Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Charter Flights from Manston this Summer

The BBC reports that Infratil, the new owner of Kent International Airport has announced that charter flights will resume from summer 2006.

Infratil said it would reveal the name of the new charter operator at a news conference to be held on Wednesday.

The company took over the airport, based at Manston, in August last year after the previous owner PlaneStation went into administration.

Freight services started again from September, but regular passenger flights have yet to return.

Rubber Band Solution

It’s nice to see that our local news sources, radio and print, are dipping in to the website to see if there are any new stories and test the pulse of local opinion.

When I arrived home today, it was to find a handful of news releases from the police, who look as if they have been busy. It also strikes me that many of the younger people given ASBOs, don’t give a damn and carry on re-offending until they are finally “Banged-up” away from the rest of us. Perhaps I’m wrong but I recall an early story from this month on ThanetLife where a respected inner London social worker appeared to be expressing much the same view. You may have read that tagging technology also doesn’t work properly but the technologists have known about this for ages and in some areas, it’s about as useful as placing a rubber band around a criminals arm and saying, “There, don’t go outside because we’ll find out, not.”

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera, the Arabic television news channel will be visiting Thanet tomorrow, which is nice!

Teenage 'Sniper' Cautioned

Thanet Extra reports that armed police were called after a man reported being shot at by a sniper from a house in Margate on Monday night.

The passer-by said he was fired at from a home in Millmead Road as he walked through the Millmead housing estate at about 7.30pm.

Officers in flak jackets assessed the seriousness of the situation and made what a spokesman described as "an armed inquiry" before arresting an 18-year-old man at a house.

He was cautioned for possessing a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence. A paintball firing air weapon was seized at the scene. No-one was injured in the incident.

A police spokesman said: "Some of the ball-bearing and paintball guns are extremely realistic in appearance.

"When armed officers are called to investigate a firearms incident their first duty is public safety and they will react according to what they see.

"There is always potential risk for someone using a lifelike weapon in a threatening manner to be at risk of being shot or even killed."

Westgate Boy Given ASBO

A 14-year-old Westgate boy has been given a two-year Anti-Social Behaviour Order that stops him from swearing, spitting and going near a local supermarket.

Daniel James Longbottom, (pictured with police permission) of Linksfield Road, was given the order by Margate magistrates on Wednesday, 25 January.

The order prohibits Daniel from:

• Using foul and abusive language in a public place;
• Spitting at any person or immediately next to any person;
• Entering the Londis Store on Cambourne Avenue, Westgate, or going within 10m of the front door.

PC Sue Luck, Thanet’s anti-social behaviour officer, said magistrates had recognised the police and public’s concern about Daniel’s behaviour.

“The courts and police don’t take these matters lightly. Anti-Social Behaviour Orders are a strong measure imposed by the courts to control a person’s behaviour when all other avenues have been tried unsuccessfully,” she said.

“It’s important to remember that ASBOs are not a punishment. They are a way of trying to reign in behaviour that causes harassment, alarm and distress to the public.

“In Daniel’s case we hope that he will obey the rules of his order, realise that his behaviour isn’t appropriate and in future think about how his actions affect others in his community.”

To report a breach of the conditions of an Anti-Social Behaviour Order, contact Kent Police on (01843) 231 055.

Prison for Zoe and Carla Sharpe

Two Thanet sisters have each been sentenced to 14 months imprisonment for affray and breaching the conditions of their Anti-Social Behaviour Orders.

Carla, 21, and Zoe, 19, Sharpe appeared in Canterbury Crown Court on Thursday, 26 January, charged with affray and breaching their Anti-Social Behaviour Orders on 26 October last year after they assaulted members of the public in Queen Street, Ramsgate. Carla was also charged with common assault.

However before the sisters can start serving their 14-month custodial sentences they first have to finish serving a jail term they were given in March last year for another affray matter in Margate.

On that occasion they were sentenced to a year’s jail and given a three-year ASBO, which included a condition not to assault, threaten or intimidate any person.

The sisters were released from prison in September last year, however were remanded into custody on 26 October following being charged with the latest offences.

Their new 14-month sentence will begin on the completion of their current sentence in mid-March.

Burglars Target Thanet Homes

More than 50 people have been arrested for burgling houses in the two months since Kent Police began its campaign to drive down burglary crime on the isle, however the burglary rate is still up.

Of the 55 people arrested since 1 December, 13 have been remanded in custody or sentenced to imprisonment. Officers have also executed more than 30 search warrants for stolen property.

Detective Sergeant Tony Pledger, the officer in charge of efforts to drive down burglaries on the isle, said that despite the high number of prosecutions, burglary rates were still high because thieves were still being given too many opportunities to get into resident’s homes.

“A large number of the burglaries we are getting at the moment have resulted from homes being left insecure,” he said. “A lot of burglars go from house to house looking for unlocked doors and windows, and unfortunately they have been finding a lot lately.
“Residents have to remember to lock their homes up securely, even when they are at home, otherwise they are giving burglars an invitation to literally walk in and take whatever they want.”

DS Pledger asked residents to also be wary of anyone hanging around their neighbourhood and to report any suspicious activity to the police.

“Everyday we have uniformed officers and detectives out on the streets and back alleys trying to catch burglars and drive down crime, but we still really need residents’ help to bring them to justice,” he said.

“Be suspicious of people hanging about your street, get to know your neighbours and join a Neighbourhood Watch Scheme.

“If anyone wants anymore information about home security or joining Neighbourhood Watch then call Thanet’s Watch Liaison Officer, Terry McCormick, on (01843) 222 176.”

Monday, January 30, 2006

Crouching Tiger - Hidden Thanet

He joined the late train from Victoria at Herne Bay, a young man in his twenties, in a paint-stained black bomber jacket, dark rings under his eyes. Sitting down two seats across from me, he produced a bottle of vodka from his pocket and filled a plastic cup with the contents, drinking it down in large satisfied gulps. Feeling better for it, he rolled a cigarette on his knee and then after fiddling with it for a while, looking around for any sign of the conductor, he produced a Bic lighter and started to smoke, unpertubed by the "No Smoking" signs on the windows of the carriage. The two of us left the train when it arrived in Westgate, very different journeys home to the same small town.

