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A Diary of Thoughts on Various Issues

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This page consists of comments on a variety of issues, mainly political, which arise in my mind from day to day, usually provoked by news stories. Because I am in the UK and read UK newspapers and watch mostly UK television, much, but by no means all, of the material will be specifically relevant to UK. Each piece is dated and given a title to indicate the subject matter. New material will be added at the top.

After finding I have quite a number of entries on the relatively unimportant but irritating subject of misuse and abuse of the English language, I have divided the page into two sections. The English language gripes are now gathered together in a second section of the page, after all the other material.

Constructive comments will be welcome, although I may not have time to reply to them all. Anything abusive will definitely be ignored.


All the items are listed in alphabetical order of title in a table below. Click here to view it

Alphabetical index of subjects (other than English language)

When a topic has more than one entry here it means it is mentioned in more than one of the items below

A B C D E F G H I L M N P R S T U W

Airport security
Alternative vote system
Arbitration
Archbishop of Canterbury
Armenia
Atlantis
Atlas Mountains
Attlee
Banks
Banks
Banks
Banks
Benefit payments
Benn, Tony
Berlusconi
Binge drinking
Blair
Blairism
Bliar, Tory
Blockade
BNP
Body scanners
Brown, Gordon
Brown, Gordon
Building
Building
Bush G.W.
Cable V.
Callaghan
Cameron
Cash-for-honours
Children
Children' images
Clegg
Clinton, Bill
Company law
de Menezes
Democracy
Detention
Divorce
Drains
Education
Egypt
Election
Executive pay
Flood plains
Flood plains
Floods
Football
Football
Gaza
Gaza
General Belgrano
General election
Genocide
Gibraltar
Hamas
Hitler
Honest politicians
Incapacity benefit
Income tax
Indecent images
Internet
Israel
Israel
Jenkins, Roy
Journalism
Laws, David
Loans
Major, John
Mandelson
Manufacturing industry
Marriage
Mediterranean Sea
Miliband
Miliband
MMR controversy
MPs' pay
Mussolini
National Health Service
Next prime minister
Nixon
Noah's flood
Obama
Old Age Pension
Old Age Pension
Palestinians
Palin
Parliamentary expense claims
Piracy
Police
Police
Political policy-making
Postal service
Prime minister
"Prime Minsterial" debates on TV
Principles
Privacy
Privacy
Profit v society
Railways
Recession
Referendum
Roosevelt
Roosevelt
Rule of law
Safety
Scandal
Scanners at airports
Sewers
Sexism
Sexism
Sharia law
Shooting
Storm sewers
Tax
Tectonic plates
Teenage
Terrorism
Thatcher, Margaret
Thatcher, Margaret
Turkey
Unemployment benefit
Web sites
Wikileaks
Wilson, Harold
Witness protection


Alphabetical list of subject headings

Dates are when added to this page

General TopicsEnglish Language
Bankers 15th November 2009Appealing 15th January 2010
Bankers and others 5th January 2010Debasement of the English language 15th October 2007
Body scans at airports 5th January 2010Debasement of the English language 17th October 2007
Brown and the "bigoted" woman 2nd May 2010Debasement of the English language 20th October 2007
Building on flood plains 23rd July 2007Debasement of the English language 8th November 2007
Building on flood plains 24th July 2007Euphemisms 10th November 2007
Cameron's demand for companies to put society before profit 28th November 2010Free 18th May 2008
Children's safety on "chat" web sites 1st August 2007Giving gifts 14th December 2007
Collapsing banks 15th September 2008Hope 18th May 2008
Detention before trial 31st March 2008Meetings 5th January 2010
Drains and storm sewers failing to cope 24th July 2007Meetings 15th January 2010
Failure to call a general election 7th October 2007Misuse of English 12th December 2007
Genocide in Armenia 14th October 2007More or less 16th February 2010
Hole in the wall 4th February 2008Names of cities and countries 1st September 2007
Israeli piratical attack on Gaza aid flotilla 1st June 2010Tenses 11th November 2007
Justice 21st November 2007 
Miliband to let the public vote on party policy and leadership 29th November 2010 
MMR controversy 10th June 2009 
More on bankers 15th January 2010 
MPs' pay, pensions and benefits 18th June 2008 
Police investigation into cash-for-honours scandal 23rd July 2007 
Political principles 8th December 2010 
"Prime Ministerial" debates on television 2nd May 2010 
Problem for the next prime minister 14th June 2008 
Resignation of David Laws from UK government 
Sexism in sport 1st February 2011 
Sexism in sport part 2 4th February 2011 
Shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes 8th November 2007 
Sharia law in UK? 12th Febriary 2008 
Sinking of the General Belgrano 14th September 2007
Modified 16th February 2010
 
Tectonics 12th December 2007 
Teenage "binge" drinking 1st September 2007 
The Alternative vote and the BNP 13th April 2011 
Wikileaks 8th December 2010 


13th April 2011

The Alternative vote and the BNP

The campaign against the alternative vote in the forthcoming referendum seems to be resorting more to lies, innuendo and irrelevancies than to presentation of facts. One in particular shows how desperate they are. A leaflet I received today suggests it would help supporters of the BNP, and the NO campaign treasurer Baroness Warsi actually said "A vote for AV is a vote for BNP", which is in strange contrast to the fact that the only political party united in opposition to the alternative vote is the BNP, because they know it would reduce their chances of getting elected. They also claim that the alternative vote gives some electors two votes - a blatant, nonsensical lie. It simply destroys the old "wasted vote" argument against voting for minority parties and removes the danger of splitting the vote against a disliked candidate.

A whole page of the leaflet is also devoted to attacking Nick Clegg and associating him with the vote on the referendum. This is a referendum on the voting system. not a vote on the popularity of Nick Clegg!

The fact is that the alternative vote system is a poor one, which is why few countries use it, but it does have the conclusive advantage, so far as this referendum is concerned, that it is better than our existing dreadful first-past-the-post system. In the referendum we are not being given the chance to vote for a good system, only the choice between the poor alternative vote and the even worse first-past-the post


4th February 2011

Sexism in sport part 2

The first item on this subject drew the comment I see your point, but given that generally women are less physically strong than men, how viable would mixed -gender football be?

