Monday, 30 April 2012

When Will the Lights Go Out?

I was listening to the radio yesterday around lunch time. Three completely detached, objective energy experts were asked if we in the UK have an effective energy strategy for the next ten or twenty years. They all replied NO. They all said that within ten years our existing supplies will be needing replacement and we have NOT got long term investment and contracts in place to replace that. They all said that the EU policy requirement to cut CO2 emissions by 80% was an insuperable obstacle. And none of them thought that wind power was an adequate alternative. These were not politicians, they were not all working in the oil industry and they were people who had listened to the Green arguments in great detail. The same is true of the rest of Europe.
In America, the agenda of the climate change lobby has been described as an "economic suicide pact". Not everybody is in this suicide pact. Every business we close, every job we cut, is moving abroad. It is going to India, to China and elsewhere. They are less interested in cutting their carbon emissions than in keeping the wheels of industry running.
The result could be that our children in twenty years time are sitting here in the dark, in cold and in poverty, listening to the rumbling of wind turbines that have (incidentally) now been shown to cause atmospheric warming themselves! All the energy experts thought that nuclear power stations had to be part of the answer. I have never liked nuclear power stations, but I have to admit that their safety record has not been as catastrophic as was predicted. Few if any of the people who campaigned against nuclear power had ever gone down a coal mine. I know this as I was one of them! We did not spend our lives toiling in dirty, unhealthy, unsafe conditions as the coal miners did. But we expected them to do it. Without an adequate energy supply, isn't there another catastrophe around the corner? It may be that shale gas could offer a part solution but not if burning it is prohibited by CO2 emissions laws. These laws are embraced by the LibLabCon as well as by the admittedly tiny Green party (who get a third of the UKIP vote) I think we all owe it to our children and grandchildren to bequeath them a society with an adequate energy supply. As it is, they will be paying the taxes for the debts of the Blair-Brown government for forty years. To have to do that and still live in the dark seems a bit unfair.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Boxing or Foxing?

How come the people who banned fox-hunting never decided to ban boxing? Fox-hunting is cruel to foxes. But foxes are a pest to farmers and are not very kind to ducks and chickens when they break into your hen-coop. Being hunted is one of the realities of being an animal in the natural world, a carnivore living among other carnivores. Boxing on the other hand harms people. Boxing is a cruel sport that injures the participants, not temporarily but permanently. It does brain damage. The whole point of boxing is to knock your opponent out, which can only be done with a blow to the head. This damages the contents! A skull is not made out of wood nor is the brain inside. Knocking people down, knocking them out, all does long term irreversible damage. It is awful to listen to the slurred speech and incoherent mumblings of many boxers in later life. They are wrecks. There are many people in the medical profession who have called for boxing to be banned as a sport. Why did the Labour party, which was so set against fox-hunting, treat animal welfare as a higher priority than human welfare? I cannot imagine what benefit the skills of a boxer are in everyday life. What is the point in learning to assault people? Is there ever any likelihood that you will be allowed to do so? So I was surprised to learn that the Youth Centre in Northway, Headington, has turned into a boxing club under the aegis of the Labour and Libdem councillors there. OK so they now get the money from the lease, but only because they have chucked out the teenagers and encouraged a cruel sport instead. I fully support the campaign of the UKIP candidate in Northway to change the club back into a Youth Centre. . . .

