Category Archives: Politics

Let Your Body do the Talking?

The morning outside is gloomy and damp, and I am enjoying my morning cuppa.

I have just finished setting up my new bank account.

Having been with my previous bank for 36 years, I thought that it was time for a change, especially as my old bank had consistently ripped me off over decades. Some of my money has been returned with a successful PPI claim, and now I am £175.00 better off, having switched my personal current account (Thanks Martin Lewis’s Money Saving Expert!) and have kicked the holder of the sign of the black horse out of my life. Now I just have one more account to move…

Happy Days.

So, there I was, on the phone setting up my new account, when the automated system requested whether I would like to set up voice recognition to ease access to my account.

I accepted, as I know that my voiceprint is as unique to me as my fingerprints, or my facial biometric data.

It then struck me how much of my unique personal data is in the hands and care of a commercial organisation.

This got me thinking.

I have an E-Passport, which contains all of my facial biometric data. I access some of my personal electronic devices with my thumb print, or, in the case of my new phone, through facial recognition and a pin number.

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This in itself is a little spooky, but at least the choice is mine to make.

I accept that Her Majesty’s Government will assume a full duty of care if they release my data, but with commercial organisations, maybe based overseas that may be more difficult to assume.

Since the development of Facial Recognition in the mid 1969s, it has become much more prevalent, and is found all over the world, including Great Britain.

China is now using facial recognition to constantly monitor its citizens, and the collected and identifiable data is being used to prosecute individuals for even minor misdemeanours such as Jay walking[1]. This allows “behavioural scoring” and may be used to grade and rank citizens on their perceived support of the government.

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Luckily, or not, depending on your persuasion, facial recognition does have a weakness. It requires capturing a clear image of a face before the system’s algorithms can plot the data, and compare it with images held in its database.

This weakness is being exploited. In Japan, a university has designed a pair of anti-facial-recognition glasses[2], which, when worn, emit a sea of Infra-Red light over the wearer’s face. This disrupts image capture, and results in the camera only “seeing” a blurred image.

There is also a mask available which is designed with multi-faceted angles and patterns that disrupt the received image, again, leading to blurred images.

If you thought that the potential for a dystopian disaster ended with facial recognition technology, there is more over the horizon.

As artificial intelligence develops, we may see an integration of facial recognition with emotion recognition technology, laying wide open an interpretation of our deepest innermost workings.

Currently Emotional Recognition technology is in its infancy, and there is as yet little evidence that shows a reliable and consistent interpretation of the emotional state of an individual, but this will change as AI develops further.

So – if we cover our faces, or wear IR spectacles, we will be able to fool the cameras, and go about our daily business without the state, or, other more sinister organisations tracking our every move and emotion.

Sadly, the answer is no.

Please welcome Gait Recognition Technology!

Gait recognition is another unique human characteristic. The way we walk, hold our body, and our profile and posture are as individual as a fingerprint – and it doesn’t need to capture a facial image.

Anyone like to guess where this technology is being developed?

Whoever muttered “China”, take an extra 10 points.

Yes, a Chinese start-up called Watrix has already developed a system that can identify an individual from up to 50m (165 feet) away, regardless of whether they are facing the camera.

According to the company, the system can’t even be fooled by an individual adopting a limp, walking with splayed feet, or deliberately hunching or distorting their body as they walk.

This is made possible because the system analyses multiple features from all over an individual’s body.

Currently, due to system limitations, real-time gait analysis and confirmation of an individual’s identity is not possible.

Gait analysis requires video footage of the target, which allows the analytical software to process and store the individual’s way of walking.

Currently, video footage has to be uploaded into the system, and then analysed, a process that takes about 10 minutes to assess 60 minutes of video.

In due course, the processing requirements will improve to the point that real-time identification is possible.

According to Watrix, the system has a 94.1% accuracy rating, which is quite acceptable for commercial use.

No doubt this will also improve.

Meanwhile, governments in many societies are realising the dangers of uncontrolled use of personal data.

The EU has recently banned the use of facial recognition for three to five years to enable an assessment of the impacts of this technology and possible risk management measures that could be identified and developed[3]

In the USA, larger cities, and even states are banning the use of Facial Recognition.

San Francisco banned it in May 2019, and later in 2019, Oakland followed suit, as did Somerville in Massachusetts, with Portland Oregon likely to follow suit.

But despite the EU-wide moratorium on the use of this technology, (and the fact that we are still, until 31st January a member of the EU) the Metropolitan Police have gone ahead with a project to use Facial Recognition.

It appears that under the EU/UK’s data protection law, GDPR, it forbids facial recognition by private companies “in a surveillance context without member states actively legislating an exemption into the law using their powers to derogate.”

It’s interesting to see that the system being used by London’s Met Police is subcontracted out to NEC, which, as far as I am aware is not only a private company, but also a foreign one.

Obviously, there are pros and cons to having some form of surveillance, and some sacrifices have to be made to ensure the safety and security of the public, but is this a bridge to far?

