One Rant at a Time

Whatever heaves into view........better keep its head down.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Squatters' rights?

I read in today's papers that deputy prime minister John Prescott is not the only minister that's held onto his grace and favour residence despite losing (most of) his job. Apparently former foreign secretary Jack Straw was allowed by Tony Blair to keep using the ministerial country house at Chevening.

Chevening is, according to the article, a 17th century mansion surrounded by a 3,500 acre estate, that is the official residence of British foreign secretaries.

Now Jack Straw ain't the foreign secretary no more. In fact he's gone back to being a comon backbench MP. But he gets to keep the keys to Chevening.

John Prescott is barely the deputy prime minister any more, but he too gets to keep the keys to the DPM's residence, Dorneywood.

Remember that former Home Secretary David Blunkett was allowed to continue living at the Home Secretary's official residence long after he'd resigned, while another former foreign secretary, Robin Cook did much the same.

So what is it about official residences that makes Labour ministers so reluctant to leave them after they've been booted out of office? Could it be the fact that they live there rent-free? Could it be that they're a damn sight grander than the poor chaps' own homes? Yes! Are they actually raging snobs?

And what about the tax angle? Since they're not actually employed as the minister any more, do these guys have to pay tax for receiving a benefit in kind? Hmm?

Makes you wonder how hard they're going to be to evict when Labour lose an election and they can't even call themselves the governing party any more.

Using a paving slab to swat a fly

I refer you back to this post from a few weeks ago. Yesterday, a regiment of police descended on Parliament Square and carted off the ramshackle protest village assembled by Brian Haw, "including bedding, clothes and a treasured Bible."

Haw himself was not carted off to jail, but was allowed to remain with a much smaller protest, pending an appearance in court in a week to answer charges of "breaching conditions to demonstrate in the square." Never mind that he was there long before the law was even a twinkle in Blair's eye.

So a peaceful protest that has gone on since 2001 has been decimated because, as I said before, "Tony Blair can't stand the fact that some people don't agree with him about some things." There's nothing remotely threatening about Brian Haw's protest, as evidenced by the fact that he's been there for five years without getting pulled in by the police.

What the new terrorism laws lack in their application is a sense of perspective and of basic common sense. And the fact that 50 police officers have to swoop down and dismantle one man's shelter and a few placards amply demonstrates that lack of perspective.

I'll be visiting Brian Haw's gaff this weekend to shake his hand and thank him for doing my civic duty.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Of roadblocks and racism

This post by The Corporal over at Curbed Enthusiasm made me think.

From what I understand, there's some little unpleasantness going on between the native population and the immigrants, that is, the ones whose ancestors weren't born in Canada. Which is fine. I don't know enough about the ins and outs of the argument (something to do with roadblocks and racism).

Corp puts it like this: "The Native spokesperson said "any inconvenience the aboriginal blockade may have caused area residents is negligible, compared to the hundreds of years of abuse and neglect experienced by Six Nations members." (How about the last 30 years of you guys getting whatever the hell you want, while we pay your way. You use the healthcare, roads, and social programs that you don't pay for. You get all the hunting and fishing you want."

At which point my glasses started to mist up a little.

See, here's the problem. Corp says the native Canadians should be happy with their lot, with having been hounded, chased, massacred, shoved, abused, ripped off and finally bought off with a parcel of blasted earth so far north that the Pole's closer than the federal capital. "Neglect" doesn't even begin to cover it.

At exactly which point in history did the native Canadians (or native Americans, for that matter) give up their dominion over the land they inhabited? Never. Who signed the deal giving up control? Nobody, that's who. They were hoodwinked systematically into allowing the immigrant population to share their space, take over, and finally run them off their own land.

Government-supported enterprise slowly ate then up and spewed them out. And now the immigrants are growing fat off the land, digging it up for minerals, oil and whatever else they can extract. And who gets the royalties from every barrel of oil or every cubic meter of natural gas the oil companies extract? You can bet your bottom (Canadian) dollar it isn't the native population.

Hell, if I were them I'd be ticked off, and I might go a little further than the odd roadblock, too. I'm not sure that 30 years of free healthcare covers the damages.