Friday, 27 April 2012

Wrong Cuts, Wrong Time

I was walking through central Headington today, wheeling my bike past the Abbey National - sorry, Santander! - and there was yet another beggar sitting on the pavement. This is England 2012. Beggars. I gave him £1 and he said, "Thanks, that's like a million pounds to me!" At first I thought he was being sarcastic. I looked at him, annoyed. Did he think I was a millionaire? But he wasn't being sarcastic. He repeated, "Honestly, I mean that to me is worth far more than you think." It was apparent from his slurred speech that he'd had a stroke at some time and he was grey-haired. I asked him where he was from. "Manchester." He needed to beg enough money to get into a night shelter. On BBC1's Question Time last night, the panel was asked if they have faith in the government's economic policy. No one (apart from UKIP) suggested any constructive alternative. The first CUT we need is to cut loose from the EU. Stop giving Brussels £50 million per day. Stop bailing out the eurozone with further billions. Abolish the host of expensive, time-wasting EU regulations that impede our industry. Stop paying benefits to foreign claimants or putting them in our social housing, and make them pay if they want NHS treatment. All that would save a lot of money. Use it first of all to improve the lot of our pensioners, who have been paying into this system all their lives. They are owed a better deal. They have been short-changed by the Europhile governments of Labour, Conservative and Libdem alike. [And they are all alike.] Keep the retirement age at 65 or under. When the pensioners get a better deal, they will able to afford to retire. That will mean that younger people can take their jobs. This will reduce the amount we spend on benefits, currently one of our major economic headaches. It would also reduce our benefits bill if we gave priority to British people for jobs here. Employ others only if there is no suitably qualified British applicant. It does not make sense to employ Albanians or whatever when British people are sitting around claiming social security. This nothing to do with racism - it is just that we are paying twice for the same job! If we have a shortage of plumbers or waiters, we need to train more of them here. Bringing down the benefits bill will help us to pay off our debts and means that gradually we can invest in our own country. We could reduce or abolish business tax to encourage more people to take the initiative and employ others. There is a strong argument that business tax results in a net LOSS of tax income, and net increase in benefit claims. It certainly deters many people from running a business. Taking steps like this could start to help to get us out of the downward spiral we are in. Nothing in the manifestos of the LibLabCon or the Greens begins to do so. .

Who Are these Little Englanders?

Why is it that nobody calls the Scottish Nationalist Party "Little Scotlanders"? How come nobody dismisses the Welsh Nationalists as "Little Welshers"? Yet those who advocate the independence of the United Kingdom itself - a country that was self-governing for hundreds of years and was powerful and wealthy when it ruled itself - still often get called by the silly term "Little Englanders". "Little Englanders" is not actually a political term at all. It was coined to describe poets in the neo-Georgian period who wrote about England as if it were not a great imperial power or even a union of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, but merely a small rural area in the region of Gloucestershire. Their ideas and attitudes have nothing at all to do with the agenda of UKIP. It seems that the case for independence will be listened to if you want independence for a small area that has never been able to defend itself or compete economically in the world - such as Scotland or Wales. Yet when you talk of independence for a larger unit, the same people will immediately say it is far too small. Can't be done! Quite impossible! Unrealistic. They are talking complete nonsense. . .

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Beware of Improvements.

When my children were young they used to love playing in a little area of the old Headington Quarry just off Quarry Hollow.
It was completely wild in those days. Just the grass, the natural trees, and an enormous slide that was made possible by the deep dips and steep slopes left by quarrying. It was a place where children could feel free and indulge their imaginations. Mountains, valleys, and copses challenged their skills in climbing and scrambling, chasing and hiding. This was the real outdoors. There was certainly wild life about. Birds, rabbits, and squirrels loved it. There used to be a small old-fashioned letter-box there, which was odd and lent a sense of mystery. It was the sort of thing you would find in a C.S. Lewis story.
Since then it has been taken in hand by a group of people who, under the auspices of the City Council, have set out to "improve" it. At each end, there is now a gate with a large sign that proclaims "Welcome to Quarry Hollow Park, Oxford City Council" and a telephone number. Inside the gate is an immediate vista of large bins - three different kinds, including one for dog-waste - and a garish multi-directional sign telling you which way to go to find Oxford, Headington or London. This is presumably there to help the stranded travellers who would otherwise have driven round and round the quarry in their cars for days looking for those places. After the gates and the signs are assorted posts and bollards to satisfy the well-known council craving for bollards.
It ruins the first sight of the green space itself, or "park" as they insist on calling it. Instead of seeing trees and grass, you see clutter. You see fuss. You see over-management.
More recently, they have built a proper play area with a flat, all-weather surface, a bench and a collection of large lumpish things that obviously do not belong there, but have been brought in to look interesting or be climbed on. Some of the big sycamores have been cut down and replaced with a straight line of small neat treelets, not a native species of course. The effect is well and truly municipal. A proper play area means that you can play properly now. Properly! It wouldn't surprise me a bit if there is a CCTV camera tucked away somewhere too, on the grounds of health and safety. If they haven't got one yet, they soon will have.
Why do people have to do this? Why can't they leave anything alone? Clearly there are people who cannot appreciate the unspoilt or the accidental. They have to put a stamp of officialdom on everything. They are missing such a lot - and I miss the old Quarry Hollow the way it used to be.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Should Postal Votes Be Abolished?

