Thursday, 31 May 2007

The perpetual, pervasive evil of Disney

I've always jokingly blamed my romantic ideals on Disney. Prince Charming always turns up and everyone lives happily ever after. If only life and love would go so smoothly....

I grew up on a Disney diet of singing animals and fantastic twadle but as a kid I loved it and as an adult I still appreciate a good fairytale. I can, of course, seperate fantasy from reality and could do so as a child. Disney movies sparked my imagination but ultimately I knew they only existed on the television screen in front of me.

Thanks to my upbringing I also regarded my elders as my betters, even if some of them were grumpy and smelled funny. Now, all grown up, I know better - some old people really are rather insipid, mean spirited and stupid.

American academics at Brigham Young Uni, Utah, have found that a significant minority of Disney movies portray older characters as bad tempered, silly, mean and evil. The tenuous link is there, they argue - Disney characters foster negative images and make kids think old people are bad...

Well, they might make children think some old people are bad/mad/thick, maybe...

What a waste of academic resources, time and energy. People have been banging on about the stereotypical format of Disney films for years, perhaps parents would prefer a couple of dancing gay Chiuaua's in the next movie, or something...

All this controversy has got me reminising...There really were some great old Disney films (not to mention the new souped up Pixar offerings, which are stunning). Check out The Sword in the Stone...."impudent piece of crockery!".

Smoking rant

Around 10 million of us smoke, not to mention those who satisfy themselves with the odd fag down the pub or who down-right lie about their habit.

I'm sure you're aware, as the 10 million painfully are, in a months time it will be against the law to smoke tobacco in public, enclosed and work spaces in England. And boy has there been a lot of noise over the issue - its the civil liberties of the minority vs. the health and prejudice of the majority.

I use the word prejudice in conjuncture with non-smokers because many have no understanding or sympathy for the addiction. Yes, its disgusting and dangerous and non-smokers just can't see how the smell, the taste and the physical harm it causes the smoker and those around him, is worth it.

Its not worth it of course, its an addiction. Smoking sucks but it becomes hard-wired into the smoker through conditioning. The psychological impact of smoking is immense, the ritual itself becomes a mental sanctuary to be cherished, whether rolling a cigarette or feeling the smoke hit the back of your throat and the (albeit rank) taste spread through your mouth.

And giving up is no picnic. Non-smokers have no idea what the cravings feel like. They're bloody awful and many never manage to make the mental break with smoking, its an itch, untouchable, under the skin.

Pity the smoker. Don't pay for his medical bills.

I'm not particularly bothered with the blanket ban - it'll be lovely for non-smokers of course and they are the healthy majority. Hopefully smokers will be moved to stop as a result. Mind you as an infrequent smoker (still an addict, I know) I can't help feeling marginalised and think its a real shame that people will no longer be privileged (its not a right, of course..) to enjoy a pint and a smoke down the local. But the ban was inevitable and smokers will deal with it.

NICE's proposal that the NHS pay for a new anti-smoking drug is appalling. Smokers are an obvious drain on the health service but I do not see how Champix will make a discernable difference, at the expense of the swelling number of cancer patients who can't get help on the NHS (thanks to NICE).

The drug's performance is also questionable, with only 20 per cent managing to break the habit in the long term after taking Champix. Surely, it will also carry with it a number of horrid side-effects.

As stated, smoking is psychological issue, if you don't really, really want to stop, you won't. No wonder pill will reprogramme you. And if you do want to stop, fine, try Champix, Zyban, NRT, go cold turkey, whatever you feel will help. I see my goal to banish smoking from my life as a personal quest. No one forced me to smoke in the first place and the addiction is my problem. I greatly appreciate the support of my non-smoking friends, though I neither want nor expect anyone else to foot the bill for my stupidity.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Good service

Apparently there's a global shortage of butlers and the most sought after professionals are the English.

Butlers - or household managers as they are known - are becoming increasingly popular amongst America's rich, where their English charm and capability is desirable. The average English butler earns £30,000 at home, whereas US salaries range up to £250,000 or higher. Who knew...

