Wednesday, February 28, 2007

In Praise of Luddites and Battered Boxes

A rather battered, but well loved British Ballot Box.

Vote Early – Vote often!

It is probably a sign of my rather warped and cynical sense of humour, but the phrase ”Vote early and vote often” brings a wry grin to my lips. (Note 1)

Having decided that I would use the phrase, I thought my curious yeomen would appreciate it if I could find the derivation. Imagine my surprise when I found the quotation attributed to Al Capone. I admit I had an inkling that it would be of Merkin origin, but I had thought it would be a lot earlier.

One of the great comforts to me is the wonderful simplicity of the British democratic system. The adult population are asked to register to vote. On polling day, you wander down to your local polling station. A rather bemused lady gently puts down her knitting next to a thermos flask and a Tupperware sandwich box and crosses your name off the list before handing you a ballot paper. You go off to a little booth, place your ‘X’, fold the paper and return to the desk to post into the sealed ballot box.

Polling stations stay open from early morning to late in the evening giving everyone plenty of opportunity to vote. At the end of voting the ballot boxes are taken to a hall where the votes are counted by hand

As the candidates and their chosen invigilators watch, all of the votes are bundled together and stacked up. As the count continues, you can see how the various candidates are doing. For all of the flaws and the expense of what is and old-fashioned process – it is open, transparent and very difficult to cheat.

Which is why I am a Luddite when considering new technology in democratic process. I’m not even comfortable about use of Postal Votes. Even if the postal voting system is 100% foolproof it is certainly not transparrent and therefore is always going to raise doubts when the ‘right’ candidate doesn’t win.

John Prescott, the British Deputy Prime Minister goes out fighting for every vote.

The falling turnout in elections appears to worry politicians who are forever trying to find new, rather gimmicky ways to engage the stay away voters. (Note 2) Sadly, this tends to worry me somewhat as I am a firm believer that the ballot box is one of those things that proves you get out of life what you put in. While people continue to vote based on who has the better smile, the lesser of the evils or because they have always voted that way the longer we will get politicians who rate style over substance.

In a sleight of hand jump of logic, I could suggest that it is our lack of real thought when casting our vote that means we get politicians determined not to be seen as weak by changing their mind. Yes, I know it is incredibly ridiculous, but the way modern politics plays out, if a politician listens to an argument and changes their stance on a topic opposition parties jump on it and portray it as a weakness.

Still, it doesn’t stop us from trying. There are traditions of protest within Britain. The snaking columns of marchers protesting against something or other move through the streets of London accompanied by bemused policemen. The marches are usually peaceful and end with a few speeches in Hyde Park or Trafalgar Square.(Note 3)

Despite the tradition of peaceful protest it doesn’t do any harm if you dress up in a silly costume – it draws the attention of the cameras.

The petition is another method of trying to sway the government to act on an issue. The tradition is for activists to go out and collect signatures and then deliver the petition to Downing Street (Note 4)

Then, a couple of weeks ago, technology in the democratic process hit the news headlines. Almost two million Britons had exercised their right to petition the Prime Minister about road pricing using the electronic petitioning system on the Number 10 website. (Note 5)

Suddenly, I discovered a piece of technology that supported the democratic process. Off I went to explore the Number 10 website - and I admit, I was mightily impressed!

David Cameron is leader of the Conservative Party and believes we should love a ‘hoody’. Yes David. The ’hoodys’ love you too.

In one of those fantastic co-incidence moments, I had become incandescent with rage over a news item that very morning. A company has been buying up debt owed by Third World countries just before it is due to be written off and using the British Courts to reclaim up to ten times the amount they paid for the debt. (Note 6)

You really should read the story HERE. You really should read it. You will be as angry as I was.

Forgetting my nervousness about technology in the democratic process, I immediately went ahead and tried to start an electronic petition to complain.

Two weeks ago I tried to raise that petition and it still hasn’t appeared on the site! Still, let’s face it, all of this rambling on about voting may have lessened the impact of the story - you know the story I mean – the one you can find HERE.

