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Monday, July 31, 2006
Well knock me down with a feather...

As anyone with reasoning power greater than that of, erm, a gnat foresaw there is now a national shortage of sperm donors due to the change in the law removing the right to anonymity. Twenty odd years ago a friend used to supplement his student grant by donating at about a tenner a go (I think) but I was never persuaded as I was not tempted by the prospect of fathering a child I would never know.

Above and beyond that, if anonymity has gone, the next step would be names going to the CSA. £10 quid doesn't seem like much of a bargain in the light of that possibility, does it?

And can we keep this 'PG', please.


Random Good (?) Ideas department

In Boulder Colorado, and doubtless other places in the US, the local daily carries a crime map showing where offences have been committed, ranging from serious crimes down to the appearance of graffiti. Given that crimes are supposed to reported to the police (although this seems an increasingly pointless exercise) and the Plod also collect their own data, what about having something similar over here? It would be a great deal more use than those yellow 'did you see anything? boards that the Met put up, and doubtless could be put up on websites like this too. This would get information about crime hotspots into the public domain, without being unduly sensationalist and armed with my one man obsession about elected police chiefs, we might actually get policing that responds to what the public wants, as opposed to that of chiefs sucking up to the government etc and angling for promotion to head more 'prestigious' forces.

Ideas, opinions etc, please.

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The bin police strike again

As may have been noticed, I get a bit fired up about the bin police. Here's another jaw dropper from the BBC's site

"They can be fined, on the spot, £110 just for putting their black bin bag out on the wrong day and we've increased the maximum fine for serious fly-tipping to £50,000 so there's some pretty stiff penalties out there."

Alternatively, commit a breach of the peace and the maximum fine is £10 less...

A mate of mine with hard left tendencies (he'd like a national maximum wage...) was moaning about Bromley's bin collection service yesterday and was fantasising about a UDI from the council and dealing with his own rubbish.Time for a quick anecdote - during a bin collectors' strike in NYC some years back, a popular solution was to gift wrap rubbish and leave it in an unlocked car.


Odds and ends

Liberation has come up with a nifty neologism / done something horrible - delete as appropriate - to the French language today, referencing 'Première bloguerre mondiale' (first world blogwar) in an item on war blogging of current events. It notes that 'Israeli and Lebanese bloggers are all on the front line'.

For those not of a nervous disposition, there's a rather scary photo of Sarko and De Villepin in shorts here.

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Sunday, July 30, 2006
What's in the yellow press

The News of the World has followed up on Portillo, and reckons he has been having a full blown afair with a rather attractive Magyar. As ever, the devil is in the detail - he bought her a Louis Vuitton bluse (I thought they only made accessories) and "he would pay for a room at the Sofitel hotel, south west of the capital". Sounds like an airport hotel to me - very classy.....

Can't see anything interesting in the Sunday Mirror or the People - just celebrity bilge. And Amanda Platell in the Mule doesn't like George Michael.


Raking over the embers of the Spanish Civil War

Saturday, July 29, 2006
I will admit that my knowledge of Spanish history does not go much beyond outlines, but I do think that the Spanish government is somewhat foolish in 'Breaking the pact of silence' over Franco's regime. The fact that everyone ignored 'the elephant in the living room' when democracy was restored was instrumental in allowing Spanish society to rebuild and recover without too much rancour, and I suspect that that approach was deliberately followed by most of the governments in Eastern and Central Europe after the fall of the Red Empire. I reckon that Zapatero's governement is far more interested in settling historic scores rather than seeking to aid reconciliation. As to the idea of a £14m fund to compensate victims (on both sides), a - it won't go very far, B - presumably it is coming out of general taxation and c - it will just stir things up all the more. Meanwhile, Franco's title of 'the Leader of the Final Crusade and of the Hispanic World, The Leader of the War of Liberation Against Communism and Its Collaborators" is up there with some of the deranged titles used by Marxist dictators and African despots.

As a footnote, the last time I was in Madrid (lovely place, lovely people - well worth visiting) I saw a fair few Falangist fly posters.


Something you won't see reported on the BBC

Found this in a rather curious item in Der Spiegel about Israelis who have been displaced from Northern Galilee:

"The government in Jerusalem estimates that about 6 percent of the 7 million people living in Israel have been displaced by the attacks".


The flight from personal responsibility, pt 356

Friday, July 28, 2006

Every once in a while I will encounter a comment of such boneheaded irresponsibility that even a lifetime of cynicism has not prepared me for.

This item on the BBC site, about parenting is just such an example. I imagine we are all used to horror stories about fecklessness, but this is from one Lynn Edwards, a woman who chairs the Professional Association of Teachers: "When I came out of the maternity hospital with a little boy on one arm and a little girl on the other, I had no idea how to put on a nappy," Ms Edwards said. "I found it unacceptable that no one had shown me." Just savour what this tells us about someone who has had at least nine months to prepare for the consequences of perhaps the most important decision of her life: to have children. What would someone with even the responsibility levels and reasoning capacity of an earthworm do? Maybe prepare for this by reading a book, asking some questions of another mother, attend pre-natal classes? Oh no, she clearly expected the instructions to be tattooed on the backsides of her progeny. Even small children learn that when they get a new toy it is a good idea to at least skim the instructions before playing with it, so I suppose this woman never learnt that particular lesson.

Her response to this is to argue for parenting classes at school level. On the face of it, a not wholly idiotic idea, but in the real world most children will either pay little or no attention to the lessons or forget the detail before the theory becomes practice.

I think I need to lie down in a darkened room if I’m going to have any chance of calming down. However, at the risk of doing terrible things to my blood pressure, can anyone top that example of irresponsibility, preferably from someone who really should have known better?


Blaming everyone for yourself for your misfortunes but yourself dept.

The local rag has a tale of wood eating beatles supposedly destroying a family's furniture, and they reckon the council should pay up. I'm not aware of any British insect life that can do this sort of thing, but what do I know? Meanwhile, what about this 'and ruined six model planes worth £1,000 each'. HOW much?

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This week's Early Day Motions

There are some jaw droppers to be found here

Including :

Celebrating the 80th Anniversary of Winnie the Pooh
A moan about the Ryanair complaints mechanism
Some angling for test match tickets from Sky
A moan about removing English flags from the cafeteria
Marking the centenary of Hainault Forest Country Park

Do they really have nothing better to do with their time?


Hard Rocking MPs...

An amusing, if unsourced, survey of sorts on the BBC site , wherein sundry MPs nominate their favourite albums. Quite a few Led Zeppelin fans and I'm not even remotely surprised that Tessa Jowell like the Beatles. Showing his usual insight, Mark Oaten (please - if only for your wife's sake will you just SHUT UP) reckons of the Human League's 'Dare' 'Every track is a killer, not a filler'. Uh-huh.

This sort of thing is almost as toe-curlingly awful as the Desert Island discs politicians get their spin doctors to choose for them. Ian McCulloch of Echo & the Bunnymen once explained that they didn't do political songs as if he had anything insightful or new to say on such things he'd be a politician, and perhaps our MPs could draw a similar conclusion about their thoughts on music.

This and that

Liberation covers the raspberry tart thrower's travails. He could have got 3 years from the beak, but got fined €150. Quoth Joly: "I expected worse. I'm happy, now I'm going home". Poetic, eh?

The Stop the War coalition has published a list of those signing its petition and what a selection of grotesques they are - plenty of Trotskyites, Greens, sundry self-publicists etc etc.

Meanwhile, a bit of encouragement for all we bloggers out there, as Herald Tribune writes on blogging a la francais: "With so many blogs, I'm hoping for fewer protests and strikes in Paris this fall," said Loïc Le Meur, a pioneer French blogger and European managing director of the blog-hosting company Six Apart. "If people can express themselves online, then maybe they don't need to block the streets."

What about that for a higher purpose? I'd always assumed that most of us were doing this because it is entertaining, rather than it being a sort of chastity belt to prevent one from putting up barricades whenever the mood takes.

