Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Burning Question of the Hour

One of the essential little items that’s impossible to find in the United States is the baccy box. You can pick one up for about £3 in any decent tobacconist in the United Kingdom. But in the U.S.A., they’re unheard of. And the kind of box I'm looking for only lasts a couple of years before the springs give out so the lid flaps uselessly and the paper holder no longer holds the papers.

A google search will tend to throw up a variety of decorated tins, some of them antique. None of them has a hinged lid with a spring that will hold it open. None has a sprung holder inside the lid to retain the rolling papers. The key words “Ash tobacco tin paper clip celtic patten” led me to a British Web site at which offers “Small Hinged Lid Tobacco Tins.“

For some reason, the one with the celtic design stamped on the top is out of stock everywhere but the wavy-striped lid would be perfectly acceptable at £3.99 (now 1/2 price at £1.99 while stocks last). The only problem is that the minimum order from is £19.99. And, although the insides tend to rust badly after about 18 months, I’m not about to order a 10-year supply. Nobody who rolls his own cigarettes has a right to that kind of life expectancy.

A compromise is available at, even though the paper holder isn’t quite right and the $7.99 price is exorbitant after postage and packing.

Initially, I was disappointed by the $7.99 compromise and didn't considered worth the $6 packing and shipping charge. There is no spring to hold the lid open when you're rolling a cigarette while standing up. Nor is there a spring in the paper holder. You have to wedge the pack of rolling papers behind the clip which, initially, holds them so tightly that a single paper tears when you pull it out. However, I think I've got the hang of it. The photo is misleading and the solid clip is actually quite effective if the papers are put in with their cover folded behind them.

If only the “Ash tobacco tin paper clip celtic patten” had not been out of stock, I’d have done much better. But then it wouldn't be long before the springs failed. So maybe I'm better off with the unsprung version after all.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

When I say I’m broke, I’m broke!

Yesterday I answered a knock on the door, only to be confronted by a well dressed young man who was carrying a vacuum cleaner.

“Good morning,” he said. “If I could take a couple of minutes of your time, I would like to demonstrate the very latest in high-powered vacuum cleaners.”

“Go away!” I said. “I haven’t got any money! I’m broke!” and proceeded to close the door.

Quick as a flash, the young man wedged his foot in the door and pushed wide open. “Don’t be too hasty!” he said. “Not until you have at least seen my demonstration.” And with that, he emptied a bucket of horse manure onto my hallway carpet. “If this vacuum cleaner does not remove all traces of this horse manure from your carpet, Sir, I will personally eat the remainder.”

I stepped back and said, “Well I hope you’ve got a f*cking good appetite, because they cut off my electricity this morning. What part of ‘broke’ do you not understand?”

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Veteran Teddy Bear MIA in Long Beach

A British veteran has been missing in action in Long Beach, California, since Dec. 13. Cpl. Hotspur, as he is known, is a charity teddy bear who has been traveling the world to raise funds for a wounded British servicemen and their families.

Former soldier Gareth Williams had taken the bear to RMS Queen Mary for a photo shoot to raise the profile of the charity appeal. But at some point, Cpl. Hotspur either fell, or was lifted, from Williams’ backpack.

“He was in the top of my backpack head and shoulders out and he must of decided it was time to go AWOL,” Williams said.

Six hours searching, including checks with lost-and-found department, failed to re-unite Williams with Cpl. Hotspur and a very embarrassed Williams had to report the loss of the bear to the team back in the UK.

The five remaining “Sgt. Slingsby bears” have recently visited the USA, Canada, South America, South Africa and Europe. One of them, Cpl. Horsa, has just returned from a three-month fundraising tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Anyone who finds Cpl. Hotspur can notify the Bears’ HQ on the Web at

Friday, December 19, 2008

Journal Loses Fight to Stay in Exmouth

Archant South West managing director Bernard Driscoll e-mailed reporters in Exmouth and Sidmouth this morning to say, despite their efforts to remain working in the towns they serve, he had “regrettably” decided to close the offices and relocate reporters to Exeter.

He cited cost cutting and preventing further redundancies as his reasons for coming to the decision. The Exmouth reporters were told they would move to Exeter in the second week of January 2009. The Sidmouth Herald office is also to close and its reporters relocate to Exeter.

In his e-mail, Driscoll said, “I also looked again at options for saving money elsewhere, but to achieve the amounts needed would involve more staff redundancies — and we don’t have any staff we can do without — or further reducing our free distribution numbers, which would put us at a serious disadvantage against our competitors.