The story reminds me of the kitsch '80s movie, Clue (a whodunit based on Cleudo).

Tim Curry's Wadsworth gets asked by the blustery Colonel, "Who are you?"

"I'm the butler, sir", he stoutly replies.

"But what do you do...?"

"I butle".

He he...

How to be good

ASBOs and ABCs..urgh, I'm getting sick of government acronyms and remain unconvinced as to their powers of conversion.

Acceptable Behaviour Contracts, ABCs, augment ASBOs, they have no legal status but let repentant oiks show how keen they are to adhere to their court order.

Now if you get done for shoplifting, nothing gets done to you. Someone commits a crime, they don't get arrested for theft, oh no, and now they don't even get a fine. Those guilty of petty larceny will soon be able to aviod any sort of punitive consequence by signing up to a six month ABC with their local constabulary. If they behave for the period of the contract, they walk away unpunished. The same goes for vandals and disruptive drunks who will be able to enter into an ABC.

Not surprisingly, retailers are livid.

Theft is, of course, anti-social behaviour. But nicking a telly is a more tangible offence than being a noisy neighbour - surely the wrongdoing is obvious, both God and the natural law prohibit it.

Kevin Hawkins, of the British Retail Consortium, expressed his anger at the plan to promote ABCs amongst thieves. He said: "We're all under an acceptable behaviour contract, that's what being a law-abiding citizen means."

Hear hear. We all adhere to a social contract with our governors and fellows and are privileged to have a liberal, democratic one. Perversely, none are so privileged as the offenders in question, who show a complete disrespect for society. The Labour nanny state is sometimes referred to as Draconian and overbearing, not so here, this measure seems like pure laziness.

Draconian would be imposing national service on criminals. Ah, one day...

We all appreciate that anti-social behaviour needs to be delt with. I actually think ASBOs are good in that they bring the perpetrator to the attention of his community, however what good are they as a real social sanction? You know that bloke down the end of the road has an ASBO, does he give a damn that you know? Nope, he's proud of it...There's no reaction. Without punishment - be it social shaming, incarceration or a monetary fine - how can there be limits to what is and isn't acceptable?

The Home Office website explains that: "The aim of an ASBO is to protect the public from the [anti-social] behaviour, rather than to punish the perpetrator." There you have it. Be good, or else.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Phyric Patricia? - new NHS figures

The good news: the NHS is in the black, the bad news: Patricia Hewitt is still employed and dictating health care policy, though, happily, I think her days (in the role) are numbered...

Last year's cutbacks were recognised as a necessary expedient. State health care was springing deficits all over the shop and Hewitt threatened to resign if she could not pull the monolithic service out of debt. Well done Ms Hewitt - wards have closed nationwide, minimum waiting times are imposed on patients, around 25,000 staff have lost their jobs and we can't pay our nurses or even employ our doctors - but its a victory for government penny pinchers.

The NHS was £547m in deficit last year. Now it looks to have gleaned a £500m surplus (official figures due next month). Though I have to ask whether the loss of jobs and resources will prove worth it. Do we all feel the health service is running better (if at a slightly cheaper rate)? The doctors don't. It'll be interesting to see how Ms Hewitt's sucessor deals with Department PR.

The medical profession - understaffed and underpaid - is unimpressed. The acting chairman of the BMA, Sam Everington, believes recent cutbacks, "have impacted adversely on patient care." Right, so we've saved a bit of money but service has suffered.

But the squeeze is still on and hospitals who have made hefty cutbacks are unable to claw back some of the underspend. Instead they are being asked to make more savings to help compensate for less economical counterparts. What a hoot.

A spokesman for the Department of Health explained the difficulty of breaking even: "Trying to balance the books perfectly is like landing a jumbo jet on a postage stamp. It's hard to come in bang on zero."

Mm...jumbo jets are quite good at landing in the right place, their pilots know the flightplan and their onboard computers tend to work....What a silly analogy. I think we'd all like a bit of sanity along with some solvency.

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Pillaging pensioners and thumb screws...

74-year old Robert Newnham faces the next five years in jail after holiding up a Dorset building society. His justification for attempting to make off with £1,000 was that it was simpler then filling in the relevant documents to claim his state pension. A likely story.

