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Why Britain does not need to join the Euro. Whether or not to join the Euro is the biggest political decision facing this country right now and the effects of the decision will be to decide waht direction Britain develops in for decades to come. Despite this, the government desperately wishes to close down debate on this topic because it is too cowardly to admit that it wants to abolish the pound. One result of this is that the debate is conducted at the fringes of politics, with most centre ground politicians in all parties preferring to mouth platitudes about how great the NHS is than talk about this subject. Unfortunately this in turn means that the Euro debate gets conducted by the loony extremes - for instance people who bang on about the Second World War . This fits the Government's plans nicely, as when the time comes and they reckon they can win a referendum on the single currency by presenting themselves as ever as the voice of reason and common sense. Unfortunately for the 'Dear Leader', there is a case against joining the Euro that is not based on comparing continental leaders to Napoleon or Hitler, that doesn't involve flag waving or jingoism. It is based upon simple economic facts and it kills the case for monetary union stonbe dead. The fact is that the Euro is a threat to the economic well being of the UK. If the UK were part of the Euro our interest rates would be set by the European Central Bank (ECB) rather than the Bank of England. This may not sound like a big deal but it is becasue the ECB has to set one interest rate for the whole EU economy. That means that if much of the EU was in a recession but the UK was booming, interest rates would be too low and visa versa. This might not seem very likely, but it is in fact certain to happen since the UK economy moves in step with the US economy rather than the Eurozone. In fact this situation is already happening in the Republic of Ireland (whose economy c
losely mirrors the UK economy instead of the Eurozone) where an inflationary boom is taking place. The government of Ireland cannot raise interest rates to stop this boom, so it was ordered to increase taxes by the ECB. This gives the lie to people who maintain that the Euro does not mean European control over domestic issues such as taxes. The second argument against the Euro concerns the issue of fiscal transfers. This is how an economy balances itself to avoid (over time) onre part of the economy being weak and another part strong. Within a country this happens all the time for instance Scotland has far more public money spent on it than it contributes in taxes because it is poorer than England, the poorer states in the US get more Federal Govt spending. This is essential to regulating a single economy. Therefore if the Euro is to stabilise fiscal transfers from the richer parts of Europe to the poorer ones are required. This will at first not be noticable since it will involve extra aid to Greece and Spain, but in about ten to fifteen years time a pensions bombshell is going to explode under the continental economy. Put bluntly, the rest of Europe has not provided for its old age. State pensions on the continent are higher than in this country but are entirely funded through taxation. With an aging population this will mean that continental pensions will collapse or taxation will rocket. This in itself will damage the European economy, which will harm the UK, whether we are in or out of the Euro. However, if we were in the Euro it would be much worse, because Britain is the only European country not to be in this mess. The UK has more money in private pension funds than *the rest of the EU put together*. In other words, the UK has more money invested in its pensions than an area with a population and economy of a comparable size to the United States. This means that if we are in the Euro when the pensions bombshell goes off, massive fiscal tra
nsfers will be required from the UK to the rest of the EU to bail them out. The third argument against joining the Euro is that it will cost a fortune to do so. Independent accountants have calculated that the cost of a conversion to the UK will be about £30 bn pounds - that's almost as much money as is spent on the NHS. The benefits to businesses which would no longer have to pay foreign exchange costs thanks to the Euro would amount to about 0.1% of GDP - about a billion pounds per year. In other words it will take 30 years for the main benefit of being in the Euro to break even with the cost of joining. The case against joining the Euro, in purely economic terms is incredibly strong. The pro-Euro lobby have to resort to scare tactics like suggesting that millions of jobs depend upon trade with Europe and that therefore we shoul join the Euro. This argument is worthless since we will continue to trade with Europe whether we are in the Euro or out of it. Equally worthless is the 'strong pound' argument. This is that somehow outside of the Euro Sterling has become this vastly overvalued currency that is damaging British Industry. The fact is that Sterling is actually at a 10 year *low* against every currency except the Euro. It is the Euro that is weak, and us joining the Euro would merely lock the current undervaluation of the European currency against Sterling into stone. The fact is that however much the pro-Euro lobby dress the Euro up as an economic issue it remains purely a political project to create a single economy and ultimately a single country. You see if they were truly concerned about exchange rate costs they would not be suggesting the creation of the European Single Currency, they would be advocating the creation of a World Single Currency. The problem for them there is that there already is a World Currency. Its printed on green paper and says 'In God we Trust' on it. There is no nee
d for the Euro, the costs of the Euro far outweigh its benefits and the risks involved are huge. Britain has the fourth largest economy in the world. We can afford to survive outside the Euro. It would be madness to do anything else.
