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Curious goings on in Papua New Guinea

Tuesday, October 31, 2006
In what may well be a first for international relations, Port Moresby has decided to "threaten to dramatically reduce the money it receives from Canberra". (source). Erm...

The spat involves a counterreaction to a reaction by the Oz authorities over "the escape of the Australian fugitive and Solomon Islands attorney-general designate Julian Moti on a PNG military aircraft". How very unlike the conduct of our own AG, Lord Goldsmith. Although maybe the airports, Brize Norton etc should be on the lookout for a bespectacled, but otherwise non-descript, lawyer in his late fifties.

Still, PNG was one of the first places with a cargo cult, so maybe I should not be too surprised by this turn of events.

The revenge of Danny Dewsbury

Earlier in the month, I blogged about the freelance cameraman who got the shaft from Labour, and ended up asking him to put it on Youtube.

And ta-da, here tis:

Props to Dizzy for telling me about it, he having found it at Labourwatch

And a click through for Rigger Mortice.

Corporate bribery and corruption, Stockholm style

Or rather not, as the head honchos of Sweden's flag carrier 'phone company were reckoned not to have crossed the line in inviting sundry clients to a performance of the Abba musical 'Mama Mia'. Not really my thing, so a virtual drink to anyone who can come up with a high quality Abba related pun.

Maybe the public prosecutor who brought the case is more of a Roxette, Leather Nun, Cardigans or Europe fan.....

24/7 French Internet TV

Something new to fill the hours when 18 Doughty St is off the air: France 24, although it does not launch until the 6th December. The interview with the CEO in Le Figfaro fits in the customary few digs at 'les Anglo-Saxons': "The 'new leaders of opinion', making up 25-30% of the world's population, are very sceptical of the view of the world offered by the Anglo Saxons like BBC World and CNN". Apparently what the thick end of 2 billion people are crying out for are "French values, diversity of opinions, a sense of debate and confrontation, and not forgetting culture and the French art de vivre". (I use babelfish to do the translation spade work before rendering it as believable English, and it just threw out 'the art of living with a Frenchwoman' for 'l'art de vivre à la française').

I'll keep an eye out, if I remember. All mockery to one side, although much French TV is truly terrible - ghastly light entertainment spectaculars of the type that died out here in the '70s etc - when they do 'serious', it can be very, very serious. Some years back one of the channels cleared its entire Saturday night schedule for an academic debate etc on ancient Egypt. Can't imagine that happening here.

The Curse of Buckie

Perhaps conclusive proof that our Caledonian neighbours really are a different nation. They are having one of their intermittent panics about underage drinking, but whereas the drink of choice for spotty teens to shoplift from the local off licence in these parts is what is known in the trade as 'park bench' cider or lager, our Celtic friends have a thing for Buckfast tonic wine, a monastic concoction with a strength of 15%. Apparently "It is sweet, cheap, strongly alcoholic and contains a high quantity of caffeine - a combination which appeals to many young men and women (many of them underage) in Scotland". It sounds truly unpleasant, but perhaps it is just the thing to wash down a deep fried Mars Bar. The reckoning is that some 7% of the stuff is consumed in Lanarkshire, so I wonder whether the secret is passed down from brother to brother as some kind of Illuminati secret. That John Reid is the MP for a big chunk of the Buckfast Triangle is quite telling.

Further investigation discloses some truly stomach churning 'cocktails':

Punk Champagne: two parts white cider to one part Buckfast.
Tramps Breakfast: Buckfast and MD 20/20.
Bamgria: equal measures Buckfast and Irn Bru.
And the ne plus ultra, Sh*t: Equal measures of Vodka, Bacardi and Buckfast

And all on the basis of "Three small glasses a day, for good health and lively blood".

A US update

Monday, October 30, 2006
My migration to Blogger Beta having failed miserably, again, back to the knitting...

Senate-wise, the Republicans are looking good to hold a majority, with three of the marginal states - Tennessee, Virginia and Missouri leaning GOP-wards, and Montana now weakening for the Dems. Pennsylvania and Ohio have polled Dem consistently, and short of a vey big October surprise, I'd go for Rep 51/52, Dem 48/49. The Dems look very likely to have a majority in the House, currently projected at 225/208 with two ties.

Liebermann looks set to beat Lamont in Conn, with the Republicans doing the equivalent of losing his deposit - he's polling in single figures, so fingers crossed my £20 on Liebermann will turn out to offer free money. That the Dems are not standing against Lugar is scandalous - the Tories stand for Glasgow seats, and Labour in Surrey. Having checked, the Libertarians are standing in Indiana, although I can't say I fancy Steve Osborn's chances.

Maps, data, graphics beyond the dreams of psephological avarice have been put on the Washington Post's website.

Over at Betfair, Dems in the majority is trading at 1.31/1.34 versus 3.55/4.1 for the GOP. The Senate is a tad more even: GOP majority at 1.51/1.74 to 2.52/2.86 for the Dems. No especially tempting prices are to be had on individual senate seats now, alas.

One for all the NWO conspiracy theorists

US congressman Barney Frank has floated the idea of "the creation of a global regulator" to deal with financial reporting issues and the like.

A bit of googling shows that Frank is on the Council on Foreign Relations, but does not appear to be a Bilderberger or a Trilateral Commission member.

Rather infelicitously, Frank's metaphor for settling SEC / FSA disputes involves baseball....

Hip hop Hong Kong accountants

Yes really. And here they are:

It features such lyrical invention as 'I wear a suit, I belong to the 'Tute'.

Entirely work safe, but it might induce feelings of intense nausea. With thanks to the Sydney Morning Herald for telling me all about it.

Possible outage at some point today

I'm hoping to migrate to blogger beta, of which I hear all sorts of good things, but at the moment this is proving something of a challenge. There might be a reversion to the old template while a blogger with rather more technical nous than me sorts the thing out, and if the switch goes through there will be nothing but an explanatory screen for 10 mins - half an hour. We shall see.

Meanwhile, if Youtube can be persuaded to work, I'll have a toe curling video of HK accountants trying to be hip.

Coming soon to a place near you

Over in Gotham there are plans afoot to make "restaurants with highly standardized menu items and portions that already make their caloric content available" (that's Maitre D's, Starbucks etc) publish "calorie counts..next to menu items in type that is as large 'as the name or price of the item'”.

Hmm. Information is good, and I'm all in favour of that, but if restaurant / cafe food, why not the NYC equivalents of the Gavroche and so on, or is it only 'the proles' who need to have the health gestapo on their cases? Equally, why not snack foods in general? Or any food? One of the pizza operations points out that an "innocent deviation of a single slice of pepperoni from the 48 specified for a large pizza would undermine the accuracy of published calorie counts".

Sure as night follows day, you can be sure that this will result in internet infomation being taken down if this will allow the various operations to avoid disclosing calorie counts on menus and signs. What are known as 'unintended consequences of intended actions'.

After all, there are some very sharp minds working at the top of these companies. I heard a tale some time back that one of the US pizza companies sacked all of its location scouts and decided to base new locations on the existing presence of one of the big burger places on the grounds that pizzerias / burger joints have similar customer profiles, and burger munchers would be bound to want a change / push the boat out from time to time. I believe the scheme worked out quite well.

Just the thing for betting with socialists

Sunday, October 29, 2006
A new £20 note design with Adam Smith on it.

I would also like banknotes with John Locke, David Hume, Wellington (again), Churchill, Disraeli, William Robert Peel, Cromwell, Generals Wolfe and Moore and the Duke of Marlborough.

Yet more tokenism

Latest piece of idiocy being floated is to criminalise flag burning. Yawn. The freedom of speech issues are far too obvious to be worth going into, and this would also deny us the pleasure of seeing the usual fanatics setting fire to themselves as they lack the dexterity to handle a bic lighter with sufficient skill.

What I think is more blogworthy is how the law would be framed. Would it be illegal to put a flag in a microwave oven and crank it up to maximum? Or to tear a flag into little bits? Would a piece of white paper with two intersecting red lines count as either the Cross of St George, or the Cross of St Patrick, depending on how wonky the lines were? What of an old Union Flag t-shirt sent to an incinerator? And if flags, why not pictures of public figures or burning of effigies? Maybe Guido would approve of the latter, although it would make Bonfire Night a tad dull. And then there are sundry defunct flags. Would burning a black white red horizontal tricolour count as an assault on Burkina Faso in its previous incarnation as Upper Volta, or one against Imperial Germany? Could a green flag with random squiggles and crossed swords count as the flag of 'Our Friends the Saudis'? Or a white flag with blue stripes and a five or seven pointed star count as the flag of Israel? Further suggestions are welcome.

