Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Tools of the job.

Ian Wallace drummer, songwriter, producer and engineer: born Bury, Lancashire 29 September 1946; twice married (two daughters); died Los Angeles 22 February 2007.

In a career stretching over 40 years, Ian Wallace played with the progressive rock group King Crimson and its 21st Century Schizoid Band spin-off as well as touring and recording with Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Tim Buckley, Don Henley, Alexis Korner, Alvin Lee, Steve Marriott, Graham Nash, Bonnie Raitt and Warren Zevon.

One of the drummers most in demand in the rock era, Wallace could play any style of music, from rockabilly to jazz, and demonstrated his versatility when appearing on over 100 albums by the likes of Badfinger, Billy Burnette, Larry Coryell, Rodney Crowell, Johnny Hallyday, David Lindley, Stevie Nicks, Roy Orbison, the Quireboys, the Traveling Wilburys and Ron Wood.

His obituary in my newspaper shows me a working man who used his tools to do a job. He would play any style of music in the same way that any bus, coach or lorry driver would drive any vehicle to any destination. He loved his job and it did not matter to him what music he played in his 40 year drumming career. He had a long list of employers which is a credit to his workmanship. Many musicians in the music industry work damn hard, year in and year out, without the recognition the front men get. I feel Ian was one of those musicians who could be relied upon to build a sound that became the backbone to successful records and live gigs. A true worker who did his daily job religiously and without whom the product would have failed in it's delivery.

On his website the diary page ends...

Thursday, February 22 2007

It breaks my heart to tell you all that Ian left us this morning. He slept through the night and was, to my mind, very comfortable. He was still fighting I asked him to let go and fly away...and he did.
What is it with mobile phones?

Yesterday here in the UK there was a change in legislation regarding the illegal use of hand held mobile phones whilst driving. This change in legislation and conversations with my work colleagues made me wonder just what it is with mobile phones.

People seem obsessed with mobile phones. They panic if they cannot contact someone straight away. Yet these conversations are often inane, the world would not stop if they did not have that conversation. The most popular conversation between mobile phone users is "where are you now?" and "ring me when you get there". Can these people not function on their own? Must all their movements be accounted for, is there any freedoms allowed today?

I stand away from the majority of people. A mobile phone is a tool to communicate with, a tool that I can use rather than the mobile phone controlling me. People jump when their phone rings, their lives ruled by a mobile phone. They drop everything they are doing to obey their phone. These people are not living a full life for they are slaves to their mobile phones. They allow this continual intrusion into their lives and think it is odd that people like me will not be ruled by a mobile phone and their obsession with being contactable.

Get a life, not a phone.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Free Kareem Amer

An Egyptian blogger was sentenced to four years in jail yesterday for articles published on his website.

Abdel Kareem Soliman, 22, a former law student from Alexandria who used the internet alias Kareem Amer , was convicted of inciting hatred of Islam and insulting the President, Hosni Mubarak.

Soliman was arrested last November, following a complaint by al-Azhar University, his former place of study and Sunni Islam's most important institution. He had referred in his blog to companions of the Prophet Mohamed as "terrorists", to al-Azhar as "the university of terrorism" and to President Mubarak as the "symbol of dictatorship".

Bloggers around the world must unite and lobby to free Kareem from jail. I am the 3,700th person to have signed the petition to free Kareem Amer that will be presented to The Egyptian Ambassador to the United States Mohamed Nabil Ismail Fahmy, The Egyptian Interior Minister Habib Ibrahim El Adly, The Governor of Alexandria General Adel Ali Labib, The United States Ambassador to Egypt Francis J. Ricciardone Jr. I am also the 2,365th person to have signed the Hands across the Mideast Support Alliance petition to Nabil Fahmy, Egypt's Ambassador to the US - Habib el Adly, Egypt's Interior Minister - General Adel Ali Labib, Governor of Alexandria - Francis Ricciardone, US Ambassador to Egypt - David Welch, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs - Ahmed Nazif, Egyptian Prime Minister.

Four years in prison is a disgrace, for nothing more than an alleged thought crime. Everyone in the world should have the right to free expression. Everyone should be allowed to stand up and be counted. Everyone has a right to their own opinion and should be allowed to blog about it. There is enough room in this world for the free discussion of ideas and people should be able to disagree with others in a civil manner. What has happened to Kareem can happen to others and if governments are allowed to squash free thought and expression then the world will become a Police state. All around the world politicians are reducing the freedoms of the citizens and this bad scene in Egypt could, if not corrected, spread around the world as most governments are sensitive to criticism.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Have they no shame?

