Sunday, August 30, 2009

Not your burnt out stolen car!

Here in the UK quite often in the countryside you come across a burnt out car. This car is generally found off the road and on grass. These cars are either destroyed because of insurance fraud or by criminal joyriders getting rid of their DNA from a stolen car. These grassy areas like Plymouth Great Woods in the Ely Valley of Cardiff, are often near council housing estates. When I walk my dog through Plymouth Great Woods and down to the Ely River I am surprised how many burnt out cars I find. Our council recovers these wrecks but before long other burnt out cars appear in their place. It is a continuing problem that has gone on for years. We have a regular Police helicopter that fly's overhead in an effort to catch the joyriders. So frequent are the helicopter flights that residents in my parents sheltered housing complex call it the Ely-Copter. Most stolen cars have a value of less than £2,000 - so the cost is big to the owner but small fry to the retail car business. To see £2,000 go up in flames is like a garden fire. Now, let's jump a few thousand miles and put the "vehicle" up to £40 million and rather than set it on fire, simply blow it up with explosives!...

...British Chinook helicopter destroyed in Afghanistan following crash. Nato forces in Afghanistan have been forced to destroy a crashed British Chinook helicopter to keep it out of the hands of the Taliban for the second time in 10 days. None of the 15 soldiers and four crew on board was injured in the crash, described as a “hard landing,” which is not thought to have been caused by enemy action.

But the £40 million Chinook sustained damage to its undercarriage, nose and front rotor, making it unflyable, and a decision was taken that it could not be recovered safely. Rather than leaving it for Taliban forces to obtain, the helicopter was destroyed using explosives. A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said that the decision to destroy rather than retrieve the aircraft was taken due to the difficult terrain and poor security situation around Sangin, where a number of British troops have lost their lives in recent weeks...

...Well, that is £40 million of UK taxpayers money simply blown up in a war in a country we invaded that was no threat to us. What a waste of our money, blown to bits rather than risk a Taliban fitter rob it for spare parts! Now, this breakdown should not have happened, I wonder what actually went wrong. I suppose the crew did their first use checks and found that the workshop had not resolved the defects that were previously reported. Next thing, the helicopter makes a hard landing! Oh well, it is the same the world over. What happens if a Bova Futura crashes because the gearbox brake retarder was not working? Oh, I suppose we could set fire to it at Parc Nantgarw !

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

deja dead by Kathy Reichs .

I really liked reading bones to ashes and I wrote on this blog...

I will be happy to buy another of Kathy's books because of the quality and detail of her writing.

...Well, I was in ASDA and I saw a boxed set containing 3 of Kathy's books for just £5. Great idea I thought, I could have a season of reading Kathy's books.

deja dead was her first novel that was published in 1998 and reissued in 2008. Kathy's books are written in the first person featuring Dr. Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist. If you like the television programme Crime Scene Investigation, broadcast in the UK on channel 5, then you will enjoy her books. deja dead is a 509 page workplace crime thriller about the tracking of a suspected serial killer. I consider this a good book with a good plot. There is plenty of scientific detail that is fully explained for the reader. The story goes into the many specialist fields that help the Police solve a crime. This is not just about bones which is the speciality of Dr. Temperance Brennan. This is an enjoyable read with a good ending that has all the loose ends tied up. deja dead won the 1997 Ellis Peters Award for Best First Novel and after reading this book, I can see why it had won.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The big pensions gamble .

Oh, the Maths are heavy and the questions are many. What am I to do about retiring in a shade over 14 years time? Our government provides a state pension and some means tested benefits but urges all workers to take out a personal or company pension. My employer has just started it's own company pension scheme that will be managed by AEGON Scottish Equitable .

The trouble is that nobody knows what may be coming to them in the way of pension when they retire. It is all guess work and there are no guaranteed figures. What the state pension will pay nobody knows. What means tested benefits will be available nobody knows. What company pension schemes will pay out nobody knows.

What most workers on normal money worry about is the possibility that they can pay into an additional pension scheme only to find that when they retire that additional pension offsets the means tested benefits. It is a worry that you could pay extra and on retirement find that you are no better off than if you had not paid a penny into another pension scheme. This is called the benefits trap.