Many star footballers do not rely on strength but on skill. Examples from past and present are Stanley Matthews, Gary Lineker, Ryan Giggs and Michael Owen. I see no reason why women shouldn't do what they do/did. Furthermore, the fact that on average men are stronger than women is irrelevant. Some women are stronger that most men. The criterion should be ability and nothing else. Similarly with rugby and all other sports. Men and women often do compete in the same long distance races.


1st February 2011

Sexism in sport

Following the exposure of the sexism of Messrs. Keyes and Gray, the football authorities have declared that sexism has no place in football. I'll believe they mean it when I see mixed gender teams playing at all levels, including the Premier League. Incidentally, the stupid remarks were made in private. Aren't those two entitled to privacy even if their views are obnoxious? How about some action against those who published the offensive words?


8th December 2010

Political principles

The item below (29th November) about Miliband got me thinking about politicians and principles. The politicians I have any knowledge of and who achieved some sort of power seem to come into one of four categories (although there are many I cannot place through lack of knowledge or perhaps because they vary from one group to another dependent on the topic).

First are those with no discernible principles, who are purely self-serving in seeking power. Apparent examples in this group are Mandelson, Blair, Nixon, Miliband, Clegg, Cable, G.W. Bush, Berlusconi and Mussolini.

The second group are those who do have and try to put into practice, strong principles, but whose principles are badly misguided or even evil. Examples are Osborne (and several other members of the present UK Cabinet), Thatcher, Hitler and, if she were to get into significant power, Palin (although it may be that she is too stupid to know what a principle is - she certainly follows wholly misguided dogmas without regard to facts).

The third group have and try to put into practice principles which are on the whole praiseworthy, but whose methods/policies are misguided or who do not have the ability to achieve them or are defeated by circumstances. Examples of this group are Tony Benn, probably Callaghan and Wilson, and possibly Bill Clinton and Obama.

The fourth and rarest group is of those who have praiseworthy principles and succeed in implementing a significant proportion of what they want (that does not mean I think everything they did was right - far from it). Examples here are Attlee in UK, F.D. Roosevelt in USA and, as Home Secretary, Jenkins, also in UK.

I have for the moment omitted Cameron. He looks as if he could belong in either the first or the third group. His statements do not seem to fit the second group, but with colleagues like his he appears to have no chance of being in the fourth.


8th December 2010

Wikileaks

Julian Assange and his team are providing a great service to democracy in revealing the deception and wrongdoing of governments, especially USA. The self-proclaimed guardian of democracy is shown to be as duplicitous in its behaviour as many of those it condemns, and the reaction to the leaks shows how little real regard the USA government and it supporters have for their much-vaunted constitutional rights to free speech. The reactions of the State Department and of many big businesses are very reminiscent of the McCarthy era. In addition to the totally unwarranted, and possibly illegal, freezing of accounts by the likes of Paypal, Mastercard, Visa and Wikileaks main bank in Switzerland, Amazon have stopped access to the mirror Wikileaks web site on their server and at least one major DNS server (which translates human-recognisable web site URLs to the numeric form used by computers) has removed the Wikileaks entry so that people attempting to visit the web site are told it does not exist. Twitter and Facebook have also acted against them. I am therefore copying what many others throughout the world have done by including here the direct numeric links to the main Sweden-based Wikileaks web site and to the Germany-based mirror site. Clicking on these links by-passes the need to use any DNS server. You may also like to take a look at the latest news on the campaign to defend Wikileaks on this Live Journal page.


29th November 2010

Miliband to let the public vote on party policy and leadership

So Ed Miliband is to allow the general public to have a say in choosing future Labour Party leaders and in deciding party policy. This illustrates perfectly why people are deserting conventional politics, refusing to join parties or to vote for them. Instead of being in politics to achieve something for the country, based on principles, and seeking power in order to implement those policies which will do so and campaigning to persuade people that those policies are right, he prefers to accept whatever policies the more vocal members of the public put forward in order to gain power for its own sake, and for the personal income he will receive as a result. Did someone suggest he is not a Blairite? That's pure Blairism.


28th November 2010

Cameron's demand for companies to put society before profit

David Cameron is reported as criticising businesses for putting profit before society, quoting such examples as padded bras for children and the sale of cheap alcohol. He needs to understand why that will continue to be the case until he and his government do something about it. At present, any company directos doing as he asks would be liable to be sued by their shareholder. Company law effectively requires them to put profit first. David Cameron and his government have the power to change that law. Until that happens all such talk is meaningless hot air.


1st June 2010

Israeli piratical attack on Gaza aid flotilla

It's all very well the "international community" wringing their hands and displaying their crocodile tears after the event. The Israelis made it quite clear in advance that they intended to carry out this act of blatant piracy, so why was the flotilla not accompanied by an aircraft carrier and a couple of destroyers, preferably under a UN flag, to deter and, if necessary, destroy them? Somali pirates announcing their intentions would not have been so lucky!

I note the Israeli government defends its killing of some crew members of the flotilla by saying its troops had been provoked and attacked by activists aboard the vessels. Presumably they consider it a criminal act worthy of a death sentence without trial for the victims of pirates to attempt to defend themselves and their property from attack?


30th May 2010

Resignation of David Laws from UK government

I am baffled by the regrets and sympathy being expressed for David Laws over his resignation from the government following the exposure of his wrongful claiming of expenses paid to his homosexual partner for rent. He claims he did not want to make his sexuality public, and this exposure has done that. However, he clearly made wrongful claims on public money. If he had not done so, his sexuality would not have been exposed, and it is a totally irrelevant smokescreen. His wrongful behaviour fully justifies his being expelled from government, and I see no reason for his being shown any sympathy whatever.


