Friday, 29 February 2008

That Prince Harry Thing

I had posted two items about the crass red-necked stupidity of the notorious Matt Drudge. Secrets are usually there for a purpose rather than in order to cover the idiocy of politicians. Apparently, the leftie know all, Jon Snow of Channel 4 News thought it was a great story to break. It was blarted out in an Aussie mag in January but ignored (but still usefully filed on a nail in the dunny). The excellent Richard North posted that we and the Taleban knew it weeks ago (he should stand at the other end of the bar in future). But, he kept quiet. So if it was such an open secret, why is Prince Harry being withdrawn now?

Well done Lt Harry Windsor. We are all proud of you.

When will a scion of the Labour Nomenklatura go out to Afghanistan? Will Dan Snow take his magic sand box to Helmand?

Some Thoughts on James Purnell's Ideas About Work

James Purnell MP the Secretary of State for Work & Pensions (and the first man on the moon if you want to photoshop a picture) has come up with some ideas about getting the idle and malingering unemployed and sick into work.

I worked in a Jobcentre as a Personal Advisor so unfortunately I am not able to comment from a position of ignorance and bias but, if I may:

1 Making more use of private companies and voluntary bodies is a good idea. It will cost more money so those 12,000 extra redundancies are needed. I was able to place jobseekers with full time job search, training and preparation companies only after they had been claiming for more than 6 months unless they were ex-forces, ex-prisoners, disabled, etc when I could place them immediately. Other similar providers (eg local authority run) could be accessed more easily. Indeed there was a plethora of schemes and part of the added value of the Personal Advisor was knowing the most appropriate.

2 A good use of public funds was Remploy for many disabled workers. The PC idea, well-meant of course, was to get disabled people into the mainstream employment market. Fair enough but many people liked working for Remploy, they did real jobs and felt valued.

3 The minimum wage was a good idea because it paid people at the unskilled or oversupplied end of the labour market a fairly decent hourly rate. A better idea would have been to cut company taxation, increase the income tax threshold, increase the minimum wage and not have the cumbersome and complicated Tax Credit system as a top up measure. This would have encouraged employers to increase capital investment as labour became relatively more expensive. Productivity would have increased and people and companies would have been incentivised to upskill.

4 However, the massive influx of hard-working Eastern Europeans eager to work for the minimum wage because it was two or three times the going rate at home scuppered the benefits of the minimum wage as the supply of labour zoomed upwards. In addition. the immigrants placed unbudgeted strains on local authority service provision as well as the housing market. Notice that the people at the bottom of the heap always bear the brunt of changes.

5 Well, what would I recommend? Listen to Frank Field. Don't standardize the service level offered by Jobcentres. Let management of individual offices tailor the service and know how to the needs of local employers and people. Ensure children leave school able to read, write and function socially. Provide the political leadership to convince people that a stable family life and work is better than benefit plus crime so cut out any trace of sleaze in Parliament. Restore the value of craft work. Some people say national service would be a good idea but frankly it wastes the time of trained servicemen and women and it wastes young people's time when they ought to be learning a skill. Encourage people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance JSA to volunteer full-time for a charity and pay them a bounty every month for satisfactory work as well as a job-entry bounty when they find work with another if they keep the job for six months.

6 Critics may ask why spend so much on the unemployed? Well, unemployment is both a good thing and a bad thing. A small amount is necessary for a healthy economy to enable resources to be switched to more productive areas. It is bad for the individual because of the loss of income, but if used for retraining (and full-time education courses should not disqualify JSA eligibility) is good. Besides, think how much a company spends recruiting a member of staff and think how much six months' JSA and Housing Benefit is. It is a win-win to spend more finding quality jobs for better-trained people.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Modest Proposals For The UK House Market

Introduce Capital Gains Tax on primary homes.

Sellers will benefit from CGT taper relief.

Improvements made either by DIY or Registered Builders and certified by Chartered Building Surveyors will be offsetable against CGT.

HIPs will be voluntary: if buyers want them, sellers will provide them in a free market.

