Monday, October 31, 2005

What movie are you?

There are a multitude of these things out there and I don't normally blog them, but as I turned out to be one of my favourite films I thought I'd include this.

Strangely enough, I do love the smell of napalm.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Column, October 25, 2005

IT is rather apt that the latest threat that the sky is about to fall in should have a chicken as its source.
All over the country normally healthy people have been struck down by a terrible condition. The symptoms are obvious, the brain to cease functioning at a normal level and sufferers begin to flap.
Far more virulent than any bird flu, Chicken Licken Syndrome has entered the country and spread like wildfire causing journalists and health ‘experts’ alike to run around like…..well, headless chickens.
Avian flu has arrived in the UK and you would think it had already filled the hospital wards and mortuaries to overflowing. Instead its only victim thus far has been one ex-parrot.
There is no doubt that avian flu is a terrible threat. The flu pandemic that cost millions of lives just after the Great War is evidence of that and that was probably an avian flu.
But we appear to have lost our heads over one dead parrot.
Firstly, this avian flu has yet to cross the species barrier easily. Thousands of people are not being infected by birds and dying. A handful of people who came into close proximity with birds have died.
So far H5N1 has claimed the lives of just 100 people. Global pandemic? Not yet.
Secondly, if this disease were suddenly going to hop across the humans it would not be doing so because one parrot had died in quarantine in the UK.
It will do it in the vast flocks of birds in South East Asia where there are lots of humans with flu and lots of birds with flu and where there is a chance that the flu strains can swap genetic material and become a pandemic virus.
So, can we all just calm down a little.
The fact is that normal everyday flu is a huge killer already and it grim reaps our elderly every year and yet we have not panicked about that.
Is it because it’s ok for OAPs to die of flu, but anything that threatens the young and healthy, well, something must be done?
Also, there’s another cast-iron, proven, certain killer in our midst which we’re turning a blind eye to.
Every year 114,000 people die from smoking-related disease. That’s a certainty, that’s definitely going to happen.
That’s not some remotely possible epidemic that will only happen if the right genetic and environmental circumstances allow it. The hospital beds will be packed by people whose lives will be ended because of exposure to tobacco smoke.
And are we stockpiling nicotine patches and quarantining anyone with a 40-a-day habit who insists on smoking in public like an incendiary Typhoid Mary? No, we’ll make noises about banning smoking and we’ll make eye-catching adverts that show the effect of smoke on a baby, but in the meantime we’ll happily allow the tobacco companies to make a mint from killing people.
And when we finally get around to making the West an uncomfortable place for them to trade we will happily wave them off to Africa or China where billions of customers await their pernicious products.
But you may say smoking is not really a proper disease like flu. Fair enough, let’s take a real disease then, like malaria.
Between 350 and 500 million cases of it every single year, killing one million people every year.
Again, that’s not some theoretical possibility based on enough chickens and humans coming into contact to produce a killer strain. Malaria is doing this right now, across the globe.
And yet how many Western tourists jet off to exotic destinations and then forget to take their malaria medication, or else ditch it because it gives them a dicky tummy?
Yet put the same person next to a chicken that looks a bit under the weather and they would have a fit of the screaming ab-dabs.
We need to get a grip of risk.
A man who keeps birds of prey was on the radio yesterday saying that he was ‘incredibly worried’ about avian flu.
The nightmare scenario for him was a little migratory flu-carrying bird finding its way into his cages where it would be eaten by his birds who would promptly fall off the perch.
So, never mind that this is a disease which flourishes among chickens, who, the last time I checked, do not migrate very far. Never mind the fact that out of the billions of birds worldwide it is more likely that his aviary would be hit by a meteorite than by bird flu.
No, never mind all that, let’s all get incredibly worried shall we?
You are not at risk, at the moment, from bird flu. If your neighbour sneezes in your vicinity do not book yourself in to the doctor for a course of Tamiflu.
Yet while we are all terrified of catching flu, once we have caught any disease we behave in an utterly bizarre manner.
How many people, once they have caught some bug, instead of doing the decent thing and taking to their bed, dose themselves up with something lemony and then struggle in to work to infect their colleagues?
They’ve all seen the advert, the bloke who sniffles at home loses his job to some eager beaver. The message is, get some paracetamol down you and get yourself behind that desk, otherwise you might soon be clearing it.
And every year bosses organisation moan about the number of sick days taken by staff and yet they’re probably the very bosses who are encouraging their staff not to go off sick, so creating the pool of infection that causes their staff to go off sick.
Better to lose one worker to flu for a week than have them struggle in and infect your whole shopfloor.
So, if you catch anything this winter, it will probably not be bird flu, it will be plain old earthbound flu.
If you do, take to your bed, keep warm, plenty of fluids, and try not infect the whole neighbourhood by heroically struggling in by bus.