So I did the Maths and came to a balanced decision. The saving for an additional pension is very tax efficient and there are options to take towards and after retirement. I decided to hedge my bets, although I am not a gambler. The best choice all round appeared to be to join the company pension scheme at the rate of 3% of gross salary under the salary exchange scheme, whereby my employer pays into the pension fund the National Insurance contributions they would have paid had I not joined the scheme. I think I have got the balance right in this difficult financial decision that needed to be made. Oh boy, the mental agility that I have done really made my head buzz!

Friday, August 21, 2009

And the lights go up, in Rochdale!

Town hall bosses were accused of going Christmas crackers today after putting up festive lights - four months early. Rochdale Council workers used a cherry picker and were bathed in summer sun as they began putting up the decorations on lampposts throughout the borough - more than 100 days before Christmas. They include light decorations of traditional Christmas symbols, including a giant Noel sign and Santa Claus, plus a penguin on skis. But the council say the lights have gone up early to celebrate festivals for other faiths including the Hindu festival of Diwali in October and the Muslim festival of Eid, starting on 20 September.

...Well, forget Christmas lights, Rochdale has party lights for a 15 week season! What is Rochdale, the Ibiza of the North? Joking apart, well done to the guys in Rochdale council for taking an enlightened approach to the lives of the community. People of all faiths should be allowed to celebrate their special times of the year as everyone pays the same Community Charges, regardless of your own religious beliefs. This is not political correctness gone mad but a simple case of giving people what they pay for. Let's party!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

WOW! no surprises here then!

The local bus sector is to be investigated over concerns that lack of competition is leading to higher fares for passengers, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) announced today. The OFT said it proposed to refer the £3.6 billion industry to the Competition Commission after finding evidence that the sector was "not working as well as it should".

The OFT also said there had been complaints alleging "predatory behaviour" by existing bus operators to see off competition from new entrants. In a quarter of all tenders for supported service contracts, there was just one bidder for the work, according to the OFT. It said the large national bus groups were of particular interest, as they represent around two-thirds of local bus service provision. But they do not operate in all areas of the country and there are fears of a "live and let live" attitude where national operators respect each other's territories to avoid the threat of retaliation.

...Laughing out loud! This has gone on for years and competition is only a veneer. Anybody working in the industry will tell you about the cosy relationship between operators that has always gone on. Managers meet behind the scenes and discuss the local market to arrange among themselves the most profitable way forward. Many operators exchange key line managers as they go about patting each others' backs. There are a lot of gentleman's agreements in place and they work together for their mutual benefit. Oh yes, the public face is one of fierce competition but the reality is very different indeed. One nationwide company even boasts about partnerships with competing companies who run services under one brand name! This whole industry is so sorted by the individual companies that no government can impose competition into the local bus market. No new company can succeed because the whole market is tightly fixed by the existing operators. The government is wasting it's time with a competition inquiry because of the way the local bus business will always work. There is no way around this issue because all local bus operators will find a way around the competition rules. That is a fact of business life and I think that Margaret Thatcher was well aware of this when she privatized the National Bus Company.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Stuff White People Like .

Stuff White People Like is a blog that takes satirical aim at the interests of North American "left-leaning, city-dwelling white folk". The blog, hosted by Wordpress, was created in January 2008 by white Canadian Christian Lander (graduate of McGill University in Montreal), and co-authored with his Filipino Canadian friend Myles Valentin, after Valentin teased Lander about his watching the HBO television series The Wire.

...I think this blog is a hoot! I find it really funny. Look at all these things that White People Like. I think that Christian Lander has his finger on the pulse and his satire is spot on. Although my politics are clearly "left leaning" I really appreciate the humour that Christian writes into his blog. I will not single out a particular post to comment on, the general flavour of his blog is easy to spot.

Friends know how much I celebrate diversity within our society but some people still do not get it, do they? There is a place for both tolerance and humour and Christian's blog demonstrates this. Some people just want to score points and will happily play the race card to get what they want. We should not be bullied by these tactics or worried by the report in the nationwide company's August newsletter by Neil Barker. As Christian Lander so nicely writes in his blog ...

Within white culture, your choice of transportation method says a lot about you. For example a Prius says you care about the Earth, a bicycle shows you REALLY care about the earth, and a bus shows that you are probably not white.

...So Neil, racism and intolerance is one thing but playing the race card to get a money-off voucher is another thing all-together and you should be clearly aware of this. Most drivers working within public transport are "left leaning" and have a sense of humour. We are not all paid-up members of the British National Party although some drivers may read The Sun. You have created a 2 class structure with your Funfares and this can result in the darker skinned passengers claiming discrimination at not being allowed to travel at other times. This is the problem you have created in the name of profit but the darker skinned passengers can and will catch on to this as they play the race card against us. Remember, all people have a sense of humour and a right to display this humour. Even Matthew, away from his canteen-culture humour, can enjoy the pleasures of the darker skin!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What was wrong with turning a blind eye?

