.

One of the concepts being bandied about by the various commentators just before the Budget was “How much will Mr Brown give away ……..” Think hard about that statement – it is based on the concept that the money BELONGS to the Government and it is in their gift to give it away, similar to an uncle kindly giving his nieces and nephews an unexpected top up to their pocket money. Similarly the begrudging increases in “Allowances” – how kind that the Government will allow us to keep the cash that we have earned and paid tax on (such as capital gains tax on house sales, inheritance tax etc.). Take a look at this article http://www.civitas.org.uk/pdf/Beedham.pdf which sets out an alternative to the unrepresentative Parliamentary system.

In other words, instead of the Government being the servant of the people and responding to what the vast majority of the population wants and actually representing their constituents, it is the other way around. Parliament dictates to the country and arrogantly disregards the wishes of people. I wonder if people actually stop and think about the generosity of the Government and how the politicians behave when promising vast sums in no strings attached grants and aid to overseas countries for example. For a glimpse of the uselessness, and indeed the harm done by this gesture politics, look at http://www.civitas.org.uk/pdf/G8.pdf and then tell me if pouring more money into sub Saharan Africa will do any good. If you think that money should be poured in and the corruption and waste should be ignored on the basis that if only 10% reaches the people concerned it would do SOME good then you won’t appreciate the rest of this article. Would you run your own finances in this way? Would you go to a filling station with a leaky fuel container and carry the petrol back home and be happy if only 1/10th of the amount was left to pour into the car? Indeed, the Government could speed up the flow of “aid” by paying 90% of the aid directly into the numbered Swiss bank accounts of the dictators of the countries concerned. Much more efficient and less trouble to the ultimate recipients than the present system.

The pension crisis is, to my way of thinking, very similar to the leaky petrol can analogy and is again a compact illustration of how the Government exists to perpetuate the Government. It bears little relation to serving the serfs and the population who are being handled like sheep or cattle and being shorn and milked for the sole benefit of the Government. The contradictions and pig headed method of paying out the amounts is incomprehensible to me. I honestly believe that if an inhabitant of the Andromeda Galaxy landed and set out to study the system, he, she or it (I don’t know the sexual system in place there so that should cover it) would conclude that the system is there to employ Civil Servants. Let me explain …

If you work, unless you are working very much part time and earning a VERY low salary, you will pay tax. So the Inland Revenue (not exactly noted as being a paragon of efficiency and frugality) will record the fact. I’m not sure exactly how many people are employed by the Inland Revenue but I’m willing to bet it isn’t in the hundreds.

Similarly you will pay National Insurance contributions of some sort (even if it is a “credit” to say that you aren’t paying anything). Note that there is another Army of Civil Servants administering this recording system.

Did you notice that there are, in essence, at least two parallel systems recording the fact that you are working and contributing to the funds? If the system was rationalised and only one lot of recording was done, then a number of Civil Servants could be eliminated. Two benefits would flow from this – their wages, pensions (guaranteed and gold plated) along with the other costs (offices, computers, heating bills etc.) would not have to be paid from the funds. Secondly they could take jobs in outside or (Shock! Horror!) PRIVATE industry. In short they would be earning money and become contributors to the system rather than an expense. It seems this concept is a particularly difficult one for many people to understand – particularly civil servants and local government officers who claim that they also pay taxes. Imagine giving your child pocket money and then “taxing” them on the amount and withholding a percentage. Could the child claim that they were “contributing” to the household expenses? Apply that analogy to the Government handing out their pay and then taking some of it back …

Similarly, when it comes to paying out the pensions there are multiple parallel systems duplicating the effort again and again. The state pension has always been just under the poverty threshold so even if you have a full contribution record, then you will still be officially in poverty. If you have had periods of unemployment and gaps in the record, then (and here is an expression which makes me smile at the ludicrousness of it all) TO BE FAIR, you can’t have a full pension. No problem – you apply for the various income support benefits to top up your pension to an acceptable level and you are certain to get this, even if you have not worked a single day since leaving school.

But wait! There are other benefits which will be available to you such as housing benefits (after all it would not be FAIR to simply pay a flat rate if you live in a different sized house, a council or private landlord house or some other arbitrary and essentially minor difference in the type of accommodation you occupy), council tax rebates and as many other benefits available as you can think up. A visit to your local citizens advice bureau will appraise you of what you can claim.