I had a rather surreal experience at Westminster yesterday afternoon inside Portcullis House, where the MPs live. I’m assuming there was a meeting taking place between an Islamic interest group and Members of Parliament, because at 5’O’clock, the corridor filled with the faithful, prostrating themselves in the direction of Mecca and causing me to negotiate a suitably respectful path around them on the way to the meeting I was chairing. This was interrupted, not by the call to prayer but by the division bell, causing me to lose the MPs I had present as they ran-off towards the House to vote on some obscure new government legislation such as the Regulation of Ruminants Act.

Earlier, with an hour to spare between appointments on the way from Holborn, I had dropped-in to the British Museum, which I haven’t visited since I was a child. Architecturally, it’s an even more impressive building today and I took a few camera photos of the exhibits. The Roman Britain gallery was closed and I asked the curator if anyone had told the Romans. He laughed. One can imagine Julius Caesar landing his army on the beach at Dover in 55BC, only to be told, “Sorry mate, were’ closed. Come back in 47 AD will you and bring the Emperor Claudius and some Elephants with you.”

The curious thing, I thought, about the British Museum today was that it was packed with Chinese tourists, all moving around in excited, shoving groups of never less than thirty. I commented on this new phenomenon in my weblog over a year ago; how the once quiet Nile cruise ships are now packed with the first generation of mainland Chinese ever to leave that country as tourists with a degree of economic freedom. By the end of the decade, it’s predicted that the Chinese will be the single largest tourist group visiting Europe and the UK. Among them in the museum, were half a dozen or so of what I can only guess were circus gymnasts, delicate-looking teenage girls in bright green tracksuits who were chasing each other around the grounds taking photos, almost floating over obstacles outside the museum, such as statues in a display of grace and agility that you only see in films like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

The Monday Evening Standard produced a map showing the London Underground stations where one is most likely to be stabbed or robbed or both. South Croydon and Clapham come top and most Londoners should be able to guess the top five, which must be comforting for anyone commuting home in that direction.

A quick look at the statistics for this website shows me that visits have soared over the last seven days and even Sunday, which is normally quiet, very nearly set a new record on its own. I’m delighted to see so many people becoming involved in the comment threads, if it’s to express disagreement with what I might write. Let me just add that if I’m not more than a little provocative, then nobody will visit ThanetLife, so you should always consider anything you see here as written with a mildly ‘Tongue in cheek’ style to test the waters of public opinion on different subjects, whether it be the argument over the future of the Turner Contemporary or the equally emotive subject of Political Correctness.

Serious Sex Assault in Ellington Park

Detectives have launched an investigation after reports of a serious sexual assault on an 18-year-old woman in a public park.

Police cordoned off Ellington Park in Ramsgate as a forensic unit searched the area. The assault occurred in the early hours of Sunday.

Police have appealed for anyone who was in the vicinity at the time to contact them if they spotted anyone acting suspiciously.

The park is located between the town centre and the railway station. Anyone with information is asked to telephone 01843 231055.

PetPlan

A wonderful story from The Times today, that new Government guidelines will tell owners exactly how they must care for their pets

Reportedly, cats, dogs and other family pets are to have five statutory “freedoms” enshrined in law — and owners who flout the regulations could face jail or a fine of up to £5,000 after a visit from the “pet police”.



Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, is to produce detailed codes of conduct telling pet owners how to feed their animals and where they should go to the toilet, along with ways of providing “mental stimulation”. Owners of “sociable” pets should provide them with playmates, the codes will say.

The 18-page A4 document, drafted for MPs scrutinising the Bill, warns cat owners of the dangers of dogs. It reads: “Dogs should be introduced to cats very carefully. The dog should be on a lead at first so that it cannot chase the cat.”

To be honest, I’m less worried about cats than I am about Iran and it’s nuclear ambitions. I think it’s rather clear to everyone that in invading Iraq, we chose the wrong country to chastise in our search for weapons of mass destruction and I believe that if Tehran builds a bomb, then it will most likely try or threaten to use it against Israel or indeed anyone who might threaten its interest in the surrounding geography of the middle-eastern oilfields.

I’m actually in that direction next month and I’ll be most interested in the opinion of its closest neighbouring governments. A crisis of the kind I describe will push oil prices through the ceiling and could easily trigger the kind of recession that the West hasn’t seen since the OPEC battles of the early seventies. Worse still, Israel will most likely make some kind of pre-emptive strike before the risk becomes too great for its own population.

Europe will continue to mutter and talk of sanctions while the US, bogged-down in Iraq, would hesitate to consider any question of employing troops against seventy million Iranians. That rather leaves Iran with the inevitability of a bomb within a year I suspect, unless it pulls back from its policy of brinkmanship, which it has not showed any signs of doing yet.

I wrote a story on Iran for The Economist magazine about two years ago, when I interviewed President Khatemi’s personal envoy. A fascinating country with generous people and enormous potential, mired in the introspection of political fundamentalism.



Sunday, January 29, 2006

Leave Your Handbag at Home

“Best leave your handbag at home”, the advice I had to pass on from a lady who recently had her wallet stolen while shopping in Primark in Margate.

This is allegedly the work of “Roma gangs”, working in family groups, she was told by the police. Apparently, the group concerned had been “Working” Margate High Street that day.

What does a ‘Roma Gang’ look like? I’m not allowed to offer a description but I’m sure you have a good idea and I’ve provided an historical link for anyone who may be interested. in the history of the much-persecuted Roma people. A quick trawl through the web shows that such organised criminal gangs are the scourge of Southern Europe but have moved North in recent years, lured by the opportunities to be found in our more generous welfare society.

Taking the Mickey

Council tax inspectors are to visit the US Disney World at public expense as part of a globe-trotting itinerary to learn about increasing bills for homeowners.

At the resort, the British ”team” will give a seminar on the forthcoming council tax revaluation in England - in which homeowners will face higher bills if they have extra bedrooms, big gardens or even a nice view.

Inspectors will also learn how information on private homes in the UK may be "sold on" by the Government to private companies for profit.

Inspectors have been offered special trips to Disney World and a dedicated website has been set up to allow them to pre-book tickets for the theme park.

One of the key tools of the exercise is expected to be "spy in the sky" aerial photographs to check whether a property has recently been converted, adding to its value. This rather makes me wonder when the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will start downloading the hundred of aerial photos I have taken of Thanet. When everyone’s back from Disney World I assume!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Thanet Walking Festival News

Reader Helen Jezequel writes:

“Hello, I am one of a small group of people who is organising a walking festival in May 2006. Would it be possible to list this on your site please and link though to our website?"

