Tuesday 10 June 2003 - euro and I'll paddle

My apologies if anyone has posted any messages recently, but I still haven't discovered how it works and where the messages reside. I've been told they should come to me as emails, but nothing has arrived, not even my testing messages. Getting basic information about how things work and where things go is blood out of a stone time, easy to get loads of info on writing scripts and programming, but techies seem to have a basic lack of awareness of what non-techies need to know, and sometimes barely speak the same language as the rest of us. Should we join the euro or not? That question will occupy the country increasingly over the coming months, yet countries which joined ages ago didn't collapse into monetary chaos, in fact it seems to be business as usual. I know the Dutch company we do work for finds the pound stirling prices we charge somewhat high because of the exchange rate, and would prefer to pay in euros if only for the convenience. As we're naturally a part of Europe and have joined the EU anyway, I can't see it's an issue, except for the ludicrous Rule Britannia loonies still in the last century [or the 19th] pratting on about John Bull, the British Pound and 'our' sovereignty. OUR sovereignty? Surely the sovereign's sovereignty, and as we have always been 'subjects' of the [German] monarch I'm not so sure I'd prefer that to being a citizen of Europe. The media always seem to interview market traders whenever the euro comes up, as if they are some kind of experts in these matters. Fact is, they handle loose change and are almost always against any change, and incapable of understanding anything beyond their market world. It's all just a way of bartering whatever you call the unit used, to feel nostalgic attachment to the pound which has steadily lost value over the decades, is simple minded. If for no other reason we should support and join the euro as a balance against the overwhelming might of the dollar.

The lychee-sweet smell of elderflower hangs heavy and seductive in the river meadows, driving the bees mad with lust. Many years ago we made country wines, and elderflower was the favourite with everyone, I never understood why it wasn't made commercially. Now there are elderflower flavoured fruit juices for sale in supermarkets and I wonder where the raw product comes from as I have never heard of elder being grown on farms commercially, although you'll find a few trees on most farms. Do the juice companies have an army of occasional workers who gather the blossoms from hedgerows and arrange pick-ups for transport to a central depot where they're processed, or do they send out crack teams of harvesters who roam the country stripping all they find? Probably an import from Europe. Or is it another example of the chemist's skill with nothing natural in it? Not many people seem to know that the blossoms make exceedingly good fritters, dipped in a light batter and deep fried for a few seconds and served with cream, they are a delicious summer-scented pancake like desert. But the blossoms have to be at their peak of creamy oppulance, heavy with pollen. I can't see them appearing in supermarkets at 'value added' prices somehow, too much labour involved. But for the individual a simple, instant dessert for the making at the right time of year. As it must be our commonest tree, there are plenty around for anyone to help themselves.

Wednesday 4 June 2003 - revenge of the angry aphids

And now the fightback begins. Slowly the pressure builds on Blair as those who were unhappy with going to war but seized on reassureance to go along with the herd are miffed and want to exclude themselves from blame now it is revealed to have been on spurious grounds. Blair claims he's going to reveal 'the evidence' yet gives not a clue as to what it contains, presumably because he hasn't thought of it yet. So far the only 'evidence' they have come up with is a cobbled together mish-mash of bits found on the net, theories and theses, reworded for effect and presented like a dossier of proof. Even the security services are determined not to be blamed and are making noises that their advice was spun to imply imminent danger despite the presence of UN inspectors who could find nothing. That Saddam had WMD is in no doubt, he was supplied by the US and UK who said nothing at the time he murdered the Kurds at Halabja, but have since added that to their litany of reasons for war to be repeated at every opportunity.

Blair doesn't handle it well. This is his worst nightmare, no weapons of mass destruction found, the world baying for the promised proof. He sweats profusely and looks like a man at bay, no confidence in what he says, no belief in his position. The media, once enthalled by the excitement of war are now joining the bandwagon to demand proof. They love a drama, and the present drama is entitled 'was he lying, will he resign?' and could run and run. It's all tilted against him and once the tilt is perceived, the joining always becomes a flood, none wishing to be seen on an increasingly isolated side, unpopular and criticised. As the truth of the damage to the country seeps out, more will find it uncomfortable to live without an accounting. Bush too is, at last, coming under fire, voices that were drowned out or stifled are now being heard in America, Congress will hold committees and examine evidence in public, the media will be involved. Whether it manages anything more than a beaurocratic critique to safely pack away in the archives is doubtfull, the tide would have to turn a good deal for anything serious to happen to Dubya. His attempts to come on strong to Israel to get some kind of settlement are desgined to make him look like the peacemaker and Iraq was just the prelude to peace in the middle-east, something that had to be done. Business as usual in other words, let the fuss die down, people forget, other issues take to the fore and other's suffering is but a shadow behind the main event.

