…and in the End, the Love You Take, is Equal to the Love You Make

Here we are, as of the date of this blog, in the midst of the worst crisis in English political history.  So forgive us if we bang on about it.

Brexit has divided the former “United” Kingdom up and down the middle.  A referendum on membership of the EU was promised by David Cameron in his 2015 election manifesto.  Because we (the Conservative Party) cannot decide between ourselves on the issue of European membership, we’ll let the country decide.  This is what happens with indecisive governments; you will notice that all of the national referenda since 1975 have been held under Tory rule.  OK, 1975 was under Labour rule, so it was the last two, then.  All right, I’ll let you have the 2011 one as well, that was about changing the voting system in the UK and that was given under a Coalition of Conservative and Liberal Democrat rule.

So, it’s just this one, then.

Ever since, oh God, for ever has the Conservative Party been completely divided on Europe.  All of our major political parties seem to have some issue or other that just totally rocks their boat – with “New” Labour, under Blair and his pet dog Brown, it was devolution and its various dependent issues.  The current Labour lot, under Jeremy Corbyn, seem to be divided on just about everything, including Europe as well, but one of the main issues is the divide between those who cling on to Blair’s and/or Alistair Campbell’s vision of “New” Labour and the traditional left-wing policies that Corbyn was elected to assist the party to go back to.  I could go on about that, but that would deserve, I think, a blog rant, or blant, entirely of its own.

Let’s just accept for now that Jeremy Corbyn and his leadership of the Labour Party has been one huge disappointment for those of us who shouted from the rooftops at his election, as great a political event as that was.  It’s a massive blow that all Corbyn has done is shot himself in the foot by trying to appease the more central, and right, Blairite elements of the party rather than sticking to his own beliefs.  I think, if he had stuck to those with courage and conviction, he might be better placed to offer a more stable resistance to Mrs May and her Conservative shower; as it is, Corbyn offers nothing substantial, no resistance at all to speak of – indeed, all he seems to do is shout at Mrs May in Parliament while telling his party to get cracking on with Brexit.  This despite the judgement in Europe itself that Article 50 could be revoked in a court of law if necessary.  All Corbyn wants to do is appeal to the middle of the party and the middle of the country.

Except yesterday, January 15, in what I presume – I don’t know for sure – was a free vote, i.e. not one that was persuaded by party policy or choked into submission by the chief whip, Labour and all of those who oppose Mrs May’s Brexit “Deal”, which included some Conservative MPs, soundly rejected the deal and, subtly, Mrs May’s negotiation of it.

To be fair, the deal was clumsily negotiated.  Mrs May, who campaigned to Remain in the UK during the Referendum in June 2016, was desperately trying to please the massive 1.9% majority in the UK who voted to Leave the EU.  She now believed passionately that the UK must Leave, in an overnight decision, after she suddenly found herself as Prime Minister.

After this turnaround, she didn’t know what to do.  She had been elected leader, after Cameron resigned (he had campaigned to Remain in the EU and had, therefore, lost power and the trust of Parliament), to get the United Kingdom out of Europe.  However, since she put a deal together, or was put together for her, she has stuck rigidly to it — mainly because she has no idea what to do in any sort of Plan B scenario.

What would any Plan B look like?  Presumably, the direct opposite of the one we have now; which means that whoever voted for yesterday’s deal would vote against Plan B, and all those who voted against it would vote against the new one.  Mrs May might not be too worried about that; that would at least ensure her a victory in Parliament, because those Tory “rebels” who are doing so much damage to their own leader and Prime Minister would then be supporting the government and not the opposition, and there would be no “Vote of No Confidence” in the leader such as we have got today.

I’m not sure what’s going on in Corbyn’s head at the moment.  He has tabled this vote, but he must know for certain that he has no chance of winning it.  Those self-same Conservative rebels who voted against the Brexit deal yesterday will vote in support of the Prime Minister today, thus a majority win for the Prime Minister and the media — not to mention everyone else — off her back for at least 24 hours or so.

Who could have conceived that this chaos would come about during the Brexit Referendum campaign of 2016?  Who would have thought it?  I expect many with far more political nous than myself could have seen it coming, but not I.  I write from the perspective of someone who reads the news sometimes and goes, “Holy sh**balls, Batman!” each time a story of some considerable shock value crosses my path.

When I speak of chaos, I speak of headless chicken-chaos: from our PM, from our MPs, from our media, and from the general population.  Some supermarkets, for example, have begun stocking up on various tinned food products so that they may make a profit when supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables, which make up around 30% of food consumed in the UK in 2016, dry up after Brexit ‘happens’ on March 29.

Yes, that is the vision of a post-Brexit Britain that some of our media ‘sources’ are touting around the place.  Bread queues, job queues, medical queues, starvation and fibre-optic contracts running out are all part of this nightmarish hell-on-Earth vision that some, like the political equivalent of Boris Karloff known as Owen Jones.

Jones likes nothing better than getting in there, and winding people up.  It’s a mystery to me what could have happened to him as a child; however, whatever it was was bad enough to leave him craving attention at any and every single little available opportunity.  The media that exists on the ‘right’ as it were, and supports conservative (with a small ‘c’) policies around the world, has plenty of toxic people and poisonous journalists; while the left has only one that I know of, and it’s Owen Jones.

Nothing, not a single word that Jones utters, is about the subject at hand and is all about himself and the poison he wants to inject into people individually and society as a whole because of some trauma that must have happened to him when at a pre-school age.  There is some itch that he is permanently trying to scratch, and he just…just…cannot reach it.

It is unfortunate that the left has this individual championing its corner.  Except, of course, he’s not; he’s championing himself and his self-righteous and sanctimonious points of view — some of which are outright lies.

Most recently, he was on the British political programme This Week, hosted by Andrew Neil, which he tried to hijack by taking the subject away from Brexit and onto host Neil’s relationship with The Spectator, which has enjoyed a successful run ever since it was first published in 1828 — longer than even Owen Jones has lived.  Neil, rather understandably, was having none of it and constantly tried to shut Jones up; an attempt that was, for the most part, successful, because I cannot now remember anything that Jones said up to that point.