The Helliconia Trilogy of books by Brian Aldiss consists of Helliconia Spring, Helliconia Summer and Helliconia Winter. They are set on an earthlike planet, called Helliconia which differs from the earth in only two crucial respects. First instead of orbiting one star, Helliconia orbits two. It revolves around Batalix, its cold primary star once in a period slightly more than one earth year. Batalix in turn orbits around a second star, Freyr, which is a blue supergiant once every 1825 years. This orbit is highly elliptical, bringing Batalix and Helliconia close to Freyr for some of the orbit and very distant for other parts of it. Since Batalix is cool, when the system is distant from Freyr Helliconia endures a dark, cold Great Winter, during which the whole planet is snowbound for centuries. At the opposite extreme, the highpoint of summer turns the planet into a scorhing furnace. The second difference to earth is that the planet is inhabited by humans and a second species - the Phagors, which are furry goat like creatures, who thrive in the cold. The effect of the climate is to set the history of the planet into a neverending cycle of rise and fall, dominance and enslavement. For example, during the darkest years of the great winter, human civilisation is all but wiped out and the Phagors enslave most of mankind. During the high summer this is reversed and the Phagors are docile slaves of man. Ironically it is this enslavement that ensures the other race survives through its darkest hour and rises again. Each of the books is set at a different time in one great year. The first is set during the period where the great winter comes to an end and the planet wakes up. At the same time humanity is starting to rise from barbarity once again. As the snows recede, humans rediscover skills and knowledge long forgotten and start to regain mastery of the planet. The second book is set during the great summer, where humainity dominates t
he planet and the winter is a dimly remembered myth. The third book takes place as the winter begins to close in again, human civilisation is failing and the phagors are on the rise once more. It covers humanity's attempts to resist the inevitable. These are grand topics, yet the trilogy of books covers them through the eyes of various protagonists, from all levels of society. These are not novels about politics and intrigue but about how individuals cope with their circumstances however good or bad and the decisions they make. The stories blend together at a variety of levels, I don't want to go into much detail for fear of giving parts of the plot away, but the end result is that the books are more than just a Science Fiction story. These are books about the nature of humanity, on an epic scale. I can't really think of anything to say against these books, other than if you are looking for a quick and simple read this is not the work for you. I am just starting to re-read the books for a third time and enjoying them as much as or indeed more than when I have read them before.
My wife and I recently travelled to the United States on United. We flew from Heathrow to Chicago and on from there to Kansas City. On the outbound leg, the service was excellent and the flightcrew incredibly helpful and friendly. The seats were cheap and so I was pleasantly surprised. Indeed I was expecting to be writing a glowing report on their conduct. You can of course sense a 'but' coming. The return journey was one of the most unpleasant flights I have ever had to put up with. To start with we were delayed for several hours in Kansas City. This was not such a problem as we were told that if we missed our connection we would be put on the same flight the next day, and put up in a hotel overnight. Since we had allowed for an extra day of holiday just in case this happened we werenot bothered by this at all. Indeed, we were quite happy. However, when we got to Chicago United's computer had changed its mind and we were instead moved onto the late evening flight. This was a flight we had specifically avoided as it was a 747 and therefore had not had Economy Plus seats added (which we were originally booked in). The 747s also do not have seat back videos. It would not have been so bad had the flight not been 100% full (it was obviously overbooked, which meant that instead of bumping us (which we wouldn't have minded) the booking system was telling the staff to bump people who had originally booked this particular flight!) However, all of this is trivial compared with the conduct of the cabin crew on our 100% full 747 (not a pretty sight). All were bad tempered, but one in particular was the rudest and most obnoxious airline employee I have ever encountered. I don't want to go into details but his conduct was so appalling that we felt we had to write to United after our journey to complain. We haven't had a reply yet, of course, sio I think it is rather unlikely that I will be flying Unit
ed again. I guess that all airlines within a certain class are pretty much the same until something goes wrong. It is at that point that one sees how good they really are. I think in future I will stick with BA - you pay more, but you know what you are going to get: a decent service. UPDATE: We have now heard back from United, who have given us vouchers worth half the cost of our original tickets. We therefore will probably give them another chance. When and if that happens I will let you know how they did.
