Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Tory wants US-style policing for London

The attention-seeking Boris Johnson has received quite enough coverage, both in the real world and on this blog. But what about the other possible Tory candidates for London’s mayor ? So I had a look at Victoria Borwick’s website.

She’s awfully keen on law and order - presumably some dusky hoodie oiks from other parts of London must be getting into her Kennsington and Chelsea constituency and causing trouble.Her policies for London can pretty much be summarised as:

• American-style police patrols (not sure what that means – I like The Shield but I don’t think that’s really what she has in mind)

• Zero-tolerance policing – because our prisons are not clogged up enough with petty criminals already.

• A senior police officer to be recruited from the US as an advisor – because they have such low crime rates over there. (Actually Iceland has the lowest murder rate in the world but maybe they can’t spare anyone).

• The appointment of a crime ‘tsar’ as a supremo on all policy matters.

And it’s the last point that really gets to me; why do we keep hearing talk of tsars for drugs, transport, health etc. Why has this ridiculous expression re-entered the language ?

All the tsars I know of were deluded, out of touch, unelected, unaccountable and tried to hold back the advancement of their people.

You might recall that as a result they were rejected and executed.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Plane spotting with attitude

I have to confess to a liking for World War Two aircraft. Up close there's something about the smell of the fuel and the sound of the engines that comes close to being a motorcycle with wings.

This affinity between bikes and planes is nothing new - many bike clubs were started after the war by aircrew veterans . In fact even the name of the most famous bike club in the world is inspired by that of various USAAC squadrons.

Which is a long winded explanation of why I found myself this weekend at Duxford for the American Historic Air Show. I went to see Mustangs, Thunderbolts and Flying Fortresses, both up close and in flight. I wasn't disappointed in this, but what I also got was a full-on propaganda assault from the current US Air Force.

There were various static displays all over the airfield by USAF units, and the historic fly-pasts were outnumbered by contemporary jets and helicopters. These were accompanied with a commentary on the PA that made numerous references to operations 'Iraqi Freedom' and 'Enduring Freedom.'

I hadn't signed up for this, and resented the constant spurious connections with the present war on terror and US contribution in the Second War World. The not-so implied message was 'we were the defenders of freedom then and have been ever since'.

Despite the taste for old planes and history in general, I am generally of the view that war is not something to be glorified and have opposed every war our country has been involved within my lifetime.

But the Second War World occupies a special place for me.
Perhaps just because it is the war of my parents' generation. Whilst other wars both before and after, generally seem like imperialist adventures and senseless wastes of lives, the Second War World can claim at least in some sense to be truly a People's War. I know that many aspects of it weren't - just think of the war in the Far East. And the motives of many of the leaders were doubtless the same as those of other generations of politicians and generals. But for many of the ordinary men and women involved, they were fighting to defend democracy against fascism.

Which is why I find it offensive to see the recent adventures in Iraq spoken of in the same way. It is more appropriate to link them to the wars of the nineteenth century when Britain was the number one imperial superpower, carving up the world for its own interest under the cloak of morality as an international policeman.

There were many service people and their families from nearby US airbases at the Duxford show, both in and out of uniform. And they were not bad people. A little too clean-cut, smiley and preppy for my tastes, but not bad people. Drinking beers and eating hotdogs in the sunshine, there was certainly nothing menacing about them. I'm not sure that I would have felt the same way about similar numbers of off-duty British squaddies.

Little snatches of overheard conversation showed that they took themselves and their perceived mission to the world of protecting 'our values' extremely seriously. Clearly they believe themselves to be in the tradition of Stephen Ambrose's 'Citizen Soldiers'. They may well be more naive and deluded rather than bad, but either way they are wrong; these days US Forces are as likely to be oppressors as they are liberators.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Lids lids lids ...

Brought a new crash helmet yesterday. Like most riders I have grown up with helmet compulsion and cannot remember the good old days when it was permissible to wear a beret, leather flying helmet, or flat cap and goggles. Or nothing at all.

Much as I believe in the right of consenting adults to decide whether to wear a helmet or not - personally I always would, compulsion or not.
But given that we are compelled - we are also doubly penalised.

1.Why is VAT charged on helmets when other safety equipment ( builders' hard hats and steel toe-capped boots etc) are tax exempt ? When VAT was first brought in under Harold Wilson the rationale was that it was a tax on luxury goods. A helmet is hardly a luxury when you face a fine and penalty points (or even imprisonment) for not wearing one.

2. Why are helmets so bloody expensive ? A top of the range helmet can go for more
than I have paid for some bikes. And why is it that if you want a plain colour or style, this is only available at the very top end of the market or at the very bottom end of the market ? In between, helmets are covered in the kind of gaudy graphics that everywhere else died out in the eighties.

