Saturday, 3 July 2010

Without let or hindrance

Those lovely old blue British passports used to have a warning that the holder was British and was not to be messed about. The current EU identity document has something similar but, coming from a mongrel organisation and looking like a Flemish dog license, carries little weight.

Way back at the beginning of May this year I wrote of the predicament of an Englishman held in an Afghan jail on corruption charges. He is still there despite valiant attempts by his loved ones to orchestrate his release. How can it be that this man has not been returned to the bosom of his family? Are our Government representatives in Kabul really doing all they can to overturn what seems to be an injustice? I doubt it.

My direct personal experience is that consular etc offices do not exert any Herculean efforts to assist our Nationals when they are in trouble with local authority. They have to maintain a working relationship with foreign governments and it can be a delicate matter to tell one's opposite number that his jurisdiction is crap. This is especially so where the individual is a man proud of his country's status and his independence. Afghanistan is such a place. It could be difficult to raise the case of one single Englishman's incarceration where the subject country is complaining of a rain of death indiscriminately taking the lives of their women and children.

Our people would prefer to leave any lobbying to the individual's employer and shelter behind "best efforts" and "every endeavour". At the time when I was occasionally involved all that this required was a visit every six weeks and I doubt that hallowed procedure has changed. Approaches to the FCO in London would be met with the same "best efforts" response and any attempt to obtain details would be met with "it is all very delicate" rebuff.

The man was employed by a security contractor that is deemed as amongst the leaders in Afghanistan of that industry. They have contracts with the Afghan government. This should give them access to that Old Boy Network that is so essential to getting things done in foreign countries. What is being done by them seems somehow restricted in the accounts of the case for the man's release. Their competence could be subject to some questions.

The case started after a Government agency seized two of the firm's vehicles. The reason given was that they were not correctly registered but they seem to have been told that a cash payment to the agency would effect their release. The sum demanded was not a small one. The seizure and demand for cash payment should have arisen the suspicions of any white-kneed English virgin who had never been further East than Port Said. Were the two vehicles so important to the operations of the large security company that prompt action was essential? What would be the cost - financial and organisation-wise - of leaving the vehicles where they were and settling the matter as one would by a fine levied by a proper authority. Could the employer not have enlisted the services of a go between if they had any doubt as to the legality of the demand? Maybe cost a bit more to pay such individual but he could negotiate a discount on the levy and it would be an Afghan skin at risk. Some may say I am being wise after the event but I would require a security company doing business in Afghanistan to be very wise as to the risks and the way things were handled in a country well known for corruption. I am not so naïve as to overlook the possibility that their contracts would not have been so seemingly successful and wide spread without sponsorship of a Minister at least. They doubtless assumed that it was a very minor matter.

Certainly, the choice of defence counsel seemed strange. The employment of a female must surely be unorthodox in a country where a woman is deemed as less value than a good hunting dog. Those hearing the case were most likely embarrassed to have her address them. No interpreters were provided and the accused spoke no local language - there surely was an opportunity for her to get on her hind legs and object in a forceful manner. My information is that there is to be an appeal today and our Man in Kabul is 'observing'. I would feel more comfortable if he were in there fighting and not just looking on. Kabul must have a local equivalent of Mike Mansfield and he is the man we need. Able to rant and smooch the bench in a language they understand.

It will be noted that I have not given much detail of the man in jail. Every article or mention makes play that he was a major in the Military Police, served 28 years as such and is the holder of the MBE. None of these are irrefutable rebuttal of how he acted when he passed over the money demanded. I have dealt with corrupt officers including a number from the Military Police. The 28 years of service must hurt given that he was so easily conned into a course of action later determined to be illegal; just what had those years taught him? His campaigners have attracted considerable numbers all claiming that he is an honourable man. This may well be true but they cannot really know what happened in this case regarding his actions on a particular date and time in a defined place.

Some may say that I have no idea of what he is suffering. Well, I have visited numbers of British personnel in Middle Eastern prisons and they are not nice places. The absolute power of a foreign country was demonstrated to me in Libya in 1961. I was working with the local police where a British soldier was accused of the murder of a local national. Whilst the inquiry was in progress, his son died in UK and there was a need for him to go home. He was in a local prison and the efforts of the Consular office for his repatriation were scorned. The police Commander made the point that they would never see him again once he was outside their jurisdiction. I met with him and he agreed to let the man go in the understanding that if he did not return when due, I would take his place in prison and be held until he did appear back in Benghazi. I felt confident enough to agree. The Welshman returned to the Valleys but came back so all was well.