So, now the dust has settled, the streets have been cleaned up and the lawyers have started to pick over the events of May Day to make a fast buck (how ironic that “principled” revolutionary trots are so attracted by the lure of capitalism’s most successful protector of consumer rights: the no win no fee attorney). In order to form an opinion one needs to think about what exactly happened the other day? In my opinion it was the following: 1. A load of lefties had a big protest about a whole range of problems that they think are the fault of Western Capitalism. 2. A large minority of these lefties were out to cause trouble and smash up private property. 3. The police outsmarted them and beat a few of them up. I personally think that the most important issue to deal with here is the first one, but since that is the most complex I will cover the other two first. In a free society like the capitalist west you have the right to protest. That is an absolute in my opinion. Your right to protest, however, ends at the point that you start throwing things at people or vandalising property. It is that simple. The rules that govern a civilised society require that you are prevented from using violence against me or my property – that is the primary reason to have a state in the first place: to create a secure environment for people to go about their lives normally and as they wish. If you break those rules, then I am afraid that you can’t come crying to me that ‘the nasty policeman’ broke your arm. The police operation the other day was a huge success – at a low cost it prevented vast amounts of damage being done. Violent types were contained and arrested and the appalling scenes of last year were not repeated. I really couldn’t care less if a few lefties got beaten up. The bigger issue, however, is what the lefties were doing there in the first place. What was it that they were p
rotesting about? What is their grievance? As far as I can tell it is as follows: That the capitalist system is against freedom, that it makes people poorer and that money is in some way ‘bad’. As a red blooded, Tory, Tweed-wearing, Capitalist I have to answer these charges, as I feel that the agenda of this debate is being set by the ignorant deadlocked lefties. The first charge, that capitalism is against freedom, is the easiest to refute. After all, I invite some of the protestors to go to Eastern Europe and tell the people there that they were much freer when they had a nice communist government in place telling them what to think, say and do. They would get short shrift if they did. In a capitalist system, freedom is paramount. It is people’s freedom to buy land, the goods they want (and have the choice between a variety of products) and their ability to decide where to invest their money that drives the capitalist system. Corporations do not care whether you are black or white, left or right, rich or poor. They simply want to sell you their services – and you have the freedom to decide whether you want to buy them or not. By all means rebel against branding by buying your shoes from Tesco rather than Nike, but you have no right to stop me from making a different decision. It is the anti-capitalists who are against freedom, because like all lefties they operate on the assumption that they know best and they want to stop you doing things they disapprove of. The next allegation is that the capitalist system has made people poorer and that nasty corporations are exploiting the world. They ignore a few important facts such as: the world is getting richer. There is a smaller percentage of people starving today than at any time in human history – it isn’t governments that have achieved that and it isn’t charities. It is business. There is more than enough food in the world today to feed everyone, it just isn&
#8217;t evenly distributed, but trade is steadily improving the situation, ironing out localised surpluses and shortages the world over. Capitalism doesn’t kill people: it feeds them. This argument also often involves the tree huggers who believe that efficient farming is bad. They don’t put it that way of course, but once again, these are people who think they know best. Damn it, no they will not have Third World countries moving from subsistence agriculture because in their opinion subsistence and back breaking toil is good for the people of the Third World, and they don’t care what the people of the Third World have to say on the matter. Similarly, they oppose GM foods because they think they are dangerous. A defensible position to hold, I guess, except that the environmentalists don’t even want science to research GM foods. They do not want people to even find out if they are dangerous or a potential panacea, for goodness sake! The mediaeval church was more open to new ideas than this bunch of freaks. The final plank of the lefties argument is that money is in some way bad. This is plain ridiculous. Some people do good things with their money, others do bad. It is not money that is evil. Companies that make a profit are not making a profit because they are forcing people to buy their product. They are profitable because they provide a good/service that people want. If they do not provide a good/service, which people want, they fail. The opportunity to benefit from your own abilities drives innovation and consumer choice. To the lefties it is probably wasteful that you can buy dozens of makes and hundreds of models of cars, but it means that we have better cars. So, in summary, the leftist cause that resulted in the May Day Riots / Protests is based on illogical thinking and an overwhelming desire to tell people what to do. (There simply isn’t the space here to investigate what prompts this urge in lefties
). In my opinion, they are wrong, and I have explained why I believe this. They are welcome to make their own clothes and not wash, but they have no right to make me do the same and I have absolutely no wish to do so. That is the freedom and choice that you get from living in a capitalist society.
