Friday, March 30, 2007

Hairy women.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching Fuck Off, I'm a hairy woman on BBC Three last night. It was presented by Shazia Mirza a comedian who I enjoy performing. It concerned the issue of female body hair and made for a very interesting programme although my wife found it a little uncomfortable.

Shazia made a case for women not to remove their body hair and to simply let it grow. Her programme was refreshing yet balanced. It posed the obvious question, why bother? She challenged the cost and time involved in female body hair removal and the attitudes to body hair from men and women.

At the end of the programme I was given the feeling that women who allow their body hair to grow enjoy a freedom and confidence in their looks and sexuality. It was good that Shazia was able to encourage so many women to stand up and be counted.

I do not bother with daily shaving, I just cannot see the point of trying to turn back the tide. This is why my face has a beard, it is not a fashion statement, I just cannot see the point in daily shaving. I therefore cannot see the point in women going to great lengths to remove their body hair.

Not many women today are comfortable in showing their body hair. The minority who do, are refreshingly different and confident in themselves. To watch a programme like this was a bit of a turn on for me because watching the girls on the catwalk at the end of this programme looked so sexy and fit. These women looked real and ready for action, the male viewer would feel the models would give them a good time.

Well done Shazia Mirza for brightening up my evening's television viewing.
Bloggers read newspapers too.

Joan Smith in her column in my newspaper is having a right old moan about bloggers...

In a world where anyone with access to a computer can give an instant opinion, couched in intemperate or even threatening language, writing is rapidly being transformed in the public mind from a profession to little more than a typed form of speech. It is already having a disastrous effect on the status and income of professional writers, as we find ourselves under attack for continuing to assert the lasting value of what we do.

If anyone can write, and much of what they produce is either information or complete rubbish, it's no wonder that the public is losing respect for writers who spend literally years finding the right form of words for a poem or a novel. The act of writing is being de-skilled to a point where it is no longer regarded as work, and what follows is a demand that all written material should be available to anyone who wants it without charge.

In this pseudo-democratic universe, the novel that has just taken me nearly five years to finish has no more value than a blog that someone dashed off in 10 minutes. The sheer quantity of words available on the internet has prompted a false analogy with the enclosures of common land in the 18th century, in which novelists, poets and historians are cast in the role of wicked landlords.

People who argue that the written word should be freely available on the net, regardless of its origin, behave as though the world is littered with glittering sentences and paragraphs, occurring as naturally as semi-precious stones. But what they are demanding, in reality, is the right to roam in my brain and my bank account.

...Ok, Joan makes her points loud and clear. Now I will have my say on this issue.

Professional journalists are not the only people who should be allowed to publish and write. All people should have the right to freedom of expression and that includes the internet. In all walks of life there are people paid to do a professional job and others who do it themselves. Quality will vary tremendously with some of the professionals producing shoddy work and some of the amateurs producing premium work. I do not get upset when I do my day job and find that amateurs are providing the same service as I do for lower costs as I live in the real world. I cannot stop amateurs providing the same service as I do and neither can or should Joan Smith. It is not a right for the day job holders to stop other people from having a go.

Once writing is in the public domain it should be allowed to be reproduced. I have no objection to people reading my output for free and reproducing it. Some writers overvalue their output but there will always be a market price for any output. 70p for a copy of The Independent newspaper is excellent value but I know that there are very many capable journalists out there who could replace Joan Smith tomorrow, probably for less money and with the same high quality output.

Joan Smith should get real, she is not unique or indispensable. There are plenty of people waiting outside of the editor's door to replace her. She should be grateful for the job and salary that she holds down. Everyone should have the right to free expression whether they are paid for it or not. She has displayed professional jealousy and is coming across as a bitter old woman.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The cones of Hereford, a response.

Following my post yesterday, I was so annoyed at the delays caused by these workmen in Hereford that I sent an email last night to Herefordshire Council to complain. Their response to my email was extremely quick and I am happy to accept their explanations.

