Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The greatest threat ever (since the last one)

Now/more than a decade ago is/was a good time to panic, because we live/lived in uniquely terrifying times:
"Why now?", people ask. I agree that I cannot say that this month or next, even this year or next, Saddam will use his weapons. But I can say that if the international community, having made the call for disarmament, now, at this moment, at the point of decision, shrugs its shoulders and walks away, he will draw the conclusion that dictators faced with a weakening will always draw: that the international community will talk but not act, will use diplomacy but not force. We know, again from our history, that diplomacy not backed by the threat of force has never worked with dictators and never will.

If we take this course and if we refuse to implement the will of the international community, Saddam will carry on, his efforts will intensify, his confidence will grow and, at some point in a future not too distant, the threat will turn into reality. The threat therefore is not imagined. The history of Saddam and weapons of mass destruction is not American or British propaganda. The history and the present threat are real.
Tony Blair, September 2002
What we’re facing in Iraq now with Isil is a greater and deeper threat to our security than we have known before.

In Afghanistan the Taliban were prepared to play host to al-Qaeda. With Isil we are facing a terrorist organisation not being hosted in the country but seeking to establish and then violently expand its own terrorist state.

We could be facing a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean bordering a Nato State.

We are in the middle of a generational struggle against a poisonous and extremist ideology that I believe we will be fighting for years if not decades.
David Cameron, end of August 2014

The endless note of urgency reminds me of those never-ending sales out-of-town furniture stores used to keep having. 'Hurry! Crazy bargains! Get your new existential threat while stocks last!'

If there's anything real behind the current rhetorical panic, it probably has more to do with the Ukip* insurgency than the Isil one. After all, finding a respectable-sounding excuse for getting tough on scary foreigners/non-white Brits might be Dave from PR's last best hope for plausibly ingratiating himself with the restive 'kipper-leaning wing of his party.

But maybe some things have changed in a slightly ironic direction. Where the ostensibly liberal-left Tony Blair looked embarrassingly hungry for the approval of his new best friend, George W, Tory Dave might not actually care about how much he's impressing right-wing Americans right now, so long as he can get Mr Angry of Clacton back on side.

*From now on I'll have to type "Ukip", rather than "UKIP", as the former spelling apparently offends some of the party's more paranoid supporters. Since choosing not to offend people would clearly be political correctness gone mad, which as any fool angry Ukip voter knows, is a contemptible form of tyranny, I am therefore obliged to uphold my freeborn birthright by being as casually offensive as possible, whenever possible. Nothing personal, you understand.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Cold calling update

I blogged about The Cold Call Elimination Team a while back. It's an outfit that makes telephone cold calls, then paradoxically tries to sell the callee an almost useless electronic gizmo which purports to block telephone cold calls (called "Call Blocker Pro"), along with an alleged listing on a suspect-sounding unregulated register of people who'd prefer not be cold called by telephone salespeople (without mentioning that a perfectly legitimate, regulated, free register called the Telephone Preference Service exists)?

Turns out they're every bit as dodgy as they sound.

I've just witnessed The Cold Call Elimination Team in action for myself. They rang an elderly person and took a debit card payment in return for their useless gadget n' listing combo. Family members then alerted the victim to the existence of the free Telephone Preference Service and to the fact that signing up with The Cold Call Elimination Team is almost certainly a complete waste of money. The victim, who had no idea what to do with the electronic doohickey anyway, returned it with a note saying that it was too difficult to operate, and asked for a refund.

A less dedicated team of shysters would have simply ignored the request for a refund and hoped the complainer would eventually give up. But the enterprising scumbags at the Cold Call Elimination Team decided to go the extra mile.

Having retained the victim's debit card details, they decided to offer some unsolicited "help" by "upgrading" the victim to their "platinum" service, which is the same widget-plus-listing deal as before, except that "platinum" customers get a "pre-programed" Call Blocker Pro device. They seem to have used the retained debit card details to charge the victim an additional eighty-odd quid for the "upgrade" (although merchants can't legally retain the 3 digit security number on the back of a debit card, which would have been needed to process the new transaction), before sending out a confirmation letter with a new, "pre-programmed" Call Blocker Pro.

On the further advice of family members, the victim has now told the Cold Call Elimination Team that a refund, not an upgrade, was clearly requested. The Cold Call Elimination Team have promised to process a refund (at least of the "upgrade"), although, at the time of writing, the victim's bank account still needs checking to make sure that the refund is forthcoming.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

What sorcery is this?

I've not had very much hair for well over twenty years, so this counts as a very minor dilemma, but what's left is now starting to be peppered with grey. Is now the time for a budget mid-life crisis,* in the form of a trip to the chemist to buy a bottle of Grecian 2000?

This stuff's been advertised for as long as I can remember. If it really does what it says on the tin bottle, it's a truly amazing elixir - it supposedly removes as much grey as you want, works for any colour hair, makes your hair look 'thicker and healthier' and lets you control how much grey you lose, gradually. As I tend to work on the assumption that 'if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,' I remain to be convinced.

It's common knowledge, even among the most haircare-unaware males that women reach an age when they are presented with a choice - to colour or not to colour. After this stage, those who decide to colour spend a great deal of time and money on various dyes and treatments intended to either match their (former) natural shade, or to produce an unnatural, but hopefully flattering, colour. Why would they go to all this trouble and expense when a 125 ml bottle of Lady Grecian 2000** could restore locks of any colour to their former glory at a price point of around ten quid?

And how the hell can this stuff work on any hair colour, selectively touching up the grey hairs to match the non-faded ones? According to the blurb:
Grecian has the unique ability to replace lost melanin with a similar acting pigment. Different hair colours are the result of different amounts of melanin, nature's colouring protein.
Still sounds like witchcraft to me.