In the 2010 General Election there were more than ten cases of postal vote fraud exposed by the press and some of them actually got as far as the courts. Judges decided that there had been definite proof of deliberate forgery or vote-robbery, some times on a large scale. Postal vote fraud was also detected in 2009 and 2006 yet so far nothing has been done to tighten up the system and prevent it.
The fact is that postal vote fraud is not difficult. When you fill in the council form stating the number of adults in your household all you have to do is add a few imaginary ones. The same can be done by activists working within the council offices. Hundreds of postal votes for non-existent people can then be issued and filled in by the one or two real people in the household.
Another approach is for party activists to offer kind help to all the aged and infirm voters in the constituency. Their postal vote forms are requested on their behalf and taken around to their house to be filled in and signed under the surveillance of the party activist. A show of kindness, assistance and sympathy is usually enough to guarantee that the old person will vote for the name indicated on the form by the party activist. Especially as they won't go away until you do. One woman in Oxford, in her eighties, told me that in 2010 she was persuaded by these means to vote Labour and did not know the full list of candidates. They never showed it to her. Another pensioner told me a similar story during the local election in Barton. The Labour vote machine works with awesome efficiency. They have perfected this technique over many years.
And Labour is not the only party to use these sort of tactics. A Libdem confessed to me not long ago that while he was helping their campaign in 2010 they told him to take a postal vote form to a doddery, geriatric person and get their cross in the Libdem box. "Labour will do it if we don't," was the explanation.
To be fair, it is possible that the Conservatives do the same, and that I have simply not bumped into any of them yet.
The situation with forged votes has been made worse with the change in the law to allow non-British citizens to vote in our elections. Anyone from the EU or the Commonwealth can now vote here. That makes it easier to invent names and plonk them on the electoral register as you don't have to account for where the people were last year or what they wre doing before they materialized in your home. It is reported that some small flats in Tower Hamlets have ten residents registered as living there. How can councils possibly check up on thousands of addresses?
It is high time that we cracked down on this scandal, and I can only conclude that the reason nobody is taking any steps is that most of the worst cases have been in predominantly Asian and Muslim areas, so that people are scared of being called racist. A sort of PC cowardice is deterring the government from taking steps to stamp out corruption. But corruption should never hide behind a screen of political correctness.
One approach would be to insist that all voters vote in person. On the day of the poll, party activists would be entitled to drive the elderly or disabled to the polling station but not to see how they vote. Another idea would be to require a passport to be submitted for every postal vote issued. A third idea would be to ban political activists from interfering in the postal vote process. A council official could visit the homes of the housebound and offer them a form to sign in strict confidence. Everybody else would have to go to the polling station.
If we do not act soon, and act decisively, then the rot will spread and more and more of our election results will be the product of fraud.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

For Better, For Worse

A very opinionated schoolboy recently told me that we ought to legalize same-sex marriage because marriage in the Old Testament was polygamous.
Why would legal polygamy three or four thousand years ago mean that same-sex marriage was valid now? I really cannot imagine, and it was not just his corkscrew logic that worried me (that is about par for the course in this sort of argument) but also the haste to accept a second or third-rate academic interpretation of the Bible.
What we find in the early part of the Old Testament is that Abraham and his successors were accustomed - and in some cases obliged - to take more than one wife. Jacob, the younger son of Isaac, wanted to marry Rachel and worked for her father Laban for seven years, but after the time was up he was tricked into marrying her sister Leah instead. (This was a sort of rough justice after the way Jacob had treated Esau, but that is another story.) Jacob had to work another seven years before Laban allowed him to marry Rachel. Both marriages were regarded as valid. Does this mean that marriage was polygamous? Not at all. Jacob's marriage to Leah united two people, a man and a woman. His marriage to Rachel also united two people, a man and a woman. Rachel and Leah did not marry each other!!! The word "polygamy" is often misunderstood. It does not mean just "having more than one wife". It means being permitted to enter into more than one marriage." Poly = many, gamy = marriage.
So with Jacob or anybody else, each marriage involved one man and one woman. Two was the maximum number of people involved in any marriage. And this is always true in any society regardless of whether or not they permit polygamy. It was not marriage that was polygamous, it was men who were polygamous if they married twice. It is still strictly accurate to say that each marriage was the union of one man to one woman, for life.
That is actually true of the institution of marriage in every time, and in every culture. Everything has an essence, and that is the essence of marriage. Those who try to prove otherwise usually offer a jumble of confused and wrongly-interpreted evidence, twisting facts to support their foregone conclusion. That's if you're lucky. They can just resort to denouncing anyone who disagrees.

"A little learning is a dangerous thing,
Drink deep or taste not of the Pierian Spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again."
Alexander Pope.