The Oxford Times is a weekly newspaper covering the local news in Oxfordshire. It is owned by the same company as the Oxford Mail, and therefore tends to cover the same stories as that daily paper, but it is a broadsheet, and consequently its stories are a little more in depth and there are bigger supplements. The quality of the newspaper is pretty high, and it reports most important Oxfordshire stories. It has been published since the middle of the 19th Century, so has something of a traditional standard to keep up, which it does. The paper costs 50 pence, which is good value. It has an extensive news section, a letters page and a lengthy sports section. Local papers have an important role in providing the community glue that holds regions together, something that is particularly important in areas like Oxfordshire which are rapidly becoming full of sleeper towns, in which you are more likely to meet your neighbour in Tesco than in the street. The Oxford Times fulfils this role through being the place to put notices and private announcements. It does not betray this trust by being party political. The editorial policy is clearly non-partisan, and will condemn or applaud councillors’ / MPs’ behaviour according to its merit and not which party the person responsible is a member of. Each week there are two property pull outs, a classified/jobs supplement and a weekend / features section. There is also a monthly magazine. The property pullouts cover all kinds of houses from affordable first homes to million pound north Oxford mansions. Given that Oxfordshire is the fifth richest part of the country, yet still has many people earning a lot less than average, getting this balance right is important! The jobs section is the place to advertise jobs in the county – if you are looking for work, you need to buy the Oxford Times – again the balance of jobs advertised is a mix from domestic cleaning to executive jobs. There are also pag
es of car adverts – something that I can’t elaborate on, as I have not made use of them myself. Therefore this newspaper provides something for everyone – rich or poor, young or old, sports fan or gardening addict. Getting the mix right is very important for a local newspaper as I have explained above and I believe that the Oxford Times manages to do this. If you are in the region and you want to know what is going on and what people have been talking about the Oxford Times is the newspaper to buy. Failing that, you can look up its website which it shares with the Oxford Mail at: www.thisisoxfordshire.co.uk
I was a relative latecomer to Napster and was therefore somewhat unhappy when the law finally caught up with the site. What Napster was doing was dodgy and it was only a matter of time before they ended up being curtailed but the music industry has been short sited in the extreme. What Napster has done is create a demand for a new type of service – one where you choose a track that you fancy listening to and then it gets played to you / downloaded to your PC for you to play back. No need to buy £16 albums for 2 songs. I would be more than happy to use such a service on a monthly subscription basis, and I’m sure a lot of other people would too – the benefits would be huge (smaller more professionally made MP3 files, new formats etc). Sure enough various players in the music industry are moving in this direction, unfortunately the demand for this service is there today, and the new services will not be for some time. So I decided to investigate Gnutella, which I had heard a variety of stories about. Gnutella is a peer-to-peer technology that turns your PC into a server and links you in a web like fashion to a range of other PCs that are running the protocol. This means that there are no servers to get hit by pesky law suits so the system is more or less immune to the record companies’ lawyers. This also means that the system is less reliable and user friendly than Napster, so maybe it will attract less of a following and less unwanted attention than Napster did. Furthermore, it is not just an MP3 hunter – you can share any file that you place in your shared folder. My first attempt to use Gnutella was a dismal failure – I downloaded a program called ToadNode, which stubbornly refused to find anything in response to my searches and continually crashed. I was on the verge of giving up, when I came upon BearShare. This Gnutella program is not only stable and a small download, it is as easy to use as Napster. You load
the program when you are connected to the Internet, wait for it to find a few other hosts and make contact with them and start searching. You can filter the results so that you don’t accidentally load some nasty VBS script and you can monitor what is being searched for and what is being uploaded from your system. There are a couple of drawbacks about the Gnutella protocol: it is more technically complex and because it is not just music files that are being shared, if you look in the searches window you can see signs of the internet’s seamier side in the names of files that other people are searching for. There is also a risk that someone will use the system to spread some virus or worm, but then you have that risk every day when you receive an e-mail. All in all, Gnutella is an excellent tool to getting at online music, before the paid subscription services start up and eliminate the demand for pirated files, and BearShare is the best client to that system that I have come across. It is as easy to use as Napster, and in this market, that is what is important.