Only you can decide…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.met.police.uk/live-facial-recognition-trial/

https://sciencebusiness.net/news/eu-makes-move-ban-use-facial-recognition-systems

 

[1] The Atlantic – Editorial Article

[2] The Daily Mail – Anti Facial Recognition Glasses Article

[3] Science Business – EU to ban Facial Recognition

Tyres – The Invisible Ecological Menace

We have all heard almost to the point of frustration about climate change, pollution and how bad cars powered by fossil fuels are.

We are all exhorted to consider using an electric vehicle, or a hybrid so as to cut our carbon footprint, and stop climate change.

Obviously, all of this is deserving of support, and climate change is a very real threat, as is the increase in health problems as a result of the toxic gases in vehicle exhausts.

However, there is a sinister, yet little-publicised threat which may prove to be even more injurious to health and the marine environment, even if it has little impact on greenhouse gases and climate change.

Tyres.

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Yes, you did read correctly. Tyres are in the top ten of nasty pollutants that contaminate the world with micro-particles.

Tyres. Those innocuous black things attached to the wheel rims of your car, van, motorcycle, truck or bus.

We all know that tyres wear out – as we all have to buy them now and again, if we are to stay safe and legal.

So, what happens to the worn bits of tyre?  Well, they are eroded by the road surface and are released as micro-fibres, particulates that are fine enough to form as a dust on the road surface.

Subsequently, rain water washes these microfibres into the drains and sewage systems, where they ultimately make their way into the maritime environment – yes, rivers, lakes, reservoirs and oceans.

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Much publicity is generated around single use plastics in the oceans, but little publicity is around related to this almost invisible pollution.

Some of the particles are small enough and light enough to be dragged up off the road surface by the aerodynamic wake of passing vehicles, and may be suspended for periods of time, allowing them to be blown by the wind over quite large distances.

It is estimated that annually 68,000 tonnes of microplastics are generated by tyre tread erosion in the UK alone, with 7,000 to 19,000 tonnes entering the surface water system[1]. Research is currently being undertaken in the UK to deepen our understanding of the migration of tyre generated microparticles into the maritime environment.[2]

It may not be common knowledge but tyres are not constructed from pure natural rubber, but consist of 60-70% synthetic rubber – made with our old friends, the hydrocarbons, so the emitted micro-particles are not readily biodegradable.

Unfortunately, the qualities that makes tyres suitable, such as good grip, good braking qualities, and good car handling qualities rely on the tyre gripping the road surface through friction.

Friction between the road surface and the tyre tread actually causes the erosion of the rubber, and leads to the problem. The interaction also erodes the road surface, and any road marking paint on it too – but that’s another story!

Tyre particles vary in size and composition, so it would challenge even Agatha Christie’s Poirot to identify and track how these particles behave, and where they go once they have been shed.

Such particles will be dispersed widely around roads and byways, drifted by winds and the effects of vehicle aerodynamics, washed into various drains, culverts and waterways by rain.

Once in the water system the particles will exhibit different levels of buoyancy, and some will float onwards into estuaries and ultimately into oceans, and others will sink to the bottom and become part of the estuary sediment.

It is estimated that up to 10% of tyre wear particulate matter is released as airborne particles, which will settle over land masses, thus polluting them too.

What can we, the driving public do to minimise the effects of this?

Firstly, we can modify our driving behaviour to reduce the loads that our tyres are under.

We can make efforts to accelerate and decelerate gently and progressively, we can make sure the tyres are correctly inflated and remove un-necessary loads from the vehicle. This would help.

We could operate a smaller vehicle with a smaller engine and a lower mass.

This is a pipe dream, and we all know it. Unless governments intervene to legally force the use of smaller vehicles, we won’t trade our “Executive Urban Assault Vehicles” to sit in a minicar capable of reaching only 60 miles an hour with a following wind!

On my daily commute to work, I pass Farnborough Airport. This is the home to many ecologically-unfriendly executive private jet aircraft. The main A road that passes adjacent to it has recently had a new 50 mph speed limit imposed upon it, reduced from its previous 70 mph limit.

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It seems that the local council are keen to reduce emissions in the local area!

Regardless of this, vehicles still charge past me doing well excess of the new limit, and the police don’t seem to be enforcing the new limit.

Maybe we should drive less distances?  Maybe we should alter our fundamental mind set to become more locally focused, and adopty a new philosophy of not commuting longer distances?

I don’t think human nature is going to fix this particular problem.

It appears that the main thrust of the ecological argument is to initiate a societal shift from driving hydro-carbon powered vehicles to electrically powered cars.

However, this only addresses a part of the problem. Even if there is a global adoption of battery driven vehicles, the problems associated with the pneumatic tyre remain.

Until we have mastered an alternative to the conventional tyre we are still in trouble.

The auto industry faces a parallel challenge. What do we use as an alternative to the conventional vehicle tyre?

Answers on a postcard please…

 

[1] Friends of the Earth Report “Reducing Household Contributions to Marine Plastic Pollution 11/2018

[2] UK Government Funding for Research into Tyre Tread Erosion and Pollution

 

Elderly Drivers – Good or Bad – I Hope To End Up As One! (Or – Are They Safe?)