Taking place between Sunday 7th May and Saturday 13th May, the Thanet Walking Festival is now in its fourth year and brings together in one week the most popular Thanet walks from the White Cliffs Ramblers Association regular walking programme, 'Walk & Talk' health walks and the special interest town walks provided by local civic and historical societies.

Ed: No problem Helen and the same applies to anyone else with news of local activities to publicise.

Gatso Catcho

Public enemy #1 having been caught in a hurry by a mobile speed camera along the Shottendane road has decided to share their positions, for those of you who don’t know where they are already.

Unfortunately, the trouble with the mobile ones is that they keep moving them around to catch the boy racers like me and anyone else going over 30mph in a rocket-powered shopping trolley.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The iPod Test

In her Thanet Gazette column today, Jane Wenham Jones’ comments: “Let’s face it, your average local authority can barely run a bath let alone a commercial venture” and in a second remark she describes one of our local councillor as an “Old duffer”, leaving enough scorn for other “Old duffers” at Pierremont Park planning meeting.

A grand old age should bring with it considerable experience of the world and with it, respect. In local politics however, this position is frequently an excuse to hang on to influence, well beyond one’s sell-by-date. This is, I believe, the nature of the problem we are experiencing in Thanet, a frozen political morbidity that delivers limited value and even less confidence to the electorate.

We should be asking ourselves whether as a community, we can afford to have decisions made on our behalf by elected representatives who are in constant danger of dozing off in the middle of an argument. I don’t doubt that many of our councillors have given great service over the years but this is the 21st century and Thanet faces immediate and pressing challenges over the changing face of the island its population and its long term future.

If any councillor is not able to use the internet as easily as he or she can read the local paper or change channels on a television, then perhaps it’s time to leave and make way for a younger generation of local politicians. At next year’s local council elections I intend to remind local people that a brighter future for Thanet may lie in the hands of new local politicians under the retirement age of 65 . If we can’t find any then we should be asking why politics on the island has stagnated to the point that younger people in their forties and fifties might not wish to be involved or indeed, feel excluded.

And if Thanet Life is still around next year and growing as quickly as it is today, then I plan to use it as a platform to support anyone with energy and new ideas, regardless of political affiliation, who may think that he or she can make a difference, doesn’t have local party support and would like to try for a council seat. Thanet needs change, it needs a vision and it needs political representatives it can believe in and trust with its future and I hope here is somewhere for it to start.

Frazzled

Given that I have written very little over the last 24 hours, I’m surprised to see so much traffic coming this way, unless it’s because people are wondering why I haven’t written anything and are coming back to have a look, just in case I do.

To be honest, I’m up to my neck in work at the moment, so you’ll have to forgive me if site content here is a little thinner than usual. I’m at the hectic stage of planning this year’s eCrime Congress in March and my role as the programme director has me acting as a kind of ringmaster with a group of people who are hard to find at the best of times. As a result, I have to pull together, the diaries of the head of the Met and National Crime Squad, the FBI’s Cybercrime Unit, the lad who created the £Million home page, the Chief Security officers of the RAF, eBay, Skype and Amazon and about a dozen more of the same, all of which leaves me a little frazzled.

I just had another note from Virgin Atlantic, giving a yellow light for the Virgin GlobalFlyer, round the world trip which will finish at Manston on Tuesday if the weather is favourable. This will be one of the biggest media events ever to descend on us here when it happens, so make sure you get a good seat around the airport to watch.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Backs to the Wall

Not much to put up today as I’m just in from Westminster, having witnessed the implosion of the Liberal Democrats as a force in British Politics. Lots of tasteless jokes in circulation as you can imagine... “Don’t let the **** get you down” and “In the Liberal party, it’s best to keep your back against the wall.”

Now it’s a question of who picks up the tattered remains of the party in the years before the next election unless there’s some kind of miraculous resurrection. All this twenty-five years after the birth of the SDP, for which so many people, including me, as a speech writer for David Owen, had such high hopes.

It does seem a rather long time ago... in politics that is!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Global Flyer Update

I’ve just had an email from the team at Virgin Atlantic regarding the attempt to fly the Global Flyer aircraft with pilot Steve Fosset across the Atlantic to land at Manston.

They write:

“We are hopeful that everything will come together for the start of the Ultimate Flight between January 31 and February 2, therefore we are Code Yellow at present for these dates.

The picture should hopefully be clearer tomorrow when we will update everyone again. Steve will not rule out 31 January at this stage but a take off on this date would be unlikely based on current weather predictions.
For your information 1 February is looking like the most favourable weather conditions for the attempt at present.

When we have more confidence in an exact launch date, we will declare a Code Green.”

Ed: Late news. The Chinese have stuck the proverbial two fingers up at mission as they have done at just about every other record-breaking attempt I can think of. The recorded message from Beijing says: "Very sorry, not possible to fly during Chinese New Year. Please try again later."

Sandy's 'Wow' Factor

Thanet District Council leader Sandy Ezekiel has confirmed a new initiative to market Thanet`s potential in a plan that could see £500million spent in the next twenty years.



In a report from the Isle of Thanet Extra, Ezekiel said: "We are determined to bring the 'wow' factor into Thanet the area has excellent potential and I am sure that continued sustained efforts will bring results."

Cllr Ezekiel, who is "aware such optimism and confidence will attract cynical responses", added: "I want businesses and residents to believe we can achieve great things."

He said the council is working with the private sector, Kent County Council, the South East England Development Agency and the Government Office for the South East to help realise the dream.

"Exciting and different projects" are planned for Margate seafront but Cllr Ezekiel would not be drawn into firm details "until I am sure they will definitely go ahead".

He believes Margate has tremendous scope and said the council is in discussion with the owners of Arlington House tower block to upgrade it and the arcade beneath.

Dreamland amusement park features high on the Margate masterplan and Cllr Ezekiel is adamant that the Scenic Railway roller coaster will remain as the centrepiece of "a new and exciting leisure facility".

He also hopes the railway station concourse will be upgraded to provide a fitting entrance to the town for visitors, and that the Lido area of Cliftonville can be improved as a leisure facility, possibly with a hotel and residential development.

