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Tuesday, 30 May 2017

237. New Terrorists on the Block

STOP giving them what they want. Please.

The horrors of Bataclan, Westminster and most recently Manchester represent a new and divergent malignancy which may grow. Partly it is a silent sickness of young, dysfunctional predominantly men who are misfits and easy prey to organised sociopaths or inadequate people using ever more harmful drugs, more regularly at a younger age. They plug into a convenient but warped idea of a faith they clearly know little about. They can then, relatively easily it seems, make links with groups who will put that anger and those perceived personal sleights where they can grow them. Finally, albeit briefly – they take on the convenient cloak of victimhood in order to vent their social failings, anger and/or alcohol and drug-induced psychosis, fear and need for attention.

Then the media give them what they crave.

New Terrorists on the Block is the title of a rather dark performance poem I wrote last decade about rumbling ‘real’ IRA activity a good while after The Good Friday Agreement and the then growing activities of Al Qaida. There will always be people who think the answer to their problems is to kill and maim innocent people. But if we remember that one of their ultimate goals is publicity we must be more sophisticated on this issue and stop dancing to their discordant tune.

I’m not talking censorship or not reporting facts. However, if I were a young unstable man with a disastrous background or other social problems, or just someone with vicious and violent tendencies, or someone of low intelligence lacking guidance, or an educated but immature idealist swayed by extremism and I saw the acres of high octane media coverage in the aftermath of Manchester and the following pictures of stern officers in black with weapons, openly on the streets of the UK – I would think one thing – ‘result’.

We also have to face the fact that the hard-core come from or have strong associations with countries decimated by war and failed Western interventions. Do we need to re-read Wm Golding’s Lord of the Flies to remind ourselves what humans can revert to when the thin veneer of civilisation is stripped away?

Where is the perspective and where is the plan? Rhetoric won’t do.

While terror attacks pretty quickly slip below news of the latest celebrity shite in the tabloid press and social media it means we are not dealing with day to day problems. It means that we are not talking about – for example - the (roughly) 25,000 casualties and serious injuries on our roads EVERY YEAR. We are not talking about the 40,000 premature deaths from pollution (see last week’s post). We are not debating why our NHS is still using an archaic IT system – something that only came to light when the system was brought down recently by hackers. They start to control the agenda.

Then we have the isolation of real Muslims. Vilifying a whole community because of a few bad apples is dangerous and stupid – even if the president of America can’t grasp that. Also, suggesting that these terrorists are their responsibility is mad. When right-wing supremacists and Christian fundamentalists commit atrocities – do we say it is all the responsibility of other Christians? Last Friday three men in Oregon were stabbed, two died. They were trying to calm a man who was abusing a teen-aged girl in a hijab and her black friend. The men tried to defend her and suffered for their decency and bravery. In part of his rantings, the murderer, a known white supremacist with racist posts on his fb page, claimed to be defending Christianity. Is he ‘representative’ of all Christians? He does not represent me. Are all white working class men responsible for the murder of MP Jo Cox?

The world is a truly upside down place when – in the US recently - one journalist was body slammed by Republican candidate Gianforte who did not like that reporter’s question (re healthcare). Gianforte was subsequently elected. And in another political meeting a journalist of 30 years’ experience was arrested for asking repeat questions of US health secretary Tom Price.  Meanwhile here in the UK ex Sun columnist and now Daily Mail columnist and bag of poison, Katy Hopkins freely continues her bile and hatred.  Although she parted company with LBC radio after her ‘final solution’ tweet. Like the terrorists, she uses vile behaviour to gain attention – encouraging hate crime. She has not been arrested!

Localised and organised terrorism may be pushed back – eventually - and I say this as someone who has (as regular readers know) very definite ideas about how we got to this horrible place. However, this new terrorism will be harder to untangle. These small people – with their failings and weakness can tack on all the baggage of a global mess to make themselves feel much much bigger than they are – it is the ultimate hedonistic high.

Right now the sensible nice people are being drowned out by the bullies and the thugs. We can help by not repeatedly handing a metaphorical megaphone to the thugs (see blog 152. Could the nice people speak up please)

I pray there is no repetition of recent events but I suspect that is a big ask. But if there is another horrible occurrence I want front page headlines about the terrorist’s inadequacies – relationship failures, social conflict, drug use, alcohol abuse – all the things that made these hapless failures easy prey to the hard-core. I do not want to hear ‘Islamic terrorists’ or ‘jihad’ I do not want any more stupid monikers (Jihadi John!) that elevate these feeble minded misguided creatures to the status of Godzilla.

In the face of this madness there is no easy solution but I would recommend we begin by NOT giving them the very thing they seek. 