Any person other than the owner doing building work must be examined and registered either via local authority building control departments or authorised trade bodies. There will be a central register of builders.

Craft qualifications will be equivalent but different to purely academic qualifications.

VAT will not be levied on materials and services procured for maintenance and refurbishment.

First Biofuel Airline Flight: The Sky Is Green

A Virgin Airways Boeing 747 flew from London to Amsterdam using an 80:20 Jet A: coconut and babassu oil today. Jet engines are pretty tolerant things able to burn a wide range of combustible liquids if correctly adjusted. Whether efficiency and range and hence seat price economics are affected insignificantly enough to fill the tanks with this cutis something for the engineers and accountants to puzzle out. But Jet A is able to hit the spot very nicely thank you (hat-tip to the unknown fuel deveopment scientists) as things stand. And a tenth of a percentage point lost here must be made up there because airline economics are razor fine.

Our Celebrity Affairs Correspondent (and Aviation if it's absolutely necessary when there's not enough football or Any Whinehorse footage available to fill up the bulletin) suggests a return to wind-powered aircraft like the one shown below:

Notice the wind-turbines mounted in front of the wings. The green sustainable electricity they generate makes it go up and forward probably. According to sources close to All Gone, he is understood to be in talks with the manufacturers.

Friday, 22 February 2008

A Tribute To The English Criminal Law System

The recent guilty verdicts in the trials of the murderers Wright and Dixie are well deserved given the damning evidence against them. The central presumption of English Criminal Law is that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt*. I think all involved in these cases fom the Judges downwards, but excluding the accused, deserve our gratitude for upholding this presumption in these apparently open and shut cases.

The standard of proof in civil cases is the less rigorous balance of probabilities. Less rigorous but still equally fairly administered as the burden of proof is on the Plaintiff or whatever Nulab call him now. I noticed two cases listed for the Royal Courts of Justice next week that show how fair the system is:

Court No 1 Forestry Commission v Paddington Bear

Court No 2 Grand Inquisition of the Holy Roman Catholic Church v His Holiness The Pope

* bonus points for the exceptions to the burden of proof on the prosection in criminal cases.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

You Can't Get The Staff?

I was googling for a JobCentre blog when I found this post on the Civitas blog. Basically it asks why personal data available to JobCentre staff is not held more securely to prevent its misuse by the Muslim community in searching for family members who have allegedly brought "dishonour" on their families. I posted a comment which hasn't yet been approved so I think the truth should be told.

"Vulnerable" people as described in the Civitas post are already protected as "sensitive cases". Access to these cases requires a junior manager to complete a form setting out the reason for access. This form is authorised by a manager and filed for audit purposes. The junior manager is then granted temporary access to the case on the terminal that his or her personal identity card is inserted. All computer use is logged. For ordinary use, from Day 1 it is drilled into one that all personal information is protected by the DPA (and if you don't know what DPA* is you shouldn't be handling personal data) and searches for celebs' details or even one's own is a sackable and criminal offence. PCS won't have any sympathy for you. Nor will your erstwhile colleagues. As I said, all of your computer use is logged and trackable back to you. To keep you on your toes, the terminal will ping at random and you will be requested to complete an audited form to explain why you are looking at data connected with a particular NI number. All paperwork linking NIs to names must be securely shredded after finishing with them. Any telephone requests for information are treated extremely sceptically by staff who ask the caller to prove their identity. So, sorry Mr X when you forgot your interview time and I asked you the full Mastermind specialist subject questions; there was a good reason for it.

Now the system is very good but unfortunately there are always criminals and that is the correct word for it who will abuse it. Part of the problem may reside with inadequately rigorous recruitment and training procedures, but an large part is due to cultural and religious reasons. If someone places loyalty to these before loyalty to the Crown and the law of the land and the duties and responsibilities that flow from them, then trouble will ensue. It's up to you, Gordon Brown, to act. I'm glad I'm out of it!