Schools of Thought

A recent BBC Question Time panel was asked what their opinion was on selective schooling and not a single member of the panel came out in favour of it.
This seems to prove that our professional politicians are out of touch with what the mass of ordinary people want, in this respect as in so many.
It was Labour who forced the whole state education system to go comprehensive. This has merely meant that elitism takes different forms. For those children whose parents can afford to move into the cachement area of a successful school, and those whose families can afford private school, a good education is usually available. For those who cannot, the comprehensive offers only a sink-or-swim education in a miscellaneous class where everything has to be "dumbed-down" to the lowest level. Well, nearly the lowest. Labour did everything it could to close down schools for ESN pupils, and incorporate them in the mainstream, insisting that "one size fits all". This was a nightmare for teachers and it was useless for the ESN pupils as well.

In the post-war period, Britain had a series of Prime Ministers who had been to grammar schools. The last one was John Major. Since then, there has been a noticeable lurch back in direction of rule by public-school educated leaders. The reason is obvious - pupils from comprehensives are far less likely to get into university and develop the sort of skills needed to become an MP. The comprehensive system has actually reduced social mobility. We have had to resort to imposing quotas for state-school pupils admission at universities. There could be no stronger proof of the failure of the comprehensive system - unless it is that the new academies and "free schools" being set up across the country are finding that they are swamped with applications. They are not called "grammar schools" but what does that matter? A selective school, or a streamed school, does not have to follow an old-fashioned curriculum. It does not have to teach Latin or Greek. It would be something if we could at least raise the study of modern languages above the abysmal level to which Estelle Morris and the comprehensive system have let it sink.
The parents who are jostling to get their children into the new academies and free schools should ask why they have no politicians who represent their views. The LibLabCon are unanimous in supporting the comprehensive system (although most of them get round it when it comes to their own children. Tony Blair and Nick Clegg wriggled out by sending their offspring to Catholic schools - slick move!).
If you want to vote for a party that will give back a chance of first-rate education in the state system and social mobility for the bright child of poor parents, vote UKIP.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Who Do I Think I Am?

I love the TV programme "Who Do You Think You Are?" It's reality TV of the best kind. History made totally relevant. I was enthralled by the episodes about David Suchet, Esther Rantzen, and J. K Rowling.
When I was a child and people at school asked me where I was from, my parents told me to say that I was "Anglo-Indian". From time to time I got asked, "Where's Anglo-India?" which was a hard question to answer. A lot of British people don't know much about the history of their own Empire. The answer is , of course, "South of the Himalayas and North of Ceylon."
About twenty years ago some of my relatives on my mother's side took up genealogy as a pastime and traced our ancestry back to England in the 19th century and even earlier. Apparently I am descended from Cocksedges, Hills and Harringtons, who lived in East Anglia. One of my ancestors was a baker in Suffolk in the 18th-century. This news gave me an odd feeling. Clearly I was more English than I ever imagined.
I always took it for granted that the Indian bit of me was on my father's side. After all, they looked obviously darker. So recently I started researching my Gasper ancestors too, using internet sources. Millions of records of births, marriages and deaths are now available on the internet and most of the archives are free or make only a very small charge. What I found surprised me. The Gaspers intermarried with the Blakes, and in earlier generations with the Andrews and the Grahams but nowhere could I find any Indian names. All were members of the Church of England and all of them lived in Calcutta, where in 1824, a Henry Gasper was the harbour master. The earliest Gasper whose records I have so far found in India was a soldier who died in Madras on 4th October 1780. He was probably a casualty of the Second Anglo-Mysore War. On 10th of September 1780, the British forces under Colonel Munro suffered considerable losses in a battle at Pollilur and retreated to nearby Madras. A soldier wounded in the battle could well have died there a few weeks later.
The Blakes, my grandmother's family, were in their turn descended from families called Morgan, Davis, Cartwright and Smith. Even tracing them back five generations did not uncover any Indian names. My great-grandmother was born Ruth Morgan and married into the Blakes, a family that had been in India since the beginning of the eighteenth-century. In 1711, Francis Blake married Katherina Darosareo at Fort St George, Madras - the very first British military fortress to be built in India. Francis Blake must have been in the forces of the old East India Company, way back even before the British Empire acquired sovereignty. Darosareo is the only foreign name I can find anywhere in all these records and it is Portuguese.
Growing more curious all the time, I traced the records back further and discovered that Gaspers had been living in England in the seventeenth century and even earlier (in Wiltshire, Somerset and Kent to be precise). Some of them had been non-conformists So where exactly are my Indian ancestors? I am puzzled and will carry on trying to solve this mystery.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