I parked the car, nonchalantly locking it with the keyfob, as I do every evening when I return from work.

It was a blustery, rainy late afternoon, and my journey home a relative nightmare. All of the major routes west of Heathrow Airport were in chaos. It seems that the average Brit is breathtakingly incompetent in wet conditions, despite bemoaning that its always raining here.

Either driving lunatically fast, or crawling along far too slowly, the result is multiple accidents, and long holdups. The delays were only made marginally tolerable by listening to the radio.

I decided that the solution to my grumpy mood was to pull my bicycle out of the. garage, and cycle the mile and a half to my alternate refuge, the Passfield Club.

It was only five past five when I arrived, and the place was almost deserted.

I ordered a pint of Fossil Fuel, and went at sat at a table at the far end of the room.

I was thinking about driving. Despite my journey, I knew that I was fortunate to be in a position to drive.

I have held a full licence since February 1977, almost 43 years. The car and motorcycle have become an intrinsic part of my life, and as a relatively fit man, I rarely think of the time when I too will have to hang up my car keys for the final time.

Before that time, I may have to downgrade my vehicle from the small SUV that I drive to a smaller vehicle. Maybe electric?  Who knows.

I recall hearing somewhere that many older people bought an automatic car after maybe decades of driving a manual gearbox car, and subsequently had an accident as a result of confusion over the foot pedals and their location.

 

Also, that older drivers were as dangerous as the young due to their worsening driving abilities.

I wondered if this really was an issue, so I decided to do some research, and here is what I discovered.

According to AXA Insurance’s Technical Director David Williams[1] drivers may face rises in insurance premiums as a result higher compensation claims being awarded following vehicle collisions and accidents.

The two age groups that will be affected most by this will be younger drivers in the 17-24 age group, and those over 75.

That surprised me a little.

Further digging revealed that there are an estimated 2.7 million drivers under the age of 25. Of that figure, 1.3 million are under 22. Combined, these groups make up about 7% of all UK drivers.

Drivers aged 17 -19 represent 1.5% of the driver population, yet they are involved in 9% of all fatal accidents in which they are the driver! Altogether, the under 25 age group are responsible for 85% of all serious injury accidents.

So where does this leave the older driver.

Bizarrely, a quick check of the stats[2] instantly confirms that drivers in the 17-24 category have a very high accident rate comparatively speaking, with 1,912 collisions per billion vehicle miles (CPBVM) travelled. The accident rate then progressively reduces as age increases, reaching its lowest point between the ages of 66 – 70 dropping to just 367 accidents CPBVM.

So, I am, in theory, becoming statistically less likely to have an accident, due to my relentless march into decrepitude.

The accident rate rises slightly thereafter, but peaks to its highest for the 81 – 85 age group – at a massive 2,168 CPBVM.

So, in overall terms, from age 60 to 70, not a bad record.

Some of the reduction may well be inked to the fact that older drivers travel less than other adults, with about half the average mileage covered.

 

Demographically, the older population is forecast to expand and the number of people aged over 65 in the EU is predicted to double between 2010 and 2050.

Now a quick look at the science.

Aging brings with it several inescapable changes, including sensory, psychomotor and cognitive reductions – failing eyesight and hearing, slowing reactions, and slower and impaired judgement.

The higher reported fatality rate for older drivers is due to increasing frailty leading to death in a collision that would have potentially only injured a much younger driver.

Current UK legislation requires that driving licences are renewed when an individual reaches 70, and are valid for three years before requiring to be renewed again. This is a sensible approach.

When combined with requirements placed on medical practitioners to advise the UK Driver Vehicle Licencing Agency of any medical condition which would require the revocation of a driver’s licence.

But us oldies are fighting back!

It would appear from several studies that there is an almost compensatory mechanism at work, and older drivers are good at making sensible adjustments to their driving, and adapt their driving to reduce their exposure to higher risk driving conditions.

Many will stop driving at night, or will adjust the times of day or the days of week on which they travel.

Now – back to my original thoughts.

As an individual with no formalised forensic vehicle accident training, I accepted at face value the statement that elderly drivers should not drive cars with an automatic gearbox.

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Surprisingly, my research seems to indicate the opposite, and a number of reports actually suggest that older drivers should use an automatic car.

In fact, a Dutch study was conducted by the University of Groningen using a professional driving simulator. The research placed young and older drivers in both an automatic transmission car and a car with a manual gearbox. The subjects were then required to drive several routes, including rural roads, rural roads with random varied intersections and finally a route that necessitated joining a busy motorway, overtaking vehicles and then exiting safely at a junction.

The results were interesting, in that the older drivers performed better in an automatic gearbox car than a manual.

This is possibly because the time lag induced by the age-diminished psycho-motor skills to both brake and shift down the gearbox simultaneously impaired driver performance. This was discussed as far back as 2002[3], where research suggested that older drivers should, in fact switch to driving an automatic car.

