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'Rights' - such a difficult concept

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The BBC has an item in which the Soil Association carps extensively about the meal options available for children at 'family restaurants' (one of those terms that freezes the blood....)

The Soil Association is part of the 'green' environut lobby, so one knows what to expect from it, but oddly enough it has soiled its hands by co-operating with a commercial enterprise called Organix Brands in producing its report. It seems fair to ask about agendas, does it not?

Anyway, the stand out comment from the report is this "Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett said parents had the right to be offered healthy options for their children". Hmm. The Right? An interesting conception of rights, I would think, when applied to how a commercial enterprise conducts its business. I wonder if this Melchett character also thinks that parents visiting vegetarian eateries have the right to be offered bacon sandwiches for their progeny? Somehow I doubt it.

It would seem that 'Peter Melchett' is not the name he was born with, as he is in fact Peter Robert Henry Mond, 4th Baron Melchett. One might note his near namesake, Mustapha Mond, World Controller for Western Europe in 'Brave New World'.... The Baron has been arrested for criminal damage, and his exit from the board of Greenpeace coincided with his taking on a role for a PR company that had worked for Monsanto, so it seems as though he has no great ethical objections to making a living through trade, even though old money regards such as frightfully common, apparently.

Freedom of the press - what are the Dutch playing at?

Libération has a somewhat disturbing tale of goings on in the Netherlands.

Two journalists at De Telegraaf (which seems to be the national equivalent of The Sun/Mail) are currently cooling their heels in one or other of the Dutch big houses, and will remain there indefinitely until they reveal their source for news that the Dutch plod leaked information to an imprisoned criminal godfather. I would have thought that being granted one of the grades of the Order of Orange-Nassau would have been more appropriate.

Over at Freedom House, the Dutch rate class 1 for both political rights and civil liberties....

'Patient Power'

I have an understanding with the medical business - they leave me alone, and I leave them alone, so this tale is not one that impacts me directly, however, it is a absolute scandal.

For many years, we've all been led to believe that mobile phones interfere with medical equipment, but this turns out to be a huge lie: "There are no safety reasons why mobile phones cannot be used, a leaked Department of Health report admits." (Source). It turns out that the ban continues as hospitals are coining it from a contract with a telecoms provider that charges "up to 75p a minute for incoming calls from mobiles and 49p from landlines". This particular programme is called 'Patient Power'. Classy.

A brief digression about Norway

I have generally warm feelings about our friends on the other side of the North Sea, and I've been led to believe that they quite like us too. Which is nice.

Anyway, I've just added Aftenposten's helpful English language edition to my bookmarks, and can only feel somewhat wistful that the lead story in those parts involves a drunk teacher showing up for work. I cannot imagine that that would make the front page of a local paper in the UK. Given the terrifying price of booze yonder, teachers must be paid quite well, or else the teacher (gender is unreported) must have shown considerable workrate and commitment to getting soused. Lucky the land with so little news.

Just a quick one

Something from young Cameron we can all (?) agree on:

"Mr Cameron said: "Insulting Trevor [ Philips] by saying he should join the BNP isn't a serious contribution to debate. "It's a discreditable attempt by an ageing far left politician [Livingstone] to hang on to a narrative about race that sees people from ethnic minorities as potential agents of revolutionary change." He added that they should be seen as "full and equal citizens who would rather build a better life for themselves and their families than man the barricades at the behest of middle class white fantasists". (source).


Meanwhile, I expect the use of 'middle class' really riled Livingstone.

Road pricing

Wednesday, November 29, 2006
I suppose I must be living in the past, as my view of how the political process should work is that a political party devises a programme of prospective action in the form of a manifesto, and then broadly at its own expense sells this idea to the electorate and if it gains power acts upon it.

However, judging from a report by the ippr (sic), this is not the done thing at all. Rather, an incumbent government should decide upon a course of action, and then spend public money to move public opinion, in this case on national road pricing.

I’ll be damned if I will put money into the pockets of the soi-disante ‘leading UK progressive think tank’, so instead I’m making do with the press release précis of the oh so punningly named ‘Steering Through Change’ rather than forking out ten quid for it. Doubtless there are any number of fiskable details in the main report, but here are some of the elephant traps evident in the methodology:

The research shows that while more than 90 per cent of people see congestion as a serious problem less than 40 per cent said they supported road pricing as a solution”.

However, the polled group were told: “A sample of 1150 people were given a description of road pricing that claimed it would replace Vehicle Excise Duty (VED). Three additional samples of between 100 and 150 people were told that it would replace fuel duty, VED and fuel duty, or neither tax”. I do not have a car, so will make do with the 2005 figures of road tax varying from £55 to £165. Given that the London road pricing scheme is charging £8 a day, anyone thinking that road pricing would be exchanged in a straight swap for road pricing fees, and that it would only cost £165 rather than somewhere nearer £3000 for a year’s daily driving would have to be of a level of naivety that probably has them if not actually believing in Father Christmas, then certainly that horoscopes are scientifically valid, Elvis lives and that wrestling is not fixed. However, how many people outside the South East would know how much the ‘congestion charge’ costs? I could not hazard a guess at the cost, if there is one, of crossing the Mersey or the Forth bridge. And still 40% support road pricing….

There’s more: “ippr held six focus groups with participants who drive everyday or nearly every day and who stated they were either 'very satisfied', 'quite satisfied' or 'neither satisfied nor dissatisfied' with their local public transport. These groups were held in Sale, Birmingham and Harlow”. So, another *hugely* representative group of people. Birmingham is the second city and has commuter rail lines, Sale has a tram network, and Harlow is basically part of London sprawl. So we are not talking about places with a once a week bus service, and whatever proportion of Brummies, Saleites and Harlovians were ‘quite unsatisfied’, ‘very unsatisfied’ were ignored. As presumably were the contemptible ‘don’t know’ contingent.