It seems that I am right to distrust technology in the democratic process. For all of the fantastic intentions it seems that technology doesn’t improve on the tried and trusted methods. Someone pass me a pen and paper, I think I need to write a letter – if I can remember how!

So, I shall up now. Be warned though fair yeomen! I will be coming back to the topic of vulture funds. You really better go read the story because I might set a test!

From 14th June 2006, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: Totally ignoring the fact that the mere fact that you have to explain a joke destroys the humour I plough on regardless. In a true democracy, such a statement becomes ironic because democracy is ”one person – one vote” set up (in theory at least) and so this is actually a rallying cry of the dictator and the corrupt. Click to return

NOTE 2: While the politicians were up in arms over the recent Celebrity Big Brother, they seem to have this idea that they should copy the format for the House of Commons. Using mobile phone texts to evict MPs from the House just seems a very strange and disturbing concept. Click to return

NOTE 3: I would like to contribute this as part of the “What Constitutes Britishness” debate. Despite all of the cynicism over whether they can actually change anything, the tradition of peaceful protest is maintained. When protests do turn violent, I like to think that the reaction from the British is to turn against the cause being put forward rather than give in to an uncivilised rabble.

Yes, coming from me in such a cynical piece that seems incredibly optimistic, but I have this fervent belief that violence NEVER solves an issue. Solutions only come about by winning hearts and minds. Click to return

NOTE 4: I’ve always wondered what happens to the petition after it is delivered. I wondered if they employed someone to seek out duplicate signatures or those of Mr D. Duck or Ms M. Mouse. Whether the petition is stored away in some great democratic archive or whether it is sent away for recycling.. Click to return

NOTE 5: I don’t support the petition. Something needs to be done to make public transport more attractive and to reduce the congestion on the roads. Click to return

NOTE 6: Do you remember Live 8? How Bob Geldof and Bono cosied up to the G8 leaders in Scotland and wrung out all of those good intentions of cancelling the debt of developing countries who follow democratic principles. This single court case wipes out the debt relief that Zambia would have enjoyed for a year! Read the story HERE. Click to return

Democracy is too valuable to trust to some random hamster inside a computer.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Spring is Seeping

You get to appreciate this more if you view it full size. I love the raindrops on the delicate crocus heads.

The stirrings of Spring.

Good yeomen, There is a definite feel that winter is losing its icy grip and that Spring is getting ready to do a good impression of Zebedee and boing into action. There are definite stirrings about the place. (Note 1)

The opening picture is of a lovely bunch of crocus (Or should that be Crocii or crocuses?) that have come into bloom in the garden. The daffodils are showing signs of bursting into bloom and there is even blossom on some trees around the town. It will soon be time to pack away the winter combinations. (Note 2)

The festival of Easter and Spring have become joined at the hip in recent years. Marketing men have realised that there is more money to be made from the earth taking on a fresh green tinge than by remembering a crucifiction.

This chocolate bunny is huge. There is a ruler against the box to give some scale.

I didn’t intend to upset anyone who is following Lent by giving up chocolate, but I just had to share this. (Note 3)

That chocolate rabbit was being raffled at the office I was at Friday. It is incredible. The box must be two foot (600mm) tall. The rabbit itself contains about 3.3 pounds (1.5kg) of chocolate.

The trouble is you can never have too much chocolate. The drak chocolate for me, I think. At least to start with…

From 14th June 2006, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: There may be one or two of my grubbier minded yeomen who may have looked groinward and nodded in that wistful manner so beloved of romantic fiction writers. Sadly, at my age instead of looking groinward I find myself opening my spam folder and seeking assistance. Click to return

NOTE 2: Winter combinations being the neck to ankle undergarments with the handy escape hatch at the back. But remember fine yeomen – “Nay cast a clout ‘til May is Out!”. Click to return

NOTE 3: The receptionists in the office know exactly how best to wring out money for good causes. Having this lump of chocolate on display all through lent is bound to sell a few more tickets. Click to return

My mascot is salivating at the chance to put the bite on the bunny.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Pressed Vinyl Cracked by Fluffy Slipper

The tell tale sign that there is something afoot.

