Questions for the Prime Minister (PMQs) and an Introduction to the British Parliament

IMG_2869Last summer, while I was in London I visited the Palace of Westminster home to the houses of parliament and the mother of all parliaments. Every Wednesday when the House of Commons is in session members gather for 30 minutes at noon to ask the prime minister questions about his policies and thoughts on current events. The question time is moderated by the speaker of the house who interjects if members of parliament (MPs) or the prime minister are not following the protocols of the House or if the House becomes noisy and disorderly.

The lively debate and animated nature of the questioners make watching PMQs sometime entertaining, the prime minister has to be rather quick on his feet and usually have a few clever retorts to MPs asking questions. The members usually stand up and engage in jeering to express disagreement. It has become something of a national pastime in Britain where all major TV networks cover the question session. Tickets to question time are also one of the most sought after parliament tickets for visitors.  Questions are provided by MPs from all parties and the order that questions get asked in are determined randomly by a computer. The prime minister does not have advanced warning about what specific questions he will be asked about so he must prepare for all possible type of questions. If the prime minister is out of the United Kingdom on official business, the next most senior member of the cabinet takes the questions. Also in the absence of the prime minister the opposition questions will be lead off by the deputy leader of the opposition.

A few things that make the British government interesting is the fact that like most parliamentary systems multiple parties can hold power together. The parties that have been elected and hold power are referred to as the “government”, while the parties that don’t hold are referred to as the “opposition”. During PMQs the Prime Minister and his cabinet sit on the front bench next to him, with the opposition leader(s) and his shadow cabinet sit on the benches opposite.

While watching PMQs you’ll probably notice there are a lot of members of parliament (MPs) standing the reason for this is that the house of commons chamber was not designed to fit all members of parliament. The chamber was destroyed during WWII by incendiary bombs, and when parliament debated rebuilding it they decided to keep the size of the chamber to 427 seats even though there are 646 MPs in the parliament. Winston Churchill favored this design because it gave the appearance that parliament would always seem more full than it really was even if all members didn’t show up. They also opted not change the shape of the chamber to be more semi-circular which was seen as less adversarial design. Instead they decided to keep the traditional rectangular design that allows the two major opposite parties to face each other keep the adversarial feel. Churchill commented that the building had shaped Britain’s parliament into two-party system and that is the way it should stay. It’s good to see that democracy is alive and well in the United Kingdom.

Game 6 Miami Heat-San Antonio Spurs

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Tonight, I probably saw one of the greatest NBA games in my entire life and maybe in the history of the NBA. Hitting clutch three-pointers as Lebron James and Ray Allen, and Chris Bosh coming up with some huge blocks proved to be the difference between a season-ending game and a chance to win a championship . As a Miami native I was glad to see that Miami managed to tie the series up 3-3, and I think tonight’s victory certainly put a new meaning to it’s not over until it’s over. In fact NBA officials were preparing to roll out the Larry O’Brien championship trophy, they had the court roped off and were preparing to assemble the stage, well I guess next time lets not be so over-anxious. Now it goes onto game 7 anything can happen, and I hope the Miami Heat grind out a win and keep the trophy in Miami.

http://www.nba.com/video/channels/playoffs/2013/06/18/0041200406-sas-mia-recap.nba

Cycling: Why everyone should

While I was a student at the University of Illinois I often biked around campus. As anyone familiar with the campus knows that it’s fairly spread out and during the warm months it’s easy to bike around.  When I moved to Burlington I decided just like in college I would bike around more often, so when spring rolled around in 2012 I bought a dual sport bike (8.3 DS) made by Trek with 27 speeds and disc brakes. With a light weight frame and the ability to ride it on the road or on a trail made it a fairly good bike to own.

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Last year, I biked the 30 mile route during the “hubs on wheels” a city-wide bike ride in Boston and the bike performed rather well. I’ve been using an app called map my ride to keep track of how much I’ve biked and so far in the past two years that mark has reached 408.5 miles, this year I’m aiming to get pass the 1000 mile mark.

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People who live within 5-6 miles of work should consider biking when the weather is good. I often find that I get to work faster than driving since you don’t have to worry about areas with slow moving traffic or looking for a parking spot. Not to mention the added benefits from cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions and saving on gas.

There’s a variety of health benefits from biking studies showing cycling along with other physical activity helps create new brain cells in the hippocampus the region of the brain responsible for memory, reducing the risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s. One statistic I read claims that just cycling 20 miles a week cuts your risk of heart disease to less than half that of those that don’t exercise. Others say that cycling helps people be more innovative by increasing the flow of oxygen to your brain. Cycling also helps burn excess calories in an efficient fashion. So all around there seems to be an enough financial, and health incentives to get out there and cycle.