Reigning in the facetiousness briefly, I am far more concerned that the Police should actually arrest people for the existing crimes of incitement to murder and the like, and spend less time cooking up ideas for acts that do not need to be criminalised.

Rehabilitation of criminals

The News of the World is working itself into a frenzy over convicts working on day release as bin men. Read up on the outrage here.

My stance on the criminal justice system is that too little emphasis is placed on rehabilitation, and still less on restitution. Unless prisoners are going to be incarcerated forever, or have their crimes branded on their foreheads, at some point they will be back as part of the prospective workforce, and acclimatising prisoners to the conventional economy strikes me as eminently sensible.

Over to you.

Political weasel words, continued

Saturday, October 28, 2006
Like this one:

"Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett has called for a national debate on the future of Britain's independent nuclear deterrent". (source)

What I think Mags means is "Gordon likes it (Faslane and Rosyth, eh?), Tony handed in his CND badge a long time ago and I want to build up my stock with the activists in case I decide to waste my money on running for the leadership / deputy leadership".

Doubtless they will be talking of little else in the 'Flat Cap & Whippet' and the 'Mobile & Hoodie' tonight.

Truly the apocalypse is upon us

And how do I know?: Because, in all seriousness, the Safer Bristol Partnership is staging a pantomine called 'Goldilocks' ASBO and the Three Bears', because it wants "to get a very strong anti-crime message across to the young children".

I feel quite ill.

I am not exactly a fan of youth criminality, but I consider it wrong to punish a child that is incapable of understanding right and wrong. As to this Bristol brainstorm, how many children over the age of criminal responsibility are likely to be persuaded to attend a pantomime of any description, and especially one that doesn't "have 'im off the telly"in it?

Meanwhile, back in Croydon, I see that this year's pantomime at the Fairfield includes Crazy Frog. Haven't we all suffered enough?

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More on the Diaoyu / Senkaku Islands

Having rather telegraphed their intentions, I suppose the Hong Kong Chinese voyagers intent on planting the red flag on the islands should not be overly surprised that they were intercepted by the Japanese Coast Guard.

If they are actually serious about this venture, maybe they would be better off keeping quiet about their aims and then approaching the islands rather more stealthily, rather than in broad daylight.

However, this dispute is as nothing compared to the Spratly Islands, to which the 'People's Republic' of China, Vietnam, the Phillipines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia all lay claim to in whole or in part.
And just to confuse matters further, the Germans had their beady eyes on them back in the C19th but were scared off by that military powerhouse Vietnam. Naturally none of the islands are inhabited, although there are sundry grunts stationed here and there. Doubtless the world's least desirable military posting after Thule, Greenland although my mate who served with the USAF tells me that Minot, North Dakota takes some beating ("Why not Minot? Freezin's the reason"). Apart from seeking an international virility symbol, the sundry claimants are interested in the oil reserves, and to a lesser degree the fishing rights.

A rather sinister sounding press release from Croydon council

Council websites the world over are forever trumpeting quite how glorious their towns etc are and how the best and brightest beat a path to their town (deliberate cliché overload) but with this press release Croydon seems to have mislaid the script:

"An increasing number of people are choosing to move out of Croydon and council and housing association tenants can use the Fresh Start scheme to help spread their wings." Among the places being touted as being preferable are "[the] Midlands and North...[and] areas as diverse as Newcastle, Liverpool and Wales". I have tried to find the standard puff piece on the site informing the public as to how "when a man is tired of Croydon, he is tired of life; for there is in Croydon all that life can afford" but have yet to succeed.

The reason for doing down the place is because they are trying to free up social housing, but encouraging the old to get out of Dodge Croydon does hint at social cleansing. Meanwhile, might the churning of tenancies, at whatever the cost ("Applicants may be able to claim some or all of their removal costs along with travel costs") be because the council is hoping to hail its reduced social housing waiting lists at some point?


Le Pen, the EU and Israel

Le Pen's daughter, Marine, is an MEP, and had been hoping to be part of a parliamentary delegation to Israel to discuss the Lebabon war, mooch around the Middle East etc etc. However, the Israelis have decided that any delegation including Le Pen jr will not be getting the red carpet treatment, and therefore the junket fact finding mission has been 'adjourned'. More details here, care of Le Figaro.

A bit of digging suggests that Ms Le Pen is not quite as poujadiste as the old thug himself, at least in terms of what she says. An interview in the Jerusalem Report last year saw her saying this "As far as I am concerned, anti-Semitism and racism are totally foreign to me" and previously she has condemned the words of the other main contender for the leadership of the Front, Bruno Gollnisch, who if not exactly a Shoah denier, then certainly is a Shoah diminisher. And curiously enough a professor of Japanese civilization. If the Israeli foreign ministry relents (which I very much doubt), MLP would not be the first Le Pen to meet Israeli military figures, as her father served with the paratroops during the '56 war.

I think this tale rates as a royal flush, doesn't it? Bringing together all of my hobby horses bar Gordon Brown...

Another odd Lego creation

Friday, October 27, 2006
Someone has seen fit to create the (drumroll) 'ultimate Lego rubberband chaingun'.

And here it is:

(It has rather nasty 80s style synth pop as the musical accompaniment, so I recommend putting the sound on mute)

The oddest guerilla training programme in history?

Saw this in an item on the Kurdish group the PKK in an item in the LA Times:

"In northern Iraq, the PKK militants get training in Shakespeare and Goethe, in the military tactics of the Thirty Years' War and how to operate a Russian-made BKC machine gun and a rocket-propelled-grenade launcher".

I know that Marxist, Maoist groups etc generally inflicted screeds on the labour theory of value, dialectical materialism etc on their recruits, the 'bold Fenian men' were keen on inculcating Irish history and the Tamil Tigers gear up by watching Stallone and Schwarzenegger films, and those measures all make a degree of sense.

However, what is the Kurd on the street, or perhaps more accurately on the lower slopes of Mt Judi, to make of 'A Winter's Tale', 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' or even 'Macbeth'? Maybe they are planning on re-enacting the last act of 'Titus Andronicus' on the government in Ankara if they get the chance. The Goethe connection is pretty odd too - I can't see much will be done for 'the struggle' by reading 'Faust' or come to that 'The Sorrows of Young Werther' . Most peculiar. At least the poor unfortunates have been spared Proust. Perhaps they are swotting up on the 30 Years War as they reckon that Bush is about to do a Gustavus Adolphus for them. All very odd indeed, and I'll stop showing off now.

Broon's 'rebranding' continues apace

The Standard has a report on his forthcoming book 'Courage of Heroes'. I will look at the names shortly, but it does seem to bear more than a passing resemblance to Kennedy's 'Profiles in Courage', although I'll give Broon the benefit of the doubt and assume that this has not been ghostwritten by Ted Sorensen. And he won't be eligible for a Pulitzer Prize through dint of not being American, presumably.

His list has all the tragic predictability that one would expect of a book that can only be intended as a marketing stunt, and yes, he just had to include Nelson Mandela. He has opted for a series of broadly secular and unthreatening heroes and heroines - Aung San Suu Kyi, Bobby Kennedy (One eye on the US market, eh?), Martin Luther King, Eric 'Chariots of Fire' Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Raoul Wallenberg, Edith Cavell and Todd '9/11 Let's roll' Beamer. That comes to nine, with the tenth appearing to be 'the anonymous heroes who make such a difference to our daily lives'. So, a nice mix there, although DWMs do predominate. But no Muslims - come on Gordon, surely there must be someone you can find? And no environmentalists, no Scotsmen with grievances, no bearded Socialists. I wonder how many names he submitted before Bloomsbury greenlighted the project. Meanwhile, Amazon are already hawking the book for pre-orders, at a bargain £11.21 for all of 240 pages and a prospective publication date of 1/7/8. July-September for the Blair switch is currently trading at 7.6/8.6 on betfair.... I think that keeping an eye on the publication date could be a significant indicator, as far and away the best time to publish the book would be during a leadership campaign, and decidedly not after a successful lunge at the the brass ring. So just when will Blair decide he wants to spend more time with his money, the US lecture circuit, the board of Bechtel family?

Cynical? Me?

Meanwhile, I think we can cook up a list of people rather more like Brown in temperament and personality, given his utter joylessness:

Oliver Cromwell - only with far fewer laughs
Matthew 'Witchfinder General' Hopkins
Fabius Maximus
Andrew 'Prohibition' Volstead

Revenge for IR35

Anyone who does not work in IT or have a friend or relative who does so has probably never heard of IR35. In very rough terms it is a vicious piece of tax legislation which makes life extraordinarily difficult for IT contractors as well as a good deal more expensive. Ask your friendly neighbourhood geek about it, and risk having your ear bent for several hours.