Naturally, you can’t get these additional benefits if you were stupid enough to work, save and generally behave like a free man (or woman – in general I’d say women can be more astute when it comes to handling and managing cash than many men) and not a slave, serf or inhabitant of a Marxist-Leninist or Maoist totalitarian state. All such benefits must be means tested. And Mr. Brown, being from all appearances and behaviour a committed Marxist-Leninist, is firmly committed to the principle of means tested benefits. If you have had the misfortune to be presented with one of these forms (I have helped five people with them and they are tiresome, badly designed and intrusive in the extreme) you may be tempted to wonder at the complexity, pettiness and outright vindictiveness of the legislation which necessitates them. More importantly, the manual checking and bureaucracy needed to process them makes you wonder just how much it costs.

Again, if this army of bureaucrats was eliminated, then the costs which must come from taxation and other sources of funding (e.g. NI Contributions) could be spent on paying pensions. I could look it up but there are several newspaper, websites and other sources which state that overall, in the UK one out of every four people work for the Government. In parts of Scotland this rises to three out of four (this last statistic from the Scotsman newspaper – hardly an anti Scottish viewpoint). You see what I mean about the hypothetical Andromedan concluding that the system is there to employ civil servants and a side effect of the process is pension payments?

Suppose that each civil servant earns on average £21,000 per year. According to various sources, there are 7 million people working for the Government in one form or another. Multipy this up and see what your calculator says ... As usual, feel free to put in any figure you feel appropriate to work through the example. Add to this an unspecified amount for the infrastructure to support them (costs of buildings, equipment, computers, pensions - again! – sick and statutory maternity pay etc. etc. ad infinitum). Could I say a conservative estimate to keep an average civil servant in post (there’s an insider expression) would be £30,000 minimum? That means that for each person working in industry, a minimum of £10,000 in taxes of various sorts must be extorted from each person. How much do YOU earn? If you aren’t paying your £10,000 in taxes of one form or the other, then the cash must be made up from somewhere such as taxes on company profits which in turn affect profitability and cash available to you for your pension fund.

In fact Gordon Brown is taxing pension funds to the tune of 5 billion (that is £5,000,000,000) a year to keep government spending on track.

If he asked me what needed to be done to address the pensions crisis my solution would be simple – the tax office keeps records of taxes for 7 years. If you have worked for (say) 5 years out of the 7 years before you retire or (say) 15 years in total and have paid tax, you will receive a flat rate pension. Eliminate the multiple parallel methods of revenue collection and the myriad parallel means tested payments that are available and stuff the concept of “fairness”. With the savings and cost cutting of the bureaucracy I’m willing to bet that the basic flat rat pension will be a handsome sum. There would not be any need to raise the retirement age and the tax revenues from the ex-civil servants doing productive work would be a benefit, not a drain on the incoming cash.

This system would also have the effect of getting the Chavs off their backsides. If they were going to exist on benefits and not do a single days work for their entire lives, then they would fall foul of the “have not paid tax for a total of 15 years” rule and would have to do something to address the situation.

In the interim two measures need to be taken – one is to safeguard those who are genuinely NOT able to work. I truly believe that many people on incapacity benefit nowadays could do some useful work. For example they could work in call centres or do what I do as part of my duties and operate a CAD package on a computer or any other computer related work according to their intelligence and abilities. This activity does not need physical strength or mobility. At least an effort along those lines would not be intolerable. However, I appreciate that either through accidental injury or other factors, someone may not be able to undertake even those limited sorts of duties so should be safeguarded.

Secondly for those 85,000 people whose pensions and life savings have “disappeared” – and I think criminal prosecutions need to be taken against the perpetrators – I believe this Government could compensate them adequately without breaking the bank. The government clearly allowed the various pension providers, employers and others in the industry to take exorbitant amounts in charges for extremely poor service, to avoid paying the sums committed and to mismanage the funds without accountability. Many of these people are fairly low paid individuals and although the collective millions of pounds of their pensions is a sizeable sum, in individual terms, the amount they have lost is unlikely to exceed £250,000. If the government gave them a lump sum of £250,000 to replace this then the total bill would be £21.25 Billion (£21,250,000,000). Or the value of about 4 years of Gordon Browns raids on the pension funds of the rest of us. If the demonstrable value of the lost pension funds is available then paying the amount “lost” would be probably a lot cheaper than having to pay the state pension plus the various top ups plus the almighty administration costs. But this may be perceived as not being “fair”

It seems that the present system doesn’t mind being crap as long as EVERYONE gets the same crap service and payment. That is “fair”, isn’t it?

Monday, January 23

Irony and Politics

The more cynical readers of this blog might ask what the difference is. Bear with me while I take the usual rambling tour and pull things together at the end. This post and the title has been prompted by the recent weeks news and antics from our Political “Masters”, the media and the contrasts and inevitable ironies thrown up thereby. The word “irony” will figure a lot in this post.