Friday, 2 July 2010


Owners of Bangladeshi restaurants are concerned about the recently announced the cap on workers entering the UK from outside the EU. They say that experienced staff are only available from Bangladesh and if this dries up some restaurants will close.
A further point is made that it’s difficult to find and train indigenous workers.
There are however a number of factors that create this problem. First there a tendency for Bangladeshi owners to feel more comfortable with their fellow nationals. The reluctance of UK workers to go for these jobs many preferring the “job option” of benefits. The Government must intensify the pressure on these lay-about s to fill these sort of vacancies.
No exceptions should be made with regards to the cap. Every non-national who enters this country adds to the considerable cost and strains of maintaining the infrastructure of the welfare state
No - not my own words but a rant from what one would expect to be a responsible publication if the name were any guide. I shall not give a link as it is not the suggestion that I want to mention but the way in which such ranting posts have spread of late. I leave aside any comment on the format of this persons contribution other than to say that it might be indicative that they were denied what they would call the privilege of a decent education that might have helped with punctuation and reasoning. The same individual also gave us the benefit of their thoughts on how people should be subjected to some sort of parenting test and, if not rated suitable, would be dissuaded from producing offspring. The solution of sterilisation was not put forward; merely withholding of allowances. Until, one assumes, the innocent child or a feckless parent, dies from starvation.

The policies of the two main Parliamentary parties have long fostered the politics of envy. Over the last couple of decades it has become possible to compare how unequal different countries are. In the more equal of the rich countries, like the Nordic countries and Japan, the richest 20 percent are about four times as rich as the poorest 20 percent. But in the most unequal rich countries, like the USA, Britain and Portugal, the differences are twice as great: the richest 20 percent of the population may be eight or nine times as rich as the poorest 20 percent.

Inequality makes societies hugely dysfunctional. Greater equality is more important than most of us ever imagined. It affects the whole social fabric. It is not simply that more unequal countries have bigger inequalities in health, in how well kids do at school, or in obesity. Instead more unequal countries do worse overall.

Their populations tend to have shorter life expectancy, higher levels of violence, bigger prison populations, more teenage births, worse physical and mental health, higher obesity rates, more widespread drug abuse, lower levels of trust, less involvement in community life, poorer school performance and lower levels of child well-being. And the differences are not small: each of these problems is between two and six times as common in more unequal societies as in the more equal ones.

All that looks as if Britain is at the head, or near the top of one league. An undesirable position. Britain does badly, for instance, on teenage births, prison populations, obesity and on measures of child well-being. But how often do these issues get discussed in their proper context? Yes - they are raised in the yah-boo politics of Wednesday Questions and on late night TV talk-fests but never in any serious context. The well off are complacent with their status, the less well off/underprivileged lack the tools to fight their corner. Any path to improvement seems denied them and insults are their only solution.

Bertrand Russell said envy was one of the most potent causes of unhappiness. It is a universal and most unfortunate aspect of human nature because not only is the envious person rendered unhappy by his envy, but also wishes to inflict misfortune on others. Although envy is generally seen as something negative, Russell also believed that envy was a driving force behind the movement towards democracy and must be endured in order to achieve a more just social system. Islamic belief is, if memory serves, that one must be content with what God has given to them by saying Maashallah (God has willed it). Certainly, my local newsagent seems content but his co-religionists in, for example, Pakistan do not have this sagacity.

I suppose that Dave's new idea of inclusiveness springs from a wish to involve everyone - those who feel ignored have an outlet. At the moment, all it appears to have done is increase the level of verbal violence replete with "Wo*s go home" style sentiments. After all, we are not so long away from the exhortations of the rabid ferret Tebbit that the unemployed should take up cycling. Any tax saving - unproven - that might accrue from not supporting incomers would merely be lost in 'improving' things elsewhere in our economy.

I'd be very happy to support anyone who seeks to change things but mere condemnation not backed with any proposal or plan is boring invective. I am lucky; I live in an area where there is no significant penetration of 'foreigners' - those from more than 20 miles away are so classified here. Any who I do encounter are nullified by my policy of reverse-apartheid. I have no need to rant but they exert some sort of fascination and I cannot merely scroll down or click them away.

Perhaps I could do a blog about ranting?

But then, I just have!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Blog on

Having entered into the Oldies Trimester of Tedium, I need to make sure that there is a structure to my days. No lolling in the recliner watching endless re-runs of NCIS or new home searches looping through the Devil's Mirror that is TV. Reversion into second childhood has got me to the physical status of a pre-toddling crawler so the options are limited.

I have re-trained as an internet lurker. Every day without fail I spend time in my study going along the highways and byways of Google land. It is a full time job. I have the assistance of an application that allows me to follow a regular track of contributions that meet my selection criteria. Mostly news feeds but with a fair sprinkling of blogs. Visits to these have unearthed other sources that do not get incorporated into my Bloglines; these are favourited and frequently direct me deeper with their links.

Quite frequently, I find myself reading something that started out as having the potential to interest but, as line follows line, I find myself querying just why the hell the writer thought anyone could muster interest in their offerings. Why the heck do people blog anyway? I see blogging as a separate art form with its own rules and structure. A blog is not a diary or journal, it is not a Letter to An Editor neither is it a newspaper article.

My favourite answer as to why blog? is the one that it gives people a voice. All too often we find ourselves seeking some way to confirm we are live individuals and not the vast amorphous collection of frog spawn that the Government would like us to be. We want to have a say. Not just the 15 minutes according to Warhol but a regular appearance in the amber glow of the spotlight. They may be seeking to justify themselves - Belle de Jour maybe? Those facing a harrowing journey where writing shone light into some very dark areas.