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Tuesday, 23 May 2017

236. Do we need a Tree Museum?

Verse 2 of Joni Mitchel’s 1970 classic Big Yellow Taxi goes like this,

They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
And they charged all the people
A dollar and a half to see 'em

Earlier this year I performed at the Scottish Parliament for Environment Week. It was a good event. It showed that people care – at least in theory. However what I see around me does not tally at all.

For hundreds of yards along the Water of Leith near where I live, both banks have been denuded of trees as remedial work was carried out to manage the river. Many locals believe that if ongoing maintenance had been done then the wholesale blight of the rivers’ banks would not have been necessary. Also, calls to protect mature and beautiful Roseburn / Murrayfield trees fell largely on deaf ears.

So far, along with the tonnes and tonnes of new concrete, I counted 19 tiny replacement tree saplings. Three don’t look too healthy. And while I applaud tree planting, a venture much enjoyed by schools and a great sap [sorry for the pun] to corporations who like to be associated with these kinds of uncontroversial eye-candy charities, does it need to be said out loud TREES TAKE A LONG TIME TO GROW so better not cut them down.

A few months back I was near the central Edinburgh university campus and noted workmen sweating to chop down several mature cherry trees in full bloom. Much of that area too is now going under concrete. The impact is immediate - on our stretch of river, while we still see the herons, it is a long time since I’ve seen a kingfisher.

At my local primary school – which I walk past most days – I noticed after Christmas the increasing prevalence of cars churning up the water-logged grass verge along the lane by the side of the school. Eventually I mentioned to two parents I saw there regularly that the grass verge was not a car park and might they consider the amount of damage their large car was doing and the mess they were creating. A local councillor suggested contacting the police (on grounds of criminal damage!) but I strongly suspect the police have higher priorities than chasing thoughtless parents. A while after that, my parthner had to help a woman extricate her car when the wheels got stuck in the quagmire she herself helped to make– he obliged, ending up covered in mud.

The first couple – apart from being rude – told me they had been given permission to park there by the school – which was easily fact checked as a silly lie. What I don’t get – and I could be misjudging a book by its cover – is that they looked like the kind of couple who’d serve their child wholemeal, organic seasonal fairy dust on sustainably produced gluten free carrot fluffs with guilt-free quinoa, flown in from paradise on a non-carbon producing magic lilac unicorn. But they are happy to a. poison other people’s children by driving down the lane next to the school playground b. churn up the green areas where other people, who like to walk to school -  like to walk.

Ditto another couple who recently sought – and did not get – neighbour agreement to decimate a mature sycamore (ok not everyone’s favourite tree – but hey – like my teenaged daughter said – it’s a TREE!!!). They wanted to cut the tree – not in their garden but – as it turns out – in my 89 yr. old neighbour’s garden – down to 9 feet – what we otherwise call a tree stump. The garden of my elderly neighbour has a variety of mature trees, planted by her dad, well maintained by a local gardening charity for the elderly. When the over-the-way folk realised they were not going to get the go-ahead they did that Jekyll and Hyde thing where they went from twee to fck-you in a nano second.

In 2014 when I toured my environmental poetry audio story 'Casey & the Surfmen' around a couple of dozen primary schools and libraries in Edinburgh there was news about new explorations of the deep ocean made possible by advances in diving technology. And what did scientists find already down there? Rubbish, plastics and other human pollution.

Two years ago I travelled to the highlands for a wedding. The scenery is truly astounding but you are aware that every impressive panorama is the graveyard of The Caledonian Forests which would once have been teeming with wildlife, sucking up carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. I believe best estimates are that there is 1% of the forest remaining.

As we are being told that, in densely populated conurbations, hedges are as important as trees in mitigating ever more deadly levels of air pollution – especially diesel particulates – people are increasingly replacing mature hedges with fencing. Another neighbour of mine has just done this.

A recent brief item on the news announced that Britain is particularly poor at tree replanting. The British Ornithology Society discussing the lesser spotted woodpecker (whose numbers declined between 1972 and 1999 by 72%) say it is declining still further because of our penchant for TIDYNESS in woodland. The deadwood these birds require is cleared away too quickly (unlike beer cans, used condoms, bits of cars and burnt areas where people have impromptu fires, food cartons, old sofas, fridges and shopping trolleys).

Years ago I bought a dilapidated house to renovate. One of its best features was a huge and beautiful pair of mature cherry trees that were breathtakingly lovely in the spring, lush and shade giving in the summer. Our neighbours – who were really nice people – admitted that during the many months when the house was empty – they had considered sneakily getting the trees cut down because they dropped blossom on their lawn in the spring!!!