Thanet's strong heritage will be mirrored in developments across the island and the idea is to attract more money into town centres.

Meanwhile, a traffic impact study is being carried out now by the district council with specialist firms to assess the island's transport infrastructure.

With the development of the airport at Manston, the port at Ramsgate and the centre island retail complex at Westwood Cross, Cllr Ezekiel believes Thanet has "a great potential for an exciting 2006 and beyond".

Home Safety Initiative

Thanet's Home Safety Road Show has proved so successful and popular with local pensioner groups that it’s going to be run again.

The initiative, devised by Watch Liaison Officer Terry McCormick, focuses on preventing doorstep crime and house fires.

The one-hour presentation, given by Mr McCormick and a Community Fire Safety Officer, includes time for audience questions.

Those taking part in the road show also have the opportunity to arrange for security and fire safety items to be fitted in their homes free of charge.

Kent Fire and Rescue Service also offers a free fire safety check of homes.

Mr McCormick said that recent police statistics indicated that although Thanet had the largest pensioner population in the county, it also had a low number of pensioner victims of burglary.

It is believed that the education programme provided by the Home Safety Road Show, incorporating Help the Aged's Senior Safety programme, is a significant factor in this achievement, he said.

“Since starting this project the road show has been presented to nearly 2500 Thanet pensioners. As a result many have had security items and smoke alarms provided and fitted for free.

“There were 24 road shows throughout last year and 100 percent of those attending felt safer in their homes after our talk. Reducing fear and providing confidence to deal with situations is a key element of the road show.”

Thanet Fire Safety Officer Paul Havens said: “Through this partnership, we have enjoyed a very proactive year with the police in Thanet and have reached over 500 Thanet residents with the road show.

“Nearly all found the presentations very useful and everyone stated it had improved their peace of mind in relation to perceived safety at home.”

Bookings for the Home Safety Road Show are currently being taken for 2006 and future presentations will include input from Kent Trading Standards on rogue traders.

To book a road show for your group call Terry McCormick at Margate Police Station on (01843) 222 176.

Gone Missing - GCSE Results

Kent Online reports that 2005 results for pupils at The Ramsgate School in last summer’s GCSE examinations are missing from the Government league tables.

Information about how Year 11 fared and the school’s other performance indicators are not included.

The Ramsgate School announced last year that a four-term blitz by a hand-picked team of education trouble-shooters had successfully pulled it out of the doldrums and forecasted expected improved results in the 2005 summer exams.



This followed special measures imposed by the Government after Ofsted inspectors rated it as a failing school. It consistently appeared at the foot, or near it, of the league tables.

Although The Ramsgate School officially closed in July to be replaced by the Marlowe Academy on the same site at Stirling Way, Newington, since last September - the £30 million adjoining complex opens this September - The Ramsgate School did exist when students sat their GCSe exams. Staff and students from The Ramsgate School now form a large part of the Academy.

According to thenew report on the Kent Online website, Senior teachers across Thanet, who do not wish to be named, have questioned the lack of information regarding The Ramsgate School and whether the league tables released last week give an accurate snapshot of the island's all-round educational performance last summer when the exams were sat.

When Kent County Council was asked for comment, a spokeswoman said that their officers have not been told the results either and suggested contacting the Department for Education and Skills.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Skills said that if a school is no longer open then the results will not appear on the league tables.

"Our responsibility via the league tables is to give parents information upon which they can consider options offered by their local schools. The Marlowe Academy results will be included in the tables next year.

"Tables are just one way that parents have of measuring the performance of a school - other information is included in the prospectus, one their websites and through Osfsted reports, for example.

"Information has not been withheld - if the school is not open, then the results will not be published."

You Can't Take it With You

New research from the Halifax and the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) claims that almost two-thirds of people with detached houses will now fall into the inheritance tax trap - meaning their estate would pay a 40 per cent higher tax rate when they die, even though they may never have been a high rate taxpayer in life.

Where ten years ago, people owning their own properties received £2.6 billion in help from the Government in terms of income support and mortgage interest tax relief. Now, home-owners are presently net contributors to the Treasury, paying £7.5 billion in inheritance tax and stamp duty. Home-owners are today on average £550 a year worse-off because of government tax policies.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A Square Deal for Birchington

I’ve just come from a small get-together at the Powell Arms in Birchington, which included my fellow Gazette columnist Ewan Cameron and four of our local councillors.

While we were there, I couldn’t help but notice the number of “Hoodies”, teenage boys congregating on the square, darting about and playing football across the mini roundabout that marks the entrance to the village.

What happens next I wondered and was pleasantly surprised to see a police car with two officers appear and stop outside the pub, one of them leaving the car to talk to the group of teenagers, dressed in their thin tracksuits in what was by now a temperature below freezing.

I asked one of the bar staff if this happened much. The police presence I was told is the exception rather than the rule and apparently the kids will often greet a passing police car with welcoming shouts of “oink oink pigs pigs.” The police it seems rarely stop unless they really have to.

After the near fatal assault in Minnis Bay last month, I was told that the hoodies had been less visible but now, they are building-up their confidence again and new trouble is most likely brewing.

I should add that you need to know what I'm writing about in the context of recent local problems and that the teenagers in the square tonight were not causing any particular crime beyond the reckless use of a football. However it’s their presence and unruliness which is intimidating local people. Thanks to the criminal justice system they are almost ‘bullet-proof’ and they know it, which doesn’t inspire an atmosphere of confidence in the local community, which will very soon, I’m told, will have it’s policing directed from Canterbury.

But if these lads are causing a consistent nuisance and I’m assuming the police are on first name terms with them, then isn’t this one of the reasons that government gave for the creation of ASBOS? Prevent certain known groups of teenagers gathering outside the Powell Arms or do the police prefer to have them occasionally running amok there rather than somewhere else where they can’t see them.

I’m sure one of our Birchington readers or perhaps an anonymous member of the police can tell us more about this. I was just lucky enough to be around to see it all happening for myself tonight.

The Way of the Web

I was comfortably settled watching last week’s ‘Money Programme’ on the subject of Google and its business, when the phone rang. To my surprise it was the BBC, News, who wanted me to come into the studio to discuss Google’s defiant refusal to surrender a week’s worth of its search records to Uncle Sam, who wished to know if an analysis of the same would support the resurrection of some Clinton-era anti-pornography legislation.