Anyway, returning to better known issues everyone *has* heard of google bombing - the manipulation of links etc so googling 'famous French military victories' then brings up a screen asking if what you had really searched for was French military defeats. Yes, very funny. Or to give greater prominence to a minor story etc etc.

And the connection is this. ABC News in the States is reporting on left leaning bloggers attempting to google bomb Republican candidates, done thus: "Here's how. A liberal activist with the group blog "MyDD.com" is directing his followers to "Google Bomb" 50 Republican candidates in the hopes of swaying votes. For example, if a voter is interested in finding out more information about Rep. John Hostettler, an Indiana Republican, the first thing to come up on a search of his name, according to this strategy, would be an article with the headline "Congressman cited with gun at airport."

I think it would only be right to start the ball rolling with Dawn Primarolo, who had much to do with IR35. Over to you Dizzy.

Political unions of the damned

Thursday, October 26, 2006
Apparently Benn jr is going for a tilt at the Labour deputy leadership, and, get this, "is rumoured to have the support of former cabinet minister Ian McCartney". Doubtless Benn père will not waste a second on jealousy if his boy gets the job.

The pairing of the scarcely coherent and troll-like member for Makerfield and the bookish and lanky member for Leeds Central is mind boggling.

Worthwhile press releases of our time

Very thoughtfully, the DTI is headlining the end of British summer time on Sunday. They even include contract numbers, so maybe I should seek further and better particulars.

I would have been in the dark, metaphorically, if not literally without that insight. I supose we should be grateful that there are no claims of summers being better under Labour.

A little something to take your blood to 100C/212F

The mendacity, the deceit: "Prime Minister Tony Blair said he hopes to achieve "consensus" on House of Lords reform and does not want to "railroad" changes through Parliament". And then later on, "People should remember that this is a Government manifesto commitment."(Source).

Labour's 2005 manifesto called for 'a modern and effective revising chamber'. I think the word order is an enormous tell.

(And I googled the question of the boiling point of blood - 'tis the same as water)

The French Presidential update

Le Figaro's 'OpinionWay' figures are in:

Sego - Pre debate one - 66. Now 59
DSK - Pre debate one - 27. Now 34
Fabius - Pre debate one - 7. Now 7.

As with the last time I covered this, this is based on quizzing a panel of left inclined voters, not the general population.

Greg Barker

I had supposed that anyone who reads an English newspaper would know the Barker story, judging from the front page of the Telegraph. However, a bit of digging throws up an arguably more interesting story than a fairly hum drum tale of marital breakdown. It looks to be the case that only the Mail and the Telegraph have front paged this story, judging from the paper I have on my desk and the ever useful 'Today's front pages' section on the Sky News website.

Anyway, paper by paper:

The Guardian - a site search brings up nothing.
The Independent - Ditto.
FT - Ditto.
Daily Express - Ditto
Daily Mirror - Ditto
Daily Star - Ditto
The Times - appears in news in brief. A short factual report of 42 words.
Daily Mail - front page, with photo. link here
Daily Telegraph - Ditto Link here
The Sun - Fairly big story online, if not front page. Link here

Any corrections based on print copies gratefully received...

Given the historic political allegiances of the dailies, it is intriguing that the currently Tory papers are making the most of this, and News Group are being quite restrained. I would not have expected the papers of the bien pensant Left to run with this, for fear of accusations of hypocrisy, homophobia etc, but I'm surprised by the Daily Mirror. So, is this all about shock horror, or is it more to do with bashing Cameron?

Meanwhile, just to prove that I'm capable of being infantile and prurient, a google hit on Greg Barker might amuse: "Chris Senior and Greg Barker won two rubbers each for St Mary's". This was in the Pontefract Expres, and would seem to be a bridge report.

An Entertainment

Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Inspired by the Dalemeister's post on political candidates for face transplants, I offer you Uglyfootballers.com, featuring the unmissable Ugly Footballers Top Trumps.

Where should Britain's nuclear waste go?

David 'Owl Magnet' Milliband wants councils to 'to volunteer to have a nuclear dump in their area'. (Source).

I do not suppose that the floors of the Deaprtment of Environment will need RSJs to cope with the weight of the application letters, so perhaps people would like to make some suggestions. (Anyone suggesting Croydon gets a lifetime ban...).

I'll kick it off with Merthyr Tydfil, a place so ugly it makes Vorkuta look like Venice.

Abuse of the English language

In common with all decent folk, I regard estate agents as being only marginally less odious than child pornographers, Shoah deniers, government spin doctors and the like, so sympathy for estate agency employees does not come naturally, shall we say.

Anyway, many of the London estate agencies now inflict cars bedecked with corporate logos etc (apparently it is in part a tax avoidance measure) on their staff. So far, so no more than they deserve. However, one of them has gone a stage further, and refers in its advertising to its 'property response vehicles'. This seems a cruel and unusual punishment, and I would not be surprised if the poor benighted junior house pimps face office fines if they use the wrong word. I imagine an ordinary client conversation at Ludlow Thompson (for it is they) involves said PBJHP declaring, 'I'll take you to see the desirable residence with its en suite to the master bedroom and south facing aspect in the property response vehicle which is in the property response vehicle park at the back of the office'. Even estate agents do not deserve that.

Sego vs Fabius vs DSK - Round 2

The French Socialist presidential hopefuls were at it again last night.

The big issue of the night was Sego's citizen juries, which would cast an eye over what elected officials get up to. DSK and Fabius don't like the idea at all. Fabius called it "a form of populism coming straight from the extreme right", and DSK reckoned them "bad for democracy". (Minor footnote - prefacing anything with 'espèce de' in French is extremely negative. Being a 'so and so' is nowhere near as bad as being an 'espece de so and so'). Sego suggested the citizen juries could start off with looking at the equivalent of the retail price index because of the "dishonesty of the official word on the cost of living".

Elsewhere, they all liked gay marriage, and Sego averred that "the socialist project is not at all the same thing as [Mao's] Little Red Book" and Fabius reckoned "the vast majority of people elected are doing a magnificent job". So much for the findings on public trust on honesty etc I weas blogging about the other day. Meanwhile, a soundbite from Fabius, which he must have been itching to drop into the conversation: "The right is pro-family, the left is pro-family and supports them".

Summing it up, Sego looks to be setting the agenda, is the least left wing of the three and is way ahead in the polls. I'll keep an eye out for the polling verdict on last night's debate.

Opinion polls

I rather like the one in today's Guardian: C 39, L 29, LD 22. A quick check on Baxter gives blue majority of 38. The map it generates shows Labour pretty well annihilated in England outside the major urban areas and the Nats doing quite well in Scotland and Wales.

What have the Chinese been doing?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Saw ths rather striking photo of the Yellow river (yes, really) near Lanzhou over at Liberation. They reckon it is all down to industrial discharges, but it looks a bit Old Testament to me: "Thus saith the LORD, In this thou shalt know that I am the LORD: behold, I will smite with the rod that is in mine hand upon the waters which are in the river, and they shall be turned to blood" (KJV Exodus 7:17). Although it does seem to be the same colour as Ribena. Anyway, if there is a plague of frogs next, we'll know they are in serious trouble.

"Just a spliff, man"

That's what a litigant said to the Met when in the course of investigating a burglary they went to the wrong house and the unfortunate Mr Mondelly invited them in, only for them to find his gear and then nick him.

Not enormously interesting on the face of things, but a law report in which this vignette of London life features does serve to clarify the application of the law somewhat.

Some details:

"A police officer, finding a person in possession of cannabis, who is satisfied that the drug is intended for that person's own use should not arrest the offender unless aggravating factors apply. The drug must be seized but no further action should be taken in respect of the offence, other than administrative procedures"


"This policy is not intended to interfere with the discretion of a police officer, but to provide direction and focus towards governmental and policing priorities. It formalises practices identified in Lambeth, where "informal disposal of cannabis" took place. This activity had implications for the integrity of the officer and offender. This practice was recognised by academic research. This policy provides a framework to allow seizure of cannabis without arrest, protecting the officer and offender, thereby improving morale and public confidence. This approach to cannabis will also remove a source of friction between police and young people. It will reduce the amount of time devoted to policing the possession of a drug which is undoubtedly harmful to individual health, but does not cause damage or danger to health or to the community on the scale of crack cocaine, cocaine, or heroin."

It is not widely recognised among the public that the police have both individual and force discretion in arrest policy, and the Met's approach is *very* different to that in other parts of the country. In Cumbria (I think), they will throw the book at you if are caught with a spliff. The libertarian arguments to one side, the London approach strikes me as eminently sensible - I do not think that many Londoners would think chasing after weed smokers was an especailly good use of police time and money. As a parallel, any number of my fellow Croydonites could face being nicked for being 'drunk and incapable' of a Saturday night, just like Stephen Twigg was last year.