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Douglas Alexander

Thursday, July 27, 2006
Iain Dale is making hay at young Dougie's expense in a rather amusing fashion, so I feel it is my duty to see what I can dig up on Alexander.

Just like Dismal Gordon, his father is a minister of the Kirk. What is it with the Church of Scotland, eh? To her credit my mother emerged from a C of S upbringing - while not a minister's daughter - blue.

Infinitely more amusing is that he worked on the staggeringly ineffective Dukakis campaign in '88. Well, if one will employ 21 year olds..... There was a priceless article in The Onion a while back about MD winning a majority among the Dukaki, but they haven't archived it. However, I'll offer up "Visiting Gore Calls Pennsylvania 'A Hellhole'" as a substitute, as it is extemely funny.

What else? Well, his entry in the Register of Members' Interests is rather dull. He has attended the Brit Awards, for which I offer my condolences. Shame Chumbawumba weren't playing that year. To his credit, he hasn't signed any EDMs, apparently. He is moderately pro a smoking ban and in favour of ID cards

Sounds ghastly, doesn't he? Alas he seems to be dug in like a sheep tick at Paisley & Renfrewshire South - 52.6% of the vote last time - and has the nation's 80th safest side.


A small outbreak of French odds and ends

Bernard-Henri Lévy, who makes David Starkey look like a shrinking violet, refers to the threat of Islamism as third wave of fascism

Rather more amusingly, someone who threw a raspberry tart at Segolene Royal is in trouble with the authorities. Dear oh dear - I would advise politicians everywhere to avoid standing on their dignity - it makes them look ridiculous.

At Rigger's request, here's a video of the attack

Not in the league of the assault on Bill Gates - the attacker threw the thing from a distance, and didn't get her in the face. Amateur....

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Showing one side of the story

The Grauniad is running a survey that shows teachers are the least likely to be bored in their jobs, commissioned by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (smell a rat yet?).

That is doubtless all well and good, but it might more helpful if it had been set in context, with figures on overall job satisafction, pay, stress etc. I do have quite some admiration for teachers, as there is no salary that I would judge compensated for the horror of dealing with 'unruly' teenagers day in, day out.


The Dersh speaks

The Christian Science Monitor has a contributed item by Alan Dershowitz on events in the Middle East, and shall we say he is not exactly pulling his punches...

Noting that Hizbollah has apologised to the Israeli Arabs killed by their rockets, and Nasrallah deeming them martyrs, Dersh comments: "The so-called Arab-Israeli conflict represents the first instance since the Holocaust that Jews, as Jews, are being specifically targeted by an international organization that seeks recognition as a legitimate power. Hizbullah has threatened to attack Jewish targets outside of Israel as well. And they have proved their willingness to do so, as evidenced by their attack on a Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, in 1994, in which they collaborated with Argentine neo-Nazis to murder many Jews, including children".

The whole item is well worth reading. Dershowitz is much in demand on the Jewish speakers circuit, and if my narks are correct, he always finishes off by saying 'Don't marry out', as in don't marry a non-Jew.


Yet another opinion poll

ICM's poll gives the current figures as Conservative 40, Labour 34 and LD 17. This translates into 308/297/16 on Baxter. Quite the squeeze on the Lib Dems. I wonder if they are panicking yet, and whether Kennedy is tempted to do an Alex Salmond...


Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Some nonsense for a Wednesday afternoon

A while back I was pointed to a site that matches photos to celebrity lookalikes - Link here and decided I'd waste some time by trying out some pics of noted bloggers.

Guido, as is only fitting, gets no match at all.

Iain Dale's banner pic brings up Steven Segal, Michael Howard, Mark 'Take That' Owen and Danny Devito.

No match for Cranmer either.....

As for me, sans hand in the way I come up as John Major, Tom Berenger and Steve McQueen (I like that one) when wearing glasses, or without glasses Ryuchi Sakamoto, Robert De Niro or P Diddy. Erm.....

Anyway, it is an entertaining enough way to while away the time. You have to register, but they haven't spammed me as yet.


The ever delightful George Galloway

Found this over at the online version of the Socialist Worker:

"That’s why I have no hesitation in saying that Hizbollah is not and has never been a terrorist organisation. It is the legitimate national resistance movement of Lebanon. What the US cannot forgive is the fact that Hizbollah succeeded in driving Israel out of Lebanon in 2000 after an 18 year occupation, liberating all but the Shebaa Farms area....I side with the resistance to that injustice. Hizbollah is leading that resistance. I do not hesitate to say, and Blair and his law officers may take note, that I glorify that resistance. I glorify the Hizbollah national resistance movement, and I glorify the leader of Hizbollah, Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah".

Where to begin? I doubt that the Maronites and Druze are particularly keen on the idea of being 'liberated' by the Hizbollah that they might then know the delights of a Shi'ite theocracy. Hizbollah did not drive out the IDF, the IDF left undefeated. As to the Shebaa Farms sector, claims and counter claims, and issues of de jure control are just a little more complicated than he makes out. Meanwhile I expect his Palestinian wife is delighted that Hizbollah rockets are kiling Israeli arabs. Or maybe they are expendable.

This, however, pales into comparative insignificance compared to this comment of his: "I think the disappearance of the Soviet Union is the biggest catastrophe of my life". Hmm. I don't think anyone can seriously dispute that if a citizen of the USSR, Galloway might have got to know the horrors of Vorkuta or Kolyma "the pole of cold and cruelty" as Solzhenitsyn dubbed it, at first hand.

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Random Strangeness...

These rather fetching motifs on a tomb in Carlisle cathedral look a bit like dinosaurs, don't they?

Well, I discovered them while going on a random wander around the internet here. The writer takes the Book of Genesis very seriously, and regards these 15th century brasses as a proof that dinosaurs and man co-existed. Yes, really.


More matters French...

Le Monde carries news of a poll that shows one in three of the French did not have a holiday away of at least 4 nights in 2004, and adds:

"If access to holidays has been gradually democratised, variations remain significant according to standards of living", comment the study’s authors. In 2004, as in 1999, the lack of money remains the principal principle reason (37 %). Staying at home was a "deliberate choice" for 20 %. 15 % gave health reasons and 10 % work or study related reasons".

While I think we would all agree that a break can do one a world of good, this seems to pinpoint another one of those areas where the French and the British see matters in a very different light, as I'm not aware of non-holidaying being a politicised issue in these parts. And as for our friends across the pond with their standard ten days off a year.... I think the last time I spent more than a few days away other than at the then in-laws or other relatives must have been about four years ago, and the last time I got home less stressed than when I went away still further back. Still, I've got paranoid freelancer syndrome, but don't feel particular ill served by fate. Anyway, as I hope Cranmer would approve, I'm off to the 'Protestant Rome' (Geneva) for a few days in August.

As a footnote, I read a tale some years back about Leon Blum, France's pre-war prime minister picking up a suit from a dry cleaner in 1945 that he had dropped off in 1940 and finding a note in the pocket thanking him for instituting paid holidays.

More matters French...

Le Monde carries news of a poll that shows one in three of the French did not have a holiday away of at least 4 nights in 2004, and adds:

"If access to holidays has been gradually democratised, variations remain significant according to standards of living", comment the study’s authors. In 2004, as in 1999, the lack of money remains the principal principle reason (37 %). Staying at home was a "deliberate choice" for 20 %. 15 % gave health reasons and 10 % work or study related reasons".

While I think we would all agree that a break can do one a world of good, this seems to pinpoint another one of those areas where the French and the British see matters in a very different light, as I'm not aware of non-holidaying being a politicised issue in these parts. I think the last time I spent more than a few days away other than at the then in-laws or other relatives must have been about four years ago, and the last time I got home less stressed than when I went away still further back. Still, I've got paranoid freelancer syndrome, but don't feel particular misserved by fate. Anyway, as I hope Cranmer would approve, I'm off to the 'Protestant
Rome' (Geneva) for a few days in August.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Now I really have heard and seen it all

Some years back I thought I could lay claim to having seen and heard it all when I encountered Taoist rappers out on the streets of Boulder, Colorado. Yes, really.