For want of a nail

There used to be a hardware shop called Gill's Ironmongers down a tiny alley called Wheatsheaf Lane in the centre of Oxford. The entrance to the alley was no larger than a doorway and on either side the brick walls were high and crooked.
On your left, you went down a step through the doorway into Gill's and inside you had to pause to attempt to take in the visual overload, there was so much paraphanalia on all side. Kettles, pots and pans, sieves, saws and spades hung from the ceiling at various heights. Shelves were stuffed with knives, tin-openers, bottle-openers, screwdrivers, spanners, bicycle repair kits, pumps, colanders, doorbells, spare handles, latches and hooks, glue, filler, varnish, floor polish, brass polish, silver polish, shoe polish, slug pellets, ant killer, coarse string, fine string, green string, fisherman's twine, curtain hooks and curtain poles. There were lots of little drawers, each containing different sorts of nails and screws, nuts and bolts, plugs and washers, brackets and fixtures for attaching anything to anything else. You could rummage through them until you found just what you wanted, and buy just one or two, without a plastic bubble. In the centre of the shop were two large revolving display racks full of packets of vegetable seeds.

It was cramped and crowded, and rather magical, like the wandmaker's shop in Harry Potter. Gill's was not just a shop, it was an emporium. Every time I went there, and stepped down through its creaking door, making the small bell tinkle, I felt a sense of amazement. It was nice to go in there and just buy a box of matches. Simple old-fashioned matches, in a little box with a ship on it, or a bigger box with a picture of a sailor smoking a pipe.

I was sad when, about a year ago, I suddenly discovered that Gill's was no more. It had closed, after more than a century of family business. For quite a while the space was empty, then last week, I was pleased to see a sign appear at the entrance to Wheatsheaf Lane, saying "Oxford Nails".
Could it be that someone had opened another ironmongers where Gills used to be? Would there again be shallow drawers full of little metal bits and pieces, household wares?
No, in fact it is a beauty parlour. The interior is completely transformed, with bright white walls and clever lighting. A Chinese lady and gentleman wait to give you a superb manicure and display a range of eighty different colours of nail varnish.
Ah, well. I just wish they hadn't raised false hopes by calling it "Oxford Nails".

Sunday, 1 April 2012

There's no bigot like a Green bigot.

I don't know why the conversation at the church Lent lunch turned to Global Warming. Actually I do remember now - it was because just as I sat down, somebody warned me that my neighbours would try to recruit me into the eco-faction.
After that it was all downhill. I admitted to being a global warming sceptic, my neighbour insisted that he was a scientist and he knew all there was to know on the subject and there could not possibly be any doubt at all about the facts of AGW. My gentle reminders that there were bodies of evidence on both sides were met with rising hostility and anger. I asked my neighbour if he had actually read the Climategate e-mails. He looked cross and slightly red-faced and did not answer, but said that they had all been dismissed by the government enquiry. He then set out to defend Al Gore. How could nice Al be a profiteer when all he was doing was investing in green energy, thereby proving he believed what he said?
After having a quiet think about this, I responded by trying to point out that what made Al Gore rich was not investment in green energy, but in carbon emission permits. They are two very different things. Trading and speculating on carbon permits has made many people multi-millionaires without investing a penny in green energy and also without actually reducing the amount of CO2 emitted by anybody. But I was not not allowed to say this. My neighbour and his wife kept interrupting me, shouting me down and insisting that they knew all about it and could not possibly need to hear anything else. Finally they got so furious that they actually got up and moved seats.
There is nothing very surprising about this sort of bigotry. Greens are not famous for their willingness to listen to both sides of an argument. Suffice it to say that if Al Gore had invested in green energy (without government subsidy that is) he would still be a poor man today.
It's not just that I get a bit annoyed about those endless phone calls from a recorded voice telling me I have not yet claimed my free roof insulation (and as a matter of fact, I have but I've had two calls like that this week). I wonder at times about people's priorities. I bought a pair of jeans at Marks and Spencer's the other week. The label said "These jeans are made in an eco-factory, designed to cut carbon emissions and use renewable electricity. DOING THE RIGHT THING."
On the other side it says "Made in Sri Lanka". Hmmm. So no worries about doing business with a country where the government forces recently carried out huge and horrible massacres of Tamils, on a genocidal scale, and are resisting any attempts at a proper enquiry. No worries even about exporting British jobs, while we have severe unemployment here. So long as it's Green, it's doing the right thing!