It was the same day, strangely enough, that I installed the Google Desktop on my Personal Computer, the same one I warned PC users to avoid last year for personal security reasons when it first appeared. This is not to say that I’m vindicating the Google Desktop, I’m not but I’m prepared to balance the security risks against its more general utility, now the well-publicized post-launch bugs have been ironed out. In fact, I now assume by default, that my computer behavior is likely to be tracked at some unspecified level of granularity by someone and should government be particularly interested in my visits to Al Jazeera or BathtimeBabes.com, then Big Brother is going to find out, regardless of how hard the owners of the search data try and resist the inevitable.

1984, one might argue, has finally arrived, 22 years late and ironically, it’s Google that may yet find itself forced into the position of playing Big Brother, dancing to the tune of governments that like those of China and America, would rather like to know more about the surfing habits of its citizens.

In his book, ‘Code and other laws of cyberspace’, written during the commercial genesis of the internet, law professor, Lawrence Lessig argued that the ungoverned virtual world of the internet, would find it impossible to avoid the introduction of an ‘architecture of control’ as government and business attempted to mitigate and manage the risks that accompanied the sudden opening of a Pandora’s Box of new freedoms and individual expression on a par with the introduction of the printed books and pamphlets that fuelled the Reformation of 16th century Europe.

Next month, I’m speaking at a pan-Arab government conference, a part of the world where the rapid growth of the internet increasingly supports the concept of the ‘Umma’, a universal, Islamic community that dissolves the frontiers between the lands of the faithful and the non-believers and where the authority of the Sharia and fatwa system can now be experienced through the websites of respected religious figures in Saudi Arabia, Iraq or Iran.

Concealed within this rapidly expanding online community and through weblogs like the Saudi-based Religious Policeman , an often dissident and young online population can express itself on a multitude of websites that threaten the finely-balanced political status of a number of regimes. What will happen, I ask, if one day, instead of 1% of the population of the greater Arab World, 40% suddenly have access to the internet and find their imagination and growing transnational sense of identity, harnessed and centrally directed by the ideas they may find on the Web?

This is of course why governments of the free world and the not so free world want to place the equivalent of CCTV and speed cameras across the front door of cyberspace which increasingly means Google and a handful of other global portal sites; in much the same manner as the new camera on the only road in and out of Birchington captures the vehicles details of all the passing traffic.

Surveillance of the roads is a fact of life that we now take for granted in the increasingly Orwellian Britain of the 21st century and although companies like Google may seek to challenge a government’s right to internet traffic information, the very existence of such data makes such fishing expeditions unavoidable and over time, government(s), playing the national security card, will prevail and the web will become as much an integral part of the global surveillance society, as the camera now innocuously sited on the A228. “Big brother”, as George Orwell wrote, “Is watching you.”

Night Fever

There seems to be a nasty flu-type virus “doing the rounds” at present. The symptoms in adults are a vicious cough which refuses to go, even after a week and in children, it’s the cough plus a very high temperature. If you’re a parent, and I just had a telephone conversation with our local GP, the advice is to treat the fever and keep the child comfortable with plenty of fluids. You probably know it’s sweeping through the primary schools and it can knock a youngster of its feet for several days. I suspect it’s something we’ve seen before, as it touched me yesterday but I’m through it now, suggesting that I built up an immunity once upon a time in the past.

Council Tax Up - No Surprise

And now for the bad news. Kent Online reports that council taxpayers in Kent face an increase in their bills of 4.75 per cent this year - twice the rate of inflation.

Kent County Council, which accounts for the largest slice of the council tax, has proposed spending plans that will see average bills rising by £41 to £918 for those in homes in Band D.

The largest number of council taxpayers in Kent live in Band C homes and for them, bills will rise to £816, the equivalent of an additional 73 pence a week.

County Hall’s Conservative leaders say that while the rise is higher than they would have liked, their £1.3billion budget will safeguard key services and no jobs will be lost.

KCC says it has also managed to pare back spending on administration to save £35million and has set out plans to save a further £30million between now and 2008.

KCC’s budget will be agreed at a meeting in February. District and borough councils are expected to confirm their budgets in the newt few weeks. Full details of KCC’s plans can be seen at www.kent.gov.uk

Monday, January 23, 2006

Rough Justice in Whales

One hundred million people worldwide watched the attempt to rescue the Thames whale on TV and an equal number of traffic wardens descended on the cars and vans of the British Diver Rescue team at Westminster Bridge, while they were in the water doing their job.

“Look mate, I don’t care if your’e rescuing a whale or a haddock come that, your meter has expired and that’s that!”

The group's chairman, Alan Knight, lamented: "It upsets me a bit that we are facing over £300 worth of bills. I guess they have got a job to do. However, all of our cars have 'marine ambulance' on the side or 'marine medics'... and I would have hoped they would have given us the benefit of the doubt."

No chance. The rescuers now face a £5k bill for their failed operation. I wonder if they paid their congestion charge, if not Capita may yet set the bailiffs on them.

You might have thought that the Ken the Mayor would have let them off! No votes in whales though.

Detectives Seek Public Help on Cliftonville Robber

Detectives are seeking the public’s assistance to help catch a mugger who has been stealing handbags from women in Cliftonville.

Officers believe the same man is responsible for the two robberies and a theft, which have all happened in the area of Tesco Metro, Pinkies Restaurant and Laleham School on Northdown Road.



During the theft on 6 January, the 74-year-old victim was at the junction of Northdown Road and Devonshire Gardens heading to Tesco Metro about 4.45pm when a man came up behind her and snatched her three-wheeled tartan shopping trolley, containing her handbag and cash.

The man then ran off, either through the alleyway running alongside Laleham School or along Northumberland Avenue.

The victim was not injured during the incident and the trolley has since been recovered.

In the second incident about 12.15pm on 13 January, an 18-year-old woman was walking along Northdown Road past Pinkies Restaurant when the man came from behind her, grabbed her shoulder bag and tried to pull it away from her.

The woman held onto the bag and during the struggle the man head butted her, causing grazing to her face. The woman fell to the ground but continued to hold onto her bag until the strap snapped, leaving the man with the bag. He then ran off toward the shops on Northdown Road.

Among the items inside the bag were the woman’s keys and money.