Jones is one of those sad individuals who love to be confrontational, enjoys winding people up and is what I believe the young people now call a “troll.”

So, there we are: we are a country with a party that suffered the worst Parliamentary defeat by a sitting government in English/British political history.  We hope that the scenario will play out this way: that the government will realise can overturn the Article 50 decision, do so, and then sort out the issue among themselves and the country.  What is the solution?  I wish I knew, but I don’t.  To me, it would be to simply apologise to the EU as a whole and each nation individually.  The PM ought to go on a tour of all 27(?) member states, get down on one knee before their leader and say, “I am deeply sorry for all the trouble I have caused, will you have us back?”  If, and only if, the other EU states accept the apology, then the UK should Remain in the UK, stick to its trade deals and not become an economic and political pariah.

But they won’t do that, will they?  No, they will continue to make a bad situation worse by playing politics with each other, forcing general elections here, there and everywhere until they become meaningless until the people of the United Kingdom are finally fed up enough to march down onto WestMunster and demand – yes, demand – change.  Yes, in place of marching, I will accept wheelchair usage, partly because I will have to use one myself. x

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Happy New Year, I Think…

Happy New Year to everyone on the planet who are celebrating it.  The Chinese, the Jews, Islam and certain religious cults will have to wait until they celebrate theirs.
Well, the CD Sales figures for 2018 are out, and what a shocker for those of you that, once upon a time, could actually earn a living from them, and from the music industry in general. I’m assuming the figures quoted are from UK sales, and the total is down to a frankly shocking 32 million overall. Not 32 million overalls, I mean 32 million sales in total. That’s not a lot when you consider the vast number of people, myself included, who are sniffing around the music business corpse trying to pull off a morsel of meat for themselves. Matron!…
 
The reason? Streaming, my friends, streaming. The principle of listening to a piece of music through a monthly subscription service without buying it – a practice so common now that it must be counted to form part of the weekly chart figures. It is responsible for the fact that CD and/or other physical sales are down by almost 10 million on the previous year, and that was low in the first instance.
 
This prompts the question: Does this trend and the relatively small income from streaming (compared to sales) mean that you artists who do try to earn a crust through music are more inclined to give up doing so? Please do comment if you have time between interviews. For myself, the answer would be that it does not and will not affect my music-making one iota, for the following two reasons:
 
1. Because, no matter how hard I try, I have never been able to make more than one UK Pound Sterling from the music industry, and that came at a gig somewhere in Camden, North London (I’ve forgotten where). Nothing I have ever released has generated any income whatsoever. This does not mean that I have no dedicated fans, I do – but any money that has been earned by music has gone towards costs. I can’t make enough to register a profit. Without my dedicated fans, though, I would literally be pissing money up the wall. Thank you to those who make the releasing of music worthwhile, despite being able to count you in tens rather than tens of millions. Better to have quality over quantity, so my dear old Mum used to say.
 
2. Because of the above reason, I am quite capable of making music because I love it for a whole variety of reasons. My last studio album of original songs produced by myself, No Smoke Without Fire, was released in 2011, almost eight years ago, and I have focused more recently on covers, just because I like doing them. No other reason. Half the Fun of the Fair was produced by my dear brother. If I do another album of my own songs, it will likely be done with my brother again, and not by myself. So I do what I love doing regardless of the income. If I put my covers on Soundcloud, it is not to make money, but simply for others to share in my joy. If I ever feel like recording my own songs again, then I will do so – again the timing of that will depend on what I feel like, rather than what the market dictates, because for me there is no ‘market’ other than my very dear friends.
 
But you proper musicians may feel differently. The difference between sales and streaming might affect whether you can afford to feed your pet snakes next month or not. In the past, I have often heard musicians complaining about the changes in the delivery of their music – not because general standards of musicianship have fallen, but because they are making less money than they did before.  Nobody does anything for free in the world of music, unless it’s a ‘charity’ gig, which usually boosts your sales anyway.  Most of the albums that did actually make some sales were compilations – seven out of the Top Ten, in fact.  Only three artists, Post Malone, Drake and (predictably enough) Ed Sheeran made the Ten.  Young Sheeran may be the last of a dying breed – the old-fashioned rock star, who has sold out Wembley Stadium on seven occasions with just him and his guitar, who has got to the top by working hard at his craft, playing lots of low-key gigs, writing great pop songs and boasting a lot of natural ability.  But even he is going to feel the difference in his pocket if the trend towards streaming continues, which I suspect that it will.  His income is going to drop sharply from hundreds to just tens of millions of pounds.
The situation in the USA is no better.  In fact, it’s worse.  Their total sales for last year was 89 million – a figure much lower than you would expect from a country that has around 5.5 times the population of the UK, so their sales should be around 165 million or so.
My advice to all you wildly successful musicians out there, frightened of losing income, would be this: do what I do and become a total, miserable, self-pitying commercial failure, and make sure that each venture you release, that you think is brilliant, is largely ignored by an indifferent public too scared to do anything other than listen to the safe, bland, tasteless music offered by the few acts that have made it into the stratosphere, promoted by large, corporate record labels who know nothing about music and everything about screwing the public out of every last penny they have.  Also ensure that you sell only to a select few of dedicated, much-appreciated family and friends who are very dear to me.  Sorry, I mean you.
*Sorry about this; for some reason, WordPress has stopped putting spaces between paragraphs, and I cannot seem to rectify it.  If either of you knows how to repair this, do let me know. x

Tonight’s the Night

Yes, fan(s), tonight is the night we’ve all been waiting for.  Today sees the release of my latest project, EarthRise by the band Spiral Planet, of which I am a member.  I produced this album, and it took about 16 months to complete, as well as finish it.

Tonight, at Two Rivers Production Company in Coombe Hill, just outside Cheltenham, England, I shall be performing with the band at the album’s launch party during which we shall be playing about half the songs from the album plus a couple of newbies.

Nervous?  Not really.  I’m more nervous about the reception of the album than the gig itself.  Plus the fact that I am in too much physical pain to be nervous.  I’m playing keyboards in the band, the instrument that I have played in every band I’ve been in, apart from the very first one, Scarlett Llama, back in 1982.