Social security forms are by no means user friendly, though after a short time spent double checking your persoanl history (already on file somewhere anyway) and tracking down those long lost premium bonds, he could have been entitled to a little over £50 a week.

A mere grand, what was the man thinking?

He's hardly setting a good example, our prisons are full of enough opportunists as it is.

Free attraction entry for Asbo holders....any one of of Britain's thousands strong Asbo brigade can now tour the London, York and Edinburgh dungeons, the only charge being a little public humilation. Once admitted they will be identified to other visitors and sentanced to far so good. Asbo holders get shown a range of torture implements and try a simulation of the gallows...

Meanwhile every other punter has to pay £8.95 per child, £19.95 per adult, for admission.

The scheme is being portrayed as "a punishment", helping criminals to realise the consequences of their behaviour. Um, what consequences are these exactly...?

MPs have rightly protested at the "inappropriate" nature of the scheme. Dungeon spokesman Scott Williamson replied: "The dungeons are essentially educational attractions. I'm suprised that the MP's have taken the time to comment".

So now we're using educational experiences as punishment for ne'er do wells? Great message, whatever it is.

A memorable farewell - so long Two Jags

The cars, the women, the croquet....where's the harm in a little Caribbean jaunt?

The past week has seen very little of our esteemed leader - er, both of them - in the news, but never fear, where there's editorial space to filled John Prescott often delivers.

The Deputy Prime Minister, who's only professional role is to fill in for the magical, vanishing Mr Blair, has been off to the tropics to talk about slavery, enjoying a week of some of the best hotels and hospitality the US and Caribbean has to offer, with his press team and muscle along for the ride. Charge to the tax payer; an estimated £50,000.

Ostensibly the visit was for the purpose of...oh, um...that's right, a farewell tour to the America's, including meetings with dignitaries and a few lectures. According to the Telegraph's sources, Mr Prescott has had to work quite hard to fill his diary, with little thought about either his domestic reputation or even the content of his speeches. "This should have been a useful visit", lamented one Foreign Office source - Prescott could actually have made the effort to discuss hard issues, instead of getting his minions to disseminate fluffy press releases to the locals.

But why bother when you've come to the end of the road?

Prescott did his bit by discussing the history of the slave trade and the seminal activism of American greats, "Martha Luther King" and "Abriam Lincoln".

Maybe we could have the George W and John "speech-off" - see who comes out with the most coherant soundbite. Or not.

Friday, 25 May 2007

But it's so pretty....

Some good news for grunts sick of playing Where's Osama? in the Afghan hills...Robo-moth is on the way! The super-clever bods at the US Department of Defense are to begin engineering the first combat cyborg - a moth lava implanted with a microchip, so that when the insect has fully developed it's nervous system can be controlled by a remote control, the idea being to flutter into the enemy camp and transmit back (see also: Bart Simpson, "Nobody suspects the butterfly"...heh).

Now that is cool.

Bet they have some teething problems though, I can't help being a little sceptical about total artifical control...nature, as they say, finds a way...

What happens when someone turns on a light? Zzzp!

Legal stuff and a bit of Puff

The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, has indictated possible changes regarding media coverage and Contempt of Court legislation. Though never having sat on a jury, I think the (sensible) relaxation of Contempt law would be a good thing. Though they often have to be treated as such, the "twelve good men and true" are not stupid.

Presently any publication that presents a "substantial risk of serious prejudice" to jury members involved/due to be involved in active proceeding is in contempt. This includes general comment on the trial and topical articles that may be relatated to the events under scrutiny.

Lord Goldsmith will look into the attitudes of domestic jurors on the back of international findings which show that the public are not easily swayed by press coverage. You don't say....As it stands Contempt law has to assume that jury members are impressionable.

This is speculative but as a 'right minded' individual with an ingrained respect for the British legal system (regardless of my media interests), I imagine most people like myself, if called for service, will be more concerned with the job at hand (wigs, rhetoric and the triumph of justice seems far more compelling) than scouring the papers and cross referancing court reports.