Medway Queen Paddle Steamer

Hailing from the centre of England, I have a great affection for the sea as many Midlanders do. It's the only time we get to wash our feet! I have a particular fondness for paddle-steamers : see my post on the PS Waverley.

The lady pictured above is Medway Queen during her builder's trials in the Clyde in 1924. She played an heroic part in the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940, but in recent years endured becoming a night club and being sunk for ten years. However, thanks to the strength of the beautiful old girl (a characteristic shared with many other Glaswegian Lassies) it was still practical to give her a full make-over and restore her to her former condition. To this end the Medway Queen Preservation Society was formed, and they have done a splendid job so far.

Unfortunately, anything steel placed in contact with seawater soon becomes a very efficient machine to convert money into rust and the Medway Queen needs more money to save her. £2 million has already been secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund, but according to the Daily Mail today another £2 million is needed to save her. So, anyone with money and influence and a romantic imagination, please give the Old Lady a paddle to get her out of the Creek.

Anything Remittance Man Can Do I Can Copy

One of the Remittance Man's regular posts is Plane Pron. One of my regular self-appointed anorak tasks is to identify the aeroplanes.

Here's three less well known types for you spotters to identify.

Above: Comox Air Force Photo

Notice the 75mm cannon (like in certain B-25s). This aircraft actually had a better performance than the A-26 Invader that was already in production.

Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle, Miles Monitor, Beechcraft XA-38 Grizzly

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Northern Rock Need Not Have Been Nationalised

If publicity-shy entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson (notice how GB refused to say "Virgin" on Monday) had been able to buy the bank via his builder and his secretary.

It's allegedly how it's done in the North East.

And I hope the £5million of public money towards the costs of the failed bid helps ease the pain of loss.

photo thanks to
Virgin Money.

B-17 Ball Turret Gunner Alan Magee's Amazing Story

He survived a 22,000 feet fall from a B-17 and crashed through the glass roof of the railway station at St Nazaire on January 3 1943. Alan Magee was a ball turret gunner.

That's 4 miles and 293 yards 1 foot downwards through a window

Flight Sergeant Nicholas Alkemade survived a fall of 18,000 feet
on 23 March 1943

Lieutenant I M Chisove surviveda fall of nearly 22,000 feet in January 1942

Absolutely amazing

So, never give up because when you pass 4 miles 293 yards and 1 foot you've beaten the record!

Lending Money For Interest Versus Islamic Sukkuk

Islamic sukkuk loans don't involve interest because usury is forbidden in the Koran (although I can think of many worse things that are encouraged or allowed). Instead the money buys an asset and rent is charged on it for the duration of the loan. Lending money and charging interest is like charging rent on that money.

So what precisely is the difference between the two methods of financing? Words. The money is the same.

And what assets does the British Government own that can be used for these bonds? Off the top of my head, HMRC and DWP sold and leased back their estates, MoD Married Quarters were similarly sold and leased back and many department offices outside Whitehall are rented. As far as assets go therefore the main bits are the MoD estate and the railways, motorway and trunkroad network. Call me an old cynic but those bits of ballast, concrete and blacktop are vital to national security and sukkuking them off via ijaras to our "friends" in the Middle East is rather foolhardy. Lord Stockton memorably protested againt selling off the crown jewels in the Eighties when Mrs Thatcher was privatising the utilities but this is like pawning one's watch and DVD player.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Fidel Castro Announces Retirement

So what?

Unless you work for the BBC or the Guardian, who cares?

I see he is to be replaced by his younger brother Raul. So the signwriter has only four letters to erase and Rau to paint on the door of El Prez's office. Very thrifty if undemocratic. Who does that remind you of? Well thrifty with his own money of course.

Is the Duke of Edinburgh practicing for something, Mr Harrods Owner?