My own preference is for the traditional
black open face (or as they call them in the US; 3/4 helmets). Maybe it doesn't give as much protection as a full face but then I am more concerned with saving my brain than my good looks. And of course there is a style aspect to it - I choose not to look like Darth Vada.

But to get such a simple classic helmet the choice is either the very cheapest Chinese-made copies of long-discontinued styles, all of which seem to fit badly (and whatever the
kite mark standard, a helmet that doesn't fit is useless), or , at the most expensive end there is the retro style craft-made option.

I have opted for the latter, which is supposed to be the Rolls-Royce of helmets. And at the price it bloody well should be.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007


Scenes of homes in picturesque old towns in central England under water have understandably provoked a wave of sympathy around the country.

And rightly so. But similar scenes in the not-quite-so-quaint cities of Hull, Sheffield and Leeds haven't met with the same response.
Maybe this is because the Seven and Thames valleys are not just geographically in central England, they are also very much in Middle England.

I have complete sympathy for those whose homes are devastated, and I wish them well in obtaining justice from those thieving bastards at the insurance companies who only ever seem to want to provide cover for those eventualities that are never actually going to happen. So they are now questioning the renewal of flood cover for anybody living in areas prone to flooding.

BUT no one seems to be picking up on the irony of Middle England bleating that it's all the government's fault.

Generally I'm all for blaming most of the evils of the past few years on New Labour, but even I think that blaming the bad weather on them is stretching it a bit. Although there is of course a serious underlying argument here about the possible effects of global warming, and a lack of investment in infrastructure .

And here's the issue;

Middle England is the land that baulks at the prospect of taxation and public spending - and civil engineering on the scale to provide adequate flood defences doesn't come cheap. This is also the land that believes it's every citizen's right to own their own Barratt home, whether it's in a flood plain or not. It's the land that said local authorities shouldn't get in the way of private property developers. And its Middle England who supported and profited from the privatisation of public utilities ...like the water companies who haven't updated their sewage and mains systems.

I don't believe in divine retribution - but you can see a certain irony in all this. A bit like when the Countryside Alliance complained about the loss of rural jobs having voted Tory for years and not supported other workers (like the miners) trying to save their jobs.

And finally, to all those Little Englanders who are now saying that we should stop foreign aid and divert the resources to domestic flood relief - get some fucking perspective! Comparisons with the devastation of the tsunami or Hurricane Katrina are in very poor taste.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Sportster - Happy 50th

Braved monsoons and floods to go to the HD Riders' Club Sportster rally at the weekend.

In an age when technology three years old is considered obsolete - the Sportster has been in production for 50 years this year. Admittedly, since 1957 it has gained a new engine, belt drive, rubber mounting and fuel injection. But these changes have been in increments over the years and a modern Sportster is still very much identifiable as such.

Originally HD brought out the Sportster because their heavyweight range were being out-performed by imported lightweight Nortons and Triumphs. So in the Wild One, recreating the famous Hollister riots of 1947, Marlo Brando rides a Triumph whilst arch rival Lee Marvin rides a war surplus Harley. If the film was set 10 years later no doubt Brando should have been riding a Sportster.

By no stretch of the imagination does the Sportster meet the criteria of a 'sports' bike today. But whilst other parts of Harley's range have become increasingly bloated platforms for ever more chrome and tassels, the Sportster stays close to the spirit of the original bobbers and choppers; if it doesn't help make it go or make it stop - throw it away.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Hypocrisy from the Home Secretary

I did it a few times. I knew it was wrong and I didn't particularly enjoy it.

So says new Home Secretary Jacqui Smith on smoking cannabis as a student whilst at the same time backing Brown's reversal of the previous government's more liberal stance on the drug. And the rest of the cabinet are now saying similar things.

What a load of sanctimonious shit. If it's true then how stupid and weak-minded was she at the time in doing it for no apparent reason, and on the otherhand how hypocritical is she now in wanting to criminalize young people for doing exactly what she did as a priveleged undergraduate ?

Wouldn't it be refreshing to hear a politician say:

Yes we smoked and laughed our faces off - it was great and we didn't see why it should be illegal. But I don't do it anymore because I have a responsible job and that doesn't mix with midnight munchies and short term memory loss.

Some chance.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007


He rides a bike. He jogs. He believes higher education is a good thing. He's a serial shagger but appears to be disarmingly honest about his indiscretions. He displays occasional glimpses of genuine erudition. He's very funny on 'Have I Got News..' He has the tolerant cosmopolitan outlook of the international elite. His mop-haired scruffiness is a refreshing change from all those well-groomed, well-spun Stepford politicians.


