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MP’s Google Ga-Ga

March 20, 2010 Leave a comment

The country is in recession, the unions are getting away with murder and the people in charge desperately need to get a grip… so what does the MP for Hereford do? He tries to divert attention away from his abject failure as an MP by claiming Google Maps is going to put the SAS at risk from a terrorist attack.

It doesn’t help that Paul Keetch is one of the fattest and sleekest of MPs, a real local firebrand who promised change when he was elected in 1997, but who quickly went native and realised that the home of parliament wasn’t called a Palace for nothing, and who has been an outstanding non-entity since.

He’s also a member of the UK’s official luddite party, the Liberal Democrats, who recently intervened in the impasse over the Digital Economy bill and actually managed to make it worse just as it was about to become law!! God help the UK if these ignorant morons hold the balance of power in a hung parliament after the elections in May.

It’s quite clear that it’s election year when a sitting MP has to resort to such tub-thumping, jingoistic stunts like this, claiming that the cameras of American company Google will give potential terrorists assistance and encouragement to attack the base of the UK’s elite military unit.

Sadly Mr Keetch, like most MPs, hasn’t got a clue what he’s talking about, and is so out-of-touch, I’d be surprised if he even knew what Google Maps was.

He’s certainly never used it, if he had he would know that Google Maps only shows the user what can be seen from the public road which runs outside the base; nothing that can’t seen for the cost of a coach ticket to Hereford.

It’s also a sign of Paul Keetch’s blinkered self-obsession (another trait he shares with all his parliamentary colleagues) that he thinks Britain’s foremost military unit, one of the most feared regiments in the world, needs the protection of a fat, spineless buffoon like him.

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Unite-d in stupidity

March 19, 2010 Leave a comment

So here’s the scenario – you work for a multi-national company which employs tens of thousands of people, you already get paid better than the industry average, thanks to the global downturn your company starts to lose money and develops ways to try and keep the company viable by changing some working practices and downsizing just a little.

What do you, as a responsible employee do? Do you:

a) Work with your managers to implement the changes in a bid to ensure that the company survives and therefore you stay in work, or;

b) Vote to go on a strike which will cripple the company financially, penalise tens of thousands of innocent customers and possibly destroy any hope the company has of surviving?

Sadly, the cabin crews of British Airways have voted to do the latter, and while managers at BA are desperately trying to ensure they can still get most of their flights away when the first strike starts tomorrow, the company has already lost an extra £25 million as a result of the Unite union’s idiotic and confrontational attitude, and say that if the strikes go ahead, the losses could be hundreds of millions.

At the heart of this dispute are a bunch of fat-cat union leaders who are dictating terms and using 16th century industrial relations techniques to try and hold not just British Airways, but every British taxpayer to ransom.

Tony Woodley and his cronies at Unite are betting that the Government will do everything it can to stop British Airways, the country’s national airline, from going to the wall; the union leaders have seen the massive pay-outs made to the banks to stop them going bust and are fuelling the dispute with the privatised company to get the same result, so they and their members can line their pockets still further at our expense.

You know full well that while the passengers are left stranded and the rank-and-file union member goes hungry on the picket lines, the union leaders will still get paid and have full bellies, sitting at home warm and secure while everyone else suffers.

These dinosaurs have never liked the privatisation policies under which many nationalised industries were sold off in the 1980s; true, some of the sales were done monumentally badly, but that does not necessarily mean they were bad, however, with private companies in charge, the unions lost their power because their political donations to the Labour party were suddenly disconnected from the people who ran the companies.

For years the unions have been trying to reverse those sales and after the banking crisis and the bailouts that were handed out last year (which effectively put some banks back under Government control), these backward, knuckle-dragging morons have seen an opportunity, and are betting their members’ pensions (not their own of course) on the Government doing the same for BA if it goes to the wall.

Whether they succeed or not is another matter, with tens of thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on BA, and many tens of thousands more working for BA’s suppliers, this dispute may just be the biggest mass (professional) suicide in history.

On the other hand, this Government is so spineless, the unions may be on to something, and certainly the railway workers seem to think so, as they’re now planning strikes of their own.

In the meantime, we, the fare-paying, tax-paying passengers can only struggle on with our lives, watching our work and incomes be ruined by the outdated actions of a bunch of greedy old farts.

I hope anyone who has a flight cancelled this weekend sues the Unite union for their losses – that would serve the ignorant bastards right.