London North-Centre by election

London, Ontario that is. In an act of realpolitik that our very own Mr Tony would be proud of, the Canadian prime minister has timetabled a couple of by elections for the first day of the Liberal leadership convention. The Libs think it is 'cynical', whereas the PM notes 'these ridings (Canadianese for constituency) deserve representation as soon as possible'. Lots more here

I cannot imagine that the current rabble would equivocate for a millisecond over trying something similar in these parts, or that anyone would be in the least surprised. Meanwhile, a truly odd prospect is floated in the same item - of an expelled Tory joining the Canadian Greens. Either he wasn't much of a Tory in the first place, or Canadian Greens are a bit less flat earth than the ones in these parts. Maybe I will investigate.

Do the Australians know something we don't?

Monday, October 23, 2006
I ask, because The Australian is reporting:

"Labor (sic) is banking on a British withdrawal from southern Iraq by late next year to help it honour its commitment to immediately withdraw the bulk of Australian military forces from Iraq should it win government...Coalition military sources say there is a strong prospect British forces will be in Iraq well into 2008 and that Whitehall will expect Australia to maintain some presence in the south. Labor's defence spokesman Robert McClelland told The Australian yesterday he expected the overwatch battle group would have returned home by the time of next year's federal election, due by November. "It is conceivable we could still be in southern Iraq come election time but I think that is unlikely," he said".

Hmm. The Iraqi engagement is not exactly popular at the moment, but should coalition forces cut and run, current troubles in Iraq will look distinctly minor.

Smoking - the Croydon connection

Apparently Croydon council workers are about to be banned from nipping out for a sly one. This is a Tory run council, by the way. I wonder if workers will be banned from leaving the building during working hours full stop, or this is just an attack on a rather unpopular minority? If this was all about doing a full day's work, fair enough, but the Deputy Leader justified it thus: "I know the ban will cause some discomfort to smokers, but the point is to put everyone's health first". Ok, if the smokers are outside, then colleagues indoors are not exactly going to be suffering from passive smoking, are they? Or does he mean that the council is right to make health decisions for its employees? What's next? Diet monitoring? Compulsory 'Strength Through Joy' jaunts to a gym?

Still, it could be worse. Over in Omaha, Nebraska there is a green light to call the Federales if you see a smoker (admittedly in a bar, not on the street).

Meanwhile, time for a brace of anecdotes:

Way back lost in the mists of time, the BBC used to have smoking rooms, after inhaling at one's desk was banned. As many of the big cheeses were smokers, this gave rise to awesome networking opportunities for resourceful smokers at the lower end of the food chain. The follow up was a demand by non-smokers to be allowed in to the smoking rooms so they could bend the ears of management too. I'm not making this up.

More recently I read a tale somewhere or other about a foreign visitor shocked by the proliferation of tarts in the City of London. "They are so many, standing outside all the offices". Turns out he thought that al fresco smokers were trying to turn tricks.


Ah. Mad Inejad

He's up to old tricks again, this time his hobbyhorse is to encourage a population boom:

"I am against saying that two children are enough. Our country has a lot of capacity. It has the capacity for many children to grow in it. It even has the capacity for 120 million people. Westerners have got problems. Because their population growth is negative, they are worried and fear that if our population increases, we will triumph over them. (source).

And showing his grasp of workplace economic is about as impressive as that of couple psychology - (Imagine the conversation out in the Tehran 'burbs - 'Scheherazade, let's have a really big family like the Pres says. Never mind the cost, and the effort etc'. 'Cracking idea Darius. Nice 'tache by the way) his cunning wheeze is "to bring in legislation reducing women’s working hours based on how many children they had. Women could work part-time on full-time salaries". Uh-huh.

Yet another council that just won't stick to its knitting

If sweet home Croydonia is anything to go by, town councils have quite a lot on their plates dealing with education, rubbish collection, housing etc etc. However, the City of Sheffield must have sorted out all of those things and be top of the various national leagues, as it now has an energy policy. A breathless press release from the council has been dutifully copied and pasted by 24dash.com which notes that the council is dishing out "12,000 energy saving lightbulbs" to lucky residents, although if I was in Steel Town doubtless I could pick one up too. A very rough guesstimate puts the cost of the bulbs at about £90,000, and add in the operational costs, propaganda, man hours etc it must be a fairly substantial sum. There look to be about half a million people in those parts, and isn't it nice that there will be wealth redistribution from the majority of council tax payers to the minority who have the time and inclination to call in at the distribution points?

Energy saving may well be a laudable aim, but what in the name of all that's holy (or profane, if you prefer) is a council doing getting mixed up in this, partnership with suppliers and distributors notwithstanding? Do I detect ultra vires, in form if not necessarily in law?

The Patriarch's Orthodox, water's wet, wrestling's fixed and -

"One of the country's most senior policemen has claimed postal voting is wide open to corruption". Full report on the apparent fix in The Standard.

While generally fairly mild in manner, I get extremely angry about electoral fraud, and the three year sentences dished out for those convicted are not nearly enough. I would think a term equivalent to an electoral cycle should be the bare minimum, and I would not feel that removing the franchise from anyone convicted was excessive.

Meanwhile, can we please go back to the status quo ante? There was no substantial demand for easier postal voting prior to Labour's 'reforms', and the price democracy is paying is far too great.

The Pacific's very own Rockall

I don't suppose many of us in these parts have heard of the, depending on one's allegiances, Diaoyu / Senkaku Islands. Not much reason to have done so, as they are uninhabited and have a surface area of 7km. (I would prefer imperial measurements, but we make do with the cards we are dealt).

Anyway, they are ruled by Japan as part of the Okinawa prefecture, but the Chinese get very upset about this every once in a while, and are at the moment. Sundry Hong Kongers are sailing out there to plant a flag or two, having raised £122,000 odd from a whip round of concerned citizens. Ten years back someone died during a similar event, so they cannot be accused of lacking conviction, sincerity and the like. Just to add another layer the Chinese consider the islands are part of Taiwan province, which is doesn't rule either. To quote Borges on the Falklands, "Two bald men fighting over a comb".

It does not appear to be a dispute over maritime claims for fishing rights, oil etc is masquerading as one of principle, and the Chinese claim that the islands only ended up under Japanese sovereignty because of what they term 'the unequal treaties' that pecked away at China's edges in its long period of decline. While these amount to minor details in most cases, Mother Russia's swallowing of large chunks of real estate in the C19th grates, shall we say, with Chinese nationalists regarding the land where Vladivostok sits as rightfully Chinese. The Russian Empire got its hands on circa 400 000 square miles of land in the Far East in 1858/1860, or four United Kingdoms...

More changes to the map of Asia on the way?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Following on from my lengthy ramble about the prospect of Iraq breaking up the other week, there's another West Asian state that could be on the verge of some serious trouble: Pakistan.

I like to think I have a fairly good knowledge of secessionist movements and the like, but was unaware of quite how serious the Baloch independence movement in Pakistan is. Le Monde Diplo has the details, in English.

It refers to 'a slow-motion genocide being inflicted on Baluch tribesmen' and notes 'Already, in neighboring Sindh, separatists who share Baluch opposition to the Punjabi-dominated military regime of General Pervez Musharraf are reviving their long-simmering movement for a sovereign Sindhi state, or a Sindhi-Baluch federation, that would stretch along the Arabian Sea from Iran in the west to the Indian border. Many Sindhi leaders openly express their hope that instability in Pakistan will tempt India to help them, militarily and economically, to secede from Pakistan as Bangladesh did with Indian help in 1971'.

India was not exactly grief stricken when Bangladesh sheared off from Pakistan, and as the regional superpower with 'issues' with Pakistan over Kashmir and quite what its neighbour is up to vis a vis India's Muslims, I imagine New Delhi would be quite happy to see Pakistan broken up. Although getting hold of weaponry in this particular part of the world is not exactly difficult, defeating Islamabad is a pretty big ask - it has F16s, helicopter gunships etc, and Balochs amount to less than 4% of the population. I suspect one of the reasons why Musharraf is cosying up to Washington is that this way not too many questions will be asked about how it is dealing with the Baloch insurgency. Also, if he stops playing ball or the Madrassa Boys take over in Islamabad, there would be distinct advantages for many in encouraging Baloch separatism - together with the Sindhis (no sniggering at the back) - they would control the coast and most of the country's natural resources. On the downside for Washington, the Baloch look to be fairly conservative on the Islamic interpretation front - the hijab is de rigeur.

At the very least worth keeping an eye on, I reckon.

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

The Standard thinks that everyone's least favourite political spouse fancies resurrecting her 'official' political career. Apparently she has ben hobnobbing with Yoko Ono (they deserve each other don't they? A friendship made in the infernal regions..).