The lane closures were not authorised by the Council or the Highways Agency and were imposed at the whim of the contractors. When the council heard about the delays they contacted the Highways Agency and the situation was quickly resolved. I have no criticism therefore of the Council or the Highways Agency and I am pleased that they quickly talked these awkward workmen into line. Common sense prevailed in the end.

In the public interest I reproduce below the reply I received from Herefordshire Council...

Dear Stephen,

Thank you for your enquiry.

As you are aware the delays you experienced on the were due to traffic control having been placed on the 'ASDA' roundabout by contractors undertaking landscaping works at the site. These measures were instigated without the knowledge of the Council and in this case without the approval of the Highways Agency who are responsible for this particular site and both the A49T and A465T the roads that lead to and from this roundabout.

I have to make the point that it is the Highways Agency and not Herefordshire Council who are the Highway Authority responsible for these particular roads and the management of the works that take place on them. That said, Herefordshire Council as the highway authority for the non-trunk roads in the County and as the Local Authority clearly has a duty to represent the people of Herefordshire and those who travel through the County.

On being made aware of the problems being experienced, particularly on the A465T, I did call the Highways Agency requesting their intervention. As a result of this call the Highways Agency established, through their local agents that this work had been initiated without their full knowledge or supervision. Instructions to stop work and revise the traffic control arrangements were then issued at around 12.40pm. Following this action the traffic delay subsided.

It is regrettable that you had to experience such delays, as we had put into place many notification arrangements with the Highways Agency, their Agents and Contractors with the sole purpose of preventing such problems. Clearly these arrangements were ignored on this occasion, a matter that we have taken up with the Highways Agency.

In normal operation the 'ASDA' roundabout is now working well, particularly since the traffic lights system has switched to run on a system called SCOOT, which we run in partnership with the Highways Agency on this and a number of other junctions throughout the city.

In direct response to your final questions, the lane closure was unauthorised, it should have been by the Highways Agency, who, as a consequence will have provided the travelling public and ourselves with proper information/notice.

I hope this provides you with the answers you require, if you'd like any further information please contact myself directly.



Mr Clive Hall

Area Manager (Central)

Highways and Transportation

Herefordshire Council

Tel: 01432 260786

Fax 01432 261983

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The cones of Hereford.

I was travelling through Hereford yesterday morning when the traffic came to a halt in front of me. The traffic crawled and stopped, crawled and stopped for 35 minutes and having travelled less than 3 miles I discovered the cause of this traffic jam. 2 seperate Ambulances had severe difficulty getting through the traffic jam and I hope this increased delay did not result in a fatality. Where the A465 meets the A49 there is a junction controlled by traffic lights. 2 lanes of traffic move forward when the lights change to green but yesterday there was only 1 lane open to forward traffic. The right hand lane was coned off by landscape gardeners who were working on the island at the centre of this very busy junction. These workers were working on the soil of the island and had nothing to do with the road surface or kerb stones. Why had these workers closed off half of this busy junction?

I support the use of good health and safety practices in the workplace but in my view these workers were simply being awkward in closing half of this junction. 2 live lanes of traffic would not affect their safety whilst working on the soil in the centre of this island. When I cut the grass infront of my home I do not cone off the road as a precaution. When people walk along the pavement along a road where there are 4 lanes of traffic the nearside lanes are not closed as a precaution. Did these workmen get out of bed on their own or did the nurse have to take down the guard rails first?

This unnecessary and avoidable delay had many additional costs put onto businesses and users of public transport had greatly increased total journey times due the knock on effect of this traffic jam.

There is a trial going on at the moment regarding the failed terrorist attacks in London on the 21st July. Why should terrorists go to the bother of making bombs out of flour and hair bleach to make a protest? All they need to do to bring a city to a halt is to put some cones in a busy traffic junction and the city will very quickly grind to a halt.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Calling time on second hand smoke.