The hoo-ha over prostitution and how to stamp this out has occupied the attention of the media and politicians. Apparently they are proposing to quasi- legalise this occupation by allowing more than one prostitute to work from the one premises with the help of a “maid” to act as doorkeeper, backup in case of assault and to …. “clear up” and do other maid type duties I suppose. However in contrast to this, it is proposed to have a zero tolerance to kerb crawling and any man caught doing this will be prosecuted to the full and naming and shaming will be used to deter this practice. I’m not sure about the rest of the country but the results of the madcap policies of the left wing, right on council in Newcastle (who hate cars) means traffic engineers are employed to deliberately hinder traffic flow. The traffic moves so slowly at any time of the day and night that it will be difficult to distinguish between a kerb crawler and normal traffic flow. Massive arrests of the entire working male population of Newcastle on any particular day might be on the cards. THAT will get the buggers out of their cars and onto public transport! It is even proposed that any man who hires a prostitute who has been smuggled into the country by people traffickers and forced into prostitution should be charged with rape.

I was based in Germany for a while and had the opportunity to observe the way legalised prostitution works. (Before anyone asks, I’m too stingy to spend my cash on “Ladies of negotiable affections” as Terry Pratchett so eloquently puts it. The solution to such frustration lies in my own hands - so to speak - at no cost at all. You are dealing with someone who wakes up in the middle of the night to check if he’s lost any sleep). It is considered just a profession like any other and licensed as such. The girls must obtain a Yellow Card from the Police and have a medical check up once a week. If you are unhappy with any aspect of the transaction, then complain to the Police. They will investigate your complaint and treat this like any other complaint. Equally, the girls have the protection of the law and pay tax etc. just like an ordinary occupation.

However with the usual fudge and non-committal approach which typifies this Government, they will neither plumb for one thing or another. So prostitution is sort of legal (or at least tolerated) but paying for sex is not … Their justification is that cutting off the demand will cause this “problem” to wither away. I somehow don’t think this will be the case. Instead it has left the prostitutes open to abuse from people trafficking and organised crime gangs such as the Albanians who are ruthless, vicious and without scruples who will doubtless take advantage of this new environment to increase prostitution and increase the misery. They (the prostitutes) don’t have the protection of the Law as they cannot report such abuses without incurring prosecution. I can easily imagine the Police refusing to take any action unless a list of their clients is provided. Easy prosecutions for them …

What the gangs will do with the money is easy enough to guess at. It will be used to fund more organised crime (they certainly believe in free enterprise, a lack of Government restraint and reinvesting profits back into their own businesses) which will result in more misery for everyone. They only care for themselves and their profits, not the welfare of the communities they operate in. So expect more of the same.

Contrast this with the reaction to the reclassification of cannabis back to a higher class of drug. “Fungus” Clarke admits that all the studies state that cannabis is harmful and isn’t as innocuous as claimed. However instead of reclassifying the drug he will rely on telling the users how harmful it is and somehow hope that the users will give up. Just like the spectacularly successful education campaign about the harm of smoking, I suppose. Instead, he will concentrate on drug dealers, not the end users or the “demand” end, and everything will be fine and dandy.

So what works for ending prostitution doesn’t work for drug use, apparently.

Let me put my usual logic to this. Feel free to put your own figures in and work through the concept. Suppose there are in my area 1000 drug addicts. Suppose they pay £1 per “fix” then a drug dealer will pull at least £1000 a day from these addicts (assuming one fix a day). If the Police arrest the dealer there will still be 1000 addicts that require their fix. Cue the replacement drug dealer who now wishes to charge £5 a fix – it is more dangerous for the dealer so he wants more money and the addicts don’t have an alternative supply. Arrest THAT dealer. Repeat the cycle until it becomes potentially lucrative enough to tempt someone intelligent enough and ruthless enough to make a decent go of it. Say £100 a fix? The dealer will be taking £100,000 A DAY (less the cost of the drugs, of course) Or in annual terms, £36.5 Million a year. Not bad as it’s tax-free and you don’t have to pay the usual NI Contributions, provide for maternity leave costs etc. It makes any investment in government bonds or stashing the cash in a Building Society account look a bit pedestrian. Deduct the cost of the drugs from source, of course, but it is still a lot of cash.

Where will the money come from? I suppose that the addicts will resort to crime to fund the habit. Who cares if Grannies are mugged, houses burgled or cars broken into or hijacked with their owners. Crime wave anyone?