Fox News – The jihadists’ teacher

March 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Shock horror… Fox News are ratcheting up the fear factor again with another of their ever-so-fair-and-unbalanced reports … this time about GPS jamming equipment which could… only could you understand… be used to try and crash an aeroplane.

Having establish a tenuous connection, between GPS jammers and airline navigation systems, and said they can be bought ‘legally’ on the internet when every federal law enforcement agent they spoke to said “they’re illegal”, Fox then go on to tell you how they work and the potential disaster and havoc they could cause.

So any would-be terrorist doesn’t have to do any research, those kind folks at Fox News have done it all for them.

Of course what Fox don’t point out is that the only jammers with a signal that’s likely to be strong enough to affect a plane’s GPS system work off a car cigarette lighter … now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a car cigarette lighter socket on a plane … I can’t think why that might be.

Nor do they really highlight that fact that GPS is only one of the navigation systems used by aircraft, and that a plane wouldn’t fall out of the sky if its GPS system went offline – I wonder how many times that actually happens and the plane carries on normally under the control of ground-based air traffic control radar? Probably more often than you’d like to be honest.

The bottom line is a news story designed only to scare, and devoid of the facts that would make it not at all scary, and therefore, not news.

Maybe the channel should get a new catchline: FOX – Non-news written by non-journalists for non-entities.

Kiss your sanity goodbye

March 12, 2010 1 comment
The National Newspaper

Kiss & Tell story?

I’ve made many observations in the past about the stupidity of the law, and it’s now becoming clear that different laws and different legal systems are stupid for different reasons.

Take Sharia for instance. There are many people I know who believe it is a perfectly sensible system and who abide by it every day, and on the face of it, Sharia is no different to the Ten Commandments, upon which most common law is based – actually, it’s just common sense.

What’s not common sense is when a law is hi-jacked and used by extremists to impose their morals on others, or exploited by small-minded fools to hold back the development of a society.

Take this story pictured in the National newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, where a British ex-pat and a UK visitor were seen kissing in a hotel restaurant after having a drink, and as a result have been sentenced to a month in jail and then deportation.

Now, I have plenty of friends who have worked in the Middle East and who relate ludicrous horror stories like this every time I see them.

I have also visited the Jumeriah Beach Residence in Dubai and know that it is an ultra modern hotel which like many in the region, sells alcohol to ex-pats and foreign visitors, and feels entirely like any other luxury hotel anywhere in the world.

So here’s a few matters arising:

Some friends meet for a drink and a meal, in a place where food and alcohol are openly and legally sold to them.

Some woman, who has her kids with her at 2 o’clock in the morning, sees them kissing, but doesn’t see them well enough to be able to tell whether it is on the lips or the cheek, tells the authorities and suddenly these people are arrested and face jail time.

Now, if someone is jailed for having drunk alcohol in a place where alcohol is on sale, isn’t that called entrapment?

If you are taken into an environment where you are treated very much as if you were at home, and arrested for doing something you would normally do there, are you not being deliberately misled?

If I had my children in a hotel bar or restaurant at 2 o’clock in the morning, shouldn’t I expect to be arrested for child abuse and have my kids taken away by social services?

Unfortunately, this is all perfectly normal in the fairytale-land of the Middle East, and it tells you a lot about how the people of this region are simply not ready to deal with the West, despite claims to the contrary by it’s leaders, even though almost all of them have not been elected, and who treat their own people like children.

Cities like Dubai have spent jaw-dropping amounts of money on buildings and infrastructure, using an army of slave labourers from South Asia; they have enticed Western businesses with tax-free financing to set up shop there so they can point to these developments and say they are democratic and modern, and they build fantastic hotels and allow them to sell alcohol to ex-pats so as to encourage these businesses to bring staff over.

But underneath it all, the old laws remain in place – the laws that were developed in the Middle Ages still hold sway, and of course, ignorance is no defence.

And there’s the problem: Western people are encoraged to go into cities like Dubai, they are made to feel at home, given all the comforts of home plus tax-free wages, or stay in luxurious hotels where food and alcohol are freely available.

But technically, the laws still apply, even inside the hotels.

Add to this a swathe of local people who see huge amounts of money being spent on Western-style business and hotels and not on them, and you suddenly have an army of spies who are full of righteous indignation and happy to exploit the old laws to their own advantage to make life uncomfortable for any Westerner who strays.

If you treat people like children, is it any surprise that they act like them?

The same is true in the stone-cold sober world of business, and I have heard many a tale about Western business people held in the country they called home, against their will, because there is a dispute over their business dealings, usually because the local partner faces having to take some responsibility for their actions and like a pouting teenager would rather falsely blame it on the “corrupt” Westerner.