A paramedic who was given oral sex in a hospital car park while on duty was today struck off. Married David Brammer was caught on CCTV with a mystery woman's head in his lap as he sat in the passenger seat of a car parked at Rotherham District General Hospital in June last year. Mr Adrian-Harris said Brammer, 53, had had oral sex while on duty and wearing his uniform.

Yesterday, security officers who saw a suspicious car in the car park said they focused a camera on the pair and saw the uniformed paramedic being given oral sex as he sat in the passenger seat shortly after 11pm on June 10 last year. They described seeing what looked like "a performance of oral sex" as the woman's head moved up and down while in the man's lap.

...So, what was wrong with turning a blind eye? Here we have 2 consenting adults quietly have a bit of fun. They were harming nobody and were certainly not imposing a security risk! I feel that the actions of the security officers in reporting this incident were mean and vindictive. Okay, keep the images and show them at the Christmas staff party so that everyone can have a laugh about it but certainly not put someone's job at risk over a bit of horseplay. Turning a blind eye and using canteen humour would have resolved this incident in most adult minds. Still, all around the UK there are security guards living a grim life on the National Minimum Wage who will try to make a name for themselves regardless of the cost to other people. Give some people a little power and a uniform and they will abuse it. Of course some security guards would love the chance of a blow job at their workplace but the actions of these security officers have blown their chances out of the car park!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What a whitewash .

Bowing to intense pressure across the internet and from literary enthusiasts, the US publishers of the latest novel by Justine Larbalestier, who writes for young adults, have agreed to change the cover design from a white girl to a black girl, to reflect the race of the central character. Bloomsbury Children's Books had sent out review copies of Liar, featuring a picture of a white girl with long, straight hair, even though in the story the girl, Micah, is African-American with short "nappy" hair.

According to Ms Larbalestier, the "whitewashing" of book covers is a long-standing and industry-wide problem. The use of cover shots of white people, the "ghettoising of books by people of colour, and low expectations (reflected in the lack of marketing push behind the majority of those books) are not new things," she told Publishers Weekly.

...This is bad and is an insult to all book readers. People read books because of the story inside and not the picture on the cover. The book I am reading at the moment has the picture of a padlock on the cover. It is a crime thriller but I would not have been influenced either way if it had pictured a male or female person of any skin pigmentation on the cover. What would have annoyed me big time is if it was a book where the lead character was depicted on the cover who showed no resemblance to the ethnicity of the character in the book. I feel that Bloomsbury had deliberately gone out to mislead the potential book buyer by featuring a white girl on the cover of Liar. For them to think that the book would sell better by showing a white girl on the cover is simply gross. For a reader to choose a book because of the skin colour of the person on the cover is also sad and this works both ways. The same also applies to the alleged gender of the author, I will not buy a book because it appears to have been written by a man or a woman.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie .

A tall, yellow-haired young European traveller calling himself 'Mogor dell'Amore', the Mughal of Love, arrives at the court of the real Grand Mughal, the Emperor Akbar, with a tale to tell that begins to obsess the whole imperial capital. The stranger claims to be the child of a lost Mughal princess: Qara Koz, 'Lady Black Eyes', a great beauty believed to possess powers of enchantment and sorcery, who becomes the lover of Argalia, a Florentine soldier. But is Mogor's story true? And if so, then what happened to the lost princess?

I bought this book because I enjoyed 2 other books written by Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses and Shalimar the Clown . The first impression I got from reading this 443 page novel is that Salman's writing goes up a league compared to other authors because of his writing style and extensive vocabulary. This story of a thief and con-man is told with a great sense of history and perspective that makes most adults appear to talk like 5 year olds. Salman is very good with words as he tells this story set in Hindustan during the dark ages.

I so much wanted this book to work for me but sadly it failed and I vote this book a MISS. This novel fails as a story as it lacks structure and rolls back and forth through time. This story did not inspire me, it is not a good mystery but a childish fairy tale told with adult words. It does not give me what I want from a book and I found it disappointing. In this book Salman is good with words but poor with story-telling. It does however, have a good ending, which I will not spoil for you. The story finishes really well and I will leave you with a quote from page 440 - this will not spoil the book for anyone but illustrates what good prose Salman can write...