Why are we so keen on imposing damaging tidiness on the tiny bits of nature remaining to us and not so keen when it comes to clearing up human litter and dog shit?

Politicians are happy to claim they care about the environment while giving planning permissions that harm it. Just the other side of the border to the south, Northumberland  County Council recently gave planning permission for open cast mining at Druridge Bay on the Northumberland coast -  an area of acknowledged natural beauty and important wildlife habitats (see blog 188 Pursuit of Profit is a Terminal Illness.)

As I mentioned in a previous blog – a dead whale recently washed up on the coast of Tiree. Scientists reckon it was the most polluted sea creature they have ever examined.

Remember, there are two major factors on planet earth when it comes to taking up Carbon Dioxide that humans cannot breathe and putting out Oxygen that we can - the oceans and the trees. So I have to ask - is everyone mad?

Maybe it’s the pollution.

But anyway – Edinburgh city council and the Scottish Parliament – if we are to be further deprived of mature and life giving greenery, please build a tree museum so our children and grandchildren (presumably wearing oxygen tanks), will at least be able to see what they missed.

“If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound” is a famous thought experiment connected with the Philosopher George Berkeley and his seminal work ‘A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge’ 1710. Perhaps the 2017 answer would be ‘When the last tree falls in the forest there will be no one left to hear it anyway’.

If you are brave enough to stare into the abyss - get your copy of
Zero One Zero Two
e-book or paperback

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

235. Sean Spicer is Greyfriars Bobby US. Plus, how Corbyn could stand a cat in hell’s chance in the UK General Election…

The more forcefully he defends the indefensible and the longer he survives in the parallel universe of Trump’s paranoid, spiteful idiocy – the more you find yourself reluctantly warming to Sean Spicer.

Here in Edinburgh, we have the legend of (and a much- photographed-by-tourists brass sculpture of) Greyfriars Bobby.

Little Bobby dog is famous for one reason. Even after his master was dead and buried the wee fella stayed true. Even as its master was being eaten by worms, little Bobby would not be put off but remained faithful. Even when the cadaver must have begun to stink, the little furry friend was good and true and faithful to his putrid, rotting master. We love Greyfriars Bobby. In the same way we begin to love Sean Spicer – no need to hide in the bushes pal.

But I suppose everyone has their limits. Apparently, after the latest act of self-serving vindictiveness by Trump – axing FBI head James Comey - driver of the investigation into Trump campaign links with The Kremlin – poor wee Sean tried to escape the press by hiding behind some bushes.
We feel your pain Sean.

Theresa May doesn’t need a Sean because the suicidal politics here are being carried out by apparently sane individuals.

Here in the UK, as the Conservatives (having hoovered up the UKIP dust) jauntily flag-wave their way to the General Election to the tune of GIVE THERESA A MANDATE TO TEACH JOHNNY FOREIGNER A LESSON – the depressed sensible people are either flapping like fish in a frying pan or – like me – staring at a blank wall and just unable to decide what to have for tea.

Then, Corbyn (‘leader’ of the opposition Labour Party) had his election manifesto leaked. This, on the one hand, keeps with the idea of incompetence but does at least give the dazed and confused electorate time to look at his proposals. Maybe also, it gives them time to think – oh yeah – you know what – I can just about recall a time when the rich didn’t own all the country’s resources and I didn’t have to spend large chunks of my time trying to work out which energy company was the biggest rip off this month…

Back in 2015 I predicted – on this blog – with little equations and everything – that Miliband would LOSE. The only shock for me was just how surprised everyone else was – from political pundits to professional polling companies.

In blog 150. I laid out the problems of a Corbyn leadership. I suggested the Labour party – step back and take stock – maybe even find a woman (everyone else seems to have managed it). I pointed out that Corbyn was evidence that what remained of the grass roots party wanted real Labour policies. It was not a vote for Corbyn per se. If you recall he only got on the ballot paper because the centrists and right wingers wanted the competition to ‘appear’ fair.

In blog 221 I outlined why Corbyn’s ‘leadership’ is bad for Britain. I even suggested that Momentum should seize their own moment, shake off the shackles of a stagnant Labour party and forge ahead as a new separate movement. Well – I hope Momentum are taking note of how such a move worked out for a certain Emmanuel Macron.

None of this is complicated. If you pay attention and listen to the odd conversation at the bus stop, it’s really really obvious. It is only not obvious if you are swirling around in the self-fuelling tornado of media and political hysteria. I know lots of folk who, while shocked, have not been surprised at all by events, just sick and tired of the waste and stupidity.

