Thursday, November 30, 2006

gasmeterman calleth

How often do you get someone coming to check the gasmeter? We seem to be getting them every other week - but then maybe it is just because I'm in during the daytime..


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

arab journalism

I've been spending a few days in London with a Palestinian-British friend of mine. It was the first time I was able to see Aljazeera English (see here why it is not called Aljazeera International as originally planned) and various other arabic tv stations.

Aljazeera English is rubbish. It is like a cross between Sky News and BBC World, but far far more repetitive. No subject gets more than a few minutes of airtime and the issues and presenters move on so quickly it is hard to concentrate on what they are talking about. Plus lots of stupid graphics, charts and other silly stuff.

Other interesting stations are the Arab News Network - 'like CNN only with arabs' as a friend told me - and Al Munar. Al Munar is the official station of the Lebanese resistance/terrorist movement Hezbollah. ANN is apparently very pro-Syrian and has links to the Syrian government (unfortunately I can't find a weblink that works).

I think getting alternative views of the world is of critical importance if we hope to understand other people. One thing I noticed in particular when watching ANN was the extended close-up shots of Israeli soldiers using guns and Palestinian children throwing stones, burning tires and so on. I couldn't help thinking that the stone throwing was counterproductive and pointless, but the actions of the soldiers was inexcusable. Children are arrested for throwing stones, adults picked up in the streets whilst waiting for work. Is there anyone who can tell me how this is proportionate?

If this is what the arab sees on news tv - and conversely what we do not see - is there any wonder that he is angry?

Labels: ,

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Coventry City Council

Generally, local government is a Good Thing. Most people agree that having decisions made within the communities they are going to affect is the way forward. Please either accept this statement or suspend your unbelief for the purposes of that which follows.

Coventry City Council is stark staring mad.

Let me give two examples.

My daughter B is currently in year 2. It so happens that in the village where we live, we have a different school for reception - year 2 and year 3-year 6. These are colloquially known as 'the Infants' and 'the Juniors' respectively. In most of Coventry, there is only one school for reception through to year 6.

Anyway, last week we were sent a Brown Envelope by the Infants school. Within the envelope was an application form for the Junior School together with a brochure about schools in Coventry. The form makes clear that this is an application form for the Junior School, but also that places are not automatic nor guaranteed. The brochure states that parents should apply for three schools and that steps will be made to try to ensure the child has a place at the closest school. Yet there is only space on the form for one school.

I interrogate the officer at the phone number given on the form. Apparently the brochure is given to all parents who apply for schools in the reception year. The expectation is that we will send B to the Junior school, so there is no point applying for any other schools.

So - what exactly is the point of sending me an application form and a brochure when I can chose from a wide selection of one school*? I think they're just doing it to collect handwriting or fingerprints or something. I guess the main thing I object to is conforming to something that resembles parential choice in all respects other than actually giving you a choice. Here is a bunch of hoops we want you to jump through to give you permission to do something you would do anyway. It is a good job I don't have anything else to do other than to fill your forms in, eh?

Example 2. For some years, all the municipal household waste within Coventry City Council boundaries has been sent to a medium sized incinerator in Coventry. This waste incinerator is jointly owned by Coventry City Council and the neighbouring Solihull Metropolitan District Council. The incinerator is nearing the end of its life and so the councils will have to make a decision soon about longterm waste policy. The noises at the moment suggest that they are going to build an even bigger incinerator, possibly to include the waste from the large-but-less populated Warwickshire County Council.

Local campaigners have been recently lobbying the council to increase its pathetic level of recycling - which at present is one of the lowest in the country. The council responds that it would be impossible as a relevant reprocessor could only be found in Liverpool - and think of all the environmental damage that would be done if we road transported it there, eh? And actually that isn't true. We have reprocessors locally in the West Midlands.

The truth is that Coventry City Council doesn't really want to do any recycling. It is easier and cheaper to chuck mostly unsorted waste into an incinerator (even when it is running at a very low efficiency as it is at present) than to take time to find value in our waste. You hardly need to be a genius to realise that less waste = less fuel for the incinerator = lower efficiency = less money when the council tries to sell off the incinerator.

I am not saying that there are not times when an incinerator might not be appropriate - we are unlikely to be able to recycle everything any time soon - but really.

* actually it appears to be even more complicated than this. When I ask whether I can apply for another local school, which is a combined Infant-Junior school, I am told that I can but this is not a normal proceedure and we probably wouldn't get a place.