However, this doesn't just take the biscuit, but the biscuit shelf, the factory and the fields the grain was grown in. Stand back for jaws going through the floor as Tony Blair takes self-deceit to an as yet unknown dimension:

"I think I used to be very much in the bracket of those who say "the nanny state" - it is not for the state to tell us what to do," he told the BBC's Mark Easton".

Context here

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Which active UK political figures could you imagine wanting to have a pint and a chat with?

AJH and I got into a bit of a sidetrack while talking about Alan Johnson, and I threw out my old 'could you imagine having a pint and chat with this politician?' test, and we agreed that Johnson passed it. I owe that test to my father (God rest his soul), who always had a soft spot for Joe Gormley, despite being a straight arrow Tory and a long serving parish councillor.

The idea is not so much to pick ideological soulmates, or even those you could have a good argument with, but rather people who you imagine would be good company if you bumped into them in a pub. Feel free to elect for wine, a G&T etc if a beer isn't your thing.

I'll set the ball rolling by nominating Lynne Featherstone and Boris Johnson (original, eh?). And according to Wikipedia, LF's middle name is 'Choona'. Blimey.

A surprise up there with the Pope being Catholic, wrestling being fixed and bears using al fresco lavatory facilities

Mark Oaten won't be standing at the next election....

Meanwhile, it looks like the chairman of the Lib Dems , one Harvey Cole, must be quite old and have an awesome memory, as despite there having been MPs for Winchester since at least 1660, he avers that "We know he will ...remain the most effective MP Winchester has ever had". Including this chap who actually held ministerial office, ditto this one. Still, why bother checking the facts before launching into a brag, eh?

Meanwhile, we all know about Oaten's idea of a good time, so need to spell it out thanks.

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Grim news

Bridget Prentice (who looks as though she is being electrocuted), Labour's 'Democracy' Minister is forecasting the end of election nights as we know them because of planned improvements in checks on the validity of voter registration. Given the rather dubious stories about postal voting of late, I find it hard to believe that Labour could possibly be sincere in wishing to clamp down on electoral fraud, although if they are, that is all well and good. I find it hard to credit that it would not be possible to deliver a results within 24 hours of the end of voting, and the idea of a 2 day lag between voting and counting is way beyond being acceptable - apart from anything else, if the polls showed a landslide for an opposition party, what credibility would a 2 day caretaker administration have in dealing with a domestic or international crisis?

Being a dreadful wonk I love election nights (well maybe I didn't in '97), and would be extraordinarily peeved if I was robbed of that ritual.


Haile Selassie and Ethiopia

Le Figaro has a mini interview with the President of Ethiopia, but the focus is more on Haile Selassie, 'King of Kings, Elect of God and Conquering Lion of Judah'. He was carted away from his palace in a Volkswagen Beetle, but ended up buried under Mengistu's office so that the Red Negus could keep an eye on him.

Elsewhere the item notes that Ethiopia was a Christian country at least 50 years earlier than France, but continues "However, on the hills of Addis Ababa, mosques are multiplying. Rumour attributes their funding to Mohammed Al-Hamoudi, an Ethiopian-Saudi billionaire...But the old faith is still there. Tthe high plateaus of Ethiopia, are as Christian as Europe was before the 19th century. But the centuries count little for the old kingdom”.

I am hardly the world’s most enthusiastic monarchist, but I can’t help but think that if the line of Selassie had continued, Ethiopia would be a rather happier place today. Meanwhile the criminally wicked Mengistu is a guest of another nasty piece of work, Robert Mugabe. Mengistu is being tried in absentia in Ethiopia and the trial is now in its 13th year...


How much would you pay for a guitar?

A company in the US is selling what it claims is a guitar used by the incomparable Robert Johnson, and is knocking it out for the pocket money price of $6m. There is no audit trail, no signed affidavit etc, but rather it makes its claim based on comparing the guitar with a photograph of RJ where he is holding a guitar of the same type. In another incarnation I am an unreconstructed blues nut (yeah, I know – I’m sad and should get out more etc etc), and a blues forum I hang out on has been discussing it. One of the members contacted a friend who is a luthier to ask his opinion on the claims made by the seller and got this response:

Total b.s. The things that they describe as unique were most likely common to all of the batch run when it was made. They probably made 20 or so at a time. Things like "the ring inlay is deeper than normal" etc. are totally irrelevant, 'cause celluloid shrinks and recedes into the wood. The original has way too much wear, if this hasn't been refinned it's not the same. One glaring thing is I think Robert's guitar has the slanted Gibson inlay and this one has the strait across inlay which would make it a few years newer. That part can't be disputed".

If it is bought at the asking price, by the look of things it will be going to someone with a great deal more money than sense.


An excellent english language piece in Der Spiegel on Israel and Hizbollah

Why Israel's reaction is right .

The writer makes four key points:

  • Israel is fighting a just war
  • Israel wants peace
  • there is no alternative to Israel's current military operation.
  • Israel's military operation has already resulted in positive effects

And the pay off:

"Israel must not be forced to abandon its war against Hezbollah, rather it must win the conflict. Just as Hezbollah is fighting the war as Iran's proxy, Israel is fighting genocidal Islamism as the proxy for the rest of the Western world. The least Israel should be able to expect from the West is that it not be betrayed".

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Alan Johnson’s attempt at class warfare blows up in his face

Monday, July 24, 2006
In a thoroughly amusing development, it has been discovered that Johnson’s work as a conscientious MP has rather clashed with his deputy / leadership ambitions. He was slated to make a speech putting the boot in to the charitable status of fee paying schools, but now he has been rumbled for helping a constituent who was trying to get her son into a fee paying school. Ho ho – that won’t go down well with the unreconstructed class warriors in the PLP who fancy him in the pilot’s or co-pilot’s seat.

I’m a humble grammar school boy, but strongly in favour of a voucher system for schools. All of the people I know who went to private schools came from very ordinary backgrounds, but had parents who made immense financial sacrifices because they wanted what they judged to be the best for their sons and daughters.

Meanwhile, apologies to anyone who has been trying to post - it looks like there has been a Blogger-wide outage.

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How respectable people demonstrate

Verity has sent me a link to some photographs taken at the pro-Israel demonstration in Kenton at the weekend. I would have attended (in my IDF T-shirt...) had I not been up to my eyeballs in work. Naturally the media paid rather less attenntion to this than the SWP's Hizbollah love-in.

As she puts it, "These are great pics, and not a one threatening death, beheading or mayhem". Any additional comment by me would be superfluous.

Further detail at Ynet.com including this comment from Dr Sacks (long my favourite clergyman - a wise and humane man) :

"Israel is fighting today in Lebanon because six years ago it withdrew from Lebanon. Israel is fighting today in Gaza because one year ago it withdrew from Gaza. And Israel discovered the terrible truth spoken by the late Mother Theresa - that no good deed goes unpunished."

Meanwhile, an update from eslewhere. I don't often go to left leaning web sites and expect to agree with posts, but there was much vigorous nodding at Croydonian Towers when I read this at Harry's Place and this.

Here's a comment from the first thread:

"Lenins toilet is full tonight. This is the best so far from a "socialist" in New Zealand pinpointing her exact Vichy moment: "We socialists had a telling off from a Muslim woman for not chanting "Victory to Hezbollah", so we took a vote and decided to adopt that slogan, and I'm proud of it. And no, I honestly did not make that up.

Who are whose useful idiots now, I wonder?

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A small outbreak of 'Disgusted of Croydon'

The Carphone Warehouse has commissioned a survey on mobile phone use which makes for rather depressing reading:

"The survey also found only 14% of people would turn their phone off during sex. While 75% of people think it is rude to use the mobile during dinner, only 9% of respondents said it was unreasonable to do so on a train".

