Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Bad Timing, Prime Minister

On the very day that Southern Cross, the UK's largest care homes operator, announced plans to shut down, leaving the future running of 500 of its 750 care homes in doubt, what does the Prime Minister do?

He announces that virtually everything in the country's public sector will be flogged off, including health, education, social care and housing. This, we are told, is yet another giant step towards ever more choice, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

To protect the public from the kind of enormities currently exercised by the gas and electricity producers there will be an all-powerful Ombudsman. There. Takes your breath away, doesn't it?

Reasonably charitable people will wonder at David Cameron's unfelicitous sense of timing. To more critical spirits this piece of PR ineptitude merely confirms their view of the Prime Minister as a serial incompetent.

Interestingly, last week I was talking to a multi-millionaire engineer and highly esteemed academic, a man who turned his love of microwave technology into sales, jobs and money for everyone in his employ - about 15,000 on four continents at one time. His newest company of just 20 is engaged in pioneering work, developing computerised deep-sea cutting and welding equipment for gas and oil pipelines.

When asked why gas and electricity charges were so high - reportedly 50 per cent higher than in 2007 - he guffawed a big bearish laugh and replied, "Because the companies operate a cartel...I'd nationalise the lot of them."

He's well aware that the cost of energy has been vastly inflated by central government's multi-billion pound commitment to EU energy policies.

This man, who worked his way up from a grammar-school scholarship and now drives a caviar-coloured Jaguar, looks back on most of the big privatisations, from Margaret Thatcher onwards, with a disdain equalled only by his exasperation at the education system's abject failure to produce a regular supply of home-grown electrical engineers.

China, he said, was run by trained engineers and China was in the process of rehousing 70m people a year.

Our millionaire Prime Minister wants us to believe that salvation lies in selling everything we own or know in the hope of renting it back at an economical rate.

Remember that when you sell your children into slavery to pay your next energy bill.

Friday, 8 July 2011

The Hacker...

There is a scene in the movie The Lives of Others where a writer, a loyal support of the East German state, indignantly asks the former head of the state security police why the Stasi had not considered him dangerous enough to place under surveillance.

"Oh but you were, constantly," the slug-like secret policeman tells him, nodding ironically at the writer's revealed conceit.

As one of life's refusniks, who refuses to subject himself to a mobile phone's ring-tone and the idiot prattling that usually follows, I am unlikely to be one of the gallant 4,000 hacked into by former News of the World journos.

Unlike Hugh Grant who, I thought, probably accurately described the Metropolitan Police, News International, 10 Downing Street cartel as a "protection racket". The higher-ups move in the same social circles thinking they are immune to the Law of Unforeseen Consequences - what goes around eventually comes around. The Prime Minister is discovering that.

Anyone who has glanced at books such as Phillip Knightley's The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Propagandist From Crimea to Kosovo and John Simpson's Unrealiable Sources, will be aware that 'rat fucking', a phrase coined by President Richard Nixon's henchmen, has a long history. He was brought down by his association with people arrested, charged and indicted for organising the Watergate building burglary, including his special counsel Charles Colson.

For Colson read Coulson?

About the only new thing in the latest revelations about how some members of the press operate (more than 300 of them according to Newsnight) is the technology.

This bear of staggeringly inadequate brain power is neither shocked nor appalled. Those epithets of moral outrage, so righteously voiced by most of yesterday's old Question Timers remind me of the protestations of those public notables who, not so long ago, used their economic power to take out Super Injunctions to prevent hacks from revealing the truth about their extra-curricular activities.

In The Lives of Others the writer does his best work in spite of the sanctions of the state, stung into risking his liberty because of the suicide of a despairing black-listed friend.

To do it, however, he has to resort to subterfuge; in effect he has to break the law of the German Democratic Republic. His adherence to truth rather than party loyalty is tested. But any feeling of moral superiority he feels is crushed by the death of his lover, a woman blackmailed by the Stasi into betraying him.

I'd like to be able to say with conviction that as long as the rich and powerful are free to use the law to protect their dirty little secrets and maintain their public image, the media will be obliged to use whatever means deemed necessary by unscrupulous news executives to get at the truth.

But it's not that simple. Just as the poor usually prey on the poor rather than the rich, the press gangs up on insignificant celebrities and the victims of crime and war to keep us boobies, to use George Bernard Shaw's expression of contempt, distracted from what's really going on.

With all eyes on Downing Street and News International's Wapping HQ, British Gas slyly chose to announce it was jacking up energy prices next month. After Sunday The News of the World won't be able to screw you; but there are plenty of other organs that will.

As for Rupert Murdoch, I wouldn't be surprised if he is awarded the BSkyB contract - after he has got rid of red-top Rebekah Brooks, kicked son James up the arse and issued a public mea culpa. He has too many friends in high places, probably has an oil-field of dirt on all of them including past and present incumbents of Number 10.

In spite of his promised inquiries, David Cameron's position is far more precarious than the Dirty Digger's. DC may be BC before the year is out.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The Green Thing...

Following Panorama's piece about junk mail and the costs of disposing of it (at least £700,000 as in-fill in Cornwall), I decided to post the following item, passed on to me by my friend David Knight:-

In the queue at the shop, the young cashier told the old woman that she should bring her own bags in future because plastic bags weren't good for the environment.

The old lady apologised, explaining to the young man: "We didn't have the green thing back in my day."

The cashier said sententiously: "That's our problem today. The former generation did not care enough to save our planet's environment."

He was right: that generation didn't have the green thing in its day.

Back then, people returned their milk bottles. They got money back for pop bottles and beer bottles (a practice still in place in Sweden). The shop sent them back to the plant to be washed, sterilized and refilled; the same bottles were used over and over. So they were recycled.

But they didn't have the green thing back in that customer's day.

In her day they walked up stairs because they didn't have escalators in every shop and office building. They walked to the shops and didn't climb into 300-horsepower machines every time they had to go a mile or two for milk or bread.

Because they didn't have the green thing.

Back then, they washed nappies because they didn't have the disposable kind. They dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts. Wind and solar power really did dry the washing.

The green thing was sadly lacking.

Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers and sisters. There was one radio or television in the house, and the TV had a small screen not one the size of Wales. In the kitchen they blended and stirred by hand because they didn't have electrical appliances to do everything for them.

When they packaged a fragile item to send by post they used screwed-up newspaper not polystrene or plastic bubble wrap.

Back in the dark old days they didn't burn petrol just to cut the grass, they pushed a mower that ran on human muscle. They exercised, played games, so they didn't need to go to a health club to run on an electric-powered treadmill.

But, as the lady said, they didn't have the green thing then.

People took the tram or bus and kids rode their bikes to school or rode on the school bus instead of turning their mums into a 24-hour taxi service. They had one electrical socket in a rtoom, not an entire bank of them to power a dozen appliances. Nor did they need a computerised gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest Pizza Hut.

What sad buggers they were, without the self-satisfying green thing to make them feel good about themselves.