Saturday, March 26, 2005

Slightly better Saturday

Good news today! My car has been recovered. Apparently the police used a stinger to stop it, so the tyres are dead. No idea whether the delinquents in the car were caught.

The car itself is at a garage, awaiting the Scene of Crime Officer, with his fingerprinting kit, deerstalker, and magnifying glass - or whatever it is they do these days. Apparently there is a lot of crime on, so he may be a while.

Whatever happened to shooting joyriders? Can't we bring that back? Didn't they hang horse-thieves... maybe they were on to something - there wasn't a lot of re-offending after that. On the positive side, it looks like I don't need to worry about turning into a liberal leftie after all!

Friday, March 25, 2005

Not so good Friday

I knew I was going to have to get up early. 8am is an ungodly sort of an hour for a service, even a Good Friday one, so I had set my alarm. Actually two of them. Still, when I heard an insistent noise through the mists of sleep it seemed dreadfully early. I didn't realise until later just how early it was.

Through the fog, it dawned on me that the phone was ringing. It was the police. "There are police officers outside your house", they said. "They want to talk to you." Before I could review my life for major undetected crimes, they went on to explain that my car had been stolen.

"Err... OK. I'll be right down!"

Seconds later, dressed, downstairs, and almost lucid, I pulled back the curtains to reveal a pile of glass, a door with a hole in it, some wide-awake neighbours, the police, and no car. At least not mine - there was one with a flashing blue light, and some heap the joyriders rode in on. Kind of them to leave it for me.

"Were you really asleep through all that?"

Apparently I was. While I slept, the whole street seemed to have been awoken by the sound of my car being stolen - car alarms, joy riders, my window being smashed with a rock, a neighbour's car being hit, and later on, two police officers battering on my door.

I slept like a baby. Actually much better than a baby - it's their baby's habit of not actually sleeping all night that meant my next door neighbours were awake to see the incident, after all!

So much for the Good Friday service, and meeting up for breakfast afterwards. I got to talk to glaziers and locksmiths and insurance people and detectives and fingerprint men instead. Still, the house is secure again, and spring is a better time of year than winter for a hole in your house! And I had a fairly pleasant chatty day... it's funny how disasters help a feeling of community - especially other people's disasters ;-)

I also discovered that some insurance companies are on holiday now. I have a nasty sinking feeling that this will be the start of another saga - but I'm always prepared to be proved wrong by unexpected tales of integrity from the insurance industry!

Then my "friends" texted me a picture (does that make sense?) of them having breakfast: "Shame you couldn't make it!"

Friends are great, I'm told!

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Not so very cross-community and a bit too inclusive

It's a bit depressing, actually. Saint Patrick isn't the "property" of either community in Northern Ireland, though the local festivities haven't always reflected that. But we seemed to be moving away from the political football that has dogged the Belfast St. Patrick's day celebrations. We seemed nearer than ever to an event that Protestant and Catholic, Unionist and Nationalist, could feel a part of.

Sadly, the McCartney saga took another twist.

The IRA apparently expelled (and claimed to have offered to shoot) three of its members for the murder of Robert McCartney. Unfortunately these "expulsions" didn't seem to have stopped two of the suspects from taking a key role in the Short Strand Saint Patrick's parade in Belfast. Not exactly what you need to make decent folk feel included - and a bit of a slap in the face for Robert McCartney's family.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin are publicly urging people to give evidence about the murder, even as the McCartney sisters complain of continued intimidation of the witnesses. What is going on?

One Sinn Féin activist (who seemed to have been quite distressed on the night in question) has remembered that she didn't actually see anything after all, while she was drinking at the murder scene. If you had information, would you be listening to what Gerry Adams says, or watching what the organisation actually does?

It wouldn't be the first time the Provos had intimidated people after a murder. During the trial of Bart Fisher for the stabbing of James McGinley in Derry, the family said they had been harassed and intimidated before and during the trial by the Provisional IRA, who summoned them to meetings, told them who could attend the trial, and threatened them. The family launched their Justice for Jimmy campaign this month. Interestingly, the convicted killer claimed not to have been in the IRA - which raises the question of why the Provos were carrying out the intimidation (or, if you think they are less evil and more stupid, allowing it to be carried out in their name over a sustained period).

It seems that the McCartney affair is not out of character.

In all of this, we should remember that this is not just bringing shame on the IRA and Sinn Féin - it is a personal tragedy for the relatives and loved ones of the victims. But, if the IRA (and their mirror images across the barricades) can be got rid of, and murderous private armies can be banished from Irish politics, then something good may yet be salvaged from these human tragedies.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

It's Saint Patrick's Day

Many legends have grown up about the man - so many that you'd think there were at least two different St. Patricks. Mind you, that would be handy - we could have one for the Protestant community, and one for the Catholics. A bit like the two St Patrick's Day celebrations we had in Belfast a few years ago, in fact. Maybe next year we'll be able to have a single celebration that both communities can feel able to participate in. Do you think?