Part of the ippr’s grand scheme of recommendations is that the government should “Support local schemes through Transport Innovation Funds and public transport governance reform”. Dizzy has looked at this previously. It is notable that “The Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) will be used to tackle congestion and to improve productivity. The TIF will provide up to (my emphasis) £200m per year from 2008/09 until 2014/15 to support suitable demand management schemes developed by local authorities”. £200m? That’s what setting up the London scheme cost, and this figure is supposed to cover Tyne & Wear, Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, the East Midlands cities and Bath/Bristol. And five other smaller places….

This, however, is my favourite recommendation: “Establish a new national stakeholder group, with an independent chair, of experts, special interest groups and critical friends to address public concerns”. So, six figure salaries, bloated expense accounts and junkets all round for Labour party sympathisers, topped off with peerages and knighthoods a few years down the line.

My own position on road pricing is that I might consider it worth debating with preliminaries of the data collected being wholly anonymous and fuel duty etc being scrapped.

Over to you.


Does Margaret Beckett have a friend / relative in Sweden?

I ponder this very question as a confidence trickster of sorts has wronged a woman of 70 by stealing her identity and leaving her "on the brink of financial ruin", which sounds akin to what Mags and her colleagues have been doing to the nation.

Thus far there might appear to be no reason for me to be venting at Beckett rather than Blair and Broon, but there is one: "Armed with loans made out to her customer, the fortune teller quickly hurried down to a car dealership. In April she purchased a Mercedes Benz, which she later sold. She then went on to buy two BMWs and three caravans". (Source). The paper also makes a bid for headline of the year with "Clairvoyant conned woman to finance caravan spree".

Anyone fancy joining in a whip round to bale out the United Arab Emirates?

They must be feeling the pinch, as the UAE owes the thick end of £43,000 in parking fines etc incurred by its diplomats last year.

I've been fooling around with the figures for fines and comparing them with population, GDP per head etc etc, and it looks the Foreign Office might need to send the goons round, as the Emiratis owe almost 1/100th of a penny each. A pretty poor show from the Saudis too - almost 1/1000th of a penny. The Chinese can be fairly sanguine with a national debt of 1/100000th of a penny.

Looked at another way, the villainous Afghans have managed to run up parking fines equivalent to 71 times GDP per head, and the wicked Sudanese a multiplier of 39. The Germans manage near parity of fines to GDP per head at 1.1, and the French are comparatively virtuous at a mere 0.7.

Finally, the Afghans face the greatest risk of an economic catastrophe if the baillifs call, as the fines amount to 1/500,000th of GNP.

(Minor footnote - opinions differ as to whether one 'bails' or 'bales'. Bales is used in English English but not American English, so I've used that).

Planning ahead, or delusions of grandeur?

The city fathers of Milton Keynes want to make their mark on eternity, as they have been raiding the public purse in order to fund lamp posts with a 1,500 year life span.

I have been sniffing around to see if an event of similar significance took place in 506, and from what I can find, lighting was not high on the agenda. However, the Bishops of Visigothic Gaul met in Agde, the Breviary of Alaric was collected and relations between Byzantium and Persia were frosty. I rather resent the fact that I will not be around in 3506 to witness new street lights being erected in MK amid, doubtless, much municipal back slapping over the foresight of their forebears.

And now for something completely different

Remember this lot? Some of my older readers might, as their heyday was in the late 80s. They are Sigue Sigue Sputnik, and I suppose most of us would imagine the band members were now living blameless lives as insurance salesmen or scratching a living on the edge of the music business. However, dead horses are still being flogged, judging from this Nominent dispute resolution report.

The former lead singer (front, centre) has been touting himself on the net under siguesiguesputnik.co.uk, to the chagrin of what, in the best traditions of Fenian nomenclature, we might call 'Continuity SSS', who lurk at sputnikworld.com:

"The Complainant's Lawyer informed the Complainant the name "Sigue Sigue Sputnik" belongs to the current band members. Mr Degville has recently purchased the domain name siguesiguesputnik.co.uk . He is now advertising his shows as "Sigue Sigue Sputnik" shows on this website causing great confusion among the public. We have written to him asking him to desist and we are currently undertaking legal proceedings against him. Mr Degville has also posted vitriolic and abusive statements on this site by that are defamatory both towards the group and members of the band personally. The site is also being used to provoke ill-will towards the existing group's reputation with a long standing fan base. Finally it is also being used to sell pirate merchandise which breaches copyright".

Mr Degville did not respond to the action, and Nominet ruled against him. The site is now dead, so transfering might take a while yet. Given how extraordinarily cheap domains are, I think Continuity SSS were foolish not to have snapped it up themselves. The broader point is that with a loyal enough fan base a band can trade off a brief window of success for decades, for which I suppose we should thank the internet in particular.

Carpetbaggers or pioneers?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006
PragueTory and I were mulling on the high number of English born folk living in Scotland, and we were moved to ponder on how many English born MPs sat for Scotland. We discovered five out of 56, including an SNP MP who hails from Wimbledon, one Scouser, one Northerner and two other Londoners. Plus Sarwar, who was born in Pakistan.

Since I need to get out more, I decided to have a look at the situation in these parts and took on London: out of 70 MPs I can offer - by birth - seven Scots, two Welsh, two Northern Irish, two Germans, one Egyptian (hello Margaret Hodge), one Swede, one Hollander, one American and one Indian. Beyond that, there are six MPs from the Midlands and 12 Northerners of various stripes. There are a further four from the SE or the West and four who have kept their place of birth well away from the public gaze, so if anyone can help out on the origins of the members for Ruislip, Islington South, Ealing North and Hackney South, I would be much obliged. Unambiguously London born MPs make up 26 of the 70, so on a like for like basis, 91% of Scottish seats have Scottish MPs, whereas only 37% of London seats have London MPs.