But once he was gone, all he had thought, all he had worked to make, his philosophy and way of being, all that would evaporate like water. The future would not be what he hoped for, but a dry hostile antagonistic place where people would survive as best they could and hate their neighbours and smash their places of worship and kill one another once again in the renewed heat of the great quarrel he had sought to end for ever, the quarrel over God. In the future it was harshness, not civilization, that would rule.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The wearing of seat belts - part 2.

An anonymous reader of this blog left a comment on the post below last night...

Just let them get on with it, Stephen. What do your passengers expect for their lousy Funfare? To live forever?

04 August 2009 23:29

... Just in case you do not know how passengers can be thrown about like a rag doll because they were not wearing a seat belt, click on the video below...

It is the responsibility of everyone to take reasonable steps to protect their own health and safety. Caution has clearly gone out of this girl's head. It does not matter whether the passenger has bought a Funfare ticket or a regular ticket, the funeral director will charge the same fees.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Who was not wearing their seat belt then?

Coach drivers here in the UK have great difficulty getting their passengers to comply with the legislation and wear a seat belt whilst seated. The passengers simply ignore the spoken safety announcement you have just made over the microphone, ignore the written instruction on their tickets and the pictograms displayed on the windows.

This ignorance by the traveling public is not just limited to coaches though. At least 26 people were injured when a Continental Airlines jet hit "extreme turbulence" and made an emergency landing in Miami, officials said. The Boeing 767 had been travelling from Rio de Janeiro to Houston when it encountered trouble north of the Dominican Republic at about 0830 GMT. Passengers reported a sudden drop that threw some people against the roof. Four people were seriously injured, while the other 22 suffered bumps and bruises, a fire service spokesman said. There had been a total of 168 passengers and 11 crew on board, officials said.

...So then, 153 people had some common sense about them and wore a seat belt. What did the other silly 26 people think they were doing? It does not matter whether you are traveling down a motorway at 62mph or flying through the air at 38,000 ft, without a seat belt you can be thrown about like a rag doll. Seat belts are fitted for a reason, as these ignorant 26 people now know from their own experience.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Jihad with Facebook .

Facebook is a very popular social networking site, not just in the UK but also around the whole world. My workmates are on Facebook and some are more active than others. I have an account with Facebook and I have 36 friends. I am not a fan of Facebook and I only registered in case an 18 year old girl wanted to contact her father for the first time. So, there it is, Stephen is easy to find and he is not hiding in a cave somewhere with other men sporting beards.

Now, some men who do sport beards and who also believe in Islam are also members of Facebook. These men like to party in rather a brutal way, we are not talking real ale and burgers. Ziyad Yaghi, Mohammad Omar Aly Hussain, and six others are active members on Facebook and their interests are not real ale and garden parties. Click the link to view screenshots of the Facebook profile of an Islamic Extremist whose recreational interest is Jihad or Holy War.

These Islamic Extremists are quite open about their interests and beliefs. It is quite bold of them to advertise their Jihad on Facebook but there can be other doors that they can open. Remember the London bombings of 7th July 2005? Well, MI5 is facing questions over whether it recruited up to six al Qaeda sympathisers in the rush to find Islamic recruits in the wake of the worst terrorist attacks on mainland Britain for a generation. The Daily Telegraph has learned that six new Muslim recruits were thrown out of the service because of serious concerns about their pasts. Two of the six were said to have attended training camps in Pakistan where they could have come into contact with al-Qaeda recruiters. The remainder had unexplained gaps of up to three months in their curricula vitae.

The recruitment drive was signalled in January 2006 - seven months after the attacks - when MI5 announced plans to hire another 200 officers as their budget expanded, more than 70 per cent of these would be devoted to counter-terrorism. In May 2007 adverts started to appear on the London Underground, while MI5 - together with MI6 - organised for agents to give interviews on the BBC's Asian Network radio service to boost recruitment. Some al-Qaeda terrorists have claimed that they were approached by MI5 to act as informants. In 2007 it emerged that up to eight police officers and civilian staff were suspected of links to extremist groups including al-Qaeda. Some are even believed to have attended terror training camps in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

So, when you next go to a barbecue you could meet some very different people. These guys could have other contacts whose idea of a spectacular is a little different to beer and burgers with friends.

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