It seems appropriate that the mind should turn to Pimms as finally the weather starts to act like we might be going to have a summer this year after all. For Pimms is the quintessential English Summer drink, it conjures up images of cricket matches, long bright evenings and getting quite merrily smashed in the sun. So what is Pimms? It is a fruity spirit drink that is based on gin. More than that I can’t say, as the recipe is a secret one. You do not drink it straight however: it should ideally be mixed more or less 1 part Pimms to 2 parts lemonade. It tastes sweet, but not sickly – at a first taste you might not think it was alcoholic at all. Once mixed, it should be served with a variety of plant life in the glass – most commonly orange and lemon but it can be served with just about anything. I have had it with celery and cucumber alongside less surprising choices such as grapefruit. Mint is very good too. This may sound very weird to the uninitiated but it adds a few extra sensations to the flavour of the drink. The resulting drink (served by the pint, half-pint or jug in most pubs) is pretty strong but very drinkable – so you normally don’t notice how much of it you’ve had until you’re getting pissed! It is ideally for drinking on a boozy afternoon in a pub beer garden, and though quite pricey in pubs it is fairly affordable if you want to mix your own. I suppose some people would claim that it has a “posh” image, which is understandable [for instance Oxford apparently has the highest Pimms consumption per head of population in the country] and that this puts them off but frankly that is not much of an excuse for not sampling one of the delights of the English summer.
The debate on Internet censorship is the same debate that takes place whenever some kind of suggestion of censorship is made. The right wants to ban things that it finds distasteful; the left wants to ban things that it believes people should not be allowed to think. In today's climate it is the left's argument that is the more potent, since the argument about bans on things or behaviour on the grounds of morality and decency was won in the 1960s. We are told (seemingly without irony) that in order to be tolerant we must be intolerant of the intolerant. The problem with this state of mind is that it is the thin end of a long wedge that ends with the death of free speech and thought. This is because once you decide something is beyond the pale, you inevitably have to allow some body to make decisions on an individual case by case basis as to what transgresses that boundary and what is allowed. There are two examples, which are usually introduced by the censors as moral forces majeures to knock their opponents out of the way: Child Pornography and Extremism. I will deal with these two issues straight away: existing laws in every country on earth already cover things like child pornography; it is simply not worth creating new laws that will place restrictions on innocent people, under cover of dealing with an issue that is covered by existing ones already. When it comes to extremist websites there is a far more important principle at stake, however: much as some of the more rabid sites on the Internet are nasty, we do not have the right to forbid them. In attempting to outlaw speech or thought we shed the Enlightenment heritage that has driven western political thought for the past two hundred years. Free speech is a laudable aim in its own right and should not be interfered with. My argument on this front is a purely abstract one - I do not intend to deal with factors such as bans being ineffectual, or that they feed into the very viewpoint y
ou are seeking to obliterate. I am not going to do this because I do not need to. The freedom to think or say outrageous things should be absolute, because without it democracy and freedom are gone. Once we allow any body – be it the state, the church, the Guardian or whatever – to mark out limits on acceptable beliefs we are on the road back to the middle ages replete with unquestioning serfs and stagnant cultural and scientific development. The Enlightenment broke us out of a system where some things were simply not for discussion and we have grown as a result – imagine a world in which 18th Century mores were the norm today. So where does this leave the Internet? If one accepts as I do that free speech is sacrosanct, the Internet ceases to be the diabolical engine of perverts, anarchists and racists and becomes instead our strongest weapon yet in upholding freedom. The internet has already pretty well internationalised the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution throughout the west (despite what the French courts may think), and it is rapidly penetrating the bamboo curtain and should play a role in the fall of Red China and the military dictatorship of Burma. It would be perverse, if in a misguided attempt to make people be nice to one another, we in the free world harmed a tool that could help the rest of the world to join us.
