Monday, October 30, 2006

Halloween - the really scary bit

3 million Americans will buy Halloween costumes for their pets this year at an average cost of $17.

Just when you're determined to post a frivolous story to counteract the serious stuff about Kianoosh Sanjari, the Guardian comes up with another shock that near made me spray my coffee and panini across Mrs Stan.

I'm not going to drift into anti-American auto-rant - we Brits are probably five years behind the same curve. But for heavens sakes, is there not something better we can do with Mother Earth's precious bounty than make it into edible rawhide Halloween cards ?

Maybe I'm having a sense-of-humour failure here. Surely people can spend their money how they want ? (typed with gritted teeth).

It's just that reading that fact in the paper this morning chilled my blood and made the hairs stand-up more than any Slasher movie. I have an image in mind of what good $60m a year could accomplish.

I'm definitely going to stick to the Sports pages, the Crossword and the TV guide in future when I'm having breakfast.

Stan and Kenny

It may come as no surprise to you that my name is not Kenny and Stan's name is not Stan. I bring this up as a corollary to Stan's post on the Iranian blogger Kianoosh Sanjari.

Back in 2000 I bought myself a domain with my own name in it. I had no intentions of starting blogging; it just happened. I started a journal with a monthly update primarily to serve as a summary of life for my estranged daughter in England, for when she was old enough to comprehend what had actually happened during the turbulent few months that led to her mother and I parting company. Unfortunately, I was spending a lot of time traveling at the time so had hours of tedium in hotel rooms across Europe, the US and Asia, so blogging became a way of spending some time doing something vaguely constructive. I look at it as a kind of diary, a medium to rip the mick and a method of reminding myself of my state of mind at any given time. As a reader, you won't necessarily pick up on the "tells" but as me, I do.

The problem came when I had my blog referenced in a meeting at work. If you googled my real name, I came up top of the list and there was my soul for all to see. A very uncomfortable position to be in.

At that point I moved domains, erased any references to my real name and my wife's name and banned search engines. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. A couple of my friends, Stan and R know where my blog is and who I am but I had hoped my craftiness had been sufficient to keep prying eyes away from it. Not so. Not a few weeks ago, again my blog was cited in a meeting at work. Even after all my efforts to conceal my real identity.

We tread a fine line as bloggers. I try not to say anything specific about work because that is not what my blog is about at all. If I wanted to do that, I'd go into PR and do it properly. I quite like my job although I do worry about how well suited I am to it, which just adds to the stress of a sub-optimal existence with few constants. The ever-present precedent of Dooce in the home of the free and the land of the brave is a constant reminder that free is a subjective term.

That said, I have not been invited to spend time at Her Majesty's pleasure for lampooning the donkey Michael Owen or criticizing our government, monarchy or press. The fact is though that free speech is relative. We may be permitted to speak freely, but it's a permission that stretches only as far as acceptable norms go. What I write on my blog does not affect my work. I rarely, if ever visit that site while I am at work (bar the occasional lunchtime rant when something in the world is ticking me off or amusing me).

To be hiked off by the powers that be for documenting your life and observations is intolerable and I hope you will all join me in emailing the list of people Stan has and demanding to know whether this blameless blogger is in good health and being treated with the dignity he deserves.

Being slightly to the right of Stan politically, I am outraged by regimes that operate such overt oppression. When George W President gave his Axis of Evil speech, I lifted my meagre frame from my recliner and clapped. It may be a long and unpalletable battle, but for the sake of future generations, we cannot allow such tyranny to persist in the modern age. Not four hundred years ago, our countries were operating along those lines. Thankfully, the weight of common sense corrected our values. All we can hope is that the weight of the biggots' common sense kicks in.

And that Mr Sanjari is released as soon as possible.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Blogger in Trouble

A friend of mine has got himself into a bit of trouble. Kianoosh Sanjari was blogging the clashes between security forces and supporters of a Shi'a cleric when he got lifted and carted off.

He hasn't been charged with any violent crime - or indeed charged with anything. In a slightly less intense country, he'd probably be blogging novelty socks and daft TV programmes like me.

His most likely current location is in the notorious Section 209 of Evin Prison in Iran. I would normally describe a person as "languishing" in prison, but by all accounts this would be quite the wrong word to describe the Section 209 experience.

