Conspiracy Theory

Docklands March 2010 103I am not normally a great friend or spinner of conspiracy theories. However, the fact that right now and out of the blue so-called intelligence emerges, informing of immediate and severe terrorist threads, based on intelligence gathered from intercepted communications, I find that highly suspicious.

Right now, the US and most other countries need to justify their insane Big Brother attitude, and we are going to loose out big time, no matter how it ends. We of course means us, people who believe in the freedom of speech and that an mass-gathering of data and blanket observation without well-defined and published rules of who against whom, when and how and all that… You and me, Ed Snowden, and quite a few but not enough others.

Assume nothing happens in the Yemen or somewhere else in the middle-east, Africa or elsewhere, one of these days. I guess they’ll say that they have successfully warned and defused the threat. I suppose a whole month or so without any anti-US thread or protest is unlikely in the extreme, so they’ll use that to argue that they need to intensify their spying. Whichever way, they will use it to demonstrate that more surveillance is needed and Ed Snowden needs punishing.

Who would have thought we’d find ourselves so quickly in a steadily widening totalitarian regime? I never did, but I fear that we might.

 

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Just The Way I Like My Taxes

DSC_0181The government plans to send a letter to each taxpayer, containing a breakdown how the money is spent. For example, a £25,000 income, before taxes, may produce £5,702.12 in taxes. According to The Independent, this breaks down as follows:

Welfare £1,901 33.3%
Health £993 17.4%
Education £743 13%
Debt £363 6.4
Defence £329 5.8%
Infrastructure, agriculture and industry £329 5.8%
Public order £284 5%
Other £227 4%
Government administration £125 2.2%
Housing £113 2%
Recreation, religion and culture £113 2%
Environment £96 1.7%
Overseas aid £57 1%
European Union £28 0.5%

The next step seems clear to me:

Dear Taxman, I shall write, at your earliest convenience, please split my funds and any future donations as follows until further notice, followed by my own fund split. Obviously, I’ll drastically cut the defence budget to boost investment in the environment , education and dept repayment. The 4% “other” will need a closer look, and more money needs to go into health and education in order to reduce future expense on welfare, and so on.

Obviously, your fund split will be different from mine, and I can’t help wondering: just like Wikipedia converges to truth by reflecting many voices, maybe our collective decision how to spent our own money would lead to a smarter way, and happier citizens.

Democratic taxes for everyone!

 

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Stop it! My Head Hurts!

secondHome Stop it! My head hurts from shaking it in disbelief alone. I’m pretty sure that you heard that UK newspapers had (through some questionable means) acquired and published details of UP parliamentarians’ expense claims, causing a huge stir-up.

In short, many politicians of all parties are excused to having exploited an overly generous expense system. (Here’s the detailed breakdown.)

That alone doesn’t surprise me much. Neither am I surprised by what happens next:

Step one (public declaration):

I have done nothing wrong; all my expense claims were in line with the guidelines, and lawfully approved.

Step two: (thinking to self):

Hmm, there’s a lot of public pressure here. And actually, claiming for cat food really doesn’t look too good. Of for 18 months of a mortgage that had been paid off. Or for a second home, while my good wife, also an MP, also claims for a second home. Or for three different second homes within a single year.

Step three: (public declaration):

I insist that I have done nothing wrong, but I’ll repay a five-digit figure anyway, in order to restore my now falsely damaged reputation and integrity.

How can I trust a politician how can neither stand by the claims of rightfulness, or admit exploiting the system?

Some brought lame excuses of claims being made by accident or poor accounting. Some others even acknowledged inappropriate claims, or withholding taxes, offered repayment and think this is the end of it. If Joe Public ‘withholds’ £13,332 in capital gains tax (See Hazel Blears), it certainly won’t be done with “Oops. Here’s the money.”

Now it’s all the speaker’s fault. He let us do it, so his head must roll, appears to be the common logic. One cannot but shake the head in disbelief.

Anyone erroneously claiming £16,000 expenses on grounds of “poor accounting” is not fit for office in the first place, so how… Didn’t I tell you? I shake my head in disbelief so much that it hurts, and much of the nation seems to shake alongside.

But, where’s the fraud squad I wonder? Few seem to ask for it, and many seem happy with apologies, paying back, and a few scapegoat resignations. Now that makes me truly shake my head in disbelief.