“The outcome is that very regrettably we will have to close the offices and relocate you to Fair Oak Close. I accept that this a retrograde move and I wish there was an alternative.

“The important thing is for us to try to find ways in which we can continue our relationships with our readers and remain a central part of the community.”

The National Union of Journalists is looking at ways to see if anything else can be done to prevent the closure. Reporters are absolutely gutted by Driscoll’s decision. Staff morale is at an all-time low.

Driscoll continues to receive e-mails of support demanding the Exmouth Journal remain in Exmouth.

East Devon MP Hugo Swire has pledged to support reporters from both offices and said he plans to contact Driscoll to voice his concerns over the closures.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Monday, December 08, 2008

We Must Win the Oil End Game

If we're not going to invest money we don't have into products we don't want, any bailout of the US car manufacturing industry needs to be conditional on an adoption of the strategy proposed by Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Soft Energy Paths: Towards a Durable Peace (Harper Colophon Books Cn653)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Prop 8 — The Musical

A star-studded cast starring Jack Black and John C. Reilly turns out for Marc Shaiman’s “Prop 8 — The Musical.”

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Monday, December 01, 2008

English Catholics Reject

Vatican Homophobia

London, December 1, 2008 — A new leaflet produced by the Catholic Church in England and Wales urges priests and churchgoers to be respectful and welcoming towards lesbian and gay people.

It also acknowledges and rejects the “oppression” suffered by homosexuals; and suggests that Catholics “express appreciation for the gifts that homosexual Catholics bring to their faith community.”

Catholic traditionalists have condemned the leaflet’s liberal message and accused the English and Welsh Church of defying Vatican orthodoxy.

“This leaflet is a welcome, positive initiative which will bring great comfort to gay Catholics and their families. Its sympathetic, understanding message is a big improvement on the stern, uncompromising homophobia of most Vatican pronouncements on homosexuality,” Peter Tatchell of the UK lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered human rights campaign OutRage! said.

“Its liberal stance has provoked condemnation from traditionalist, conservative Catholics. They denounce the leaflet as a maverick, renegade move by the English and Welsh Catholic Church, acting in defiance of Vatican orthodoxy,” Tatchell said.

See a copy of the leaflet here:

Tatchell said, “I hope the Catholic Church in England and Wales will encourage the Vatican to adopt this leaflet for use by Catholic dioceses worldwide. Its broader dissemination would help counteract the ignorance and prejudice that exists among many clergy and laity.

“The laudable change of tone is undermined by the homophobic content of the Catholic Catechism and by the Pope’s frequent endorsement of legal discrimination against lesbian and gay people. The Vatican’s policy of denouncing loving, stable same-sex relationships risks undoing the good, kind intentions of this leaflet.

“The Catechism, which sets out the basic doctrines of the Roman Church, reflects the pre-scientific ignorance and anti-homosexual prejudice of the medieval era; describing same-sex acts as a ‘grave depravity’ and ‘intrinsically disordered’. It states that lesbian and gay relationships are ‘contrary to natural law … and do not proceed from genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved’.

“The Vatican identifies homosexuality as a deep-seated personality disorder and psychological flaw; variously condemning same-sex acts as ‘grave sins….objectively disordered….intrinsically immoral…(and) contrary to natural law.’

Even men who have a gay orientation but abstain totally from sex are condemned by the Pope as possessing a ‘tendency towards an intrinsic moral evil.’
“This leaflet challenges these outdated, bigoted attitudes. It reflects the growing acceptance of loving, loyal, long-term same-sex relationships by grassroots Catholics.”

Monday, November 17, 2008

Gaylord pulls out of Chula

Vista bayfront project

By Union-Tribune staff writer Tanya Sierra

CHULA VISTA ­— Gaylord Entertainment, the developer that Chula Vista hoped would finally turn around the city’s bayfront with a $1 billion hotel and convention center, has pulled out of the project citing funding hurdles.

In a letter to Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox and Port District president Bruce Hollingsworth, Gaylord vice president Bennett Westbrook said he is disappointed with the outcome.

Even though the company made strides in smoothing community conflicts and negotiating the regulations governing bayfront development, it was not enough, Westbrook said in the letter.

Almost too true to be funny

Friday, November 14, 2008

It’s dark in here!

A woman has an affair during the day while her husband is at work. Her nine-year-old son comes home unexpectedly, sees the illegal lovers and hides in the bedroom cupboard to watch. Then the woman’s husband unexpectedly comes home.