It adds some anonymous comments: "Having...the emotional backing of Yoko Ono won't hurt if she does decide to stand for Parliament." I suppose the Mills bomb has overtaken Yoko as the least favourite Beatles spouse, but that is still a fairly odd concept. Anyway, here is the punchline:
"Reports have suggested Cherie has considered standing at the next election for a safe seat in Liverpool - her home town and that of The Beatles".

So, which of the five Labour MPs for Liverpool might suddenly decide he or she wants to spend more time with his or her money and take the ermine?

Liverpool Garston - Maria Eagle, maj 7,193
Liverpool Riverside - Louise Ellman maj 13,950
Liverpool Walton - Peter Kilfoyle, maj 15,957
Liverpool Wavertree - Jane Kennedy maj 5,173
Liverpool West Derby - Bob Wareing maj 15,225

Maria Eagle - No chance. An under minister and in her 40s.
Louise Ellman - Could be. 60 and lobby fodder, but as a Labour Friend of Israel, how would she feel about the suicide bombers friend getting her seat? But, "one of the Blair government's most loyal cheerleaders".
Peter Kilfoyle - 62, leftie and rebel. Successor to Eric Heffer
Jane Kennedy - In her late 40s, also a LFI, and more lobby fodder.
Bob Wareing - 76, old leftie and rebel. Anti-Iraq war.

So, either Wareing is 'persuaded' to have a heart attack, or step forward Baroness Ellman of Riverside.

Walking it like you talk it - Orianna Fallaci's will

Saturday, October 21, 2006
The great lady has left her books and notes to the Pontifical Lateranense University in Rome, having commented a while back, "I am an atheist, and if an atheist and a pope think the same things, there must be something true".

More here.

I predict that the University will be called upon
to renounce the bequest by You Know Who within the next 24 hours.

Fancy getting paid bonuses for work you have not done?

Thought you might. Well, if you are a part time police officer for West Midlands' finest, and you have two X chromosomes, you can. The Standard has the details:

"Two women police officers were yesterday handed the right to extra bonus payments for working at night - even though they only work day shifts. The two officers, both working mothers, should get the extra money because their childcare commitments stop them from working anti-social hours, a tribunal ruled. Denying them the allowance for working at night - which men can do - is sex discrimination, it said".

Un-bel-iev-able. I suspect it will get overturned on appeal, but I suppose we should ask whether these women felt it was a burning injustice that they were not getting this money for work they were not doing, or whether some lawyer / union official put them up to it and reckoned it worth chancing their arms at minimum costs to themselves. I'm too stunned to come up with a suitably facetious parallel at the moment.

Wonk watch

The wonk groups think tanks are a rich source of odds and ends, so I'm going to be keeping a closer eye on them than before.

Here's a pearl from the ippr (note the trendy lower case name) which has been ruminating on ID cards:

“If the ID card system has any chance of working, then it will need to include the half a million people living in the shadows. It will be expensive and almost impossible to deport hundreds of thousands of people from the UK so the Government should give illegal workers the chance to come forward and be issued with an ID card. As well as improving the integrity of the ID card system, this would help tackle exploitation and protect the National Minimum Wage.”

I'm against ID cards on principle, and the arguments are not worth rehashing right now. The ippr is neck deep in links to the Labour party, so this can be be viewed as a kite flying exercise in part. So, what we have is the prospect of an amnesty for illegals because it is difficult and costly to uphold the law. Isn't that just going to be a massive disincentive to sneaking on board the eurostar etc etc?. Maybe Labour will embrace this 'it is just too difficult' "principle" and stop policing where there are lots of criminals, stop treating cancer patients etc etc etc.

Meanwhile over at the new economics foundation (they don't like capital letters either), they reckon "As the world bank meetings open in Singapore, new research from nef says that the time has come to look again at foreign debts forced wrongly on developing countries – so-called ‘odious debt’ – and shift the spotlight onto the ‘odious lenders’ – the bankers who made large loans to illegal regimes".

Soo, what constitutes an illegal regime? They don't deign to say, but I think it means ones they don't like. (although they look to have slipped up in fingering Nicaragua - or do they regard the post Sandinista elected government as illegal, or the Sandinistas themselves? Hmm) Also, what does it say about the finance ministers of various countries around the world that they are being viewed as idiots who did not check the small print and therefore fell into the clutches of 'pinstriped loan sharks'? I suspect that these wonks wouldn't know an S&P, Moody's etc rating if it came up and bit them - put simply, the dodgier the credit risk, the higher interest. Do any of my readers want their banks dishing out multibillion pound loans at sub-base rate levels to the likes of Sudan, bearing in mind that if the debt is welshed on, we then get caned with higher bank charges to help make good the short fall?

The nef has form, and I did a hatchet job on one of their papers a while back.

Fun and games in Auld Reekie

That's Edinburgh, by the way.

Rather late in the day I have discovered that "Edinburgh council thinks that Al Gore's film [An Inconvenient Truth] is so important that it is arranging for every high school to have a screening of the film" (source).

The sheer number of levels on which this is wrong might take a while to compile, but for starters the film is hardly a neutral, opinion free documentary, there will be a cost to the council whether it block books cinemas or hires the reels, there will be lost lesson time or else the dragooning of pupils into attending out of hours etc etc. What was the council thinking? I am appalled.

Freshly pathologised today - internet addiction

According to research by Stanford U and followed up by the Sydney Morning Herald.

Some extracts:

"Elias Aboujaoude, lead author of the study and director of Stanford's Impulse Control Disorders Clinic, says that too much focus is placed on the benefits of the internet and not enough on the problems it creates for a minority of users...Most concerning to Aboujaoude is the fact that internet addicts are exhibiting similar behaviour to alcoholics. He specifically points to people hiding their nonessential internet use and using the internet to escape a negative mood....The study found that 13.7 per cent of respondents found it hard to stay away from the internet for several days at a time, 8.7 per cent attempted to conceal non-essential internet use from family, friends and employers and 5.9 per cent felt their relationships suffered as a result of excessive internet use".

Where to start? I suppose at the start... So, focusing on 'problems' more than benefits - I suppose one could say that gyms ought to have a big sign in the lobby warning you might get a muscle cramp, or sports teams could highlight the risk of injury. Parallels are so easy to find it is like shooting sloths in a barrel. Feel free to add your own. As to hiding use and using it to disguise a negative mood, well whoopy do - the same could be said of drinking 'too much' coffee, watching 'too much' TV, reading 'too many' books, going to the gym 'too often' etc etc. And why might people engage in deceit? Because of peer pressure or a sense that what they were doing lacked validity or was otherwise worthwhile. As the Internet has only been truly mainstream for maybe eight years, there is also the problem of what is or is not normative. I choose to spend a lot of time on the internet - blogging, mooching around cyberspace, e-mailing, instant messenging etc - as I work from home and live on my own, so it is source of virtual company as well as entertainment and edification. Twenty years ago, the equivalent might have been writing letters to the papers, flicking through encyclopaediae, writing to friends or calling them etc, and I do not consider that any of those activities need to be pathologised either. I still do a fair amount of some of those things to. I think Mr Aboujaoude has focused on the form, rather than the substance, and his findings are really rather silly.

An extra specially good smear by the BBC

Friday, October 20, 2006
Calling Philippe de Villiers 'a far right politician'. What might 'far right' mean to the man or woman in the street? A neo-fascist stance? A call for repatriation of people beyond shade one white on the dulux colour chart?

Nope, PdV is known for his 'conservative, traditionalist and eurosceptic positions'. He also appears to be a monarchist. Having examined the horrendous translation of the party's (Mouvement Pour La France) platform at the usual place, there is nothing there that would put it beyond the pale of mainsteam British euroscepticism. A klansman he ain't.

A quick steal from b3ta..

Useless advice / advice you ignored...

'Don't talk to that Peter boy'
'For god's sake don't marry that awful Cherie woman'
'Never trust a Scotsman with your money'
'Americans never know what they're doing and will shoot anything that moves'

Any additions to that, or suggested advice along the same lines for other noted public figures ?

(Source. Usual caveat about not being safe for work or for those with delicate constitutions)

Clare Short waltzes off in a huff

As all will be by now well aware.

The question is will anyone notice? She has voted in 57% of divisions and spoken in 7 debates this year (source).

Meanwhile, a quick sniff around the Labour party website shows she has *already* been airbrushed out of history, in the best Stalinist tradition. No mention on the news pages, natch.

Corruption in French politics

Fond though I am of the Gauls, I have long thought that it isn't a question of the system being corrupt, more that corruption is the system. A poll from the Centre d'études de la vie politique française or Cevipof makes for dispiriting reading:

"60% think that leaders and elected politicians are corrupt".

But it gets worse: 78% think the Government is tainted by corruption, the Presidency by 69%, Deputies 68% and Senators 58%. Mayors only rate a rather feeble 39%.