 

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Fat VAT Bandwagon Spam

15Minutes Oh, stop it. Now! The U.K. government has lowered value-added tax (VAT) by 2.5% recently, effective from 1-December-2008. Ever since the announcement, and still one week into December, I keep getting emails from various companies.

Even though the senders tend to be companies I bought from before (others go straight to my junk mail bin in the first place), they keep telling me how pleased they are to tell me that they pass on the 2.5% VAT reductions to their customers, and how I don’t need to do anything, and how it automatically works, effective 1-December-2008.

STOP IT! It’s the f*ing law, for crying out loud, not your gracious generosity.

The only email I’d expect to see in that context would be one that says “Sorry. Our chief IT guy is on skiing holidays and his underlings haven’t yet been able to figure out how to apply this change. We are now bringing in a consultant, and expect to refund any overcharged VAT in January.”

I have not received any of those of course.

There should be a law that prevents the government from making these changes without at least four full weeks notice, however. I understand there were quite a few issues related to orders made and accepted prior to the magical date, but effectively charged after December 1st. Not sure how the cost of effecting that change compares to the boost the economy is said to receive from it.

 

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My Very Own Seasons Greetings

xmasSau-front The season has it, and I can’t stand back.

The UK is the world record holder in the number of Christmas cards given and received. He (she) who gives will receive, they say, and we’ve been issuing up to 100 cards every year. In turn, we decorate our lounge with a similar number of cards received in return. It’s good fun, although it required my reaching a certain age to be able to appreciate the childish fun in it.

So anyway, the dilemma is whether to buy nice cards from regular shops, or to buy (often) not quite so nice cards from the charity shops.

This year, I use ArtRage to make my very own cards (depicted here), and pledge -herewidth- to donate the lost revenue, in a very generously rounded-up sum, to a charity of my choice for the benefit of the folk in the Congo.

Anyone to join in the scheme?

 

Muffin Season

muffins It’s Muffin Season once more! This is mostly because I bought a dozen full-sized silicone muffin cases, which are an absolute delight. No-fat no-stick, just fill in the muffin base, pop in the oven, let cool for a few minutes, then pop out of the cases, followed by very easy cleaning.

No more fumbling with tearing and half-burnt paper, and no more fumbling with cases not strong enough to hold the base before baking. I strongly recommend that you get yourself some. I find them very hard to find here in the UK (if not, in fact, impossible), but they are abundant and readily available in the US (check out Sur La Table or Williams-Sonoma stores for starters). I’d imagine other countries are ahead of the UK, cooking-wise, too.

So, now you’ve got those lovely muffin cases. Here’s the under 10 minute yet perfect muffin base – makes 6 to 10 muffins, depending on size and amount of fillings:

100g white wheat flour, 80g melted butter, 75g sugar, 80ml whole milk. One free range egg yolk, seeds from half a vanilla pod, and one generous teaspoon of baking powder. Put ingredients into bowl, start mixer on low gear and mix thoroughly. You’ll find the base will be fairly runny, maybe like a thick yogurt. That’s OK.

When the basic base is ready, gently stir in fillings. Only the sky and your fantasy is the limit, but you might want to stop one step prior to reaching olives and anchovies. Here are some pretty obvious suggestions:

  • Whole milk choc chips with a tiny pinch of fresh nutmeg
  • Cherries (from a jar), fresh blueberries, fresh peach (pieces)
  • Semi-dried cranberries, tossed in cinnamon
  • Apple pieces, sprinkled with lime juice, then tossed in cinnamon and sugar.
  • Crushed poppy seeds (with bitter almond oil?)

Gently stir in the fillings, then fill each cup to about 3/4 of its height. When using heavy fillings, add one or two pieces on top of each base (those won’t sink all the way to the bottom). Pop into the pre-heated oven at 180 Celcius for 10..15 minutes – use a wooden stick or visual judgement to determine when they are ready.

The next job is to figure out a savoury muffin base. I want the same consistency and lightness, but want to use them as appetizers. Fillings could include anchovies, rosemary, olives, bacon, mushrooms, … again the sky will be the limit, but it will be a whole new sky!

(For those of you familiar with The Alice Project, yes, this would be part of it.)

So, tell us all about your favourite muffin fillings.