Actually, as I wrote the above, I did feel a bit nervous about the gig.  I suppose there is always some apprehension before a big event in one’s life.  And this album is a big event, certainly for me – we have had media attention for I think the first time that I can recall – a 25-minute radio broadcast on Dean Radio on Sunday, and a piece on The Local Answer‘s website; hopefully someone from that particular magazine will be at the gig tonight.

I have to give a small talk on the history of the band as well, and I’m always pretty nervous before speaking in public, more so than playing music.  I don’t know why that is.  The talk will be just a few minutes, but even so I have been pondering it for days now, even thinking of writing a script!

Please find below a copy of the album cover.  If you click on it, it will take you to the Spiral Planet Facebook page, at which you – yes you – can request band leader Mark Millar to send you a copy of the album for a measly sum of £10, part of which (certainly before Christmas at least) will go towards a charity called PTSD Resolution, that helps those suffering from that condition after having been in a war zone.

Not sure whether the album is worth your hard-earned wonga?  Have a listen to each and every track for nowt on the Spiral Planet YouTube Page!  See you on the other side! x

 

EARTHRISE (2018) by Spiral Planet

The Probability of Life

Let me say right from the off that I am not a scientist.  I am the son of a scientist, but I am not a scientist myself.  I have no more than a very basic understanding of astrophysics; I know what it is, I know very broadly what it’s about, and I can spell it.  Like most of the world’s population, I know the names of the most commonly known parts of astronomy – Mars, Jupiter, Uranus, that sort of thing.  And, like most of the world’s population, my favourite constellation is Orion, because of the three stars in a row that comprise his belt.  So I am not coming at this from a scientific perspective.

Or a religious one.  I believe in a divine power, I don’t call it God, and I certainly don’t follow any of the individuals that came to Earth over the centuries claiming to be his son, his messenger, his hairdresser, whatever.  I’m sure they were all very nice people, but they all suffered from this delusion that they were somehow more closely connected with the being that runs the Universe than the rest of us and that they were the only means by which the rest of us mere mortals could form any kind of a connection or bond with this being.  I could pick holes in the Bible all day long,

Or a conspiracy theorist one.  I must admit to liking a good conspiracy theory, they are entertaining, but not necessarily believable.  So this blog is not going to tell you that alien species invaded Earth in 1947 and were captured by the U.S. Air Force.  Perhaps they did, I have no idea.  But this isn’t about that.

This is about mathematics.  Or at least, the power of mathematics.  Oops, I forgot to mention that I am no mathematician; indeed, I am about to confess something that I have not told anyone except my dear wife since 1982: I cheated to get into the top set in mathematics at school.  We used to have this thing called a log book back in the day.  It was a thin book containing loads of mathematical tables and it had an orange cover.  You were allowed to take them into the examination that would determine which set you would go into for maths.  We did a test paper and I wrote all the answers down inside my log book.  By chance, many of the questions came up in the examination proper.   I was in the top set for maths.  Just shows you what a joke ‘streaming’ is in education.  The feeding of children into sets that would not only determine the course of their lives but the amount of ridicule you would get if you were in the bottom set.  God, it felt good to be at the top.

But I digress.  There is, however, something relevant in the previous paragraph: the chance that the same questions that were on the test paper came up in the examination itself was, like, a gazillion to one.  But they did.  And I got into the top set for maths.

And that is the approach that I want to take here: what is the likelihood that alien life forms exist out there somewhere, hitherto undiscovered in the Universe?  I would suggest that the likelihood is so high that it must almost be a certainty.   And the only thing you need to do is look at the sheer power of numbers.  No need for any telescopes, red-shift light analysis, or any of that gubbins.  You just need to look at it numerically.

Let’s look at two of the billions, possibly trillions of galaxies out there.  Ourselves, the Milky Way, and our neighbour, Andromeda.  In about four billion years’ time, maybe a little longer, Andromeda is set to merge with the Milky Way in one great big galactic tango before settling into what I would like to call an übergalaxy of sorts.

In that new galaxy alone, and in the total of the two current galaxies that will go to form that übergalaxy, there will be/are something in the region of one trillion, two hundred and fifty billion stars.  I’ll run that by you again, this time numerically: 1,250,000,000,000 stars.  Ish.  And we are the only planet with life on it, apparently.  The chance of that would be the equivalent of one human winning $1,250,000,000,000 on the lottery.  Obviously not impossible, but very, very, very, very, veryvery unlikely.

Now, people say to me, look, Stephen, we’ve heard all this shit before and the answer is simple: if there was alien life out there, they would have visited us by now, and we would all know about it; indeed, many on Earth would be at least half-alien, and there would be another pressure group to be politically correct about.

Have we been visited by aliens before?  Possibly, but I’m sceptical.  I do not possess sufficient relevant scientific or historical knowledge to say categorically either way, but I do know that, whether it has happened or not, it is statistically very possible that it could happen at some time in the future, or is happening now.

Let’s say there are 1,250,000,000,000 stars in the galaxy, and, oh, 0.0000001% of them have planets spinning around them that may either be hospitable to life or already have life on them.  Do you know how many potentially life-bearing planets that would be in our new übergalaxy?  1,250!  That’s one thousand, two hundred and fifty, from just 0.0000001% of the galaxy.  Even if you were generous, and said perhaps only one per cent of the stars in the galaxy have life, or the possibility of life, that’s 12,500,000,000 just from one per cent of what are currently these two neighbouring galaxies: Andromeda and the Milky Way.

Now, you might be thinking: come on, you can look all this stuff up on Wikipedia.  Why is it of any interest to us?  The simple answer is, it should be.  It ought to be of interest to us.  We are this pale blue dot, as Carl Sagan called Earth, orbiting our sun.  Who’s to say there are no aliens out there looking at us and going, I wonder if there’s life on it?  I write this stuff now because I’m thinking about it now.  Neil deGrasse Tyson once said, imagine taking a cup full of water from the ocean, looking at it, and saying, there are no whales in the ocean.  In the case of the Universe, and even the two galaxies under discussion in this blog, there must be plenty of whales in this ocean. x

Shameless Self-Publicity

Being an avid reader of the news, I couldn’t help but notice that some of the stories – at least three, in fact – relate to pop stars giving their opinions on things, or talking about their music, in the week that their respective albums are being released.  