Which is why I will NOT be voting for him as mayor.

Monday, 16 July 2007

War On Terror - Medieval Style.

The anniversary today of the crusaders' capture of Jerusalem in 1099.

National curriculum history is again being revised, and again the idea seems to be that kids should better understand the world around them and how we managed to get into the mess we are currently in.

So here follows the First Crusade for Dummies:

The pope is having a bit of bother with the nobles of Europe who are generally getting a bit uppity. Calling on them to take part in a crusade is an excellent way of getting them all in line and bigging up the authority of the church. A spot of adventure especially suits the younger sons of the nobility who can’t get their hands on any spare land at home, particularly the various branches of Norman medieval mafiosi .

Meanwhile in the Middle East, the Orthodox Byzantine empire which is normally considered to be a heretical rival, is turned into a victim who must be defended from Muslim hordes threatening pilgrims visiting the holy land.

In fact there's no such problem. No weapons of mass destruction aimed at the Byzantine empire. There's a bit of faction fighting going on between Sunni Seljuks and Shi-ite Fatamids, but no real threat to Christians at all. Actually the holy land is at this time a more multicultural patchwork of various types of Christians, Muslims and Jews than it ever has been since.

The crusaders are undeterred by the truth of the situation and so set off on the long overland journey to the Middle East. They start off with a pogrom of European Jews just to show that they mean business. When they finally get to Constantinople, the Byzantines are horrified at their uncultured ‘saviours’ , and the nervous emperor gets the leaders to swear loyalty to him ( although a couple of them cross their fingers at this point).

Pleased to get them off his hands, the emperor packs them off to fight their way to Jerusalem. Along the way there's numerous rows as the various leaders will insist on venturing off on their own to claim land. Baldwin of Lorraine is the first to do so when he gets himself made Count of Edessa having grabbed the title from the (Christian) Armenian King. Bohemond of Toranto then gets himself made Prince of Antioch by ‘liberating’ that city which previously belonged to the (Christian) emperor.

Things get a bit tetchy and the crusaders decide that they need a sign to confirm that they are on the right course, or they will all go home.
Miraculously, the ‘holy lance’ is duly found. Re-enthused, the crusaders go off to Jerusalem where, after a particularly gruesome siege they liberate the holy city on July 15th 1099. Not only do they slaughter the Muslim men women and children who have taken refuge in the Al-Aqsa mosque, they also slaughter the Jews who do the same in the synagogue. And many Orthodox, Coptic, Maronite and other Christians who happen to get in the way.

Regime change complete; Baldwin’s brother Godfrey is made de-facto King of Jerusalem.
The resulting occupation and insurgency last for about 250 years and the effects are still being felt today. Still it's not all doom and gloom though; the crusaders did manage to bring back mathematics, astronomy and medicine - all of which they learnt from the Muslims.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Storm in a royal teacup

The BBC are in trouble for creatively editing some footage of the queen in a documentary that shows her sitting for a portrait with celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz.

The controller of BBC1 is appaently not going to resign despite the fact that it said the editing erroneously shows the queen ‘storming’ out.

Imagine it – showing a member of the royal family as grumpy and arrogant. Absolutely outrageous …

PS I don’t remember any such fuss when BBC News was found to have edited footage to show striking miners charging police lines when it was actually the other way round. But hey – I guess that was far less significant than a documentary about the sodding queen having her picture taken.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Dangerous censorship

I can't say that this kind of religious art is really my bag. But if you are a fan of Botucelli's Saint Sebastian, you'd better hurry up and make the most of it in all it's homo-erotic, sado-masochistic glory.

Why? Because if the latest proposed anti-pornography Bill goes through you could (arguably) be arrested for downloading the image here. After all, there is no denying that, under the language of the Bill, it falls into the category of ‘images of acts that appear to be life threatening or are likely to result in serious, disabling injury’.

By the way it wouldn't get Botucelli of the hook if he had stuck on a disclaimer to say that no models were injured in the making of this painting or that the model has consented to being shot or depicted as being shot. You see apparently it's the contents of the image that matters.

Of course this is 'art'. But one man's art is another man's porn with a massive grey area in-between into which has fallen at various times Lady Chatterly's Lover and the photography of Robert Mappleforth.

I'm not entirely naive - I have no doubt that there is all sort of truly nasty shit out there which cannot by any description be deemed to be 'art'; although I'd be very cautious to say where those boundaries are. But then the nasty shit portrays activities like child abuse or non-consensual sex which are already illegal anyway. And if what is portrayed in the images is actually happening, then we don't need any new laws to prosecute the people who make these images.

