30 April 2007

Flushing away our future

Sheryl Crow made the headlines recently, but predictably enough it wasn't for her music. Rather, she has suggested that we could all contribute to reducing energy consumption by being a little more sparing in our use of the loo roll. One square per session would be her guide, "except, of course, on those pesky occasions where 2 to 3 could be required."

This has provoked surprisingly strong reactions from American commentators, some dubbing her "The Toilet Taleban" as they assert their constitutional rights to use as many trees as possible when "drawing an ace" in the bathroom. For a country so squeamish of bodily functions as to eshew the use of the T-word altogether, this is commendable frankness, though with current average use of 8.6 squares per session by Americans (according to research by Charmin), Sheryl has quite a way to go before she realises her dream.

While doing some work with Kimberly-Clark a few years ago, I found out an important cultural difference between Europe and the USA over the use of loo roll. Apparently in Europe we tend to be "folders" whereas the Americans are "scrunchers". This has big implications for the types of paper manufactured on each side of the Atlantic, and, given that scrunching ought to be more wasteful, I would expect the US to be the most profligate country in this area. Surprisingly, the USA is only second in the list of biggest consumers of paper per head of population - heading the list is... Belgium. Clearly I am not the only person to have suffered the consequences of eating dodgy mussels in Bruges.

23 April 2007

Blood Steyns

Mark Steyn has been offering his latest words of wisdom on the Virginia Tech campus shooting:

For those of you unfamiliar with his work, he used to be a columnist on the Daily Telegraph, until it became a bit left wing for him. So he seems to have moved the the USA from his native Canada, where he can find a larger audience for his famously perspicacious brand of right-wing mentalism.

Virginia Tech's great crime, according to Steyn, was to put signs up proclaiming the campus a "gun-free zone", which naturally lulled all the students into a false sense of security. One may argue about the benefits of placing public aspirational messages around a college campus - indeed you may even call it fatuous. But it scarcely makes you more vulnerable to complacency about mass murder, any more than seeing street preachers proclaim the end of the world makes me check the news for an apocalypse.

It turns out the real reason for the tragic loss of life at Virginia Tech (VT) was because there weren't enough guns. Had "the Second Amendment not been in effect repealed by VT", he goes on "someone might have been able to do as two students did five years ago at the Appalachian Law School: When a would-be mass murderer showed up, they rushed for their vehicles, grabbed their guns and pinned him down until the cops arrived."

Of course Cho Seung-hui would also have had to remember to wear his "would-be mass murderer" T-Shirt that day as well, just so the cops didn't add to the mayhem by shooting the wrong armed student and anyone caught in the crossfire.

19 April 2007


Two months after the importation of Bird Flu into the UK via a Bernard Matthews plant in Suffolk, we learn he's going to get his comeuppance. According to the BBC: "no specific proven source has been found but the reports says the most likely explanation is that the infection came from the importation of turkey meat from Hungary". Let's just clarify that for a moment - this is a Bernard Matthews farm in Hungary importing livestock to a Bernard Matthews farm in the UK - where the outbreak occurred.

So surely the government has come down like a ton of bricks on Bernard Matthews? Why of course: the company will get £589,000 compensation for the birds compulsorily slaughtered to prevent the spread of bird flu.

Clearly this is a tricky problem, and not a reflection on the bizarrely sacred position of agriculture as a business. After all, imagine if, say, a sausage company had been accused of producing sausages infected with e-coli. How much compensation do you think they would have been entitled to?

17 April 2007

Onward Christian Soldiers

Reporting on yesterday's shooting at Virginia Tech University, this morning's first edition of the Metro described the shooter as carrying "an ungodly amount of ammunition". Presumably if he'd just been packing a couple of clips the Lord would have smiled sweetly upon his work.

16 April 2007


A new TV show has started on CBeebies, the BBC's TV channel dedicated to the under-5s. It stars an eco-super hero called Tommy Zoom, and charts his battles with the villain Polluto. The first time I watched this programme, I was struck by a resemblance to a certain leading British politician. Maybe it's my overactive imagination, but this couldn't be some subtle indoctrination, could it? A way of getting back at the Government after the humiliating climbdown over the Andrew Gilligan affair?

Polluto and The Prime Minister - separated at birth?

12 April 2007

A penny for his thoughts

David Miliband MP, Government minister at DEFRA (Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and anointed successor to Tony Blair, has been in the news this week. It seems to be for refusing to deny his refusal to confirm his withholding or otherwise of support or non-support for Gordon Brown becoming the next Prime Minister. Something like that, anyway - I was beginning to lose the thread of the story, a thread that has come close to snapping under the weight of desperate journalists clinging to it for ANY kind of controversy about the Prime Ministerial succession.

The political hacks are clearly looking in the wrong place - check out his blog (http://www.davidmiliband.defra.gov.uk/blogs/ministerial_blog/default.aspx) and you'll come across this rather defensive posting :

"Contrary to the repeated falsehood that this blog costs £40,000, here are the facts. The initial start up cost of the blog at ODPM was £6,000. The changeover to Defra cost £1,250 and ongoing technical costs amount to £900 pa. Since I write my own blogs, read comments, and don't have a shadow blogger the admin costs are low: one valiant official spends part of his time posting blogs and comments. It is estimated that this takes around 10 hours per month at an estimated cost of £300."

According to official figures published by the Lib Dems, Government IT projects have overrun their initial budgets by more than £260 million over the last five years. And the worst performing department, in terms of proportion of overrun? None other than Mr Miliband's DEFRA.

My blog cost £22.50 to register two domain names, and monthly broadband connection of less than £30 per month. I can't quite afford to employ a glorified spell-checker at £30 per hour, but for half that money, I'd gladly show Mr Miliband how to press the "Upload Post" button.

04 April 2007

Our survey says...

Do you church? Or maybe you've been de-churched? It's a hot topic of the moment, according to Christian charity Tearfund, which has just published a survey. One in ten in the UK attends church once a week, rising to one in seven once a month. I thought that was quite a good rate of attendance (or bad, depending on the state of your faith), but apparently it gives us the fourth lowest rate of attendance in Europe, despite all the mythical migrant Polish plumbers swelling the Catholic masses (in both senses of the word).

"The first thing they [churches] have really got to wake up to is that there is this big cultural gap between churched and non-churched" Tearfund's president, Elaine Storkey, explained.

Presumably this is something to do with those non-churched people being non-faithed in a non-Christianed sort of way. Or maybe they didn't understand the question.

01 April 2007


"Everything has been figured out, except how to live" Jean-Paul Sartre once said. Undeterred, the post-existentialist builders next door to where I work are offering what are described as "7 living solutions for rent". Imagine my disappointment when they turned out to be merely a series of apartments.

It probably represents one of the worst examples of the random application of the word "solution" to things which do not, apparently, answer a problem. Soup, for example, has not troubled the minds of many philosophers. Yet Baxters new 'Soup Choices' is described as a "deliciously tasty new range of healthy lunch solutions".

In the ready-meal aisle of every supermarket I'd expect to see a row of worried bachelors finding ecstatic relief upon encountering a freezer full of "meal solutions". As someone who has actually tasted some of these "meal solutions", I'd have to say: if that was the answer, it must have been a stupid question.