I’ve read stories just this afternoon on Christina Aguilera, Muse and Olly Murs.  Murs had this to say about the show that discovered him, The X Factor:


“I’d hate to see a show like The X Factor not be on TV any more, because it’s still one of the best.”

Source: BBC News Music News LIVE

Yes, from his perspective, I would have to agree with that, especially since that show gave him the opportunity to release the album, just last Friday coincidentally enough, which he is now shamelessly whoring.  

Muse, on the other hand, were actually talking about the album Simulation Theory which, coincidentally enough, was released just last Friday and which they are now shamelessly whoring. 


With this album there was quite an effort to sort of look beyond, to look both to the past and future simultaneously.

Matt Bellamy; Source: BBC News Music News LIVE

I won’t write about the Christina Aguilera incident because that’s just embarrassing; both for her and for the rest of us. 

And of course, I fully understand the irony that, even if one person only ever reads this post, it has promoted both of those artists’ albums still further.

Furthermore, I also understand that the entire motivation behind the music industry is to promote their artists’ wares, how else are you going to sell the albums in the shedloads required to make everybody filthy rich?

The entertainment industry as a whole has this whole promotion thing down to a fine art.  If a major new TV series is coming on the telly, you’ll get news stories featuring those actors, or simply about the show – of course, why not?  

It’s because people are fundamentally lazy, and the internet has done little to change that – indeed, it’s made it significantly worse.  Nobody goes looking for music or other entertainment any more; they’ve got to have it dropped in their laps.  I’ve got absolutely no problem with people promoting their latest record, book, movie, whatever; it’s just the cynical way that each artist is dealt with and told to do, to perform said promotion. 

Movie promotion works slightly differently.  I’ve seen it documented that actors and directors (typically) will sit in a hotel room all day while journalists from all periodicals, TV, radio and the blogosphere will file in and out and be given, I don’t know, fifteen minutes with the person in question. 

It’s no wonder that, by the end of the day, actors will get fed up with being asked the same questions in the same way and the journalists think that they are the first to do it.  

When the likes of you or I go to a job interview, it is the questioner who holds all the cards, who is in charge, basically.  But for TV and entertainment interviews, the questioner often sits timidly while the actor rants and rages at them, acting like the world revolves around them, which in a lot of cases, it does.  It’s funny how the dynamics of life works.

As I said, I’m not averse to it, I recognise that, if you have a book, movie, album, TV show out, you’ve got to let people know it’s there, or else they will not go looking for it.  I am having to do this myself, because I have an album out – EarthRise by Spiral Planet, out on Friday November 30 – which I produced.  So, because I am not in the public eye, I expect I shall have to come up with all sorts of crass ways to promote the album and to try and persuade people to part with even more of their hard-earned pay to buy it, despite the fact that those people will already have bought the new Muse, Olly Murs, Mark Knopfler, Take That, or Beatles albums already.  I don’t know, I expect I’ll have to write one of my smug little blogs, or put unfunny little messages on Facebook, that sort of thing.  

The album, EarthRise by Spiral Planet, out on November 30, is a double album that I produced that isn’t very likely to sell in the gazillions that Muse will, but if it sells one copy as a result of this blog, or perhaps through Facebook, then that will be job done.  I don’t have expensive press agents at my disposal, when you’re at the top you get everything done for you, but here at the bottom, you’ve got to do it all yourself.  You get away with it if you’re Take That, but for us, it looks like crass, arrogant, egotistical self-promotion.  Have a listen to the album and see what you think.  x

Rant Round-Up #1

The People’s Vote March, London, UK, October 20, 2018

At last!  A proper protest!  There hasn’t been a march like this since the Iraq war of 2003, and it’s taken Brexit to get apathetic Britain off its collective arse and onto the streets.  Police estimates are that anything up to 700,000 people took part in yesterday’s protest, and if true that’s an excellent turnout.

But this morning, true to form, Spy News was asking, does the march make a second vote on Brexit more likely?  In and of itself, no.  British governments have a long history of not giving in to protesters in a heartbeat.  But what the march does is send a very clear message to an already precarious government that Brexit is an issue that could see them fall if they are not too careful.

Tories (Conservatives) are notoriously divided on the subject of Europe and the EU.  And, as it turns out, so is the rest of the country.  But one thing public protests do is demonstrate very clearly the sitting government’s relationship with its voters.  The People’s March of 2018 vs. The Iraq War March of 2003 demonstrates this very clearly indeed.

In 2003, the sitting government was formed by the Labour Party with warmonger Tony Blair as its prime minister.  In the most recent election at that time, in 2001, Labour had won power with a majority of 167 seats, twelve down from 1997, but still healthy enough for Blair to push through anything he wanted without the need for trivial matters such as the support of the country.  Remember, our democracy is founded on this method of politics.  Certain MPs take on the role of what is known as a ‘whip’ – i.e., someone who goes to all their party colleagues and tells them to vote according to the party line, or they will be in big trouble.

So: Party Leader says we’re going this way, it becomes policy, whips force the party members to vote that way, and bang! an instant majority is formed; which is how, in 2003, the UK followed George W. Bush into Iraq to avenge Bush’s father, on the pretext of there being (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction.  In other words, the 2003 Iraq War Protest had no chance of convincing the government.

As for yesterday’s march?  This is not such a slam dunk for the Tories.  Their majority in Parliament is slim; so slim, in fact, that they have had to call in Northern Irish party DUP to shore up the numbers and get anything they want through on a vote… except the DUP, ultra-hard right-wingers that they are, disagree with the Conservatives on the one issue they really could do with their help on right now: Brexit.