I went out with my wife and friends last night in Cardiff. None of us are smokers but like everyone we have to accept second hand smoke in enclosed public places. It puts me off going out for a drink having to put up with second hand smoke but not for much longer. There are now only 8 days to go before smoking in enclosed public places throughout Wales is banned on 2nd April 2007 . This legislation brings us into line with the legal situation in Scotland and ahead of England when it will be banned on the 1st July 2007.

This is very welcome legislation and has been a long time in coming. There have been complaints about the new laws but time will tell and it has worked very well in other countries. I welcome the new laws as it is one of my pet hates whereby a selfish few, all of them smokers, can make an evening miserable by their anti-social arrogance. I looked around the club last night and thought good riddance to those dreadful smokers for their time is running out. No more will our clothes stink of cigarette smoke when we go home, no more will we have to move seats in a pub or simply abort mission.

The public have put up with this nuisance of smoking in enclosed public places for too long, I wish the laws had been changed years ago. Why England is the last region to adopt smoking bans is beyond me and thanks should go to our Welsh Assembly for bringing in the new laws quicker than our neighbours across the bridge.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Daniele Mastrogiacomo.

Here in the UK we talk a lot about Health and Safety at work. Employees dream about doing other jobs if only their lives had turned out differently. I dream about working as a journalist roaming around the world and writing great newspaper articles. One journalist realised his dreams, the Italian by the name of Daniele Mastrogiacomo. One day his work turned decidedly nasty and it made me wonder just how bad man can be to fellow man. We sit here in the UK living in our comfortable double glazed and centrally heated homes paid for by stable, secure, safe employment.

In his own words that were translated and edited by Peter Popham...

The commander comes into the mud hut where we have been sleeping. He is beaming. "You are free, fly away!" He mimes an airplane taking off. "You're leaving in two hours. Get ready."

My six guards burst in. They shake my hand and slap me on the back. They hurl themselves at the padlock of my chains. The keys went missing in the desert. They take it in turns, trying to break it. I just watch.

My translator Ajmal's face is a picture of misery. Too many times we have been disappointed, then I scream at him saying that he's the one who is to blame.

But there is no reason why I should be angry with him. We were sold. His contact promised us an interview with a Taliban leader. It didn't happen. Perhaps the contact sold us as spies to the chief of one of the Taliban's two factions.

It wasn't an abduction, it was torture - psychological and physical, religious and political, existential; 15 days that have marked me like 15 years. Inside and out. In my depths, in my subconscious.

I stop the commander and say, "Let's talk man-to-man: you condemned me in the desert, before cutting off the head of that poor guy, and now you're letting me go. Do you think I'm a spy or a journalist?" He looks at me fixedly. He's not smiling any more. "A journalist," he replies. "No problem. You're free."

... I decided to go south, to Kandahar and then to Lashkhar Gah because this is where the Taliban are in charge and here you can touch the reality that others only talk about. This has always been my way of working: to see with my own eyes, to listen, to record and then to relate.

My Afghan colleague said that everything had been set up, that an interview was fixed for 11 o'clock.

We drive 1km out of Lashkar Gah with our driver and pick up a youth. He is wearing the traditional scarf that comes down over his eyes. I greet him, he doesn't respond. He indicates the road to take, a road of stones and gravel that meanders into the countryside.

We drive for 1km then stop. Three black motorcycles appear, carrying three boys dressed like Taliban with black turbans and grey robes. They are armed and block our path. They tell my companions to get out and they tie their hands behind their backs. They open my door and look at me. They make me get out and take everything we have - money, passport, documents, computer, watch, telephones.

I try to tell myself it's just a misunderstanding. They jab me with their guns. They tie my hands and put a blindfold over my eyes.

I have a terrible attack of claustrophobia - I've got to see the light. I manage to tear off the blindfold. I am struck on the back with the butt of a Kalashnikov. I fall to the ground. On my knees, I get another blow on my head. My blood soaks the blindfold on my eyes.

