Tuesday, 25 March 2008

If In Doubt - Ask

We are all conditioned by our environment.

In the UK we are looked after by the welfare state ‘from the cradle to the grave’, and we have got used to it. In fact we get more used to it every year as new laws are brought in to protect us from ourselves. Probably when we think about it we resent it.... but then we just accept it as the new status quo.

I am not automatically against these new constraints, but I do worry that we don’t think beyond them. We learn to take them for granted, and we forget to ask questions... or we are just too lazy.

I have been increasingly interested in the way that our population and our politicians have adopted the recycling doctrine. The speed with which this country moved from cynical indifference to steadfast commitment has been breath-taking; and since I live in a county which has more or less run out of landfill sites, I am delighted.

But we are still falling into the same trap of allowing the State to look after us, and assuming that everything outside our own little box will be ‘taken care of’.

I have been reading a lot of stuff about recycling – different local authorities have different ways of dealing with the problem. Some collect all the recyclates in one bin, to be separated mechanically at a recycling centre. Others ask the householder to carry out the separation. Not all authorities offer the same recycling opportunities.

When I read that local authority ‘a’ asks you to put out paper and cardboard, and explains how it will be recycled, while local authority ‘b’ asks you to separate cardboard and coloured paper from white paper, so that the white paper can be used to make more white paper, then I guess one of the authorities is doing better than the other.

But the trouble is that we don’t know which, and we don’t know who to ask. And we don’t know for sure that the paper is being recycled, or whether it's being used to the best advantage, or how many miles it travels before being processed. (A lot of mechanically separated paper cannot be used because it's contaminated with glass.)

My local authority will not process yoghurt pots because there is nowhere within a sensible distance where this can be done – so it goes to landfill, because that's the greenest available option. Other local authorities say that they will take all plastics, all mixed in together, for recycling. Do I believe them? Not really, but I could be wrong, in which case, my local authority is under-performing.

So if your local authority says it can recycle, say, plastic mushroom cartons, do you just put them in the green bin and hope for the best? Or do you ask the local authority exactly what they do with them?

I really hate being a cynic...

Saturday, 22 March 2008

It's The Little Things....

As I have already said, I do like politicians to be human – a little human weakness brings a remote politician down to an accessible level.

Of course there are exceptions – I happen to believe that George W has taken this philosophy to an uncomfortable extreme. Condoleezza Rice, however, has until now appeared to me to be too perfect – hair, complexion, carefully crafted speeches – so I was so delighted to hear a clip of her apology to Barack Obama over the unauthorised access to his passport information, in which she earnestly promised that she would ‘stay on top of it and get to the bottom of it.’ I guess only a politician could do both....

In the Philippines, devoted Catholics re-enact the Crucifixion, even to the extent of participants flagellating themselves with whips or bamboos before being nailed to a cross.

Enter Francisco Duque, Health Secretary, who has been refreshingly down to earth with his sound health advice.

The six-inch nails must be thoroughly sterilised, and participants should make sure that their tetanus shots are up to date. Furthermore, he says that ‘the best penitents can do is ensure that their whips are well-maintained’.

This advice seems to me to serve two purposes: it reminds these Devoted Christians of the obvious health risks; but more importantly, it reminds them that they are, after all, mere humans like the rest of us!

Friday, 21 March 2008

How many standards have You got?

This double-standard thing is very tricky!

David Cameron has been caught out cycling across a red light, the wrong way down a one way street, and the wrong side of a mini-roundabout.

Naturally he had to apologise, and Boris Johnston declared that his London would be a zero-tolerance zone regarding traffic laws.

I saw the clips. There was no-one else around and there was not the slightest chance of anyone being injured. Anyone else of a normal disposition might well have done the same.

Clearly politicians have to adopt double standards in order to survive, and anyone who makes a fuss about this particular breach is nit-picking, or trying to make a story about not very much. I am not a Cameron supporter, but I like my politicians to be human.

Unfortunately, in this kind of situation, the tabloid press are inclined to become extremist: in other situations, the politicians become a little extreme. And when extreme thoughts creep in they are liable to appeal to emotion rather than rationality, and the concept of ‘balance’ evaporates.

Take the example of churchmen.

And consider the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill and its implications.

In the surprisingly emotive rant by Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the language he uses is worthy of the most extreme journalist or politician, and I have to assume that the rational argument supporting his view doesn’t stand up – if it did, surely he would use it, instead of phrases like:
Experiments of ‘Frankenstein proportion’
‘This Bill represents a monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life’

As I understand it, this Bill will allow scientists to place minute clusters of human cells into animal eggs for a brief period in order to produce stem cells, which can then be used to research cures for some of our most insidious diseases. The alternative is to use human eggs instead, which are not readily available, and whose retrieval is invasive, uncomfortable and risky.

To use language which implies that we are set to create hybrids, monsters, or chimeras is clearly nonsense; to suggest that we are toying with human life is equally irrational.

Although I am not religious, I hold life to be sacrosanct – I won’t even kill a spider – but the proposed research doesn’t offend my sense of morality.

I would find it far more offensive if this research was to be forbidden.

Monday, 17 March 2008

That Divorce

While I’m here, I do have thoughts about this ‘acrimonious’ divorce....obviously I refer to Heather Mills and Paul McCartney.

(Why do they always describe these things as acrimonious?)

I am feeling very cynical about Ms Mills. She described her settlement of 24 million pounds as ‘incredible’, and then expressed her relief that this safeguarded the future of her and her daughter, taking care of such everyday expenses as school fees, nannies etc.

Come on!! One hundredth of that would secure my future, pay school fees for all my grandchildren, and allow me to set my home up so that I could live the way I want to for what remains of my life. And we might manage without a nanny!

I cannot get away from the idea that she was in it for the money. The rest of us have to work! I have been married more than once, and so have some knowledge on the subject of failing marriages. I am afraid that I believe that a marriage that lasts only four years was based in the first place on false premises – one or other or both didn’t know why they were doing it....or, worse, knew exactly why they were doing it!

I really hate being a cynic!!

Saturday, 15 March 2008

So, What's New With You?

Why haven’t I put anything on my blog for 15 months?

The more you do stuff, the more stuff comes back at you! I got to a point when I didn’t have time to keep up. The major problem with the internet is that you haven’t the time, energy or mental capacity to read it all, let alone respond.

I did a City and Guilds course, to become a Domestic Energy Assessor. Great idea except that it took them 6 months to send me my certificate, by which time I was at the back of the queue for work, and the housing market had gone flat!

So I got another job, as a ‘white van man’....

Well, I’ll try anything once!

Then I decided to dig up my garden (‘yard’ for American readers) and turn it into a vegetable plot – since when we have had rain, gales, floods etc. etc. so all I have planted is onions. But I have big plans (although the plot is only 3m square).

Also, my family has been getting bigger.

In September I gained a new Grandson, who is certainly the most advanced and intelligent member of the human race.

Just before Christmas I had an e-mail from a daughter I didn’t know I had – she has been trying to find me for 20 years, which has been complicated by the fact that she lives in New Zealand!

So, to all you pessimists – there is always something new and exciting around the corner; and if you don’t believe that – well, get out there and create it!

And to all you optimists - stop saying ‘I told you so’!