The point which I would like to make is that the very title of this topic - the NHS vs Private Care illustrates the problem we face regarding healthcare in this country. Among our politicians and media there is the view that even to contemplate using a private hospital rather than our beloved NHS is akin to asking King Herod to work as a paediatrician. Yet until we face up to the fact that the state cannot deliver the quality of healthcare we want without some sort of involvement from the private sector we will never get anywhere - far from being "the envy of the world" as our politicians like to claim we have a lower quality of health service than the Poles. Medicine is expensive, good medicine is extremely expensive. The reason the UK has an appalling health service is that we don't spend enough money on health - the French spend twice as much as we do and the Americans spend four times as much - as a result they have better healthcare systems. The answer to our troubles, is therefore to spend more money on Health, but how can we do that without imposing punitive levels of taxation? By involving the private sector. For the UK is the one of the only western nations that insists that the state provide everything. Even in a quasi-socialist country like France, you need to have insurance if you expect to be treated for all but the most serious of illnesses. By creating this divide we are damaging the quality of healthcare provision in this country. To seek, as the state does through the NHS to provide unlimited treatment for free is not possible. If the market cannot set a price in cash terms for a treatment it will set it in terms of a waiting list. Governments do not spend our money better than we do, and if we were able to budget for our own healthcare needs through insurance, with a state provided safety net we would be better off, and we would be able to see the value for money in spending more on healthcare. As it is we seem likel
y to wave goodbye to a big chunk of OUR money which has been promised to the NHS, but for little improvement - all because Gordon and Tony think they know better than we do, how we should spend our cash. Once we face up to the need to involve the private sector, the debate can move on to "to what extent?". Some might favour a halfway accommodation - like France but I personally think we should emulate the US model and abolish the NHS altogether: the US is able to deliver the best healthcare in the world because of its private system encouraging competition and quality, while the government provides the Medicare-Medicaid safety net for those who cannot afford insurance. We hear a lot of horror stories about the US healthcare system, and people without insurance but the fact is that everyone in the US is better off in healthcare terms than we are: a poor US citizen, without insurance who is diagnosed with lung cancer, lives longer than any Brit, with the same condition on the NHS! It is about time we sorted this out.