I end up with the others in a mud hut. They are all there, some 10 of them, they give us tea and tell us that we are under arrest for illegal entry into Taliban territory. They must verify who we are. If they discover we are spies they will kill us, if we are journalists (as we said immediately that we were) they will trade us for Taliban prisoners.

They buy some chain and bind me hand and foot. They share food and blankets.

They never let us go without anything - even the cigarettes I had succeeded in giving up for seven days. We stay for two days in a hole, sleeping on the ground, a brick for a pillow, eaten by fleas, the dirt encrusting on my body. I try to preserve my dignity, I wash frequently.

One day they tie my hands behind my back and bring me into a room where they are seated in a circle. One of them asks me about money, asks me what is in my computer. I tell him everything... They make me lie down on the floor and flog me with rubber tubing. Ten blows, crying, "Allahu Akbar [God is great]."

"Stop!" I scream. The man in front of me makes a sign of slitting my throat. They roll around laughing. I repeat, "Please, please"... my heart beats furiously. I am still alive but it's all much worse than I imagined.

We are on the bank of a river when the commander turns up. They cover my face, tie my hands behind my back, blindfold me and make me kneel. But I manage to see anyway. It was impossible not to look. It freezes my blood.

The driver has been missing for two days, kept in a separate cell. They bring him into the centre. The commander pronounces his death sentence, in the name of Islam. He says we were spies. That we must die. I see the driver seized by four boys, they force his face into the sand, they cut his throat then carry on and cut off his head. He doesn't utter a single death-rattle. They clean the knife on his robe, then take head and body to the river and let them go.

I sit there waiting, my legs trembling. I mutter something to the commander, ask him what's going on. I imagine being grabbed, having my throat slit, blood spurting from my arteries and soaking the sand, my body consigned to the river. Instead they take us and put us back in the jeep.

We arrive in a new jail in the middle of an opium plantation. Hundreds of kilos of opium are piled up in the warehouse, ready to be sold. We go to sleep breathing that air, heavy with narcotics, and I wake up feeling deranged. We stay there for two days, shooting my video appeals - seven different ones.

Then the last day arrives. I thought it was just the usual - hope and despair alternating. But this time it's true, they are going to set me free. The commander hugs me then whispers in my ear, "If God wishes, we will meet in Paradise."

We drive past the spot where we were abducted. This is the place, I'm sure of it. The tears pour out of me, bathing my dusty face, my two-week-old beard. I cry, finally I cry.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The new car.

The wife and I decided not to take any risks in running our Skoda Felicia 1.3 Popular after the clutch failure. We did our research and made a shortlist of suitable cars. We knew what we wanted, value for money and no unwanted extras. There is plenty of choice in the new car market with each model offering something extra. We looked at 6 cars on our shortlist with an open mind and then discussed the merits of each over lunch before deciding which model to go for. We then slept on the decision and felt the same the day after, so we decided to buy a Citroen C3 1.1 L.

We are very happy with our purchase. This car represents excellent value for money with Citroen giving a part exchange of £800 on your old car in addition to any discounts you can obtain from your dealer. The value of this price to change could not be beaten by any other manufacturer.

There has been a lot of thought gone into the design of this car. The car users are the focus of the desgn with it's tall seating positions allowing easy access for the less able bodied. The seats give good posture and the ride height good visibility. There are plenty of storage pockets which is great for the way people actually use their cars.

The bonnet is very small with little space not being used. This and the lack of a rear overhang makes the car very easy to park. The cabin space for driver and passengers is generous but there is no wasted space back and front. The whole body style is curvy, a classic jelly mould.

Driving the car is easy with all the controls light to use. Oil level is checked on the dashboard before you start the engine. The power steering is very light and was a big surprise from the Skoda's unassisted steering. The engine is very free revving and although it does not have the low down torque that the Skoda had, it spins so freely that without checking the rev counter you do not notice any difference in power. The gearchange is lighter than the Skoda but just as direct. Electric windows and remote central locking are a nice upgrade on our previous equipment level. Servicing intervals are longer with a welcome 20,000 miles or 2 years between routine services. Petrol consumption is 3 miles per gallon better and insurance 4 groups lower.