Gloriously Bytesize.

Dateline Ohio, Sunday 25th February.

Welcome, my fine yeomen, to the breaking story of the decade.

Amazing scenes are unfolding in Southern Ohio. Late yesterday, reports started to trickle in to the news agencies of pillars of cloud signaling the way to a small, unassuming and usually quiet street on the outskirts of town. As the sun sank in the West, the last few rays seemed to ignite the clouds and turn them into pillars of fire. (Note 1)

This network can exclusively reveal the REAL reason behind the exciting phenomenon.

Here, in typical Mid-Western suburbia a Yahoo 360 milestone will crumble to dust.

Inside a typical all American (with a hint of Welsh) home, a mild-mannered domestic goddess will rip off her fluffy slippers and share with the world her world famous pancakes.

Today Englishmen will be singing ‘God Save The Queen’ at the very symbol of Irish Nationalism.

Already queues are forming around the block. The black and whites tried to cordon off the area, but in scenes reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind people scrabbled through open country to join the queues. (Note 2)

The President mobilized the National Guard to help keep order, but for some reason they all set off for Oregon.

Thankfully, the queues are generally well mannered and behaved. Queue jumping is being punished by being placed in a large homemade cage with two young children, a TV and a Barney video.

The world waits.

Any open space in the area has been claimed by large outside broadcast trucks. The world’s media are fighting to set up their cameras in the best vantage points.

All of the major networks are here - except the Evil Murdoch Empire who found their cameras all turned to waffles and that someone poured Maple Syrup in their gas tanks.

The red carpet at the Kodak theatre is deserted as people rush of to the real hot ticket destination in Ohio.

When the first egg is cracked you will hear it here first!!

Congratulations Kerry (and to Charlie for 10000 comments). Sorry if I didn’t take it seriously.

Also, Sorry to hear that Voluptuous One is feeling a touch bruised after deciding to treat her car like dodgem – get well soon.

From 14th June 2006, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: That’s the problem with the air quality in some of our cities today. One carelessly discarded sunbeam causes an aerial conflagration of almost biblical proportions. Click to return

NOTE 2: Indeed, I found myself waking up early and for no apparent reason making models of typical American homes out of mashed potato. Click to return

My cute mascot is looking forward to his share of the pancakes. He has a persuasive way of getting people to let him sink his teeth into things.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

See How Far it has Come?

Something momentous this way comes.

No Compromise?

Good yeomen, I have decided to post more often. However, to achieve that, I will need to introduce a new ‘Bytesize Blog’ entry. These will be shorter versions of my normal entry that allow me to sketch out a synaptic short circuit rather than provide the full oil portrait. (Note 1)

Today, in Dublin there is a game of rugby that proves so many Englishmen wrong. Not just in a “Whoops! Pass the rubber” wrong but in a “Pass the ketchup I’ve got to eat my hat” kind of way.

Today Ireland will host England in the Rugby Six Nations Championship at Croke Park.

Today Englishmen will be singing ‘God Save The Queen’ at the very symbol of Irish Nationalism.

Croke Park was built on the site of the first Bloody Sunday. It is such a symbol of Irish Nationalism that up until recently, only Gaelic sports have been played there.

Surely if there were any doubts over the Irish Peace Process, this must dispel them? I’m struggling to find a parallel for the symbolism behind the event. The game this afternoon would be like the Northern Irish Orange Order inviting Gerry Adams to march with them carrying the Irish National Flag. (Note 2)

If you do hear a Unionist claiming that the Irish Nationalists are not compromising over issues in the peace process (yes, there are still issues) – remind them of today.