For the past couple of years the WTO and related organisations, the World Bank and IMF, have suffered a lot of bad press because of the antics of a bunch of middle-class yobs with nothing better to do than fly around the world to have the occasional riot. These "protesters" claim that the WTO and World Bank are dreadful organisations because they tell poor countries what to do, encourage pollution and sundry other lies and half truths. The protesters (a rag tag bunch of bored lazy youths and died in the wool old trade-unionists) tend to oppose free trade because half of them think that their own industries need to be protected and the other half because they think that free trade will somehow lead to "exploitation". This is of course pure garbage. Free trade is a good thing. In fact it is just about one of the best ideas ever. If total free trade were introduced, which is the ultimate aim of the WTO then humanity as a whole would benefit. At the moment the unnatural market structures created by trade tariffs result in third world countries which could easily produce food for themselves, being forced to grow cash crops, because they can't export food. Since these countries tend to have inefficient, corrupt or socialist (or all three) regimes, they over-produce the cash crop and don't produce enough food. The end result of this, is of course that food in our shops is over-priced too. The current world economy is filled with similar examples. The WTO is doing good for all of us (in fact particularly for the poorer countries) by seeking to eliminate barriers to trade which impoverish everyone except the vested interests (eg Trade Unions or French Farmers) who benefit from the current system. The real scandal, the one that the protesters would be up in arms about if they engaged their brains before opening their mouths is that in the modern, prosperous world (there are apparently now more obese people than starving people in the world today) where there
is plenty of food for everyone many people are still without foood and water. The main reason for this is because they have the misfortune to live in the aforementioned badly run countries. The World Bank and IMF are often criticised at this point in the argument for failing to improve matters, and indeed ther are a huge number of criticisms that can be levied at those two bodies. However, the only criticisms which carry any weight are that those organisations have spent the last 50 years doling out money to dodgy regimes, and have been useless at preventing fraud and defaulting. If they were run like private companies or real banks, rather than international quangoes dominated by the concept of "buggins turn" ('the last chairman was a German, so this year we have to appoint a Frenchman'). These bodies have been incompetent, and have failed the world's poor by allowing their leaders to get away with criminal behaviour. If the World Bank and IMF had behaved like the marauding ruthless capitalists the Seattle rioters like to pretend they are, the world would be a better place for it, and the poor nations of the world would be less in debt. The World Bank and IMF are being reformed to make them more efficient but the jury is still out on whether the reforms will work. In the meantime we should support the WTO since it is doing far more for the world's poor than any other organisation in history - by offering them the chance to sell to everyone on earth, without the current restrictions.
I was intrigued by the URL "adbusters.org". I suppose I must have been expecting a site devoted to making fun of bad adverts. Sadly this was not the case. It is instead a site set up by one of the scions of the anti-capitalist brigade and is seemingly intended to make us not want to go shopping on 24th November "in protest" at something or other. The people behind this site really don't have a clue about what they are talking about: trade and consumerism have made people's lives better since the year dot. The urge to control what other people say, think and do is what motivates these pathetic middle-class "revolutionaries" who don't seem to see anything wrong in campaigning against trade (and thus ensuring continuing poverty in the Third World) before flying back from Seattle or Prague on a ticket bought on Daddy's Amex. Frankly, I've decided to make damned sure I do go shopping on 24th November.
A lot has been written on the internet and in newspapers about Microsoft, it seems that you are either a diehard enemy of the company or an evangelical supporter. The argument is played out across websites and in business IT magazines, and it’s all a bit silly really. Grown IT Professionals arguing about UNIX/Linux vs Windows seem to be recapturing the arguments of their youth about whether the C64 or the Spectrum was the best computer! A far more sensible way of looking at things is to evaluate what Microsoft have done, what is good and what is bad and from that come to a conclusion about their rating as a company. When you do this you can make a sober decision about them. Microsoft have had a lot of abuse heaped on them for producing buggy software. It is true that they have often not paid the sort of attention to detail that they should have done – but other Software firms can hardly gloat on this point either! One of the problems the IT industry faces is too often it is prepared to release a sub-standard product and later release an “upgrade” which fixes all the problems and which users have to pay for. Microsoft have done this sort of thing, but no more so than other firms, yet they are singled out for opprobrium. The reason for this is quite simply ubiquity. Everyone knows Microsoft’s products because they are everywhere, and everyone is familiar with some of the problems as a result. They are in effect and easy target. However, Microsoft gained its market share for a couple of simple reasons: The alternatives to MS products are either more expensive or less user friendly (or both). The alternatives to MS products are less visually appealing. These are crucial as most IT Systems need to be able to be used by non-expert staff, and with the oft quoted IT skills shortage, the easier new software is to use, the better. It is at this point in the argument that the US DoJ case
against Microsoft is brought up, with the anti- camp calling “guilty” and the pro- camp twisting their words and the law so that Microsoft can be called “innocent.” In my opinion, there is no doubt that Microsoft are guilty as hell of abusing their position to get Netscape. But that is a matter for the courts to decide and it does not affect the arguments about their software in the slightest. My own opinion is that at the moment Microsoft Software offers the best solution for small to medium sized companies (I cannot speak of the big company sector of which I know nought), because it is easy to use, there is minimum training required for non-IT staff and there is plenty of software available. That may change, and I am keeping a close watch on how things are changing, so that if and when they do, I can make another sober decision on this issue.