Interestingly, even the younger drivers in the sample also performed better when driving an automatic.

I accept that there needs to be a safe transition period, so maybe when drivers get to 65, when they are statistically at their safest, they should change to an automatic car, so that they have a few years to adapt to the differences, so that they may benefit from the additional levels of safety that a car with an automatic gearbox provides.

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So, in six years, I will get my electric car, which will not only be cleaner in terms of emissions, but may even help me to stay alive a bit longer!

Mark Charlwood© January 2020

[1] Article Click4Reg April 2017

[2] Older Car Drivers Road Safety Factsheet (2016 data) Published May 2018

 

[3] Warshawsky-Livine & Shinar (2002)

Is the Spirit of Flower Power still alive?

Lounging on the sagging brown leather sofa in the Petersfield branch of Costa Coffee, I take a swig of my coffee.  Not my normal velvety creamy latte, but a black coffee. Dark and with no sweetener. Not anywhere near as satisfying, but under my new weight loss regime, essential.

A middle-aged woman walked briskly past the window, a stark contrast to the overcast day; bright floral trousers, baby-pink quilted jacket, a lurid multi coloured beanie hat, and electric blue plastic clogs.

Her flamboyant outfit sent my mind rocketing back 4 decades, to the mid 1960s.

The summer of 1967 was sunny and warm. I was eight years old, and loving my school holidays. To my boyish eyes, all of the local women were fabulously gorgeous, and there was an excitable buzz everywhere.

In the USA, the Summer of Love was happening, with over 100,000 young hippies assembling in Haight-Ashbury, a San Francisco suburb, preaching peace, happiness, self-determination, and rebellion against repression and materialism.

These flower children were hopeful and idealistic, as we all are when we are young, and want to see change.

I started to ponder things. The hippie dream was one of love and peace, with multi-ethnic communes striving to live with minimum impact on the environment – an ethos that was strong in 1967. I wondered how much of that dream has survived the intervening 52 years?

The hippie motto of “turn on, tune in and drop out” was a rallying call to disengage from contemporary middle-class values and materialism, and concentrate on expanding the mind – albeit propped up with the use of Psychedelic drugs and living in harmony – not just with each other but with the environment.

Pop culture drove some of this, with icons such as the Beatles promoting eastern religious teachings, and whilst vegetarianism had always been an option, it never had the wide promotion and uptake that it enjoyed with the hippie generation.

Hippies were generally aligned to “Make Love not War” and many thousands protested at the US’s involvement in the Vietnam war, including two demonstrations in London, leading to a number of injuries caused during confrontations with the Police.

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The Hippie counter-culture was influenced by a number of global events. In January of 1968, Alexander Dubček, the First Secretary of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party introduced a series of reforms intended to give more democratic freedom and civil rights to its citizens. By August of 1968, the Soviet Union aided by other Warsaw Pact countries invaded and ruthlessly supressed the “Prague Spring.”

At about the same time, in Vietnam, the Tet Offensive began, leading to the US military commander General Westmoreland announcing that the Viet Cong could only be defeated by drafting another 200,000 men, and activating the reserves.

This not only unsettled middle-class America, but also further affected the Hippie psyche. Draft-dodging became recognised as acceptable conduct amongst the disaffected young; In my part of the globe, England, I well remember the protests in London, and seeing in later years the student riots in France, as the idealist young rebelled against the old world order.

The increasing public awareness that there could be a better way led to the normalisation of the emergent ecologic movement, and that man should go back to living in harmony with the planet.

Music of the time reflected the changing values. Donovan sang “Universal Soldier” as a protest about the Vietnam War. Barry McGuire released “Eve of Destruction” as a protest against the broken civil rights system, war, the worsening situation in the Middle East and the assassination of John F Kennedy.

At the time, this angry protest was deemed so inflammatory that several radio stations in the USA banned it, as did Radio Scotland. Even dear old Auntie Beeb placed it on a restricted playlist, meaning that it couldn’t be broadcast on general entertainment shows.

So, what of the Hippie dream now?

Well, it may not exist in quite the same form, but be under no illusions, there are still plenty of idealistic people out there.

Greenpeace still upholds ecological ideals and frequently protests robustly.  More recently in the UK we have seen Extinction Rebellion protesting against the lack of state action on the climate emergency.

Highly organised and connected via social media they advocate peaceful protest against inaction by the government.

Their website suggests that protests should be occupying relevant and significant buildings, chanting at meetings, and gluing themselves to doors and infrastructure. Not quite so radical as French students setting cars ablaze, but still quite effective.

I think that pretty much everyone has heard of Greta Thunberg, the schoolgirl who protested climate change outside the Swedish parliament every Friday. Now an internationally recognised figure, and a speaker at global climate change conferences, she has captured the younger generation’s consciousness and has catalysed a global movement.

In the UK in 2019, School and University students called a strike to highlight climate change, as did youth from across the globe, from Australia to India, and the USA to Sweden. The events were co-ordinated using social media under the banner of Fridays for Future.