So, does this make Scotland desperately parochial, or London breathtakingly cosmopolitan? Or is it that the Scots are unwilling to have 'foreigners' foisted on them while London types would vote for a anyone with the right coloured rosette? It is worth noting that in any number of countries an outsider does not have a prayer of getting elected, with the US of A very much Exhibit A. As I have noted before, in an ideal world the best candidate would also happen to have been born in the constituency, but talent is not evenly spread.

Of the prospective candidates I have chewed the fat with, they are targetting seats where they have a distinct connection via work, residence or birth.

PT has further thoughts, plus he has cast an eye over his old neck of the woods, the West Midlands.

Giving with one hand and taking away with the other

Remember Benazir Bhutto? Well, it looks like she is set for a comeback of sorts in next year's elections, as "Former Pakistan premier Benazir Bhutto could return home and contest next year's polls...a confidant of President Pervez Musharraf has said" (Source).

However, Benny might be well advised to avoid working the campaign trail in Rawalpindi, Karachi and points in between, as the same mate of Musharraf reckons "there is a constitutional bar on her becoming prime minister". The constition of Pakistan is not one of my specialist subjects, but it would look as though the various prosecutions she has been the subject of put her in breach of the Presidential oath: "I will discharge my duties, and perform my functions, honestly, to the best of my ability, faithfully in accordance with the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the law, and always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well- being and prosperity of Pakistan.

I note also that you have to be 45+ Muslim to be Pres, and talking shop with hubby is out of the question because "And that I will not directly or indirectly communicate or reveal to any person any matter which shall be brought under my consideration or shall become known to me as President of Pakistan, except as may be required for the due discharge of my duties as President".

Another politician who wants to spend more time with his money family?

In this case, 'Sir' Robin Wales, the directly elected mayor of Newham, who hails from a part of the East End called Kilmarnock.

In his pitch to his electorate, he has commented that Newhamites are '"too lazy" to work on the 2012 Olympics". Source

And there's more: "They won't get the jobs because they aren't ready for them. They haven't got the skills, haven't got the training and they can't afford to lose the benefits," said Sir Robin. "I have people who aspire to a council house. There are also people who won't come in for work even at 11 o'clock.".

And this is the fault of which government, and which council, I wonder? Newham is a classic Labour rotten borough, with 54 Labour concillors, 3 from Respect and 3 from the Christian Peoples Alliance. No Tories, no Lib Dems. I don't suppose it has been run by anyone bar Labour in living memory, not that I can lay hands on the stats.

Back on planet reality, anyone who is a skilled construction worker will be used to following the work, project by project, and a bricklayer, stonemason, carpenter etc is most unlikely to sit around in Newham waiting for an 'Olympic bonanza' rather than taking a job elsewhere. Sigh....

Repro computer 'antiques'

We live in strange times. Someone is ebaying a reproduction of an Altair 8800.

For the non-geeks among you, the Altair is widely regarded as the first personal computer, and was programmed by flicking switches. Not something the average civilian could hope to do much with. Meanwhile, back at the plot, the bidding stands at $1700.

What's next, I wonder?

Neo-Situationism, Lebanese style.

Interesting piece in the Washington Post today on an ad campaign aimed at building Lebanese identity through pointing out where atomizing based on religious etc identity could end up, hence the billboard above. Can't find anything about it in the english language Lebanese press. As with so many of the more sophisticated pieces of advertising, there was an outbreak of 'not getting it': "Across the capital, one in six billboards was torn down, prevented from being put up or splashed with paint"

69 days - that's 'the earliest opportunity' in Lib Dem terms

Monday, November 27, 2006

On the 20th of September the loathsome 'Baroness' Tonge saw fit to inform the world, via a Lib Dem fringe meeting that "The pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips. I think they've probably got a grip on our party." I blogged it at the time.

On the 21st, Norman Lamb commented "We will be seeking a meeting between Jenny, Ming Campbell and Tom McNally, our leader in the Lords, at the earliest opportunity to seek an explanation."

And now they have got around to doing so. In that time, judging from the Lib Dem website, Campbell has found the time to whine about Iraq, repeatedly, to whine about the Brussels / Strasbourg dual sites of the EU parliament, to whine to the National Family and Parenting Institute, visit Sutton (where he probably whined a bit) , whine about the government's anti-bullying strategy and reply to the Queen's speech. Tom McNally does not appear to have done anything at all.

Meanwhile, La Tonge notes "at [an] Edinburgh University meeting last week, she had been asked to explain her comments and had described "extensive" US academic research". Perhaps she means this document at the National Alliance website, which supposedly documents 'Jewish control of the media'. I will add a health warning here - this group was founded by William 'Turner Diaries' Pierce and has dubbed Hitler 'the greatest man of our era'.

I wonder how Alex Carlile feels about sharing the LD whip in the Lords with this woman? And how long 'in the fullness of time' is to a Lib Dem?

Never ask a barber if you need a haircut..

Or a police commissioner if new laws are needed.

Our old friend Tarique 'ban flag burning' Ghaffur, an assistant commisioner at the Met has come up with another one of his characteristically well thought out, easily implemented plans: "Police are to demand new powers to arrest protesters for causing offence through the words they chant and the slogans on their placards and even headbands".

It is so very, very easy to take offence, if one is so minded. Quite apart from animal rights loons, the far left and so forth, I think I could probably find it in me to take offence at sundry football chants, Socialist politicians using megaphones while out on the stump, etc etc etc.