2nd May 2010

"Prime Ministerial" debates on television

The innovation of TV debates between the leaders of the three biggest parties has undoubtedly increased interest in the election and boosted the Liberal Democrats by giving them much more exposure than they would otherwise have received. So far, so good. However, there seems to me to be at least three major problems with the process:

  1. It is totally undemocratic for such events to be restricted to only three parties when there are many more participating seriously in the election. The leaders of every serious party should take part if such debates take place at all, and this could easily be arranged by including every party contesting more than 50% of the seats. In this election this would have included the Green Party, UKIP, BNP, probably Respect and possibly some others.
  2. This is a move toward a presidential style of government, but without the constitutional safeguards such a style needs.
  3. The party leaders are candidates in their own constituencies. Participation in these debates gives them a huge unfair advantage over their opponents in those constituencies. I hope they will at least be forced to share the full cost of producing those programmes in their election expenses, and prosecuted if they do not do so (and for exceeding the legal limits on such expenses in the very probable event that they do so)

I conclude, therefore, that such debates are totally incompatible with our present system of democracy.


2nd May 2010

Brown and the "bigoted" woman

Prime minister Gordon Brown interviewed a woman elector in Rochdale who questioned him about immigration policy among other topics. This interview was recorded by Sky TV. Afterwards, in the privacy (he thought) of his car he criticised the woman and said she was "bigoted". He did not realise that the Sky team had, unusually for a journalist, left his attached microphone attached to him and switched on, so his remarks were recorded. The journalist then played back this recording to the woman in question and it was repeated many times on TV news programmes, including on BBC news. Brown was subject to severe criticism for his words and later visited the woman again to apologise. It seems to me we need some consistency and honesty from our journalists.

First, the Sky journalist was either incompetent or dishonest in leaving the microphone in place. Second, he was deliberately trying to stir up trouble by replaying the recording to the woman concerned and on television. This was a gross invasion of Brown's right to privacy.

Quite apart from this aspect of journalistic standards, don't we need some consistency in what we say we want from our politicians? They are repeatedly told they should be honest and say what they really mean, so why criticise Brown for doing just that? If he genuinely thought the woman was a bigot, why should he not say so in private to his own close colleagues?


15th January 2010

More on bankers

As was pointed out in an article by Simon Jenkins in The Guardian two days ago, the payments bankers are making to themselves by way of bonuses on top of already excessive salaries, when the profits they are misusing for the purpose only exist because they have been bailed out by taxpayers, is in effect theft on a grand scale, from both the taxpayers and from their shareholders. I doubt if it is in fact against current law, but that means the law should be changed at once, and they should then be treated as the thieves they are by being given lengthy prison sentences and have their ill-gotten gains confiscated.

Why won't the government take effective action? Why don't the main opposition parties crucify them for not doing so? They all want to solve the financial crisis by cutting government services, when it seems obvious to most people they should instead take the money back from these parasites who caused the problem in the first place. In this the Tories are worse than the government, wanting earlier and bigger cuts. The Liberal Democrats at least acknowledge that the present tax system is unfair by imposing a lower percentage tax on the rich than on the poor, but they don't take the next step and propose effective action to correct it. We have to look to smaller parties, such as the Green Party, for anything like a sensible and fair economic and tax policy.


5th January 2010

Body scans at airports

The government is proposing to impose body scanning of passengers at all airports, making images of all details of a person's body under their clothes, and, of course, of anything else hidden there, in the hope of improving airport security. This seems to have been provoked by the recent failed attempt to blow up a plane in USA by a Nigerian using explosive attached to his leg. This proposal has now hit a snag because of claims it would infringe the law against producing indecent images of children if the scanner were used on anyone under eighteen years of age.

This whole episode is nonsensical in several respects:

  1. According to reports of airport operators' and airlines' reactions to the proposal, it is impractical because there simply is not room for the equipment at most airports;
  2. The scanners would still fail to reveal plastic containers or plastic explosives, such as were used in the attempt in question;
  3. If the law really does prevent such scans of children, then it is that law, not the use of scanners, which should be changed to get round that particular problem. I do not think, however, that that is the case. The law prohibts the production of "indecent" images of children. The problem comes with the ridiculous interpretation that "nude" equals "indecent". Correct that idiotic interpretation and the problem disappears.

An additional point mentioned in today's newspaper is the fear that images of people's naked bodies, produced by these scans, could be published on the internet. This is seen, apparently, as a serious problem, with a need for precautions to prevent it. I don't see either the problem or an effective way to prevent it from happening. If the scanners do go into regular use, then sooner or later images produced by them will appear on the internet. So what?

Bankers and others

The government has announced a temporary one-off tax on the obscene bonuses paid to (but not earned) by bankers and others of their ilk. This is a misconceived, doomed-to-failure, solution to a small part of a much larger and more important problem - the huge payments awarded to themselves (in effect if not always in theory) by senior members of large organisations of all kinds, including most multinational companies,, most senior executives in British local government, the senior ranks of the BBC, health service managers, etc. The fact that no major political party is willing to face up to this injustice, especially in times of recession, is one main cause of people's disaffection with politics, and with those parties in particular.

Two (at least) reasonable solutions have been put forward. One is to legislate to make it a criminal offence for anyone in any organisation to be paid more than, say seven, times the lowest rate paid any other member of that organisation. This has great appeal in terms of justice, but would not, for example, curb in any way the grossly unwarranted payments made to many entertainers. It also has the great disadvantage that it would be extremely difficult to enforce as employers would find ways to circumvent it (just as banks are currently working to circumvent the one-off tax on bonuses).

The second solution, which I favour, is simply to increase the tax rate to a level far higher than at present for the excessively highly paid. At one time the top rate of income tax in UK was 98%. I see no reason why it should not go back to that, or even higher, for those paid in millions of pounds per year. The squealing of those in receipt of such incomes that they would leave the country should be ignored. They didn't in the past, and most of them would not in the future, especially if the legiclation were framed, as it should be, to hit them on earnings in the country regardless of where they live. In any case, the country would be better off without such parasites. There are plenty of people available who could and would do their jobs just as well for far less pay.