The DUP want Brexit, they want it hard, and they want it to hurt.  It’s all a bit complicated, but The Guardian published an excellent article last Thursday to help us simpletons understand what’s going on:

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/oct/18/brexits-doom-loop-the-blood-red-lines-that-drive-mays-dup-allies

So, if a ‘comprehensive trade deal’ cannot be reached by December 2020, then the EU wants there to be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic to its south and west.  Effectively, that would mean Northern Ireland would stay under the single market after that date.  Oh, no, say hard Brexiters such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson, backed by many Tory MPs – not to mention their partners in what is, don’t forget, coalition government, the DUP.  Not only would that break up the UK, but it would inflame all sorts of arguments once again about the sovereignty of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the rest of it.  Prime Minister Theresa May then proposed a proposal in which the entire UK could remain under the EU single market, but call ourselves independent of the EU if anyone asks.

Pro-Brexiters, as you might expect, didn’t like that either.  It would mean, without a doubt, that after the UK becomes separate from the EU in December 2020, we would remain tied to their laws and rules beyond that date, “for the time being,” (which means forever).

DUP leader Arlene Foster is not mincing words when it comes to her views on Brexit.  Phrases such as “Blood Red Lines,” and other phrases spoken by others but clearly from her point of view: “We’re going to squeeze their balls until their ears bleed,” is an eye-watering description of their determination not to let go of the Northern Ireland they fought many decades for.

Back to the March: all of the above political shenanigans means that, while Theresa May is not going to open up the office tomorrow and, first thing, dismantle Brexit; it certainly does give a clear voice to the 48% who voted to stay in Europe, a voice that she may have to listen to in the not-too-distant future.

Anjem Choudary

Anjem Choudary is what the media likes to call a “radical Muslim preacher.”  He is an Islamist, a political way of pushing Islam down the throats of British people here in the UK.

This week, Choudary was released from prison, having served about half of a five-and-a-half year sentence banged up in Belmarsh for inviting others to support the Islamic terrorists ISIS (The Terrorists Formerly Known as al-Qaeda).

But in truth, whatever the media likes to call him, Anjem Choudary is nothing more than a psychotic blowhard, a loudmouth yob whose religion, which in his case is no more faith-based than it is cultural, has no real context in his rhetoric.  Sure, he talks about love for “Allah” (always emphasising the second syllable), but that’s because he has to, otherwise, no-one will listen to him.  He has to make it sound like a faith in God; otherwise, he will not be able to jump up and down and protest loudly about his “rights.”

Often, you hear people argue that, if Choudary and others hate Britain so much, why did he and the others come here in the first place?  I have actually heard this argument used.  In Choudary’s case, the reasoning is simple: you cannot deport Choudary because he is a British citizen through and through, British born and bred.  He did not ‘come here,’ he was already born here.  Where would you deport him to?

Choudary is a supporter, you will be surprised to learn, of the introduction of Sharia Law in the UK.  This is law based on Muslim traditions and values.  He is a vocal supporter of many Muslim anti-Western groups in the UK, and also claimed support for those who committed the terrorist atrocities in the USA on September 11, 2001; and in London on July 7, 2005.  Yes, yes, yes… he supports those acts but you notice did not take part in them.  Others did that for him.

For someone who supports radical Sharia Law, Choudary certainly led a wild life as a student, a lifestyle he now regrets.  While he may have changed his values, he still got to do so, while others who are killed by ISIS and other organisations do not have that opportunity.

It is alleged that Choudary spent time recruiting members for secret Jihadist training camps in the UK and in other parts of Europe.  He then took part in an unlawful rally in London, and here his problems with the law began.

Choudary is a follower, not a leader.  Much of his life has been under the shadow of Omar Bakri Muhammed, a militant leader who left the UK and vowed only to return as a tourist!!!  Choudary followed him to Lebanon and stayed there until they were both deported back to the UK in November 2005.

Choudary loves the attention he gets.  You can see it through the smug smile that is fixed on his face during every interview he gives.  Stupid television media give him the opportunity to spout his nonsense time and again.  He will say things he knows will wind up his interviewer and, by extension, the British public.  This is what Choudary had to say concerning his views on the UK as a potential Muslim country in 2005:

Look, at the end of the day innocent people—when we say ‘innocent people’ we mean Muslims—as far as non-Muslims are concerned they have not accepted Islam and as far as we are concerned that is a crime against God.

Anjem Choudary, BBC HARDtalk (8 August 2005) (Sourced off Wikipedia)

It makes one wonder what people like Choudary would do if the whole world was Muslim.  He would find something to argue about – people like that always do.

Mercury, Freddie!

This week, European and Japanese space agencies launch a rocket ship, unmanned, that is going to travel to the planet Mercury, the closest planet to our sun, at a distance of some five billion miles.  Because of the Sun’s gravity, the spacecraft is going to have to travel very carefully indeed in its path to its destination, involving some eight flybys on an elliptical journey.

Every space mission costs a lot of money, and this one is no exception: the simple act of sending something of this nature to a specific destination is costing the two space agencies somewhere around 1.5 billion pounds sterling.  I hope they’ve saved up.

And what is it going to do when it gets there?  We already know that Mercury is far too hot to entertain life; in fact, it’s even too hot to entertain the rocket that’s being sent there!  The craft will never land on Mercury, it can’t; but it will do its work – including analysis of the surface rock – from space during the six times it is going to fly past the planet, hopefully dodging the unimaginably huge gravity of the Sun.

Its journey to Mercury is by no means a done deal.  Between here and there are all sorts of asteroids, space debris, planets, other potential hazards, and, of course, the Sun.  So, it’s going to have to tread carefully as it travels at enormous speed across the universe (that’s a great idea for a song).

And where was the Transfer Module that houses two orbiters that will do the work built?  Stevenage, home of Knebworth; site of the final concert given by the band Queen, in August 1986.  That seems to be a nice, fitting coincidence.

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The Deaf Penalty

To my mind, the issue is simple; you don’t kill people, and that’s it.

But many folks who think they have a handle on the issue just won’t listen, and one finds oneself almost punished to the death penalty oneself, in the sense that one can feel the sense of terminal inevitability that the Death Row prisoner must feel.

