Saturday, 2 February 2008

Comfort typing

There is something very relaxing about this blog site. I can just sit down and type. No worries about upsetting people or with political correctness. No searching for a topic. No buzz words to attract the search engines. Just me, the study and this machine. On line radio in the background. Coffee on the desktop.

The fact that no one seems to come here and read things means that I can write it straight as it comes into my mind. The real moving finger syndrome. No editing involved: this can often end up looking better but having changed the whole message of what one meant in the unedited original. One minor aggrevation comes from my impaired short term memory. I have a line in my head and start tapping the keys. I then get to a word that is on the tip of my tongue but is stuck there like a piece of toffee in a hollow tooth. I search and probe around and around but that which was in my head is playing phantoms. Now, I just hit two or three 'x' and go on. The mind then relaxes and releases the word. Just a delay of a couple of minutes and I can clear the 'x' bit.

The other thing newly discovered is day dreaming. I slip into that bit between awake and asleep and immediately have the most vivid and realistic dreams. I think these are known as 'lucid dreams' (Lucid dreams are dreams in which you know at the time that you are dreaming. That they are different from ordinary dreams is obvious as soon as you have one. The experience is something like waking up in your dreams. It is as though you "come to" and find you are dreaming) Initially disc0ncerting but I've learnt to relax and enjoy them. At the moment, it is most often just me and my dog so I am happy to be able to reconnect in this way. We go on walks untroubled by gamekeepers or 'on the leash' limitations. The birds seem to have suicidal tendencies and that is good for both of us.

Old age is something I never expected to see. Total honesty? - I never wanted to see it. I do get annoyed at the problems doing now what was no hinderance at all 15 or 20 years ago. This is just a pride thing I suppose. My reduction in things I do causes no practical problem. What was the point in going straight up steep inclines instead of traversing them in zig zag fashion? Walking 25 or so miles in a day - just an hour's drive. I think I am adjusting to it. Must be - cannot see I would ever have sat down and set down this sort of thing back then.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Hero today. Tomorrow?

A 9 year old boy took prompt action when his mother collapsed at the wheel of her car. Not too far as to say he saved both their lives. He has Asperger's syndrome.

It is very likely that his medical condition will limit the education he will receive. Strange old world isn't it?

Going going 'gan

I wrote the other day that the operation in Afghanistan was buggered.

That are more dignified ways of saying that same thing.

Thinking of moving?

From the Estate Times:

Horelma Peramam has bought the Toprak Mansion in London for £50 million, that’s $97.8 million. According to the Sunday Times who cited real estate broker Glentree Estates, Peramam’s purchase makes Toprak Mansion the most expensive newly built property in the UK.
Horelma Peramam is a Kazakh billionaire, according to a London newspaper. Peramam plans on spending an additional £30 million on renovations for the home.
Toprak is on Bishops Avenue in Barnet. The house was built by Turkish business man, Halis Toprak.

This place was on the market for a very short time. It was described then as very much 'over the top'. However, having paid the 50 million, the new owner plans to spend another 30 million fitting it out to her taste.

Just remind me - was not Kazakhstan described as a very poor country? Instead of pouring money into the place, maybe they would be better off setting up a Revenue system to tax their rich people. I'm not one for the overall redistribution of wealth but this seems to call out for some sort of social justice.

Verily I vow

This came onto some radio programme I have in the background when I am at this machine. It is one we used to bellow out at school on the last day of each term and the first day of the following term.

Reason for putting it here is that I like it. Surely that is enough? However, it seem that I may be furthering some grossly racist hymn. In August 2004, the Rt Revd Stephen Lowe, Bishop of Hulme, called for the first verse of the hymn to be removed from Church of England services, calling it "totally heretical". He believed it placed national loyalties above religious ones and encouraged racism and an unquestioning support of governments. His words sparked a debate on the wider implications of the hymn. All the more reason for reproducing it then. To cull such a wonderful poem at a time when we are facing the situation when calls to Islamic prayer will ring out over the morning calm makes it all the more important to make our position clear.

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays 'pon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

Gis us a job

The Grauniad tells us :

The average local authority is employing over nine times as many people on £50,000-plus packages as ten years ago—66 people in 2006–07 compared with 20 people in 2001-02 and 7 people in 1996-97.
By contrast, in the economy as a whole, the number of people earning more than £50,000 has increased by less than three times over the past ten years.
The average local authority spent over £4 million employing people on £50,000-plus remuneration packages last year.
The total bill for council middle and senior managers on £50,000-plus remuneration packages was almost £2 billion last year almost £1 in every £11 of total council tax revenues.
The remuneration of local authority middle and senior management is racing past that of MPs. There were 12,600 local authority middle and senior managers being paid at least £60,000 last year—equal to or exceeding the £60,277 salary of MPs in November 2006.