Lets see what our researchers come up with.

We're a nation of binge drinkers, pie-eaters, social disfunction, noisy neighbours, unhappy children....and hippies. Depending on your view, noughties Britain is materialistic, apathetic and disrespectful, though according to a recent poll the '60s ideals of peace, love and understanding are flourishing....bloody hippies...

A Reader's Digest survey found a high level of political dissatisfaction, dope smoking and sexual openess. What a shocker.

I was, however, quite surprised that 79 per cent of those asked could recall the lyrics to Puff the Magic Dragon...he he....That's an achievement, rock on.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

A Rubbish Request

Much has been reported recently about the legislative bickering over the existing Freedom of Information Act - Good. Labour should be ashamed of themselves. Our MPs and officials are taking the mickey with this one, the restrictions and stipulations that are being proposed will undeniably reduce the transparancy and accountability of public bodies.

Richard Thomas' argument that the scope of FOI leads to frivilous and time consuming requests (from both press and public) is certainly true, however I don't believe that this justifies the arbitrary classification (and rejection) of requests. Tony Blair's make-up costs are cited as an example (the PM spent over £1,800 on cosmetics over eight years), a figure that pales in comparison to the millions spent on such cultural imperatives as the Millenium Dome et al, but it is nevertheless an item of public interest (and didn't Tone look smashing..)

Ok, these requests are silly, they're put in to sell papers but the process they illustrate is important. The thought that the press will soon be prohibited from investigating the cost and conduct of MPs is sickening.

An FOI request has revealed that some local governments are set to use microchips to track 3 million dustbins. Boo hoo. Here, I believe, is an example of a pointless FOI request.

Yes, this is another sign of our governors operating below the radar - not good practice I agree - however bin tracking is effectively used abroad and it is ultimately for the good of the planet.

Whatever you think about the hygeine of weekly collections or the reality of global warming, we, as a nation, have to recycle and are being forced to do so - deal with it, start recycling. Once we pull our socks up, councils may reconsider their policy but for the moment desperate measures are called for.

A gang by any other name

According to the OED:

gang n, a band of persons acting or going about together, esp. for criminal purposes.

According to the Telegraph yesterday, government youth workers say that the term "gang", used to describe groups of young people hanging around outside, whatever their activities, is "not appropriate" as it is used indiscriminately and - get this - is both a distasteful and sort after label for young people.


I'm 21, long out of touch with youff culture but what's wrong with calling assemblies of people, congregating together for social and/or criminal reasons, a "gang"? Ok, we could use band, clique, crew or any manner of synonyms but why? So we can pander to these silly officials? A gang's a gang! It's a descriptive term, not a derogatory one.

The idea that the word - in referance to violent, organised criminal gangs - has such a psychological pull on young people, does not wash with me I'm afraid.

When I was younger adults called me and my group of girl friends a gang - on hearing this we resisted the urge to go out and start fights or steal lunch money.

I realise the issue is a serious one about the relationship between youth culture, social development and crime but what is new terminology going to achieve?

In the following article, the Telegraph reported on the light sentance recieved by a bunch of Norwich men who attacked two immigrants.

The first paragraph read: "A High Court judge's decision not to send a gang of drunken men to prison for beating two migrant workers has so appalled police that they are pressing for an appeal of the sentence".

Er, help....I'm a bit shady on what is meant by gang....(see above)

Right, on to Tory education policy, or lack of it....

The Conservatives have been enduring their "grammargate" recently and calls have been made for the party to outline a clear manifesto for education and schools. Along with promoting charter schools, David Cameron does advocate more ability streaming in the classroom and promises, "zero tolerance" towards bad behaviour.

Are the Tories nicking Labour soundbites to help get their message across or because they have no message?

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

HIPs and Heath Ledger

Home Information Packs? What are they then...? Nobody seems quite up to speed, especially not the the powers that be who are currently back-tracking for all they're worth...

Well, don't look at me, I've got no idea. To make make house buying easier everyone who puts their property on the market needs an HIP, costing anything from £600+. They were mandatory as of next week. Now you don't need one for a couple more months. And only if you own a house with four rooms or more (and your estate agent isn't didling the spec), however there aren't enough people to carry out the required surveys and the scheme with come into force for all homes but nobody knows when...