15th November 2009

Bankers

In his inaugural address on 4th March 1933, USA President Roosevelt said, speaking of the depression:

Primarily, this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.
...
Yes, the money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilisation. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of that restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

Almost every word of that statement applies equally today, the one major difference being that today the failed money changers, instead of abdicating, have demanded that governments bail them out so as to allow them to continue as before, and, unbelievably, governments of all countries have rolled over and done their bidding! Even when governments have (reluctantly) taken possession of failed banks they have allowed the same or similar directors to continue with their old ways instead of directing them, under pain of immediate dismissal (without compensation), to do what the country needs, not what they and their shareholders need, forcing them to split necessary commercial banking from their investment/gambling-with-other-people's-money activities and forcing them to lend to struggling small businesses which they have put into difficulties by causing the economic recession.


10th June 2009

MMR controversy

There has been considerable controversy in UK over the safety of the combined inoculation of children against measles, mumps and rubella (German measles), based on a totally wrong but widely publicised report that it could lead to the development of autism. As a consequence many children have not received the protection against these diseases that this jab could provide. Some people are now demanding that such children should be banned from normal schools, in order to protect those who have been immunised. This seems to me to suffer from two quite separate faults.

How are the children said to be at risk, by exposure to those who have not been immunised, in any danger? They have been immunised and, if that is as effective as claimed, they should be in no danger if they are exposed to any of these diseases - that is exactly what the immunisation was supposed to be for.

Secondly, since the objection, erroneous though it may be, is to the combined immunisation, why can those children not be offered three separate inoculations, one for each of the three diseases, and so provide those children with the protection they may well need without causing unnecessary stress to their parents? Why the insistence on a combined jab, which, as far as I know, is not used for any other diseases?


15th September 2008

Collapsing banks

We seem to be in the middle of a series of banking failures, stemming from their excessively risky investments in such things as the so-called sub-prime mortgages. The first such failures (such as Bear Stearnes and Northern Rock) have resulted in government rescue packages, but with Lehman Brothers the (USA) government has stood aside and allowed it to fail. The result looks like being financial chaos not only in USA but also in other countries (such as UK) where the bank has major interests. The banks have been able to get themselves into this mess because governments have removed the controls they used to apply to prevent such lunatic behaviour.

It seems to me two major actions should be taken. First, controls should be imposed (or re-imposed) on banking investments to prevent any repetition. Second, when a bank does fail the government should step in and take it over, paying no compensation to shareholders or directors, sacking the directors and suing them on behalf of shareholders for their misuse of shareholder funds. Ordinary cusatomers of the banks, such as private depositors and account holders, business customers and mortgagees, none of whom have any control over the directors' behaviour, deserve to be protected, so far as possible at the directors' expense.


18th June 2008

MPs' pay, pensions and benefits

I see MPs are likely to be given another pay rise. It occurs to me that, since there can be no doubt that they should receive enough income to support a reasonable standard of living, the level could sensibly be set by comparison with others who also have that need and have their income set by Parliament. I therefore propose that the pay of each MP, the standard state pension and unemployment benefit (or whatever it's called this week) should all be equal, with incapacity benefit being a little higher to allow for the additional expenditure that condition necessarily requires.


14th June 2008

Problem for the next prime minister

Thatcher destroyed the Old Age Pension system (by removing the link with average earnings) and manufacturing industry.
Major destroyed the railway system.
Blair and Brown have destroyed the education system, the National Health Service and the postal service.
What does that leave for the next prime minister to do?


31st March 2008

Detention before trial

Once again the UK government is trying to extend the period suspects can be held in detention before being charged with any offence (from 28 days to 42), as usual under the pretext of countering the threat of terrorism. They have, as usual, got their priorities completely wrong as well as introducing a measure which would be counter-productive.

Their priorities are wrong because they are putting "security" above human rights. There is never a good case for arresting anyone before the evidence of their wrong-doing has been collected, so there is no excuse for making an arrest if they cannot immediately be charged with a serious offence. The excuse that the police need the additional time to collect the evidence necessary to bring a charge is totally invalid and contrary to the rule of law (which is what they are supposed to be defending), quite apart from the fact that the police themselves say the proposed increase is unnecessary.

It is well-known that terrorists regard the provocation of an over-reaction by government by introducing laws suppressing basic human rights as a major objective. Laws such as this are exactly what the terrorists want, and act as a powerful recruiting agent on their behalf. It is difficult to think of anything which could be more counter-productive than this change, increasing an already grossly excessive period of detention without charge or trial which will be seen by so many as aimed at a particular minority (and likely to be used primarily against that minority).

Parliament should amend the proposal from 42 days to 24 hours, which is quite long enough to bring criminal charges if the police have sufficient evidence to justify making an arrest.


12th February 2008

Sharia law in UK?

The Archbishop of Canterbury has raised some controversy by suggesting that some aspects of sharia law should be recognised by English courts. It seems his words were very obscure, leaving no one quite sure precisely what he meant, and I have read only newspaper accounts, which I would not regard as a reliable source. However, it does raise an interesting question as to what legal recognition, if any, should be given to differing belief systems.

First I must maintain (and it seems the archbishop agrees) that the criminal law must be the same for everyone. Neither sharia law nor any other special arrangments have any place in this area.

In the area of civil law it is already the case that some disputes can be settled outside the courts, either privately or by use of an independent arbitrator whose decisions can be final (preventing further appeal to the courts), subject to prior agreement by both sides. This seems very reasonable to me, provided there is no coercion of any kind to go along with this, and with the civil courts as the alternative if agreement on arbitration cannot be reached. It is essential, though, that this agreement to arbitration should be reached at the time of the dispute and should apply only to the point in dispute at the time of the agreement. With those safeguards, I see no reason why marriage according to sharia law should not be acceptable, subject to the civil requirements of registration and independent witnesses that both parties agree to the marriage. Similarly divorce should be acceptable in the same way provided there are no dependant children; if there are children then civil proceedings should be required to ensure that their welfare is paramount, both in agreeing to the divorce and in any related settelment conditions. However, it should be quite clear that a marriage according to sharia (or any other belief-based) law does not imply agreement to subsequent divorce on the same basis - this is a separate decision needing separate agreement. In the same way, arrangements for loans according to sharia law, if agreed by both parties, are no business of the government provided the reality of what happens is recognised fully for tax purposes, giving neither advantage nor disadvantage compared with normal arrangements.

