Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Follow the money

Remember Baroness Uddin? Chucked out of the House of Lords until she paid back the £125,000 she fiddled on expenses and claiming to be penniless, she had the gall to ask to be reinstated in order to pay the money back out of the taxpayer-funded daily allowance.

When that failed, at the end of her 18-month suspension, she had a rummage down the back of the sofa and miraculously came up with the cash in a handy lump sum.

Only it turns out that the sofa in question wasn't her own. According to the Register of Members' Interests (via Breitbart), she received an interest free loan for £124,000 from three sources.

Given all the other investment opportunities out there, one wonders whether these benefactors would really sacrifice the use of that amount out of the goodness of their hearts or the desire to see Baroness Uddin's little face light up in gratitude.

What's more, £10,000 came from 'two businessmen from the Islam Channel' which, according to Breitbart,
...has been accused of giving a platform to terrorist sympathisers and anti-Semitism. In November 2010 Ofcom ruled the channel had breached the broadcasting code after presenters supported violence against women, martial [sic] rape and accused women who wear perfume of being “prostitutes”.
Most of the channel's output appears rather less controversial, which is a good thing, given that 'UK government research [in 2008] found that 59% of British Muslims watched the channel.' (Wikipedia), but I wonder whether Baroness Uddin agrees with the programme stating that women should not be 'permitted to hold a position of leadership in government'  - and what she thinks of the CEO's alleged links to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Islamic finance does not, of course, permit the direct charging of interest on loans. Instead, the lender may effectively acquire a whole or part share of any assets and a share of any income or benefit generated. When the asset in question is a member of the House of Lords, this surely raises some disquieting questions.

In the light of this generous financial backing for the Baroness, the inspiration for our past musical efforts seems even more appropriate...

She kept a home down in Wapping,
Where subsidies helped pay the rent,
A mansion in Bangladesh,
And don’t forget the flat in Kent,
Pressed for a remedy, she says she’s in penury,
But once she’s back in Westminster then all will be fine;
Three hundred quid a day she’d get,
She’d use your cash to pay her debt
Extraordinarily nice!
She's Manzila Uddin,
Baroness of Bethnal Green,
House of Lords expenses queen;
Her arrant greed will blow your mind. 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

A prestigious award

Out with the Oscars! Banish the Baftas! Douglas Carswell, newly-hatched UKIP MP and occasional muse of this blog has been shortlisted for the Westminster Public Affairs’ Political Twitter Awards 2015 (nope, me neither).

He's one of six hopeful contenders for the Funniest Tweet Award with:
“Are there enough Lib Dems left to form a circular firing squad?”
It's not exactly going to have them rolling in the aisles, but I suppose that, in politics, you have to take your laughs where you can find them.

Still, it's better to be known for that than for the fact your daughter used your twitter account to invite all your 28,000 followers to play 'Hello Kitty World'. In any case, Carswell probably needs cheering up, since the other boys in Parliament have been hiding his homework and calling him names:
He said: “The Bufton Tufton element of the Tory party has definitely started to get a bit cross with me.” But he wouldn’t be drawn on how they had expressed their distaste – and insisted he didn’t care. 
Last month, Carswell arrived at his place on the House of Commons benches to find that someone had scrawled “FO” on his prayer card – short for “F*** Off”.
Wouldn't it be nice if the next election brought us a crop of grown-ups - or, even better, a Parliament prepared to work together for the greater good of the British people. No chance of that, of course; the tribalism and point-scoring is far too deeply ingrained.

As for the Lib Dems, with Nick Clegg in charge, the result is surely something more like this...

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Stranger Danger and Pork Pies

Food for thought this week:
Two youngsters reported being approached by a stranger as they walked to school along Coppins Road on Thursday.
They claimed to have run away from the man and reported the incident to teachers when they got to school.
Schools have strict protocol for situations like this; the other pupils were warned and text alerts were sent out to parents - no doubt causing much fear and alarm.

The police were called and investigated the alleged incident, as a result of which:
A spokesman said: “Officers have spoken to the two boys who reported the accosting incident and are satisfied that it did not take place.”
It would be satisfying to think that the boys were soundly told off for lying and required to apologise to all concerned for the unnecessary panic and the waste of police time but, alas, it may well not be that simple.