Attention, attention

Hear ye, hear yea. Here are some important public announcements:

1. If you are making an entertaining video about a conspiracy theory, it is as well to check your sources. Quoting an academic who believes there is a hidden history of humanity (based on some gobbledegook) is probably not a good source. Neither is a demolition expert who on his own website demolishes the points you make in your video. Nice theory, rubbish research. 9 for effort, 1 for attainment.

2. The Israeli lefty peace group Peace Now has published a report stating that much of the land on which Israeli settlements were built is stolen.

3. The Pope is Roman Catholic.

4. Bears excrete in woods.

5. Whoever is sending me spam about stocks and shares - please stop. I don't buy stock.

6. I am not looking for a job paying a 20% commission on handling cheques from a company I have never heard of. I might look stupid, but I'm not that stupid.

7. Everyone please stop asking for things I haven't got. Those who want things I do have (ie white and blue mens' t-shirts, black and cranberry womens') please make an orderly queue.

8. Pipe smoking is bad, bad, bad. Please stop giving me ideas. I am not middle aged and I am not going to start smoking a pipe. No. I'm not.

9. Viking Direct - I am vaguely interested in your products, but contacting me twice a week about them is a bit excessive, don't you think?

Thank you for your attention.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Junior was a giant of the modern civil rights movement and an inspiration to all who seek to follow in his footsteps.

It therefore only seems right to participate in an internet campaign to oust a white supremacist website which cleverly tries to undermine the memory of his achievements. If you really want to know about that website or the organisation behind it, click here.

So. In the interests of balance and promoting worthwhile resources over worthless racist ones, here are a bunch of links you might find useful if you are researching MLK on the internet.

The Martin Luther King Junior Research and Education Institute at Stanford University
Historic figures - Martin Luther King Junior from the BBC History website
Time 100 - Martin Luther King, Jr from the Time magazine top 100 most important people of the 20 century
The Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site in Georgia - a US National Park Service site
MLKonline - your 'onestop site for MLK on the net'

Remember folks - just cos someone has a nice website on the internet does not mean that they are nice people.

Labels: , ,

Monday, November 20, 2006

snippets from the weekend

On Saturday we saw an old person in one of those electric buggy things tanking it down the middle of the road and almost knocking someone over on a pedestrian crossing. He/she didn't bother to stop even though the pedestrian was already in the road.

Can you be too old to receive an ASBO?

On Sunday we thought we would collect some leaves to make leaf mulch for our allotment. There is quite a build-up of leaves in our churchyard, so we thought it'd be nice to do some tidying. Well, that is what we would have said if anyone asked.

We took along a couple of bin-bags, thinking that this would take a fair amount of filling. Five minutes later the bags were filled and there was no noticable difference in the ground level leaf situation. I would guess that at least twenty bags would be needed to clear all of the leaves.

So much for a win-win situation. Also we felt guilty in case the leaves were needed for the perfect autumn backdrop for their church wedding. So we swept some of the leaves back over where we had been.

Friday, November 17, 2006

on the case

From my Member of Parliament:

November 15, 2006

Dear Mr Turner,

Thank you for the email of November 8 to let me know of your concerns about the health of those members of the Judiciary, especially in hearing matters, in order to carry out their jobs.

I have raised your concerns with the appropriate Department and I will be in touch with you again as soon as I can.

Yours sincerely

Geoffrey Robinson MP

Thursday, November 16, 2006

the narrow way of peace

Today, 14 November 2006, Roman Catholic Priest Fr. Carl Kabat and two veterans, Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli were sentenced at a US Federal Court.

The men, known as the Weapons of Mass Destruction Here Plowshares Clowns, are members of the Loaves and Fishes Community in Duluth which is part of the Catholic Worker tradition.

Their crime was to break into a nuclear weapons facility dressed as clowns, to dent a metal silo lid and to pour on their own blood as a symbol of the futility of nuclear weapons. Here is the story in their own words. Fr Carl has already spent over 16 years of his life in correctional facilities for protests against nuclear facilities.

One cannot help feeling that they have done what we all should have done.

Part of the same community were Dominican Sisters Jackie Hudson, Carol Gilbert and Ardeth Platte, sentenced for a 2002 protest at a nuclear site, gaining the label 'terrorist' from the now infamous ex-president of the National Association of Evangelicals Rev Ted Haggard.

When Ardeth Platte was released from prison, the Denver Post reported it like this:

Ardeth Platte left the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution last week unbowed. She spent more than two years trying to rehabilitate what she considers an immoral system while the system claimed to be trying to rehabilitate her.

Realistically, it was a draw. [Link from Jonah House website.]

The Denver Post is today reporting that the three are defying an order to return to a probation office in Baltimore in order to collect food for poor military families. They say that they refuse to pay the fine in cash as it will be spent on war.