MY sometime correspondent Hannah contacts me to have a few words about Tryweryn.
She’s none too pleased with my suggestion that the present administration of Liverpool and its people have nothing to apologise for and that the real blame lies in a political system which rendered Wales powerless to resist the flooding of the valley.
This, says Hannah, makes me English, a scouser and a racist.
The English and scouser bit I can understand. After all, if you’re blinkered enough to believe Liverpool owes Wales ‘reparations’ then you’ll resort to any sort of name-calling.
But the racist bit, where did that come from?
Hannah continues: “What has happened to the Irish, aren’t they on the map any more.”
I’m afraid she’s lost me there. Just how are the Irish relevant to this and why is my apparent deliberate snubbing of them in relation to Tryweryn racist?
Answers on a postcard marked Barmy please.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Column, October 18, 2005

A WISE man once said sorry is the hardest word.
Well, actually, it was Elton John, but bear with me.
The burghers of Liverpool may be feeling the same way this week.
There they go saying sorry for an injustice that has been a festering wound in English-Welsh relations ever since 1966.
We’re sorry for Tryweryn they say.
Quite what they are sorry for I’m not sure, as they had entirely nothing to do with the decision to flood Trwyeryn and displace those living in and around Capel Celyn.
Anyway, I’m sure they’ve regretted even considering an apology now, given the ill-mannered way it has been received and the reactions in some quarters which verge on the barmy.
But what’s behind the Liverpool apology? Is it a genuine desire to acknowledge an injustice? Or is it out of some misguided desire to curry favour, in the hope that the Eisteddfod will be tempted there, thus shoring up the city’s claim to be a capital of culture?
If it’s the latter, then it certainly seems to have blown up in their faces when you look at the way some Welsh people have reacted.
An apology, it would seem is not good enough.
The city of Liverpool should apologise and stump up to help fund the £100,000 monument to be built on the shores of Trwyeryn to commemorate the drowning of the valley.
And by the by, £100,000, what are they making it out of, gold?
For some that’s not enough though, they’ve got to apologise and pay for the monument in its entirety.
And in the unlikely event that Liverpool has £100,000 in loose change hanging about doing nothing, step forward Dafydd Iwan to push demands that were already teetering on the edge of the cliffs of daftness over the edge to be dashed on the rocks of insanity below.
“It’s payback time,” he declared, suggesting that Liverpool should also shore up the ailing economy of Meirionydd because of the economic benefit it has derived from Welsh water all these years.
I will skip over the cruel irony to us claiming compo from a city whose occupants are so often linked with a culture of claims, surely this was Mr Iwan’s sense of humour getting the better of him.
Why make demands that are so utterly unreasonable of a city which obviously cannot afford them? Everyone knows things have been hard in many Welsh communities, but if you think the streets of Liverpool’s sink estates are paved with gold you’re sorely mistaken.
It would seem that by placing completely unreasonable demands on the city of Liverpool, there is a desire to make sure the controversy surrounding Trwyeryn lingers on.
Sadly, the truth is that Tryweryn has served a purpose ever since the water lapped over what was left of the roofs of the houses there.
It has served as a beacon for those who believe, and with some justification, that Wales has been treated as serf nation by Westminster governments.
Such a powerful symbol cannot be abandoned lightly and any acceptance of an apology might weaken its power as a totem to Welsh nationalist sentiment.
There is little doubt that Trwyeryn remains one of nationalism’s greatest recruiting sergeants. That sort of symbol is not to be abandoned for a mere apology from city councillors who had nothing to do with its drowning in the first place.
Tryweryn remains the nuclear option in any argument with a disbelieving English person about the ruthless manner in which Wales has been dealt with over the years.
We’ve all been there, you get into a discussion with an English person who seems bewildered at the sense of bitterness that sometimes pervades the Welsh.
The Welsh Not and Trwyeryn are the Little Boy and Fat Man that blow away their arguments, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki that leave their comfortable views in burning tatters and asking where to sign up for Plaid.
But too often we fall into the trap that Scots have, over-sentimentalising past injustices. They weep into their porridge and wrap themselves in their tartan as they recall clearances that happened hundreds of years ago, when in fact many of them are descended from the lowland Scots who actively connived in the clearances.
Tryweryn was a tragedy only for those who were forcibly evicted from their homes. For the rest of Wales its significance was purely political and it was a timely wake-up call to those who thought our best interests were served by a London government.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not an argument for the forgiveness of what happened at Tryweryn. Nothing can change the powerlessness that meant Wales could do nothing to stop what happened back then. You can’t ‘forgive’ a political system that was, and to a lesser extent, still is, weighted against Wales.
Then again, you should not bear your grudges against a city whose present inhabitants had nothing to do with what happened back then.
Save your anger for a Westminster government which continues to deny Wales its right to self-governance, instead installing, however ineptly, a puppet government in charge of a toothless parliament.