From 14th June 2006, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: I hope you can forgive me for this, but the writing of the full blog entries now takes me hours. There isn’t just the writing, but the research – and it is the research that is the killer. There are all the links you see (which all have to be read) plus those you don’t (which are still read before they are discarded). Then there are the synaptic tangents that take me on little journeys that fill a whole evening. Click to return

NOTE 2: If Ian Paisley ever does invite Gerry Adams to take part in an Orange Day parade carrying the Irish National Flag then I will eat my hat – WITHOUT KETCHUP! Click to return

I thought I should have a cute little mascot for my bytesize blogs.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Weird Science of Saint Valentine

Romance blooms in the most unlikely places.

The weird science of St Valentine.

If my opening picture has disturbed any of my good yeomen, I apologise. Once again it wasn’t the picture I was looking for, it just cropped up in the search and had such a morbid curiosity about it, I felt I should use it. (Note 1)

For those of you who don’t know, the two men photographed a la Morcombe and Wise are Richard Branson, the man behind the Virgin brand, and Chris Evans former radio star and former husband to Billie Piper.

I was seeking out some irony (Note 2) to help all my fine yeomen to recover from any excesses or disappointments of February 14th. To try and preserve some semblance of romance, I decided to delay my contribution. While Cupid may be armed with a bow and arrow, he is no match for Cynicism, who lies in wait with several grades of baseball bat and an assault rifle.

Tending to view the 14th of Feb with a rather cynical eye myself, I do chuckle over the whole Saint Valentine idea. After all, he wasn't a particularly famous 'Saint' in the Christian Church. (Note 3)

the natural world is the most wonderful thing. Even in the depths of winter, some trees sprout their unique blooms.

Yet I digress. The reason that the Mr. Branson appears at the head of my entry is that I discovered an ally in my cynical view of the Hallmark Holiday in the BBC. Discarding all pretext to romance, the BBC decided to get to what is essentially what we all hope for by asking 'Is sex on a plane legal'? (Note 4)

According to the article, Richard Branson and Janet Jackson are both self confessed members of the Mile High Club. What I failed to discover was if this was with each other. In fact, I couldn't even discover a picture of the two together. Mind you, I'd hazard a guess that Richard Branson didn't have to have to overcome some of the practical difficulties of trying to become a member in the airplane toilet. (Note 5)

If you struggle to imagine just how you can perform in an aircraft toilet, then the story / myth behind that tree picture will have your synapses bulging and boggling like lycra underwear at an orgy. Apparently, the underwear displayed on the tree is the result of couples indulging their instincts on a ski lift. I tried to believe it, but my synapses shut down. Ski lift? In the depths of winter? Presumably at night? Can anyone put forward a practical theory as to how?

I'm sure that this blog has the various Saint Valentines spinning in their holy relic boxes. I'm not sure I can blame them, it has rather drifted away from the romance and lover to cover rather baser topics.

It might not be a great comfort, but perhaps science may give them a touch of comfort. Not that science and organised religion are often comfortable bedfellows (Sorry, couldn't resist that one).

On the radio the other day (BBC of course), I was listening to a discussion in which a scientist was explaining how attraction is based upon physical characteristics and has a lot to do with nature guiding us to choose partners who will provide us with progeny that will have the best genetic make up to enable them to survive and prosper.

The sap is rising and the first signs of impending spring are showing.

Yet successful relationships rely on personality and the sharing of common interests and aspirations. Discovering whether we will be able to live and thrive will a potential partner takes time as both sides have to evaluate whether they will be able to live happily together. (Note 6)

They say that the strongest personal bond is between a Mother and her child. That bond is formed by the act of breastfeeding and the production of the hormone Oxytocin. The same hormone is produced during orgasm.

Both the scientist and organised religion were of the opinion that you should avoid following your instincts when you fancy someone. Science suggesting that sex could snare you into a disastrous relationship.