Let them eat bananas

Meanwhile America continues in its attempt to bully the EU into scrapping quotas to Caribbean banana farmers so that Central American dollar bananas [so called because they're grown on US owned, pesticide-deluged plantations in Central America] can grab the ten percent of the market they don't monopolise already. Click on the Banana logo on the left to visit the Banana Link site.

This from Banana Link helps explain the situation:

The ACP is the group of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries which signed the Lomé Convention with the European Union. The Lomé Convention was a trade and aid agreement that the European Union (EU) first signed in 1975 with 48 of its ex-colonies. The Convention's preferential trade arrangements permitted duty-free access for a range of commodities on which the economies of the ACP are extremely dependent. From July 1993 until February 2000, a dozen ACP countries which traditionally exported bananas to the EU market benefited from duty-free access to the EU market under the so-called 'Banana Protocol' of the Lomé Convention. In June 2000, the EU and 77 ACP countries signed the Cotonou Agreement, which replaces Lomé. Traditional ACP banana exporting countries continued to have duty-free access for their bananas. The main 'traditional' ACP banana exporting countries are: Ivory Coast, Cameroon, St Lucia, Jamaica, Belize, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, Suriname, Somalia, Grenada and Cape Verde. More recently the Dominican Republic joined the ACP and Ghana started exporting bananas for the first time. Both are regarded by the EU as 'non-traditional' banana exporters. Bananas in St Lucia, St Vincent, Dominica, Grenada (the Windward Islands) and some parts of Jamaica are produced on small farms in hilly areas, usually owned and worked by local family farmers. The small plots often lie on steep and difficult terrain, unsuited to other crops. This style of farming is becoming less and less economically viable, as small farmers have to compete with the profitable large-scale farming methods adopted by many of the dollar producers. In the Windward Islands bananas provide over half of all export earnings. This dependence goes back to the early 1950s, when the islands were British colonies. Bananas are the fourth most important staple crop in the world, critical for food security in many tropical countries. World banana production amounts to some 65 million tonnes per year concentrated in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America because of the climatic conditions. More than 85 countries produce bananas and plantains, but for at least 15 Latin American and Caribbean producer countries, the Cavendish variety of banana is a crucial source of export income. Several million people depend on the banana trade for their livelihood. About 20% of the 65 million tonnes of bananas produced each year enter world trade; in fact Brazil and India, the two biggest banana producing countries, are hardly involved in the international banana trade at all. The highest consumption per person is in Uganda, where bananas are produced solely for local consumption. The crop is grown by millions of small-scale farmers in Africa, South Asia and Northern Latin America for household consumption and or/local markets. Most of this production is achieved with few or no external inputs. However, once a producer grows for the export markets of the industrialised world, considerable and growing levels of external inputs (for example pesticides) are required to effectively compete in these markets. Banana Link