IF anyone was in any doubt just how out of touch the Conservative party is you only have to look at the way David Cameron has been treated over the issue of drugs.
There can be few families in the country who have not been touched by hard drugs and their dreadful effects.
Furthermore, if you are in your 40s and you have managed to grow up without any contact whatsoever with cannabis, then I would suggest you’ve lived a very sheltered life.
That, or you’re hoping to get on a shortlist for a safe Tory seat and you’re pretty sure no-one saw you inhale.
David Cameron would seem to be that rare thing in Tory circles, someone a non-Tory voter might just one day consider voting for.
So what do his opponents do? Get their spin doctors to brief against him like mad in the hope that some mud, however undeserved, might stick.
All we have found out is that someone connected to his family had a heroin probl;em and that person has undergone treatment.
That he hasn’t wheeled that poor soul out for the cameras to boost his campaign is to his credit.
If anything the experience will probably make him better at coming up with policies to tackle such problems.
And an electorate who are all too familiar with what his family have gone through might respond somewhat more kindly than some members of the Conservative party have.
That is if he gets a chance. It is the Tories’ grey men in grey suits with grey ideas and squeaky-clean pasts who will continue to render them completely unelectable.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Blog Cymru

The little Blog Cymru icon over to the right will take you to a blog aggregator set up by Aran Jones to collect English language blogs about Wales - he also set up, which aggregates Welsh-language blogs.

If you want to add your own blog to blogcymru, you'll find instructions how there, as well as code for the little icon.

You'll also find a whole bunch of blogs, all of which are more diverting and miles more technically proficient than this.

So I'm not sure why I'm directing you there in the first place. In fact don't go there, move along, nothing to see.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Column, October 11, 2005