I can forsee some rather amusing new protests under these prospective laws. Imagine slogans guaranteed to be unable to cause offence to even those with the thinnest skins: "What do we want? A change in the law and / or foreign policy. When do want it? At Parliament's convenience as and when it is in keeping with existing treaty obligations".

Since he didn't pay heed last time, I will reiterate: "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".

Some reflections on matters Caledonian

The Scotsman is making much of a poll putting the SNP well clear of the Socialists, and if things stay the same, the SNP could form a coalition with the Yellow Peril and make the big push for independence.

I can't say I'm enormously keen on the Union being broken ahead of the 300th anniversary, or for that matter at all, but this has massive implications for the Labour party leadership. If Blair stands down before the May Scottish elections, Broon could be the last Prime Minister of a United Kingdom, and if Blair stands down after May, with there being a SNP/LD ruling coalition, his position is completely untenable. Might Alan Johnson as the only half way serious English contender for the leadership be reconsidering his position, or perchance David 'Owl Magnet' Milliband will be pondering a move ? Interesting times..

Meanwhile, apologies for the late start. This is entirely due to the incompetence of Railtrack and Network Rail. I will spare the grisly details.

Highly encouraging news from Iran

Sunday, November 26, 2006
The incomparable Modern Drunkard website has a report on quite how easily getting hold of the sauce is in those parts.

Here's a telling extract:

"But in Iran you can’t drink without being put squarely in the confidence of your drinking mates. Nothing accelerates bonhomie better than the knowledge that your drinking partner could, at a whim, turn you in and have you subjected to the lash. I drank with families (gin, straight out of a can) and with store owners (Turkish beers). And on one lovely afternoon, university students in possession of a magnum of moonshine escorted me all the way up a long, steep trail so I could enjoy the view from a mountainside overlooking Tehran, all of us as tipsy as lords".

Well worth the read, and puts me in mind of the well intentioned 'Peace Through Alcohol' movement of some years back. In the early eighties they surmised that with the rampant alcholism of the Red Army (tanks out of commission because the anti-freeze had been drunk, Migs grounded as the brake fluid had been drunk etc etc), it would be a great deal cheaper to scrap planned siting of Pershing, cruise etc missiles, and instead switch the West's defence budget to stockpiling vodka and the like. Then if the Red Wheel were to roll west, NATO would parachute down crate after crate of vodka just ahead of the advancing wave. The advance would then stop, the Red Army would get thoroughly mashed, and we could then just round them up and despatch them home with maybe some liver salts and paracetomols to help soothe their aching heads.

Scousers whingeing? Whatever next?

Showing the mature, considered and rational approach for which the city's commissars are renowned, the head of the Liverpool regeneration project has had a good old moan about Google Earth not updating every five minutes, and therefore sundry changes in the cityscape are not showing up. Clearly a plot on the part of the google bods.

And they wonder why the rest of the country sniggers at them.

Meanwhile, The Register has a photo of a stealth train emerging from Waterloo:

I expect the Eurostar press office is already deluging inboxes with an e-mailed rebuttal/denial/excuse.

Venezuelan developments

At present, it looks as though the loathsome former putschist and jailbird Chavez is on course for a win in the presidential election in December, but I've given the infamous Mystic Croydonian hat a dusting off and wonder if 'Little Venice' might be on course for a Katanga-style secession.

Firstly, opinion is strongly polarised between Chavez and opposition leader Manuel Rosales. Add to that a strong tradition of separatism in his power base of the western Zulia province, with it having declared independence on three occasions in the past, in each case before oil was struck. Further it borders Colombia, and Bogota and Caracas are not the best of friends, with Chavez claimed to be backing the FARC guerrillas. The military might not be keen on a secession, but judging from the number of military coups Venezuela has had, the loyalty of the military is at least open to question. We shall see.

Curious but true

The US has been engaged in Iraq for 1349 days, longer than the period from Pearl Harbour to VJ day. Hat tip to The Australian for pointing this out.

Meanwhile, I'm still mulling on the blog soap opera plot outline etc, but will not post until I've got a few more concrete ideas to throw into the mix.

Broon's worried about his job prospects...

Saturday, November 25, 2006
Not that he put it like that. Rather he's playing up the interconnectivity of the Caledonians and we English types, noting "Almost one in six Scots make their home south of the Border". Including Brown, Blair, Reid, Darling, Browne, Alexander and Falconer - or little shy of one third of the cabinet. And adds "And 400,000 people who live in Scotland are English-born. These are signs of countries moving closer together, not further apart." And doubtless similar things might have been said of two counties which no longer exist - Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

I might add that it is vaguely sinister that he has the figures as to country of birth and country of residence to hand. And I wonder why he hasn't considered Scots in Wales and Ulster, this supposedly being a United Kingdom, or in Scots, a Unitit Kinrick.

Missing the point - an object lesson from the Learning & Skills Council

I am not a fan of soap operas, but have picked up a working knowledge of their structures, cliches, conventions etc etc both from their ubiquity and via work I have done for the broadcasters in the past.

Anyway, in what I imagine is more an exercise in getting press coverage than a serious argument, the Learning & Skills Council has berated soap script writers for 'Giving teenage soap characters dead-end jobs and low aspirations [that] risks shattering young viewers' career dreams'. Instead it wants various characters to be getting NVQs and the like and be ascending the corporate ladder. As the LSC should be aware, soap operas a l'anglais are based on a fiction of highly cohesive working class areas where the inhabitants live, work and socialise all in an area of a few thousand square yards. The entire point of drama is that it does not deal with reality as it is lived, and thus acts as escapism, or further up the literary food chain gives catharsis. If the inhabitants of soap land behaved more like their viewers, they would spend much of their time engaged in day to day work or slumped in front of the television. And that would make for rather dull viewing. Similarly, if the various dead end job holding characters were doing jobs more suited to whatever skills they might have and were thus well away from the centre of the dramatic action, maintaining plot dynamism would be well nigh impossible.