Again the local laws are little changed from the Middle Ages and in countries where you need a visa to leave the country, and where bureaucracies are still based on paper and fax, where there are no bankruptcy laws and where debtors go to prison (and the local labour laws prevent them from finding other work) and where the court system is as transparent as mud, there’s no wonder Western businesses find the cards stacked against them if things go wrong.

Until these iniquities are sorted out, the Middle East will never be a safe place for Western companies and executives to do business, and that won’t happen until these countries grow up and drag their people and their legal systems into the modern age, and start treating them like grown-ups.

Stop Press: Onion causes tears… of laughter

March 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Saw this on the interwebs today… another video that should be shown to every journalism student the day after they enrol:

Another day… another censor

March 10, 2010 Leave a comment

One day after I highlighted the removal of a blog piece from the Al Jazeera English website because it dared to tell the truth about an ally of the Qatari government, it seems the infection is spreading, and it’s another champion of free speech that’s succumbed.

This time it’s The Huffington Post who have removed a remarkably anodyne report from well known 9/11 sceptic Jesse Ventura – his posting told of how hundreds of architects and engineers have signed a petition calling on Congress to re-examine the destruction of the World Trade Center’s twin towers on September 11, 2001.

As usual, HuffPo management have shown a remarkably tenuous grasp on reality, and an breathtaking ignorance of the medium they work in, by openly removing an article which is bound to appear elsewhere along with suitable public approbium about how one of America’s standard-bearers of free-speech has joined the racks of the mainstream media’s blue pencil brigade.

Almost immediately the full article has appeared elsewhere on sites like 911Blogger, as have the reports of the takedown in the wider news media.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with having a policy that says “no conspiracy theories”, which is what the HuffPo is now cravenly hiding behind, and almost every site on the web will have different policies for dealing with different eventualities.

What’s troubling in this case is that Ventura’s report is not a conspiracy theory, but a factual report about how a group of real experts have done nothing more conspiratorial than call for a re-examination of the scientific evidence because their research says the science is inconsistent with the official story told by the Bush-administration appointed 9/11 Commission.

As Ventura pointed out, this was never covered in the mainstream media, so it is exactly the kind of story the HuffPo should be highlighting, but because Ventura mentions his new book, American Conspiracies, it was obviously too much for the spineless editorial team, who seem intent on putting their pensions before their principles. It is a sad day for the Huffington Post, and what’s worse is that it is not the first time they have been caught censoring their contributors.

As for the subject matter, well I’m no conspiracy theorist (I prefer cock-up every time), but given the choice between the American Institute of Architects and a bunch of Dubya’s lackeys… who would you choose?

Assuming of course you were given the choice, something which the American mainstream media and now, remarkably, The Huffington Post, don’t appear to want you to have.

Publish and be…. censored?

March 9, 2010 Leave a comment

A few months ago I noted the start of the ‘new’ blogs section on the Al Jazeera English website, and the utter lack of imagination that had been put into them, not least by the correspondents, who seemed to think that describing the tedium of their journey to their latest interview was a suitable substitute for in-depth analysis and investigative reporting.

Since then I have been watching with a growing sense of despondency the accumulation of lazy, pointless hackery which only serves to bolster the ego of the correspondent (as they weren’t bolstered enough by useless managers and acquiescent editors) and leave the audience wanting, especially while the excellent Focus section of the same site dwindled and atrophied.

Fortunately there have been some rare exceptions, including one excellent posting in February from Jane Dutton about her visit to Eritrea to interview the country’s president – now, you can follow the link if you like, but as of today, it goes to an Error 404 page, as it seems the article has been removed from the Al Jazeera website.

The posting, when it existed, was the perfect example of how to use blogs and first person narrative to get behind the story, and give the audience more understanding about the context of a piece – in this case using a blog written after the fact to get around the government minders and reporting restrictions so often imposed on journalists by dictatorial regimes.

Now though, it has been removed, the blogger has been censored and the truth has been lost, probably on the orders of some invertebrate, obsequious lickspittle of a manager who knows nothing about news and journalism, and cares even less about his audience.

A quick Google search explained why – Qatar is doing business with this secretive and brutal African regime for its own ends, and the Eritrean president is lapping up their money and their largesse, while his people are trapped in their own country, and will be shot if they try to leave – no wonder the emir of Qatar wanted the truth about Eritrea suppressed, and since he pays for Al Jazeera, he calls the shots.