In all cases, if agreement cannot be reached on a procedure or arbitrator outside the legal system, then the normal civil law and its courts should be the default alternative.


4th February 2008

Hole in the wall

A few days ago militants used explosives to blow a hole in the Israeli-built wall separating Gaza from Egypt, and thousands of starving Palestinians took advantage of it to go shopping in Egypt for food and other necessaries to keep themselves alive. Now I hear that the Egyptians intend to rebuild the wall, with the agreement of Hamas, the elected government of Gaza. Why? Why do the Egyptians and even Hamas want to cooperate with the illegal Israeli blockade which is causing so much suffering to innocent Palestinians? I would have expected them to welcome the breech in the wall, and enlarge it. I certainly hope the militants have the will and equipment to re-open it, repeatedly if necessary. That would be a far better use for their explosives than using them to kill innocent Israelis.


12th December 2007

Tectonics

A TV programme on BBC2 last night (one of a series called Earth: the Power of the Planet) included a description of how the Mediterranean Sea is periodically cut off from the Atlantic Ocean as a result of collision between the European and African tectonic plates, which meet at and close the Straits of Gibraltar. The sea then dries completely to become a salt desert over a period of about 2,000 years, only to be reinstated when the plates subsequently move apart and the Atlantic flows back in. This left some queries in my mind which the programme made no attempt to answer:

  1. Why do these particular plates behave in this fashion? My understanding is that when two tectonic plates collide, they normally stay collided and create a huge mountain range, such as the Himalayas, whereas in this case we are told they effectively bounce (after creating the Atlas range of mountains, although they did not get a mention), and then collide again repeatedly.
  2. From time to time the programme has shown how cataclysmic floods have occurred in various parts of the world, but in this case the only mention of the result of the Straits reopening was that a species of miniature elephant found itself isolated on Sicily. Surely this would have been a flood to dwarf all the others the programme has shown? Was the last occasion the origin of such legends as Noah's flood and the sinking of Atlantis? The tidal wave which must have flowed the length of the Mediterranean must have been colossal - enough to have lifted a boat to the top of Mount Ararat? Unfortunately, so far as I can recall, the timescale of the last reopening of the Straits was not mentioned.


21st November 2007

Justice

It is reported that a gun crime victim has been imprisoned for misleading the police instead of helping them to find his attacker. The judge said the sentence was intended to act as a deterrent, and stressed the importance of catching the criminal, who remained at large and armed. The case appears to me to be a condemnation of the ineffectiveness of witness protection in this country. The man was faced with a choice between three months in prison (or whatever that sentence gets reduced to) or the threat of a further attempt on his life and those of members of his family from the criminal himself and his associates. I wonder if the judge himself, faced with that choice, would have acted differently?


8th November 2007

Shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes

There are repeated calls for the resignation of the Metoropolitan Police Commissioner following the revelation of a series of errors by his force leading to the killing by police of an innocent man. I am not going to comment on whether he should do so at this stage, because I do not know what part, if any, he played in the incident (but see late additional paragraph below). However, two things are clear.
  1. An innocent man was deliberately killed. That can only be murder or manslaughter, and whoever was directly responsible (either by pulling the trigger or by giving the order to do so) should be prosecuted for this serious crime
  2. It seems he was mistaken for a specific terrorist (despite not looking like him) and was thought to be a suicide bomber. In that case it was gross incompetence for the police to follow him onto a train, or even to allow him to enter the station, instead of arresting (not shooting) him in the street first. Whoever was responsible for that decision should be relieved of all duties which could put them in a similar position again.

Since I wrote the above two paragraphs, but before putting it on-line, I have heard one of the conclusions of an independent inquiry into the incident. This states that the inquiry was greatly and deliberately hampered by the Commissionner obstructing its work. If this is true (and I have no reason to doubt it) he should be sacked immediately.


14th October 2007

Genocide in Armenia

So a USA Congressional committee has refused to bow to Turkish wishes, to the annoyance of the president. Good for them. The truth should not be distorted to suit either friends or foreign policy. It happened. Turks tried to eliminate the Armenian people by killing huge numbers. That is genocide. Why can't the modern Turks, who were in no way personally responsible for the atrocity (perhaps a few of the oldest were, but it's not them who are making the fuss), just accept the fact and move on? It's not as if anyone is accusing them of doing anything wrong, other than telling lies and trying to rewrite history. Their ancestors committed a crime, not them. Whose ancestors didn't?


7th October 2007

Failure to call a general election

All the press and television reports, as well as opposition parties, seem to be regarding Brown's failure to call the anticipated general election an embarrassing setback for him, with talks of this being a crisis for the government. Why? The media themselves seem to have orchestrated the whole thing, while all the prime minister has done is refuse to comment until yesterday, when he quite legitimately said he had no intention of calling an early election. Comments that "the public want an election because he was not elected to office" are simply rubbish. No British prime minister has ever been elected to that office. He was elected to Parliament, just as was his predecessor. The idea that he should have an election to confirm him in office as prime mnister just ignores the way the British constitution works. Election of the prime minister assumes this is a directly elected office equivalent to a USA president, but this has never been the case. Why don't these people concentrate on policies or, if they want to talk about constitutional issues, let them learn how our constitution actually works and then campaign for improvements to it instead of all this made-up nonsense which merely reveals their ignorance.

In case anyone should get the wrong idea from the above paragraph, I should make clear I have no time for Gordon Brown, and don't expect any significant change from the right-wing policies pursued by his predecessor Tory Bliar.