She hides her lover in the cupboard, not realizing that her little boy is in there already.
The little Boy says: “Dark in here.”
The Man says: “Yes, it is.”
Boy: “I have a soccer ball, do you want to buy it?”
Man: “No, thanks.”
Boy: “My dad’s outside, I’ll call him if you don’t buy it!”
Man: “OK, how much?”
Boy: “£250.”

A few weeks later it happened again and the boy and the lover were in the cupboard together again.
Boy: “Dark in here”.
Man: “Yes, it is.”
Boy: “I have soccer boots.”

The Man, remembering the last time, asks the boy: “How much?”
The Boy says:”£750.”
The Man says: “Fine, I will buy them.”

Few days later, the Father says to the boy: “Grab your ball and boots, let’s go outside and have a game.”
The Boy says: “I can’t, I sold them for $1000.”
The Father says: “That’s terrible to overcharge your friends like that… £1000 is way more than those two things cost. I’m going to take you to church and make you confess your sins.”
They go to church and the father makes the little boy sit in the confession booth and he closes the door.

The Boy says: “Dark in here.”
The Priest says: “Don’t start that sh!t again! THIS IS MY CHURCH NOT YOUR FATHER’S HOUSE.”

Saturday, October 25, 2008

No life on Mars

There wasn’t much on the TV and I was channel flipping when I happened upon the American version of “Life on Mars.” I don’t know if it has screened in the UK yet but I could understand if nobody considered it worth the price. Predictably, they’ve pasteurized all the magic out of the show.

The problem of how to Americanize the soccer violence episode was solved by the transposition of a queer-bashing theme sprinkled with a few American sports references: “How ‘bout those Knicks?”

The iconic Gene Hunt is played by the legendary Harvey Keitel. I’m a huge Keitel fan but he’s way too decrepit to convince anybody he’s a working cop.

The glamorous American stars look as if they’re attempting to resemble the original UK cast tweaked to look slightly glossier. Irishman Jason O’Mara might be a more convincing fish out of water if he’d stop trying to play Sam Tiler as an American John Simm. Gretchen Mol looks uncannily familiar as Annie, but blonde. Michael Imperioli looks as if DC Ray Carling is channeling Serpico. And Jonathan Murphy might as well be Marshall Lancaster playing Chris Skelton.

They even retained the practice of interrogating suspects in the store room but, oddly, this seems less believable in an American police station. I mean “Popeye” Doyle never had to go to so much trouble in The French Connection.

The resulting nostalgia fest doesn’t hold up well against existing American police procedural flashback shows such as “Cold Case Files.” I just hope the makers of the original Life on Mars made enough money out of the deal to finance something new.

Friday, October 24, 2008

An open letter to UK Prime

Minister Mr. Gordon Brown

The Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown MP,
10 Downing Street,
London SW1A 2AA

Dear Sir,

I would like to take this opportunity to make you aware of a growing concern that our nation is facing that is the epidemic of military impostors.

Respect and admiration for our armed forces personnel are at a level not seen since VE Day and the Falklands. Military personnel are seen as laudable and commendable and are praised and honoured at public gatherings and seen in the parades in our cities. Hardly a day passes without mention of “our heroes in uniform” in the print and broadcast media.

While most military veterans are loath to be called a “hero” themselves, most will readily suggest that they have met or served with some bona fide heroes. There are some members of our society, however, who covet the title of “military hero” and intentionally seek the spotlight, despite never having served in the nation’s armed forces. There are some legitimate military veterans who are not satisfied with their record of achievements and duties and who embellish their military records, claiming duties, skills, awards and commendations which they never actually earned.

False claims of military service are offered by charlatans for a plethora of reasons. Lecherous Lotharios attempt to impress potential female companions with their false claims of military prowess. Chest-thumping pub braggarts attempt to impress and intimidate their drinking buddies with false claims of ‘secret missions’. Jail cell braggarts attempt to intimidate inmates and guards with false claims of deadly military hand-to-hand combat training.

Office personnel offer false claims in an attempt to gain an advantage in the battle for promotions where preferences might be given to military veterans. Corporate executives use false military credentials in an attempt to gain an edge in corporate marketing directed at military clients. Members of military and fraternal organizations attempt to gain undeserved praise and unearned recognition with false claims of extraordinary valour and wear medals which reflect their false claims.

In the United States, one of the largest contingents of military imposters involves those who falsely claim to be military veterans for the purpose of obtaining medical benefits, tax benefits, and monetary compensation. Here in the UK, the numbers of imposters are growing in proportion to the rise in personal security firms.