One of the oddest legends is that he's supposed to have driven all the snakes out of Ireland, so this is probably as good a time as any for Steve's Joke. He claimed to have only one, and he had it on his screensaver so he wouldn't forget:

What did St Patrick say as he was driving the snakes out of Ireland?

Are youse all right in the back there?

None of that has very much to do with what St Patrick really did and said, of course. I still wonder what he would make of the celebrations in his name? David McMillan was asking the same question a while ago...

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Department of Pre-tax

Bah, humbug! I filled up the car last night at Sainsburys, and realised that they'd put up unleaded petrol by 3p per litre the night before. Do they know something we don't (yet) about today's budget? Or are they just ripping us off, or getting ready to pretend they have "absorbed" any tax rise? Either way, it cost me about a quid - this time. Hopefully it's not an extra pound per tankful for the rest of time (or till the car dies).

And they didn't have any of those apple cookies either... again. Bah, humbug!

On a more positive note, it's not raining - yet!

Monday, March 14, 2005

Have they taken leave of their senses?

It's starting to look like the republican movement in Ireland has taken leave of its senses.

First, they try to get away with a huge £20 million robbery. Then some IRA members brutally (and I do mean brutally) murder a member of the nationalist community and try to cover their tracks: destroying video evidence, cleaning the murder scene, intimidating a pub full of witnesses, and arranging a special riot to stop the police from carrying out searches.

After the customary denials, Sinn Féin admit that the robbery was wrong, and the murder was a crime that maybe should be solved - preferably without actually talking to the police.

And then, in a move which shows exactly why the IRA must disband, the IRA presented its solution to the murder - more killing. They offered to shoot the men responsible!

Today Sinn Féin (who used to be known as the IRA's "political wing", but these days are said to have "an insight" into the thinking of the IRA) had the nerve to blame the police investigation rather than the crime for the blame that republicans are facing.

Finally (finally? We can only hope!) they capped it all by warning the family of murdered Robert McCartney to "be careful", and stay out of politics. They dressed it up with concern about what it would do to the integrity of their campaign for justice, but it was clear that the party which had two candidates, an ex-councillor, and a busload of supporters from Derry in the bar at the time of the murder does not want to come up against them in a vote.

Until recently these were the guys running the Department of Health and Public Safety.

What would Victor Meldrew have said?

Staggering Hypocrisy

Victor Meldrew used to exclaim: "I don't believe it!"

In the week that Microsoft successfully lobbied the EU Council of Ministers to import the US software-patent regime to Europe, to the benefit of Microsoft and the detriment of the European commercial and Open Source software industry, guess what Microsoft admitted.

That's right! The US system is not so wonderful, after all. A mere four days after foisting software patents on Europe, they announce that the US system needs to be reformed.

So the EU gets restrictive rules and control by MS and other patent monopolists, and MS gets "freedom to innovate" again back home.

Were they afraid that the Council of Ministers might have noticed the holes in their argument if they'd launched their campaign one week earlier?

Mr Meldrew might not have believed it, but I'm starting to wonder!

Monday, March 07, 2005

Denial of Democracy in Europe

I had intended to write on the tax on innovation being considered by the European Union, in the form of Software Patents. I was going to mention how it could allow major US corporations to paralyse parts of the industry in Europe, or tax them, at their discretion. I was going to mention how competition would be slashed. I'll come back to that later.

But on Monday the Council of the European Union (known as the Council of Ministers) defied its own procedures, the wishes of the European Parliament, and the request of a number of national Parliaments (including Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and Germany). They passed a deeply flawed directive that will allow unrestricted patenting of software, giving major companies with huge portfolios of patents in the flawed US system a means to ambush almost any competitor without a similar portfolio.

If you need an example of how this works, consider this. In Japan, the major competitor to Word for Windows was removed from the shelves because of a patent lawsuit. Apparently an obscure part of their help screens infringed just such a patent.

Bad news for European competitiveness!
Good news for Microsoft!
Bad news for us!

The only people who can stop it now are our MEPs - time to write to them.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Happy Mother's Day

In case my mother is reading this: "Happy Mother's Day!".

In case any Americans are reading this, Mother's day is not the same day over here!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

What are MPs for, exactly?

I used to think that if the members of the House of Commons voted for a Bill it meant they were happy with it. Now, apparently, it just means that they reckon the House of Lords will clean up after them. At least that's what the Government's cunning "pass this detention-without-trial bill and then we'll fix it in the Lords" plan seems to be about. Just as well Tony Blair didn't get round to abolishing them altogether!

So what are we paying our MPs for, again?