Confused? Run for Parliment, why not?

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly yesterday announced a delay to the rollout and admitted that the necesaary Energy Performance Certificates do not have enough people to issue them. The government is going to great pains to stress the importance of these carbon quotas as a way of combating climate change, however who's going to read them (and really make the changes)? Our approach to recycling and emmissions management needs a serious kick up the arse but are HIPs going to prompt action on the domestic front? I doubt it....David Cameron's windmills were easier to get to grips with...

The packs are a good idea but like so many government schemes, they have been overseen by some Whitehall numpty with blinkers on - frustrating the professionals (who are currently arguing their case against HIPs in court) and disengaging the customer (sorry, public) with climb-downs, confusing press releases and the absence of any useful information.

Lighter note; I am seriously excited (only one year to go...heh) about the journo flick How To Lose Friends and Alienate People, about NY hack Sidney Young - starring Simon Pegg (~drools~), Kirsten Dunst, Gillian Anderson and Jeff Bridges. Something to look forward to - along with The Dark Knight, check out the chilling pics of Heath Ledger's Joker online. eep.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Chelsea Kharma and Parish Life - abridged

So I have learnt another lesson....always assume the worst and save, save, save, so when your pc crashes in the middle of an epic post your sanity can be retained...

Just wanted to bring attention to the irony of Chelsea's first Chinese garden, currently under fire for its bad feng shui positioning...are Buddhists and Chinese people offended? I doubt it, they're far too laid back, its not their garden after all. In my ignorance I propose they chuck in some more chimes and mirrors and job's a good un.

Trumpington (near Cambridge) is up in arms against its modernising incumbent Rev Tom Ambrose. He now faces the sack after a select "old guard" of sanctimonious sticklers took umbridge to Mr Ambrose making life easier for his choir, improving the heating in St Mary and St Michaels Church, and installing new loos. Legal fees look to cost around half a million if Ambrose appeals against the decision of the ecclesiastical tribunal he is to face in the coming months. What a great move for the reputation and evolution of Anglicanism to get the hump because an innovative cleric is doing his bit. Dumbasses.

Chelsea Kharma and Parish Life, yup more of the same

Wahey, well, my education continues - this very clever programme saved my draft (I'm technologically challenged, did you guess?). Now I've retrieved it I might as well put it up.

What a charming irony - Chelsea's first Chinese garden has come under fire for its bad feng shui positioning.

Lesley Bremness' garden features a dragon facing in the wrong direction and an incorrectly labelled Buddhist statue, placed too close to the ground. In her defence, Miss Bremness cited logistical changes on behalf of the RHS.

However, the powers that be are not impressed: "We will take a dim view if there turns out to be any lack of appreciation of Chinese culture and respect for Buddha."

Whatever the official outcome, I'm having a hard time imagining hoardes of indignant Buddhists and Chinese racing to London to level the offending plot - they're too laid back to care, its not their garden after all.

In my ignorance this just looks like yet another silly, over cautious example of political correctness. Chuck in few more Bagwas and bamboo and job's a good un.

Cambridgeshire villagers have entered into all out war with their vicar because he made life easier for his choir and wanted to improve heating and install new loos.

Oh dear. The unhappy parishoners of Trumpington, outside Cambridge, are taking Rev Tom Ambrose of St Mary and St Michael Church, to an ecclesiastic tribunal as a result of his modernising policies.

In order to avoid the sack, Mr Ambrose's legal fees (covered by his parish authority) could rack up to £150k and if the Trumpington case gets to appeal charges could escalate to around half a million, lawyers have argued.

Mr Ambrose and his supporters have identified an "old guard" of belligerant litigants, determined to oust the medling 60 year-old cleric from his seat. Despite stringing up their incumbant and diocese (who will be footing the bill for the aformentioned legal costs) and garnering plenty of media attention to boot, these stalwart sticklers refuse to enter into the limelight they have created. Scared are we...?

