Saturday, 1 October 2005

Old Commisars

Goodness me, it's been a busy week. But I think we showed a few people just what pensioners are made of. Retirement doesn't have to be about pipes and slippers. Together, we can make a difference. I'm not one of these OAPs who bang on about the war all the time. I might have been bombed out in the Exeter blitz but I never picked up a gun and fought. I can't claim to be a hero and I don't demand respect.
Thus speaks a correspondent in one of today’s papers. She might well be right about making a difference. The Chancellor is loosening us up for pension ‘adjustments’ by telling us that the Grey Wolves are increasing as a proportion of the total population. Problem will be that that Mandy Mandelson will push for influence from the Pink Pounders.
Are things going south for the Commissioner of the Met police? He has just been wounded by very swift publishing by the government of a letter that he wrote asking for special treatment of his (Anti) Terror Squad. Investigators were refused access by Met chief Sir Ian Blair to the underground station where innocent Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead. He kept the IPCC at bay and wanted them restrained. Now he is on about military Rules of Engagement for his armed forces. This might have made sense had he thought of this instead of waiting until the Shoot to Kill policy he so quietly introduced failed to make legislative or common sense.
If he does do the honourable thing and fall on his sword when the IPCC report the government will be able to offer him suitable employment. Will we see him next year as Chief Steward at the Labour Party conference?

Friday, 30 September 2005

Could I be a drone?

I was talking to someone the other day who keeps bees. Yes – I do live life to the extremes don’t I? I had never thought too much about bees but this chap knew so much that he was very interesting. There is an article here that explains just how things work in a hive. Everything is very well ordered, bees know what they are supposed to do and get on with doing it.
My chat came back when I was reading the debate that is currently afoot in America. This is centred on the question of whether the Bible is correct in describing the origins of life as intelligent design or, as deduced by Darwin, evolution. This requires quite deep thinking – well, deep to me anyway. The thing I have never solved about Genesis is where did God get the bits to make Adam. What gave him the idea of man, and then woman, and then all the myriad other life forms? What IS it all about Alfie? I have the same problem with Darwin. From what did we evolve; how did it get onto earth? Doubtless, had I been one of Father Flathat’s congregation, I would have been told to have faith and believe. Sorry, Father – I do not and cannot. I really would like to understand just a small corner; what makes bees have an almost perfectly organised world?
Today has been a weird sort of day for me. I feel as if I am floating along looking down on myself. The guy down there interests me but I also feel that he and I are in no way connected. He does not influence me or I him. Given that, I cannot understand my fascination with this other body. I also seem to see the minutest detail in flowers and insects and have a sense of wonderment at what is going on in these other worlds. Almost as if in the grip of a benign LSD event. It was so strong that I had to get Norma to take over driving because I was clearly away with the peatbog fairies.

Thursday, 29 September 2005

82 year old terrorist arrested

In 1984, Winston Smith lives in London which is part of the country Oceania. The world is divided into three countries that include the entire globe: Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. Oceania, and both of the others, is a totalitarian society led by Big Brother, which censors everyone’s behaviour, even their thoughts. Winston is disgusted with his oppressed life and secretly longs to join the fabled Brotherhood, a supposed group of underground rebels intent on overthrowing the government.George Orwell 1984