However, there are other equally able and motivated young people here in the UK, who don’t appear to be as well known.

Take, for example, Bella Lack. She is now 17 and has been an activist against climate change. She has over 150,000 followers on social media, and as a result of her activities, she is Youth Ambassador for the Born Free Foundation, The RSPCA, The Save the Asian Elephant and The Ivory Alliance.

Amy and Ella Meek, sisters who formed Kids Against Plastic, an organisation that is dedicated to reducing single use plastics, and educating young people in the environmental issues facing us, and highlighting the fact that young people have a voice, and can make a difference.

I believe that the Hippie Dream is still alive and kicking. Its face may have changed, but its spirit lives on in the likes of Greta, Amy, Ella and Bella.

These are the new Hippies – caring, thoughtful, and motivated to make the world a better place for all of us.

Maybe their music isn’t as good as that churned out in the 60s Summer of Love, and maybe we don’t have Woodstock or Flower Power…

 

Perhaps we should…

 

Mark Charlwood© 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is the Carrot Wagging the Horse?

It’s a cold, brisk, yet crystal clear Saturday morning, as I sit here in Costa, with my habitual Java in my hand. I have been people watching for a relaxing half hour, just chilling out, and enjoying the weekend. 
The tidal ebb and flow of pedestrians on East Grinstead’s London Road pass before the window, snuggled against the cold in thick jackets and scarves. However, in the main, they appear happy, probably due to the azure blue skies, sunshine and the lack of any sort of wind. 
I have been idly reviewing the week of newsworthy items, and I spotted an article that was definitely worthy of my consideration and subsequent fact-based ridicule. 
It seems that the UK’s population of Vegans and Vegetarians have got their delicate knickers in a twist over the discovery that minute traces of tallow have been used by the Royal Mint in the production of the UK’s new polymer five pound notes. 
Amidst the electronic squawkings in the twittersphere, it seems that a petition was raised to have the Bank of England change the manufacturing process of the notes. Predictably, the Bank of England is now “Looking into alternatives”
Now, let me try and put this into perspective.
The current working population (16 – 64 years old) of the United Kingdom is 38 million according to the Office of National Statistics. A page on the National Health Service website states that there are around 1.2 million vegetarians in the UK – about 3.5% of the adult working population. (www.nhs.uk) and less than 1% of that population are Vegan.
A quick tap on the calculator shows that the vegan population is estimated as a staggering 380,000,  
The petition managed to gather 120,000 signatures, enough to be considered for parliamentary debate – but this tiny figure represents just 31% of the vegan population if considered in isolation, or 0.1% of the total vegetarian population.
Pardon me if I come across as being just a little incredulous here. But Really? Truly? 0.003% of the adult people within the UK can trigger such a furore over a matter largely unimportant for the vast majority of people, and subsequently for a major institution to commit a sudden volte-face on the issue. 
I wonder how much this will cost the UK government? Any project changed mid course and without warning will incur costs, and these costs will be recovered from the taxation of working people. 
Whilst I am generally very respectful of the opinions of others, and having three or four vegetarian friends for whom I have cooked meals, this is, quite frankly, ludicrous.
Engage Grumpy Old Git Mode….
I am now looking forward to seeing the next Vegan/Veggie revolts on other highly contentious issues such as banning Beer and Wine due to the brewers use of Isinglass – a clearing agent made from fish bladders. Naturally, they will all enjoy the new alcohol free world in which they will live. Or maybe pay far more for beer and wine cleared with synthetic (and possibly much more dangerous to health) substances.  
Those Vegan ladies will have to stop using a great majority of perfumes due to the addition of Castoreum used in the manufacturing process. (Interestingly, castoreum is obtained from the Beaver’s castor sac).
Many plastic items, including supermarket carrier bags, and bicycle tyres use stearic acid in the production process. It is used as a “Slip agent” to prevent plastics sticking together, hence its use in banknote manufacturing. 
No Vegan Parents will be able to have soft and cosy laundry, because fabric conditioners contain dihydrogenated tallow dimethyl ammonium chloride in them, in order soften the fabric’s fibres. This product is obtained from the rendered fat from cattle, horses and other livestock.
No more sugar either in their brave new world, as most sugars that have been refined use bone char during refining. Bone char is the residue collected from the ashes of burnt animal carcasses. 
Protected Lovemaking? Well, that’s out too… condoms are made from latex, together with casein a product extracted from animal milk. This product is used to lubricate the condom.  
Oh no! More bad news for Vegan women. No more nail varnish ladies. This is made with Guanine, known commercially as “Pearl Essence”. In reality it’s made from fish scales, and is one of the four base components of RNA and DNA, the building blocks of life.
Crayons have animal fats in them as well, and whilst thinking of children, let’s consider confectionery. Red coloured food products are tinted using the crushed bodies of the Cochineal Beetle. Glazed chocolate confectionery uses an edible shellac known as “Confectioners Glaze”. In reality, it’s extracted from female Lac Insects. 
Breakfast will never be the same again in Vegan households, as a number of Orange Juice suppliers are adding Omega Three fatty oils to their products. Omega three is extracted from fish. This is a relatively new thing, and is known as “Nutraceuticals”, the addition of products essential to well being into food. 
I shall never eat another bagel again either, as researching for this article revealed that a product called L-Cysteine is used in their production. This product is manufactured from bird feathers and human and pig hair. Yuk!
Toothpaste contains Glycerine another animal product.
The list is almost endless. 
Man has been involved in animal husbandry, farming and cultivation for thousands of years. Homo Sapiens are biologically optimised to operate on a mixed diet, hence the provision of teeth such as incisors and canines to enable the cutting and ripping of flesh, and molars for the grinding of pretty much everything consumed. Stereoscopic vision enables man to be an effective hunter of lesser life forms. 
Naturally, man has also evolved philosophically and culturally, and many now consider the taking of animal life for sustenance as unacceptable, conveniently overlooking the fact the vegetation is also living matter. 
Everyone can make their own choices in terms of their ethics. If you don’t want to eat meat, that’s fine. If you make that as an ethical decision rather than a dietary one, then you should also stop wearing leather, stop riding a bike, driving a car, in fact doing most things that are an intrinsic part of living in the 21st century. 
I do have some sympathy with the protestors. Regardless of the minute amounts of animal product being used, individuals are effectively being forced by the state to handle something which they find offensive and over which they have absolutely no choice. 
In due course, I guess the fiver will become so devalued it will eventually become a coin, in the same way that the old pound note did. This will stop the whinging, unless of course, a way is found to make base metal out of old cat pelts.
So, at the end of the day, in our topsy-turvey world, the process of society is being driven by a loud, vocal, and possibly ill -informed minority, and political correctness means that fewer people feel able to turn round and say “Suck it up Cup Cake”. 