Perhaps in their next release, the LSC will call upon Shakespeare to be re-written to have Lear engaged in 'life long learning', send Othello and Desdemona to Relate and put Hamet on assertiveness training.

'Gates Advocated Air Strikes on Nicaragua'

Friday, November 24, 2006
A deliberately misleading headline from those puckish wags at the Grauniad, I think, as the one time #2 at Langley and now Bush's nominee as Defence Secretary is not so well known that all in these parts will read the headline and think of him, rather than William Henry ('Bill') Gates III.

I expect we'll be seeing a lot more of this, so I thought I'd strike before the whole business get utterly tedious. I imagine impish sub-editors are dying to get their hands on stories involving Lionel Blair, Ben Thatcher, James Brown etc that they might play similar games.

North Korea has friends in Wandsworth

The citizens of the 'People's Democratic Republic of Korea' suffer, I believe, the grossest tyranny from any internationally recognised government on the face of the planet.

However, a bit of dodging around in the internet playpens of the flat earth far left has turned up a letter of congratulation to Kim Jong Il from the Co-ordinating Committee of Friends of Korea (complete with a date in Juche qv) "on the important occasions of the 61st anniversary of the foundation of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the 80th anniversary of the founding of the "Down-with-Imperialism Union", and bigs it up for its missile test but also notes "that it is the DPRK which has consistently upheld the desire for a world without nuclear weapons and complete denuclearisation". As harassed parents everywhere say, 'it's not what I do, it's what I say'.

Meanwhile they "pledge ourselves anew to strengthening the bonds of solidarity between the peoples of Britain (Well I didn't ask them to represent me...) and the DPRK.

I am near speechless.

What is the opposite of 'inadequate'?

If Ofsted is to be believed, it is not 'adequate', but rather 'outstanding'.

I discovered this from mooching around the 2005 Ofsted Report.

And in much the same way that 'inadequate' is deemed the polar opposite of 'outstanding', 'good' is paired with 'satisfactory'. Something of an abuse of language I think. Also worth noting is that 11% of schools are judged 'outstanding' and 48% 'good', which does rather clash with bell curve theory

We will all be bowing down to Moloch

Never being one to shun the occasional necessity to wade through the open sewer that is the Government's propaganda output, I have just been reading 'Strategic Priorities for the UK: The Policy Review'.

In among the dodgy use of statistics, back slapping, selective use of data and so forth I found this paragraph, for which one would need anti-freeze for blood not to be chilled by:

Contract between citizen and state

How can we develop a new account of the contract between state and citizen based on rights and responsibilities? How is this contract expressed at present in a variety of public services both here and elsewhere? Should we be aiming for a more explicit statement of the contract that covers both the service offered by the public sector (what is in and what is not) and what is expected from citizens (beyond paying taxes and obeying the law). Could we move from an implicit one-way contract based on outputs to one based on explicit mutually agreed outcomes - how might this work in key areas like healthcare, schooling, policing and family support? Could more explicit and binding contracts work not just for individuals but for communities (Sic – no question mark in the original)

(My emphases).

The entire concept of a social contract between state and individual is at best a pious fraud, as few if any of the elements of contract, in a legal definition, actually exist. However, I accept the implicit deal that in return for taxation and obeying the law, I will get something in return, although whether it is much of a bargain is open to debate. The idea that you or I shoud be serving the state beyond that, and you can bet your last euro it will be enforced by legal sanction, is a monstrosity.

Thoughts, comments, 'death threats' please.

Breaking news: Tories pledge annual tax cuts

Details here.

However, before there is an outbreak of jitterbugging on the public highway, it is our Canadian namesakes.

Mick Hucknall - deep political thinker

Maybe some of you will be lucky enough not to be aware of Mick Hucknall and his band, Simply Red. The rest of us will be all too familar with his rather weak white boy soul.

Anyway, what about this for a statement of the most staggering idiocy?:

"Copyright is fundamentally socialist - it is radical and redistributive, subversive even. How else would you describe a form of property that anyone can create out of nothing?" (Source).

Where to begin? Perhaps by noting that Socialism has never been particularly keen on protecting the property rights of individuals, but rather has always regarded them as being something to be used and abused for the 'greater good'...

A useful new excuse

Thursday, November 23, 2006
The Standard has a tale of a woman who claims that the witchy rays from wi-fi equipment 'felt like walking into a cloud of poison'. Given that she 'spent hundreds of pounds installing wireless internet', I am more than a little concerned about her. Considered opinion notes that the devices give out less than a tenth of the witchy rays of mobile phones.

Meanwhile, the lady concerned 'claims she is so sensitive to wi-fi's electro-magnetic waves she can instantly tell whether it is installed in a particular room', so I was pondering on whether a career as a freelance wi-fi network detector beckons, but unless she can undercut the fiver or so detectors go for on ebay, I do not fancy her chances.

Terrorism for pleasure and profit

Mulling on terrorist outfits / freedom fighters (delete as appropriate) of our time, they do rather tend to have things that bring them together - be it ideology, nationality or religion. There will quite often be the sinister character from outside, mirror-lensed sunglasses ever sported, who will advise, and perhaps the occasional gullible foreigner who becomes a foot soldier in pursuit of his or her SLA, Baader-Meinhof etc fantasies.