From 14th June 2006, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: I was rather hoping to find a picture of Richard Branson with Janet Jackson (for reasons which I hope will become apparent later). Thinking about it, I fear that if I had found the picture it would have held the same morbid fascination. In case you are wondering, this isn’t a blog about various wardrobe malfunctions. Click to return

NOTE 2: Apologies to my Merkin readership. This will turn out to be heavy irony and sadly time and resources prevents me from meeting you all individually and explaining the concept with the aid of a halibut and the Ladybird book of irony. Click to return

NOTE 3: In fact it isn't entirely known if St Valentine was a single saint or a combination of three early Christian Martyrs who the Roman Emperor Claudius disposed of. Nothing seems to be known of the lives of the martyrs and nothing seems to link them to romance. The whole concept of the feast day of the 14th February could have been invented by Geoffrey Chaucer and his cronies. Now more cynical yeomen who have actually read some of the racier stories in Pilgrims Progress might jump to their own conclusions.

Personally, as a cynic, I quite like the account of Plutarch of Lupercalia, the pagan festival it possibly replaced. He wrote:-

Lupercalia, of which many write that it was anciently celebrated by shepherds, and has also some connection with the Arcadian Lycaea. At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.

Seems like much more fun than waiting for a mass produced greetings card, some wilting out of season flowers and battered chocolates. Thinking about it, I wonder if Chaucer would have preferred it too, only was put off by the winter weather. Click to return

NOTE 4: OK, that may be a very sweeping generalisation. In my defence though, I am pretty sure that there is a pretty hefty majority of the male population who would not be seen in a florist at any other time of the year and rarely if ever send a greetings card. I reckon that their motives for doing so on this particular day have less to do with their romantic nature and far more to do with stirring hormones. Click to return

NOTE 5: Not that I can give you any practical tips here – I'm not a member of this exclusive club. I cannot even begin how to comprehend how to go about such a feat in an aircraft toilet. I find it almost impossible to use it for the purpose it was designed without mishap. I dread to think of the potential for me to do a permanent injury to either myself or my partner should I even try sex. Besides, my greatest fear would be that I some how hit the flush button while seated. Ooooo excuse me, my eyes are watering at the mere thought. Click to return

NOTE 6: As my good old Dad always tells me, good sex doesn’t last but good cooking lasts a lifetime. Click to return

Billie Piper – is that a sonic screwdriver in your pocket or are you pleased to see me?

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Evar is Innocent!

A message from somewhere in Europe.

Regular readers of my blog will have by now noticed two things. One is that I have not produced many entries recently. The second is that Evar has gone very quiet.

The first is down to me biting off a bigger idea than I can handle. I’m still working on it, but it is taking a lot more effort than I anticipated. Bear with me. It will be ready – soon I hope.

I dare say that the more considerate yeomen amongst you are more concerned over Evar. (Note 1) The poor man has been in hiding in Europe for sometime now. Hoping that no one will betray him to the good Chief Inspector.

Well, fear not. Evar has a plan. Yes, I know, if Evar has a plan it is better to dig out that old ‘Protect & Survive’ brochure and stack up on canned goods & bottled water. Still, in a moment of weakness I said I would help. (Note 2)

So it is up to me to try and rustle up a bit of positive publicity for poor Evar in the hope that this will convince the powers that be that he is safe to be pardoned.

Evar has this idea that if I do an interview on my blog, there is a chance it will catch the public imagination and spark a popular movement for the dropping of all charges.

So, I need you help here. Just what questions should I be asking Evar?

Good Yeomen, put your grey matter to work! Give me questions that will challenge Evar and help him win the hearts and minds of the populace. Bring me your huddled questions and I will put them to Evar! The more questions the merrier! Let’s kick off the irresistible force that will move the immoveable British Justice System!

From 14th June 2006, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: I wonder how many of my new readers clicked on the link hoping to find out more about the mystical Evar? Ah well, never mind, Yvette swore me to secrecy until the film rights are signed and sealed. Just sidle up to one of the old hands and ask them if they’ll tell you the story. Click to return

NOTE 2: I wasn’t the first choice to help out. In fact, I think I came quite a way down the list. I believe that Evar’s first choice was Max Clifford. Click to return

There is justice and then there is Justice.

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