I've written to a few high-powered Iranian leaders asking after him. If anyone else can suggest anything to help this guy, I'd be very grateful.

Something less hopeless and depressing next time, I promise....

Sent the following to (Iranian President), (Iranian Ministery of Information), (Iranian Embassy in London), (Iranian Prime Minister)

Your Excellency,

I am writing to enquire about the famous Blogger, Kianoosh Sanjari, who was until recently reporting on events in your country.

There has been no word from him recently, and many of his friends are now worried.

I'm not looking for anything complicated, I just want to make sure he is in good health. I would also like to pass on a message that his friends would like to hear from him as soon as possible.

I would be very grateful if you could use your influence to make sure this message gets to him.

With Best Wishes,

Stan Gamla,

Friday, October 27, 2006

Sock shock

In any rundown of the reasons for problems in the National Health Service, "clueless management" has got to be in anyone's Top 10.

If any proof be required, step forward Lynn Wissett, director of clinical care at the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust.

Ms Wissett has chosen to devote a worrying percentage of her energies to banning Doctors, Nurses and Health Visitors in Blackburn and Burnley from wearing novelty socks. She is probably now spending most of her time doing interviews with amused and puzzled journalists worldwide, who want to know if she is for real.

I own a fair few novelty socks - presents from my Stan-etta and Mrs Stan. They cheer me up on bad days and don't affect my work performance as far as I'm aware.

If Ms Wissett were wearing novelty socks, my opinion of her would be unchanged. Personally I'd prefer a skilled NHS administrator in a clown suit to a clueless one in a trouser suit.

This tax-payer says focus on what is important and don't sweat the details.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Veiled threats

I know I'm a bit late into the game on this one but forgive me, for I have been sick as a butchers dog with e-coli and trychonosis. Might as well throw in some mad cow (no, I'm not talking about my ex-wife) and bird flu for good measure. Oooh, and SARs. Yup, I have been unwell. Actually I still am. Ne'er the less, my brain functioneth. My body not.

Anyway, to the point.

The recent comments that the wearing of veils dividing the community got me a little stressed in looking at the response from the veil-wearing brigade. I looked at the "human rights" argument and freedom of expression, and then I remembered the young lady from BA who was chastised for having a small cross on a necklace that she wore while working. Head-scarfs for Muslims are fine, but a small cross is not. And this is me speaking as a devoted and passionate atheist.

Once more, the nanny state panders to the minorities: pet hate of mine. For example, in my local council office which is in Manchester, there is some sign or other. Underneath the English is a Welsh translation. Underneath the Welsh translation is a phone number to call if you are partially sighted (???WTF???) and underneath that there is the equivalent message in Welsh (yes, I do read some) saying the same thing. So let me get this straight. On every board across the whole of the GM area, we are catering for partially sighted Welsh people? In England. The mind boggles.

Don't get me wrong. I am all for looking after minority groups but really, do we need to be so anal? The 80/20 rule exists for a reason. In the case of minorities I would apply a six sigma rule. Outside of that, it goes from the statistically viable (if not economically) to the utterly daft.

In the immortal cliche, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. We have three choices, and I know this will rile Stan no end: (i) total freedom to worship whatever we want whenever, (ii) a compromise whereby all faiths are treated equally or (iii) ban everything religious. (i) is a dangerous precedent, (ii) seems reasonable, (iii) seems pinko commie.

As with everything in life, nothing is absolute and a compromise is always the way to go. Stan thinks I am right of the parrot on Maggie's shoulder. Not so. Common sense may be an oxymoron but it is the future.

Veils be damned. Turbans, fine. Scarfs fine. Buddhist tattoos fine. Crosses on necklaces, fine. Whatever the Sikh dot thingumy is, fine. But when you detach yourself from a vital means of communication, you cross the line. When I was a kid, a woman with just her eyes peering out of a slit of cloth would have made me literally sh*t my pants. You have to remember how kids look at the world. I would never have noticed a necklace because it's so surrepticious and inoccuous. A veil is in your face (pun intended).

The problem that we are facing is that we think that the issue is in the here and now and it isn't.
In order to stabilize, we need to see the future and a fully integrated culture. Us Westerner native types have to give (and have, ref national dish = curry) and the Asian immigrants need to understand our Western values and what we think is tolerable. We were still a democracy last time I looked. I think the outcry over the veils and the amount of support that statement got shows an aversion to veils. Live by the will. If you don't like it, go somewhere that does. You have your right to your religion and dress sense, but don't insult us by saying you wear these things by choice.