However, if the Indian press is to be believed, the United Liberation Front of Asom (that's Assam in NE India, for those of us who have not kept track of the niceties of preferred geographical nomenclature) has run into trouble convincing Assamese youth that toting an AK and planting the odd bomb is much of a career path. Faced with having a 'struggle' to continue, and recruitment funds available (care of Pakistan, if the Indian press etc etc), the Assamese Maoists / Communists - details are hazy - are instead enticing Bangladeshis with the Politburo's rupee. Given that Bangladeshis are a different ethnic group, speak a different language and most likely are at least nominally Muslim, the disconnect between aims and means to achieve them does seem a little confused. If not quite as confused as the battalion numbering system chez ULPA. They have seven, apparently, and are numbered 7th, 8th, 9th, 11th, 27th, 28th, and best of all, the 709th. I imagine maths lesson in Guwahati and thereabouts must have been a tad confusing.

The heartless left

How many times have we of the Right been scolded by Lefties that we are heartless and just do not care about the poor? Probably quite a few times.

Anyway, the next time that accusation is levelled, here is a useful piece from the Washington Post, of all things, to quote at the latte Left about the Dems pulling the plug on pan-American freer trade :

"We watch the news and we're nervous about what might happen with what we send to the United States," said Janeth Palacio Ramirez, 35, who supports her 15-year-old daughter and her elderly parents by punching zipper stops onto 7,000 pairs of jeans a day, earning about $200 a month. "Everything we make here goes there, so if there are problems with exports, we'll all lose our jobs."

Or testimony from Peruvian textile factory owner Fernando Garibaldi:

"We have been investing with the view that the free-trade agreement would be approved," Garibaldi said. "What will happen if hundreds of thousands of people lose their jobs?".

Given that today is Thanksgiving for our American friends, I'm particularly pleased to have found Ronald Reagan's radio address for Thanksgiving 1988:

"Part of the difficulty in accepting the good news about trade is in our words. We too often talk about trade while using the vocabulary of war. In war, for one side to win, the other must lose. But commerce is not warfare. Trade is an economic alliance that benefits both countries; there are no losers, only winners. And trade helps strengthen the free world".

And a very happy Thanksgiving to any Americans reading this.

Drain cover thefts

A big issue, according to 24dash.com, and to compound the impact of the tale it helpfully includes a photo labelled 'a drain cover'. Yes, really.

Not enormously interesting, agreed. However, what is notable is the apparent contradiction between these two statements:

"Councils are working 24/7 replacing drains with worthless ductile steel to dissuade removal" and "Over recent months 385 iron drain covers have been stolen...leading to around £80,000 having to be spent on replacements". Looks to be circa £208 per drain lid replaced, so unless the labourers really are coining it, the ductile steel does not appear to be 'worthless'.

If there is money to be made from replacing cast iron with a cheaper material, I would recommend that councils across the land make haste to profit from the scrap metal trade.

Ten things I would never do

Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Dale's tagged Dizzy with this, and Dizz has tagged me. Thanks a whole bunch, mate.

1 - Have anything by the Beatles in my record collection.
2 - Go to Brussels again.
3 - Live on the wrong side of the River.
4 - Watch a soap opera.
5 - Wax nostalgic about the 1970s.
6 - Wear a shellsuit.
7 - Buy a ringtone.
8 - Run for elected office.
9 - Dye my my hair.
10 - Drink sherry.

Livingstone - Fan of property speculation

Curious but true.

"[The Olympics] will make a profit," he said. "We are buying land now, we are doing it up. It will be sold for the construction of housing and employment immediately after the games so this money will come back in." (Source).

I may well get around to doing a hatchet on the world's largest open air steroid fest, but will now content myself with noting that back of an envelope projections of costs of hosting the wretched events will be circa £10bn by 2012. And this is without factoring in all the off-balance sheet issues, and note also the rather ambitious projection of 82% of all tickets being sold, and 63% of Paralympic tickets being sold. Projected income from the events stands at £2.74 billion, with funding of £2.37 billion from Council Tax (£20 per household for 12 years), the Lottery etc. So, just a small black hole to worry about.

Cancel it NOW, before the Dome looks like bargain of the millenium.

The Government does something righteous - for once.

"Commonwealth soldiers serving in the British Armed Forces abroad can now gain UK citizenship under a change to the rules announced by the Home Office today. To reflect the commitment and sacrifice made by serviceman (sic) from outside the UK in the British forces, they will now be eligible to apply for citizenship despite having been stationed abroad for the majority of their service". (Source)

And not before time, frankly.

The art of corporate hyperbole

While in favour of economic acts between consenting adults, I have a visceral dislike of self-publicist businessmen and of the current crop, by far the most irritating is Richard Branson. The self-styled 'branded venture capitalist' is also a serial litigant, has a degree of self-absorption that if Madonna were a sponge she could not equal, and it would seem, a woeful lack of understanding of both the posssibilities and the regulations of at least one of the areas in which he operates.

The reason why he is in my sights is because of his absurd reaction to BSkyB ('Murdoch') buying a minority stake in ITV: "All of us know governments are scared stiff of Murdoch. If The Sun, The Sunday Times, The Times, Sky, The News of the World, just to name a few of the things that Murdoch owns, all come out in favour of a particular political party, the election is likely to be won by that particular party. "If you tag on ITV to that as well, basically we've got rid of democracy in this country and we might as well just let Murdoch decide who is going to be our prime minister."(Source)

How very like Branson not to note that the Murdoch papers do not sing with one voice, and more to the immediate point that there is neither the possibility for BSkyB to buy ITV, not any desire on its part. The most Bransonite element of the lot is his seeing a setback to his own ambitions as being inimical to the national interest.

A friend used to work for Virgin Retail, and this tale gives something of an insight into Branson the man. Every year staff - rushed off their feet at Christmas - would get a bonus from the company. Not money, but rather some new Virgin branded product the Bearded One was touting. Aftershave / scent was the bonus one year, to much groaning. The ne plus ultra was the year when the poor unfortunates all received a copy of the Branson autobiography. Savour the hideousness - the man really thought that his staff would want to spend their spare time over Christmas reading a hagiographic account of his exploits. Staff were less than impressed, and apparently bookshops around the country were overwhelmed with Virgin staff taking in 'unwanted Christmas presents' in hope of an exchange....