As I predicted from day 1, Corbyn has shown himself as messianic as his nemesis – the war criminal Blair but – I reckon if Jeremy Corbyn really promoted what is a truly Labour manifesto with something approaching passion AND laid out a plan for a managed hand-over to clean new management of the Party - over – say a 6 month period immediately after the election (very late in the day, unconventional and maybe even clutching at straws...) – he could do way more than give the Nasty Party a run for its money. Britain’s future would be a shade less bleak and we wouldn’t be looking for our own version of Greyfriars Bobby to mourn over the rotting corpse of Britain’s global credibility.


Remember if you are in Edinburgh this week I’ll be doing one of the author sessions for the big book sale/festival. Christian Aid are one of the flag ship organisations helping refugees (and many other great causes) in the face of the UK government’s sinful reneging on promises to protect vulnerable refugee children.

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Tuesday, 9 May 2017

234. Theresa May, her SS soundbite and my worst Brexit joke…

Here in Britain, Theresa May’s election slogan “Strong Stable” leadership is already jarring like an over-played Eurovision song contest runner up – it’s irritating but you can’t get it out of your head. Plus, Theresa May seems to have injected her Conservative party with Strong Stable Tourette’s.

Following Macron’s resounding victory, the UK is several steps further down the credibility ladder. But in the headache blear of election fatigue for a campaign that only just began – I ask myself why does Theresa May need a ‘strong stable’ when the BREXIT horse has already bolted? (Sorry)

In her blue-stocking way, Theresa May revels in being called a “bloody difficult woman”. She fashions herself as a cross between Margaret Thatcher, a starchy nanny dispensing cod-liver-oil and a human prophylactic against the EU cooperation disease and any chance infection of common sense. In the process, she whips up more jingoism (if you can imagine squeezing any more into the UK) by claiming the EU isn’t going to play nice with us. REALLY!

Following the French victory of common sense and hope over creeping, craven cowardice, none of this now matters. (Thank heavens I didn’t have to re-draft this post following news of the results) Britain and America have placed themselves firmly on the margins of the sensible collaborative forward-facing world. Both are saved from immediate irrelevance only by their unhealthily credit-based monster-consumerism and their military. The main difference is that as soon as Trump is out of office or has his overdue choking fit on a bolus of un-chewed meat or is impeached – America may crawl its slow painful way back to integrity. Britain’s situation is not so reversible.

So, what does May’s strong stable stance mean? Rigid and intransigent or delusional, as Jean Claude Juncker stated?

It sounds as if May is surprised that negotiations will be tough. Like Trump was surprised that sorting healthcare for a nation was complicated.
NB - Jonathan Guber, MIT Economics Professor and architect of Obama’s Affordable Care Act, referencing the way millions of vulnerable Americans are to be thrown off healthcare to fund a gigantic tax cut to the wealthiest, called Trump’s new healthcare bill “The largest pure redistribution from poor to rich…in one bill” the US has ever seen (MSNBC interview with Rachel Maddow May 4th 2017).

But back to UK stupidity…
Theresa May seems surprised that the remaining 27 countries in the EU do not want to serve her tea, cake and whatever else she wants. Many of the electorate – especially those that voted to leave – also seem to be surprised that Britain’s foot stamping is not working as they whip themselves into faux-imperialist fervour. Meanwhile, the imminent threats to all human life - military escalation and environmental decimation - are somewhere below what’s-on-the-telly in terms of them giving a shit. So here I am in my alternative universe – as usual – and I don’t get their don’t-getting – any more than I understand the Remainers who think this is still reversible... (See blog 207 Brexit means Brexit or my letter in The Guardian 5th February 2017)

If that blog post didn’t make it clear – try this doodle.

What did May think was going to happen? What did Boris Johnson, Fascist Farage and the Leave-without-a-plan camp think was going to happen? 

Macron refers to Brexit as a “crime”. It truly is a crime against common sense, the future, and the young and hopeful.

Like I said a couple of blogs ago – to hear Theresa May spout about what she’s going to negotiate from the EU (with her SS leadership) you would think she was pitching to get Britain IN to the EU not OUT.

Recently USA Today reported the Orca whale, Lulu, washed up dead on the coast of the Scottish island of Tiree after being caught in a fishing net. Aberdeen University researchers noted it was the most polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) polluted carcass they have ever examined. Maybe that’s it - our environment is now so polluted that our brains are poisoned and no one is thinking straight – certainly not here – certainly not in the US where the Environmental Protection Agency is run by someone who was a cheerleader for Fracking and doesn’t believe the planet is in danger (see blog 220)

Guy Verhofstadt – Europe’s Brexit negotiator - is a Macron fan and sees him reforming the EU, a role David Cameron should have assumed rather than allowing Farage and Johnson to dance us drunkenly into the storm while their privilege protects them from any consequences.