Wednesday, 28 September 2005

Ghost tale

Malay belief in ghosts can be very widespread and strong. The main, I suppose, senior ghost was the Pontaniek. Certainly, this was the most famous, scariest and violent ghost in the Malay culture. Primarily, the Malays believe that it originates from a still born child, women who die while giving birth, women killed by the pontianak or who had their spirits captured by them. Tradition demanded that those who died in childbirth had to have specific treatment to keep them safe from this monster. These included putting glass beads in the corpses mouth so that they can't shriek, placing eggs under the corpses armpits so that they can't fly and putting needles in their palms so that they can't fly.
Another spirit with strong influence was the hantu raya which is a shape shifting ghost. Usually, this ghost doesn't use its natural ability. This is a ghost with a master and its purpose is to give its master wealth and riches. The owner is responsible for taking care of the ghost until his death. He must also make arrangements for the ghost when he dies and leaves it alone.
I suppose the ghost I most wished to meet was Hantu Tetek. It bears this name which means 'Breast Ghost'. This ghost is a female ghost and has a huge breasts. She uses her breasts to attack its victim making full use of her huge breasts to suffocate them. Some says, the Hantu Tetek's breasts are at the back instead of the front. This really sounds like some sort of male dream ghost; certainly, I have always thought that breasts at the rear would be a far more convenient and exciting location.
The one ghost that I did come into contact with was Orang Minyak There are several version of the orang minyak (literally means 'oily man'). According to history, Satan offered to help and grant worldly desires if the "orang minyak" raped 21 girls within seven days and worship Satan as a God. They covered their nude body with oil so that it would be difficult for anyone to catch them. Although recent oily men were definitely human, there were countless stories of the supernatural and black magic orang minyak.
In 1957 I was serving in the very young country of Malaysia at a Army HQ in Seremban. The local town was quite small but had a large proportion of Europeans based there. In addition to the military, there were State administrators and civil servants together with rubber estate managers. Crime was almost unknown but over a short period of time there were increasing reports of burglary. These appeared to be the work of someone very skilled at their job. Most European bungalows – all homes occupied by whites were referred to as bungalows regardless of the number of floors – had window grilles and sliding grille doors at the main entrances. The intruder seemed able to bypass these at will leaving no sign of how this had been done. Those homes that had dogs were not safe either. The animal would be fit and well the morning after an intrusion and had not made any alarm during the night.
Once in the house, the ‘ghost’ would carry out a thorough search for valuables. One slept lightly in the heat of the tropics in the absence of air-conditioning but none of the victims recalled being disturbed. Any especial hiding place – money under the mattress for example – would be robbed. Within a very short time, the intrusions and thefts were attributed to our old friend the hantu. Hantu ryah was initially the chief suspect given that he could change shape Dracula-like and waft through grilles. Alarm amongst the Malays was turning to hysteria and the Malaysian police asked for our help. Examining some of the grilles showed that the locks had been opened using some form of pick lock and re-secured using a similar method. So, we had eliminated ryah but then suspicion turned to the oily man. This was a theory more capable of acceptance by Europeans as it was known that young men would coat their naked bodies in coconut oil and enter Malay homes to rape.
Senior level liaison resulted in a joint Army-Police operation. Road traffic blocks were established on all roads leading into Seremban. Police and infantry foot patrols were mounted within the accommodation areas and covert ambush points set up to watch for suspicious activity. Army tracker dogs were brought in. After about a week we had a result.