So much for Al Jazeera’s code of ethics, and its claim to be editorially independent, impartial and objective.

Fortunately as well as being spineless and brown-nosed, Al Jazeera’s managers are also remarkably stupid, as the article had been published long enough to be cached by Google and many other search engines; however in the interests of freedom of information, here is the article in full:

Eritrea’s president declares me ‘insane’ – by Jane Dutton

We hadn’t even arrived in Eritrea when I started to get a sense of the man I had been sent to interview. Our flight from Dubai airport was delayed. Nobody told us for how long or why. Four hours later, when the plane finally arrived, we found out the president had decided to borrow it for the morning, on a whim.

We were on our way to one of Africa’s most secretive regimes.

Granted a rare interview with the Eritrean president, Isaias Afewerki, a man constantly ranked in the top 10 of the world’s worst dictators and accused of helping turn the Horn of Africa into one of the most volatile regions on the planet.

Our plane – Eritrea’s only carrier – was one of the few international flights that still fly into the country: a desolate place blighted by years of war with Ethiopia and Yemen, and increasing political isolation.

At the airport we were met by unfamiliar silence – no network connections, no SIM cards, no blackberry! And Rafael, our minder. Rafael is a man of contradictions: even his backcomb appears to grow forward.

“Let me tell you the truth,” he would say every couple of hours, immediately followed by anything but. He also ominously warned that he could keep a watch on our every movement if he chose to do so, at our hotel, on the job.

Our interview was scheduled for Saturday and we were told it would take two hours to get to the city of Massawa, the president’s new bunker retreat on the coast. He is reported to spend more time there after an attempted assassination last year.

The roads are manned by checkpoints. The population’s every move seems to be watched and noted in this country. And it probably is. Eritreans need a visa to leave and there is very little chance of them ever getting one. But that hasn’t stopped tens of thousands escaping every year.

The UN estimates that 63,000 sought asylum abroad in 2009. Around 1,800 brave the shoot-to-kill police orders to cross over into Sudan every month. The majority say they are fleeing the permanent military service and repressive nature of the regime.

After several shouting bouts with Rafael, we finally get to Massawa, an exotic port city built by the Turks in the 14th century – a fascinating place with narrow alleyways and looming mosques. It is supposed to be the hottest place on earth. And I would concur.

I noticed then it wasn’t just the capital that was surprisingly clean – everywhere we went in Eritrea was immaculate. The streets are shiny bright, the hotels are spick and span, even the food is safe.

Our interview was delayed by a day and instead we were corralled into watching Massawa’s 20-year celebrations of liberation from Ethiopia. We decided to shoot a promo for our interview while we were there. People were out in that sweltering weather to see their long-time leader, carefully controlled by police.

What amazed us was that the police had no qualms about beating women and children with sticks a few feet away from where we were shooting. A truly shocking scene. And our cameras were still rolling.

The next day we were all set up and ready at our interview location in time for the planned dawn o’clock interview. We guessed the president would keep us waiting, and he did. Six hours later he arrived. We were all drenched with sweat and jangled with angst by the time he sat down.

Was he going to throw us out of the country for asking the questions we wanted asked? Why is he helping Iran supply weapons to Hamas in Gaza and the Houthi fighters in Yemen? Why does he order the police to shoot-to-kill anyone escaping from the country? Why is there no free press or free speech? Why were all of his political opponents whisked away never to be seen again? How come he refuses to let aid agencies feed the two-thirds of his country who are starving?

This was a man who came in on a promise of liberating his people 20 years ago. Every question I asked was met with a blank stare, a flat denial, cold laughter and finally allegations that we were making it all up. And he told me personally I am simply “insane”.

Back in the car and back on the winding roads, climbing thousands of feet to the cooler capital of Asmara. You can smell coffee percolating through the streets: thick, lovely and freshly brewed – the legacy of Italy’s colonial rule under Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime.

All the buildings boast a beautiful jaded art deco influence, and the streets are full of old men cycling with their hats doffed to one side alongside colourful Fiats from the 1960s. We ended the day with a piece to camera from the tank graveyard on the outskirts of the city. Thousands of armoured vehicles dismantled and stacked heading for the trash heap.

They were used in the 30-year battle against Ethiopia. And although that was two decades ago, Eritrea remains on a permanent war footing. The majority of the population is conscripted – whether it be in the army, in the hotel bar, as a street cleaner or our ever present minder Rafael. They remain braced for an Ethiopian attack that may never come.