As a proportion - 66 jobs from 20 - that may not seem a big hill of beans but when set against the overall, the rate of increase is high. Obviously, there would be expectations that pay will rise but this is well outside inflation. The paper also reports that they have advertisements for another 91 local authority jobs set at over 50 grand. I reckon I know where family-employer Conway will be aiming his c.v. They might even take on his self-appointed "Queen of Sloan" son as some sort of diversity leader.

Thursday, 31 January 2008

What is happening to President Hamid Karzai's leadership of Afghanistan? The amount of land under opium in Afghanistan is more than under coca cultivation in Columbia, Bolivia and Peru combined. Afghan MP Malalai Joya writes in today's Independent that the government is as bad as the Taliban, with more women killing themselves in the country in 2007 than ever before. So why did President Karzai "veto" Paddy Ashdown as a "super envoy" to Afghanistan, and earlier in Davos say that the British presence in Helmand had made things worse? Is he angry that the international community has not delivered the reconstruction aid it promised, and, worried about his own re-election, trying to court votes with a more belligerent attitude to the West?

As I see it, the idea of one man in charge inAfghanistan is a non-starter. The country is a fiefdom of war lords who control areas. These areas are autonomous and neither need anything from Kabul or obey orders from Kabul. If there is anything going for free, they will hold their hands out. Otherwise they keep them on their friendly AK47. They are as likely to fight each other as incomers. Karzai got where he is by offering to organise a lot of freebies. He has not come good.

Not all raza mataz

I suppose a lot of us in UK have this idea about America. Everything bigger, faster, more sophisticated. Well, that is mostly right although there are really many areas of really deep deprivation. This is not a racial thing, there are many poor whites.

The idea I have is that the people are more ready to work. They tend to think of other folks. They are not afraid to show their religious beliefs. There is a strong work ethic. I worked for an American firm in UK and was astonished when I found out that their US employees did not have contracts of employment as we did. If the boss chooses to sack someone, it is out the door then and no notice is needed. Whilst I was greatly enamoured of the actual country and it's amazing landscapes, it was the people who made me wish I had been able to work there. I did a six week job swap and it was possibly the best employment I had. One gets some idea from the blog I have guested.Image hosting by Photobucket

Just saying it was cold out last night in south central Wisconsin is quite the understatement. It was beyond really f***ing cold; it was deadly f***ing cold. The base temperature was below zero, and with a 30 knot wind out of the northwest gusting to 50+, the wind chill was easily minus 30. Throw in some snow and you had one nasty night to be outside for even a few minutes. For this reason, I could hardly believe my eyes as I drove up US 12 and came upon a person walking a bicycle along the shoulder of the road.
t was about 9pm, and I was heading home from class at UW Whitewater. The roads were icy, and very few people were on them. Downtown Fort Atkinson, the small city halfway between school and home, was deserted. The McDonald's was empty. It seemed wise to take Highway 12 all the way to Cambridge rather than use the back roads, even though it was a few miles longer. It's a major road and would be in better shape, and I figured if I got into trouble I would be more likely to eventually see another car.

About four miles out of Fort, there was this poor soul, in the dark, trudging along. It took a second for me to realize that I had to stop; this person was truly in danger of either being hit or freezing to death. Except for the two of us, the road was deserted. I backed up and rolled down the window to offer a ride. The voice that responded sounded almost childlike, and I couldn't understand the words because the person was shivering so badly.

Like a dope, I asked if the bike had a flat tire or something. Right. As if the bone-chilling headwind wasn't a factor. "C'mon. I'm driving you home," I said, as I took the bike and put it in the back of the car. "Get in." There was no hesitation on either of our parts. Neither of us was worried the other was a psycho-killer. It was too cold, the need too urgent.

We got in and I cranked the heat. Only then was I able to tell that this was a woman, not too old, but not a kid either. She told me where she was heading: the trailer park off Treiloff Road. That was still at least two miles ahead. "Where were you coming from?" I asked. "The McDonald's," came the reply. That was four or five miles back in Fort Atkinson. Holy shit. She told me, in few words, that she didn't think it was really going to be this bad. Then she said she hoped I wouldn't be going out of my way to drive her home. All the while, her teeth continued to chatter.

