Long in the tooth

“Hey Reynolds, you’ve won the investigator lottery again!” said Slater as he slapped a file down on my desk. My eyes traced a line from my cluttered desk to his pear shaped body and followed the egg stains on his cheap tie up to his fat grinning face. “Congratulations buddy!”

As I smiled I felt phlegm form a smouldering ball in my chest and grip the inside of my scalded lungs, felt blood rising to my cheeks as the filth caught in my throat. “Gee, thanks” I grunted through clenched teeth. I coughed and spluttered, my face going crimson as I rummaged in my pocket for a handkerchief to hack up into.

“Hey, are you ok?”

Paper police never seemed to fail to ask questions which had obvious answers. There were always so many of these people as well, more and more of them as time went by. It’s like the damned desk jockeys were breeding in a cupboard somewhere. I guffawed into my snot-rag as the thought entered my head. Slater laid a hand on my shoulder.

“Reynolds?”

I hacked up one more time before screwing up the handkerchief and stuffing it into my pocket. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“You don’t look too good; maybe you should see a doctor or something?”

Just go and see a doctor. Yeah, right.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m fine. Just a cold is all.”

“Well, if you say so. Let me know if you need anything ok?”

I looked up, nodded and smiled at him. “Yeah, thanks man.”

As he walked away I picked up the foolscap folder and opened it, laying out the first couple of pages on my desk. There was a photo of a young woman, sprawled over the floorboards of a dusty loft, her ribcage spread open so her flanks were laid out either side of her like a butterfly fillet. Her heart had been removed.

Yup, murder all right; open and shut case.

Hah.

Being on homicide as long as I’d been had given me a dark sense of humour.

I took the summary report from the front of the folder and leaned back in my chair as I scanned the details. Thank fuck I was retiring soon. No more damned paperwork, just junk food and liquor; like a regular day at work but without all the bullshit that goes with it.

I wondered who they’d choose to replace me. Would it be some green gilled noob, wet behind the ears, looking to make a difference? Nah; word had gotten out homicide was no picnic. They’d have trouble finding time to wait for somebody new to take the throne from us old bastards; hell, you could even say they were running out of heir. Nah, they’d probably choose some youngster from within my department, loitering on the fringes, waiting for a shot at the detective shield.

I sighed, closed the folder and heaved myself out of my chair. Time to haul ass and head to the murder scene and see if forensics had missed anything; damned vultures picking over bones with their tweezers for every scrap and morsel of evidence, ghouls tagging and bagging for their macabre collection.

Hell, if I was in luck when I arrived there’d still be birds in the attic for me to annoy with patronising questions and a few puns.

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Detour

Louis Dodier as a prisoner, 1847. Public domain daguerrotype photo by Louis Adolphe Humbert de Molard; courtesy Google Art Project.

Louis Dodier as a prisoner, 1847. Public domain daguerrotype photo by Louis Adolphe Humbert de Molard; courtesy Google Art Project.

Rasputin scratched at the insect-bites under his coarse linen shirt and scowled at the photographer.

They’d taken his weapons, clothes, implants and external devices and flung him amidst the byways, as vulnerable to the vortices as some ignorant primitive from an un-contacted world. The Commission had said that he was going to 21st Century Paderborn, but they didn’t tell him about the little detour they’d need him to make on the way.

They hadn’t told him he’d end up in a 19th Century dungeon cell, lying amidst filth and flea infested straw, posing for the sake of some cretinous aristocrat with a penchant for peasant theatre. His heart had sunk when the directive appeared in his mind. He was to be a steward for one Baron Louis Adolphe Humbert de Molard, gaining his trust and confidence before receiving further instructions.

“That’s it Louis! Show me those smouldering eyes! Pout a bit, that’s right, good, good!” said the Baron, scampering about the cell as he moved his camera tripod and threw the cloth cover over his head. Another flash, the scent of burnt phosphorous and saltpetre filled the dank air.

Bastards.

After he’d found the traitor, and retrieved his equipment, there’d be hell to pay.

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Web of Intrigue

“Well?”

“Well what?

“Did you get it?”