One fantastic line from that report:

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn refused their offer of canned goods, as did Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Brown, who prosecuted them. [link from the Denver Post]
Please take time to look upon the face of Sister Ardeth Platt aged 70, who has chosen the hard path of pacifism and prison over the dignity of her age, and ask yourself whether these are the actions of a terrorist.

Labels: , ,

The £60/ US$115 T-shirt

Image from brandonshigeta's flickr page.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

this blog is worth... wait for it...


dark days

Here are a few recent quotations about the current situation in the West Bank and Gaza.

"I can understand Israelis concern about security. That's a valid concern for anyone, even though there have been very few incidents that truly threaten their security. But when you take a wall that separates families, that keeps people from their land, that causes immense hardship, that is overkill and there is no justification for that wall," said Bishop Louis Hunter of the AME Zion Church.
from the United Methodist Church press release, 14 November

Hyat lost 4 sons and is left with a son who has learning difficulties. "He is al barakeh" (blessed) she said," that is why God protected him and kept him alive."
Hyat also took me through the house, saddened by the sight of her destroyed refrigerator and putting her hand to reach the spoiled flour she said "this was part of our mouneh (our food reserves), nothing is usable. We have no house. How to continue with life," she wondered with dry eyes looking to heaven.

from Oxfam UK. This blog is extremely difficult to read and I have found it very difficult to find a bit to quote here.

Labels: ,

inspiration in blogland

I've learnt quite a few thing in my adventures in blogland over the last few days. One story I heard went something like this:

The parents of a little girl were contacted by her school. They were very disappointed by her behaviour and insisted that she they all visit a child psychologist. So the parents glumly went to visit the specialist and spent some time discussing her problems at school, her lack of finishing homework, her inability to pay attention.

After a while, the doctor came around the table and told the little girl he was going to speak to her parents in another room. She was to sit for a little while by herself - and as he left, the specialist turned on a small radio he had on his desk.

When they had left the room, the specialist quietly told the parents to look around and watch the girl. She had got down from the desk and was moving to the music.

The specialist told the parents 'Your daughter is not sick - she's a DANCER'. Fortunately the parents took the advice, the girl went to dance school, ballet school and the Royal Ballet. She became one of the world's greatest choreographers - Gillian Lynne CBE.

Now the serious question is whether this would happen today or whether the child would be diagnosed with ADHD and given medication to calm down.

Hattip: someone's blog which I forgot to keep the link (please tell me if it is you).
See also Sir Ken Robinson's talk at the TEDtalks website.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

blog hunting

There are several ways to find random blogs. [edit: don't do what I originally said here. You'll eventually find something unpleasant. Don't say I didn't warn you]

Or one could log onto the excellent Random Blog Button blog.

You learn a whole heap of things you never knew about the internet - for example, nobody told me there were so many spanish blogs.

You find a whole load of interesting, wild and weird blogs. And golden ones like this one or this.

You also get to hate the default blogger wallpaper.

Most of all it gives you hope. Maybe this whole internet project isn't as bad as I thought...

Labels: , , ,

and now for something completely different

Monday, November 13, 2006

gingerbread and other lessons

Today we have mostly been making gingerbread.

B had a bit of a tummy upset on Sunday so, according to the letter of the rules, couldn't go to school today - even though she was right as rain and twice as forward. I guess it makes sense as it could quickly pass through the school. So we have been jigsaw-ing, gingerbread baking, reading and radio listening. I cut the gingerbread a bit thick, so it ended up more like German gingerbread than like the gingerbread men you get in Gregs. Still, not a bad first try.

Towards the end of the day, I felt a bit guilty so she also did a couple of subtraction and literacy worksheets I found kicking about in the nether regions of the internet. She was quite excited about it in a six-year-old-and-like-going-to-school kind of a way.

Just now she sat me down and told me she had something very important to tell me. 'Do you know the Ten Commandments?' she asked accusingly.

'Well, yes,' I said, 'but why don't you remind me?'

She then whipped out her children's bible and proceeded to zip through the first six.

Then she paused and looked me in the eye. 'And here is one especially for you, Daddy' she said, pointing to the words in the book.

It said something like 'Husbands and wives must keep their special love for each other.'

'There you go,' she said, wagging her finger, 'you need to stop arguing at Mummy all the time. It isn't good enough is it, huh?'

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

veiled lawyer exposed media bias

According to a BBC news website today, a veiled lawyer has caused disruption in a Stoke-on-Trent immigration tribunal. The same story in The Times. And, late in the day, one from The Guardian.