I don't want to M-bash, but "what kind of God can this be anyway, when you have to prostrate to Him five times a day. With hate in your heart and a gun in your hand, His way the only way to understand. Underneath the black cloud of I*lam." Ten points for anyone who can name the song.

Wow. I really went off on one there. Soz.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Foam update

If you remember I was somewhat perturbed that some pencil-necked bureaucrat had neglected to fit fire-retardant foam to the British Hercules fleet, coming under increasingly sustained attack in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I wrote to my local MP, George Osborne and I now have a reply.

Thank you for your email of 19th September about British forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I am proud of the role that UK troops have played in Afghanistan since 2001. A stable, democratic Afghanistan is vital to our national interest and for the future of NATO.

British troops must be adequately equipped to fulfill the missions that the Government ask them to carry out. I am concerned that British troops might not have all the necessary back-up they need in order to complete their mission safely. The MOD has a duty to ensure that our troops are adequately protected.

My colleague, the Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox MP, has asked the Government detailed questions to ensure that British troops will be able to fulfill the tasks required of them.

Now that we are in Afghanistan it is vital that we complete our mission successfully.

Thank you for taking the time to contact me,

Best Wishes,

George Osborne MP

Can't argue with a word of that, but I probably haven't influenced the situation either way. Probably too much to hope that one email would make a difference. But there again, if we all sent one email to our MPs when something irked us, the message might get through.

Big thank you to George Osborne MP for replying. I will now be trying Ozzie Osbourne, Sharon Osbourne and John Osborne to see if they can help me out.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"Goldplated" - update

Well, "Goldplated" turned out to be something of a combination of "Dallas" and "Shameless", without the jokes. The only thing deep about the people being the sadness and emptiness within (apparently).

I suspect the programme makers have been listening to my i-pod : Suede, Goldfrapp, Flaming Lips ... good choices all.

Mrs Stan will be pleased that :

a) she has nothing to fear from any size 6 airhead bimbos.
b) It reminded me of the Bible - specifically the only bit that ever made any kind of sense to me. Ecclesiastes Chapter 2

It also reminded me of another Wilmslow story :

I was driving a friend of my little Stan-etta back to her house after a sleep-over. We drove up a fairly substantial drive and outside the very substantial farm house were a menagerie of cars haphazardly parked: a Merc, a 4x4, Volvo estate, little Mazda, slightly battered Ford Focus.

"Oh !" said Mrs. Stan "Have you got friends visiting ?"

No - she hadn't. We had just been introduced to the concept of a Five-Car-Family.


I was once walking past a church in Alderley Edge near Wilmslow and saw a sign outside that said "Make Poverty History".

I looked around at the Tudor facias, neatly trimmed hedges and gravel drives and thought : "By heck; they've done a good job of that round here"

Old Money, New Money and Silly Money - "Goldplated" on Channel 4

Highlight of the evening for me (apart from the call home to Mrs. Stan of course) is likely to be the first episode of "Goldplated" on Channel 4 tonight.

This sounds as though it will be a cheesy (Cheshire cheese ?) "Footballers' Wives"-style romp set in and around my home town of Wilmslow.

I love Wilmslow - it's just a shame that in order to afford to live there I need to spend so much time working away. It was either that or getting a part-time job playing midfield for Manchester United.

It is leafy, tidy and relaxing - with an atmosphere all of its own. The first time I brought my daughter there we went to a rather well-equipped swing-park with lots of polite children. Afterwards she said to me "Dad - why was everyone all dressed up?".

There are definitely people with more money than sense there. People who can justify a 5 carat diamond (£200k+) a Bentley (£100k+) and Krug champagne (£300) when life is more than bearable with something 10% of the price. Or even, let's face it, without any of these.