AS military disasters go it is unlikely that the cancellation of Operation Pilgrim’s Progress will merit a mention in the history books.
After all, when it comes to things going awry for the poor bloody infantry (as well as the sailors and airmen) a brief perusal of history books yields plenty to choose from.
Whether it’s the Charge of the Light Brigade, Dunkirk or Dien Bien Phu, we all enjoy disaster, retreat and heroic defeat as much, it would seem, as we do victory.
But the battle of Carmarthen, when the crack troops of the FUW met, matched and routed the Army’s top brass, should not go down in the annals of glory.
The farmers wanted to make a point about hunting, namely that they were unhappy it had been banned. And they made that point by banning the Army from, using their land for a nine-day SAS recruiting exercise called Pilgrim’s Progress.
The exercise which would have taken place in an area stretching from Aberystwyth to Carmarthen has now got to find another home after the farmers’ fit of pique.
Because that’s what it was. A collective spitting of dummies simply because they don’t like the hunt ban.
Now, the farmers have every right not to like the hunt ban, and of course they are perfectly within their rights not to allow the Army onto their land.
But what on earth was the point that they thought was being made by this action?
Do they think that urgent dispatches were sent to Whitehall where ashen-faced officials informed the minister who took the news with all the gravity of a man being informed of the fall of Singapore?
Do you even think this fit of petulance even registered on the radar of the Ministry of Defence?
We’re talking about a Government which fights a war with one hand while cutting back the Army it uses to fight that war with the other. They could not care less what access the SAS have to land to train on.
Do you think Dr John Reid’s brow furrowed in even the slightest to hear of the FUW protest? No it will have been business as usual – which regiments are we axing and which are we sending to Iraq?
The only people this protest will affect is the soldiers who were due to take part in it, no-one else whatsoever.
I’m sure the SAS will find another home for Pilgrim’s Progress, but that’s not really the point is it. What sort of message are you sending to our armed forces if you are not prepared to allow them to train on the most rugged terrain available?
We’re happy for them to fight for us, to die for us, but not to crawl across our mountains training to do so?
I’m sorry, but that’s a pretty poor thing to say to a soldier who, in the next few months, may be facing down a baying mob intent on separating his head from his shoulders.
No matter how wrong you believe the hunt ban to be, that does not justify taking out your opposition on soldiers who have no part in making government policy and who probably oppose it themselves.
I appreciate the frustration that farmers must feel faced with a government that is so out of touch with rural affairs, and what is more, a government that does not really care about that because it knows that it has got enough votes sewn up in the cities to carry it to power.
But if protest is to do any good whatsoever it needs to have an electoral effect. Blair and his cabal will pay no heed to anyone who cannot deliver, or withdraw, enough votes to make a difference at the next election.
I’m afraid that stopping a few troops from exercising on your land will not cause the collapse of this government.
Of course if enough landowners stop enough of them training all over the UK then the end result might mean more of them dying – which could have an effect of the odd by-election.
But I’m not sure even the most ardent huntsman would say that was a price worth paying just to chase a fox.

WORDS I thought I’d never hear myself speak: Robyn Lewis has a point.
He rightly draws my attention to the fact that a Welsh gold medal winner would ascend the rostrum to the dirge that is ‘God Save The Queen.’
If we do not have our own Olympic team then that is what we have to face should one of our sporting countrymen and women win the ultimate prize.
That can’t be right, even though we know that in their head they’d be humming Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau and in their mind’s eye it would be a Dragon fluttering in the breeze, not a Union flag.
So, though I have grave reservations about it ever getting off the ground, and though I think that athletics is unlike rugby in the way it is supported, I’m prepared to see the argument of those who want a Welsh Olympic team.
But on musical grounds only.

IT is encouraging, but a little foolhardy from Assembly ministers to promise that an e-coli outbreak ‘will never happen again’ in Wales.
Yet this is exactly what they are promising will be the outcome of the inquiry into what has happened that allowed schoolchildren to be fed food that poisoned and killed one of their number.
It shows a worrying lack of understanding of just how e-coli infections happen and how Assembly ministers feel they are going to eradicate bacteria that have thus far avoided all measures to do so is a bit of a mystery.
However, increasing the number of environmental health inspectors and increasing the frequency and likelihood of random inspection of premises might be a step in the right direction.
Oh, and as long as you pay a pittance for school food you will get what you pay for, despite all your promises of a new healthy regime for children’s dinners.

WELL done to Anglesey County Council for listening to reason over the issue of school bus fares.
It was a lot to expect families to find £60 at the start of term and it would have caused great hardship to some.
Now families on the island can look forward to a daily panic to find that elusive 20p for the bus fare.
My advice – down the back of the sofa is always a safe bet if you don’t mind your bus fare covered in fluff and a toffee wrapper.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Column, October 4, 2005