Sometimes you read something in your newspaper that disturbs you. Something that creates a strong impression with you that lasts for hours and 8 hours later you are still thinking about it. Sometimes you just wonder what the world is coming to, just how bad things can get?

What shocked me today was the depravity of the act and the callous thought behind it. This was not one evil man acting on his own but a tightly knit, highly trained small group. This act against humanity cannot go unpunished and I hope that justice will prevail with very long custodial sentences handed out. There was the almost inevitable plea bargaining in this judicial process but this is far better than the initial spin that these crimes were committed by Iraqi insurgents. What made these men even think about committing these crimes in the manner they, have makes me shudder...

... A US soldier being court-martialled for raping a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and killing her family last March broke down in tears yesterday as he gave a graphic account of the unprovoked attack.

Sgt Paul Cortez, one of five men facing criminal charges for the atrocity, described how he and his comrades discussed "having sex with an Iraqi female" and then selected their target in such a way as to minimise getting caught.

He, James Barker and Steven Green had their eye on a farmhouse near their checkpoint in Mahmudiya, near Baghdad. They visited it before the attack and behaved so lasciviously around Abeer Qasim al-Janabi that she was sent to sleep at a neighbour's house. They made their move in broad daylight, when Abeer's parents and five-year-old sister were also home. Cortez told the court that Green took the three into a bedroom while Cortez and Barker took turns raping Abeer in the living room.

"She kept trying to keep her legs closed and saying stuff in Arabic," Cortez said. "During the time me and Barker were raping Abeer, I heard gunshots that came from the bedroom. After Barker was done, Green came out and said that he had killed them all... Green then placed himself between Abeer's legs to rape her."

Green shot the girl dead too, at which point the soldiers set her on fire. The fire prompted neighbours to contact Abeer's uncle, who discovered the bodies.

Cortez is the second soldier to be court-martialled. Barker pleaded guilty in November and was sentenced to 90 years. Both men struck a plea bargain whereby they escaped the death penalty in exchange for their full cooperation.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Basic skills.

Front page of my newspaper today is about bank charges for customers who go overdrawn on their accounts.

They can claim back some bank charges for unauthorised borrowing. Bank customers are entitled to claim refunds because under British law, lenders are not allowed to charge more than the costs they have actually incurred when processing instances of unauthorised borrowing. In its credit card ruling last year, the OFT said an unauthorised borrowing fee of more than £12 was almost certain to be illegal.

Many of these claims can be done with help from internet websites who even provide template letters and forms for the customer to use.

I have no sympathy with these people. Managing your own money is a simple basic skill that all adults should have before leaving school. All these people have been living beyond their means and want to spend money they have not got. I am canny and have always lived within my means. I do not pay any bank charges because I will not spend what I have not got. These people have decided to grab as much money as they can and the banks rather than refuse credit, have allowed this facility and charge fees accordingly. The banks have not forced their customers to go into debt, these customers just cannot manage their own money like sensible adults should. These customers would be livid if the banks refused transactions due to lack of funds but they whinge big time when they incur additional charges.

I wish these customers would simply grow up. They have entered into a contract with their chosen bank yet they want credit for nothing.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Congestion charging.

Tomorrow sees the extension of the London Congestion Charging scheme westwards to cover Kensington and Chelsea. This change has been brought about by Transport for London under the leadership of the Mayor, Ken Livingstone .

The charging period for this congestion charge is Monday to Friday from 07.00 to 18.00 - there is no charge on Saturday and Sunday. London is a busy capital city and works 24/7. It does not work office hours only and buzzes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This congestion charge is clearly a half measure, it will not solve congestion problems throughout the week only lighten them from 07.00 to 18.00 Monday to Friday. It is silly to have this congestion charge for only part of the week. There are 2 other problems with this extended scheme. There is a no charge through route that all traffic can use right through the centre of London which makes a mockery of charging in the central area. The A3220 forms a boundary route to this extended charging zone but although it is a red route, it is not a 24/7 red route. Because of parked vehicles the A3220 through Chelsea is very congested most of the week and traffic flow through the junctions is very poor. If Transport for London really wanted this scheme to work properly then they should not have gone for a part time scheme with a free through route and a part time red route network. The choice should have been all or nothing - not this silly half measure.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Fairies at the bottom of the garden.