My wife is American and for most of last year, while we were engaged she was living in the US while I was living in the UK. As you can imagine this was not the most pleasant of circumstances, however we got through it partly by being able to afford to talk to each other for a couple of hours a day. The reason that we were able to do this was through cheap international phone calls and the best provider in the UK was Planet Talk. The calls cost 3p a minute to the USA which is about a ninth as cheap as BT. You might expect to get a poor connection at this price and it is true that sometimes we had fuzzy lines. However, ringing again usually solved that problem, and to be honest international calls on BT or mobile aren't that much higher quality. So, we had cheap and decent quality calls - there must have been a downside surely?, maybe we got poor customer service... Not at all in fact. When I put more money on my account it was processed within half an hour and on the few occasions that I had to phone up, my call was answered straight away even on the dreaded "press x to talk to customer services" which with most companies diverts you to a one person call centre in Uzbekistan. Did we have to wait for them to install a new line or something when we set up the service then? It took them a couple of days at first to authorise my credit card and get a number set up on my phone line (you dial a four digit code on a BT line before making an international call), but that was it. Plus, when I moved house they moved the line again within a day or two. So if you need to make a lot of calls internationally my advice would be to use Planet Talk.
Tolkein's trilogy "The Lord of the Rings" has been voted in a number of surveys the most popular book of the 20th Century. This is not surprising since it is an incredible piece of literature and one of the best books that I have ever read, however, unlike most great books there has never been a film made of it (apart from the cartoon version of the first half of the book which sadly was a flop). The main reason that no-one has made a film of LOTR before is that the special effects that would be required to make it a success were daunting. Another attempt is now being made to turn the story into a film. Peter Jackson, who directed Heavenly Creatures, is making three films (one of each book in the trilogy) back to back in New Zealand. By the looks of things, the Special FX involved are finally good enough and the films will be a roaring success. The first film in the Trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring) is being released around December 2001, with the others following in 2002 and 2003; however there is quite a good website up and running for it and you can download a preview / trailer from the site. It takes a long time but is worth it, as it shows how the film is starting to take shape. Although it is over a year away if you are a fan of the book then this site is a must, and if you are mystified by LOTR's success, then have a look and you might be convinced.
This afternoon I thought I'd log on to DooYoo and have a look around... Every time I did however, a little box kept popping up telling me that I needed to download the latest version of Shockwave Player. This took me aback as I couldn't work out why this was happening at first. What confused me more (its Friday for heavens sake) was that when I clicked on the button for "No, HTML is fine for me" my computer went berzerk and started downloading Shockwave anyway. It did this on every page I clicked on in Dooyoo, and then since I'm running Win NT right now and 3 different download streams for the same item proved too much for the poor old OS, Explorer died on me. This happened a couple of times until it finally hit me - the causes of the trouble were the banner adverts! Since I wanted to look at Dooyoo still, I eventually went ahead and downloaded the plug in. I then went back to DooYoo to see what the Argos ads were like in all their glory... Frankly, I'm not impressed. It might be a neat idea to have an interactive banner ad (with the pause button) but since clicking on it takes you to the same part of the Argos website irrespective of what product is on display, I don't see the point. Furthermore I can't believe that I'm the only person who doesn't have ShockWave, and I am not amused that I had to waste my time downloading it, just to visit the DooYoo site. Its not really a good way to win over customers! Putting a banner like that, that doesn't let you say "No" I don't want to download anything is quite frankly arrogant and ill thought out, not to mention badly designed. Argos should ask for their money back from whichever bunch of cowboys designed the Ad, and DooYoo should know better.