Here's the irony. Much of the early settlement of Canada was carried out by dispossessed Scots, who had been unceremoniously kicked off their land by the Earl of Sutherland and other landowers in what became known as the Highland Clearances, after the landowners decided that their land would be more productive if they used it to raise sheep.

Now, I'd hate to think that any people that came out of Great Britain were ever involved in what was effectively a forerunner of "lebensraum" (cf. Nazi Germany), but between the Americans with their native population, the Canadians with theirs, the Australians with theirs and the Earl of Sutherland with his, it makes you think.....

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Nimbys and how to eliminate them

Let me introduce you to the Nimbies. Mr & Mrs Nimby live out in the great green sward that rolls up north from London, dotted with small villages and towns that house the millions who toil in the great financial sweatshops of London. Mr Nimby made a decent pile in Thatcher's 1980s flogging something, while Mrs Nimby raised the family spawn. All well and good.

Now Mr Nimby is a bit overheated these days. He's heard that some power company wants to put up a whacking great windfarm not three miles from his house - great big ugly propeller things that will blight the landscape and decimate the value of his property. He's penned a stiff letter to the Times, he's attended the county council's planning meeting where he heckled and harrumphed on demand, and now he's looking about him for yet more reasons why a wind farm can't possibly be put up nearby.

Sadly, it looks like it's my job to educate the poor sap.

Mr Nimby (and everyone else who takes your line on this issue): we have simply no choice in this matter. I'm not going to rant on about glonbal warming except to say that scientists (and even most politicians) agree that it's happening, and in a short while things will have heated up to the point where the climate change becomes irreversible. So we need to use less power, and what power we do use needs to come from renewable sources that don't create carbon dioxide. Okay?

Now, you object to that wind farm; you say it's ugly, and it spoils an area of outstanding natural beauty. Tough. Your car's ugly too. And that great big gas boiler that you run 24/7 so that there's always hot water to wash it with. So is the fact that you leave every electric appliance in the house on all the time, even if it's on stand-by. So is the fact that when your mobile phone is charged and you slip it into your pocket, you don't disconnect the charger. If everyone in the country decided to unplug the damn things, we could shut down a couple of power stations immediately.

You're a bird-watcher, you say? And the great big propeller is going to kill untold numbers of birds? Well, I'll do a deal with you. The day you and your twitcher friends turn up to the blind on bicycles instead of SUVs, having ridden all the way from your homes, THEN we'll stop the propeller. Deal?

You say the windfarm's going to lower property values in the area nearby? Sorry, there's nothing we can do about the property market, except to try and ensure there still is one in a hundred years' time. And you know, some people think those great big turbines are beautiful. Have you ever seen a real, working windfarm? They're fantastic things, graceful, elegant and even a little humbling.

You say it's expensive? That the power company's going to have to rip up the countryside to run new cables? Of course it is. How do you think the power gets from A to B? But in a cojple of years' time, when the cables are laid, the landscape will look just as good as it did before.

Now, Mr Nimby's son is a surfer. He's ridden the Severn Bore a couple of times, and he's deeply pissed off that someone's planning to build a barrier across the Severn Estuary to harness the tide for some clean energy. His environmentalist friends are saying that the barrier will irreversibly alter the ecology of the estuary. Which to me sounds a little like a horse/stable door interface. Like the ecology hasn't been altered already?

You know, if we're going to do the things that we have to in order to develop more green sources of power, we're going to have to change the way we think and live. And a few things that we've taken for granted -- popping down the shops in our car for a pint of milk, surfing the Severn Bore, that lovely view on the horizon -- are going to have to take second place to the fact that changes are already happening elsewhere.

Mr Nimby, I'd like you to meet Jean-Luc. He owns a ski chalet in Andermatt in Switzerland, slap bang in front of a glacier that is melting at the rate of 1% a year. Now, Jean-Luc here doesn't have any choice in whether he does something about global warming, because global warming is doing something about him already. In a few years, skiing will be history except for those few than can afford a helicopter to the summit. And Jean-Luc will be out of a living.

I won't bother introducing you to the fisherman from the Maldives whose island home is getting smaller every year, or the polar bears in Canada who are running out of ice, and who are having litters of just one cub rather than the usual two or even three. Or anyone from the city of New Orleans...

It's (more than) high time we all stopped thinking with our wallets and started using our brains again.