Back in October last year the excellent David Pryce-Jones* posted this on his blog concerning the unexplained death of a wealthy Egyptian citizen in London. Now, I never believe in conspiracy theories because the amount of paperwork needed to keep the truth secret is enough to dissuade people from hiding lies, but.... the diameter of Edinburgh Castle is exactly 1.83523 that of the Great Pyramid of Khufu in Egypt and 1.83523 is the cube root of the words Nazi Frankenstein written numerically minus the distance of Windsor Castle from Berchtesgarten in hands. Now that is too much of a coincidence to deny the existence of a secret plan. It's all true, because I read this in a book I bought from the bargain books bin of a cornershop in Knightsbridge. Knightsbridge, mmm sounds a bit like Third Reich to me or has it got something to do with sharks or druids? The truth is out there because it certainly wasn't inside the courtroom at The Royal Courts of Justice (oh, have the Lizards no shame?) yesterday

*David Pryce-Jones' blog is here. He also wrote the brilliant The Closed Circle also available at Abebooks or your local bookshop. Please read it and anything by Robert Spencer.

The Berwick-upon-Tweed Question

For any American readers the answer is Berrick not Burwick, but that's not the question.

The question is: should Berwick-upon-Tweed return to Berwickshire and therefore Scotland?

England being the mature democracy the world loves to hate, most people south of the border say who cares or I thought it already was. But this apparent publicity stunt question by an SNP MSP should be seriously considered because the citizens of Berwick would enjoy the benefits of Scotland's higher spending on healthcare, education and old folks' homes by living in Scotland. Even better they would get fairer representation in their own parliament. If it's good enough for Berwick it's good enough for the rest of England to join Scotland. I don't mind being ruled from Edinburgh directly if I can vote someone out of Edinburgh. What I don't like is being ruled from Brussels and administered and taxed from Westminster for and by Scottish people. It's just not cricket as they say in Glasgow.

But the administrative difficulties of swapping countries will stop the plan dead. Scotland has rights to its own legal and education system enshrined in the 1707 Act of Union in return for closing its parliament and being bailed out from the Darien bankruptcy. How dreadful the English were to the Scots then. Nothing has changed in the intervening three centuries.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Let's Laugh At Northern Rock - Everybody Is Baaaaaaa!

I posted a "witty" Northern Wreck" graphic and then I thought "Oh who gives a toss?"

The same bunch of politicians and the same business people will make the same stupid or selfish decisions that will stuff the stame people today, tomorrow and the day after. Just like yesterday and the day before that.

And blogging will make things better?

I thought about ordering seaside rock in black and fuchsia strips with NEWLABOURSUCKS in red lettering through the middle. A label with Northern Wreck and new labour working for us on it using the same fonts as the real logos. Laugh? I laughed about as long as I did when I thought about making Brown Medals of Courage from a beer bottle top, a brass ring and some brown silk with a thin yellow stripe running ( away) down the middle.

Yes, it would have vented some spleen but the same fools would be grinning in their chauffeur-driven limos or on their planet-loving bicycles (memo to self: combine cyclists and cat-lovers nutters files).

So the world is crap and some inadequate tossers are to blame. Repeat same sentence tomorrow.

Kosovo and The United Kingdom

May the blogosphere's version of the Skibbereen Eagle wish the newly independent state of Kosovo its belated congratulations on declaring itself free from Yugoslavia yesterday. You've a lot to do, paperwork wise to start with before running an economy and state even begins, and the ethnic Serbs who have a deep historical and emotional attachment to Kosovo (imagine the Scots giving Culloden to England) feel rather hurt. So hurt that the fear of fighting has prompted Britain to send its last thousand troops to bolster KFOR (it's your best chance to nick a tank).

But isn't it ironic that Britain's defence of independence and freedom of self-determination for others, eg Millipede's Let's Export Democracy (Because We've Got Too Much in Britain) means nothing for British citizens denied a vote on the EU Constitution Treaty that even the Snotgobbler was too ashamed to sign in public.