 

Rest in Peace

parcometro It’s a giant step for a single man, but a negligible step for mankind: I have finally managed to complete and file my tax returns or, to use the UK tax man’s term, my 2008 self-assessment.

So, now it is in the hands of Royal Mail and I have my peace until the tax officer contacts me with questions regarding my calculations. I can’t wait to see what they say (and, more to the point, whether they follow my arguments), but at the same time dread the moment of opening their brown envelop of response.

I don’t mind paying what I am due, but I absolutely hate the work and pain required to get there. Well…. for now, I can rest. In peace.

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Turning a Long One Into a Short One

DSCF3700 Note to self: Do not start return journey from US at the beginning of a long US weekend. Airport is full, all waiting lines are full, plane is full. Extra foolish if US long weekend coincides with UK long weekend, as it turns a long one into a short one.

Glad to be back home as always, inspite the miserable weather, though.

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The Taxman’s Trick (Revisited)

Hector He’s done it again. Once again I have submitted my self-assessment  (the income tax declaration for the U.K.), and as decided two years ago, did so voluntarily based on the experience back then.

Same thing happens! After a while, the Inland Revenue sends me three letters:

  1. Thank you very much we have reviewed your declaration.
  2. Don’t bother filing a tax declaration next year (unless your circumstances change), as you are on PAYE and your tax life is very straight forward.
  3. We have completed your tax assessment and find that you overpaid by X (X being a four digit figure in pound Sterling).

So, I rung and asked why letters (2) and (3) combined make sense. Would they have detected the overpayment confirmed in (3) without my self-assessment?

They assure me that they would have, eventually. Apparently, they would have asked for two documents eventually, neither of which would have carried a direct reference to the source of the overpayment.

Will I rely on the Inland Revenue’s scheme? I don’t think so.

Where Will Madness End?

orangutan You’d have thought your everyday’s madness had come to a climax when people like me started publishing a blog and some-such. And it is true: it’s mad.

However…. late starter that I am, I have only recently started exploring Podcasts. The primary motivation is just to get hold of an American radio program about car repair (of all things!), which is in close competition with the UK’s Top Gear television program in terms of humorist value.

The most insane Podcast found so far must by Aaron and Marla’s irrelevant chatter from their living room, available on www.paperbagradio.com. Give it a try if you ever wanted to listen to something that has no value whatsoever, yet is strangely intriguing. Goes well with house work and car driving.

A real marvel, however, is found on the Smithsonian Institute’s site: You can download the entire 24 one-hour programs from the Smithsonian Folkways Collection for free, which tells the story of the prolific collector and record publisher Moses Ash, whose Folkways Records cover most of the 20th century of American Folk Music. Most episodes are single chapters and may be heard out of order, and all that we tried so far were both entertaining and amusing.

Last Orders!

DonGiovanniDrinks Funny how the UK is about to lift some restrictions on the pub hours, while others introduce them: In San Jose, California, the town decided to introduce a “soft closing experiment” (to be reviewed after 90 days).

The essence is that pubs, bars and clubs are allowed to stay open one more hour, but not allowed to serve alcoholic beverages during that time.

So, it’s Last Orders for night dwellers in San Jose, although their bell rings at 1.30AM.

According to this article by the San Jose Mercury News, however, it’s not drinking-up time for the people of San Jose: It’s sobering-up time: Officials hope the extended hours will allow people to sober up before getting in their cars.

Amazing what an hour can do if you are a politician.

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Beibehaltungsgenehmigungsinformation, Jawohl!

NeuScharfeneck After years of sporadically following the rumors and occasional queries, I can now confirm that Germany does indeed support dual citizenship. This could enable us to seek British citizenship while maintaining our German citizenship, thus accessing our few assets in Germany and remaining fully enabled to return to Germany if we ever wished to, while being able to vote and participate in the political life where we spend our money.

Whether we go for it is an other question. Must think about it. Doesn’t seem like we’d risk losing much more than a few fees.

The official word from the Embassy (which, it must be said, was very helpful and forthcoming with my recent email inquiry), is that dual citizenship is in fact not possible according to §25 StaG, but one may apply for leave to continue maintaining the German citizenship in case another citizenship.

To me, this translates into de-facto dual citizenship, subject to certain conditions, and subject to grant of permission with the wonderful name Beibehaltungsgenehmigung.