14th September 2007, modified 16th February 2010

Sinking of the General Belgrano

I know this is an old subject, but it still seems to come up from time to time, usually being quoted as an example of bad behaviour by the military. I have never understood why the matter was ever in any way controversial. To remind those who may have forgotten, and inform those too young ever to have known, this was an incident in the Falklands war, when British forces were fighting to retrieve control of the Falkland Islands from Argentina, which had taken them by way of military invasion. The General Belgrano was a large Argentinian warship. It was in the south Atlantic, and at the time was sailing away from the scene of conflict, when it was sunk by British forces, with, not surprisingly, some loss of life. The controversy concerned not the legitimacy of the war but the fact that the ship was sailing away from the current battlefield, and was thought by some to be not a legitimate target for that reason.

This makes no sense to me at all. There was a war in progress, and this was an enemy warship. When two countries are at war with one another, surely any military force or capability in the possession of one side is a legitimate target for the other? The ship could have changed direction at any moment, may have been intended to escort additional forces to the battle area, or going to have its capability strengthened before returning to the fight. By its very existence as a warship in enemy hands it was a legitimate target for attack so long as the war continued. The legitimacy of the war and/or of the Argentinian invasion is an entirely separate matter on which I shall probably comment as part of a much wider topic at some time.

Incidentally, this ship was sold to Argentina by the USA. It was known in the USA navy as "The Lucky Ship", although its official name then was Phoenix. It gained the nickname because it was the only ship to survive the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.


1st September 2007

Teenage "binge" drinking

If one judges by British media reports, the impression is given that this is a purely British phenomenon, but is continued by British teenagers when abroad on holiday. As a result, any British portrayal of British teenagers on holiday in somewhere like Majorca or Ibiza gives the impression that each of these places caters specifically for British teenagers, with bars and clubs full of them, all drinking too much alcohol and behaving badly. However, if you were to watch instead a German television programme showing either of these places, the impression given is that they are dominated by German teenagers behaving in exactly the same way! On British TV, the teenagers are speaking English, signs and menus are a mixture of English and Spanish, local police talk about the problems brought by the British. On German TV the language spoken by all the teenagers shown is German, the signs and menus are German and Spanish and the local police complain about the behaviour of young Germans! Why can't we have some balanced reporting in both Britain and Germany?


1st August 2007

Children's safety on "chat" web sites

There has been a lot of fuss in the last few days about web sites such as Facebook (not sure if I've got that link right) and the way children can display "indecent" images of themselves, access "pornographic" images, and can be groomed by paedophiles posing as youngsters on sites of this kind. There seems to be an assumption that the government should impose controls to ensure the safety of children in this area.

There are two (maybe three) quite separate issues here.

  1. Is there a real danger that paedophiles can get to meet the children they groom on these sites? The answer would appear to be "Yes", so some kind of control by someone is needed.
  2. Is there anything effective the government, or the web site operators, can do about it, and in any case should they? The answers appear to me to be "No", "No" and "No". The web site operator can bring in various controls to make it a little more difficult for paedophiles, but they have no way of knowing the true identity of any participant, so their ability to assert that kind of control is severely limited. The government has even less ability, since the most they can do is pass laws to tell web site operators to take action - they can then do what little is available to them, or move their server to another country and then ignore the government. As to should they try, I don't see why they should. The responsibility is that of the parents, not the government. Parents should in any case keep a close watch on what use their children make of the internet (these sites are far from being the only way paedophiles can groom children via the internet) and control it to meet their own needs, which depend anyway on the individual child. Simple education can go a long way, and there is room for government help in that area, to educate some parents as well as the children.
  3. Finally, and, in my view least important, are the images complained of doing any harm? Again, as far as I can see, the answer must be "No". Neither images of the children, posted by themselves, nor images they see posted by others, can do them any harm whatever. What's the problem?


24th July 2007

Drains and storm sewers failing to cope

One of the reasons for recent flooding in towns and cities has been the failure of the drains and sewers to cope with the volume of local rainfall. Government statements so far have all been concerned with improving the drains and sewers themselves, while ignoring the reason why previously adequate systems are now failing. In many cases it is the direct result of people paving over their front gardens to make car parking spaces. This means that water which would have soaked into the soil and slowly made its way to the local river system is instead diverted along hard surfaces (usually from the paved gardens to the road) and hence to the sewers. This means rainfall which the sewers would have been able to cope with a few years ago and is within their design range, now fail because the same quantity of rain sends far more water that way than used to be the case. There is a serious need for the paving of front gardens to be brought under control - there are other serious environmental reasons for this as well, such as the reduction in plant life and its dependent wildlife, and the psychological effect on everyone in the area.

Building on flood plains

The government has reacted to criticisms of its proposals by saying it will ensure proper safeguards are in place, and the Environment Agency will be "consulted", to ensure that any houses built on flood plains are fully protected. This typically blinkered approach totally ignores the fact that this will limit the space into which the water can go, transferring the flooding problem elsewhere within the same lower river basin. Do they think that if they stop the new houses being flooded the water which would have occupied that part of the flood plain will simply cease to exist?

They also mention that many existing towns and cities (including London) are built on flood plains. This is quite true, but the point is that if a tiny part of the flood plain is built over and protected, this makes little difference to the flood plain function, but when major parts of it are treated in the same way it can no longer do its job, and either the defences are overwhelmed or flooding appears elsewhere.


23rd July 2007

Building on flood plains

Despite major flooding over the past few days in many areas of the country, a government report is now published saying it is unrealistic to stop building new houses on flood plains, and proposing to build many thousands in just such a situation over the next few years. Are they completely mad? Flood plains exist to be flooded in times of exceptionally heavy rainfall. In doing this they are condemning the occupants of those houses to certain misery and loss of property and even life. Furthermore, if they build houses they will necessarily also build the other amenities that the new communities will require - work places, schools, hospitals, water treatment plants, electricity sub-stations, etc., all of which will also suffer, in some cases (e.g. water treatment plants and electricity sub-stations) spreading the ill-effects far beyond the places actually flooded.