The majority of British citizens are trusting individuals who readily accept personal credentials when they are offered. Most wouldn’t think of claiming deeds or honours which they didn’t earn. Military imposters thrive in this trusting atmosphere. There are also those who know the systems so well that they can construct a resume full of honours but which none are readily or easily verifiable.

Hollywood movies are intentionally designed so that viewers might imagine themselves in situations being portrayed on the big screen. Many movies in recent years have depicted an ‘everyman’ going about his normal job by day, but acting as a secret agent at nights and on weekends in the defence of our nation. Co-workers are shown to be completely oblivious to the skills and abilities of these remarkable warriors. These surreptitious heroes are often depicted receiving secret awards and medals which ‘cannot be documented because of national security interests’. Often there are depictions of military actions taking place which are never documented, and men being held as prisoners of war without records of their captivity, all presented as being in an effort to preserve national security. Such fictional plot elements are completely false and unrealistic, but since only about seven per cent of the British population has been involved in active military service, the remainder of the population is ill-equipped to determine where reality ends and fantasy begins. When an imposter offers claims of military service, rank, awards and events which are virtually lifted from the scripts of such movies, few outside of military veterans will suspect the duplicity.

Our laws in the UK are lax and without sufficient weight to deal with any of these impostors. We have antiquated laws such as the Seamen’s And Soldiers’ False Characters Act 1906 (1906 c.5 6_Edw_7) and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 begins to touch on the character of the trader but does not directly address a military imposter. The criminal sanctions of fraud and theft are absent of any direct penalty for military imposters.

The Unites States of America and the Commonwealth of Australia both have enacted laws that make it a serious crime to wear medals, awards or a uniform that one is not entitled to wear.

In Australia the Defence Act, 1903 was amended, and it is a federal offence to claim to be a returned soldier, sailor or airman, subject to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $3,300.

The applicable laws (The Stolen Valour Act) refer to “the uniform, or a distinctive part thereof or anything similar to a distinctive part of the uniform of any of the armed services of the United States…” as well as “any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the armed forces of the United States, or any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, or the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration, or medal, or any colorable imitation thereof, except when authorized under regulations made pursuant to law…”

The amended law specifically includes doubly harsh penalties for those who make false claims of being awarded the highest medals for valour such as the Congressional Medal of Honour, the three Service Crosses, the Silver Star, and the Purple Heart, or of being awarded the POW Medal.

Federal law enforcement agents in the United States of America are currently engaged in Operation Stolen Valour, a nationwide effort to bring the most egregious offenders to justice and demonstrate to the American public that its government will not tolerate those in its society who make false military claims for any reason, whether it is to gain employment or promotion under false pretences, obtain unearned government benefits, or for purposes of self aggrandizement of an over-inflated ego.

When informed about the growing epidemic of military imposters in our nation, many people ask “why bother with them?” Inquirers often suggest that military imposters are more to be pitied for their lack of self-esteem and self-worth than prosecuted, and that the making of false claims of military service is a ‘victimless crime’. On the contrary, it is not victimless, and it should be strongly stressed that it should be a crime. There are victims aplenty when false military claims are made. In addition to those individuals who are personally defrauded of goods, services and cash by multitudes of military impostors. Whether it is the parting of a few pints at the local legion to a “vet” or large defence contracts awarded to imposters there will always be a victim somewhere. The most apparent victim is the legitimate serviceman or woman whose valour has been stolen.

In a recent study in the United States, it was found that those who voluntarily participated in the National Library of Congress’ Veterans’ History Project that more than half of the participants who claimed to have been awarded the Medal of Honour had in fact not been awarded it. There were 14 false claims of receiving the Navy Cross and 30 false claims of having been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Further examinations of the records are finding false claims to special forces as well. Is this serious? If one considers that in one hundred years from now, these records could alter history then yes, it is serious.

Medals recognize the best of British qualities – courage, honour, duty, valour and sacrifice. These honours are reserved for those who willingly risked their lives for our country. It is our job to protect the honour and integrity of our veterans, to make sure the memory of their heroism is not tarnished.

I ask that you join in as our brethren in the United States and Australia have done and create and enact legislation in the United Kingdom to stop this epidemic of military impostors.

Yours faithfully,

Michael Burgess

Monday, October 20, 2008

12-Year-Old Boy Scouts Volunteer

To Give Women Breast Exams

Two prospective Eagle Scouts explain how they are preventing breast cancer by helping women examine their breasts.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

McCain trails Obama

US Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain (R-AZ) reacts to almost heading the wrong way off the stage after shaking hands with Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) at the conclusion of the final presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, October 15, 2008.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Crisis, What Crisis?
Britain in the 1970s
It seems as deeply researched as three Ph.D theses and yet Turner's narrative rattles along with a sly raconteur’s wit.