Which brings me to the case of Tom ap Rhys Price, the lawyer who was mugged of everything he had of value then was stabbed to death. The assailants were unusually described as “Black” and young. What is the betting that they are drug addicts stealing to fund their habit. The delicious irony is that in court (IF they are caught and convicted – it is debatable if this will happen) a lawyer will plead that they are somehow not to blame. If, as I suspect, they are addicts, the lawyer will plead that they were under the influence of drugs and therefore not responsible. Don’t get me wrong on this. I think that his death is a tragedy and a rope necktie for his murderers is singularly appropriate. But the decisions of the Home Secretary and our political masters will directly fuel this type of crime. It is ironic that Lawyers by cleverly exploiting the letter of the law and Judges by creatively interpreting the law allows this type of scum free to roam the streets. Which, in turn, results in a lawyer being murdered. Somehow I can’t shake the sneaking feeling that things are somehow linked.

Of course, what is needed is Identity cards, everyone in the country to be put on a DNA database and even more surveillance. Don’t worry! The Politicians assure us that everything is safe in their capable hands and that the safeguards they are dreaming up will be watertight, so trust them.

Good old Ruth Kelly is, as usual, on the grill over her allowing paedophiles to teach. Only 88 such cases have been admitted to so really it isn’t a problem. Anyway, everyone is entitled to a mistake and to be rehabilitated so provided they promise not to repeat the offence, all is OK. Besides the List 99 is being administered far more rigorously now.

Except the man in charge, one Mr Vincent Barron, has been caught with thousands of pictures of adults having sex with children on his computer, allegedly. The Police are investigating and he has been suspended from his job. But we can have absolute confidence that the system is being administered correctly. It is inconceivable that such a person would not scrupulously investigate each and every case that crosses his desk. Or would he “report” someone known to him and debar them from working?

So we can have the utmost confidence in Identity and DNA databases which will be administered in an equally competent fashion. And there will be a full and open public debate about the proposed systems and they won’t be implemented without the full support of the public.

Except there is a database of DNA already which doesn’t just contain the samples of criminals. At least 24,000 children who have fallen into the hands of the Police for whatever reason have been fingerprinted, photographed and had DNA samples taken BEFORE the Police interviewed them. Mistaken Identity or being a witness to an incident resulted in the addition to the database. It makes any debate on the subject a bit redundant.

As a “for example”, if a woman is raped, then the Police will take her DNA and the DNA of her husband or boyfriend “to eliminate them from the enquiry”. And the DNA is there for all time, guilty or not. Under existing legislation, the Police can take a DNA sample without giving a reason or whether or not this is justified. And don’t forget, under the latest Criminal Justice Bill, the number of offences which can result in arrest has been massively expanded. Drop a sweet wrapper? Caught not wearing a seatbelt? Arrest and DNA sample taken.

In fact Britain has the largest DNA database in the world and it is 10 times the size of the United States Database at over 3 million or fully 5% of the population. But we are assured that it is an essential tool in the fight against crime. I would have thought it is a tool in the detection of a crime already committed (provided arson isn’t used by criminals to destroy any DNA evidence, of course) and not that essential at that. But I’m a bit critical of loose phraseology. Cynics might claim that the whole point of this is to make the life of the Police much easier and having everyone listed like a car registration number for easier identification is a key step. How about compulsory bar codes tattooed onto everyones foreheads? Seems sensible to me ...

But is this the action or behaviour of a free and democratic society, where the subjects are merely chattels of the State and counted and treated as such? Note I did not classify them as citizens – citizens have rights under law. Subjects are “subject” to the law and have whatever rights the State allows them and which can be removed at any time. Of course, every Police officer or Police Station cannot be expected to have a DNA tester on them. Besides it takes a while to extract a sample of DNA, process it and obtain a result that can be matched against the database so they will “need” a separate system which is more human readable. Such as Identity Cards based on biometrics, as a “for example”.

Of course, the system is being touted by our Political Masters as being foolproof and essential for the prevention of crime and terrorism - sorry - I meant the prevention of identity theft. Note how it has been downgraded although after the bombings in London it was being claimed it was equally essential for anti terrorism and security purposes.

I'd be lulled into this state of mind except for the fact real experts are raising questions and doubts already about the accuracy, reliability and costs of both systems.