In the past few months I've seen people using mobiles while standing at urinals, and continuously while eating in a restaurant, quite apart from the usual selection of bores/boors who bellow into the bally things while on public transport. As I'm forever pointing out, mobiles have very powerful microphones, so anyone who raises his or her voice while using one on a train is a moron or an oaf. I've fantasised about buying one of those deeply illegal portable signal blockers, but quite apart from their illegality and possible interference with emergency service channels, they don't work with 3G, apparently.

For what it is worth, I think the rot set in with the introduction of walkmans, with this representing an intrusion of the private into the public realm and users getting less and less considerate. Maybe I should just move to Tunbridge Wells and be done with it.

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The Left in nostalgia mode

The Guardian has given over space to historian Tristram Hunt for an extended whinge about the lack of memorials, statues etc for various failed leftist causes over the centuries. The writer doesn't seem to have cottoned on to the fact that it is the winners who not only write the record, they also put up the statues. My prize for the dimmest comment is this: "As historian Dan Plesch has asked: "Why not a London Dungeon of the democratic past?". Erm, the London Dungeon is a business, and in it to make money.

With the Left are so far into the crying into their pints stage over the current administration, maybe they should club together and see if they can't get a museum filled with relics of their causes du jour. Don't fancy your chances folks, but then again I expect they want us all to pay for plaques at Greenham Common and the like. A Red Plaques scheme, anyone?


Yet more 'O Tempora, O Mores'....

Sunday, July 23, 2006
Most of us, I imagine, have certain dates hard-wired into our consciousnesses - Waterloo, the battle of Hastings, the two world wars, Columbus and the moon landing for instance.

Anyway, one of my friends was watching one of the Big Brother spin off programmes earlier and tells me a BB contestant was asked the date of the first moon landing. I am not making this up - she said 1902. The Wright brothers' first flight was in 1903.


What is Portillo up to?<

For the benefit of those who manage to resist the lure of the News of the World, it has some pictures of him picnicking with a lady not his wife.... It is a classic NotW nudge nudge, wink wink job. Still, I imagine Portillo regards news of his activities on Hampstead Heath as rather less unwelcome news than those that have been revealed for George Michael .

Meanwhile, a truly bizarre story in that journal of record The People involving a John Prescott lookalike who claimed to be Prescott's cousin and on the back of that achieved quite some success with the ladies. And then allegedly swindled them out of their savings. Isn't life curious.....

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Just a small French update...

Liberation has an interview with Dominique Voynet, a former minister under Jospin who is standing as the Green candidate next year. All sorts of intriguing bits and pieces about whether she would withdraw if it looked like Le Pen was going to do well if the Left was split, but for me the most intersting was this question:

"Could a 'no to the European constitution' partisan be the PS candidate?"

"I don't care. You can't build while looking in the rear view mirror. Building for the 2007-2012 political project on the basis of a 2005 vote seems grotesque to me".

Hmm, is this, to adapt Cardinal Hume, 'the conversion of France for which we have prayed all these years?' French euroscepticism has been championed in the past by Le Pen's mob, and by the rather more respectable Philippe de Villiers, a viscount previously linked UDM but now with his own party the MPF. He's running next year, of course. The FN has attracted support from what one might call 'Old France' - Monarchists, devout Catholics and so on - in away that the BNP never has, and I imagine never will.

Meanwhile, handy hints dept: if you wear a tie etc with a fleur der lys on it while in France you will be taken for a monarchist, and might get some odd looks.

Another story I spotted shows in Le Monde. The mayor of Montreuil (a suburb of Paris) referred to Jehovah's Witnesses as 'perfect delinquents', and is being sued by them for the equivalent of defamation. Looks like civic cultural sensitivity training might be a growth area yonder....

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Anschutz and AEG

Saturday, July 22, 2006
I've gone for a sniff around the web to see what I could turn up about Anschutz. By all account he is quite the tycoon, with fingers in rather a lot of pies.

The profile on Reference for Business is worth skimming.

Elsewhere, Buyblue.org notes

"Regal Entertainment is the largest theater company in the U.S. having the Regal Cinemas, Edwards Theatres and United Artists Theatre brands. In terms of the top three executives and political action committees, Regal Entertainment gave no money to political candidates, but the majority owner Philip Anschutz has given a lot to conservative causes over the years. With a net worth of $5 billion, he has given plenty to the Republican party, intelligent design and anti-gay causes". He is a long term friend of Bob Dole and contributed to his campaigns.

Nerve.com does not like him very much, and notes he was named Fortune's "Greediest Executive" for 1999.

Elsewhere I've discovered that he bought property in Liberal, Kansas - given his politics you'd need a heart of stone not to snigger. Still, my favourite find is a reference to the wretched Dome on the AEG Worldwide website:

"The O2 will be the focal point for music and entertainment for all of the U.K. and Europe and will feature an arena, retail shops, restaurants, music clubs and theatres".

Reminds me of the usage claims made in the prospectus for Eurotunnel - they reckoned on a huge share of all UK/continent travel, including destinations like Greece and Spain. Yes, really.

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Banning orders on Islamic extremist organisations

The Guardian reports the less than surprising news that Reid's banning order on Al-Ghurabaa is likelyto be circumvented by its creation of front organisations. While clamping down on Islamofascist groups is all well and good, the government would be better off enforcing the law on incitement and so forth and applying it to individuals. Then maybe we could have some arrests and some trials, rather than allowing them, if not to get away with murder, than at least to call for it.


Friday, July 21, 2006
Yet another highly amusing image challenge at B3ta

This week the name of the game is: "Toilet Duck. Fairy Liquid. Ginger Nuts. Fishermen's Friends. None of them do what they say on the tin... but what if all products actually did? Show us that world..." .

Not entirely work safe due to language and sometimes coarse humour. I particularly enjoyed this one:

The Prescott report

Being at least reasonably sane, and having better things to do with my life, I'm not going to read the whole of the Prescott report, but I did notice the valuations he put on his gifts from Anschutz.

The Stetson is estimated at £97. I found this retailer where prices range from $130 up to $350. I can't imagine that Anschutz would have gone for the cheapest option.....

The boots - estimated at £120. This is a tough call, as there is no indication as to brand or material, but the retailer above has them ranging from $140 to $350.

Spurs £207 , belt buckle etc £185. Impossible to tell.

Meanwhile, I just love Prescott's response to the letter from Hugo Swire:

"You wrote regarding my official trip to the United States in July of last year, which I undertook to discuss issues around urban and rural sustainability and regeneration, and to specifically visit, at the request of the Foreign Office, parts of "Middle America". The trip included many official visits and meetings, with local, regional and national politicians, business leaders and workers involved in farming and agricultural industries in Colorado, and visits and keynote speeches in Texas and Los Angeles".

I've been to Colorado, and rather nice it is too, but Iwould not regard visiting a millionaire's plaything as likely to give much insight into Middle America. Nor LA , come to that....

Having gone for a sniff around sundry websites, here are my findings on the committee's membership:

Younger – ‘Wet’ patrician.

Barron – One time Scargill ally but baled out and supported reform of Clause 4.

Curry – Noted euro fanatic.

Dismore – Sound on Israel.

Harvey – Had a road to Damascus, apparently, and changed from eurosceptic to europhile.

Jenkins – Blairite toadie.

Llywd – Anti-Iraq war. Changed his name from Hughes. Poseur…

Mullin – Old school leftie. Delightfully claimed that the Birmingham six were innocent as he knew those who had done it. Not that he named names, of course.

Soames – Noted trencherman.

Whitehead – Green obsessive.

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BBC Tebbit bashing

Just seen this on the BBC site: "What has been dubbed his "hug a hoodie" speech did receive the surprise backing from a bastion of the party's right wing Lord Tebbit, however".

Why was it necessary to insert 'surprise', I wonder? I suppose in the BBC's universe anyone they dub 'right wing' is automatically in favour of the hanging and flogging of offenders and never shows any interest in prevention or rehabilitation.