During the third incident about 12.30pm on 14 January, the 64-year-old victim was making her way home from Tesco Metro via the alleyway next to Laleham School when a man came from behind and pushed her to the ground.

The man grabbed her shopping trolley and tried to throw it over a large black gate that goes into the school, however the bag came free from the wheel section.

Did Shoeburyness Help Kill the Whale?

Navy sonar and military explosions have been blamed for disorientating the bottlenose whale that died on Saturday after two days in the Thames.

“Did the Qinetiq operated ranges at Shoeburyness contribute to the death of the Thames whale?”

That is the question being posed by North Thanet`s MP, Roger Gale.

For years the MP`s constituents living along the North Kent coast and most particularly in Herne Bay have complained of the damage to buildings, distress to animals and environmental intrusion caused by the shockwaves arising from the demolition of high explosives at the MoD ranges operated by QinetiQ at Shoeburyness and on Foulness Island in Essex.

"During the past week the Kent coastline has been rocked by a vicious series of explosions" says the MP "and this has led to a flood of complaints resulting in my own representations, once again, to the contractors and to the Minister’s private office.”

“We understand that one or more whales were seen off Southend on Tuesday, when the explosions shaking the Thames estuary were particularly bad. It is not unreasonable to consider that animals whose navigation systems are dependent upon highly sensitive sonar may have become disorientated by the explosions and I hope that this factor will be taken into account during any post mortem on the poor animal that has died."

The MP, who is President of the Conservative Animal Welfare Group, adds:

"We understand the necessity to test munitions and to train engineers in the destruction of explosives but we have long held that this location, in the heart of a densely populated area, is now unsuitable and that the work should be transferred to a more remote location. The harm to the daily lives of people and their domestic animals and property is a matter of record but this is the first time, to my knowledge, that we have had to recognise the potential damage to wildlife and to endangered species such as these marine mammals. This is not "bunny hugging hysteria". It is a matter that does need to be treated with serious attention.”

No Parking - Anywhere

The parking ticket scandal, particularly in London, is something I have direct experience of. Three years ago, in Westminster, My motorcycle was ticketed on two consecutive days on private property and only because I happened to carry a digital camera with me and could record the incident, was I able to see the fines, dismissed on appeal. It was of course my word against that of one of the legions of refugees in uniform that now work for the London councils.

The Telegraph reports that town halls across the country are illegally using motorists as a cash cow by flouting government guidelines and turning parking control into a money-making business.

While the biggest problems are in London - where local authorities have been responsible for parking control since 1994 - motorists elsewhere are now starting to face similar treatment and perhaps you recall the incident in Canterbury, two years or so ago when the circus was in town and the surrounding parking was re-zoned overnight, catching out hundreds of people.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Smashing View

I see that the florists opposite the cinema in Westgate are yet another victim of the shop windows smashers. The police were still there as I was walking past and the front windows was being boarded-up. I suppose it happened on Saturday night and joins three of its neighbours in having windows smashed in recent times.

Will it take every shop window in Westgate and Birchington to be smashed before we see an end to this wave of vandalism or will the shop-keepers only repair one before another is smashed, days, weeks or months later, possibly by the same person or persons?

When will this stop I wonder, like another garden wall I see knocked-down on my walk this morning. As a community, we seem very short of answers or is this simply representative of life in general in today’s ‘Little Britain’? Is this really what we have come to expect, a random but constant background of vandalism, violence and petty crime without end?

Politics for Rent

All of us know what an alcoholic is but I’m struggling to find a definition for “Rent-boy” in the dictionary. Both however appear to have some vague connection with British politics and the Liberal Democrats this weekend in a scandal that takes us back to the Jeremy Thorpe debacle in the early seventies, involving a Norman Scott and Andrew 'Gino' Newton. I cannot comment any further on this, as to do so would risk a visit from the police under new legislation which forbids any of us to comment on another person’s sexual orientation or preference.

Anyway what happened to the Liberal Party under Thorpe looks set to repeat itself, probably under the leadership of Sir Menzies (Ming) Campbell, who did some neat dodging around Adam Boulton’s questions this morning over he and a “Gang of Scottish Labour Politicians”, influencing the direction of English Parliamentary legislation when our MP’s can’t vote over Scottish affairs.

Whichever way you look at it though, the Liberals are b*****d politically by the antics of the last month and now the question is who is most likely to gain, the born-again Conservatives or the Tony and Gordon pony show. Unfortunately, ‘who cares’ is the attitude of the greater population and I can quite understand why!

Tax and More Tax

I was wrong in my estimation of jobless figures last week. The Sunday Times has been looking at the problem and apparently, the number of “economically inactive” people of working age has risen 25,000 to 7.94m, the highest since comparable records began in 1971.

“There are many reasons”, it reports, “for the rise in economic inactivity. It is a direct consequence of higher staying-on rates in schools and higher university participation — 1.85m of the inactive are students, no joke intended. It is also a reflection of past policies designed to massage down the jobless numbers for political reasons.”

“It includes early retirees (0.6m), and the long-term sick (2.1m). Many of the inactive (2.3m) — and they would dispute this label — are looking after family and home. In all, three-quarters of the inactive say they are not seeking work.”

“But that leaves just over 2m who say they are. Add that to the 1.5m counted as unemployed and you end up with what John Philpott, chief economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, characterises as “underlying joblessness” of 3.5m.

If that isn’t bad enough, the consequences of the government’s extravagance on spending, and the accompanying increase in the tax burden, are coming home to roost. A decade ago, the tax burden in Britain was decisively lower than in Germany. Measured as a share of gross domestic product, it was — at 38% — close to the average of the generally more successful English-speaking “Anglo-Saxon” economies, and within sight of low-tax America.

But this year, says the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Britain’s tax burden will be 42.4%, higher than Germany’s 42.1% and well above America, which has come down to 32.7%.

Examine the problem in any way you like and you are left with the conclusion that when Tony Blair quits, probably in the next two years. Gordon Brown will be left with a crippled economy and a bed-ridden NHS and Education system, with more than a quarter of the money raised from council tax going to fund "gold-plated" public sector pensions.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Roots

Anne Finch of Westgate writes:

“I wonder if many of the Thanet life readers have investigated their origins, on the new website linked to the study, by surname to the area they originated from in 1881. It is very interesting the site is http://www.spatial-literacy.org/

It examined the distribution of 25,000 surnames in the 1998 electoral roll and compared them with the 1881 census to chart how people have moved around the country.