“Get what?”

“The information from the Arachnids you bloody twit!”

“Oh yeah.”

“So did you get it?”

“What?”

Percival glared at Gavin, who lowered his muzzle into his furry chest and shuffled away a little bit along his perch.

“The information…” replied Percival through clenched teeth.

“Yes. I did exactly what you said and I was ever so polite and I didn’t eat any of them!”

“Good” sighed Percival.

Gavin smiled and straightened down a bit.

“So what did they have to say Gavin?”

“Eh?”

“I swear you were born with a goldfish heart. The Arachnids Gavin, what did they have to say about our little problem?”

Gavin frowned, looked away and scratched his head with a wing claw. “Well, they said something about Sir Doran burning the daylight oil, and about not touching anything because they know that I’ll steal anything that isn’t nailed down you little oik…”

“Doran! Of course! He’ll be making his move any time now. Well? What else?”

“Hmm?” said Gavin, yawning and stretching his leathery wings.

“Did they say anything else?”

“Nnnnmmnn” replied Gavin, smacking his lips, “mnnnot sure exactly; something about opening a dressed wound.” His eyelids gently closed, and soon his snores reverberated around the cave.

Sir Percival snorted, then glanced down at the cave entrance. Bluish light was beginning to illuminate the portal, and he knew that dawn was coming. Well, there was nothing to be done for now he thought. As soon as the sun set he would have to visit the Arachnids himself to find out what their web of espionage and intrigue could reveal to him.

Doran’s plans for invasion would be stopped at any cost!

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UK General Election 2015 – Who I’m voting for and why

Londoners Record Their Vote on National Polling Day, Holborn, London, England, UK, 5 July 1945

Londoners Record Their Vote on National Polling Day, Holborn, London, England, UK, 5 July 1945. Source: Wikimedia Commons

I’ve had a look over the policies of various parties.  Excluding parties which only address a specific part of the UK, and excluding those policies which were very obviously written by the parties to pander to their core voters, here’s a breakdown of my thoughts on what they’ve promised for the following issues.

Economy
Eliminating the deficit is unrealistic, so is eliminating borrowing for new spending.  Cutting the deficit is ok, but austerity measures will hurt the economy so this needs to be handled carefully.  Raising the minimum wage to £8 per hour by 2020 is a feeble promise, it should be done by 2017 instead.  Apprenticeships should be open to everybody, not just school leavers and not just to those who get good school grades.

Expanding apprenticeships and developing vocational colleges or college courses are good ideas.  Extra funds for start-up loans for businesses is a good idea.  Banning zero-work contracts and establishing a maximum statutory working week are good ideas.  Minimising or resisting the privatisation of the NHS is a good idea.  Extra corporation/banking/mansion/high-earners taxes are potentially ok, but can’t go too far or there would be a chance of the UK being seen as punishing people for their success rather than encouraging it.  Closing tax loopholes might help.

Summary: I agree with the Lib Dems and Greens.

Immigration
Restricting immigration will harm our economy, encouraging skilled migrants in the prime of their lives will mean more working tax payers and will contribute to our GDP and welfare state.  Preventing immigrants from claiming benefits for x number of years isn’t a bad idea, but again may fall fall foul of EU human rights or discrimination laws.  Getting people to attend English language courses to get benefits isn’t a bad idea, but again we must be careful not to fall foul of any EU discrimination laws.  Border checks are essential to prevent the risk of criminals entering the country as well as things like human trafficking and smuggling.

Regulations against the exploitation of migrants, including slavery and human trafficking, are important yet few parties talk about this.  Refugees seeking political asylum should have their cases considered at the very least.  Removing restrictions on foreign students is a good idea, however since there is no regulation of colleges or training centres in the UK this means that people can set up fake colleges and training centres as a front to provide student visas.  A regulatory body should be established to prevent this abuse.  People should be allowed in provided that they can prove that they are genuinely here for studying or work and that they can support themselves financially.  I had no idea that indefinite detention for immigration was a thing in the UK, but if it is then it should be abolished.