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Racially motivated rose pruning...

There's a rather curious story in the local paper about an Asian family that thinks some rather aggressive pruning of their roses might be racially motivated. Details here.

In precis, they are the only Asian family living in an 'upmarket' estate in Epsom, and have noticed that someone appears to have taken secateurs to the roses in their front garden and took the tale to the Met's finest: "A police spokesman confirmed they were treating the case as a racially aggravated "hate" crime, although officers are liaising with Horton Park rangers to see if the roses could have been eaten by deer".

While I sympathise with the Bahl family, and recognise that this must be unpleasant for them, I can't help but wonder how much police time would be spent on the affair if they did not suspect a racial angle

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French neologisms

The Telegraph reports on the Academie Francaise's ongoing efforts to protect the French from anglicisms, a task much like trying to push back the Atlantic with a mop. I've had a look at the Academy's website and found a fair few things of interest, particularly foreign words that have gained French nationality, including ersatz, kitsch, bazooka, ayatollah, kibboutz, chianti , Kalachnikov and geisha.

They have had some success with ordinateur for computer, logiciel for software and so on, but the Academy is never going to move as quickly as usage. I'm a bit torn between thinking that the effort is in vain and represents unwarranted interference, and gruding admiration for their efforts. I'm not sure how many other countries have similar bodies policing the language, although I know there is one in Iceland. If memory serves, the Icelandic for television is a rendering of 'magic seeing box' or somesuch, as they wil insist on using old Norse root words for new concepts.

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Lebanon's French dimension and other issues

I've not encountered many international 'special relationships', but Le Monde reckons France has one with Lebanon. It also refers to the deceased Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri as having been Chirac's 'best overseas friend'. Crikey.

Elsewhere, Le Figaro reports the death of Pol Pot's successor as head of the Khmer Rouge, Ta Mok. I won't be sending flowers, although the item notes that his death deprives the justice system of a vital witness. I have some misgivings over victor's justice, but if any post war regime's rulers deserve to go on trial it is those of the Khmer Rouge.

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The 'Petite Anglaise' affair

Thursday, July 20, 2006
By popular acclaim, or rather by a request from our friend Ellee, I've gone for a quick forage in available French langauge media to see what they are saying about Catherine's dismissal for blogging, also known as being 'dooced'. The Telegraph broke the story, so read that for a background in English. Le Monde carries a rather dull recitation of the facts, cobbled together from an AFP report. I can't see anything on the Libe or Figaro sites.

Anyway, TF1 picked up the story:

"Her dismissal, initially reported by the Daily Telegraph… was followed up by the whole of the British press. In France, messages of sympathy flowed too. Although written in English, her blog had many French readers, among them blogueurs angered by the decision of Dixon Wilson."

It quotes from a couple of blogs:

"A black day for blogging in France. It is vital that people who write about their jobs discretely should be able to continue. Once you are in the office you don't put your personal life in the filing cabinet, you do not abandon your personality".

"And Dixon Wilson makes itself ridiculous for sacking an employee, the futility of which you can see from reading the incriminating blog. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot – seeing this impulsive reaction and panic at the discovery that employees, particularly women, have both a life outside work and a critical spirit that shines through even in the workplace”.

TFI also interviewed her, although much of that focuses on the detail rather than the media reaction. She comments "I understood the mobilisation of the blogs immediately: there was an empathy, with many fearing the same scenario". Meanwhile, she notes that she might interest literary agents...

( Usual caveats about translating on the fly and trying to make it sound English rather than going for an over close approximation of the originals )

So, there we have it. Do I sympathise with her? Yes. Could she, should she have been a little more careful? Probably. Meanwhile, I'm yet again grateful for being self-employed and working from home...

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Laurent Fabius pulls a 'Tony Benn' and other French goings on

Liberation is reporting Fabius's complaint that 'there is no debate' going on between the PS candidates.

Or put another way, 'I'm last in the polls and rather less photogenic than Sego, so let's talk about the isshoos...'

Elsewhere Le Monde interviews Paul Bernard, who is worried about the atomising of French society and wants to rehabilitate Jacobinism:

"There is a danger abroad in my country today: its citizens are defined more by what makes them different than what they have in common . This is true for Christians, Muslims, Jews, Auvergnats and Bretons. Where is France in all that?....We need to rehabilitate that beautiful word "Jacobin" which today is caricatured…Jacobinism means that all citizens are equal, that they have to answer to an authority which is the same for all".

Can't say I'm convinced - this after all, is the idea that was used to crush any expression of cultural identity which didn't conform with what Paris wanted. Shades of the revolutionary calendar, supposedly a triumph of reason through being based on growing seasons and the weather rather than the Julian/Gregorian model. A rather major snag was that when it was Germinal ('seed') in Paris (the ground zero for defining anything...), that had had already come to pass in the South.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Another interesting piece in Dar Al Hayat on Lebanon

Just read another insight from inside Lebanon on what's going on at the moment. It is, unsurprisingly, critical of Israel, but it is the take on Hezbollah and our friends on the other side of the channel that I find more notable:

"As for Hezbollah, it has risked making Lebanon a hostage to Syria and Iran, whether it meant to or not. The question today is: where is Hezbollah taking Lebanon? Unfortunately, it has lost the good will of France, the only Western country that had recommended a dialogue with it, and which had undertaken the task of convincing others to include it in the domestic political game. France refused to include Hezbollah on the European terror list because it considered it a resistance movement that would transform itself into an important political movement after the occupied Lebanese territories were liberated. What is Hezbollah's strategy, now that this recent venture has brought the disaster of massacres, destruction and ruin to Lebanon? Is it to offer Lebanon up as a gift to its allies?.


"What has Lebanon done to deserve being the victim of Iran and Syria's conflict with the West? Why should the Lebanese people be the victim of a war it can do without? The Lebanese had looked forward to a quiet summer for themselves and for the holiday-makers who help the economy flourish. Why did Hezbollah lead them into this trap? Of all those who have fought Israel, Hezbollah is the last that needs to be told that Israel does not care in the least for any Arab country".

Whether people agree with my hawkish Zionism or not, if the IDF succeeds in eliminating Hezbollah as a military force, I can't help but think that it will be very much for the good of the long-suffering Lebanese people, as a state - in order to be termed such - has to have a monopoly on the ability to project lethal force. If Hezbollah is removed from the equation, Lebanese of all religions and identities are in with a far greater chance of building a stable civil society.

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Welsh house names

The Telegraph (print only) has an item about a Welsh nationalist / cultural pressure group that is up in arms about people renaming Welsh language house names, and wants the law changed to require planning permission to do so, with a spokersperson claiming "It is very important to speak out against this sort of cultural vandalism". I do not regard this as a fit area for legislation, but I do have a sneaking sympathy with this group, and I hope that their comments will give people pause before re-naming their houses. I feel much the same way about re-naming pubs, so maybe I'm just a sloppy sentimentalist.

I grew up in a 'name' house, it being named after an East Coast seaside town that my family had never visited, but they stuck with it. I suppose I tend to think that it is bad karma to rename a house, although I can understand why my then neighbours switched from 'Mordref' (what?) to 'Woodstock'....

Today's up date on matters French

Having been reassured that folk find my French updates interesting, onwards and upwards with a heightened sense of purpose:

Dominique Voynet has got the nod for the Greens, and Le Monde is reporting that Sarko has gained four points in a month and now betters Segolene Royal at 35% to 32%. Meanwhile 'don't knows' are making a breakthrough, rising from 14 to 21%.

Le Figaro enumerates the runners and riders for the Socialist candidacy, noting "Ségolène Royal is far in front, with Laurent Fabius bringing up the rear. In between are Lionel Jospin, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Jack Lang and François Hollande, all becalmed and wondering how to once more break sail".

And Le Figaro investigates the big issue of the day: Why are pebbles round?