A car containing three Malay men was stopped at a road block. When challenged, two ran off. As they ran, the Ghurkha troops on patrol shot at them killing one man and wounding the other. The third man was arrested. On medical examination, the wounded man was found to have a penetrating wound to his chest which had passed through one lung. Because of suspicion that he had the talents of a minyak whilst obviously not a hantu, he was treated and then imprisoned in a police station. The third man said he knew his companions were ‘bad men’ but refused to say what sort of badness. He of course, insisted he was just a driver and innocent as the day was long.
On the morning after his detention, the wounded man was being taken back to hospital to have his wound checked and re-dressed. En-route, he managed to escape from the police car. His escape route took him right through the middle of the main Army camp where I was on duty. The guardroom advised me that an injured Malay male had run past their barrier into the camp. They knew not why. Almost immediately, I had a telephone call from the head of the special hantu-catching squad that their man had run off. To me, too much of a coincidence that there would be two injured men running about.
The camp was on the outskirts of the developed area of Seremban. There was an area immediately outside our wire that had been cleared of jungle, then there was a belt of secondary jungle where the trees and shrubs were growing back after clearance. Beyond that was the real ulu or jungle. No roads, no tracks, no people – just many miles of undergrowth and frequent streams. I realised we needed a tracker dog. The kennels were behind our office and I headed up there at some speed.
There was only one dog handler to be found. He was asleep and, after I woke him up, he told me that he had just come off duty and was exhausted. It was a number of years since I had a brief spell as a dog handler and that was a combat dog and not a tracker. However, I rationalised that the brains of this partnership would be the dog. I took one from its kennel and got it equipped to track. Such dogs know they are working when fitted with a harness and a long lead. We knew where the man had left the camp and our track started from there. My companion found a good scent – still so fresh it was in the air as well as on the ground. We moved at a fast trot. It is important to try and let the dog work at its own pace. I’d never known this one before but it seemed I had made a good choice as it was not a racer. Working in the jungle with a dog on a long lead had its own difficulty – I had to follow exactly in the trail of the dog or the leash would wrap around a tree and bring us both to a halt.
After about a mile, we came into a small native village or kampong. My rubbish Malay and their good English met and established that a man with his arm in a sling had come into the village a short while before. Their interest was kindled when I explained that the man was thought to be a pseudo-oily man ghost. They told me he had spoken to one of the youths who had gone off on a bicycle whilst the burglar ran further into the jungle. I followed. I was encouraged by the sight of fresh blood spots some of the villagers pointed out to me. We were about five minutes behind him. As I trotted along after him, now at a faster pace, I tried to think what had passed between the man and the departed cyclist.
We seemed to have moved into a swampy area. The ground was soft and there were numerous small streams. These slowed us down as we had to cast around to make sure our quarry had gone straight across and not followed the stream to put us off the scent. I reasoned he knew we were on his track or he would have sought rest in the first village. After about an hour we had only moved some miles from the village. We then entered another kampong – this slightly larger than the one we had left earlier. After more polyglot debate with full arm and hand movements, I was convinced that my quarry was the man people had seen getting into a car which had entered the village a short while before. Then I knew why the cyclist – he had been sent off to arrange the vehicle rendezvous.
The man was not recaptured. He returned to his own village – dead in the back of a car. His wound had become infected and he died of gangrene poisoning. Seremban had no more hantu of any sort. Unfortunately, my afternoon run with a dog must have scared off the large breasted lady. Although I saw many strange looking ladies in the dance halls – forerunners of the Thai lady-boys – none had their secondary sexual characteristics where they might have had a knapsack.