What “terminal inevitability,” I hear you ask?  The terminal inevitability that nothing is ever going to change, people can never change, and you will always end up avenging a death for a death because that’s the way human beings will always respond to something like that.

Nobody listens, everybody talks over each other, shouting, arguing, hearing but not listening.  And this comes from those on both sides of the argument.

This is part of the reason why blogs and online rants are good; firstly, you can choose to either read it or not, and secondly, if you do read it, you can then choose to agree with it or the reverse.  Finally, once your decision is made, if indeed that is what happens, you can then post/troll the person until they finally give in and go, “Whatever, dude!”

I do not believe killing another human being is right or justifiable under any circumstances, in other words, I would not or could not do it.  But I have heard tell from down the village that there are circumstances which could lead a person to kill another: self-defence, for example.  If someone feels that their life is in danger, they would kill to defend their own.  That is in our nature as animals.  That we cannot help.

Or can we?

As human beings, with sufficient intelligence to be able to suppress certain behaviours wherever possible, I believe it is possible to contain that urge to kill another and perhaps find some other way to detain your opponent and preserve your own life in the process.

Those who have killed to preserve their own life, or their own property, have often found themselves on the wrong side of the law, especially here in the United Kingdom.  I believe that the USA has somewhat less stringent views on killing in self-defence, and it can be accepted as a just cause when dealing with certain homicide cases.  Basically, in instances where this has happened, the law is saying to the prisoner, OK, somebody tried to kill you, but you killed him instead to preserve your own life.  Well, since you preserved it, you can spend the rest of it in jail.  Or (prior to 1965 in the UK) we’ll hang you.

Why is it justifiable to punish a death with a death?  To me the entire argument is ridiculous, and I don’t feel any other justification than it is wrong.  It would be like punishing a robbery with a robbery, or a rape with a rape.

There are so many moral, religious and/or practical reasons that are trotted out whenever the debate occurs.  Apparently, there are many occasions in the Old Testament where we are told that to punish someone with the death penalty is not only justifiable but indeed the only one available.  But I thought that the faith, with all its denominations, was called Christianity, which means that they follow Jesus Christ, whose message trumps that of the Old Testament.  Christ talked of peace, of love, of turning the other cheek.  Christ did not talk of killing out of revenge or punishment; he said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”  That means nobody has the right to do it.  I’m not a Christian myself; I’m simply making the point that, as a Christian, you cannot justify the use of the death penalty from the Bible.  Christianity is – or should be – about peace, and I don’t see why that concept should be difficult unless one deliberately makes it so in an effort to save face in the context of the argument.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I invariably do not use much in the way of references when ranting.  It’s not the point of ranting.  Ranting is about getting something off your chest, right or wrong, and although I do not deliberately set out to say something that is incorrect, I’m not going to slow down my train of thought by Googling something.  It is my feeling on the matter that, er, matters here.  And my feeling is that one human being is not entitled to kill another human being.  When an unprovoked murder takes place, you’ve got to look at the reasons why it happened, and then administer a course of action accordingly.  This course of action may in part be a punishment, it may be something to protect the rest of society or both.

Of course, I am not suggesting that society does not require protection – especially if someone is likely to be a serial killer.  Sadly, while their mental health does need looking at, they must be put away, and probably for life.  It is a sad fact of the situation.  But kill them?  No.  I’m also not saying that I, too, have not had the instinctive cry within me that a perpetrator of a particularly heinous crime should die for their efforts.  Of course I have.  But that does not make it right, and I am glad that that instinct has been suppressed in myself and in others (where it has happened in countries without the death penalty).

The death penalty only exists, as far as I can see, to please that instinctive part of the mob mentality that has people shouting, spitting and throwing eggs at police vans carrying a killer or a child rapist to prison in a case that the crowds have no personal connection with.  When someone is sentenced to death, the execution of that sentence could be more than twenty years away, and it is said that part of the punishment exists in the prisoner’s contemplation of their inevitable end before it happens.  It makes the victims’ families, prosecuting attorneys and the public at large feel good.  It gives them a certain amount of unspoken power.

So, throw away your Bibles, your religious and/or political texts, and just listen. Listen to reason, and to your conscience.  If you are able to in a country that practices the death penalty, campaign for its end.  Listen to me, listen to those who advocate peace, listen to your heart.  That will tell you that the death penalty is a pointless exercise in group avengment and must be ended as a practice and a legal punishment in every country worldwide – whether or not it is in your religious text.

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The Most Pointless Question Ever Asked

When you travel to the USA, it used to be that you filled out what they called a ‘Visa Waiver’ green form, and, assuming everything was OK, you were granted what I thought was a very generous 90-day stay anywhere in the country visa-free.

Not only that, but if you left the country, you didn’t have to be away from there for too long before you were allowed back in for a further 90 days.  Indeed, my dear wife and I travelled to the USA in October 2006, stayed there for around 60 days, including four days in Hawaii, and then moved on to travel to Australia and New Zealand for about seven weeks, before returning to the USA for 90 more days.  We returned to the UK, via a stopover in New York, in April 2007.

In February of this year, 2018, we were fortunate enough to be asked to return to California to take part in a symposium on film music at Long Beach University.  We made all the preparations for the trip, but we discovered that the USA’s Visa Waiver program does not involve little green forms anymore, but a huge online form written and operated by ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization).  They want to know practically your entire life history before they let you into their country.

Now, whether you believe that 9/11 was an inside job or not, there’s no doubting the fact that America was caught off-guard by the events of that awful day in 2001.  At least, that is the impression they want to give you.

Since this post is not intended to be about any of the conspiracy theories, I’ll put all that aside for the time being.  Instead, I just want to focus on the event’s effect on the American authorities’ paranoia about who they let in.

They decided that the terrorists should win, and, instead of remaining the Land of the Free, the USA would use it as an excuse to stop anyone and everyone entering the country freely, for whatever reason, and make them jump through fiery hoops before allowing them to continue on their journey.  Remember, the USA was built on immigration, the only true natives being the Native Americans who were displaced in the first instance.  Imagine them holding every immigrant to account for the treatment they received during the 17th and 18th Centuries.