Happy the person with no relatives working for Leicestershire Council

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"Employees from Leicestershire County Council’s Children and Young People’s Service are to record a CD to support Christian Aid. They intend to sell copies to family, friends and county council staff". (Source).

Doubtless a good cause, but /shudder/...

Robocop a l'Anglais

Deep in the badlands of North London, Her Majesty's Finest are going to be patrolling with hat mounted cameras.

Since said cameras are fairly small, with any luck there will not be a blizzard of lawsuits under health and safety regulations, or plods holding their heads at 45 degrees. It seems a reasonably sensible use of the technology, although quite why the cameras cost £1800 is a mystery worthy of Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and McGruff the Crime Fighting Dog. Perhaps they will recoup the costs by selling the footage to the ridiculous man who hosts 'World's Wildest Police Chases' (a 100% certified irony free zone, and a thoroughly post-modern form of entertainment for a Sunday evening).

Ingrate's corner, or Swedes in Space

Christer Fuglesang, chosen in '95 to wave the blue and yellow in orbit, has thrown a hissy fit because he has not yet managed his galactic jolly. He has taken umbrage that Stockholm has not stumped up the 100m SKR (£7.5m) to queue jump. I feel vaguely embarassed about borrowing the odd fiver, and cannot imagine that I would have the chutzpah to demand that every man, woman and child in my country should give me circa 82 pence to engage in space tourism.

While all of us can name a number of astronauts/cosmonauts, I would be astonished if anyone has top of mind recall of the British equivalents of Mr Fuglesang.

Taking the Gore approach just a little too far

Some politicians respond to electoral defeat with magnanimity, some let slip the dogs of law, but Mexican leftist loser Lopez Obrador has just taken 'an oath of office'. More here.

I cannot pretend to be that well up on Mexican law, but this sounds an awful lot like treason to me. Presumably the winner, Calderon, thinks it best to ignore him and trust he will go away. Given that Mexico has only had elections up to international standards since '94, and the gloriously named Partido Revolucionario Institucional ruled solidly from 1929 until 2000, the boat does not need to be rocked. A friend with relatives on both sides of the Rio Grande says that the system isn't corrupt, corruption is the system. I hope he's wrong.

Political hyperbole...

Monday, November 20, 2006
Renaming a tube station and building a new one roughly 500 yards from two existing ones strikes me as pretty small beer, but apparently not:

"London mayor Ken Livingstone said: "The naming of the new Wood Lane station and the renaming of Shepherd's Bush is the latest step in the massive improvements of transport links for west London. "These improvements will bring in regeneration to the area and give this part of the capital a world-class service for the first time." (Source)

Uh-huh. I imagine RATP, the NY Port Authority etc can only be consumed with envy.

(As a footnote, I have been known to pass the time on public transport by cooking up grossly over-literal translations of station names, so to me it will always be Buisson des Bergers)

Canada gets Gallowayed

As though they haven't suffered enough of late, our Canadian friends have just been Gallowayed. The permatanned one has been dodging around Canada being shy and retiring, much as one would expect.

Some highlights:

"...[PM] Harper's actions at the APEC summit in Hanoi show he lacks diplomacy skills and doesn't understand Canada's place in the world".

I'm sure George can name the entire Canadian cabinet, and list major issues in Canadian politics with scarcely a second's notice.

"Galloway also weighed in on Canada's Liberal leadership contest, saying that "Anyone but Ignatieff" is a common slogan in British politics".

How very true, conversations in the pubs of Westminster are peppered with that thought, scarcely a day goes by without it featuring in Parliament, and leader writers struggle daily with the task of finding a new way to say that very thing.

Ask a silly question

The Dizzmeister is excavating the Black Hole of Whitehall that is the government's collection of websites, and has passed this diamond in the dungheap on to me.

Click through and note the current question. Vote, and then marvel at the results...

This blog is a mere 29% evil

Digging around in an ancient bookmarks file, I re-discovered the gematriculator:

"Basically, Gematria is searching for different patterns through the text, such as the amount of words beginning with a vowel. If the amount of these matches is divisible by a certain number, such as 7 (which is said to be God's number), there is an incontestable argument that the Spirit of God is ever present in the text. Another important aspect in gematria are the numerical values of letters: A=1, B=2 ... I=9, J=10, K=20 and so on. The Gematriculator uses Finnish alphabet, in which Y is a vowel".

This place comes up as 29% evil, and 71% good.

In the interests of research, I have uncovered the following:

Labour Party - 67% evil (Is that all?)
Conservative Party - 13% evil (Hmm..)

And, erm,

Lib Dems - 5% evil

So, clearly not an entirely perfect measure.

Traffic, road rage and drunk driving

Three tales I'm going to combine and perhaps come up with a unified filed theory.

Firstly, the DTI has published traffic stats for the first quarter of 2006, which it graciously concedes are estimates - given that tachygraphs are not obligatory and there is no central repository of information on journeys made, I cannot see how it could be anything other than wild guess work. However, apparently light van traffic is up 8% - must be all those tobacco smugglers going to the Continent.

In response to all the various white van men clogging up the roads, cutting you up etc etc, our American friends have a new website: Platewire.com. Whereupon you can post tales of poor driving and the like. If it spares middle America domestic and office conversations about the a***ole on the Interstate, perhaps this is a good thing, although it does seem little more effective than venting by voice to third parties, as the offenders are unlikely to be checking their own plates.

Finally, and rather more seriously, a coalition of MADD, car makers and highway officials seek to change the law whereby convicted drink drivers will have to have a device fitted that tests them for blood alcohol and then immobilizes the vehicle if they are over the limit. Apparently this law already exists in New Mexico. The practical problems seem huge - what of drug users, what of malfunctioning breathalysers or whatever, what of sober people blowing into the things, multiple car ownership etc etc?