Education And Aiports – Are we Losing the Plot?

Grumpy – And With Good Reason!

It may be because I am getting older, and therefore less tolerant of the idiocy of others, or it may be that other people really are becoming more cretinous and idiotic.
To prove my point, let me share some thoughts with you.
A few weekends ago, I had to make a short train journey to meet up with some family members for a genteel lunch, at a beautiful quiet country pub, nestled snugly in the Surrey countryside, in a fold of the peaceful and wealthy Surrey Hills.
In order to enjoy my journey to its fullest extent, I made a quick excursion into the pleasant little town of Haselmere, where I was to catch the train.  I left myself time to take a gentle stroll into the quintessentially English High Street where Costa Coffee is located, so I could buy my usual Skinny Wet Latte with an extra shot.  

Meandering back to the station, I popped into W H Smiths and bought a paper to pass the time.

Standing on the sun dappled platform, I began to peruse the news of the day.  Amidst all of the hysteria about the forthcoming General Election, and the sad stories relating to the earthquake in Nepal, I found some cause for an element of grumpiness, which cheered me up considerably.
It seems that London’s Goldsmith College have banned Caucasian men from attending an “Anti Racism” event, because according to the “Diversity Officer,”  in order to attend you have to belong to the BME. It appears that the BME, far from being some supremacist group, stands for “Black Ethnic Minority”. 
Mind you, there is good news here as well, because the event also positively welcomed those who are “non-binary”. 
You could be forgiven for thinking this was some form of computer phobia, or an inability to count in base ten.  
I was a little amused to discover that those amongst us who are “Non Binary” do not know what sex they are.
Is it not somewhat ironic, that an event that is intended to break down barriers, and stop people discriminating against others based on racial background should fall into the trap of banning others from attending because they come from a different racial heritage.
You couldn’t make it up could you?
I did have to chuckle at the next article, concerning yet another bastion of the British Education system –  this time Queens University in Belfast.  Why has such a respected seat of learning become the target of my grumpiness (albeit mirthful grumpiness)?
Well, the scholarly leaders have decided to ban a conference on Free Speech, Self-Censorship and the Charlie Hebdo killings.

Who employs these people?  Are they specially selected for being stupid, so as to make the scholars feel clever?