The law is a donkey - discuss

There can be no doubt that a majority of us are losing any feeling of confidence in the way justice is run. There seem to be three main areas – the prevention of crimes, dealing with juvenile offenders and frustration by victims of crime. We are informed of decline in some crime rates but the publics’ perception is that it is in fact increasing and any claimed improvement comes from manipulation rather than hard facts. The types of crime now reported are felt to threaten our culture and the legal trend does not relate to their values. There are feelings of trepidation and uncertainty.
To try to counter these fears we need to examine why these feelings exist. Why, today, do we feel less secure? What is it that we can't get right today that a generation ago it seemed that we could? There is no single explanation for this. Back then, communities were smaller and more standardised than they are now. We have become pluralistic and dissimilar. The influx of immigrants and refugees has brought new perceptions. Old ideas are being increasingly reviewed and revised. Those who did not have a voice now have greater opportunity to make themselves heard. There are increasing numbers of non-government organisations and action groups who well know how to make their presence felt and create difficulties for the Establishment. Politics are no longer the exclusive to the elite. Legislation is badly drafted and hurriedly introduced and falls apart at the first real hurdle in courts. Judges retain their independence in the face of directives from Ministers. Our multi-ethnic society means that there is no longer Mr. Average Britain on the top deck of the Clapham omnibus.
Instead of an upper, middle and lower class system we now have a fragmented society. People – regardless of old class structures – see their own concerns and priorities. This renders it difficult to define, still less achieve, consensus; a state the justice system is very concerned about. Recent publicity about errors made by ‘experts’, faulty judicial decisions and ‘spin’ or ‘sexing-up’ has meant there is a public distrust of all experts and elite bodies. “This government does not represent me or my friends. Is this democracy?” Into this fertile midden comes the media. They have their own agenda. Sensationalism replaces balanced reporting. Bad news sells papers. News has to be condensed into a 15 second sound bite. Crime is reported from the standpoint of ‘end of the world as we know it’. Events that were unknown outside foreign countries or other areas of our own land are now covered in great detail but still in such as way as will attract maximum attention and outrage. The cost of legal action against any part of the media is such that only a fool will take them on.
In the middle of all this are the victims and their relatives. They are hounded by the media. “How does it feel to have had your daughter blown up on a Tube train Mrs Smith” Even if they manage to keep their suffering private, reports will still appear from reporters convinced they know what suffering really is. Think-pieces and columnists dig out the bones and strew them around like cats at refuse bags. There is, for the sufferers, no dignified involvement wherein lies possibility of therapeutic benefit. They are made to appear as onlookers within the legal system with no support for events that have changed their lives forever. They must have better access to proper and timely information. This must also be made available to the media so that we regain our trust that what we are seeing is reliable and unbiased. Official web sites should also carry this information for those who find it hard to accept media brain-washing.
The main attention though, needs to be given to crime prevention. This is where a government can make the best initiatives. The cost of crime – fiscal, environmental and to human beings – is immense. Maximum effort must be devoted to stopping crime in it’s tracks. Right from prevention starting with young persons, through to hardened criminals and up to recidivists.
The community needs to say what makes them scared and what would make them feel secure and safe. Not focus groups or seven out of nine like a dog food commercial. The community. Whatever is then decided upon has to have a multi-headed attack plan. All must play their part – it is not acceptable to act as if paying ones Police rate solves all. Teachers, role models, all the caring professions, community leaders, religious leaders, social services must all be on board. Parents must not think that schools will do their job of socialising their offspring.
This is the part where I have no glib reasoning or answers. It is the hardest part of all. I am convinced it is the answer but I cannot think how to get a unified, all-encompassing response and reaction. Care to help me out?

Tuesday, 27 September 2005

Monday, 26 September 2005

Rolling Stone & Moss

Just when I thought that the saga the press have made about Kate Moss had concluded, I came upon a report that the Church of Scientology has offered her help with her drug problems. That she is rich and has a high public profile is not the reason behind this act of charity. Yeah – right.
I see it as yet another example of the power of the press. Kate was outed by the Daily Mirror who got into an area where things are normally too busy to tolerate anyone not directly involved in things. Obviously, it was just coincidence that a few months previously, she had won a fair sum in a libel case against that rag when they alleged she was a user of drugs. That element of schadenfreude which lives in us all was instrumental in ensuring that a media panic started it’s run. She was depicted as the poor little rich girl who had sacrificed her career because she was besotted with, and under the malign influence of, some 92nd rate entertainer who had not even had a career. Once she had stumbled on the drugs story, her supposed downfall was hastened by revelations of sex orgies.
Suppose we look at some of the background in more detail. She started out at as a young teenager. She rapidly became the first of what we now choose to call super-models. The “would not even get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day” brigade. She was captured on film by the very top photographers – all of whom declared her as the thorough professional of whom it was impossible to take a poor shot. That has not changed – her working life is without complaint.
So, what is the complaint? Those people who paid her some £8 million per year to headline their products, thought she was a bad role model. Leave aside the sex claims – the majority of her young admirers would have given their eye teeth to do 3 in a bed with Jude Law – and think back about drug use. She was the model who use came under some criticism when it was suggested that she was being used to depict ‘drug-chic’. Her whole image at that time was of a seemingly anorexic woman wasted on drugs. Yet, this same person was the one signed up to headline campaigns by those who now shy back in fright.
And whence cometh this fear of association with drugs? Does anyone really think that she is the only attractive (but bow-legged) female who enjoys the Columbian marching powder? I have been to events where one would think that the queues for toilet cubicles were indicative of massive food poisoning or widespread diarrhoea. Even my jaundiced opinion of the young of today fails to accept that they work on the basis of “Oh. Kate does that. I’ll have to have a go” If their minds did work at that level, we would need the whole of CPS to deal with Jordan and her influence.
So, rather than allow things to be superseded by some other inconsequential ‘drama’. We have the Commissioner of the Met. Announcing a inquiry. This will drag out the media interest and yet more discussion of the pros and cons will ensure. The ‘Establishment’ will pontificate and this on it’s own will cause the youngsters to side with Moss.
I do not see her as having the degree of influence that is alleged. I certainly would not risk investing any of my money in any campaign that relies upon her have a good effect on any large number of people. If she cannot influence for good, what effect would she have as a role model for bad behaviour?
I do, however, admit that I might think about spending $9,999 to keep her in bed.