The study- paid for by the Government-Funded Economic and Social Research Council also highlighted immigration patterns.

The name Patel which did not appear at all in the 1881 census is now the 40th most common UK surname. There are 80,000 with the highest concentration in Harrow, North-West London.

It is very interesting, I thought my family originated from another part of the country, but I was wrong apparently.”

Ed: I see what you mean Anne. The 1881 census confirms what I knew about the origins of my own family surname in the Lancashire area, which you can see on the map with purple, followed by red as the hotspots. Apparently there were three fewer of us in 1998 than there were in 1881.


Softly Softly

The results of the maths exercise on the true cost of losing Kent police as a stand-alone force are starting to creep out.

According to official sources, the costs of amalgamation could leave taxpayers in the South East picking up a bill for about £60million, spread over ten years or roughly the same amount Kent taxpayers currently contribute via council tax towards the force’s yearly budget of £340million.

Every one per cent extra on the police share of the council tax generates about £700,000 and so if Kent police was forced to raise an additional £6million from taxpayers each year, it would translate as an 8.5 per cent increase on our community charge, half of which would be spent on new computer systems and as somewhat of an authority on the subject of public sector computing, I would be inclined to add a further 50% contingency to this figure, based on good precedent.

One good reason for a merger is the search for efficiency, because the different police forces or should I say services, vary wildly in their performance and ability to deliver a service to the community. Some are so bad that their results are pitiful and the costs of policing to the public are now quite outrageous.

A second reason for seeking an amalgamation, is that “The wheels are falling off” the criminal justice system in its fight against Serious and Organised Crime but there's far too much to write about this than I have room here.

Cleaner with a Difference

I’m looking for a volunteer or volunteers to help clean a working Cessna 172 regularly.

This would suit a responsible and intelligent teenager, a potential pilot perhaps, minimum age sixteen, who would like to earn flying time and experience against aircraft cleaning which is hard work. Someone with at least a bicycle, living between Westgate and Herne Bay would be most suited distance-wise, as I frequently cycle rather than drive to the airfield for the exercise.

Someone enterprising enough who does a good job might even start a small business with the other aircraft owners, where the pilots are often to busy to keep them clean on a regular basis.

Anyone interested, please use the email link at the bottom of the sidebar.

We Know Where You Live

Casting around the news this morning, I see that search-engine-giant; Google is defying a request by the US government to hand over data revealing what its users are searching for online. The Bush administration wants a list of requests entered into Google's online search engine in an unspecified single week. It also wants one million randomly selected web addresses from Google's databases.

There was an interesting BBC Money Programme on Google on Friday evening and as I was watching it, the phone rang and to my surprise, it was the BBC, attempting to drag me into the news studio to discuss the same story. Unfortunately for the “Beeb”, I was entirely comfortable where I was, on the sofa and they had obviously not updated their own records for the last three years, because they still believe I live in Wimbledon.

I plan to write a longer story on this subject for my silicon.com column, probably on the train to London on Monday but in a nutshell, the US administration wants an excuse to re-introduce Clinton-era anti-pornography legislation and they believe that a week’s records from all the search engines, not just Google, will support this effort. I suspect they are right. As a Director of one of the first Internet Service Providers in the nineties, (bought by Easynet) over 60% of our Web-traffic was sex-related and when I suggested blocking some of the nastier Alt.binary sites at the time for moral reasons, I was outvoted or the simple reason that there were no legal grounds for such an action and that if we prevented the perverts reaching their destinations on our servers, they would simply switch ISPs.

Just remember that everything you search for is linked somewhere to the unique IP address of your computer, which is exactly why governments would like these records, whether they be Chinese, British or American.

You may remember me writing in the Thanet Gazette last month and warning over soaring energy prices and the Iran effect. Well Iran says it has started withdrawing its money from European banks in preparation for the possibility of economic sanctions over its nuclear programme.

It also hinted at economic retaliation as it agitated for a cut in crude production by the OPEC oil cartel, helping to drive up the price of oil.

Western countries are pushing for Iran to be referred to the UN Security Council, where it could ultimately face economic sanctions, because of fears that Teheran is trying to build a nuclear weapon.

I doubt very much if China will support any action against it’s oil partner in the UN, which leaves everyone else “Stuffed”, when it comes to doing anything to avoid the risk of Israel dropping a nuclear bomb on Tehran before the Iranians carry out their President’s threat to “Remove the State of Israel from the Map.” This uncertainty will keep the stock markets nervous and will inevitably drive up the price of oil and our own fuel in the months ahead. As a consequence, higher petrol prices (gas and electricity too) will impact our own economy as families have less to spend on other items. Time to start saving against a rainy day I suggest.

Finally I note that even the walls of a Roman Catholic school are no longer a defense against the barbarian hordes of ‘Hoodies’, when this week in Colchester, a gang of pupils from a neighboring Comprehensive, raided St Benedict's RC College to attack a boy in one of the classes and badly beat the Geography teacher who attempted to defend the lad, causing him to be rushed to hospital in an ambulance.

With the incident captured on other students’ camerphones, nine boys were subsequently arrested and bailed from an unnamed local school but what will happen to them, very little or nothing I suspect community service at worst because they are under eighteen. What kind of message does this send out I wonder?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Beeline

Snapped this afternoon, a Bumble Bee sunning himself in my garden, which rather took me by surprise, as it’s still January but perhaps the bee doesn’t know this.

A sign of global warming perhaps and I hope, for the bee's sake, that the Russian winter, now touching -60c in parts of the country, stays where it is and doesn’t come this way.

To change the subject completely, democracy in Thanet appears to be alive and well, evidenced by a public meeting on “Thanet Matters”, with a number of Councillors present, to discuss and answer questions in Broadstairs.

This will take place on Monday evening at 6.30pm for 7pm at Charles Dickens School, Broadstairs refreshments provided. I’ll certainly try and attend if I’m back from London in time. If not, then will some kind person please volunteer a report back to me to publish here.

Red Letter Valentine Card

Don't forget, if you want to send that special message for Valentine's Day next month, then you had better put your order in with Airads quickly - 07836 351001.