My gut reaction was that polls here had neve thrown out anything quite so damning, but there is a problem in making direct comparisons. The best material I've had to work with is a poll on sleaze from July this year. (It is a pdf rather than vanilla text, which is annoying). This had 69% holding the impression that Labour was 'very sleazy and disreputable', 29 % saying the same of the Tories and 66% of Blair and his circle.

I regard 'sleazy' as being a less harsh word than 'corrupt', and while the British poll was conducted at the height of cash for peerages, there is nothing particular horrific going on yonder at the moment. That there is so much distrust in the parties of power is unnerving, as the Front has made much play of having 'Clean hands and heads held high'. Back in 2002 Chirac was promoted by the Left (informally) with this slogan - ' vote for the crook, not the nazi'.

Anti-Zionist corner

'The Friendly Neighbor (sic) to the North', or in my case to the West, has a mini-spat going on over attitudes of politicians to Israel. Conservative PM Stephen Harper accused sundry Liberals of being anti-Israel, including Michael Ignatieff (Remember him? He used to present arts programmes and the like in these parts). Said Libs don't like it, and have accused "Harper of exploiting the Middle East conflict for political gain".

Two things of note: Of course pols exploit things for political gain. It is called politics. And secondly, there are an awful lot of MPs in these parts who would regard such an accusation as a badge of honour.

Lord Harris of High Cross

Thursday, October 19, 2006
One of the titans of British, and indeed any, Conservative & free market thought in the C20th has died. This blog is in mourning for one of the founding father's of the Institute of Economic Affairs, which carries a brief obituary here. Fellow think tankers the Adam Smith Institute pays tribute here.

I discovered this in outwardly the most unlikely of places, Chez Fawkes . While much of the comment on the topic is a waste of bandwidth, His Grace the Archbishop Cranmer included a moving encomium, which more than merits a read.

As an optimist, I am sure we will see his like again.

There appears to be a full range of obits in the papers, with a good one in the 'Graph (although it is Milton Friedman, not Freedman), and a characteristically sneering & passive aggressive one in The Guardian.

The high life

The Daily Mail reports that a bottle of scotch is up at auction and is expected to go for upwards of £10, 000, or £300 a shot. Rather pricier than my usual cooking Scotch- anyone feeling generous is welcome to send me a bottle of J&B, or for further up the, erm, food chain, Macallan.

Anyway, this put me in mind of the tale of Malcolm Forbes and the $155,242 bottle of 1787 Lafite from Jefferson's cellar. The tale goes that the Big M was so proud of it that he exhibited it under lights in the lobby of the Forbes building, and when the Capitalist Tool finally got around to deciding to drink it, the cork had shrivelled due to heat etc and it was undrinkable. The only references to the tale I have found have been not been what one might call definitively authoritative, so it might be an urban legend.

The return of 'something must be done'

The BBC site reports:

Posting footage of assaults and violent acts on websites such as YouTube is a serious issue which MPs should discuss, Commons leader Jack Straw has said.

His call followed a claim by Hartlepool MP Iain Wright that an attack in which a man was kicked unconscious in his constituency could be found online.

Erm, no. Here are some extracts from Youtube's terms and conditions:

"In connection with User Submissions, you further agree that you will not: (iii) submit material that is unlawful, obscene, defamatory, libelous, threatening, pornographic, harassing, hateful, racially or ethnically offensive, or encourages conduct that would be considered a criminal offense, give rise to civil liability, violate any law, or is otherwise inappropriate; (v) impersonate another person".

I included (V) as the floppy haired MP for Erdington could be for the high jump.....

More on the Gallic Socialists

An opinion poll mob with the extraordinarily gallic name of OpinionWay (shouldn't it be AvisDirection or somesuch?) has been looking at the reactions of les Francais, or rather a panel of Socialist party inclined voters) to the debate the other night, with Le Figaro carrying the details.

Prior to the debate Sego started off at 66%, DSK at 27% and the hapless Fabius at 7%. By the end Sego had eased to 63, DSK was up to 32 and Fabius to 5%. Despite Fabius having been a prime minister, only 25% reckoned he had 'the stature of a head of state' to 67 for Sego and 61 for DSK. Plenty more detail avaialbale for those as want it.

Anyway, looks like Fabius ought to throw in the serviette, and DSK looks like he's in with a shot at being the Left's challenger. Intriguingly, both DSK and Fabius are Jewish. More digging presently....

A gift to the English language from Australia

I give you 'shonky'.

Adjective: shonky (shonkier,shonkiest)

  1. (Informal) - Very poor in quality - Ropey [Brit], ropy [Brit]
  2. (Informal) - Unreliable or dishonest
I discovered this via the Sydney Morning Herald, which was reporting on the Shonky Awards, for, erm, shonky products. These were care of the Oz equivalent of the Consumers Association, Choice. Sounds rather less precious than the CA. The winner was 'Life Miracle's Magnetic Laundry System', with the iPod 7th.

I will be looking out for opportunities to use 'shonky' in the future, and wish to thank Oz for its linguistic ingenuity.

The Perils of blogging - pt 2

Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Reuters reports this from those nice liberal rulers in the 'People's Republic' of China:

"Internet users in southwest China who spread malicious rumors online face fines of up to 5,000 yuan ($630) and possible detention, state media reported on Wednesday in the latest crackdown on dissent. Under legislation passed in Chongqing municipality, people who post "defamatory comments or remarks, launch personal attacks or seek to damage reputations online" will receive a warning or be fined between 1,000 and 5,000 yuan, the China Daily said".

Looks like I'll need to get an overdraft. And with that, off out for a bit.


US think tank the Brookings Institution has been looking at maths teaching, and the Washington Post takes up the story:

"Countries such as the United States that embrace self-esteem, joy and real-world relevance in learning mathematics are lagging behind others that don't promote all that self-regard....In Japan, the report found, 14 percent of math teachers surveyed said they aim to connect lessons to students' lives, compared with 66 percent of U.S. math teachers. Yet the U.S. scores in eighth-grade math trail those of the Japanese, raising similar questions about the importance of practical relevance....The report is likely to stoke a debate over teaching math and other subjects that has divided the United States for at least a century. Progressives say that what students choose to study and how they feel about education should matter as much, or more, in the classroom than test results; traditionalists say that gain requires some pain and that tests matter."

Well knock me down with a feather - we can't all succeed, others must fail. Must say maths was never my stroing point - I scraped a C at 'O' level. Two female friends are self-confessed maths nerds, and one competed as a 'Mathlete' in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Each to their own, I suppose.

Meanwhile, how about this from a maths textbook from the former DDR:

"The collectives in the neighbouring districts deliver their sugar beets to the refinery in trucks. Today the Schondorf LPG sent 34 trucks to the refinery, and the Sommerfield LPG sent 30 trucks. How many trucks carried sugar beets to the refinery?"

The French Socialist Presidential hopefuls debate

Sego, DSK and Fabius went mano a mano on French TV last night, and the French rags seem to reckon that Sego came out quite well.

Judging from the comments they made, their contributions were a combination of empty bromides and red blooded socialism, with the usual admixture of acronyms and buzzwords. I have attempted to render the original French as English that reads like English rather than literal rendering of the odd argot French pols use.

Asked why she was a candidate, Sego replied it was 'so the left can win and make France succeed'. She also wants 'the economy to be at the service of humanity and well being, not as an end it itself'. As to 'financial anarchy', she's agin it. Fabius is not keen on 'global hypercapitalism' which 'steamrollers everything in its path'.

As to solutions, Sego says 'The France of tomorrow is the France of competitiveness areas (these are bits of the country with five year plan type set ups. C), where the brain power is, where there is competitiveness and synergies. (See what I mean on the bromide front?).

Fabius reckons everything will be fine and dandy if the smic (a sort of guaranteed miniumum income) is bumped up by €100 and the 35 hr maximum week is foisted on small companies too. DSK reckoned the 35 hr week created 2m jobs. (Back to economics 101 Dom).

Apparently they also discussed renationalising EDF (owner of London Electricity, inter alia), but that didn't make the papers. They are keeping the red flag flying, aren't they? Even John 'Flat Earth' McDonnell doesn't appear to be intent on that.

I have a link to last night's debate here for anyone /that/ keen on disintermediating. Hat tip to The Brave for sending it to me.

Trying to hold back the Atlantic with a mop

The Iranian authorities are attempting something similar, as the Grauniad notes.

Their latest bright idea is to limit internet connection speeds to 128KB - still double the speed of dial up (shudder...). The writer notes "The move by Iran's telecommunications regulator will make it more difficult to download foreign music, films and television programmes, which the authorities blame for undermining Islamic culture among the younger generation. It will also impede efforts by political opposition groups to organise by uploading information on to the net".