Her home turned out to be a modest mobile home at the top of a hill at the end of a dark road... four miles from where I picked her up. I pulled her bike from the car and wished her warmth. She looked my direction, not quite in the eye, and simply said, "Thank you. Thank you very much."

This encounter left me with a mix of feelings and some unanswered questions. For a second, I thought about what a good person I was... probably saved this person's life for god's sake. That self-congratulatory award passed quickly. Then, I began to feel sort of guilty. Here was this person, who probably rode her bike to her low-paying fast food job a good eight miles away from her house several days a week. Even though the nastiness of the night's weather was well-predicted, she made this effort to get to work so as not to miss a day's pay. What might that have been worth? Fifty bucks maybe? I blew that much on the hockey tickets I bought but didn't use last week. Talk about getting myself a serving of perspective with a side order of humility. I guess that's why I bristled when the owner of the coffee place in town labelled her "an idiot" and laughed at her predicament when I related the story to him early this morning.

I have to wonder what kind of will it takes for a person to get a McJob, and then keep it by riding a bike 16 miles round trip each work day. Is this what people have to look forward to as good jobs for those with only a high school education keep being exported? Would someone else have stopped if I hadn't? Is she OK?

John Edwards announced he was pulling out of the presidential race today. I haven't made up my mind about a candidate yet, but I liked his strong position on helping that other America, the people like the woman on the bike. I hope whoever we do nominate takes to heart, and then to policy, his ideas and his values in this area.

It's really f***ing cold again today, but the wind has died down and the sun is shining. And on this day, the woman I helped last night, whose name I don't know, is my hero.

Take me back

Electrical stimulation of areas deep within the brain could improve memory, early research suggests.
A team of doctors in Canada stumbled upon the finding while attempting to treat a morbidly obese man through deep brain stimulation (DBS).
When stimulated, the man had very clear deja vu. He then had a sudden perception of being in a park with friends. He felt younger, thought he was around 20-years-old, and his girlfriend of the time was there. He was an observer, and saw the scene in colour.
Whilst this was being used experimentally for obesity, it is thought it will have wider applications including Alzheimer's. With the number of people with Alzheimer's forecast to double within a generation, we urgently need to find ways to tackle this awful disease, but research is hugely under-funded.
Well, I'm all for deep stimulation - nudge nudge wink wink. Especially if it brings back former girlfriends who are rather thin on the ground right now.Actually, memories of things long past is something I'm pretty good at rather than faulty or absent short term memory. I can get colours and sounds but not smells. Given Korea and Hong Kong as they were then, this no smell might be a blessing in disguise.

Now will you believe me?

Everyone says they are a threat to the countryside. Now look what they are up to.

Large wonga

I have been following the twists and turns of the Soc Gen guy who lost the bank a few billions. When it first broke I had two main thoughts. One - the French were jealous of our Northern Rock saga and wanted to show they were as good as us and Two, what the hell was Avec Frits going to do with the money he was dealing in if he had got it outside the bank? This latter point was made more interesting when the Kent Securicor trial finished. They had to settle with just 53 million as the truck they had was limited to a 8 ton cargo. So, just how would the French guy disappear into the mists with the bulge in his trousers that was 2 billion? Shifting that from France to Brazil would leave a trail.
Some clarification came when the police chose not to include straight theft in their charges and appear to have accepted that what was done was meant to raise the prestige of the trader. I will leave aside wondering how he thought he might maintain his winning ways through the rest of his career based as they were upon severe bending of the control systems. These must surely have led to his downfall given time.
So - reduction of interest in Soc Gen. Except - how do banks handle these profits and losses or the monies involved when company A buys company B for a couple of billion quids?. Well, there is a system but, don't worry, I'm not going to go into it here. However, have a look at what Wikipedia says about fiat money (no, not the price of a small car for the Attorney General ) and representative money. What these have to do with the price of fish is (exhaustively I warn you) dealt with by a paper considering changes.
Having read that jogged my memory of extremely smart men seen on the streets of the City of London. They wore formal morning dress and were topped of by extremely shiny silk top hats. These were bank messengers and they were the carriers of settlement notes between banks. Doubtless, it is now all done by electronic means (and open to fiddles).
Another piece of useless information that came with my inquiries was that the largest value Euro bank note (representative money now we know!) is 500 euros. So, our French friend would have had a problem ordering Le Grande Mac avec jambon and offering a whopper as payment.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Meat eaters of the world unite

From The New York Times

Growing meat (it’s hard to use the word “raising” when applied to animals in factory farms) uses so many resources that it’s a challenge to enumerate them all. But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation. To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days. 20 percent - suppose you ate one more pasta dinner a week, hold the meatballs. Or had a pizza with just veggies instead of pepperoni. Or at breakfast, skip the bacon and sausage. If you knew that making a simple choice like what you were having for dinner could make that much of a difference, wouldn't you do it today?