So, it was with a mood of cheerful grumpiness that I met up with my family, and enjoyed an excellent lunch, with good company and good food.
Having to a certain extent, forgotten the previous evidence that modern educationalists are sillier than primary school children, I awoke the following morning early, as I had to take a trip to London to attend a business meeting.
Driving to the station, I grabbed a coffee, and picked up a Metro free newspaper at the station entrance.
Skimming through it, – amongst the latest daily doses of pre election hyperbole and more sad stories of the earthquakes and avalanches around Everest I spotted what I was subconsciously looking for…..my morning fix of idiocy to fuel my impish inner self.
Now, I work in the aviation industry, and have done for the best part of my working life, having previously served as a security officer, VIP services manager, an aircraft cleaner, a passenger services executive, and have been flight crew.  I have been exposed to much witless behaviour on many occasions from both passengers and colleagues, but I did draw a sharp intake of breath at the story published.
It seems that a little boy, of four years old was travelling through East Midlands Airport with his family, who were flying out to Lanzarote for their holiday.
All would have been well, but for the four year old carrying a plastic toy gun. It was promptly confiscated by airport security staff because “it posed a security risk”. A spokeswoman for the airport apparently said “No items may pass through security that resemble a prohibited item”
Having seen a Nerf gun in a photograph, it’s quite difficult to see what part of a bright yellow and orange plastic toy could cause anyone but a certifiable lunatic, (or maybe a user of psychotropic drugs) or someone of less than normal eyesight and common sense to mistake it for a real weapon.
Are these people actually recruited for their simplistic interpretation of a regulation that is obviously designed to stop people wandering round the departures lounge with replica AK-47s and similar.  
Mind you, a few years ago I  personally witnessed another situation whilst passing through to airside as a passenger.  The lady in front of me was asked to cover up her tee shirt….it was camouflaged and had an image of a Hand Grenade on it.  
She was justifiably irritated, but was told that the image could be distressing to other passengers.
We live in a very strange world these days, where reality is skewed to accommodate flawed thinking, and four year old children can’t take their favourite toy with them on holiday.
Welcome to brave new world.
Discuss! 
Mark Charlwood © 2015.  Mark Charlwood holds the intellectual property rights associated with this article. Please contact me if you wish to use it, or quote from it.

Welsh Rugby Fans want to sing “Why Why Why, Delilah”

I was just settled down in my local Costa Coffee last week, my favourite Skinny Wet Latte with an extra shot in my hand, and the Daily Mail (thoughtfully provided by Costa) on the table.

I browsed through the major news stories, which all seemed so boringly predictable, and was about to shove the paper back in the rack when another, more interesting article caught my eye.

Upon reading the story, it became apparent that a “Senior Politician”, in this case, Mr Dafydd Iwan, the former president of the Welsh Nationalist Party Plaid Cymru, has objected to the Tom Jones hit ballad “Delilah” being sung before Welsh Rugby Matches.

I stifled my laughter, as there were other customers nearby, and I didn’t want to be regarded as weird, even although some may say I am.

What nonsense!

It seems that the noble politician has got his knickers in a twist because he regards the song as offensive, because it “is about murder, and it trivialises the murder of women”

Well, I can see his point – to a certain extent. Not, however, to the extent that I believe it should be banned.

For pity’s sake! It’s a song! A very well written song, as evidenced by being awarded the Ivor Novello award for the “Best song musically and lyrically” in 1968. It was so good that it reached Number 2 in the UK top ten in the same year.

Now, using the same sort of skewed logic that our Mr Iwan uses, maybe we should stop singing “God Save the Queen” as this may be construed as sexist, elitist, and theologically unbalanced. Jingoistic, and appealing to the might of empire to obtain wealth and status.

Or maybe we should ban the genteel ladies of the Women’s Institute from opening their meetings with the wonderful Hymn “Jerusalem”. After all, it is condoning violence, “Bring me my bow, of burning gold, bring me my arrows of desire, bring me my spear, oh clouds unfold, bring me my chariot of fire”.

The next verse implores the middle aged ladies to wage what amounts to a religious war, with quotes like “Nor shall my sword, sleep in my hand, till we have built Jerusalem, in England’s green and pleasant land”

Maybe Liverpool City football fans should be prevented from singing You’ll never walk alone” as it could be suggesting that it’s encouraging stalkers to follow fans.

What about Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls”. This is an anthem in praise of the larger lady, but if Mr Iwan and his ilk have their way, it will be suggested that this trivialises and marginalises the chunkier ladies. – better ban it as we can’t have that sort of suggestiveness!

Rod Stewart will certainly be banned, due to his chart topper Maggie May….in the dreary, dark, PC world that Mr Iwan wants us all to inhabit, this lyrical wistful ballad will be consigned to the Naughty Step, relating as it does, to the seduction of a schoolboy by a mature woman. In his world, this no doubt trivialises such actions.

The rest of us are mature enough to understand that the lyrics are merely a light hearted reflection on the types of adolescent fantasies that most schoolboys (myself included) have about older women.

Dean Martin – well, Little Ole Wine Drinker Me will be scuppered, as this obviously mocks the very real problems of alcoholism, and marginalises the needs and requirements of the alcoholic.
Nursery Rhymes shouldn’t be exempt either, most of which have lyrics that are of questionable integrity.

Jack and Jill famous for decades due to their hill climbing abilities? Banned! Why? Because it condones child labour. Fancy making little kids climb a steep hill to collect water. They obviously haven’t been adequately trained, and a proper risk assessment doesn’t seem to have been conducted. Furthermore, they weren’t wearing any form of protective clothing, or using the correct equipment for manually handling heavy buckets.

Ding Dong Bell doesn’t do well either. Think about it. “Ding dong bell. Pussy’s in the well, who put her in, Little Tommy Flynn”

Sounds like it’s trivialising the abuse of animals doesn’t it?

I could go on, and maybe research even more songs that should be banned using the flawed logic of Mr Iwan.