Surprise, surprise - the SWP has called a demo.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Mooching around my list of websites bookmarked under 'loonies', I see the SWP has a demonstration planned for the 22nd, with the following laundry list of demands:

"Hands of Lebanon, Freedom for Palestine, Don't attack Syria, Don't Attack Iran".

What about North Korea? Lil' Kim Il Sung must feel horribly left out. And I'm sure the IDF will take heed of their call.

Meanwhile, this post-it note sloganeering also suggests they might add 'Call your mother', 'Don't forget a pint of semi-skimmed' and 'Fancy a pint later?'.

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Gadget of the week

Just saw this over at The Register, a combined USB hub / nuclear red button.

Ideal for the workplace, it reckons and a mere £25 when it goes on sale.

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Al Hayat's take on Middle East events

Lebanese daily Al Hayat provides an English language website with comment etc, which is recommended as a worthwhile regular read.

Here's a snippet from an opinion item by Hazem Saghieh:

"It should be noted that the war that was triggered by the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers is a tragedy which the overwhelming majority of the Lebanese people hates and finds repulsive.

Politically and nationally, it is difficult to say that turning Lebanon into a scorched land for the benefit of an Iranian-Syrian project is a praiseworthy effort that enjoys popular approval.

Economically, it is also hard to say that causing the destruction of the infrastructure and ruining the summer tourist season encourages the support of the masses; especially since Hezbollah has its own economy that is independent from Lebanon's, and is not affected by the economic
situation in the country".

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French Gaullists take campaigning to the beach

As if they didn't have enough to put up with, our long suffering neighbours are now going to have to contend with the UMP taking the campaign to the beach.

This does seem like a cruel and unusual punishment, and I would think staggeringly counterproductive. I think Labour pulled a similar stunt some years back, and inflicted themselves on blameless Britons on holiday in Spain, while doubtless annoying a few Swedes and Germans in the process. Maybe the people should get their own back by parking their towels outside the UMP's headquarters.

Meanwhile, a few more nuggets about the would be presidential candidates. Sarko says in Le Monde that he wants 'a less monarchical presidency which is more transparent, more modern and more democratic'. Somehow I suspect that if he gets to the top he will be just as keen as his predecessors on playing at being the Sun King. Mitterand referred to the constitution as being 'a permanent coup d'etat', and oh how he enjoyed his 14 years at The Elysee when he finally got there.

Furthermore, neo-situationist Jose Bove (he of the shaggy 'tache and McDonalds trashing fame) fancies his chances of getting the 'Anti-Liberal Rally' party's nod. One should note that 'liberal' in France refers to classic economics, rather than social attitudes etc.

I expect Vanessa Paradis and Gerard Depardieu will be next up....


Slovenia and Croatia in minor border dispute

There's an item in the Herald Tribune on a rather silly border dispute that revolves around one house. The owner claims he is Slovenia, and flies a Slovenian flag to prove it, but Slovenia has an outline agreement for Croatia to have sovereignty over it.

Here's an extract: "Skillful at getting press attention and belonging to a party, the Slovenian People's Party, which is now a part of the national governing coalition, Joras has managed to keep the issue here in Secovlje (Slovenia) or Plovanija (Croatia) not only alive but also an irritant in bilateral relations, and possibly an obstacle to efforts being made by the two governments to resolve the larger border dispute.
"Every time this guy has a conflict with the Croatian police, it's the lead item on the television news," said Ali Zerdin, deputy editor of Slovenia's best- known weekly magazine, Mladina. "But basically it's a story about one house, and it's strange that Slovenian diplomacy is being held hostage to that one house."

I trust this can be resolved without force.....


Squaddies with beards....

Monday, July 17, 2006
There's a rather amusing, if informative tale on the Sky website about Her Majesty's Finest in Afghanistan sporting full sets. This is contrary to usual Army regulations on face fuzz, but some sage has recognised that the culture of Afghanistan requires men to have beards if they want to be regarded as having authority and masculinity. Good for the powers that be showing some fine practical thinking on the matter and I trust it will help in winning hearts and minds.

Here's the tailpiece:

"Lieutenant Rob Phillips leads a twelve-strong patrol from Two-One Air Assault Battery through the town. A luxuriant red beard is revealed when he unstraps his hard hat, before chatting to locals. "To them, it signals I am the commander. They've associated it with authority through all of their culture."

As a footnote, I cultivate a beard every once in a while (varying from a a goatee to a Solzhenitsyn special)and when bearded I do find the world looks quite different, so I can understand the position of the Pashtuns.

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How the media works - The BBC...

Just spotted this, an item on the BBC site about a sectarian killing .

Now we all know that the BBC doesn't like using the 'M' or 'I' words when referring to the July 2005 homicide bombers, but they now seem to be going still further: a tale of what the plod are calling a sectarian atack in Londonderry that does not mention whether it was Protestant on Catholic, Catholic on Protestant, or for all one would know from reading it Mithraist on Ancestor Worshipper. Really helpful people - do keep up the good work.


Sunday, July 16, 2006
Roy Hattersley makes another of his periodic pleas for attention

Sky.com carries one of the old bore's pleas for attention, not that it describes it as such. The vehicle this time is his calling on Blair to stand down ahead of conference. Face it Roy, Blair hardly needs advice from a not so much has-been as a never was like you. I cannot imagine that there is anyone, anywhere interested in his opinions, and certainly none who will be influenced by them. Now why don't you go away and leave us alone, and stop polluting The Spectator while you are at it.

Wikipedia also notes that he has a criminal record.


Saturday, July 15, 2006
Blair & Levy...

A rather flowery snippet from Le Monde

"When he sees the portraits of his predecessors that line the staircase of 10 Downing Street, might Tony Blair see an evocation of his own fate in that of David Lloyd George..? On the face of things, there would not appear to be much in common between between the son of an academic, moulded by…Fettes and Oxford and the "Wizard Welsh", who abandoned his studies early to become a clerk. But with an 84 year gap, the two prime ministers are tainted by a similar scandal, that of granting honours in exchange for donations to their parties.....Even if Jonathan Powell, at his side since 1997 can be the lightning conductor, Tony Blair could be questioned to see if he knew about the affair".

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Chirac speaks on Zidane

Found this in Liberation:

"I have a great deal of admiration, esteem and respect for Zidane but this is nothing new. His action was unacceptable, obviously. One can't accept it, but one can understand it".

Now doesn't that sound just like the kind of thing Blair would say?


Friday, July 14, 2006
Events in the Middle East

My position on this is, I'm sure, entirely predictable based on my profile, and I doubt that there is much point in my rehearsing my opinions.

However, sniffing around the BBC site, the 'most recommended' comments on their discussion thread came as something of a pleasant surprise. However, I suspect that there is a deliberate attempt to skew the results by readers, unless comment makers have rather different opinions from what the mainstream media would have us believe is received opinion on Israel.

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Fines for discarding cigarette butts in the street

The local rag has a story about a woman fined £50 for throwing a fag end out of a car window.

I will freely accept that a cigarette butt is as much litter as a discarded soft drink can etc, but it does strike me that targetting drivers (number plates do make it /so/ much easier...) ahead of pedestrians is more than a little gutless. There are areas of London that have post mounted ashtrays and in Richmond the litter bins have ashtrays built into the lids. I have heard it suggested that smokers should carry their own ash, erm, boxes(?), but this strikes me as a little impractical. Mind you, an ex girlfriend once told me that smoking in the street was 'common'. Although I might add it was good enough for our greatest Prime Minister....

Anyway, any practical thoughts on dealing with cigarette (or in my case cigarillo) butts which are not likely to start fires and do not involve a blanket ban on smoking?


Joyeux Quatorze Juillet

Is wished to all my French readers, not that I appear to have very many - judging from the server log. Meanwhile I will also extend it to any other Francophiles present.

Rather than a fresh post, more on the 'ferrets in the sack' business that constitutes those running or thinking of running for the Presidency next year. Latest declaree is Christiane Taubira of the Parti Radicale de Gauche, a woman from French Guiana who is giving it another shot: "I want to represent the values of radicalism …so that these values radiate across the whole of society".

