Saturday, February 25, 2012

What do Tories really believe?

Watching the BBC News mid morning today I was both amazed and amused to hear a Tory MP claim the underlying reason for Burger King's withdrawal from the Government's Work Scheme was because of communist inspired action! What era are they living in?  Whilst I'm sure there are left wing activists around with motivations linked to past times, such statements are a bit anachronistic at best! Later his factual assertion that the scheme didn't involve principles of slave labour was perhaps less of a gaff and more an unfortunate choice of description.  What we need to realise was that the individual concerned, doubtless a loyal and efficient MP, used to be an aide to David Cameron and, later, was his Press Secretary before Andy Coulson.

 It was also reported by the BBC that the actual withdrawal by Burger King was a consequence of representations from the public and that a meeting was to be held next week within Government to examine the misgivings of various business organisations with the scheme.

Perhaps all this might lead to Burger King offering new lines....the Moscow Mega or,even, the Putin Platter!

In later editions the BBC chose to first of all edit the piece and ,then, leave it out altogether.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Extradition under the cosh?

The extradition arrangements to the USA enacted today associated with Christopher Tappin raise a whole raft of questions that I guess people will continue to debate for some time.  Mr Tappin is accused of making batteries available for export that could then to be utilised by Iran for use by their missiles, an investigation which was carried out by the FBI. Under the Extradition Act 2003 these reciprocal arrangements have been in place with the USA, and others, and have already been the subject of review with no major elements being suggested for alteration. So far so good.
Unfortunately the whole subject appears to be being interwoven with righteous indignation levelled at plea bargaining, orange jump suits, terrorists , the need to fund one's own defence and the type of jail accommodation involved!  If there is sufficient justification and reasonable grounds, after examination by the Home Secretary, for an accused to be extradited to a country with whom we have arrangements then the transfer proceeds. Prior to this, as we have seen recently, other decisions, based on Appeals, can affect and delay this process, but once these come to an end the physical transfer of the defendant basically means one is under the jurisdiction of the country concerned. Some of these, America included, take a much "harder" view of matters than do we and jump suits, costs and jail accommodation may be part of this. Strangely, few comments have been made in this latest instance on the details of the case, which the accused refutes and asserts he is the victim of  an FBI "sting" operation. Time will tell and I dare say that, if the case is proven, many of the protests will die away until the next time! On the other hand, if Mr Tappin is innocent then the whole of this process needs to be more seriously reviewed by the UK Government to, in particular, avoid the extradition of persons accused of  crimes against which questionable evidence is being utilised. Mr Tappin's lawyer maintains no real evidence forms the basis of the case and the whole process appears to be tenuous at best.

Leaving the moral and legal elements aside, I think we need to better appreciate that ,sometimes,  other countries take matters of security much more seriously in an overt sense than do we. We largely appear to rely on MOD signs politely suggesting entry is forbidden, ratcheted up to chain link fencing if there is a serious need to prevent access. Extremely sensitive sites are undoubtedly guarded, as they should be. Some years ago when leading a birdwatching tour in Tunisia I had the whole bus load of us arrested, plus the driver and guide, for literally being in close proximity to a radio transfer station that army personnel were "guarding". The whole situation was thankfully resolved on site,  but I recollected the case of enthusiasts watching aeroplanes at a Greek airfield who were arrested and then had to fight their case. By contrast, we provide, or certainly don't object to, "viewing points" at various of our military airfields from which hobbyists, armed with binoculars and cameras, can indulge their interests. I've seen such a gathering of observers at Leuchars, but noted an obvious absence of such at Lakenheath where, of course, there is an American interest. So even here, we have differing standards operating. I realise such is a far cry from the  provision of items on a commercial basis which can then be used by other regimes for their own military purposes, but such serves to highlight the differences in attitudes and culture which exist and subjects over which, sometimes, serious incidents can occur.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A lot of cackling going on!

