Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Stormy weather

I have posted comments about the changing climate before but it seems apposite to do so again today. Here in beautiful Ruislip the temperature is a balmy 13c, though the winds are pretty lively right now as we pick up the tail end of  "storm Frank". (Major storms are now named by the Met Office and this is the fifth big one of the season). People have been sitting outside cafes during the day. There have been no night frosts. Daffodils are appearing, some even flowering. We might be in April.

The contrast with the north of the country could not be starker. The storms have battered Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire with huge amounts of rain that have caused extensive flooding. Frank is now doing its worst in Scotland. Bridges are down, city centres like Leeds and York flooded and aeriel views show huge shimmering inland seas over the lower ground. Defences based on "once in a hundred year" events have failed and it is apparent such events are now to be expected every few years.

Two years ago I was writing on exactly the same theme - the devastating rains (though Southern England took the brunt of it then) and the mildness of the weather. December does not seem to be part of winter any more and autumn is changing to be the stormy season. Yet popular culture continues to associate this time of year with snow and stillness. It gets harder and harder to imagine the world of Good King Wenceslas - deep and crisp snow, cruel frosts and cold clear nights. It would be a great shame if the young generation never know the joy of building a snowman.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Nurofen: The Real Headache

The makers of the well-known pain-reliever Nurofen have been castigated for marketing various versions of the same ingredients and claiming that each is suitable for a different type of pain. I claim no particular medical knowledge but, as I understand it, pain is a chemical signal transmitted through the nervous system and perceived in the brain. Any pain relief product either acts directly on the cause (such as a sprained muscle) or suppresses the pain signals. Nurofen is one of the latter. It follows that it does not target any particular type of pain and therefore to say that it does is misleading. I'll go further. It is lying.

Naturally the PR people were quick to obfuscate.The head of regulatory and medical affairs in Europe was quoted thus:
Consumers want the navigation in a grocery environment, where there’s no healthcare professional to assist in the decision-making.
I am a consumer. I don't want to be "guided in a grocery environment" when buying pharmaceuticals. I will buy products I know (or, in light of this story, products I think I know) but in any case of doubt, I will ask my friendly local chemist. Who would probably guide me toward the cheapest, generic, form of the appropriate drug.

Nurofen works. I take it myself, about once every two years when I have a headache bad enough to justify taking something for it. But what am I really buying, a product carefully researched and developed to be the best, or an image, lovingly tended and buffed up by "creatives" with long hours spent on choosing the right pantone shade for the logo and the right phrase for the strapline? This link, to a Daily Mail article reviewing various painkillers and showing what is in them, may prove instructive.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Trump: The Truth.

Donald Trump, another rich American who is trying to buy himself the Presidency, has made world headlines with his suggestion that the US close its borders to "all Muslims". Apparently this will prevent terrorism. Mr. Trump, bless him, does not appear to realise that there is no obvious way to test anyone's religion, nor will his measures assist in making America safer from home-grown terrorists. Given that some of the worst atrocities in recent years have been carried out by white, right-wing nutters who can acquire weapons with ease, one has to ask:

Who's side is Donald on?

The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind (not too sure what that really means but it sounds cool, yeah?). What I mean is, he is clearly trying to undermine and split the Republican Party. Yet he is clearly not a Democrat or a sleeper supporter of liberal America. I suggest that he is really a deep agent for the Islamic State terrorists, his purpose is to divide American and world opinion with the object of forcing many Muslims to identify with ISIL (or whatever they are called) and to oppose liberal democracies. He is certainly going to help them recruiting young and naive persons who see western conspiracy everywhere.

So the correct solution to Mr. Trump's increasingly nasty utterances is for him to be arrested by agents of Homeland Security, deported to Guantanamo Bay for some "questioning" and have his assets seized as being undoubtedly obtained through crime. At a stroke, the US government can help reduce its deficit, ordinary people all round the world will be reassured that the real enemies of democracy are being confronted and a vicious big-mouth who attempted to bulldoze parts of Scotland for his private golf courses will have met his match. What a great present for Xmas that would be.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

God and the Auditors

Alarmed by disclosures about the way the Catholic Church manages its finances, the Pope has brought in auditors. This could be interesting. As one who began his career with nearly seven years in Chartered Accountancy, I feel I have some insights into the first day of what will undoubtedly prove a fascinating assignment.

Scene: A back room in the Vatican. Enter George, audit senior, Tarquin, 1st year trainee and Mr. Farquarhson, the manager. They seat themselves, open notebooks and sharpen their pencils.

Farquarhson:  This is a very big one for the firm, lads. We've got to make a good impression on this client, it could lead on to much bigger things. Now we've only got two weeks allotted for this review so we'll have to look sharp. George, have you got the plan ready?
George: Um, yes, I've had a look at the draft accounts, the statement mission and the organisation plan. As I see it, the first thing we need is a cup of coffee. Off you go, Tarquin, the machine is down by the Sistine Chapel, mine's a large Americano and don't start chatting up any nuns.
Tarquin: Right ho. exits
Farquarhson: Now, then George, I'm having lunch with one of the senior financial advisers, a Cardinal Borgia. At his estate in Sardinia. The helicopter will be picking me up in about ten minutes. What will you be doing?
George: I thought we'd go to the Vatican canteen.
Farquarhson: I meant, what is your work plan for today?
George: Ah. As it's the first day we need to walk about, get the feel of the place, talk to some priests and make notes on how it all works. Then I'll get young Tarquin to check the petty cash in the Museum and count a few candles, see if their stock records add up.  I'll have a look at the confessional records, get the computer audit team to run some tests and see how sins have changed over the past hundred years or so, make sure the Church is properly accounting for everything and the right number of sinners are in hell.
Farquarhson: Excellent. Tomorrow I've been asked to go on a short tour of South America. The Lear jet will pick me after breakfast and I may not be back for a week or so. Think you can cope?
George: No sweat. OK if I take the afternoon off though? I'd like to have a stroll round the Forum.
Farquarhson: That's fine.
Tarquin enters with coffees
George: Ah, that's what the doctor ordered.
Farquarhson: Had good look round, young man?
Tarquin: Golly yes. It's a big place. Lot of praying going on round the front. I wonder what that's all about? laughs
George: Nothing to do with us. We just check out the books.
Farquarhson: Yes, stay focussed lads. Right, I'd better be off.
George: By the way, there's a note here about millions of euros just lying around, some sort of surplus from the collections.
Farquarhson; I'll read it when I get back from Rio. Bye. exits
George: Have a good one.
Tarquin: What should we do now? I've never done an audit as big as this before.
George: Don't worry. They're all the same, really. We just do what we always do. Although I think here we may get some decent wafers with our tea....