WHEN the Tories’ enthusiasm for selling off state assets reached its height even their own elder statesmen blushed.
Lord Stockton, Harold Macmillan as was, neatly exposed the Conservatives’ car boot sale, accusing them of selling off the family silver.
But at least they were selling off things like railways, telephones and gas suppliers.
Even they drew the line at radioactive material – but perhaps only because they hadn’t thought of it.
Now, we hear, that the decommissioning arm of BNFL is up for grabs and this will affect ownership of Wylfa nuclear power station.
Splendid, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water because Wylfa and others were being decommissioned, BNFL decides to flog off the operation to clean the place up.
Because that’s who you want decommissioning a nuclear power station isn’t it? Not a company answerable to government, but a private sector firm answerable first and foremost to its shareholders.
After all, hasn’t the private sector just covered itself running the rest of our former nationalised industries?
Trains for instance, they might not run on time, they might run on a clapped-out network that causes horrendous crashes, they might cost you an arm and a leg to travel on – but hey, you can plug your laptop in while you travel, so that’s alright.
And while we’re on the subject of trains, have you noticed the way they announce trains earlier now. The station announcer will tell you the train approaching platform 5 is the 10.15 to Auchtermuchty, thus fooling you into thinking it’s on time. Of course it’s not approaching at all, it’s still 20 minutes away, having been delayed by loose leaves or the wrong kind of snow.
Recently I heard an announcer say that a train was late ‘because of a late departure from Edinburgh.’ Wonderful, so it’s late – because it’s late.
Wildebeest, it’s about the only excuse I’ve not heard them use for train delays – the 4.15 to London is late because of the annual migration of wildebeest across the line in Coventry, we would like to apologise to all passengers for the delays caused by migratory beasts beyond our control. It’s only a matter of time though.
And can anyone say they pay less now for their gas, electricity or phone and they get better service as a result of it all being hawked off the back of a lorry by Thatcher’s Traders?
I know you’ll be told that ‘in real terms’ you’re paying less. You’ll be told that ‘in real terms’ the power companies are practically paying you to take their gas and electricity.
Here’s a little tip about the phrase ‘in real terms.’ It is a phrase that is only, ever, used by politicians and that should tell you something about it for a start.
It means ‘I’m lying but I’m going to use this important sounding little phrase in an effort to keep a straight face and not give away the fact that I’m telling contemptible porkies.’ You watch the next politician who uses the phrase, I swear their nose grows when they do.
So no, my heart does not leap with joy when I hear the private sector will be bidding to do the clean-up at Wylfa.
This is how a private sector company will deploy the cash set aside for the clean-up, all £1.7bn of it.
“One billion for the shareholders, half a billion for the directors’ bonuses….erm…what were we meant to be doing with it again? Ah yes, the clean-up, can it be done with a really long brush?”
You see though, for politicians this is a no-brainer, clearing the Wylfa site will take another 30 years and none of them will be around to deal with the mess, but our children will.
Whoever is in power at that time can blame it on the previous, previous, previous Government. And then they’ll find something else to sell.

THE treatment of heckler Walter Wolfgang is depressingly typical of a party that has lost the plot.
There was a day when a Labour politician in the bear’s den of conference would have shrugged off a heckle like Mr Wolfgang’s exclamation of ‘nonsense.’
There was a time when a politician on the conference platform would not have even been able to hear such a heckle above the near-riot going on as the extreme left wing of the party tried to storm the platform and turn it into a burning barricade.
So it’s really rather a poor show that someone, somewhere, at conference felt Jack Straw needed protection from a solitary pensioner telling him he was talking nonsense.
Of course the frustration felt by Mr Wolfgang and others is understandable. We are, after all, involved in armed conflict in Iraq and it’s not unreasonable to expect the party that sent our forces there to be prepared to talk about that.
It wasn’t.
But then Jack Straw did not order the stewards in to deal with Mr Wolfgang, he probably hadn’t even heard him.
Nor do I believe that the stewards decided of their own volition to turf out a pensioner.
Someone within the ranks of the party made that decision and it tells you quite a lot about the calibre of person this party is attracting now.
People who care nothing for free speech, the sort of person happy for our Army to fight a war, but unhappy to hear it even talked about, the sort of person who cannot even handle someone saying they are talking nonsense.

CAN anyone explain the collective madness that seems to have gripped Plaid Cymru over the Olympics?
One would have thought that Plaid, given its failure to exactly set the polls alight recently, might have been focusing on matters closer to home and closer to the hearts of voters.
I don’t think many people wake every morning in Wales with the thought “If only we were fielding our own Welsh Olympic team, my life would be a whole lot better.”
Yet that is exactly what Owen John Thomas is suggesting should happen when the Olympics comes to London in 2012.
Mr Thomas points out that, if you judge medals gained per head of population, Wales came fourth at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002.
Because that’s how people judge Olympic success isn’t it? You can just hear David Coleman’s voice as he tallies up the medal tables and announced that brave little Azerbaijan have trounced the mighty China and the USA put together.
Yet another pointless idea that will never happen from Plaid.