My wife and I took a second trip to the USA in March 2008, and this time we decided we would use the full 90 days allowed to us.  At that time they still used green forms, and on the form I wrote that I had been denied a visa on our first trip, which they duly collected when we arrived at Los Angeles International Airport.

We were hustled into a room with about twenty others – including pensioners – and left there, without any word of explanation whatsoever.  I was already in a wheelchair by then, having received preferential treatment on the plane because it was Air France’s inaugural trip from London to Los Angeles, and the Chairman or CEO of the company was on the flight.  He had helped me find a wheelchair in London.  But, after we departed the plane, tried to get through customs and then silently herded into this room, there was nothing Air France could do anymore.

There were about four, maybe six, TSA agents wandering around, doing whatever it is they do, and generally making a big deal out of ignoring us.  I always say you can pretty much try and insult me with whatever name you like, and it won’t bother me so much as if you ignore me.  I don’t like that; I don’t care who you are.

Something like three hours passed by without one word from these clowns about why we were there, and what was going to happen to us.  I was desperate for my medication; California is eight hours behind the UK and because of that, we had a 32-hour day that day, and because of that, I needed at least one lot of pain medication extra to my normal dose.  But my medication was locked up in my baggage which, for whatever reason, was not with me.  I was getting more and more frustrated.

After about four hours or so, I was extremely agitated and making something of a scene which my dear wife was doing all she could to calm.  The scene suddenly stepped up a gear when I threw an empty water bottle at a TSA agent who refused once again to give me any sort of an explanation regarding our situation.

Before I could blink, I was surrounded by four more agents who had their hands placed above their holsters; ready, just ready, to pull their guns out and discharge their weapons on a suspected disabled terrorist with a small puppet called Liam.

Eventually, at around 1 am local time, we were taken by some kindly agents who had recently changed shifts, taken through the customs procedure and eventually allowed in.  We were told, however, that flights home had already been reserved for us and it would have taken only one more cross word from me for those reservations to turn into bookings.

Oh, and the reason we were denied a visa in the first place?  Because we did not own property in the UK and they could not guarantee that we would return.  That was it.  That was the reason for all the trouble described above.  And even then, when we travelled to the US Embassy (the old one now) in London’s Mayfair, the visa application process ended without explanation, just a form slapped on the table, after which the agent walked off.

So, all of that occurred when we were still using the green forms, what would it be like today?  We filled the online ESTA forms, one each for the two of us, with some trepidation.  As I recall it, it took several days to complete.  But one question stuck out as possibly The Most Stupid Question Ever Asked on Any Form About Any Subject Whatsoever.  The question read:

Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage or genocide?

Now that, we thought, was the most stupid, almost crazy question ever submitted on a form.  Who the hell is going to answer ‘Yes’ to that question?  Imagine an application by a Mr. O. Bin Laden or Mr. Kim J-U.  Perhaps members of ISIS would like to travel to the USA to see family.  Are they going to write, well yes, we are going to engage in some light terrorism while we’re there if that’s OK, and then perhaps visit the Griffith Park Observatory?

The reason I bring this up today is because a lady has found herself in the news because somehow, as she completed her form, her finger slipped as she was checking the form and without her noticing she submitted it with her answer having changed from ‘No’ to ‘Yes.’  She was using a tablet to fill out the form.  As a result, this lady has had a far worse experience than I had: she had to spend £320 to go to London, to that hideous new embassy in Nine Elms, go through two interviews after which she was given her visa, and then told that she would have to change her holiday because the visa might not arrive on time.

That’s bad enough, but when you factor in that this 29-year-old woman was dying of terminal cancer, and was travelling to New York as a sort of a ‘bucket list’ holiday, to be told that she must delay her trip was completely ill-advised and insensitive of her situation.  However, her trip is still scheduled to go ahead as of today, thank God.

I reproduce a link to the story below.  Read for yourselves how this story of epic stupidity unfolded.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-45678517

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The Whole Concept of Debt

Debt.  What is it?  It’s when the ordinary man or woman on the street owes someone else money.  Now, if you buy something, you should expect to pay for it, as long as it works properly and does what it says on the packaging.  I understand that.  But certain types of debt rub me up the wrong way.  One of those debts was the subject of a story ran by the BBC on their web site the other day.

The story concerned a man aged around 56 or so, with two beautiful daughters in their twenties, and he was divorced from the girls’ mother, but he still lived in the home which was bought after he and his wife first got married.  In other words, the house was the only one that the man’s children knew.  All their childhood memories were there.

This man had survived kidney cancer and a divorce which cost him £36,000, not to mention £200 a month each for his daughters.  He had got through those things.

But what he could not surmount emotionally was a debt he got into after he missed a council tax payment.  One month.  Probably between £100 and £150.  That’s all.  Because of that missed payment, the local authority, South Lakeland District Council in Cumbria, decided to bill him for the entire year, which was £1,473.  Through various means, the debt spiralled up to £9,332 – an extraordinary amount given the initial ‘offence.’  The council, in 2014, decided to have him declared bankrupt.

The council were successful in their petition, which enabled them to sling thousands of pounds more debt at him, until it had risen up to over £15,000.  Trustees were appointed to collect this debt, and the man almost paid all of it off – but the trustees themselves then billed him a heart-stopping £72,000!!!  An extraordinary amount considering his initial missed payment was around £150.

The man killed himself in October 2017, and it is now left to his estate – basically, his two daughters – to clear the ‘debt.’  They managed to haggle it down to around £25,000.  But still, considering the initial sin…

What gets me is that there were other options the council could have considered, but they chose the bankruptcy route, sending bailiffs round, changing locks, cutting off the utilities, etc.  They chose a route that would make everybody else money at his expense.  He would have to pay for their profits.

But there was one problem.

The man never once replied to any of the letters the council or their representatives sent him.  If he had, they would have found some other way to settle the debt.  Even the council realised there was no way this debt would ever practically be recovered, but to pursue a bankruptcy so aggressively was a mistake and they knew it.  Nevertheless, the man buried his head in the sand, hoped it would go away and that too was a mistake.  So, there were mistakes equally so severe on both sides.