I am not a vegetarian: I used to be a very big eater of meat often to the exclusion of any vegetables. However, if this is true it is good news. Rather than have to adopt daft measures that would be inconvenient or unwanted, we could do this. I'm not quite sure how it might work. My abstaining from 2.2 pounds of beef surely would not lead to any reduction in beef overall. Sizing it up to some 60 million times 2.2 pounds is much better but which would be chicken and which would be egg? Reduction in demand or reduction in crop?

Light relief

Amidst the serious things in life, this is worth looking at

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How to get a positive result

Murder suspect murdered during trial
Jan. 29 - A gunman has walked into a Manila court and shot dead an ex-mayor on trial for murder. A bodyguard and a civilian were wounded.
The assassin escaped after gunning down Reynaldo Yap, a former mayor of a town on the southern island of Mindanao. He was on trial for murder.
Panic spread through the area as police teams moved into the building to search for the gunmen. No weapon was found on site and the assailant remains at large.

Given the way that our judicial system seem fairly constant in their judgements as to how leniently one can be tried, this solution might become more frequent here.

What about that Bruni?

The old French smoothie is seen here without his latest lady
but I should imagine that OneI joshed him about the luck of someone like him getting alongside someone like her.
So - anyone reading this - what about a caption for this image?

Returner a les moutons (or somesuch)

Well, some sort of learned start anyway. So, why after such a long gap, am I coming back to the beginning?

Easy to know for me but maybe dificult to explain. My first away spell was with the Daily Telegraph's site. Technically, apart from one or two difficult bits, it was good. The site semed to spend rather more than average time down with server problems or quite frequent updates being installed. Somehow or other the site had gathered itself a strange membership. Apart from the usual only-slightly-mad crowd, there were some who appeared to border on the psychotic. Anything Islamic was like bull + red rag. We had a very nice Muslim lady on board who tried to correct the more outrageous postings and comments but the Islamaphobes ganged up on her as soon as her head came over the parapet. There was a system where the site posted statistics as to the most popular (i.e. most read) contributer and the post which generated the most comments.

Nice idea. However, the ratings were skewed by posters creating more than one identity and using these to read and re-read the post oneof them had written. They also commented on these contributions. Generally in scabrous style which provoked more comments. The site had the facility for anyone to complain about any post. All to get their name 'in lights'. Clever guys in the membership established and showed what was going on. There were moderators. They put into limbo any post that had drawn complaint. They would also act on their own initiative and delete posts they felt might be inappropriate. There was no swift resolution of the problems and a total lack of feed-back explaining their actions. The doppel-gangers used this to further enhance their results. The site ober-fuehrer claimed that the matter could not be solved as he lacked proof of the allegations.

The testesterone overload was more than I wanted to be on the edges of so I backed out. This led to an invitation from someone who had also removed himself from the fray and set up an closed site. I joined that. At that time there were about 13 of us. All nice, well mannered people. No one ever struck back at anything: mere posting of the day's date could well lead to a flood of comments saying what a lovely post. Not a flower died or a bird fell without being commented upon with a multitude of comments showering hugs and sympathy. We had a religious writer who went to great lengths to point out God's message in almost everything and anything that happened. As a non-believer in everything except my own multi-talents, I was itching to get in amongst him but it would have been like farting at Communion - inappropriate. So, in fear of the sweetness generating some form of mental diabetes, I let that fall away.

I do feel that I would like to have somewhere to blog. It is rather like the process of sorting out a course of action by listing on a piece of paper the 'pro' and 'con' points of the matter. Putting things down in writing itself concentrates even the most grasshopper mind. I used to review the day gone and plans for the day present whilst sitting in the smallest room in the house. I get the same relaxation here. I am not sure who - if anyone - might read this stuff. Comments are very few - but welc0me.

So, watch this space.