On a much more positive and fun note – this weekend is the start of the week-long, huge annual book sale / festival here in Edinburgh raising funds for Christian Aid. Oodles of books of all genres will be on sale at bargain prices. I’ll be doing an author slot on Wed 17th May 1pm with readings from my adult novels, children’s adventure books and my own dystopian novella Zero One Zero Two plus comedy poetry and live Q&A.
If you think the thing that really matters is having a planet humans can live on, get my sci fi dystopian novella Zero One Zero Two

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

233. BT ignoring your customer complaints? Just do a doodle.

Demoralised and dehumanised by your monster corporate utility monolith? Try posting a cartoon and they will be right on to you.

A cartoon, even an amateur doodle will – it seems – get you attention from a megalodon company that otherwise treats its customers like a necessary irritation.

A few weeks ago – I posted an old cartoon about crap BT customer care. It was in response to news earlier this year that British Telecom – provider (or NOT) of public broadband for the government - were in more corporate mess because of being crap (I’m paraphrasing). Lo and behold my ex telephone suppliers wrote to me. And I’d not heard from them since I sued them for customer harassment; half a decade ago.

Following an initial problem caused by BT engineering in 2009, I entered into a formal customer dispute with BT in 2012. For 12 months, instead of responding fully to my concerns, BT sent multiple threatening letters and a conveyor belt of debt collectors. The debt collectors changed every time I wrote to the latest one explaining why I was ‘in dispute’ with BT! It was a horrible, stressful year. Eventually I’d feel slightly sick every time an envelope dropped through the letterbox.

They failed to engage, in particular, over a single engineering fee of £99 that we did not agree on. Fortunately I am now with another provider and though I’ve had to call them out twice in three years, I’ve never been charged.

I thought BT would run out of debt collecting firms but they did not. So, in the end I sued them for customer harassment. It didn’t go great. For example – the dweeb judge was bemused that I – a black single parent on a very low income living in a tiny ex-council house - did not experience the same sparkly, wonderful, marvellous service that he – a white male judge presumably living somewhere more up-market- always got from BT. Ya don’t say. 

NB If you wish to try this – do not do your online claim application while you are a. upset and b. on a time limit on a library computer. Despite my claim being accepted as viable – in court, the judge decided the whole application was invalid because, while I had cited the relevant legislation in my statement, it had not, as I thought, been included in the original online form.

There was, however, no further communication from BT following my issuing of the case in autumn 2012 so the delightfully vague terms in their letter “a while ago” and “in the past” actually mean half a decade.

But then I posted one of my old satirical doodles, featuring BT a few weeks ago in my cartoon collection and the BT monster stirred. I only hope their current crop of disgruntled customers with no broadband despite very expensive government contracts, are getting as much dedicated time and attention as I am.

Yes – after a gap of half a decade I received that letter last month from managing director of Customer Care, Libby Barr. For the record, the little shyster responsible for my year of hell was actually – Warren Buckley. By sheer coincidence, BT just happened, it seems, to have dug up that old file after 5 years and “sold” my debt to a shiny, fresh new debt firm. And I’ll tell Lowell debt collectors, if they do get in touch, the same as I told the others. If I ever get a response to my actual question this may get sorted. But well done BT for finding a debt collector they haven’t already worn out.

Ultimately you have to hand it to BT. Rather than discuss a disputed engineering bill with a very long standing customer (about 25 years); a reliable, regularly paying customer - they cut me off even though I was a single parent living alone with an asthmatic child. Then, they sent multiple threatening letters. Then they pursued me with debt company after debt company after debt company after debt company etc. Instead of taking a last chance to open dialogue, they responded to my online small claims case against them with a rainforest of legal paperwork – that you’d have been better weighing than reading. Then – half a decade later – after I put out an amateur cartoon on a modestly read blog – they stir into action like a fat, arthritic, drooling hyena.

 So if you can’t get their attention – do a doodle and may I suggest we heartily celebrate the BT company advertising slogan -


UPDATE Sept 26th 1017
I waited to see if the new debt collecting firm engaged by BT would get tired of sending monthly duplicate letters. They did not, so a couple of weeks ago I sent them a cease and desist or I’ll sue you letter and have received now a full written apology (19th Sept) and confirmation that I will not be hearing from them again. To be fair – they also say they bought the ‘debt’ in good faith from BT. Dealing with BT ‘in good faith’ seems to be not a great idea…