Apparently the mark of a successful man in Wilmslow is

(1) His watch (Cartier or Frank Mueller)
(2) His shoes (must be hand-made)
(3) His wallet (more than 3 cards indicates unsexy debt)

In my case :-

(1) Battered Accurist from Argos
(2) Marks & Spencers (previous set were George from Asda)
(3) Wallet (Blue Amex, Debit Card and a wad of expense receipts)

So I fail the test, but fortunately I and the people I associate with don't gauge my worth from my belongings.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Random Thoughts

According to my 10 year-old daughter, the word "random" has these days taken on the meaning of "strange, odd" e.g "What's that random music you're playing, Dad?"
As a recovering Mathematician, this grates on my nerves even more than my other pet hates, which are (for the record) :-
(a) The construction " ... so not ...."
          e.g "You're so not funny",
               "We're so not going there" 
(b) Applying the superlative to binary adjectives
         e.g  "A very unique opportunity" (it's either unique or not) 
                "Extremely pregnant" (you're either pregnant or not)
or even     "A very random set of values" (they are either random or not)

The idea of randomness is a subtle and profound one that deserves its own word. There are already so many good words that convey strangeness or oddness without overloading this one with an extra meaning. Alternatives include my all-time favourite word, "eldritch", which doesn't get used nearly enough in these strange days. It literally means "from the kingdom of the elves".
I understand I am powerless to prevent change to the language, and in fact the comical way my face goes red and the vein in my forehead throbs when my daughter uses the term may even be encouraging her to use it more.

Interesting Question courtesy of Mrs. Stan : Is the phrase "random pattern" an oxymoron ?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Brits Out

I really can't fault the accuracy of the comments of General Sir Richard Dannatt regarding the British in Iraq. In fact, I'm mighty relieved that someone so qualified agrees with my instinctive prejudices :-

* On future planning : "get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems".

* "I don't say that the difficulties we are experiencing round the world are caused by our presence in Iraq but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them."

* On our planning for the Occupation : "poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning".

Now - here's my gripe : I don't believe he should be making public statements like that in his position.

To me, in his position he knocks himself out arguing his case internally, but if his counsel is not heeded, he can't be publicly contradicting his Commander-in-Chief.

To me he has two options : suck it up and get on with his job, and save the gripe for the memoirs. Or quit and kick up a world-class stink.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Syntax, semantics and verbage

Stan and I are both crossword buffs. Cryptic ones for the US readers. So you would expect us to know some fairly obscure words.

But I am suffering.

The BBC weather people keep using the term "squally". I have no idea what it means. It must be bad but what the bejesus does it mean?

Answers on a postcard or in a comment to radiofreestan.

I thank you.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


My garage mostly contained stuff - by which I mean objects that were gathering dust. Even after moving house twice this year, decluttering each time, and then taking half a dozen carloads of stuff to the charity shops, my garage was still crammed full of stuff.

A good example of "stuff" was a generic TV-video player from circa 1996. It cost me a few hundred pounds then - ten years on, it probably has a resale value of about twenty pounds.

Its value to me though was more like minus twenty pounds, seeing as how it blocked the garage and had to be shifted around sporadically whenever it was in my way. And since I couldn't imagine when I'd ever use it again, it was likely to stay in the garage until it rotted and had to be taken to the tip.

I decided to use Freecycle for the first time.

When I put the items on the local Freecycle bulletin board (simply a Yahoo Group) I got more than a hundred replies. This did make me pause and wonder whether I should be selling the stuff instead. Nah - I wanted to get rid of it as soon as possible, and I figured any small return wouldn't be worth the hassle.

So I narrowed down the requesters to those who lived within a mile of us. I also discriminated in favour of women to spare my wife having some hairy bloke turn up demanding our stuff.

And without pain the stuff went and now my garage is a stuff-free zone.

Freecycle is a win-win-win :-

(Win 1) Stuff doesn't go into the landfill.
(Win 2) Someone gets something they want for nothing.
(Win 3) I get my garage back.

The only bad point about this is that because someone unexpectedly got my second-hand TV, they didn't go out and buy a new one. So it's entirely possible that I may have wrecked the British retail and the Japanese electronics industries.

Whoopsie !

Nukes and NK

Stan and I recently had a comment exchange about where the third flank of war would arise. I said it would be somewhere unexpected. When I said that, I meant here rather than Iran. Little did I realise that it might be North Korea.

Whether or not you believe whether the detonation was successful (reports conflict), it sends a message to the international community that we are in trouble. The North Koreans already have ICBMs and you have to wonder how long it will take to attach a nuclear warhead on to them...a matter of years.