In the newspaper today is the story that Jonathan Edwards will no longer be presenting Songs of Praise as he had lost his faith in God...

Jonathan Edwards, the Olympic triple jump champion and renowned Christian, refused to talk yesterday amid reports that he was questioning his faith and that his marriage was in trouble.

According to his official biographer in an article in a Sunday newspaper, Edwards, who became a broadcaster after retiring from athletics in 2003, has quit as a presenter of the BBC's Songs of Praise because he is no longer convinced of the existence of God.

To be at the centre of such a controversy is new territory for Edwards, whose transition from athlete to broadcaster has been seamless. An extremely wealthy man, Edwards was born the son of a vicar in Devon and once admitted that he was six years old when he first prayed "to accept Jesus into my heart". It was his father, the Rev Andy Edwards, who encouraged him to play sport.

...It is nice to read that Jonathan at the age of 40 has discovered that contrary to what he has been told over the years, there are no fairies at the bottom of the garden. It was nice that his father, a vicar in Devon encouraged him to take up professional sport rather than follow his dad into telling fairy stories. I understand just how easy it was for Jonathan to follow the faith, go to church as a social thing with his wife and become a presenter on Songs of Praise. It is so easy not to think for yourself and drift along with the consenus of public opinion and received wisdom. Thankfully the penny has dropped with Jonathan that there are no fairies at the bottom of the garden.

What amazes me is just how many grown adults who have not been brought up in an overtly religious family suddenly convert to a mainstream religion. Islam has gained many new converts and how the new believers can get rapped up in such fantasy is beyond me. I think these converts to mainstream religions have not thought things through and are simply clutching at straws. They must believe that there is safety in numbers and that so many people through the ages cannot be wrong. The trust they place in alleged sacred texts is legendary and that followers of other mainstream religions have it wrong because their chosen religion is the only truth.

Oh yes, there are fairies at the bottom of the garden, a tooth fairy, a Father Christmas and Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that it could launch in 45 minutes because our respected leaders of all sorts have told us so.

Thank goodness some people, now including Jonathan, can think for themselves rather than believe the hogwash put about by the establishment.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Asking the question.

Many companies here in the UK want their customers to complete a questionaire with the aim of getting the customer to identify any problems with the product or service that company provides. Most questions strictly relate to the product or service offered but some questions are simply irrelevant and an invasion of privacy. One particular Customer Service Questionaire that I have come across, from a company providing a nationwide service, has the following questions that do not relate to the company's product or service.

Are you? Married/living with partner OR single
Date of birth
Where do you live? Own home, Student accomodation, Renting, With parents
How long have you lived there?
What are your interests and hobbies:
Charities/Voluntary work,
Health foods,
Home computing,
Do you have access to the internet at home? No, Yes (Dial-up), Yes (Broadband).
Which newspaper(s) do you read? Daily, Sunday.

This questionaire is obnoxious and has the tagline on the front of...

Everyone is unique... tell us what you think

Well, I think you are a nosey bunch of people who wish to stereotype your customers into clearly defined demographic groups and then market this information to other companies. The questions above have nothing to do with your product or service and are taking the public for box ticking mugs. This questionaire is a blatant invasion of the customer's privacy and I think that any customer who fills out this whole questionaire fully and honestly, is a fool. The unthinking customer would have supplied their name and address together with their telephone number and email address. Why not go the whole hogg and put your photograph and DNA sample on this questionaire as well? Big Brother knows best which is why your questionaire will also be automatically entered into a prize draw to win some vouchers.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Sometimes you can't give it away.

I was shocked to read in my newspaper today a column by Oliver Walston who is a farmer in Cambridgeshire...

It all began back in 1984, when I asked Oxfam if they would be able to distribute 1,000 tons of wheat which British farmers had raised in response to the Ethiopian famine. Their answer surprised me. It was, in effect, "Thank you, but no thank you." They went on to explain that dumping grain into a Third World country would inevitably damage the local farmers. If, however, we were to offer Oxfam cash, which they would then use for development aid, they would accept it gratefully.

British farmers had just experienced the best harvest they, or their fathers, had ever known. And as if that were not enough, the price of wheat had touched £100 per tonne. Though they would never admit it, they were richer than they had ever dreamed possible. The obscene contrast of bulging barns in England and starvation in Africa made them want to do something more than simply write a cheque.