Also, and rather worryingly, "Scores of websites and blogs are censored using hi-tech US-made filtering equipment. Iran filters more websites than any other country apart from China. High-speed links can be used with anti-filtering devices to access filtered sites". (my emphasis).

Given the US restrictions on trade with Iran, I do wonder how this came to pass.

I wish the Iranian people every success in securing for themselves a more open society, and can only sympathise with them in their current ordeal. Much like 'Mighy Oak of the Carpathians' Nicolae Ceaucescu's Romania, I suspect it is a case of kiss the hand you cannot bite. Meanwhile, I think that the internet will end up breaking the regimes of some of the vile thugs in Asia and Africa in the way that photocopiers and fax machines did in the '80s. I remember reading about samizdat in the Soviet Union - people would borrow one chapter of a book at a time, and then type out the chapter themselves in order to keep the circulation going. Information, as they say, wants to be free.

The perils of chat rooms, blogs etc

Tuesday, October 17, 2006
I expect this story will be all over the media like a rash soon enough, but here goes:

"Police today warned internet users to guard their identities after a man was convicted of Britain's first "web-rage" attack. Paul Gibbons, 47, turned up at the home of John Jones, 43, after they exchanged insults on the internet, the Old Bailey heard. He traced his address after Mr Jones, a father of three children, put personal details about himself online. "The victim ended up on the floor and was beaten with the pickaxe handle." (source)

Sad to say the attacker was a Sarf Londoner, and the attackee an Essex chap. Perhaps I should point out that I have no malign intentions towards a certain high-profile blogger with a noted connection to the fair county of Essex. Meanwhile, maybe I'll continue to keep my surname to myself. A mate of mine once received a phone death threat, and was a bit shaken by it.

The Isle of Man

Suttonian, or more correctly, Suttonian aggro-loon has asked me to look into matters Manx, given that they have an election yonder. Can't say I know the first thing about Manx politics beyond the existence of the House of Keys, but in the interests of keeping at least one of my readers diverted, I have gone for a dig.

First stop is iomelections.com, where I have discovered that it is all a bit personal. There's a constituency rejoicing in the splendid name of Michael, but Douglas gets four seats. Middle is perhaps the least inspiring name for a seat I have ever encountered anywhere.

Further digging shows that the Liberal Vannin party which S A-L was intrigued by uses the LD snake in the grass emblem superimposed on a a viking long ship as its logo. 'Tis a graphical mess, frankly and we can fill in the blanks on policies based on that association.

Over at the Bloggers friend there's plenty more on the politics of the place. Looks like independents, or non-partisans, run the show. Mec Vannin is an intriguing looking mob, which 'seeks to revoke the status of Man as a British Crown Dependency and establish a completely sovereign state, which would be a republic'. It doesn't stand for election, and combines 60s socialism with distinct hostility to immigration from we English types. Apparently the Manx Communist Party has given up - an example I offer enthusiastically to Communist parties everywhere.

Anyway, here are the Bard of Salford's thoughts on the place:

Ex RSM's with purple necks
a nose for trouble and kinky sex
rejuvenate an old pudenda
with a bunch of sticks
and a young offender

Where are the weirdos, thugs, and louts
down in the dungeons dishing it out
their politics would recommend
a bunch of sticks and a young offender

Authority its use perverts
submission to it always hurts
the cops and the church and the house of keys
bring back the birch for bums like these

Even more overreacting - this time Blunkett, allegedly

Just seen this in the Standard:

"David Blunkett ordered the Prison Service to call in the Army and 'machine gun' prisoners to quell a riot, according to the service's former Director General. Martin Narey claimed that the former Home Secretary 'shrieked' down the telephone that he did not care if the lives of inmates or staff were lost in efforts to regain control of Lincoln prison".

I sincerely hope that this tale has gained in the telling, as a bit of digging around suggests that the riot, although dealt with by officers in riot gear hardly justified calling in the army. Must say I didn't have top of mind recall of the event, and I shudder to think what would have happened if the 80s riots had happened on Blunkett's watch and he had had his way. It also seems to suggest a woeful misunderstanding of the armed forces. Anyone would think we are living in a third world dictatorship.

Political office and duty

Verity made one of her frequent telling interventions in the Rooker thread (qv):

"The hereditaries were/are the best solution to our second chamber. Unelected, thus never driven to seek political power and political masters, because they already had it. Not really wanting to go in, but going in out of duty and history in the event of specifically important votes. A true breaker on the power of an over-mighty executive".

I'd like to consider this in a broader frame - that of men and women in legislatures who are there primarily out of duty, rather than because of ferocious ambition or a deep and abiding love of the perks.

At council level, I am certain that are battalions of folk who are in mainly because of duty. My father, god rest his soul, was a parish councillor for years. This entailed interminable meetings, mainly about planning permissions. As a child, if I thought about it all, I thought he was in it out of ambition, so when the long serving district councillor for the parish stood down I thought my father would have a tilt at it. He did not, and explained that he had been toiling away in the foothills because it was something that had to be done and he had the duty to serve his community. And did he serve - council, the Tories, village hall etc committees, doing the books for countless organisations. My mother is clearly cut from the same cloth in that she has been persuaded to serve as a councillor in the village in France where she now lives, and I just know that this is far from her idea of fun.

Anyway, enough of my family. I don't doubt that any number of people could tell similar tales of local government, but where I think it gets rather more interesting is with MPs. I cannot imagine that a would be candidate would get very far were he or she to say to a selection panel that they wish to serve out of a sense of duty, rather than because they fancy their chances of getting into the cabinet or right to the top of the greasy pole itself. I am sure plenty of MPs discover all too soon that they are not going to progress very far, and some will stand down, some will think of it as a sinecure and some will beaver away in committees etc because it is their duty to do so. I'm thinking of some of the old campaigners like Gwyneth Dunwoody as exemplifying the latter.

So, is the general population far too cynical about the elected? Is it a good idea to have MPs in the house out of duty rather than ambition, or should they make way for the leaner and hungrier? And which prime minister best exemplify duty rather than ambition or an ideological drive to make a difference?

'Lord' Jeff Rooker not so hot on logic

Monday, October 16, 2006
This nomination for the single most brain-dead comment made by a British minister, certainly this week and possibly for very much longer goes to Jeff Rooker. Care of the Evening Standard, we have this:

"The peer said that the best thing was for people to consider moving to wetter parts of the country, including Wales, Scotland and the Midlands. "There is no question that the population and resources in this country are spread very unevenly," he said. "There is something immoral about taking a resource from other areas of the country to the South East. Rather than build a water grid, it would be much better to move the population and centres of Government and reconfigure the country more fairly."

Right Jeff, if we can drop the title - how do you feel about the transfer of wealth from London to the rest of the country? Or redistribution full stop? What about the Labour governments in the 1970s you were lobby fodder for which nationalised areas of the economy supposedly for the national, rather than local, good? Maybe when you were a councillor in Birmingham, and then an MP for the same city you told voters interested in schools, housing, leisure centres or whatever that they should move house? Then again you introduced a bill to abolish the House of Lords in 1980, so long term consistency isn't your strong point, clearly. At the moment you are a Minister for Sustainable Farming and Food, so perhaps if the good people of Perry Barr, or come to that Croydon, want food they should move somewhere near an apple tree, or a pig or a tofu facory?

Meanwhile, I'm just itching to see what will undoutedly be your well-thought out plan "to move the population and centres of Government and reconfigure the country more fairly".

Honestly, battling against the idiocies of the age is like swimming through glue.

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Dizzy vs Recess Monkey vs some LD bloke

My fellow blogger, and 'real world' mate, Dizzy is on 18 Doughty Street tonight, taking on Alex 'Recess Monkey / Labour Home' Hilton and some LD called Stephen Tall. Given that the Dalemeister and the lower primate do not seem to be the best of friends at the moment, it promises to a rather good transmission. It kicks off at nine.

As we all must surely know, Dizz runs one of the great blogs of our time, and we can look forward to him debating in his tenacious, spirited and logical fashion. I can't think of anyone better to be fighting the blue team's corner, and I'm counting on two KOs well before the final round.

To adapt that great Canadian John Diefenbaker, "My friends, you say, 'Give 'em hell, Dizzy!' I never do that. I tell the truth and it sounds like hell. It simply sounds that way to the [others]".

Some light entertainment

A perhaps over-refreshed politician being interviewed on a results programme:

More details here, including his claim that he had not been on the sauce, but rather has 'a psychomotor disorder'. Up there with 'discussing Uganda' on the excuses front.

I know I swore off Belgians this month, and this does not exactly rate as the truly apocalyptic. So, I've broken my word. Sorry. Might I use my get out of jail free card?