Dulce et decorum est pro pugna canibus mori *

87 British service personnel have died in Afghanistan since 2001, and hundreds have been injured as part of Operation Herrick . I can understand the need to defeat Al Qaeda and prevent them using Afghanistan again as a base for anti-Western operations (although North-West Pakistan seems a good second choice. I appreciate that the Afghan economy and society needs to be reconstructed after thirty years of warfare and the Afghans can't manage that alone. But, reading of the suicide bomb blast that killed eighty people outside Kandahar yesterday, I stopped and thought is it really worth the bones of a single Grenadier to make life safe for barbaric gits who get their kicks from watching dogfights.? In the UK such scum are sent to gaol. But then, in this upside-down dhimmi world bigamy is illegal yet benefits are paid to polygamous wives.

* How sweet and fitting it is to die for a dogfight.

Friday, 15 February 2008

The Wages Of Destruction by Adam Tooze

May I recommend this very well-written book if it's not already on your bookshelves. I won't repeat the synopsis and reviews given on the Amazon page but suggest that you "compare and contrast", as exam papers used to say, the management of the German economy by the Nazis and Nulabour's blunders over the past thousand years or so.
In my humble opinion, his book ranks with those by Bullock, Trevor-Roper, Fest and Kershaw as required reading on the period. Can any reader of this blog recommend a similar book about the Soviet economy?

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

EU Commission Bans Dakota Pleasure Flights From 16 July 2008

brilliant photo with thanks to Nick Winch from BBC C&W website

The wonderful EU Commission has apparently decided that Airbus needs an extra bit of under the counter assistance and so has voted on something called EU-Ops. Basically, it means that all passenger aircraft will now need weather radar, passenger-slides, haram (lockable and strong)cockpit doors and so forth at a cost per plane of some £250,000. Not too bad if you're an airline filling 150 plus seats eighteen hours a day most of the year. Uneconomic if you fly one 25 seat Douglas DC-3 Dakota in the summer months around Coventry and on tour, but then the EU doesn't worry about economics, does it.

The EU-Ops Directive is directly applicable so the CAA has to administer it. It came from the EU not the EASA airworthiness organisation so it is really obviously sensible and reasonable. And the only possible get-outs are narrow and temporary. The dispensations might be needed to provide fixed-wing airlift capability for EU peacekeepers!
So please go to the brilliant EUReferendum site for the full story and then write, email or whatever Ruth Kelly to ask her to ignore this pointless piece of redtape. You can bet that Junkers 52s will keep flying whatever happens.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Paranoid Reason Why There Is No Need For An EU Treaty Referendum Number 1

Because the Government already knows what you think. So be very careful what you say when the television is on ......

Daytime Car Lights To Be Mandatory

Yes the EU has done it again, as reported by Devils Kitchen, Tim Worstall and EU Referendum among others in no particular order. But what all commentators have missed, even the Daily Telegraph (digressing, I learnt how to do cryptic crosswords from the tallywag in my teens), is that the EU plans another Directive forcing the Sun to reduce the amount of solar energy it produces by cutting its hydrogen fusion quota by 10% within six years. That will help cool the earth but because there will be less daylight as a side effect, cars will need to have lights on during the day. And street light will be switched off between midnight and 5 am because they will be turned on between noon and 5pm.
Of course we don't need a referendum for this.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Sharia Law Word Association

I was half asleep when I heard on the radio about the Archbishop of Canterbury causing controversy about

with thanks to the bbc and pa for this photo

Oh, I see Sharia Law, back to sleep. How can I sleep with that image scraping the inside of my skull? Simple, I blanked it out with memories of Shari Lewis and Lambchop on telly. Ah, back to the peaceful late sixties when everything was fine and anything could be made out of socks, buttons, cereal boxes, loo roll cardboard, copydex and poster paint. Apollo 11, the Pan Am globe, reddy-brek: everything seemed glamorous yet safe.

How Much Horse Manure In Nazi Germany?

Picture via the Daily Mail with thanks to the photo archive owner.

To be honest, I'm not a games fan. I enjoy sport (hunting, shooting, fishing, racing) but games should be limited to beach cricket, volleyball or rounders and lawn badminton. Any game should be playable with a drink in the non-bat or racquet hand. But running around in circles for chocolate money on a ribbon is daft. Baron de Coubertin (no doubt copyrighted) got his inspiration from the Dover's Hill and Market Drayton Olympicks which were essentially fun days. The Olympics took the fun out and emphasised the bits that appeal so much to insecure totalitarian regimes. Opening and closing ceremonies? Triumph of the Will. Remember the best bits of the last few Olympics ? Eddie the Eagle or Eric the Eel, for example. There'll never be the like of them allowed again.