Now, a reader who sees this story could be excused for believing that the story runs something like this:

1. Muslim woman becomes lawyer.
2. Given the hysteria recently about Muslim garb, she decides to make a point in a court of law.
3. Legal authorities are outraged at her behaviour.
4. Pesky lawyer appears to have got her own way as there is not a specific ruling preventing wearing of veils, or at the very least has caused a delay in the business of a court of law.
5. Lawyer milks the publicity.

With the expectation that

6. Government bring in law to prevent crazy Muslims from disrupting every court in the land
7. Law society bring in new rules of conduct preventing Muslim women from wearing veils in court
8. The case becomes a cause célèbre for those documenting the islamification of the UK.
9. Further racial disharmony ensues
10. Religious minorities are in effect excluded from any position in public life.

Tut tut says the hanky wringing liberals. Rampaging Muslim Outrage slams the Mail.

But then, what do you know. The lawyer is from Coventry. There is a report about her in today's local daily, the Coventry Telegraph.

Slabnam Mughal walked out of a court after a judge asked her to remove her veil because he couldn't hear what she was saying. She refused and the case had to be adjurned.
So far so predictable. From further down the article:

Her colleagues at the Law Partnership said they had heard nothing like it before. The Law Partnership practice manager said Miss Mughal had regularly attended tribunals in Birmingham and Stoke without having any problems. He added: "Miss Mughal has been doing this job for the last couple of years and she has never ever been asked to remove her veil."
emphasis mine in above.

And one further paragraph.

As she arrived at work she was confronted by reporters. She refused to talk to them, turned on her heels and dashed off.
So the story, if the local paper is to be believed, is not as the nationals are portraying it.

If Miss Mughal has been wearing her veil in court for 'several years', why is it suddenly a problem? Is it actually possible that this woman is not a media leech, but actually believes what she says she believes (shock, horror)?

As the judge cannot hear her words due to a thin piece of material, has the Court Service invested in a £10 hearing test for him on the NHS - given that every other judge she has appeared before seems to think that her diction is entirely audible?

Further, will the judge be requiring men with thick beards to have a shave and people with a lisp to seek comprehension classes before appearing before him? I think the public deserve to know.

As a little hint to Ruth Gledhill and anyone else from the national press who has inadvertantly fallen into the web-cesspool that is this blog, maybe you would do well to learn some lessons in journalism from your colleagues on the Coventry Telegraph.

[edit: decided to be slightly less impolite about the Times. This does not mean I think their story stinks any less.]


Apologies to everyone who has posted a comment, I only just worked out how I was meant to moderate them.

Particularly Karin, who I compained to the other day as one of my comments had not appeared. Sorry Karin, as always, I am hoisted by my own petard (whatever one of those is).

Please take the time to check out Karin's excellent blog and website as recompense for my behaviour.

white and/or red poppy

Ekklesia, the rather excellent thinktank/news service today has a report about the Canadian war veterans group Royal Canadian Legion and their use of the Red Poppy for Remembrance Sunday.

The RCL apparently say that an alternative white poppy sold in a shop in Canada is disturbing and illegal, and seem to suggest that they have the copyright on all colours of poppy.

The silly thing is that the white poppy has been around since the 1930s, originally by the Womens' Co-operative Guild and then by the pacifist group Peace Pledge Union. Of course, that is not to say that the RCL do not have the copyright on poppy images in Canada.

I admit to having mixed feelings. I am not, ultimately, an absolute pacifist. It is not possible for me to say what I would have done in the situation like World War Two - and I think there are honourable causes to fight, especially where it involves protecting the innocent.

My grandfather was a career soldier, and a fine gentleman - in all senses of the word. My wife's grandparents were drafted into the fire service - but nonetheless saw themselves as part of the war effort. I stood with my grandfather many times at memorial services as he mourned all that had been lost during his military service.

At the end of his life, my grandfather received more recognition and respect from the local branch of the British Legion than from anyone else. I do not see what they do as a glorification of war, but as a honourable social activity for those affected by military service.

On the other hand, my conscience says that I cannot - and will not - co-operate, support or fight in any war dictated nor demanded by this government nor any other that is likely to come along. I reserve my right to change my mind, but I do not give this government sovereignty over my ethics. I do not support my country right or wrong, and in that sense am a conscientious objector. As a student of Gandhi, I believe that nonviolence is rarely considered and underused. As a christian, I am a compatriot of another country, and refuse to consider another person to be an enemy because of their nationality.


There are several games one can play when really bored and/or avoiding work.