The Identity card fiasco (and I’ll bet a £1 to a pinch of pigshit that it WILL be a fiasco) is easy to predict. I’ll bet a Mars bar to anyone who can name me a Government Computer Project that has actually done what it set out to do, was delivered on time and within cost. OK – this is a bit harsh. I offer the same prize to anyone who can name one that remotely did what it was supposed to do and came in at less than twice the cost and timeframe stated. Half a Mars bar to anyone who can do the same for one at 3 times the cost etc. However I believe that this is the wrong approach. I don’t object to it on the grounds of cost – as untenable as it will turn out to be – but on the whole concept at all. This simply should NOT be done in a nominally free society. Reliability will be a problem too. If it is 99.9% accurate (an unfeasibly high estimate – I’d settle for 80%) then at least 60,000 people would have faulty ID cards. That’s a LOT of people who are non people due to their cards not matching them. Civil Liberties are at stake here, people. And it isn’t a Liberty that once lost will be regained until the next dark age.

As for the much vaunted DNA database, Professor Sir Alec Jeffries (the person who “invented” DNA profiling 20 years ago) is saying that it isn’t 100% accurate if used like this. Apparently he originally put the odds as 1 to 37 million of having a match so close that it could not be distinguished apart. If we take the population of Britain as 60 million then potentially there are almost 2 people in the country with matching DNA. It is claimed in the Daily Mail of Saturday 21st January that 80% of people have a DNA “twin” sufficiently close in match to be indistinguishable. I’d be inclined to believe this simply because populations are relatively static over long periods and I mean centuries in this case. Over a long period, a pool of DNA may possibly build up which has sufficient similarities that a better than 1 in 37 million match could be possible in various regions of the country. I recall a TV programme by Magnus Magnusson a few years ago that tried to trace the Viking descendants in Britain by DNA. If this Viking trait and DNA can persist in the population for a thousand years, then large areas of the country could generate sufficiently close matches to be unreliable. I’m thinking of places such as Scotland which has, in the past, had limited immigration and has had a population which hasn’t had an influx of people since before the Romans. Yorkshire and Cornwall spring to mind too.

Factor in the vast numbers of samples likely to be going through the labs and the potential for contamination (either accidentally or deliberately) or other mix ups and it is dangerous to rely solely on this method of identification. Mistakes such as this have already happened – one report I read stated that a man suffering from advanced Parkinsons disease, who could not drive and barely dress himself was matched via DNA, arrested and spent 4 months in jail. The crime (burglary, incidentally) happened 200 miles away from his home and any sensible person observing his condition would conclude that it was impossible for him to have committed the crime. But it is 100% accurate according to the Politicians and Police and he was convicted and sentenced on that basis. And of course, we can implicitly trust our Government to set up processes and checks to ensure it is absolutely reliable. Just like the “List 99” process … Feel free to add your own examples to supplement my reasoning.

But trust the Government. They have assured us that all will be well. Honest.

But there is a more sinister side to this. I recall a Science Fiction story years ago called “Caught in the Organ Draft” by Robert Silverberg. In this story, transplant technology has reached a stage where swapping a heart or whatever is as easy or reliable as swapping a new engine into a car. Of course new organs are needed so the Government “drafts” healthy young people to “donate” organs – purely for the good of society, of course. Naturally the older, wiser and more experienced people should be kept alive rather than allow all that hard earned knowledge and experience to die. You can read it on line (it’s quite short – only 13 pages of well spaced A4) at this link:-

http://www.scifi.com/scifiction/classics/classics_archive/silverberg3/silverberg31.html

You want to bet that if the scenario outlined in the story is feasible that the death penalty won’t be introduced? And with a database of DNA to make matching of organs easy, what will be the penalty for minor crimes? If you think this is mad, do you think the “Great” politicians such as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mugabe, Napoleon or Saint Tone of Sedgefield would pass up an opportunity to extend their benign policies a while longer? You won’t be hung by the neck until dead (far too wasteful) but become property of the state.

I said Irony was the theme of this posting. The ultimate irony is that we are repeatedly told we live in a free and democratic society but in reality, in Britain today, we are more controlled and monitored than any other society in history – including the Soviet Union at the height of its power. You recall the Lawyer I mentioned earlier? A throwaway remark in one news story stated that his stolen travel pass WAS USED AT A PARTICULAR TUBE STATION AT A PARTICULAR TIME by the murderer and he was caught on CCTV. The State is already monitoring us in fine detail without us knowing or thinking about it. And the “freedoms” we enjoy now are rapidly disappearing down the toilet.

As I said in a previous post, the Gestapo ran Europe with a manual card index system. Just think what results they could have achieved with the technology the State has at its disposal now.