Instead of blowing £12 billion for a fortnight's work for the elite in East London, why doesn't every village and local community have a day's fun and games in a field or park? Points will be docked for remembering sports kit. Just a thought.

A Possible Use For Redundant Windmills

Remember global warming? Toss another Stern Report on the fire and I'll tell you about the wonders of windmills and how they will save the world from everying bad that western capitalism has ever done to it (Ed: steady on, let's have a bit of balance), sorry only almost everything because the west is so bad.
Apparently, with only a massive amount of subsidy, windmills in sufficient quantity (ie enough to starve every other civil engineering project of resources for the next twenty years) can produce some of the electricity in the UK. Windspeed is a Goldilocks factor (it needs to be just right) and so windmills are only 25% efficient (except for their investors).
But engineers have overlooked one beneficial use for windmills: they could make excellent air conditioning fans if switched into reverse and powered by electricity from, eg, nuclear power stations. Ideal for cooling those scorching July and August days in the eighties Fahrenheit.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Whoops! The ABC Does It Again - Or Does He?

Poor old Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has started up the brain engine without checking the mouth gearbox is in neutral and has reversed through the garage doors of British life. And all because he thinks it fair that Muslims (the nice ones not the blow-uppy jihaddists of course) should be able to resolve their disputes using islamic sharia law.

Unlike Tom Butler, the Bishop of Southfork, Dr Williams was not as amnesic as a newt when he made his speech in which he stated that the UK had to "face up to the fact" some citizens did not relate to the British legal system. What - like Norman Stanley Fletcher or the guests and alumni of HM Prison Service?

(photo with thanks to the BBC)

"Fletcher, Allah Be Praised! The Merciful Sharia Court and Takeaway has decreed that you may keep this finger. You will forfeit the rest"
"Mr MacKay, then how can I bid you welcome to my humble cell? And I have only two feet, mind you after stoning Lukewarm all day I need a rest."

Or is the ABC's speech in reality a very highbrow piece of irony? I don't think Dr Williams does sarcasm but given the DWP's blindness to ethnic bigamy or polygamy as it is also called, was he not pointing out that as we have creeping de facto sharia then,for honesty's sake, make it de jure as well. As we used to do in the JobCentre when interviewing particularly THICK customers;

1 tell them what you are going to tell them,

2 tell them,

3 repeat what you've just told them;

4 and if you have time, ask the customer to tell you what they've just heard.

And as a rough IQ guide of customers, subtract the number of Elizabeth Duke rings x hand tattoos from 100.

Ebay And Paypal Update

Well, matters have moved apace since the original post on 2 February. Suffice it to say that I have no financial complaint with Paypal. I have also received a lost mail compensation cheque from Royal Mail International (RMI) and the "lost" packet itself the day after. Naturally, I contacted RMI and sent the cheque back. On the parcel is a scrawled note in Spanish (see photo) and a rubber-stamped CADUCADO which means expired.

It appears that Paypal were over-hasty in find in favour of the buyer and refunding my money to him. The packet had arrived, was undeliverable for some reason, and because it was not sent with a trackable number (don't save money for foreigners, it's not worth it) the buyer was unable to locate it on the Spanish Post Office website. Call the post sorting office and ask if any undelivered post with a certain adddress is there? - Nno, don't bother. I emailed the buyer offering to complete the contract provided that it was Airsure tracked this time but he declined. He had the cheek to say that mine was the only item to go missing. And Senor I can say that none of the many items I have posted abroad have been permanently lost and the two that went temporaily astray were the result of the buyer not being in to receive them.

I can honestly say that this "buyer" is the first 24 carat shit I have dealt wth on Ebay out of the hundreds of buyers from all over the world.

