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Friday 22 September 2006

British taxpayers may have lost £8.4bn to VAT fraudsters

BBC Panorama reports on a European investigation which suggests that a VAT (sales tax) scam may have cost the UK up to £8.4 billion (£8,400,000,000).

The theft comes from so-called ‘carousel fraud’, where crooks repeatedly import and export high value goods such as mobile phones, failing to pay VAT but then claiming it back from the government.

If this figure is true, it amounts to £140 for every person in Britain.


Filed under: Crime,Politics — GS @ 6:29 am
Wednesday 23 August 2006

Birdlife

One of the things you notice when you come from Manchester city centre to a small village out in the country is the birdlife.

Sure we have magpies, pigeons, starlings and even parrots where I live in Manchester. But here there is just so much more variety and so many of them: swifts, swallows, thrushes, blackbirds, finches, wrens, occasionally geese and birds of prey and, unlike some parts of Britain, there is no shortage of sparrows here. All of these can be seen from the house. Recently I posted a video of a woodpecker that was outside my window.

When I lived here fulltime I had two cats and there were many others in the neighbourhood, with inevitable consequences. Now there are no cats and the birds are thriving. But it can still be harsh at times.

Last year I was watching a beautiful thrush hopping about on the lawn. An hour later I found it dead. It had either choked to death on something (a slug pellet from one of the other gardens?) or maybe it had just happened to drop dead for some reason.

I arrived to find the swallows nesting in the passageway between the houses, as they have done for decades. I could see three or four little beaks peeking over the edge of the nest and they were a few days from fledging. One year I got this great shot of them just after they left the nest.

Swallows just after leaving the nest

Sad to say, last week, I found all the chicks dead on the ground below. I don’t know what happened. There was no sign of any damage to the nest. But we did have workmen outside the house cutting up the pavement with one of those noisy saws. I wonder if that kept the parent birds away and when they returned the baby birds were dead, so the parents threw them out of the nest?

Nature can be tough. I’m starting to feel like the vet in The League of Gentlemen!


Filed under: Wildlife — GS @ 3:21 am
Wednesday 19 July 2006

There’s a £50 fee to be in the Manchester Pride parade this year

If you want to take part in Manchester’s annual gay pride parade this year you will have to pay £50 + VAT. No, this isn’t a fee for businesses — they already pay more than £1000 to be in the parade.

It is a charge for every non-profit group and individual. Whether you are unemployed, disabled, poor, retired, have HIV, you will have to cough up more than fifty quid to walk through the streets of Manchester and celebrate being lesbian or gay.

When I saw the report in this morning’s Independent newspaper, it took my breath away.

It is bad enough that the cynical, money-focused people who run this event these days, fenced off the gay village and introduced an entrance fee back in 2003. In 2006 that entry charge is up 50% for many people, from £10 to £15.

But this latest stunt has to be the final straw. The signs are that they are selling fewer tickets each year. Money raised for charity in 2005 was the lowest figure since 2002. They seek to mislead the public over their costs.

It’s time for everyone to boycott Manchester Pride and force a change and go back to the roots of this event.

I believe that the biggest threat the gay community in Britain faces now, comes from the people who dream up schemes like this. Those who seek to make money from us at every opportunity. They are only interested in people who can pay.

The current organisers have completely lost sight of what Pride means.

How is it that other sections of the community in Manchester can hold parades and events that are free? But when it comes to the gay community we are told we must pay tens of thousands of Pounds in costs for security, street cleaning etc.?

Why is it that the gay village has to be fenced off with a high entry charge because it is serving alcohol, when alcohol can be served at other outdoor events in the city centre which are not fenced off?

If the City Council can tweak the byelaws to block off public roads in the gay village for a whole weekend, how come it can’t tweak the laws that relate to alcohol?

This is discrimination 2006 style. The gay community can be beaten and threatened into paying this money by businesses, the Police and Manchester City Council — all of whom say Pride won’t go ahead unless we agree to their terms (just look back to what happened in 2002 when the event was almost cancelled).

No other section of the community in Manchester is being hit in this way.


Filed under: LGBT,Manchester — GS @ 12:08 am
Friday 14 July 2006

Alan Turing: the genius Britain betrayed

In The Times, Ben Macintyre writes about Alan Turing, ‘The genius Britain betrayed’.

Also there is an excellent article from the New Yorker here which speculates that Alan Turing may have been murdered by the state, due to being a supposed security risk.


Filed under: LGBT,Manchester,Science — GS @ 1:13 pm
Thursday 29 June 2006

Tony Blair’s assault on civil liberties

The Independent newspaper has an article (reprinted from Vanity Fair) about the way Tony Blair has eroded civil liberties and freedom in Britain and the scary way in which many people seem compliant and almost resigned to their fate.

Certainly there’s a lack of interest in politics these days. Partly because politicians and the media have managed to make the subject so boring. Sometimes it seems like one group of public schoolboys (the journalists) having a matey jousting match with another group of public schoolboys (the politicians).

Television — the most powerful medium we have, and the one from which most people get their information, has been dumbed down. The awkward programmes — World In Action, This Week, Panorama — have gone or been emasculated. Scare stories about paedophiles, terror threats and health risks are used to distract the public from what the Government is doing in the background.

Tony Blair has created a society where British people work such long hours that many have neither the time nor appetite for serious subjects in the few hours they have to themselves. They seek escapism.

On the subject of ID cards, Neil Tennant of the PetShopBoys is quoted in the article as saying: ‘my specific fear is that we are going to create a society where a policeman stops me on the way to Waitrose’.