Arlette Laguiller, Trotskyite and former bank clerk will doubtless represent Lutte Ouvriere (Workers Struggle). She won around 6 % of the vote last time round. Here's a profile in The Guardian. Her platform declares "the aim of all workers must be to destroy the apparatus of the bourgeois state, its government and its parliament, its courts, its police and its army, and seize power themselves directly because ballots do not change lives". A French satirical radio programme has her as one of its favourite people to lampoon, and always has her starting up with "Travailleuses, travailleurs - mettez vous en greve" (Female workers, male workers - go on strike). I imagine Le Pen will be giving it another go to.

Wikipedia has the 2002 results, and it is frightening to consider that almost half of the population voted for extreme or otherwise unconventional political parties in the first round.


How the tabloid press works.

  • Or having your cake, eating it and showing it at Olympia CakeEx...

    The tabloids are in full outrage mode over the Diana photo published in an Italian magazine, giving them the opportunity to fulminate to mouth-foaming extremes and publish a censored version of the photo, all under the guise of being concerned over the welfare of her sons. More than a little bit hypocritical, as if they had paid less attention to the story doubtless it would have had less impact on the princes. As for the 'Diana Mondays' in the Daily Express, I wish Fayed and Desmond would just drop it.

    It is worth noting that death is a far bigger taboo in this country than in much of the rest of the world, including in mainland Europe, and I'm entirely happy with that. Back in '89 I spent Christmas Day at the house of some friends of my parents in southern France, and saw the TV news coverage of the aftermath of the Romanian revolt against the Ceausescus. At prime time French TV news carried footage taken by someone wandering around a mortuary which was filled with bullet riddled, naked (I think) dead bodies, which I'm sure would not have been carried by the BBC or ITN. For me it is not a question of censorship in choosing not to show this sort of thing, be the footage of Europeans, Africans or whoever, but rather what is appropriate.

    Your thoughts, please.


    Where to start?

    Rather a lot going on today, with an awful lot of bloggable things to boot. Anyway, my opener for the day involves a note in the Telegraph on Cameron's Czech allies:

    "The centre-Right party has only nine MEPs, compared with 26 British Conservative MEPs, but the Czechs are important because theirs is the only other substantial party in the European Parliament that is pro-free trade, is Eurosceptic, and is broadly pro-American".

    I would not have thought that it was such an obscure position to hold, but apparently it is on the Continent. Meanwhile, all hail the splendid Czech nation and time for a reminder of Vaclav Klaus's wise words some years ago: "The Third Way leads to the Third World". Footnote to a footnote, Prague is the only major city in central Europe to have avoided major war damage in '38-45 because it was liberated not by the Russians, not by the US/Canada/us/ etc but rather by the Czechs themselves and the Russian Liberation Army, a force levied by the Germans and commanded by Vlasov that switched sides.


    Thursday, July 13, 2006
    What's what in the French papers

    Well, they are not paying very much attention to Perfidious Albion today, which is unfortunate as a French take on Levy had the potential to be interesting. Meanwhile, every time I see Labour Party translated as 'parti travailliste' I'm mildly amused.

    Liberation has some opinion poll figures on Chirac, noting: "
    With ten months of his term left by 47% to 43% the French judge that his two presidencies will have been "good for France". Right wingers, who have rather tended to turn their backs on him since the rise of Nicolas Sarkozy, are grateful: 65 % of them consider the Chirac Elysee years "useful". More surprisingly, among socialist sympathizers he obtained a respectable 39 % approval rating.

    It is rather worrying that 1 in 10 Gauls cannot summon an opinion as to whether their president has been good or bad.....


    Wednesday, July 12, 2006
    More from 'the future of reality TV' image challenge from those wags at B3ta

    Another corker (Click on picture for enhanced visibility):

    Thanks to B3ta and the original poster, DOSbox. Usual caveat about B3ta not always being safe for work etc, mainly because of the language... .

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    Nonsense on stilts, or meaningless surveys department

    The New Economics Foundation("We believe in economics as if people and the planet mattered") has published a survey to which the BBC has given a gushing write up. The NEF has supposedly shown that Vanuatu is the happiest state on the planet, whereas we British types languish in 108th place. I decided to do a little digging to see whether they have anything that could reasonably be called a methodology, and found this. Can't say I'm exactly impressed by measuring happiness based on this 'equation':

    HPI =
    Life satisfaction x Life expectancy

    Ecological Footprint

    Here is its rather mealy mouthed attempt to define 'life satisfaction'

    In order for any poll to have anything approaching statistical validity, one generally has to poll upwards of a thousand people. There is no note anywhere as to how many people were polled, but I very much doubt that they polled 1000 people in 178 countries, as even supposing it only cost £1 per pollee, we are talking about £178 000. Quite a lot of money for small think tank.

    Beyond that, the sheer number of variables is immense - are people happier or less so at different times of the day, week, year etc etc, men, women, children etc etc etc. Where they live, what they do yadda yadda...

    Meanwhile, if Vanuatuans are that happy, good luck to them, but I will not be presuming that they are, based on this rubbish.

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    The Lord Levy business

    Guido and Iain are en fete (as I'm sure we've all noticed), not a sniff from Recessmonkey or Bob Piper, and Labourhome is a bit angst-ridden.

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    The Danish cartoons - again

    The International Herald Tribune reports on a conference on the aftermath and attempts at dialogue.

    At the risk of being utterly defeatist, I cannot see that this circle can be squared, employing Vilhelm Aubert's differentiation between a conflict of value and a conflict of interest. Put very simply, the latter might be illustrated by bargaining over the price of a house - there is a wiling buyer and a wiling seller, all they have to thrash out is the price. Whereas a conflict of value might be between an absentee owner of that house and squatters who have moved in. In that situation, there is no real scope for compromise, as the position of one side will trump the other.

    As a precursor to the Danish business, we have the Rushdie affair wherein the West showed a bit more backbone. The sheer gulf between sides was made all the more obvious when someone addressing a crowd told them they had gone the wrong way about it as if the government had realised the book also 'insulted' the Queen it would have been banned anyway. Oh dear....

    The Mumbai bombs

    For what it is worth, I extend my sincere condolences to all of those affected. While the news sites are being circumspect, there can't be any real doubt that this is Kashmir-related. It is worth, perhaps, pausing to consider that post colonial India has been a successful democratic and plural society for nigh on 60 years, in distinct contrast to its neighbours for hundreds (thousands?) of miles in each direction.

    14/7 The Spectator has a fine piece by Fergal Keane hymning Mumbai, but it requires registration.

    Also an excellent item on Spiked. Well worth reading in full, but here's a taster:

    "Whether it is the downing of the Twin Towers, the explosions on the Madrid and London train systems, the killing of scores of happy-go-lucky holidaymakers in a nightclub in Bali, or now the blowing up of white-collar workers in the growing city of Mumbai, these acts look to me like adolescent protests against change, growth, movement, against anything that looks or smells a little bit modern".


    Tuesday, July 11, 2006
    Edith Cresson gets her comeuppance, ish

    In an extraordinarily cheering piece of news, La Cresson has been ruled against by the European Court of Justice, but surprise surprise "the judges said that "having regard to the circumstances of the case, the finding of breach constitutes, of itself, an appropriate penalty". So that's less than a slap on the wrist.

    This is the woman who declared that ALL (late breaking edit, she only said a quarter) Englishmen were homosexual, and John Major in a rare outbreak of wit noted that we had a higher birth rate than the French. It can scarcely be doubted that her elevation to the prime ministership took her beyond her rather limited abilities, and there are unconfirmed rumours that she was yet another of the hateful Mitterand's mistresses.

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    Genghis Khan - Flat taxer and free trader....

    The Telegraph has a rather good item about the Mongolia's admiration for its most famous son, Genghis Khan, which is well worth the read.