Certainly there is a need to house people, and with a growing population and the deterioration of some old housing stock new houses will be (and already are) needed, but there must be better answers than this lunacy. One desperate need, both in UK and world-wide, is a reduction in population by lowering the birthrate.

Police investigation into cash-for-honours scandal

The police have spent many months investigating allegations that peerages have been sold in return for loans and donations to Labour Party funds. During the investigation the former prime minister (who I prefer to name Tory Bliar) was interviewed more than once and some people were arrested but not charged. The affair has ended (for the time being) with a decision not to charge anyone with a criminal offence. This has led to strong criticism of the police for having wasted everyone's time and put unnecessary stress on the people who were clearly under suspicion.

In voicing and encouraging this criticism the press and television have demonstrated a total ignorance of the way the law and the police work (or have ignored it in order to make up a story). The police clearly felt, as did and still do most people, that a series of high profile peerages given to people who had made very large gifts or loans to the Labour Party gave rise to a very strong suspicion of corruption at high levels of government. They quite rightly carried out a very thorough and painstaking investigation, not just into whether such criminal behaviour had in fact taken place, but also to collect evidence so as to be able to prove the point beyond reasonable doubt in relation to specific individuals. The fact that no charges have been brought shows not that no such crime was committed but only that the police were not able to find sufficient evidence to make a case stand up in a criminal court - a much more difficult undertaking.

It does not, however, follow that the police actions were entirely on the right lines. At least one arrest was carried out (according to the reports I read) by getting the person concerned out of bed in the early hours of the morning. This seems to be standard practice by a few police forces when making arrests in people's homes. This was in this case, and in many others, both unnecessary and unjustifiable. I can see that in a few cases it is necessary to take the perosn by surprise in order to prevent them from running away in advance, but in most cases it is clearly done simply to intimidate the person being arrested. That is not and most definitely should not be a police function. They need to remember that in English, and most other, law, a person is innocent until they have been convicted in a fair trial. The police, like the press, television and everyone else, are under an obligation to keep that at the forefront of their minds at all times. I think there is a strong case for a person who has been arrested in that way to bring an action against the police and receive compensation, unless the police can prove there was a good reason for their behaviour. This right should exist regardless of whether the person is subsequently found guilty of the offence for which they were arrested.



English Language

Alphabetical index of subjects

When a topic has more than one entry here it means it is mentioned in more than one of the items below

Cities
Countries
Euphemisms
Grammar
Grammar
Grammar
Grammar
Grammar
Grammar
Grammar
Grammar
Grammar
Names
Punctuation
Punctuation
Punctuation
Spelling
Spelling
Spelling
Tenses
Terrorism
Vocabulary
Vocabulary
Vocabulary
Vocabulary
Vocabulary

Vocabulary


16th February 2010

More or less

Too many people have in recent years got into the habit of using such phrases as "five time more than" or "five times bigger than" when they actually mean "five times as many as" or "five times as big as". Strictly speaking, the phrase "five times bigger than" means the same as "six times as big as", but because it is so frequently misused it is for practical purposes ambiguous. Since it is totally unnecessary anyway, it would be far better avoided altogether.

Even worse is the all too common usage such as "five times less than", which is self-contradictory and therefore completely meaningless. "Five times" indicates multiplication, and so an increase, which is completely incompatible with the following word "less". If what is meant is "One fifth as many", why not say that so we can all understand what is meant without needing to attempt to guess at the hidden meaning?


15th January 2010

Appealing

Yet another Americanism creeping into our language, which grates whenever I come across it (mainly in news reports in the press and on radio and television) is the statement that someone is "appealing" some decision, when what is meant is that they are "appealing against" it. In this case the preposition is needed to make sense, so why leave it out?

Meetings

I could have added to the item immediately below that the, also increasingly common and even worse, phrase "meet up with", worse because it has yet another superfluous preposition, is also to be condemned.


5th January 2010

Meetings

Another American illogicality which seems to be increasing is the superfluous use of the word "with" following various parts of the verb "to meet", as in "I met with Fred", when what is meant is simply "I met Fred". The only time the presposition "with" is appropriate in conjunction with the verb "to meet" is when a third person is involved, such as "I met Fred with his new girl", meaning Fred was with his girl when I met him.


18th May 2008

Hope

An American illogicality which has come into use in UK over the last decade or so is the misuse of the adverb "hopefully" in place of such clauses as "I hope", "I hope so" and "it is to be hoped that". If I say something like "Hopefully I will go to London tomorrow" that does not mean that I hope I will go there tomorrow; it means I will go there tomorrow in a state of hope. Of course, the word order "I will go to London tomorrow hopefully" or "I will go hopefully to London tomorrow" is to be preferred.

Free

There has recently been a rapid increase in the use of the meaningless phrase "for free" in place of the simpler and accurate single word "free". "Free" is an adjective, and when not followed by the noun it qualifies it cannot meaningfully be preceded by a preposition, of which "for" is an example. "Nothing", on the other hand, is a noun and so can be preceded by a preposition, giving the synonymous alternatives of "for nothing" and (in this context) "free".


14th December 2007

Giving gifts

Yet another case of English being distorted which is increasingly common is the use of the noun "gift" as a verb, the adjective "gifted" (meaning especially talented) as its past participle and past tense and, more rarely, the non-word "gifting" as its present participle. A gift is something which is given. The associated verb is "to give", past tense "gave", past participle "given" and present participle "giving". Lawyers and sports commentators seem particularly fond of this nonsensical misuse of simple vocabulary.


12th December 2007

Misuse of English

I have written several entries below about debasement of English. This time it is not debasement of the language which concerns me, but misleading use of it. We hear, all too frequently, of bombs being set by terrorist groups to injure and kill innocent people. The media and politicians then report either that some group, or alternatively nobody, has "claimed responsibility" for the incident. That is misleading and makes it look less serious than it is. They have admitted that they are criminals who are guilty of pointless multiple murder.


11th November 2007

Tenses

I have discussed in several items below my objections to misuse of the English language. Another example which I find irritating, and which can in some circumstances cause ambiguity, is the use of the present tense when the past is meant. For some reason presumably well-educated professional historians seem especially prone to this particular idiocy.