Sunday, 25 September 2005

No sex please - I'm in a meeting.

WARNING. I am going to write about sex, intercourse, pregnancy and other words and thoughts that your mother might not approve of. If you do not want to know the score – look away now.
Headline in today’s Sunday Telegraph is “Women bypass sex in favour of ‘instant pregnancies’” The thrust (if I may use that word in this connection) of the article is that women are increasingly seeking IVF treatment because they do not have the time or inclination for a sex life and want to ‘diarise’ their busy lives. They are sometimes horrified at the prospect of having to have unprotected sex three times a week as seems to be necessary for natural fertilisation.
Bear in mind that we are talking about decent sums of money here. One IVF procedure can cost £2,500 and not all succeed at the first go. Given the price of turkey-basters, it seems to me that there is exploitation here. The paper bases its article on information given by the Lister Hospital and London Bridge Clinic in London. I have been a patient at both places – for surgical reasons and not as an IVF donor you understand. In my physiotherapist’s directed rambles along the corridors I would see women going into the fertilisation clinics. That they were not from the local council estate was obvious from their dress and luggage. Another conclusion I drew was that there must be a hell of a lot of reproductive illnesses as they were, in the main, desirable looking women who would have no problem attracting fertile males willing to stand the strain of thrice weekly testing.
I have doubts about other areas of this claim. Not having the time for a sex life? Where in the universe were these women living given the usual female complaint about two minutes plus ten more for a shower? The making of appointments, consulting, travel to and from surely took up more than twelve minutes times three? After all, they must be accustomed to multi-tasking. One supposes they did not get their PA or secretary to make all the arrangements so all time spent was what their business degrees called ‘prime time’.
Disinclined to sex? We are often told that the maternal drive is a strong desire in female considerations. One on one sex is necessary to conceive naturally – I’m sure that Mummy told them that much. How could they be disinclined to sublimate their distaste in the actions necessary to achieve fertilisation? The alternative of a complete stranger using a bright light and oohing and aahing at their nether regions surely cannot be acceptable to a natural procedure generally undertaken in private in the dark. Or even as a threesome with full surround sound and vision? As one who has undergone prostate examination, it is difficult to remain sanguine and unmoved by this sort of scrutiny.
If the claim regarding availability of time is to be taken at face value, how will Yummy Mummy deal with the kid? Feeding – OK, wet nurse or expression. Cleaning – Nurse Ingrid. Where is the bonding to take place? My take on it is that they really do not want children. They have followed the pattern of their class all along – pony club, prep school, university, ‘good’ job, appropriate husband or partner, charity works. Next comes a child. OK – get one; does one find them at Waitrose?
And what about Daddy? He has to shell out for the consultant. Sort his work out to attend the clinic and sit in dull rooms with pornographic magazines. He then has to face the staff with his discreet little package where they all exhibit a 'We know what you've been doing' look. And all to mechanise something he does with his secretary four or five times a week!