Summary: I don’t really agree with any of the parties on this one.  They’re either for restricting immigration (bad idea), discriminating in favour of specific countries (bad idea) or abolishing any kind of terms and conditions altogether (bad idea).  None of the parties seem to have any real clue, but appear to be pandering to their core voters or to their favoured media outlets.

Health and Care
Providing extra funding for the NHS is a good idea, and essential.  I’m sick and tired of seeing hospitals, ambulance services etc having to go begging for charity when the Government should be supporting them.  It’s not that I’ve got anything against NHS services raising funds through charity, but they shouldn’t have to in the first place.  I’m glad that some of the parties are recognising that mental health care is as important as physical health care, but I’m wondering if they’re only doing this in reaction to recent popular media headlines.

Restricting privatisation of the NHS is a good idea, but if private firms can provide better care than the NHS and at an affordable cost to the tax payer, then perhaps they should be allowed to compete at least.  What I don’t want to see is private firms running amok, reneging on their promises and undermining our health system.  We’ve seen what privatisation of security services such as prisoner transfer and parole services has done – I don’t want the same thing to happen to the NHS. Greater integration of health and social care is a good idea, but not integrating their budgets.

Summary: I agree with the Respect party’s policies but I don’t see how they can be funded.  The Conservatives appear to have realistic policies but I want the Health and Social Act to be repealed because I think it’s complicated the administration of the NHS.  Labour seem to have good policies, but £2.5 billion won’t be enough over the course of a five year Parliamentary term.

Education
If we invest in education (vocational as well as academic) then we invest in our workforce and the future of our economy; it’s that simple.  A regulatory body should be set up to make sure there are no fake colleges or training centres acting as a front to supply student visas.  Failing schools should be identified quickly and support given to turn them around.  University fees should be substantially reduced, perhaps even abolished completely for UK citizens.  There shouldn’t be any child illiteracy excepting those with disabilities, and those children should receive adequate support.  There should be as great an importance placed on vocational training as with academic training; after all, we need people to construct and manufacture things as part of a balanced economy.  Childcare is an issue here in the UK because the costs of childcare can take a huge chunk of household income. Capping class sizes is a good idea, so is reducing the bureaucratic workload for school teachers.

Summary: I agree with the Respect party and with the Labour party.

Environment
We need greater investment in viable energy sources to replace existing fossil fuel sources, so phasing out subsidies for this is a bad idea.  We are living in a time of limited resources in terms of raw materials and energy.  Even if we are successful in replacing fossil fuels with cheap renewable energy (and this is becoming more likely all the time), we need to remember to look after the land we live in and not to shit where we eat.  Protecting farmland and nature reserves is essential, we need food and fresh water and we need to remember that many aspects of our ecology are interconnected with this.  As for climate change, yes we do have an effect but I don’t know how much.  Climate change happens in cycles on this planet – as observed from ice core samples, rock strata and tree rings to name a few sources – but we may be exacerbating or interfering with it and this may be to our detriment.  Efforts to reduce this are a good idea even if our effect on climate isn’t the only factor in climate change.  The carbon economy is a red herring, but may generate GDP so perhaps it’s not a bad thing.

Summary: I agree with the Respect party and the Lib Dems.

So who will I vote for?

I agree with many of the policies published by the Green party and the Respect party but some of them appear to be published with the sole purpose of pandering to their core voters and appear to be unrealistic in that they aren’t clear on how they’ll fund them.  I also agree with many Lib Dem policies.  Though I think the corporation tax is unrealistic, this appears to be one of the few concessions they’ve made to their core voters and their other policies appear to be viable.

For these reasons, I’ll vote Lib Dem this time round.

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UK General Election 2015

It’s the same story every time.

The newspapers and TV news shows churn out sensationalist headlines, celebrities are roped in to stand up on their soap box and pretend to make their own emotional pleas.  We are told who to vote for, and some of us do indeed go and vote.

I hear the same thing every election, that my only choice is between two parties, that my choice is between the devil or the deep blue sea.  That’s the way it’s always been, and that’s the way it will always be.  Anything else is a wasted vote.  Perhaps some of the people who have told me this might actually make a vote themselves, or perhaps they’ll give in to apathy and assume (perhaps rightly) that all of the candidates are muppets anyway and that all of their promises are false.