Last weekend the company, North Face, was castigated in the press for using down feathers from geese  that were part of an intensive farming enterprise in Hungary producing  foie gras pate. The geese are force fed three times a day using large quantities of corn mash which, in effect, is injected into their throats using a power hose.  This has the effect of  fattening them rapidly and enlarging their livers , which are the basis of the pate. An utterly repugnant practice in my view, which,thankfully, is banned in the UK and several other countries.

The North Face products are used by many, including their padded jackets sometimes sported by our very own football managers and BBC reporters and by some well known celebrities worldwide. I've used their products myself and they are good, of good quality and do the job. In fairness I suspect the feathers came cheap, as a final by-product from the hapless geese, and probably were sourced through some intermediate agent enjoying a substantial mark-up in the process. However,the North Face Company could have done better in checking out the provenance of its materials and deserves to pay the inevitable penalty that will be applied by a discerning public.

However, nowhere , but nowhere in the outpourings was any criticism levelled at those whose exercise their indulgence , pay an exorbitant price  for the privilege  ( £25 for two slices at Fortnum and Masons was quoted in an article ) and ,seemingly, have no thought for the suffering involved. In my view the only way to stop the misery is to ban the sale of the products , ban imports at point of entry and close down the whole operation. Is this not what the European Union ought to be acting on instead of concerning itself with the dimensions of toilet seats or some similar pointless exercise?  I suspect the "industry" has some staunch supporters!!  Enter the  "Oh la la " brigade, whose culinary excesses know no bounds and who have doubtless been feeling the pinch since the eating of Ortolan Buntings whole was outlawed!!  I sometimes wonder if this is the world I want to live in.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Water, water, everywhere!

As I travelled home from Inverness on Monday it was hard to believe that DEFRA had drawn together agencies and interested parties that very morning to talk about a water shortage, if not the possibility of drought in central and south eastern England. It rained virtually all day, roads carried pools here and there and the journey circumvented various large lochs.  Now it seems to me not to be beyond the wit of man to consider, at the very least, the possibility of moving water from areas of excess supply to those areas in difficulty. We move gas across half of Europe for our consumption, and oil and gas out of the North Sea from areas half way to Scandinavia, we move oil from the Arctic southwards and across various deserts,  and yet we continue to bang on about about water shortages in the UK when there's a veritable ready supply on the doorstep. I'm sure a quick call to the  Salmond Water Supply Company would secure supplies and an end to the problem for all time.
But is the problem greater than it appears? Is not one of the dimensions that, with five year terms of government, eyes are persistently turned to securing the next term in office, and lulling the voters into supporting some short term idea, rather than indulging in proper long term planning regardless of who is in power? Or is it the "lets form a committee to look at the problem" syndrome?  All this coupled with a persistent policy of expanding housing and facilities in the South east simply compounds the difficulties.  Fingers taken out ( of the dyke wall !!! ) might release  a better flow of ideas perhaps?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Water crisis in Britain.

It's seems a bit improbable that reports of water shortages might be a reality in England later in the year given the recent snow and rainfall which has occurred , but there you are.  Yesterday I wrote to Tim Yeo, MP, Chairman of the Energy and Climate Change  and my own MP, Alan Reid, at Westminster and asked if the following had been pursued.

Whilst it's ten years since I lived in South Yorkshire I seem to remember dry summers were accompanied by the water levels of upland reservoirs being drastically "drawn down" and them displaying large expanses of exposed silt. Many of these reservoirs in both western Yorkshire and nearby Lancashire would have been constructed over a 100 years ago and so the accumulated volume of such material will not be inconsiderable.  The carrying capacity of these particular reservoirs will have been reduced accordingly, some quite drastically. I suggested a progressive system of deliberate draw down might be considered and the silt removed. Such "fines" might even have a commercial use and value for gardening purposes ( ought I to have patented the idea!!! ) !!

Whilst it may be all such ideas will have been considered by the utility companies, it's obviously worth raising given the repeated worries expressed each year which appear to get earlier and earlier in each calendar cycle!!!