Ultimately, it’s all too silly for words. So, the lyrics of Delilah tell the story of a man pushed too far. It’s no worse than watching a modern police series, or, dare I say it, a contemporary soap series. You can see it happening for real every night on the TV news.

It’s a great song Mr Iwan. It’s a wonderful powerful stirring ballad that is sung by one of your countrymen, a man with a great voice. It’s been adopted by the Welsh Rugby fans because it is FUN to sing along as a big crowd, and Tom Jones is a true Welsh icon.

Quite unlike Mr Iwan, who I’m sure will sink into obscurity long before Delilah stops being sung by us ordinary, cheerful adults who are able to discriminate between political comment, and a good song.

Discuss….

If Music Be the Food Of Love, Play on…

I was just settled down in my local Costa Coffee last week, my favourite Skinny Wet Latte with an extra shot in my hand, and the Daily Mail (thoughtfully provided by Costa) on the table.

I browsed through the major news stories, which all seemed so boringly predictable, and was about to shove the paper back in the rack when another, more interesting article caught my eye.

Upon reading the story, it became apparent that a “Senior Politician”, in this case, Mr Dafydd Iwan, the former president of the Welsh Nationalist Party Plaid Cymru, has objected to the Tom Jones hit ballad “Delilah” being sung before Welsh Rugby Matches.

I stifled my laughter, as there were other customers nearby, and I didn’t want to be regarded as weird, even although some may say I am.

What nonsense!

It seems that the noble politician has got his knickers in a twist because he regards the song inappropriate, as it “is about murder, and it trivialises the murder of women”

Well, I can see his point – to a certain extent. Not, however, to the extent that I believe it should be banned.

For pity’s sake! It’s a song! A very well written song, as evidenced by being awarded the Ivor Novello award for the “Best song musically and lyrically” in 1968. It was so good that it reached Number 2 in the UK top ten in the same year.

Now, using the same sort of skewed logic that our Mr Iwan uses, maybe we should stop singing “God Save the Queen” as this may be construed as sexist, elitist, and theologically unbalanced. Jingoistic, and appealing to the might of empire to obtain wealth and status.

Or maybe we should ban the genteel ladies of the Women’s Institute from opening their meetings with the wonderful Hymn “Jerusalem”. After all, it is condoning violence, “Bring me my bow, of burning gold, bring me my arrows of desire, bring me my spear, oh clouds unfold, bring me my chariot of fire”.

The next verse implores the middle aged ladies to wage what amounts to a religious war, with quotes like “Nor shall my sword, sleep in my hand, till we have built Jerusalem, in England’s green and pleasant land”

Maybe Liverpool City football fans should be prevented from singing You’ll never walk alone” as it could be suggesting that it’s encouraging stalkers to follow fans.

What about Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls”. This is an anthem in praise of the larger lady, but if Mr Iwan and his ilk have their way, it will be suggested that this trivialises and marginalises the chunkier ladies. – better ban it as we can’t have that sort of suggestiveness!

Rod Stewart will certainly be banned, due to his chart topper Maggie May….in the dreary, dark, PC world that Mr Iwan wants us all to inhabit, this lyrical wistful ballad will be consigned to the Naughty Step, relating as it does, to the seduction of a schoolboy by a mature woman. In his world, this no doubt trivialises such actions.

The rest of us are mature enough to understand that the lyrics are merely a light hearted reflection on the types of adolescent fantasies that most schoolboys (myself included) have about older women.

Dean Martin – well, Little Ole Wine Drinker Me will be scuppered, as this obviously mocks the very real problems of alcoholism, and marginalises the needs and requirements of the alcoholic.

Nursery Rhymes shouldn’t be exempt either, most of which have lyrics that are of questionable integrity.

Jack and Jill famous for decades due to their hill climbing abilities? Banned! Why? Because it condones child labour. Fancy making little kids climb a steep hill to collect water. They obviously haven’t been adequately trained, and a proper risk assessment doesn’t seem to have been conducted. Furthermore, they weren’t wearing any form of protective clothing, or using the correct equipment for manually handling heavy buckets.

Ding Dong Bell doesn’t do well either. Think about it. “Ding dong bell. Pussy’s in the well, who put her in, Little Tommy Flynn”

Sounds like it’s trivialising the abuse of animals doesn’t it?

I could go on, and maybe research even more songs that should be banned using the flawed logic of Mr Iwan.

Ultimately, it’s all too silly for words. So, the lyrics of Delilah tell the story of a man pushed too far. It’s no worse than watching a modern police series, or, dare I say it, a contemporary soap series. You can see it happening for real every night on the TV news.

It’s a great song Mr Iwan. It’s a wonderful powerful stirring ballad that is sung by one of your countrymen, a man with a great voice. It’s been adopted by the Welsh Rugby fans because it is FUN to sing along as a big crowd, and Tom Jones is a true Welsh icon.

Quite unlike Mr Iwan, who I’m sure will sink into obscurity long before Delilah stops being sung by us ordinary, cheerful adults who are able to discriminate between political comment, and a good song.

Discuss….