The council have since stated that had they known about the man’s situation, had he communicated with them in the first instance, they would not have pursued bankruptcy proceedings.  It is an important lesson, one which makes it obvious why the BBC covered it as a story.  It is a big lesson for us all; that local authorities will literally pursue you to the grave if you miss so much as one council tax payment and not tell them why.

Whether you get your money’s worth from your council tax is open to debate.  But that is not the point, is it?  The point is that the financial and economic system in the UK, and in most countries of the world, even the ones that are not, in theory at least, corrupt, is geared towards the big guy, and not the little one.  And the banks jump in as the middle person because there’s money to be made in interest payments.  It’s appalling, really, to think that a £150 debt can quickly rise to £1,500 and then to almost £9,500.  That’s over £9,000 profit for someone right there.  How can someone who cannot afford the initial £150 afford the £9,000 interest on the amount?

The man had a rational head on his shoulders.  When he decided to kill himself, it wasn’t a snap, mad decision he could have come to regret in five minutes; it was calm, collected and planned meticulously.  He left notes for the bailiff as to where he would be found, and he left notes for his daughters telling them not to blame themselves.  He knew what he was doing, he knew the impact that it would have on his loved ones, and he tried his best to accommodate that.  Then he went off and did himself in.

This, in itself, is a window into the world of someone who is suicidal.  I have felt that way many times, but have always stopped short because I couldn’t have left the impact on people’s lives that this man did.  But who knows?  You cannot judge the mental state of someone whose every possession is taken from them to settle alleged debts.  Financial rape.

I feel angry that the system is geared towards ‘them’ and not ‘us.’  We have to settle any small debt immediately, or it becomes a very big debt almost overnight.  But if ‘they’ were to owe ‘us’ money; well, that’s a whole other story.  Try to get money out of a bank if they owe it to you.  That seems to be OK, though, doesn’t it?

The system has got to be a level playing field.  If the banks, councils, corporations owe you £150, try compounding the interest to £9,000 and see what they do.  Try threatening them with bankruptcy and find out what you get for your money.  It would probably cost about nine grand a week in legal fees, and they won’t be paying that for you.  If someone owes £150, what about leaving it at that amount for the period of the debt?

They say, we can’t do that because in that case nobody would ever pay off their debts, would they?  Well, that’s an absolutely valid point and does demonstrate a clear malfunction of human nature.  If there’s no penalty, people do tend to think, ‘well, if they’re not going to chase the debt, I’ll not bother paying it.’  Is it not possible to cease providing a service to the tune of that amount?  There must be a way to make it fair for everyone, because to drive people to suicide leaves South Lakeland District Council at least in part responsible for this man’s death.  Not entirely; the man’s family do accept that he would bear some of the responsibility.

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Guns Are Bad…

…continuing on from yesterday’s rant, I just want to make the clear point that Guns Are Bad.  They say guns don’t kill people; people kill people.  This is bulls***.   People with guns kill people.  How do you like them apples?

There is this common misinterpretation among conservatives of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, which they think gives them the right to prance around their communities going, look at me, I’ve got a gun, so don’t mess with me.  Human beings, eh?

It’s true, the Constitution’s Second Amendment does contain the phrase, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”  Those who know what this phrase really means will still fling it at ‘liberals’ and go, See?  It says so here!  They hope that by blowing smoke in front of them, they won’t notice.

Those who don’t know what it means will fling it at liberals and go, See?  It says so here!  They split the sentence quoted above from the sentences before and after it, and they hope that the ‘libtards’ won’t notice that they don’t have a clue what it means.  But, to be fair, it is partly the fault of the writers of the Amendment, i.e. Congress, for phrasing it in the language with which it was used.  But then, this was back in 1791.

OK, it’s time to give you the Second Amendment in full:

“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

–ratified by Thomas Jefferson

Now, we could pick this sentence apart until the cows come home.  What it basically is telling us through the window of time is that because a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state [I don’t agree with that, but let us for argument’s sake assume that it is], then the right of the people to keep and bear arms in the context of that militia shall not be infringed.  So, we need an army, and we need people who know how to use arms, so people should be allowed to keep those arms so that, when called upon, they can use them in anger.

What the Amendment does not tell us:

  • That those arms are necessarily firearms
  • Even if they are, that those arms are only the kind of weapons that were available at that time.  They do not relate to AK-47s and other assault rifles that are able to fire off over 100 rounds a minute and kill half a restaurant or a club in that short time.
  • Even if you accept the common conservative interpretation of the Amendment, while you may have the right to keep and bear arms, there is no provision there for you to be able to use them.  Ever.  Ever.  Not outside the context of a militia, anyway.  The use of guns is for that militia or army only.  And even if you use your weapons in your militia, you may only use them in the process of securing yourself a free state.

 

So, people are robbing your home and killing your family.  You will probably use your weapons, I can’t stop you doing that, but expect the full punishment of the law.

Another popular argument is: If guns were “taken away from us,” (an almost child-like, weeping argument), then what happens if someone comes and robs your house, rapes your wife and kills your children?  Well, if no-one had guns, they couldn’t do that, could they?

As I said yesterday, all guns should be jettisoned into space, with a note attached for any alien civilisation to read: “This is what human beings do to each other.”  

Human beings are not the only great apes who kill their own species in land disputes or power disputes.  Chimpanzees do it, too.   But humans do have the added intelligence that it seems chimps do not, the power to make decisions based on conscience.

And finally, remember the fact that the Second Amendment was written in 1791. The kind of weaponry used today – even by civilians – simply was not taken into account 230 years ago because they were outside the bounds of human concept at the time.  No assault rifles, no machine guns, bombs or the like.  Then, you used to have to put powder and a lead ball in your guns.  The US patent for the revolver was not given until 1836.

We human beings do not have the power to change the past.  I wish I could, but it’s not possible.  But we do have the power to change the future.  We have the power to limit war, to eradicate it altogether, even if the Second Amendment said, “Come on, let’s f*** each other up!”  I would still argue against it.  But it doesn’t, if you read the sentence correctly, does it?

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