    This rather put me in mind of the way in which national heroes can be villains elsewhere - we are and the rest of Europe are rather less keen on Napoleon than are the French, and if Bismarck still rates hero status in Germany I imagine he does not in Denmark, France and Austria. Similarly, Tamurlane gets rather mixed reviews in central Asia and Oliver Cromwell is none too popular on the other side of the Irish Sea.

    Ranging out a bit further, national histories can vary enormously, and as per usual I will focus on our friends on the other side of the channel.... Friends studying A level French were much amused by the French claim that they had initiated the industrial revolution, this running rather counter to what we had been taught. De Gaulle vetoed British membership of what was still called the EEC by claiming that we had scuppered the last attempt at European unity (meaning the Napoleonic system) and he was not going to let us do it again. Finally, I have a 1940s French Atlas, in which there is the claim that the British Empire was assembled of bits we had stolen from them and the Spanish, therefore 'undermining our claim to a civilizing mission'.

    Any further thoughts, anecdotes etc, particularly those involving British figures less than popular on the continent?


    Monday, July 10, 2006
    Anyone for a Trotskyite analysis of the B&C and Blaenau Gwent by election results?

    If so, here is one at the Socialist Worker. Apparently the results show that Labour can be taken on and beaten from the Left. Uh-huh, absolutely .

    Anyway, that brings me up to 100 posts.


    Sarkozy declares: "I'm neither Mrs Thatcher nor Mr Reagan".

    Yup, we'd noticed. Anyway, Le Monde reports his comments made to a meeting a few days back, having described him as being 'pulled between his right wing and his left wing':

    "I am not an ideologue, I am held hostage by no-one. I have a mission to rally: to rally the liberals, the Gaullists, the centrists, Europhiles, the eurosceptics….."I am neither Mrs. Thatcher nor Mr. Reagan, I am Nicolas Sarkozy. I have always been my own man."

    I think one has to admire his ambition, although he goes beyond that, in that he is intent on creating a whole new philosophy, apparently:

    "I want to create a new political synthesis which makes it possible to reconcile economic efficiency with social justice, authority with liberty, and our Frenchness with the challenge of Europe”.

    Any chance he has been thumbing through his copy of Blairism for Dummies?

    Meanwhile, in the latest war of words on the right (relatively speaking ) , De Villepin says of Sarkozy in Le Figaro: "The only real split for Sarkozy is between what he says and what he does". It is, I suppose to the credit of French politicians that they actually criticise their colleagues directly, rather than making unattributable comments to lobby hacks or getting their homunculi to do the dirty for them. I would rather enjoy hearing Broon and Blair trading insults...

    (French domestic political terminology is a beast to translate, so I've gone for the sense of it rather than the absolutely literal).


    What does Afghanistan need? More Kalashnikovs, apparently

    Interesting item in the Christian Science Monitor on the destinations of left over armaments from the Bosnian civil war. This sentence stopped me dead in my tracks: "The Bosnian and US governments are discussing gifting a shipment of Bosnia's familiar Soviet-type weapons to Afghanistan".

    I would be hard pushed to think of anything quite so boneheaded - Afghanistan is awash with arms, and is far from a stable society. A lobbyist quoted in the item comments "It's only a matter of time before it transpires that an American soldier is killed by a weapon that the Americans brought to Afghanistan, or Iraq." I suppose Somalia would be an even less intelligent place to send them.

    It is something of an indictment of the failure of the Soviet Union that the one world beater it created in 70 odd years was an assault rifle.

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    Sunday, July 09, 2006
    Yet another 'what is your political position' test, albeit more amusing than most

    I saw this linked at Adele Reynold's site, for which thanks. It is a US thing, so not all of the questions are grounded in issues especially pertinent to we British types.

    Here it is.

    And surprise, surprise, I'm a libertarian. Whereas the lady who linked is a 'New School Democrat'. Erm, what's that when it's at home? (Facetious comment - I can guess what that is)


    Interesting item on EU issues by Danial Hannan

    Found this over at First Post just now. Usual insightful work from Hannan, who must be bound for glory before too long.

    Here's an extract (although the whole item is pretty short): "Seven out of the 25 European Commissioners are former communists - yet the only candidate who was deemed controversial was Rocco Buttiglione...".

    Way back lost in the mists of time (late 80s/90s), apparently there were a large number of card carrying members of the CPGB on the staff of the Financial Times. Perhaps the ultimate hedging of bets....


    Opinion Polls etc

    Political Betting carries the latest polling figures, at C - 41, L - 31 and LD - 15, giving a theoretical 41 seat majority. I'll forbear from a repeat of 'my heads on the block' analysis, but those figures would be truly terrible for the LDs. Looking at baxter (usual caveats etc), they would be crippled in England, and the Tories would be clawing their way back in the conurbations and in Scotland. Anyway, enter the figures and then have a look at the map


    Saturday, July 08, 2006
    The next set of approved Conservative candidates.

    Recess Monkey notes that the next tranche of approved candidates will get named at the end of the month, which he can't resist calling 'The B list' . What chance for our friends in Blogistan like Iain and James Cleverly, should they be pursuing seats?

    Basque 'regionalism' in France

    Liberation is reporting on a campaign to carve out a Basque département in Pyrénées-Atlantiques.

    Traditionally French basques have been rather quieter than in Spain, although it has been said that Paris turned a blind eye to ETA so long as they didn't start bombing etc in France. It will be interesting to see how this one shakes down, as the Elysée has rarely been exactly sensitive to the cultural identities / languages of the other historic minorities in France, like the Bretons, Flemish and German speakers in the East and Occitan and Provencal speakers in the South. Maybe change is afoot in western Europe's most monolithic state, as I spoted the other day that Alsacian is now being promoted by the regional authorities there. Napoleon, De Gaulle etc must be spinning in their graves.

    Meanwhile, other fun and games in the French press. Le Monde has a rather amusing item claiming 'The 5 o'clock tea ritual returns in strength' to these parts. It illustrates with an anecdote about Joan Rivers missing out on tea at the Ritz as she hadn't booked, and further claims "City bankers now have power teas, competing with the lunches of the same name". First I've heard of it.


    Friday, July 07, 2006

    Our old friend Prescott...

    A comment maker over at Iain's place has jogged my memory about the Mouth of the Humber's rather more illustrious predecessor as MP for Hull, Andrew Marvell. His Wikipedia entry dubs him "a conscientious member of Parliament". Hmm.

    This couplet comes from his poem of praise for Oliver Cromwell:

    "Choosing each Stone, and poising every weight,
    Trying the Measures of the Breadth and Height;
    Here pulling down, and there erecting New,
    Founding a firm State by Proportions true".

    How very unlike the current administration....

    And this from 'The Definition of Love':

    My Love is of a birth as rare
    As 'tis, for object, strange and high ;
    It was begotten by Despair,
    Upon Impossibility.

    Returning, vaguely, to the topic at hand, any other nominations for curious successors to Parliamentary seats?

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    From this week's B3ta image challenge: the future of Reality TV

    A bit too near the truth if you ask me.

    Footnote: while B3ta is often extremely funny, it cannot be deemed work / child safe.

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    Need an excuse?

    The frequently brilliant Jeff Randall has a cracking column in the Telegraph
    on handy excuses going beyond the old 'the dog ate my homework'.

    Well worth reading in full, although those pressed for time might marvel at "My copy was late because one of my colleague's extended metaphors caused a tailback on the information super-highway" and "I bought blinkers to avoid watching the World Cup and couldn't see the clock."

    There are also some - astonishing - real world examples: "Excuses for corporate under-performance often assume a level of investor credulity that would make even Little Red Riding Hood seem sceptical. The Essex furniture company that blamed disappointing sofa sales on the death of the Princess of Wales was a classic. Paul Worsely submits a similar cracker. He quotes John Wrigglesworth of Hometrack, the online real-estate consultancy, who came up with: "The forthcoming election, a change of Pope and a newly married heir to the throne have done nothing to improve the [property] market."