Thursday, January 5

Northumberland

Over the Christmas break Sonia and I went to visit one of her friends who runs a bed and breakfast in Berwickshire near the Cheviot. It is a nice run out and takes you through a variety of Nothumberlands varied scenery. To give you some idea of what I mean, pick up a paperback book in your left hand and turn your hand until your knuckles are uppermost. You are now looking at an approximate map of Northumberland. The upper right corner and top edge is the Firth of Forth and Edinburgh would be at the top left corner. Your knuckles are the Pennines and your little finger and knuckle is the Cheviot and the Cheviot Hills. Your fingers are the hills either side of the valleys The main rivers are – from North to South - the Tweed (which forms part of the border between Scotland and England) the Aln, the Coquet, the Wansbeck – from old Norse meaning "Swans Beck" or stream – and the Tyne.

The bit between your fingertips and the edge of the book represents the relatively flat coastal plain where the major routes (road and rail) are located and most of the major towns (including Newcastle). This is good farmland and arable farming and cattle rearing are the mainstay of the economy.

We drove from Sonias’ house, up the A1 (along the western edge of the coastal plain) and then cross country towards the Cheviot. For the "book-in-the-hand" map users, we drove from the first joint of the index finger towards the knuckle of the little finger (who says I don’t know the place like the back of my hand??) so we were crossing the river valleys and the more exposed moors in a constant up and down rollercoaster of a drive. The moors are austere with their thin soil and underlying grey granite rocks poking through here and there. The dead bracken supplies a splash of mellowed old gold to contrast against the purples, greens and browns of the rest of the scene and provides an ever changing vista. The light in Northumberland is different to anywhere else – it has a clarity and brilliance which beams over the landscape and as it is constantly changing, provides an endless variation of scenery, even if you are travelling slowly or on foot. The curlew is the symbol of the Northumberland National Park and its plaintive cry is the sound of the moors. If you like birds then Northumberland is an ornithologists paradise.

The valleys are often quite heavily wooded so you drive through tunnels of trees. It needs care when driving in the winter as the Sun doesn’t penetrate to the more sheltered spots and frost, wet mouldy leaves and ice can remain for long periods and occasionally never dry out or thaw for days on end. But where the view opens up and the sun plays over the trees and fields, the colours and shapes of the trees present excellent photographic opportunities. Even when it is chucking it down with rain, it’s still picturesque.

In the summer, the twisting roads make for a motorcyclists playground – the traffic is generally light to non existent (at least away from the main routes) and as Northumberland is a big county and sparsely populated, a good ride out is easily achieved. Beware though! As I said, the county is big, the population small and the County Councils budget for road signs is smaller again. So when you see a chevron indicating a sharp turn, they mean it! It makes me drive and ride like a wuss when down south - they seem to put such chevrons everywhere even when the bends are quite gentle. Soft southerners, I suppose.

The consequences of not taking notice of the warnings can be lethal – many of my favourite rides are over some lonely and rugged roads. If you crash (car or motorcycle, doesn’t matter) you may not be found for days. Don’t believe me? One of my friends is an aircraft fanatic and he flies a microlight over the moors looking for World War 2 crash sites. He has found a few which had not been touched for the last 60 years, complete with guns, ammunition and the bodies of the crew. He has letters from the U.S. Air Force thanking him for finding the crash sites and the chance to recover the remains of the aircrew. They return the remains back to the States for burial and it allows the families to lay to rest their dead. How you can "lose" a polished aluminium Flying Fortress is no real wonder. Vast areas of the moors are pretty much the same as they were at the end of the last ice age – deep peat bogs, purple heather and brooding hills with streams everywhere. The aircraft are quickly swallowed up and it takes a practised eye like Johns to detect them.

There are probably more castles in Northumberland than any 5 other counties. From Celtic hill forts through to Norman Motte and Bailey sites to full blown late medieval concentric castles. If you are interested in fortifications, you will be able to study every type including bastles and pele towers. These last two are fortified farmhouses built to protect the people from the Rievers – the tribal families on both sides of the border who engaged in cattle rustling, brigandry, murder, feuding and other assorted activities to keep themselves amused before the invention of TV. Looking at the bastles and pele towers from the point of view of a modern soldier they are still pretty strongly built and easy to defend. Only artillery or antitank weapons would make much of a dent in them. Local stories and legends abound about the Rievers and the various fortified dwellings. If you are interested in narrative poetry, some of the tales make for gripping reading. Most of them are in the Northumbrian dialect which will make it difficult for anyone who isn’t a northerner to understand. 96% of the Northumbrian dialect is based on Old Norse, Saxon and Celtic languages, not the French based language of the remainder of England. As you may guess, I’m interested in the local history and castles. I’ve visited most of them take the opportunity to examine any I find at every opportunity. Even if it is persistently raining and wet.