Anglicanism has enough trouble evolving with today's society as it is - how, exactly, does this bunch of old moaners expect to benefit their community (and their faith) by fighting the well meant changes of an innovative vicar? Dumbasses.

'Try something new' - or not

Doctoring the shelf life of produce, chasing rodents and employees trimming their nails with food scissors - can you believe it?

Er....well...Anyone surprised, phased at all? What can we, the customer, really do to change the working practises of Tescos, Sainsbury's and the like? Well, maybe something, if any of us who succumb to the convenience of the supermarkets have the inclination, which we really don't.

I'm as guilty as the rest and know from first hand experience the state of these places behind the scenes. When I worked part-time on the check-out in a busy supermarket we had both local and tropical wildlife running around amidst the goods. Birds would swoop in and out of the store room, crapping everywhere, rats were not uncommon. Neither was the occassional wolf spider in your grapes. Yum.

The grocery giants must be heaving sighs of relief that those scamps at the Beeb only infiltrated two stores...God knows what horrors they would have found nationwide.

One can only pity the two journo's who had to spend four months of their lives alongside the "hard working", "committed" supermarket staff - the usual assortment of disgruntled students, chavs and jobsworths - shaving, mincing and re-selling meat (with your section manager's favourite manicure instrument....).

Monday, 21 May 2007

PharmaVision and Structural Forethought

Ha ha...they let scary individuals like me use the internet, WHY?

Just forgot how to get into my blog. Well, I'll have to run amock and post some more so I wise up a bit...

So....leading drugs companies are vying to air their very own shopping channel, touting their wares right in your living room - with the click of a button cancer sufferers will be able to learn more about their treatment, which does not seem like such a bad idea, to be assured and well informed at such a time. However given the massive revenue this country enjoys, along with America and other developed regions, thanks to biochemical and pharamaceutical products, these proposals scream 'profit'.

This country's regulation of legal drugs is under constant, tenuous scrutiny, though patients are often clueless to branding. Commerce marches on.

The Guardian's scrutiny of Baghdad's US Embassy building, still under construction, nicely covered the reality of the American (and British) mistakes to learn from the past.

In an excellent comparison to Vietnam, academic Toby Dodge commented on the longevity of the Vacitan sized £300m structure, due to hold 615 members of staff when it opens in September. He described how, "A fortress-style embassy, with a huge staff, will remain in Baghdad until helicopters come to airlift the last man and woman from the roof".

He went on to advise the provision of, "a large roof".

He he.

I wonder what the odds are on withdrawl....something to look into....

In the Begining...

There was the word. And the word was, oh, hang on, I'll get back to you on that...

He he, well hello ladies and gentlemen, friends, foes, freaks and frumps. I'm online, mwha ha! Unfortunately my mental capacity is currently under review, but standby - expect great things (or lashings of random paranoia, right-wing grumpiness, and unmitigated silliness - who knows?).

Instead of desperately trying to think of something profound I shall start as I mean to go on...with carefree abandon.

So, how about the Mail on Sunday, eh? Fingers in lots of pies atm, what a shame they keep getting burnt (with any luck the entire group might spontaneously combust)...They are taking their battle to publish the memoirs of our favourite turnip munching toff, HRH The Prince of Wales, to the Lords.

What a laugh.

Would Charles' candid comments on some far-off foreign regime really make you rush out for the MoS? I doubt it. Bear in mind how highly we all praise his higness' brain power and first hand experience of authority....

Oh, WiFi affecting kids health - any suggestions welcome. In today's digital reality, British kids are scarily computer literate, as well they should be in order to support their parents down the line (when the word 'pension' will surely have become some mystical anachronism, oh wait...). Is WiFi in schools a bad thing? The jury's out on this one.

We ban physical competition and over sanitise every available surface our kids so much as look at, soon we'll be taking their computers away, what will become of the youth of today?

Oh and finally, some ignorant dick has set alight to the Cutty Sark - one of our greatest historical treasures, from a by-gone age when Britain covered the planet and went to war with pretty much everyone, and won.

Right, rant # 1 officially over, I shall retreat into the ether with a Lemsip...ttfn.