One is unofficially called kamakase posting. First, you find a well-used blog, possibly from a national newspaper. You then make a comment and wait until someone calls you a Nazi. Unfortunately, there tends to be some delay between the initial post and invoking Godwin's law, at which point you have to reply to the person who is inevitably going to call you a Nazi. Well you don't have to, but invariably you do as the other poster writes all kinds of garbage about you. It is quite addictive, but I am sure very annoying for the blog owner.

A calmer and less exciting activity is bloghunting. Here, you visit your favourite blog. You click on a link shown in that blog, and repeat until you find a gold blog nugget.

Like this for example. There is something very satisfying about a blog that tells you a) yesterday there were no murders in the Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka state in India. and b) Mr Saliu Lorenzo, an Italian, was found to have overstayed his visa and was arrested in his tent in the forest.

There is also an intriguing report for 4 November 2006:

A case of Outraging the modesty of woman along with Criminal intimidation has been registered in Panambur Police Station on the complaint of one Fathima Zohara (32) w/o Mohammed Nooruddin R/o Seebha complex Jokatte Mangalore Taluk. The alleged incident has occurred in between 02/11/2006 at 0200 hrs and 03/11/2006 at 1500 hrs where in accused Siddiq and his brothers Shareef and Hasanabba came to the house of Fathima Zohara abused her and her husband Mohammed Nooruddin in filthy language and outraged the modesty of her by pulling her hand and also gave life threat to them owing to trivial issue.

Which I guess shows the difference in cultures.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Bishop Nazir-Ali

Far be it for me, unschooled and ignorant person that I am, to criticise or disagree with a Bishop of the Church of England of which I am a communicant.

Oh, alright then.

Bishop Michael, your words are a) very unhelpful and b) wrong. I wish to leave aside the nonsense as reported by the dizzy I've-got-two-blogs-for-no-apparent-reason Ruth Gledhill and focus more on the words of the Bishop of Rochester Dr Michael Nazir-Ali on today's BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

Dr Ali made the startling comment that the root of today's problems was a refusal to aknowledge the Christian roots of British institutions, laws and customs in order to tackle the political, social and economic ideologies that are being presented as being Islamic. The British ethic, originating from Christian values are the best basis for an open society, he said, rather than a least common denominator mish-mash approach.

Dr Ali, this is total nonsense on many different levels. First, there is very little in public life that is even vaguely Christian. Imagine for a second - as Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat point out in their excellent book Colossians Remixed - a Body Politic characterised by humility. Imagine public services governed by the needs of the poorest and smallest in society. Imagine an economic system focussed on service not just profits. Imagine a situation where the powers of this world were not Levis, Primark, Tescos, Manchester United or the War on Terror - each demanding total capitulation of adherants - but Jesus Christ, the Lord of All.

Second, the Church of which you are a leader is a part, though not all, of the problem. In our headlong rush into debates about minutea of theology, we have forgotten service. Although the faith we process is about action - to such an extent that we are told that proof of our faith is to be seen in what we do - we are a people characterised by a lack of action. Schools, libraries, universities, hospitals. These are all examples of church action in the past. Our radical movements have been subserved into the state and institutionalised. All we are left with is to criticise how poorly these services are run by the state and to give religious backing to any kind nonsense that emerges from the mouths of our politicians.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, what is actually wrong with a 'lowest common denominator' approach. What about if the lowest common denominator turned out to be a concept of peace together with protection for the needs of minorities and the rights of others/other religious groups to do things we might not like? What if other religious groups have woken up to the notion that the church isn't doing very much so maybe they should? What if we all embraced the Sikh notion of service and fed anyone who came for food on a daily basis? Ultimately, if we are not going to look for a form of civil life where we attempt to listen and understand each other are we actually interested in building community or destroying it for the sake of some sanitised version of history that neither resembles the words of Christ nor seeks to learn the lessons of our past mistakes.

I'm not interested in your version of Christianity, Sir.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Today is the first day we have turned on the heating since last spring. It is a beautifully sunny day outside, slight frost on the ground this morning.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Far from paradise

Paradise Now is a film about Palestinian suicide bombers. A couple of fairly ordinary not-very-religious guys, sitting about and smoking in Nablus are 'selected' to be suicide bombers.

Leaving aside the acting (which others described as 'excellent', but I thought was particularly unpalestinian - whatever that means. Of course, I don't really know many Palestinians either), this film is an excellent primer of the situation in the West Bank.

Much of the filming was done on location. It looks like Palestine, checkpoints look like checkpoints and so on. As it should. But the depression of the ordinary Palestinian is also very evident. These guys are not monsters, they are tired, frustrated, bored young men.