10th November 2007

Euphemisms

Some of the misused words I have mentioned below were introduced as euphemisms. Euphemisms are an attempt, almost invariably in vain, to ameliorate some unpleasant associations of the original word they seek to replace. Some of these associations are so strong that some people believe the words themselves are "bad words" which should never be used. I totally condemn this approach to language. There is no such thing as a "bad word", only bad use of words. If a word, any word, is used with its proper meaning, then that is always legitimate. Any word can be used in an abusive way, and that use, not the word itself, is then to be condemned (except in the relatively rare cases when the abuse is deserved).


8th November 2007

Debasement of the English language

Having mentioned below the general principles and reasons for not debasing the language, I thought it might be useful to mention some additional specific examples of the misuse of vocabulary. I shall probably add others in future as they occur to me.
  1. Chair to mean chairman
    There seems to be a growing trend to use the word "chair" instead of "chairman". The person who presides at a meeting is the chairman (regardless of gender). A chair is a piece of furniture. The word "chairman" is no more gender-specific than the word "human" or the city name "Manchester".
  2. Billion to mean milliard
    One billion is 1,000,000,000,000. The number 1,000,000,000 is one milliard, so why not use that word?
  3. Gay to mean homosexual
    "Gay" means (approximately) merry, happy or joyful, which has nothing whatever to do with sexuality. A person attracted to others of the same sex is homosexual (or bisexual) - what's wrong with using those clear and unambiguous words instead of robbing the language of a useful word with no precise alternative?


20th October 2007

Debasement of the English language

Thanks to my daughter Helen for this further thought on this topic:
Some may think ambiguity is of marginal importance, but this depends very much on context and the nature of the ambiguity; in the context of medication, surgery, general safety or in a military situation it can make the difference between life and death.


17th October 2007

Debasement of the English language

Thanks to my daughter Helen for this additional thought on this topic:
Another reason for correct English being an essential is that whilst a native English speaker could read a text containing spelling and grammatical errors and be likely to understand the meaning, a non-native speaker of English might have great difficulty, depending on their standard of English. How can you look up a word you don't recognise in the dictionary when it is spelled incorrectly? How easily would a foreigner be able to assimilate the current common error of substituting "of" for "have"?


15th October 2007

Debasement of the English language

First a couple of definitions:

The first of those definitions specifies the subject of this item, although much of what I have to say applies equally to other languages. The second has the consequence that in order to be understood the language used should be clear. Clarity is achieved not only by the use of simple words and sentence structures but also by consistent use of correct grammar, spelling, punctuation and word meanings.

A new approach to writing was introduced in English schools in the 1960s and 1970s, and has persisted to a slightly reduced extent since. It was considered that what mattered when a child was writing was his/her creativity, and it was held that insistence on correct spelling, grammar and punctuation hindered this all-important creativity, and was therefore to be deplored. Those children are now parents themselves, and have consequently brought this way of thinking into the home as well as the school. When one considers that the vast majority of the writing done by all except professional writers is not creative writing but factual material such as technical reports, job applications, complaints to suppliers of goods and services, and the like, it can be seen what nonsense this is, quite apart from the fact that it does not matter how good someone's creativity may be if the result is unreadable or, more frequently, ambiguous, because of errors of these kinds.

The rules of English grammar and punctuation are precise and entirely logical. There is no good reason why everyone of reasonably normal ability should not have mastered them fully before leaving school, and this is far more important than any amount of "creativity". English spelling, on the other hand, is not fully logical; there are plenty of rules to help, but with exceptions to just about all of them. Learning spelling by rote is therefore necessary to some extent for most people, although wide reading of suitable material is probably as important. "Suitable" in this context means it must, of course, have perfect spelling, grammar and punctuation, but also must be interesting to the reader and of a level of difficulty (in terms of comprehension) appropriate to the reader. There are those who will maintain that usually the context makes the meaning clear despite errors of all these types, and no doubt they are sometimes right. However, errors of this kind always make reading more difficult than it need be, and failure to learn and habitually use the correct form means that some writing will not be at all clear. In job applications it can be sufficient to lose the job opportunity even if the meaning is perfectly clear.

Word meanings are a more difficult area, since no living language can be entirely stagnant. New words are continually needed as new things and new concepts are invented. However, there can be no justification for replacing one perfectly adequate word with another which is already in use with a different meaning. This degrades the language, and makes reading older material difficult. Misuse of the word "gay" instead of "homosexual" is a good example of this, but euphemisms generally often come into this category. Another example is the misuse by the media of the word "billion" to mean "milliard". A billion is a million million, as the "bi-" prefix indicates, while a thousand million is a milliard.

No doubt someone will now find some typing errors on this page. At least I think I usually know what the correct form is, even if my keyboard sometimes shows symptoms of dyslexia! I make no claim to be an expert typist.


1st September 2007

Names of cities and countries

I have never understood why the media insist on attempting (often without success) to change the names they use for some countries and cities to correspond with the names used by, and sometimes changed by, the inhabitants, while inconsistently doing nothing of the kind with others. Why can they not accept that all countries, and many large cities, have English names which may not and need not bear any relation to the names used for those same places by the people who live there (and those people sensibly do not usually call our country by the name we use, but stick to their own language)? When the Chinese decided to rename their capital, the English media hastened to try to do the same, inventing the name Beijing instead of sticking to the English name, Peking. I notice they still call the country itself China! Ceylon they unnecessarily now call Sri Lanka, but why do they not call Germany "Deutschland", Switzerland "Helvetia", Finland "Suomi" and Albania "Shqiperia"? When did you last see or hear a newspaper or TV reporter refer to the city of Köln instead of using its English (and differently pronounced French) name of Cologne? Particularly silly is the name of Belarus they give to White Russia (if you look at Soviet era English maps you will see that name used) - the inhabitants do not use that name, because they do not use our alphabet, and the name they do use (approximately pronounced like "Byelaroos") is Russian for "White Russia"!


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