Sonias friend and her husband are good people and we spent a happy afternoon chatting, discussing books, setting the world to rights, looking at the birds in the garden (3 greater spotted woodpeckers, chaffinches, robins, pheasants, and various tits and dunnocks) and watching the buzzards with binoculars over the distant hills. The cushets (wood pigeons) didn’t like the buzzards but they were in no danger. There are far too many rabbits for the buzzards to bother chasing them.

Driving back through the dark, the night was clear and the stars were out in force. The Orion nebula was clearly visible even to my eyes – it’s not something a city dweller like me sees without the use of binoculars at least.

Sets you up for the week it does! But don't tell anyone - let the tourists howl up the A1 to Scotland and leave Northumberland to the discerning and the motorcyclists.

Friday, November 25

90 days and Police trust

This posting is somewhat belated as interesting things have been happening in my private life and circumstances haven’t allowed me the time to post on the events that have occurred since the last post and which richly deserve comment.

Sir Ian Blair is vigorously pushing for a 90 minimum period for detention of terrorists suspects. If this somewhat controversial proposal isn’t granted, our civilisation as we know it is somehow hanging by rotting dental floss over the abyss of chaos, doom and extinction. And Saint Tone of Sedgefield, (may he truly get what he deserves) ably backed up by the press, is warning that there is no alternative. Anyone who disagrees is a traitor and working with the terrorists to destroy the very freedoms that this legislation is intended to preserve.

As usual, I’m not exactly in agreement with this.

If, for example, I were suspected of murdering someone, based on preliminary suspicions I would be arrested and charged with the offence and remanded in custody until the trial took place. Which might be in six months time. This should give the Police ample time to assemble further evidence and complete their investigations. So if we apply the same principle to any terrorist suspect the Police will have, within existing legislation and procedures, as much time as they want to complete any investigations.

“Sir” (and I use the word advisedly) Ian Blair has somewhat undermined his case by (reportedly) saying as an aside in a press conference to justify the suspension of Habeas Corpus “Perhaps we should have asked for 4 months ..”.

This leads me to believe it is an arbitrary figure plucked out of the air and set in concrete. Not a shred of justification has been offered to back up this “requirement”. If the hypothetical murder case mentioned above required a DNA sample and the average time to process a DNA sample was 10 to 12 days, then I would not object to the Police requesting a time limit of (say) 14 days to hold someone while this evidence was being processed. It is based on a reasoned and justifiable delay. But no such evidence, reasoning or explanation has been forthcoming from either the Police or politicians. Instead, a strident and hysterical “But it is essential” mantra has substituted for dialogue and debate.

Of course, Sir Ian has an impeccable record of behaviour that reassures us that any such draconian powers won’t be misused. For example when The Met shot the Brazilian man, the immediate statement to justify this bore no relationship to the facts. According to the Police, he was wearing a bulky jacket, he was running from the Police, he vaulted a ticket barrier and stated with conviction by Sir Ian Blair. The truth was that he was wearing a denim jacket, he was behaving in a banally normal manner, picking up a free newspaper, using his weekly or monthly pass to go through the barrier and standing on the escalator to travel to the platform. His only “crime” was hearing the approaching train and running from the bottom of the escalator to the platform. And of course, no one ever does that, do they? And if it truly IS a crime, the death penalty arbitrarily applied by trained police “marksmen” is wholly justified and appropriate.

Following the assassination (and it would be hard to describe it otherwise) Sir Ian unilaterally decided not to pass any information to the Police Complaints Commission (PCC) as it was a “Terrorist” matter and that the normal rules didn’t apply. WRONG!! The PCC was set up to investigate exactly such police malpractice and it is not up to the Police to decide which complaints will be handled by the PCC. The breathtaking arrogance of simply deciding what is the law and what isn’t is no real surprise to experienced observers of the Police. The exact fine detail of the law isn’t something that the Police tend to bother with and if you don’t like it, you can take them to Court where you will be at a severe disadvantage.

I would have thought under the intense scrutiny that was inevitable following the incident, he would have VERY CAREFULLY considered his actions, but not a bit of it. The usual “Dixon of Dock Green” attitude was wheeled out and justification for the actions trotted out. It could have happened to anyone, really. After all, how many times over the last month have you accidentally got several of your friends to hold someone down and accidentally shoot them seven times through the head. Could happen to anyone, really …

But the three months period won’t be misused. It will only be used against little brown men with a fanatical appearance.

Hmmmm … political correctness will not allow this (and Sir Ian is the Politically Correct PC ) and any hint that this legislation is targeted at Moslems will be howled down. So who WILL it be used against?