The hard part is attempting to persuade your partner to be at the right place at the right time, just as the aircraft flies overhead. One particularly romantic flight last year had us appearing over the beach near Hastings at exactly 1pm as a young man proposed to his fiancee. Fortunately, it was winter and while they were walking on the beach together, there were not many other people around, making it easy to spot the man down on one knee in the sand from the air as we popped out of the cover of the trees behind the beach at low level.



A ballpark figure for a local tow from Airads is about £200 - £275+VAT depending on where you need the banner but be quick, it's a busy day for the aerial banner pilots.

Joss Bay Drowning Tragedy

A 14-year-old boy, pulled from the sea in Joss Bay at lunchtime Wednesday died in hospital in London last night.

Members of the public retrieved the boy, who was blue and had no life signs or pulse, from the water.

Police officers and passers-by conducted chest compressions and breathed for the boy until ambulance crews arrived. After about 40 minutes of resuscitation efforts the boy regained a pulse. He was then flown to QEQM Hospital by air ambulance, but was last night transferred to Guy’s Hospital.

Witnesses had earlier seen him walking in the water; however the reason for him being in the sea is still unknown.

The boy had no identification on him, but has since been identified. He was reported missing to Kent Police about 6pm on Wednesday.

Dream On

Reader David Chamberlain has a point to make about Dreamland and its future, inviting Thanet Life readers to comment and pointing out that: “Dreamland will have its future decided by Thanet Council this week.”



It has been reported in the local paper, he says, “That Toby Hunter chairman of the Margate Town Centre Development Company has stated that nothing will be decided until after a public consultation in April. Hold on, when is a decision being made, Thursday the 17th or after the public consultation in April?

“Margate Town Centre Development Company, the report states has ‘no firm plans for the site’. From what I see not only has Margate Town Centre Development Company not got any firm plans for the site, it has no plans at all apart from attracting some interest from operators to run Dreamland for the next three years and that the Fun Park will reopen this summer.”

“Last summer Dreamland was not exactly overrun with visitors and quite frankly it looks pathetic! The company we are told is also advertising in the World’s fair trade magazine to find someone to run the park. I can’t even find a website for this journal. The other plans mentioned are for a green park around the scenic railway as a central feature to provide a high quality amenity area. Whilst on the subject of the scenic railway, a protected structure, why can’t this be dismantled and moved elsewhere if its position is a problem as has been suggested in the past? It doesn’t have to be destroyed.”

“Other ideas the local authority may allow so we are told are for a convenience store, shops, some residential use and a road. The onus will be on any developer to show that an amusement park will not be viable or appropriate. Now it is not too difficult to produce a report showing that an amusement park is appropriate one way or the other? A simple play on words is enough. You may be surprised to learn that in my opinion Amusement parks like Dreamland have had their day, unlike their modern high-tech off-spring, Alton Towers, Chessington or Thorpe Park. However why not look at the following ideas:”

  1. Water park as per Schlitterbahn water parks, or Alton Towers water parks

  2. Visual Audio experience as at Futurscope in Poitiers, France,

  3. Sealife centre and aquarium as in Blackpool. (The last two great for rainy days)

  4. A huge hotel with lifestyle coaching, sport & fitness, casino, cinema, restaurant and theatre (on the scale of a hotel in Vegas) that will attract the Nouveau Rich, especially with links to three good local golf courses, Manston Airport and local ferries on the south coast.
“Nope, seems we’ll end up with convenience store, shops, some residential use and a road. I can only conclude that Margate Town Centre Development Company has no firm plans and therefore no credibility. Thanet District Council appears to lack imagination. Isn’t it time a firm of Venture Capitalists were bought in to make Margate Town Centre Development Company a reasonable offer for the Dreamland site and actually attract some serious business and money to this town. What I see at present is pathetic and very amateurish.”

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Running the Distance

There’s a great sequence in a National Geographic documentary ('Running the Distance') being shown tonight (19:00) on the Sky Adventure channel, of a miserable, exhausted and dirty wretch being interviewed with a saline re-hydration drip hanging from his arm and if you look closely enough, then beneath the stubble of a week's beard growth and layer of dried white perspiration, it’s me.

Trying to run across exotic places such as the Sahara Desert is a completely daft ambition and one look at the injuries and dehydration casualties in the hospital tent during the Marathon Des Sables is evidence enough. Try a gentle walk along the beach instead, it's less likely to bring on hallucinations.

Cliff Fall Death - Man Named

Police have revealed the name of a man who fell to his death from the East Cliff area of Ramsgate earlier this month.

He was 45-year-old Stephen Richard Williamson who lived at Leopold Road in the town.

His body was discovered on the promenade below cliffs at Wellington Crescent on January 10. Police say his death is not suspicious.

A coroner’s inquest has been opened and adjourned

The Big Issue - The TC and the CT

One of our readers has asked what is possibly the question of the week:

“How much will the Turner Contemporary cost the council tax payers in Thanet?”

This is a question (TC/CT=?) that may have been answered before but perhaps one of our local councillors would volunteer an explanation to put everyone’s mind to rest over the costs and any consequential impact on our own community in supporting them.

Boys from the Black Stuff


I’ve been warning about the inevitable impact of the growing Asian economy, China in particular, the source of many if not most of your cheap Christmas gifts this year. And the writing, if you care to see it, is now on the wall for a UK economy that is increasingly reliant on skilled services and is seeing manufacturing jobs dwindling to a trickle

The sharpest rise in unemployment since the last recession has boosted the number of jobless to a three-year high.

In the latest blow, the unemployment level soared by 111,000 in the three months to the end of November, the biggest such rise since August 1993.

The jobless count, on the Government’s preferred survey-based measure, reached 1.53 million, or an unemployment rate of 5 per cent. The data was among a series of gloomy signals that Britain’s jobs market has taken a decisive turn for the worse.

The number of people claiming unemployment benefits rose 7,200 to 909,000. This figure marked the eleventh consecutive month of increases — the longest run of claimant count rises since the last recession. One million unemployed isn’t so far away and remember that government muddies the real figures but shoving as many young people into further education as is possible.

Back to China then and the world's second-largest internet market, grew by 18 per cent in 2005 to 111 million. Some 8.5 per cent of the country's 1.3 billion people now have access to the Internet, as the world's technology centre of gravity starts to tilt towards Shanghai.

Time to start those Chinese language lessons I suspect.