Which is my point, as soon as we start trying to legislate against images of things, rather than the things themselves, we are on a slippery slope. At best there is a danger of ending up looking pretty silly and small minded. At worst, we end up with a state-imposed puritanism.

In other words: I think if
Botucelli actually strapped some bloke to a tree and shot arrows at him, then he probably deserved to be nicked for attempted murder or GBH at least. But of course he didn't; he just summoned the rather bizzare image out of his imagination. And I don't really feel justified in criminalising him because his imagination doesn't coincide with my taste.

Many on the Left, influenced by some strands of Feminism, support this kind of legislation; I understand why but I'm afraid they are wrong. If we're going to combat the exploitation of women in the sex industry, we'd be better off looking at the largely hidden human trafficking of modern-day slaves from the poorest parts of Eastern Europe.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Goodbye George

I can’t let the passing of George Melly go without mention.

Jazz musician, surrealist artist, writer, cultural theorist, anarchist, atheist, bon-viveur and general renaissance nut-case.

A fine example of how to grow old dis-gracefully who brought some much needed colour and rebellion into an increasingly bland and conformist world…

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Muslim doctors.

The fact that those religious funda-mentalists who attempted the terrorist attacks at the weekend were doctors or health workers has caused outrage.

Fair enough you might initially think. There is something particularly obscene at the thought of people supposedly dedicated to saving life being so prepared to indiscriminately kill innocents.

But the voice of Middle England appears to be crying out: ‘we trusted these people, accepted them into the middle class and now they repay us like this’. In their outrage their reveal a nice mixture of racism and snobbery.

For the outraged of Middle England possibly their only contact with Asians, other than the occasional visit to the local Tandoori, would be to their Asian doctor. So, like the waiter at the restaurant, the Asian doctor has become a stock figure, the 'good Asian' - almost one of 'us'.

If you don’t believe me – have a look at the BBC’s 'Have Your Say’ website.

It’s the depressingly authentic voice of every gay-bashing, muslim-hating, anti-immigrant, it’s–political-correctness-gone-mad, hang’em-and-flog’em, bring-back-national-service, it-all-went-wrong-in-the-sixties, Maggie-would-have-sorted-it-out, we-are-the-silent-majority, Mr-&-Mrs-Daily-Mail.

On a happier note though, many of these people now say that with these terrorist attacks they are too scared to come to London. Good. Fuck off back to the shires then. (They never really liked the city and only came to see a Lloyd-Weber musical, go to Selfridges and attend a Countryside Alliance march anyway).

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Things to really worry about

With the smoking ban now in place I’ve heard some people say that it is a sign of this country becoming ‘fascist’. Of course saying this is deeply offensive to anyone who has genuinely experienced the horror of fascism. Indicators of creeping fascism would involve much more serious developments than simply banning smoking in public places. Stuff like:

• Widespread surveillance that encroaches on the daily lives of innocent citizens.

• The replacement of due legal process with arbitrary detention.

• A general expansion of police powers.

• Scape-goating of minorities to distract the populace from social and economic problems.

• Government acting independently of the democratic process.

• Militaristic foreign policy that ignores the rule of international law.

Oh hang on a minute there.....Shit

Monday, 2 July 2007

Fat Cat Management

Post Office workers were branded old fashioned and lazy by their fat cat bosses Crozier and Leighton when they went on strike last week.

At the heart of the dispute is the disastrous Thatcherite / Blairite principle that public services should be run as private businesses.

The post office is old fashioned. And it doesn't match up with private business. But the post office is a public service; it has a charter that obliges it to provide a universal daily delivery service. No such restriction applies to TNT or
DHL. So it's a no-brainer that it struggles to compete in the open market against those carriers who can cherry-pick the services they provide.

Which is probably why it lost the all-important Amazon contract.

But the whole private business benchmark is a double standard. In what other private business would the senior management survive loosing an £8 million contact without at least offering to fall on their swords?

Crozier's salary and bonus take his earnings to 52 times that of an average postal worker. Leighton only works a two day week and mixes this with other directorships the rest of the time. He has actually elevated this moonlighting to a business theory of 'portfolio management'. Remember all the stink when it came out that some firefighters supplemented their unspectacular earnings with a bit of building work or mini-cabbing?

Part of the Thacher / Blair myth is that a small business should be the model for any enterprise - no doubt in the likeness of Maggie's dad's shop in Grantham. But such differentials are unheard of in small/medium businesses (I should be so lucky).

And no small business would tolerate a pair of wankers like
Crozier and Leighton.