As plenty of ex-teachers have found out the hard way, most school policies require pupils' stories of threats to their well-being - however far-fetched - to be accepted at face value, thanks to the grossly-oversimplified orthodoxy that 'children don't lie about abuse'. A false story is thus deemed to be the product of misunderstanding or error.

In an attempt to establish the truth, pupils are likely to be told that withdrawing the story will not result in punishment. However serious or malicious the allegations or wide-reaching the consequences, they can walk away scot free - though they may be offered counselling to address any 'issues' that could have encouraged them to come up with the story in the first place.

There have always been children who have a complicated relationship with the truth; our forebears dealt with it though a combination of chastisement and the fear of God but, in our more enlightened age, the stakes have never been lower.Whether the motive is idle mischief-making or deliberate malice, children know that a lie is unlikely to bring about any serious retribution, whether human or divine.

The idea is for the school to offer pupils an easy way out so they can back down without fear of punishment; the law of unintended consequences says that, a few years down the line, the lesson such children have learned about their own importance and lack of accountability is likely to bear dangerous fruit.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Out of the blue

Next 5 Earth Approaches within 7.5 million kilometers
11 m
2,770,000 km
18 m
1,290,000 km
68 m
2,950,000 km
52 m
3,260,000 km
24 m
775,000 km


I think this counts as a full house; you wait weeks for an asteroid inside the 5,000,000km mark and then five come along at once.

What makes it even more interesting is that four out of the five were detected within the last two days, along with the departing 2015 CH13, a 10m-wide cosmic tiddler which passed a mere 268,000-odd km away on Wednesday.

And, to top it all, today being the second anniversary of the Chelyabinsk airburst, the B612 Foundation (the organisation behind the Sentinel mission) has decided it is an appropriate time to remind us of the dangers of asteroid impact.

It's a warning we've heard before but, this time, the focus is on the small fry - rather like today's visitors, in fact - with former astronaut Dr Ed Lu reassuring us that, for a small asteroid, deflection should be relatively straightforward:
"In most cases, simply running into the offending asteroid with a small spacecraft is sufficient."
Unmanned, one hopes. There's surely a film script in there somewhere but, to be honest, it's not exactly up there with Bruce Willis and the nukes, is it? Perhaps Hollywood will instead turn its attention to the drama of mass evacuation, now that planned detection systems may give enough warning to clear the impact areas in time.

With a matter of hours of warning - if any at all - this week we are certainly not yet at that point; in fact, a cynic might be tempted to wonder whether, had one of the five been heading straight for us, the authorities would have passed on the news at all. The potential for civil unrest and administrative chaos might well make public ignorance the preferred option.

On a more positive note, since every fly-by (or safe departure, depending on your attitude) deserves to be celebrated with a brimming tankard, tonight looks like being a good one - I invite you to join me in a toast to five near misses.


Friday, 13 February 2015

A toe in the water

Between a frantic few weeks at home and at work and your host being somewhat under the weather, the doors of Peachum's Tavern have been shut for far too long - my apologies to those who have turned up and rattled the handles in search of a virtual pint and a chat.

Forget the usual example of retrieving a banknote from the garden; being unable to face posting even when there's a 320m wide asteroid cruising by is, I reckon, a fair indication that it was flu and not just a cold.

Anyway, there's a lot to catch up on - Harriet Harman's pink battle bus, the Greeks expecting gifts and a host of other startling news stories, some of which I hope to get round to in the near future, though posting may be light for a while yet.

Popular culture has also taken an odd turn recently. Perhaps it's best summed up by a moment I caught by chance while channel hopping a few weeks ago in which one Big Brother inmate opined on the subject of another,

"She's such an exhibitionist in all the wrong ways."

From the simian antics of twerking celebrities to the cloying glimpses of domesticity dished up in a vain attempt to make politicians seem more human, we are living in an age where far too little is left to the imagination - which brings us finally to the cinematic event of the week.

Regardless of the official soundtrack, surely I can't be the only person who has been thinking of this...