A Grudging Thanks From My Favourite Prez

Apparently, Hamid Karzai was misquoted at the Davos Forum and after a surprise visit from Condi Rice and David Millipede is now rather grateful for Britain's efforts.

Yeah, right. And now say it like you mean it.

I can confidently say that this blog had no influence over His Excellency's 180 degree nuancing but like that great newspaper of the west of Ireland:

" "The Skibbereen Eagle has got its eye both upon Lord Palmerston and on the Emperor of Russia." This terrible warning has elevated the little insignificant town of Skibbereen, in the southwest coast of Ireland, quite into a Lilliputian pre-eminence . Beware, beware, ye statesmen, emperors, and thrones, for the Skibbereen Eagle has its eye upon you! - And let that be a warning for you"

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Globalisation And The Wonderful EU And Shoes

I reckon I need to walk more to get fitter. I researched the subject in depth on the interweb. I discovered I had flat feet (over-pronation) and measured my feet (size US14 EEEE) properly for the first time (stand on an A4 sheet of paper and draw around it then measure the longest and widest dimensions and convert into shoe sizes.

Armed with this knowledge and an e-sheaf of reviews and customer comments I bought a pair of Brooks Addiction Walker 2 motion control shoes (above) for $87.95 from Shoebuy in the United States.

Now, buying untried shoes 3,000 miles away might be considered a risk (no more than not being able to vote for a new Prime Minister or an EU Constitution/Treaty) but in fact the service from Shoebuy was exemplary. Really good packing and emailed progress reports from Massachusetts. The shoebox was then passed on to DHL who promised to deliver the box to my door in a few days for only $30. They did. The shoes feel great and are the best I have ever owned. Thank you Shoebuy, thank you DHL.
So why didn't I buy these in the UK? Well, I couldn't find anywhere on the web in the UK that sold them in US14 EEEE and even for smaller sizes the £ price was similar to the $ price.
Unfortunately, today I received an invoice for £10.30 VAT + £1.25 admin charge from DHL for importing these shoes. I paid up immediately because I'm not a carousel fraud sort of person. But what on earth was the justification for charging VAT in a supposed free trade globalised world other than to pay danegeld to the European Union. Now I know Peter Mandelson has the candlemakers on his back at the moment but to paraphrase the People's Front For The Liberation Of Judea or whatever, "What has the EU ever done for me?" OK, so it's given jobs to Kinnock and Mandelson and paid for Hamas terrorism against israel, but can anyone give me audited proof of my money well spent by the EU to help me so I can think that my £10.30 wasn't just thrown in the Trevi Fountain?

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

MacBook Air - Wow

Look at this. It's called a MacBook Air. (But why does it cost £1199 in the UK: $1799 is about £918.09 as of 6 February 2008. Or £1199 is about $2349.44). It's really thin and I really want want even though I don't need or want a laptop. But please don't let the Civil Service or MoD issue it to staff because it looks so easy to lose and you know that never happens, especially when really important data is on the hard drive. (On the hard drive!)

This is the ideal laptop word processor.

Ah, the good old Black N Red A5. As its name suggests, it's half the size of A4. Especially good with a Pilot G-2 pen.
Unfortunately, many people don't think they appear half as brainy or important writing in this on the train as bashing a laptop's keyboard while the person opposite has just finished the Times crossword in under ten minutes. Yes, we all have our own egos. And, thankfully, mine is low rent.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Mister Ungrateful Afghan President

At the recent Davos Summit, His Excellency President Hamid Karzai left(appointed Honorary GCMG *2003) displayed the customary slitheriness that has kept him alive in lovely Afghanistan by blaming the present situation in Helmand Province on the British. Not the murderous Taliban and ambiguous tribal elders of course. Quite apart from the unstatesmanlike lack of originality because everyone in the world uses this excuse to avoid self-criticism, it is a blatant insult to the 87 British servicemen who have died in Afghanistan since 2001 to keep him in power.