You could look at Political Correctness Watch (http://pcwatch.blogspot.com/) for 19th October 2005 and see that a woman walking down a cycle path was threatened with the Terrorist Act. How about the last Labour Party Conference where the Police warned off people wearing T shirts stating in essence “Tony Blair is a tosser”? The gentleman who was slung out of the same conference by big, bad bouncers (it must have given him a twinge of nostalgia and taken him back to his youth when Adolf Hitler was employing the self same tactics to suppress dissent) could also be scooped up under the same legislation. He COULD have been part of a group dedicated to killing Saint Tone of Sedgefield. Safety is paramount …

Once you warm to the subject, the possibilities are boundless. The visit of the Chinese Prime Minister and the objectors lining the Mall (who again COULD be part of a group committed to freeing Tibet by assassination of the Chinese premier) could be conveniently harassed into silence. The G8 summit? NOW you are talking! Even this blog could be considered to be inciting terrorism, and therefore the Police could arrest me and hold me for up to three months without charge while they have the leisure time to pull my house apart and find SOMETHING to charge me with.

In fact what we need in this country is not more laws but less.

First off, discard the Human Rights act which is used chiefly by people like Abu Hamsa et al to remain here spewing their hatred and vitriol and to avoid deportation. I can’t think of a single sensible case brought under this legislation. It has benefited only Cherie Blair and the people who hate this country and the British way of life. It seems to be a particularly perverse and unnecessary piece of legislation.

Secondly, the various laws and legislation that permit anyone who sets foot in Britain to have full and unlimited entitlement to every benefit (plus access to an Army of highly paid “advisors” who help them to claim those benefits), plus housing, medical care etc. should be revoked. Beef up the process and rules governing the so-called “Asylum” process that would concentrate only on those people who truly are being persecuted and reject all the economic migrants. The intention here is to make Britain as attractive to any foreigner as (say) Saudi Arabia is to non Moslems. Let them prove their usefulness and commitment to Britain before they are entitled to settle here and contribute towards the benefits before they are allowed to have access to those benefits. If you disagree with this approach, would you run your own personal life in this way? Could I break into your home and when you discover me, insist that I am fully entitled to eat your food, use your home as my own and use your heating, water etc? Naturally I would not contribute a penny towards the resources I consumed. And if you object, can I invoke the multitude of “prejudice” laws and accuse you of being racist? This is the last resort of the Nazis – to make a totally unsubstantiated and unfounded accusation and without offering a shred of evidence, destroying someone’s reputation and denying them any opinion or right to justify themselves.

Thirdly, there is the entitlement to being called British. Let me take a perverse example. I feel very Saudi Arabian. I have no intention of converting to Islam. I can’t speak Arabic and again have no intention of learning to doing so. I enjoy a whiskey and love my bacon butties and pork pies. I have no intention to give up extra marital sex (Who am I kidding? Extra nookie for me is as likely to happen as electing an honest politician) and don’t want to wear traditional Arab clothing. But I feel very Saudi Arabian …

Any sensible person would question my sanity after that. However we have people who have lived here since the 1960’s or earlier who cannot speak English, live a lifestyle exactly the same as they have left in their Country of origin and have no intention of integrating into the British way of life and subscribe to the values of this Country. Arranged marriages and chain immigration ensure no possibility of relinquishing this lifestyle. This is perfectly OK. It is multiculturism (an oxymoron).

I agree with the view of John Payne who had definite ideas about what it as to be British. He did not consider a child born in Britain to be necessarily British. A child could not understand the responsibilities, duties and obligations that accompany the privilege. Instead, it was up to the parents and society to teach the child these responsibilities and only when the child was adult enough to fully agree and accept them were they allowed to swear allegiance to the State and be acknowledged to be British.

Similarly I would make it mandatory that only those people who have lived here and adopted a British way of life and subscribe fully to the values of this country would be allowed to become British. The ludicrous “Test” undergone by those who want a British passport would be scrapped. Third generation people whose grandparents and parents had lived here would be allowed to be British if they could demonstrate commitment to the country. For example, by serving in the Armed forces or being a Police officer and only if their grandparents and parents had not been convicted of any crime.

Harsh? I think destroying the vast majority (i.e. 56 million out of 60 million) of peoples rights and freedoms to accommodate a militant and hostile number of people (regardless of the precise number) living in this country is far, far harsher.

But I always was unwilling to give up freedoms and rights for something which is trumpeted as “safety” when patently the promise cannot be fulfilled. For real safety such as promised by our Political “Masters” and the highly politicised police try emigrating to North Korea. They don’t have problems with terrorism there. They have no freedom either but they are safe, surely? Except from their own Government.