The UN, being the useless pile of bureaucrats that they are, are helpless. Financial sanctions on a country that doesn't give a flying proverbial about its people are about as useful as Mary Whitehouse's dishcloth.

Thankfully even China have come around to seeing the evil in their communist ally's folly. To disguise the development of nuclear technology under the pretence that it is to deter the "evil" US foe is, quite frankly, ridiculous. The US may have some dodgy foreign policy but having lived there for the better part of ten years, I can assure you that every person means well and wants the rest of the world to enjoy the freedoms (and in some cases hell) that they do. You make your own luck there, and reap the dividends.

Anyway, I digress. If Kim Jong-Il thinks he's proved a point, he's probably right. As someone famous once said "let China sleep, for when she wakes, the world will be sorry". Right quote. Wrong country.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Death in Moscow

Who do I talk to about the murder of Anna Politkovskaya ? Please do click on the link and read about her - one heck of a story.

It beggars belief that there's anything other than an obvious explanation for the murder, just like there was unlikely to be a benign reason for the dodgy in-flight tea that conveniently put her in a coma while she was on the way to cover the Beslan school siege.

'Russia's lost moral conscience' died at the weekend. Couldn't happen here ... right ?

Even though I saw the bleak Children of Men recently, I can't quite see it. I think our investigative reporters can and do publish a lot that hurts our government without risking a bullet in the brain. I can't think of anything that would jeopardise that state of affairs.

Although maybe I lack imagination. Rights and Freedoms seem to be having a hard time in the face of "Homeland Security", so maybe we're a few bad laws and couple of Terrorist outrages away from being just as much of a police state.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

God Truth and Creation

"Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe - a spirit vastly superior to that of man... In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is indeed quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive"

The Nobel Prize-winning work on the Background radiation brought to mind those words of Einstein. Once upon a time I studied Astronomy at University and would then probably have been able to read the original papers. Nowadays, I'm pretty much an ex-scientist, so I'm reliant on the news sites to inform me. Even at such a distance from the science, I can still get a buzz from such a breakthrough as this.

It beats me why so many religious people have a problem with this idea of a Big Bang. I'm prepared to accept (as with so many things) that it's because I'm under-informed and a bit thick.

I'm in a motel typing this - let me reach over and get the Gideon bible and use it for once for something other than as a coaster or a fly swat ...

Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth"

Great - I don't think any scientist could claim to have disproved that statement. They may fervently believe, but it's one of those statements that is not in the realm of science.

Note there's no further detail on how he did it, which makes me wonder how the idea of a Big Bang could be so threatening.

Incidentally, one of the things that excites me about the early history of the Universe is that apparently there was a point before Time itself was created. Even more remarkably, the Fundamentalists agree. It's only by verse 5 that God creates Time, just before teatime on the first day:-

Genesis 1:5 God called the light "day" and the darkness he called "night". And there was evening and there was morning - the first day.
I think Fundamentalists and Cosmologists have more in common than they care to admit.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

LazyGreed - Every Night's a Stag Night

According to the BBC , it's apparently now routine to round off a Lads' Night Out with a visit to a prostitute. Prefer a kebab myself, but I'm not really the kind of bloke they're talking about here.

This is a link to a well-argued statement from a Feminist blogger on this subject. There's a lot I agree with here but I reject her conclusion that it's all down to misogyny at root.

Myself, I think the same kind of lazy greed that causes weak people to do most bad things is at fault. To me, LazyGreed is one of the fundamental forces of nature, right up there with Gravitation and Apathy and it's more abundant than Hydrogen in the atmosphere just now.

LazyGreed is what drives businessmen to cut corners, politicians to abuse their power, parents to feed their kids junk food etc. etc.

To me, the Punters have desires and they have money and they have opportunity. They don't have the patience to delay gratification nor the will-power just to say "No". Their LazyGreed takes over and they want to slake their thirst in the tidiest, surest, ready-meal manner possible.

I find it impossible to imagine being so LazyGreedy that I would force my excess libido onto a girl who doesn't speak my language and bears the marks of ill-treatment from her current and past pimps. So maybe I'm the wrong person to be definitive about a Punter's psychology.

I would concede that misogyny comes into play after the act, when the punter is back with his mates. That's when the Punter is made to feel like Jack the Lad by his mates, rather being shunned and ridiculed for being a weak, inadequate, adulterous rapist.