We eventually found a small charity, War on Want, which was run by a young man called George Galloway. Unlike Oxfam, they had no problems accepting the offer of wheat. Our first load of 1,000 tons actually arrived in Port Sudan before Bob Geldof had even thought of Band Aid. By the time the appeal ended a year later, we had shipped 12,000 tons of British wheat to Eritrea.

On one of my visits to Hull docks, where our wheat was normally loaded, I noticed another ship being filled with grain. I was told that this vessel had been chartered by Oxfam who, it seems, had eventually realised that in a famine it makes more sense to distribute food than to dig wells.

Nearly a quarter of a century passed, during which time George Galloway dressed up as a pussycat, Bob Geldof became a national icon and Oxfam reverted to its traditional function of helping the poorest people on the planet.

As I lay in my bath a few weeks ago, I had a eureka moment. The price of wheat had recently risen one third to £90 per tonne and, as a result, most arable farmers in Britain were feeling slightly more relaxed than they had for the past decade. Maybe now was the time to ask them, once again, to share their prosperity with less fortunate farmers in Africa.

The campaign would be called Oxfarm and would involve my fellow farmers and no paperwork whatsoever. When the farmer sold his wheat he would simply utter the magic word: "Oxfarm" to his grain merchant, who would deduct the price of one tonne and send the cheque to Oxfam.

The same system would apply to livestock farmers and would enable auctioneers to deduct an amount after an animal had been sold. Our only condition would be that the resulting money would not go into Oxfam's general funds but would be ringfenced and used on a specific agricultural project which they would select.

But this time there was to be a wrinkle, about which I was inordinately excited. The supermarkets of Britain today have a distinctly uneasy relationship with farmers. The reason is because their economic clout is out of all proportion to that of the farmers and growers who produce the meat and vegetables.

As a result, the farmers feel faintly resentful and the supermarkets faintly uneasy. It occurred to me that, because of this angst, we would challenge the supermarkets to match whatever funds the farmers gave. If they accepted and all went well, I estimated that we might possibly raise £2m in a year.

This time I knew that Oxfam would be enthusiastic, since we were proposing precisely what they had insisted on all those years ago. No nonsense about tons of wheat; this time we would give them cash to spend on development aid. Which is why I was so optimistic when I e-mailed Oxfam with the proposal.

After a few days the reply came in the shape of a telephone call. The answer was eerily familiar: "Thanks, but no thanks." Their reasoning was as simple as it was surprising. They were unwilling to accept any money from supermarkets and thus, with great regret, they had to refuse my offer.

Had I challenged the crack cocaine dealers or the child pornographers to match the farmers' funds, I could, perhaps, have understood Oxfam's refusal. But to suggest Tesco and Sainsbury and Waitrose are so tainted that any money they provide is dirty money is unjust, unbelievable and (if you happen to be an African farmer) unhelpful.Meanwhile, Oxfam preserves its purity and the Third World pays the price.

...Well, well Oxfam , your attitude has really annoyed me and probally loads of other readers. What right have you, as a charity, to play God with peoples' lives? It is fine for individual consumers to make their own moral judgements as I do all the time but to act in such a manner whilst being a collective charity is disgraceful. I think your directors must be thinking with their heads up their overpaid backsides. Next time I donate things to a charity shop it will certainly not be to Oxfam. Farmers have a reputation for being tight with their money but Oxfam as a charity are just being pompous. Tell that to the people in Africa who will die this year from the simple lack of basic food.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Mr Clutch.

Driving along in my Skoda Felicia last week and all of a sudden the clutch pedal felt different and I could not engage 1st or reverse gear whilst stationary. I bought a new clutch cable from my local Skoda dealer for £15 but this did not cure the problem. The only thing it could be was a faulty clutch assembly. I rang my local Skoda dealer and they quoted me £252 for a replacement clutch. I looked on the internet and discovered Mr Clutch, whose local franchise quoted me £175 for a replacement clutch. That is a big saving on main dealer prices so I went along to our local Mr Clutch franchise who did a prompt and efficient job. My Skoda Felicia now feels like new with no problems selecting gears whilst stationary.

I am very happy with the price and service provided by Mr Clutch. I am very dissappointed with the clutch failure on my Skoda Felicia 1.3 Popular, as it has only covered 71,000 miles. For a clutch to fail in such a short mileage is bad as I expect a clutch on a car which is driven properly to last the life of the car. I have never had a clutch fail on me before, so this is a first and it leaves a nasty taste in my mouth. It has put me off running this car for as long as it is economically viable and I am considering changing my car for another model from another manufacturer.

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