We are very pleased with our new car, it is very easy to live with. I will always wonder just why some people pay a lot more than us for a new car. You can pay a lot more money than we did for a new car and what do you get? Why pay more for a cramped interior cabin, a long bonnet with lots of unused space in it and extra luggage space that you will not normally use? We now have a car that we can use fully and that has no unused extras to be paid for.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

So where do I start...

An editorial starts...

The extravagant confession of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the chief organiser of the September 2001 attacks against the US, should be treated with a pinch of salt. First, it is unclear to what extent it was influenced by the torture (or in Dick Cheney-speak "harsh interrogation") to which he was subjected by the CIA after his capture in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, in March 2003. Second, as the independent 9/11 Commission report noted almost three years ago, Mohammed saw himself as "a self-cast star, the super-terrorist" of al-Qa'ida.

The news story includes...

In all, according to the transcript - impossible to confirm because both the media and lawyers were refused entry to the hearing - Mohammed took responsibility for 31 attacks and plots around the world.

My newspaper prints a transcript which makes interesting reading but a fuller transcript is available on wikisource . There is no need for me to copy and paste the transcript here.

What should the public believe? What is the truth? Why the secrecy?

All I can draw from this saga is a sense of injustice. There should be no secrecy, everything should be out in the open. The lawyers and the media should be given full and free access. Any trial should be a civil trial before jurors. Inmates at Guantanamo Bay should be charged or released. Information gained under torture apart from being immoral is unreliable. Victims of torture will say anything just to get the torture to stop. If his outlook within a justice system was grim then he may as well claim a distinguished career with all possible terrorist events and plans creditted to him. He clearly told his interrogators what they wanted to hear whether it was true or not. Terrorist plans could be just fantasy and this obscence tribunal has given them free publicity. The value of the transcripts is the same as fairy tales, useful to entertain children.

I think America will just talk this tribunal up to further it's war on terror. I do not think that America will take any notice of his claims that innocent men are in Guantanamo Bay and they should be released.

America does not like it's failings out in the open, as the Oxford coroner has demonstrated.

The world will not be a safer place because of these 2 tales of America's failings in delivering justice in this world.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Dressing for the part?

People normally dress for the part they are playing but not always. Sometimes people dress differently from the role they are playing in society.

Israel has recalled its ambassador to El Salvador after police found him drunk, naked and tied up with sex bondage paraphernalia in the garden of his residence.

The envoy, Tsuriel Raphael, identified himself to police after a rubber ball was taken out of his mouth, according to Israeli media reports. An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Zehavit Ben-Hillel, said he was removed from his post because of "behaviour that is unbecoming of a diplomat", and not because his activities were unlawful.

So, big deal, why sack the guy because of his leisuretime activities? It makes a lovely newspaper story but is not a threat to international relations. It just shows this guy is human and can have fun and party like the best of us! It puts a very different image of Isreal in the media that the usual whinging they achieve.

Another example of this not dressing the part is rioters. You normally expect rioters to dress rather scruffy and to look rough but not in Pakistan . Lawyers in Pakistan fought riot police and burnt pictures of President Pervez Musharraf yesterday as a row over his attempts to have the country's most senior judge sacked threatened to run out of control.

Several lawyers were seen bleeding from the head after police charged them during clashes in Lahore. Dressed in business suits, the lawyers tried to stage a march outside the High Court building, only to be attacked by baton-wielding police. Some of the lawyers responded by throwing stones at police. At least 25 people were injured, including 10 police officers.

The pictures in my newspaper showed smartly dressed men wearing suits and ties throwing stones and fighting with police, not the usual rent a mob of men dressed in charity shop clothes.

All this goes to show that you should never judge from appearances.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

What is it with identity?

When people look at the world around them they make judgements about other people and put them into pigeon holes. This stereotyping is very rough and ready. It is always the case of them and us. This does not help people live together easily and draws boundaries which are arbitrary. Yet this comes from not only ordinary people but journalists the world over.