You know you've arrived when...

Someone sets up a site using the same URL as you, bar a typo.

This, it would seem has happened to His Grace, the Archbishop Cranmer. http://archbishop-cranmer.blogspot.com/ takes you to the usual place, but ~blogpsot.com takes one to a remarkably ugly 'mega-site of Bible, Christian and religious information and studies'.

I only discovered this when I was bouncing from blog to blog using other people's links to cover the usual places. The blogger with a typo in His Grace's URL will remain nameless.

Anyway, a bit more checking shows the same people have done it to me, to Dizzy, Iain Dale, Guido, Praguetory, Daily Pundit, Injured Cyclist and James Cleverly for starters. And Bob Piper. And our man in Istanbul, so some sad worm is presumably doing the same trick with each and every blog registered. Really rather sad, frankly.

Meanwhile, my tech guru has just told me that it is all down to a wildcard DNS entry, so anything ending blogpsot will take you to the same place. I guess none of us have arrived at all.....

Overreacting to the threat of chavs

Lot of overreacting going on today.

This time it is Her Majesty's finest in Liverpool. According to 24dash.com, the Liverpool plod want to use spy planes to monitor the mean streets of Anfield and Bootle: "Spy planes could be used to patrol troubled streets in a new crackdown on anti-social behaviour, it was revealed today. More often used by the military in war-torn Baghdad and Basra, the planes would be used to fly over areas of Liverpool blighted by yob behaviour.
Merseyside Police stress it is only one of a number of ideas being considered by the UK's first "Yob Squad", set up by the force and aimed specifically at tackling anti-social behaviour".

The site notes that the "Anti-Social Behaviour Task Force...has a £1m budget", and it illustrates the story with a photo of a RQ 1 Predator. Bad news for the over excited Liverpool Boys in Blue: the street price for an RQ-1 looks to be about $40m, so I don't think their budget will stretch to very many of them.

Overreacting to the threat of terrorism

I will spare you any further consideration of airports. This time it is lakes: The New York Times notes that the US Coast Guard: "want to mount machine guns routinely on their cutters and small boats here and around all five of the Great Lakes as part of a program addressing the threats of terrorism after Sept. 11".

The locals are *not* impressed, and this is the prize comment: “When I heard, I thought it was something from The Onion newspaper or an Internet hoax,” said Mike Bradley, the mayor of Sarnia, Ontario, which sits beside Lake Huron, where 6 of the 34 live fire zones are planned. “This whole thing was done way below the radar.”. Mike, I make you right there, and just to show that life does imitate art, here is an Onion item on 'heightened security at Cedar Rapids library':

"As caretakers of the most prominent public building in the second largest city in Iowa, this library can no longer afford to take chances"..."A number of the new security measures will directly affect the public: It will now become more difficult to obtain a library card, requiring a birth certificate and two forms of photo ID. The daily children's story hour has been shortened to 20 minutes. And while the library has always officially had a no-loitering rule on the books, it will now be strictly enforced". Read the rest of it - it is a good one.

The 'New Statesman' living in the past

Or so it would seem judging from an articel in the Jerusalem Post where new subscribers are being offered the chance to sponsor the planting of olive trees in an entity called 'Palestine', which has not existed for well over 50 years. I look forward to comparable initiatives in Nyasaland, Siam, Dahomey and Tanganyika. Maybe they will really push the boat out and start operations in the Khanate of Khiva or the United Provinces.

Rather less flippantly, it was the NS that had the delightful cover a while back of a Mogen David piercing the Union Flag and the title 'A Kosher Conspiracy?'

'The Veil'

Sunday, October 15, 2006
I have been mulling on this one for a while, and have not yet posted on it because there has just been too much comment on it all over the blogosphere and news sites in general. However, enough is enough.

Where I think the debate has gone awry is that issues of liberty, religious / cultural observance, aesthetics, day to day practicalities, manners, societal norms, feminist theory and semiotics have all been thrown together to make a steaming vat of gumbo. This is my attempt to separate out the crawdads, the catfish, the rice, the okra, the crab meat.….

Firstly, personal liberty. I would take it as axiomatic that people should be free to dress as they choose in public, with the limitations on this being those of decency and direct incitement to criminal activity. Thus, outside of naturist camps etc, I will not be going to the barricades to defend that oddball who likes wandering around butt naked. Similarly, I could not muster any sympathy for someone arguing he or she should have the freedom to sport a t-shirt, hat etc bearing a slogan along the lines of ‘death to religious / ethnic etc group X’, or come to that standing in front of the ticket barriers at a station with a T-shirt with the text ‘the ticket inspector is on tea break and the CCTV camera is broken, so just vault over the barriers’. Otherwise, while common sense might not suggest it is a sensible thing to do, I believe that I should be entitled to the full protection of the law if I were a Hassidic Jew and wanted to walk along Queensway after dark on a Friday, or wear a Celtic / Rangers (delete as applicable) football shirt in the wrong part of Glasgow.

Religious / cultural observance. If a male Hassidic Jew wishes to dress like a C16th Polish nobleman or a female Hassidic Jew to wear a wig, so be it. Likewise with Islamic, Sikh etc wear. Other people might find it odd, and ask entirely reasonable questions as to why such observance is made, but within the public sphere, the choice of people to dress as they see fit trumps that of the rest of us to be disconcerted. I might not necessarily like those particular looks, but the same goes for crusties, people with faces that set off airport metal detectors, Che Guevara t-shirts etc etc.

Day to day practicalities. Motorcycle couriers etc are expected to remove their crash helmets when entering a place of business, because the helmets also act as a disguise. The same would go for balaclavas, and I believe the same should apply to Islamic face coverings. I could be wrong, but I believe one is not supposed to wear glasses when having a passport photograph taken. The same principle applies.

Feminist theory. The Sisters are right – the veil is a symbol of patriarchy, in that it signifies that the woman wearing it has rights subsidiary to that of her husband or father. If the veil on grown women makes me uneasy, when worn by little girls it makes me actively nauseous. There is ample evidence to suggest that when women are given the full support of the law and are bold enough to resist societal and familial pressures they are not particularly keen on covering themselves utterly. How women can be encouraged to dress as they see fit and not as their ‘masters’ would have them do is open to debate.

I expect to flesh this out a bit more in the fullness of time, but I think I have made a start.

Things the French get exercised about, no. 824

Like genetically modified maize being grown in the Czech Republic, horror of horrors, on the site of the battle of Austerlitz.

Since I'm still in Napoleonic mode, that battle twixt France and its allies versus Austria and Russia led to around 36 000 casualties, and killed off the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, which had existed for over a thousand years since the crowning of Karl Der Gross (better known here as Charlemagne, but the Germans have at least as much validity in claiming him as one of theirs as the French). Still, it was all for the good of European unity, wasn't it?

Headlines that intrigue - only to disappoint

Like this one: Sturgeon in rallying call to SNP

Alas, the Caledonians were not being encouraged to boycott caviar, but rather to go back to their tenements, crofts etc and prepare for power, as Nicolas Sturgeon, for it was she, was speaking to their conference. What with Salmond, I think there is something fishy going on North of the Border.

I don't think I have the resolution to plough throgh the entire list of Scottish councils in search of more fish-related names, but will pause having found the rather inappropriately surnamed Sheena Welsh of Angus, who unlike the Sheena of the Ramones song does not appear to be a punk rocker.

The late and unlamented Edward Heath

Saturday, October 14, 2006
Given there seems to be some interest in the old bore, here is a piece of rare wit from The Independent on him:

"Take the late Ted Heath, for example. He was not the sort of man to teach the world to sing or to scatter it with rose petals. If a man in black was seen abseiling down your house, the least likely solution to that conundrum was: "It's just Ted Heath dropping off a box of Milk Tray." What will survive of him is obduracy, self-regard, a paragraph in the history of the EEC, and the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation at his old home Arundells in Salisbury. It takes a rare breed of man to ponder a £5m fortune in a world of starving orphans, three-legged donkeys and imminent eco- disaster and decide, on balance, that the best use of those funds after your demise is to establish a museum dedicated to yourself - especially when you're not Winston Churchill, Picasso or Charles Dickens. Can you really imagine saying brightly to the kids, "I know what, let's go to the Ted Heath museum today!"?

Further digging shows that one of his beneficiaries, his housekeeper Ms Lopez actually received nada, as the bequest was dependent on her still being in his employ at his death. What a nice man.

As to the tales of his sexual proclivities or otherwise, I can't find any 'name' writers prepared to put any allegations in print. Beyond vague amusement at the idea of The Grocer having any form of intimacy other than in front of a mirror, I can't say I really care so as long as it was with consenting adults and in private.

Meanwhile, for your amusement I present the website of the National Association of Ted Heath Burners