Here’s what I’m going to do; I’m going to have another look over the policies that each party has published and I’m going to consider them.  My vote won’t be a wasted vote, no matter what party I vote for, because I’ll be voting for the policies that I agree with.  If enough people read the policies of the various parties, consider them and vote for the ones they agree with, then perhaps things might change for the better.

Perhaps it won’t be the same this time.

There’s only one way to find out.

Vote.

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Zootoxin

Ah, yes my pretty
I shall take your A to Z April Challenge 2015ootoxin
Then Mr Bond dies!

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Ylem

A to Z April Challenge 2015ou’ve probably never come across the word ‘ylem‘, but apparently it’s defined in alchemy as the root of all elements.  It’s a nice concept, having a single point in time where we can say that’s were it all began.

Some might say that fire was our ‘ylem’ because it enabled us to cook food (allowing us to develop bigger brains) and smelt metals to make tools etc.  Certainly that was a major thing, but what’s the next major thing?  What’s our next ‘ylem’?

Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil have described something they call ‘The Singularity’ as being a point in time in which science and technology have gotten so advanced that it and humans converge into a single point of awesomeness and we then live in a utopia-like existence.  It’s a nice idea; I’ve seen variations of it in a number of science-fiction stories.

I disagree with it though.  I don’t disagree that a ‘singularity’ is possible or even likely, but I disagree with the way in which it will happen.  I don’t think that it’s all about the merger of science and technology with the human race, I think it’s about the merging of our individual minds.

There are lots of animals which teach their young how to do things; some animals even learn new things and then teach those new things to their young.  They don’t have the cerebral capacity to talk, read and write the way we do though; this means that unlike us, they can’t share complex or detailed concepts like we can and so are incapable of discussing them or passing on such detailed information.  Yes I know that cuttlefish, whales and dolphins are supposed to have a language as mathematically complicated as human languages, but they don’t have thumbs and forefingers so they can’t create the tools to make the mediums to convey and record whatever they might be thinking or talking about.

We do though.  We can not only teach our children how to do what we do and pass on what skills and experience we have, we are also capable of writing books, recording sounds and images, and we have the internet.

The internet right now is all about sharing.  Yes, there’s the cats and the pranks and the lists punctuated with pointless phrases like ‘of all time’ and ‘…must…before you die’, but it really is all about sharing.  We highlight things that we’ve discovered and that we like and we share what we like with people that we think might like them too.  We pass on our knowledge and we do it in increasingly similar ways, probably as a result of having increasingly similar technologies across the globe and working within the constraints of those technologies.  Those lists, moments and discoveries we shared are still there, and are still being shared, but there’s more and more being added every day (thus rendering the phrase ‘of all time’ completely pointless, see?).

So what’s happening now is that we’re sharing more and more knowledge in increasingly innovative ways and as we’re doing so we’re noticing what other people are doing and using this to make new discoveries and then share those.

We’re using social networks to form social groups in real life and do real life things with each other as well as sharing this vast wealth of information, so it’s not all doom and gloom on that front despite the ‘old guard’ saying things like ‘back in my day we used to go outside and talk with each other rather than send messages’.  Also, we’re encouraging the old guard to give us their knowledge and experience so that we can record it and share it with future generations, so that the knowledge isn’t lost as they quietly fade away while we’re clicking and typing and staring at screens.

Sharing knowledge and experience doesn’t just allow us to build on what we’ve already learned, it allows us to get to know and help each other, build trust and build connections and the whole thing snowballs.

We have an opportunity people, because education and awareness is our key to restraining our excesses and becoming more efficient.  It’s our key to achieving post-scarcity conditions of living and moving on to the next stage of our development (i.e. leaving the planet and spreading out a bit).  It’s the key to our survival and success.  Sharing our knowledge and experiences as much as we’re doing now, with so many people across the world, is a major step forward for us.

That’s why I say any singularity that occurs isn’t about a merging of humans and technology; it’s about a merging of our minds.

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