Then there are those who rage at the machine - an excellent summation here:
"Of course we believe in freedom of speech," say members of the establishment, "we believe in freedom of speech even for those who say things we hate. Freedom of speech, after all, is a pillar of modern, liberal, society."

Yeah right. There was never such a thing as freedom of speech. In order to speak freely you had to have access to a printing press, a newspaper, a radio or a TV station. And everywhere you had to get past the editors. Only an elite ever did the articulate and well-behaved representatives of ordinary people. But ordinary people themselves never had a chance to speak publicly. Not until now. Today the internet revolution -- led by a ragtag army of bloggers has given us all a chance to be irreverent, blasphemous and ungrammatical in public. We can reveal secrets, blow whistles, spill beans, or just make stuff up.

Of course the old elites don't like it. Of course they really, really hate it. Blogs are shut down left, right and center, and bloggers are silenced, reprimanded and fired from their jobs. Suddenly modern liberal society reveals a repressive face few of us knew existed. Should we behave ourselves? Should we fall silent? Hell no! Let's call them on their hypocrisy. Let's demand that modern liberal society lives by the principles it claims to embrace. Bloggers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your gags.

That declaration speaks volumes to me. Obviously, not all bloggers have such high ideals and ambitions but I can sustain quite a lot of rubbish if just one in a thousand has the drive recorded here. So - blog on, That which does not kill me makes me stronger.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Customer Service

Customer Service has been taking a lot of stick of late. We had the claimed ignorance of help desks which manufacturers solved by moving support departments to some foreign land. Whilst I am sure that the forms of contract required that staff employed in helping the angry and confused customer, interpretation of these had gone amiss. We faced what seemed to be bad imitations of Peter Sellers and Sophia

What passed as English had obviously been tested locally - the Goodness Gracious Me syndrome. It passed for English locally but was nothing like the language the English spoke, Intonations and emphasis were all out of kilter. They had problems understanding us
The next step seems to be that the companies are withdrawing from foreign lands and seek to deal with the troubles here. Not a great gain really where they have language bots that scan messages for clues and then reply as if humans had been involved. I have recently been trying to get information from the support team for one of my iPhone applications. After a myriad selections on the site form, I sent it off. It bounced straight back as undeliverable; the email address was not recognised and suggested I should forward it to the . If it ever gets to such a person, they, doubtless, will concentrate in dealing with the duff address and my query will go unanswered.
Assuming one can get in touch, I may have found the answer. I have been getting the run-around from a tailoring firm regarding delivery of a pair of trousers. Fob-off were "We will look into it and get back to you" They didn't but repeated the 'get back' message. I thought I might try another tack: I sent this message.
I am saddened at not finding any response to my request as was suggested by your email of 22 June. I had hoped that the 21st Century communications suggested by your recent re-locations might offer better contact with the trouser tailor than you seem to be encountering. I can but conclude that the fairies who come into your premises during the hours of darkness and magically fabricate garments for gentlemen's nether regions are in some form of trade dispute?
I appreciate that the working methods of Brunel, one of our finest engineers of large scale structures do not fit well with prompt service but had hoped that the effluxion of time since our first trembling contact way back on 9th May (2010) had advanced things such that my biped-cloaking desire might be almost satisfied such that the trouser gnome could assist with your desire to afford me customer service.
This may seem a lot of fuss - indeed in anything smaller than a 54" waist, one might describe it as a storm in a teacup. I am an aged person and now mainly confined to the boundaries of my humble residence. However, towards the end of July, I have the opportunity to escape and be indulged in a matter of great familial significance where I had planned to appear in the full glory of your finest corduroy. Truly, the cloth of a King. The magnificence and significance of this occasion would be greatly prejudiced were I were forced to display myself in inferior products such as are, I understand, freely available from those who pluck previously fabricated garments from a shelf and have them winging on their way overnight. It was my fear and trepidation at such embarrassment that led me to seek comfort from a simple promise on your part to so manage things that I would have satisfaction within the eight or so weeks ending on 4th July.
I plead with you to search under those many other supplications for service that cover the tea chest employed as "Michele's Desk". There should be something there that occasionally issues bell-like sounds. This may permit you to make contact with the senior elf of the trouser tailoring department and solicit best use of GANTT and PERT in letting me have 100% guarantee of delivery not later than close of normal business on 5th July. I appreciate that typhoon warnings in Hong Kong Harbour may disrupt your use of the bell-noise emitting machine but I would enjoin you to make best use of whatever might be needed to get this poor supplicant the information he desires. Your contact if far off places might need to know the order number RC7446178 or, alternatively have me identified on his collection of rusty nail file-hangers as that 'fat bastard up in Scotland'
I had a proper reply within 3 hours and the goods arrived 3 days later.
So, if you cannot beat them - join them and treat them with some of the bullsh*t they unload on us.