SPOILER ALERT: The strands of low culture and high politics are finely woven to a fine climax of comic inevitability in which Enoch Powell and Tony Benn console each other standing side by side in a House of Commons lavatory.

This is the kind of book that students of journalism, political science and sociology hide in the wrong sections of the university library so it will always be there when they need the right quote for a dissertation. My advice: buy your own.

Crisis, What Crisis?: Britain in the 1970s by Alwyn W. Turner (Aurum Press, £20)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Friday, October 03, 2008

Kucinich on the bailout: We Had Alternatives

In God We Trust, Wall Street Gets Cash

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) issued the following statement after voting against the Wall Street bail out plan, H.R. 1424, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008:

“The public is being led to believe that Congress has reconsidered its position because we have before us a better bill than we had a few days ago. It is the same bill plus hundreds of new pages for hundreds of millions of tax breaks. What does this have to do with the troubles of Wall Street?

“Driven by fear we are moving quickly to pass a bill, which may produce a temporary uptick for the market, but nothing for millions of homeowners whose misfortunes are at the center of our economic woes. People do not have money to pay their mortgages. After this passes, they will still not have money to pay their mortgages. People will still lose their homes while Wall Street is bailed out.

“The central flaw of this bill is that there are NO stronger protections for homeowners and NO changes in the language to ensure that the secretary has the authority to compel mortgage servicers to modify the terms of mortgages. And there are NO stronger regulatory changes to fix the circumstances that allowed this to happen.

“We should have created a mechanism for our government to take a controlling interest in mortgage-backed securities and use our power to work out a new deal for the homeowners. We could have done this. We should have done this. But we didn’t.

“Now millions of Americans will face the threat of foreclosure without any help. And the numbers will soon rise for a number of reasons. Not only because of the Alt-A, jumbo mortgages which will soon be reset at higher interest rates, but because the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) is pushing up rates on adjustable mortgages and more than half of the US adjustable mortgage rates are tied to LIBOR. Homeowner defaults will grow in significant numbers. Let’s see if Congress will be as quick to help homeowners on Main Street as they were to help speculators on Wall Street.

“Now the government will have to borrow $700 billion from banks, with interest, to give banks a $700 billion bailout, and in return the taxpayers get $700 billion in toxic debt. The Senate “improved” the bailout by giving tax breaks to people in foreclosure. People in foreclosure need help paying their mortgage, they do not seek tax breaks.

“Across our Nation, foreclosures continue to devastate our communities, people are losing their jobs, and the prices of necessities are skyrocketing. This legislation, just like the one we defeated last week, will do nothing to solve the problems plaguing American families or help them to get out from underneath the oppressive debt they have been forced to take on.

“Unfortunately, there has been no discussion of the underlying debt-based economy and the role of our monetary system in facilitating the redistribution of wealth upwards.

“It is not as though we had no choice but to pass the bill before us. We could have done this differently. We could have demanded language in the legislation that would have empowered the Treasury to compel mortgage servicers to rework the terms of mortgage loans so homeowners could avoid foreclosure. We could have put regulatory structures in place to protect investors. We could have stopped the speculators.

“This bill represents an utter failure of the Democratic process. It represents the triumph of special interest over the triumph of the public interest. It represents the inability of government to defend the public interest in the face of great pressure from financial interests. We could have recognized the power of government to prime the pump of the economy to get money flowing through out society by creating jobs, health care, and major investments in green energy. What a lost opportunity! What a moment of transition away from democracy and towards domination of America by global economic interests.

“Years ago, in a Cleveland neighborhood, I saw a hand-scrawled sign above a cash register in a delicatessen. The sign said: “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.” The sign above the Speaker’s rostrum reads “In God We Trust,” but we are paying the cash to Wall Street.

“It is not as if we had no other choice but to pass this bill.”

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008

If you don't vote, you're a moron

On the Sept. 10th edition of The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson, a new American citizen preparing to vote in his first US election asks, "Are we so lost we have to be sold our own democratic right!?"

Friday, September 05, 2008

Best breakfast in London

Terry's Cafe at 158 Great Suffolk Street, London, SE1 1PE, serves the best breakfast in London.

Ask for fried egg, Cumberland sausage, bubble, grilled tomatoes, a fried slice and a cup of tea.
You won't be sorry.

It's open weekdays 7 a.m. to 2 p.m and Saturdays 7:30 a.m. to noon. Closed Sundays. Phone: +44 20 7407 9358
Humor in uniform