Robert Fisk wrote on Saturday that ...

"Take the maps. Am I the only one sickened by our journalistic propensity to publish sectarian maps of the Middle East? You know what I mean. We are now all familiar with the colour-coded map of Iraq. Shias at the bottom (of course), Sunnis in their middle "triangle" - actually, it's more like an octagon (even a pentagon) - and the Kurds in the north.

Or the map of Lebanon, where I live. Shias at the bottom (of course), Druze further north, Sunnis in Sidon and on the coastal strip south of Beirut, Shias in the southern suburbs of the capital, Sunnis and Christians in the city, Christian Maronites further north, Sunnis in Tripoli, more Shias to the east. How we love these maps. Hatred made easy.

... Oh, if only these pesky minorities would go and live in the right bit of our imperial, sectarian maps."

Because people do not totally live in designated areas, they choose where to live for many different reasons. You cannot say that all the people in one particular area all practice on particular religion. All communities are mixed, one religion may be popular but that is all, it is just a statistical fact that would emerge with any population. This grouping only leads to more sectarian division which does not help anyone. It only increases ignorance and people can quickly become bigots.

Robert Fisk then mentions the current issue of Time magazine which has a guide to the Sunni-Shi'ite divide so that the reader can choose their good and bad guys. This is stereotyping of the worse type possible, we are talking about people not lambs infront of a butcher.

Then yesterday we have the column of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and she is moaning about the lack of non-white faces at the BBC...

"I have been moaning about this for nearly 25 years. First we were denied entry because of direct and indirect discrimination."

... but I have to disagree with her article. We are talking about television, a very over subscribed industry. Thousands of people want to get into television work, there are simply too many people trying to get in. The industry can only employ a relative few and this is done on merit and merit alone. To say that there are not enough non-white faces at the BBC is childish. What I and other viewers want is quality of the broadcast programmes, we do not care what the people look like. I do not think that the output of television should reflect the diversity of ethnic origins in the Uk. It is only television and is to entertain or inform the viewer. The skin colour of the people involved in the programmes should not matter. If I am buying any other product or service I do not check to see if that company employs a workforce that is proportionate to the ethnic diversity of our country. It is the product or service I am interested in, not the colour of the workforce. This is the same with television and newspapers. I do not care about the skin colour or ethnic origins of journalists, broadcasters and actors. It would not bother me having pale white skin, if all my television programmes and my newspaper was produced by non-white faces. It is quality I go for, not what the person looks like or what their ethnic origin is.

I wish people would not stereotype others and simply listen to what that person has to say rather than what you make think they represent. Do not label people because they can speak for themselves and who is to say that the label is the right one.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Smile, your on camera.

Here in the UK there are lots of people who take photographs. It is no big deal, they go outside and photograph things that interest them. They create for themselves some 2 dimension images, nothing more than capture images. Just like the countryside code, leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but photographs. There are loads of CCTV cameras recording our lives and here in the UK we have more surveilance cameras than any other country in the world. All our lives are caught on camera and although we moan about Big Brother we grudgingly accept that images are taken of us everyday. There is no right to privacy in our society and that is the way it is. Some people have hobbies where they photograph certain targets, targets that are of private interests. Bus spotters are just one group who take photographs of their targets - buses and coaches - who are no harm to anyone. Ask them nicely and they are very proud of their collections of photographs , it is their hobby. However our government is not happy at the public being able to take photographs in public at will and plans are being made to stop this innocent freedom. I am not bothered if people take photographs of me doing my day job or out and about with my wife and dog. What I do not like is the government restricting peoples' freedoms, these photographers are doing no harm. If we let our government ban photography in public, which is unnecessary, what will they ban next?

I and 44,944 other people have signed a petition on the 10 Downing Street website to oppose the plans to restrict photography in public places. If the government continues to chip away with our freedoms think how shallow our lives will become.

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