Flip-flopping Karzai is surely aware of the fates of most of his predecessors:

Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan murdered 1978

Nur Mohammad Taraki murdered 1979

Hafizullah Amin murdered 1979

Mohammad Najibullah murdered 1996

All were killed by other Afghans or in the case of Amin, Soviet Speznaz. So it might be politic for The Prez to display a bit more gratitude to those people helping to keep his heart and mind connected. Otherwise, the option of withdrawal from Afghanistan might prove irresistable and Western forces could monitor Afghanistan for trouble with satellites, AWACS, UAVs and send messages using Tomahawk ship-launched cruise missiles, Hellfire missiles from UAVs or just high tonnages of bombs from B-52s and B-1s flying from Diego Garcia. Let's hope MOABs are out of stock.

*The Grand Cross of St Michael and St George is not a Marks & Spencers discount card.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Paypal and Ebay Flaws

A seller posts a packet containing items won on Ebay abroad. The buyer paid for the items by Paypal, Ebay's financial wing. Over a month later the seller is surprised to discover that the buyer has filed a dispute with Paypal on the grounds that the item has not been received. Now according to Paypal, both sides negotiate to produce an amicable resolution. What if the buyer speaks no English or ignores translated messages? What if the seller submits a claim for loss to recover costs(form F58) to Royal Mail? Yes, the buyer escalates the dispute to a claim. The seller has to provide online tracking of delivery (Airsure costs £4.20 for a limited number of countries) and even this isn't always accepted. In return the buyer need do nothing. Paypal then decide the case and money is transferred from the seller's account to the buyer's. So the buyer could have the items won on Ebay and the price and postage. The seller has a grievance against the service provided by Paypal .

What should you do to outwit potential foreigner scammers and Paypal?

1 Do not rely on Certificates of Posting. Get the buyer to pay for Airsure. If they disagree you can cancel the contract at no cost to you (except the lost sale) because Paypal users outside the UK, Canada and USA have unrecognised addresses and that is a valid reason for cancellation.

2 Keep your Paypal account empty so that even if a buyer wins a dispute, Paypal can't take any money out. It worked for three sellers who scammed me for some £40 and lost the disputes.

3 Don't pay Paypal refunds voluntarily to buyers and then submit a claim to Royal Mail International. Their investigation will take a minimum of 3 months if the foreign post office bothers to respond and no payments will be made unless the buyer signs and returns a letter stating they have not received the packet.

4 If Paypal decides the dispute against you (and this is where Terry Pratchett's Million to One Rule doesn't apply) remember you can appeal. You can do this as often as you like within a 10 day limit. Contact Paypal Customer Services by phone and email. Be polite, accurate, concise, fair and persistent. If you can persistent off any large organisation they may offer an ex-gratia payment (persistent off money) just to keep your business.

If this posting appears critical of Ebay and Paypal, it is meant to be positive criticism because both companies provide a valuable service and deserve to make profits. However, the burden of proof and standard of proof in disputes is unfair to sellers and a barrier to trade. Sellers might think that Ebay and Paypal are just too risky and expensive (here and here)and take their business elsewhere. Everybody would lose out. And nobody wants that to happen. So will somebody sort things out?

Friday, 1 February 2008

MV Riverdance Stranded On Blackpool Beach

The truck ferry MV Riverdance got into difficulties in the Irish Sea on a journey from Warrenpoint in Northern Ireland to Heysham in Lancashire when high waves caused the deck cargo to shift, the ship to develop a 60 degree list and the engine room put out of action. In an excellent piece of seamanship the Captain and crew safely beached the ship on Blackpool Beach. They were then rescued at night in 70mph gales by an RAF Sea King helicopter in a routine display of understated heroism and skill.
Environmental experts said that the risk of long term pollution resulting from the incident was low provided the Riverdance was given a good clean in drydock once refloated.

Update 5 April. Alas MV Riverdance is now a constructive loss and will be scrapped. To avoid needless repetition, I have copied and pasted several excellent sites below. The only good news is that that the duty crew from 22 SAR Sqdn received an award for their skill and bravery. And thanks go to the two RNLI boats who risked their lives as well.