On balance, even if vanity doesn't drive me to try this on my remaining hair, curiosity compels me to find out more about this alleged wonder tonic and the puzzle of why so many more apparently expensive treatments continue to exist, after the invention of a seemingly effective and low-cost way of retaining your natural hair colour.

But once I've found out, the honourable course would probably be to go with the Mary Beard solution and say to hell with the primping and faffing about that the gormless, image-obsessed, immaculately-coiffured, dress-to-impress, photoshopped, Facebook-image-curated part of our relentlessly self-promoting culture demands and decide to be more interested in the amazing ideas inside peoples' heads than in the fluff on the outside. Her dignified refusal to be held to an arbitrary and unrealistic standard of grooming when she's got far more interesting things to think about should make her feminist icon, to be sure, but should also be an inspiration to anyone of either sex who's more interested in content than surface.

Grecian 2000 may or may not be a real tonic, but Mary Beard's the real deal and no mistake.

*Technically, if this is my mid-life crisis, I can expect to receive the traditional droid-couriered congratulatory holo-greeting sent to all centenarians, from old King William/middle-aged King George, in the senior life-support pod where what's left of me will be residing in the spring of 2063.

**Is there any functional difference between male and female melanin, or is this simply another piece of pointless gendered branding, like pink scooters for little girls and blue ones for boy tots?

Friday, 29 August 2014

So not part of the establishment

Apparently, the political establishment has been thrown into a state of panic, now that some back bench MP known only to party political anoraks has defected to a party which isn't yet represented by a single member of parliament. Something called Dods' political biography calls Douglas Carswell 'Tall and Eurosceptic ... one of his [now ex-] party's radical thinkers.'

Yes, two of the three most interesting things they can find to mention about Ukip's great white hope are his height and the fact that he's a "radical" (about the most meaningless term in the contemporary political lexicon), so we can safely ignore him for ever and turn our attention from the monkey to the organ grinder, one Stuart Wheeler, the millionaire Ukip donor who's recently been 'wining and dining' lots of innocent Tory MPs before finally seducing Carswell in his puce-upholstered boudoir. Here's an extract from a 2011 portrait by Matthew Bell in the Independent:
Charming and witty, he is one of those embarrassed Old Etonians. He dines at White's, he's good at bridge ("I'm about the two- or three-thousandth best player in England"), and he divides his time between Mayfair and Chilham Castle, a Jacobean jewel in Kent that he bought nine years ago...

...How he came to be sitting in a multi-million pound penthouse beneath a portrait of Margaret Thatcher, which he bought for over £250,000, is an extraordinary story. Born to a 42-year-old spinster in 1935, she gave birth in secret and immediately put him up for adoption. He was brought up by an American banking heir, Alexander Wheeler, and his wife Betty Gibbons, the daughter of a baronet...

...Wheeler's public life only really began, as he knew it would, with that £5m donation [to the Conservative Party, around the turn of the century] After Eton, he did national service in the Welsh Guards before reading law at Oxford, working as a barrister and a merchant banker before setting up IG in 1974. Politics became his hobby in 2000, when he was introduced to William Hague at a dinner at White's and, impressed by the young leader, made a donation of £15,000.
So there's the driving force behind your grass-roots, anti-establishment political earthquake. As per Owen Jones 'It says all too much about the narrowing of democracy that those presented as outsiders are the establishment in undiluted form.'

Thursday, 31 July 2014

More on hippy kippers

A quick afterthought on the apparently incongruous conjunction between UKIP's fan base (which I'd previously imagined as a collection of buttoned-up, angry squares) and the Glastonbury New Age scene. Maybe it's not so strange after all. Here's a wee snippet from the web site of Colleen Tucker, student of the Ageless Wisdom, Angelic Jedi Reiki Master, Teacher, Shaman, Soul Midwife and UKIP county treasurer:
The Archangels themselves have also inspired the development of a range of Angelic Mist Sprays. These beautiful sprays are liquid light technology tools for raising vibrations and clearing negativity.
If you trusted gut feelings and anecdote more than evidence, you might buy this product. How might a person who trusts gut feelings and anecdote more than evidence vote? As they say on popular e-commerce sites, "Customers who bought this item also bought the last UKIP manifesto."

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

UKIP - now working with Angelic Beings of Light

I could have thought of plenty of phrases to describe Ukip, but 'a bunch of hippies' wasn't one which immediately sprang to mind - until now:
Ms Tucker, who is county treasurer for Ukip, describes herself as an "angelic reiki master, soul midwife and shaman" and says she works with the Archangel Michael. She is based at the Angelic Guidance and Healing Centre in Glastonbury.

Mr Tucker, a prominent Ukip member, runs master level angelic reiki workshops.
Steven Morris in The Graun

Andy McSmith in the Indy has more details:
On their website, Colleen Tucker describes herself as an “Angelic Reiki Master Teacher, Shaman and Soul Midwife” and one of a group of practitioners who work alongside “Angels, Ascended Masters and Galactic Beings” on healing and expansion of consciousness. “About six years ago, Archangel Michael made himself known to me, and I’ve been working with him and the Angelic Realms since then,” she claims. 
The local Ukip branch chairman, an old skool Kipper by the name of Graham Livings, is not amused. 'I was a founder member of Ukip down here but what happens when a party grows you get infiltration into the membership. The Glastonbury occult crowd have moved in.' he complains, 'They are oddballs putting on these weekend retreats where they guarantee the angels will be present, and the public can be very wary of that sort of thing.'

I'm not quite as surprised as Mr Livings to find that Ukip turns out to be full of oddballs, although I must admit that I didn't expect them to be oddballs with crystals and joss sticks.