Saturday 31 May 2003 - dominant or superior

My dog teaches me a lot, it's an ongoing simbiotic relationship. We both give and receive, and considering her minimal physical needs, she doesn't cost a lot. What she gives is a constant reminder that as a member of one species I am not superior to her, another species, but just different. I can never know what it is to be a dog, I can merely surmise and imagine while knowing I have only a feeble idea of the full picture. From her behaviour I know she is a complex individual with different moods, capable of feeling sad and elated, tender and caring. She can aslo be obstinate, self possessed and cocky, oh and willful. She clearly has ideas and puts them into operation in her own way. I can't know if she thinks in the same sense as we know the word because I know little of her language, but she certainly dreams, and experiences REM just like us. As with humans, other species only know what it is to be a member of their species. There may sound like a truism, but it's at the centre of the mind trick most humans play in order to put their species at the centre of the world and so diminish all other species. We can speculate, and we can observe closely like chimpanzees have been observed, but to dismiss all other species as incapble of experiencing pain or distress is dishonest. Our view should always be 'why wouldn't they feel pain?' rather than a convenient assumption that they don't. Pain is, after all, a mechanism to enqable the individual to protect itself and survive, a pretty basic instinct really. In the case of mammals, we know they share kust about every organ with us, and have a complex nervous system. At the root of our obsessive self worship is the sheer admiration of our cleverness, which enables even inadequate individuals who would never survive in a real jungle, and barely survive in the concrete one, feel superior to other species, even though they have no knowledge of how the digital watch on their wrist was made or works. It still makes them feel superior to a dog who knows what time of day it is from the angle of light, the calls of birds, the smells in the air, and a lot else we'll never understand. My close relationships with dogs over decades have taught me that they're possess powers we barely know exist such as telepathy. How else would both dogs get to their feet and come and stand by me expectantly when I had a passing thought on looking out at the sky of maybe taking them down to the river? How else would my dog suddenly turn, run back to me and nudge my pocket other than I had just noticed the ball in it banging against my body? These are but two examples of a common occurrance. Just because we think our verbal languages so expressive and refined, we dismiss any other language as basic, enough for the creatures survival needs. But a German Shepherd we had, called Breca, was so tunefull and sad when she crooned along with music, you could easily imagine her emotional response was pretty similar to a human listener. Her preference for certain operas and Gregorian chant might be dismissed as containing similar note sequences to the ones wolves employ, but the same could be said of a human response. Considering our species' long association with wolves/dogs [same genome despite all the nonsense about wolves] it seems strange that so many of ours understand nothing of theirs, yet all dogs seem to have an understanding of the relationship. They have guarded for us and herded farm animals, given warning of danger and saved individual humans from death. Is it perhaps the fact that they lick their gonads that makes some think they are superior with their fitted bathrooms and genteel habits? But they lick their gonads, and everything else, because they can. [think about it]. They are obvously equipped intestinally to cope with that or they'd have succumbed to the 'not fittest' fate long ago from widespread dysentry. Too many people are obsessed with 'cleanliness' and hygene and go to ludicrous lengths to distance themselves from the natural world. These artificials douse their bodies with smells to mask their natural body odour, de-odourize and sanitize everything not moving, attempt to zap everything living and then suffer from gastric problems because the natural flora and fauna of their body has been zapped and is no longer doing its job. Trouble is, our species developed a ludicrously large brain which we still barely use, an opposed thumb that enabled us to join the species that use tools, and then along came a palate capable of producing more subtle sounds than previously. The rest is, as they say, history. All the bad stuff as well as all the good is all the result of the over-endowed brain's boredom with life.

Friday 30 May 2003 - oh no, it's Friday already

I'm drawn increasingly to wonder about time. A child experiences time differently to an adult, and age seems the governing factor, although I suspect there could be also an accumulation of 'duties' or 'tasks' that dog you the older you get. There's never enough time in a day, yet once a day stretched on and on [especially the summer ones] and never seemed to end until tired, hot and happy you were tucked into cold sheets and were gone to charge batteries for the next day of growing and adventure. Measuring yourself as you grew into an adult world you little understood or were concerned with. Blair coming under increasing fire for lying to Parliament, a sin worse than running down a party of nuns apparently. As if it wasn't obvious to all that he was lying - the sweat above the lips, the subtle changes of body language and expression, the halt in the voice, feint quiver of a muscle, they all said this guy was on dodgier than dodgy ground, he knew it, and hoped like hell no one else noticed. Now the saddoes of parliamentary democracy bleat that he may have misled them, they only went along with it because he reassured them there was an imminent WMD threat to the UK, which now, it seems, was 'massaged' upwards linguistically. That the propostion was too preposterous for words seems to have escaped their analytical organ. It was all, apparently, enough to fool the majority of Labour MPs. Methinks they too desperately wanted to believe any reassuring noises however weak, as the alternative would have been to be rebels and risk being blacklisted by the party whips and no future job perks. So they fool themselves they were unwillingly duped but honourable, prefering to be thought foolish and dupable than responsible for what happened. The only one to come out of it with any degree of honour was, amazingly, the somewhat pompous Robin Cooke, who actually remembered he had principles and resigned with a speech that brought cheers and applause from the assembled sheep, who still backed their fuhrer when push came to vote. This morning, down by the river with the dogs, I noticed they seemed interested/concerned with something on the ground by the row from two rooks above us on low branches. A baby rook lay spreadeagled and tangled in bindweed. I cleaned it up and, although it was fully fledged, was clearly unable to fly quite yet, probably taken a tumble from the nest while trying. Problem. The parents were right above my head and creating a din, I placed it in a crook of the tree they were in just within reach and moved on. The parents followed from tree to tree, shouting all the way. Either they thought I still had their baby or they wanted me to go back and put him somewhere less precarious. I went back. Baby was where I'd left him so I retrieved him and found a secure, nest like space in some bushes. Dangerous on the ground, lots of terriers go past, but the only alternative would have been to take him home and then he'd be lost to the wild life. Later when I checked, he was gone and no evidence of demise such as feathers, so hopefully he managed to get the flying together and get back home. Such a little scrap of life, deserved another chance in an uncaring world.

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