Already I see that attitude developing amongst the police. Most recently I noticed it when we went to the Manchester Passion event on Good Friday. We asked a policeman for directions to the street from where the parade was starting off and I happened to mention that I was there to shoot some video. He replied that he had ‘no objection’ to me filming.

I wasn’t asking for his permission to film. This was on a public street at an event that was intended for the public. But, apparently, he felt it was in his power to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to me using my camcorder.

Shooting pictures at the Carribean Carnival last year, I was asked by one policeman where I was from.

Instead of assuming that most people are at an event for perfectly innocent reasons, now there always seems to be a suspicion that you are up to something.

I’ve been out on the streets shooting photographs and video for twenty-five years and this is something that never used to happen. It makes me feel uncomfortable. I can see the day coming when they will expect to review your videotape or look at the photos on your memory card.

Quality of life for ordinary law-abiding people is being eroded because there is a one-in-a-million chance that the Police may catch someone who is up to no good.

This is sneaking up on us. We are being ‘groomed’ ready for a society where we will be tracked and logged twenty-four hours a day and any variation from the home-to-work-to-supermarket-to-home routine will prompt questions and a request to prove who we are, what we are doing and why.

Like Neil Tennant I’ll consider leaving Britain if ID cards are introduced.

PS. I can’t believe I’m quoting one of the Pet Shop Boys. How gay is that? ;-)


Filed under: Politics — GS @ 3:46 am
Wednesday 3 May 2006

The BBC, public participation and ‘user generated’ content

How serious is the BBC about public participation and user-generated content? Not very serious, I would say…

The BBC has always looked on the public as material to be used in its programmes and now it looks on photographs and videos that come from that public as material to be used in its programmes. So not much change…

The old joke is that the official BBC tie has small checks (cheques). But, for many people these days, the BBC means no cheques…

My experience, as a former magazine writer/photographer and now web developer, is that the Corporation is always on the look out for free content. I’m tired of producers and researchers asking to use my photographs for free. There’s never any money. With a remit to encourage creativity and promote culture in Britain, the BBC is the last organisation that should be doing this.

Then there’s the raw deal that independent TV production companies have experienced over the years… If this is the BBC’s attitude to fellow professionals, then pardon me for being just a little bit cynical about the Beeb’s enthusiasm for material from the public.

READ THE SMALL PRINT

Before you supply any photos or videos, as a member of the public, read the terms. You’re giving the BBC:

‘a royalty-free, non-exclusive licence to publish and otherwise use the material in any way that we want, and in any media worldwide. This may include the transmission of the material by our overseas partners’

In the case of video, it says they may not even be able to credit you. Wonderful — no payment and not even a name-check either. Isn’t there some European law that entitles everyone to be identified as the author of his or her work?

I hope the public will wake up to this soon. I believe that the companies that deal unfairly now will pay later once people get over the novelty of seeing their video on screen and realise that they have been ‘used’.

It really pays to keep people happy these days. The video blogger or photographer who has a good experience of providing footage to a company, may continue to do so for years to come. But leave someone with a bad taste in their mouth and there will be no more material from that source in the future.

Guess which of these is the best business model?

UPDATE: LoadedPun has the story of a video blogger who helped CNN make a report for TV but then was told he would have to pay $1000 if he wanted to include the final video on his blog. In fact, so far, he hasn’t even been able to see the report!

Maybe this guy will think twice before getting involved with CNN again? Piss off enough videobloggers, who then tell everyone else, and soon no one will want to work with CNN. It seems that yet another big media company hasn’t quite woken up to the way things are changing?

Monday 1 May 2006

Voters dislike adulterous MPs. Gay MPs don’t bother them

On BBC News 24 tonight, Janet Daly (a contributor to the Daily Telegraph) referred to research which she says has been carried out by the Conservative Party. It found that voters have a strong dislike of married Members of Parliament who have affairs and they don’t really mind MPs who are gay.

She said this showed that the Conservative Party got it wrong in the past because it was homophobic and many Tory MPs were adulterers.

I would say that ignores the fact that it’s only in very recent years that we’ve seen a big change in public attitudes towards gay men and women. Unfortunately, the Tories probably were fairly in tune with what many people thought up until 5-10 years ago.

Which reminds me of an occasion back in the early 1980’s during an election. A car drove past our house in Victoria Park. It was promoting the local Conservative candidate. ‘Public money given to gays and lesbians — we’ll show them,’ shouted a voice through a megaphone. A reference to the labour-controlled city council’s support for us back in those days.

I was so incensed that I telephoned the local Conservative party headquarters. I told the rather-startled woman who answered (who had probably never talked to anyone gay before — shock/horror!) that this sort of campaigning just whipped up hatred towards gay men and women. I also pointed out that my boyfriend was a Conservative voter and that quite a lot of gay men were. So the Tories were shooting themselves in the foot with this hate-campaigning.

Unfortunately for the Conservatives, they spent almost another 20 years attacking the gay community, single parents, asylum seekers and minorities, before the message finally hit home. They realised that a large number of us in Britain have family or friends who are gay, black, a single parent… And we don’t like those people being victimised.

Strangely enough, I submitted these comments as feedback on the party website shortly before Theresa May made her famous comment at the 2002 conference about the Conservatives being perceived as the ‘nasty party‘. Goodness — did I help to rehabilitate the Tory party?

Now I think it’s rather wonderful that all our main political parties accept us and recognise gay rights. Especially when I look at the way the gay community is struggling in other countries such as the United States. Now I can even consider voting Conservative (though don’t get your hopes up David Cameron).

Anyway, to get back to the original subject, it’s easy to see why the public dislikes adultery. As it involves dishonesty and a partner being hurt.


Filed under: Politics — GS @ 1:37 am
 
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