Princeton getting mixed up in some strange doings

This tale may not be entirely safe for work, and also includes cheesy background music. Proceed at your own risk. Big hat tip to El Reg

Ahem. Globalorgasm.com is calling upon the world to, ' to effect change in the energy field of the Earth through input of the largest possible surge of human energy', through engaging in coitus on the 22/12. 'The intent is that the participants concentrate any thoughts during and after orgasm on peace. The combination of high- energy orgasmic energy combined with mindful intention may have a much greater effect than previous mass meditations and prayers. The goal is to add so much concentrated and high-energy positive input into the energy field of the Earth that it will reduce the current dangerous levels of aggression and violence throughout the world'.

The Princeton connection is in the form of the Global Consciousness Project, which 'runs a network of Random Event Generators (REGs) around the world, which record changes in randomness during global events. The results show that human consciousness can be measured to have a global effect on matter and energy during widely-watched events such as 9/11 and the Indian Ocean tsunami. There have also been measurable results during mass meditations and prayers'.

Sounds like a whole heap of hooey, although I doubt that involvement will do any harm. It does not mention whether engaging in the solitary vice counts. Let's keep this PG / euphemistic, please.

Tokyo's latest visitor attraction

Sunday, November 19, 2006
Is the Mobile Ashtray Museum, or MAM. As ever, I am not making this up. Details here.

A bit of digging suggests that 'museum' is a bit of a misnomer, as it appears to be little more than a way for Japan Tobacco to promote and sell personal ashtrays for ambulant smokers. It turns out that some 69% of Japanese smokers possess a portable ashtray. I wonder if they will catch on here before smoking gets completely banned.....

Give a girl a hand

My virtual friend Martine Martin needs to sign up some more right leaning bloggers for a questionnaire she's doing as part of her degree. Details here. I'm in, as are a lot of folk high on my links list.

Euro 'mastodons bellowing across the primeval swamp'

(With thanks to the Master for the quote)

One would think that the 'no' in the French referendum had killed the 'European' constitution stone dead, but it would seem not. Le Monde reports that sundry eurocrats, retired politicians (remember Giscard, or Helmut Schmidt?) are demanding that 'We cannot stay deaf and blind to the necessity of restarting the process of European integration'. The ridiculous Giscard comments, 'The 'No' of 2005 was an accident. The social and economic climate has now changed'.

So, the iron law of European affairs re-asserts itself - the only direction for the EU is for further integration, any 'yes' vote is for all eternity, and any 'no' vote will be challenged until such time as 'the deaf and blind' vote the 'right' way.

Normal service has now been resumed

Apologies for having had to apply comment moderation during my absence. Now, I hope, we can go back to normal.

Saving Africa through capitalism

Saturday, November 18, 2006
That, in essence, is what Kenyan teacher James Shikwati is attempting to do, and in a smeartastic item in the New York Times it is made very clear that the American left does not like this one little bit. How many times have people seen 'groom' used in the context of child molesters? The sentence 'a case study of how the right grooms foreign allies' can only be intended to prompt thoughts of such procedures.

In among the smears and the innuendos, the Times notes "Mr. Shikwati’s group, the Inter Region Economic Network, or IREN, is part of a global span of policy groups that Western conservatives have helped build over the past quarter-century. Operating in as many as 70 countries, with varying degrees of outside support, these institutes push a wide array of free-market prescriptions, including lower taxes, less regulation and freer trade.They have strengthened property rights in Peru, aided the privatization of state-owned companies in Egypt, protested union power in France and led the way in halving the Lithuanian corporate income tax".

All sounds thoroughly laudable to me. As to the work of Shikwati's 'do' tank, it dismisses a malaria spraying for profit scheme as the sprayer recruited clients by giving first treatments gratis, and instances a cabbage growing venture that made a loss. Rather grudgingly it does highlight a successful IREN scheme: "[Africa Nazarene University] students then took them to an orphanage, whose dire conditions framed the aid debate in especially urgent terms. The St. Paul’s Children’s Home cares for 50 children, mostly AIDS orphans, in two small rooms, where some sleep three to a bed, and it lacks amenities as basic as running water and electricity. The students are teaching the orphans to recycle Christmas cards. The profits, about $115 so far, have helped pay one boy’s tuition at a private high school, since free education ends after eighth grade".

I will be keeping an eye out for Mr Shikwati in future, but in the meantime I consider that free market economics and liberty work, and are suitable for everyone, not just white people in suits. As I've noted before, the Left is always scandalised by the idea that anyone could do 'good' by pursuing self-interest and - shock, horror - profit, rather than by setting out to achieve 'good' in the first place.

Living wills / assisted suicide

Showing the utter idiocy and contempt for ethics which are his hallmarks, 'Lord' Falconer "has warned doctors they risk going on trial for assault if they refuse to allow patients who have made 'living wills' to die". Source.

As a starting point, I am in favour of people being allowed to choose the time of their dying - after all, whose life is it anyway? - but the co-opting of people in the medical business is grotesque. I have always been led to believe that medical ethics starts with the Hippocratic Oath (q.v) , including 'never do harm to anyone'. ( I recommend reading the whole oath - there are clauses against abortion and in favour of business demarcation) .

Apparently a conscientious objector sawbones can pass the patient onto another, but he or she will actually be legally liable to do so. I cannot imagine that quite the same principle applies with other medical ethics minefields like abortion.

Your thoughts please.

Stop the City - in reverse...

Friday, November 17, 2006
Inspired by a post over at UK Daily Pundit's gaff, I present an antique joke (2001 vintage) on plans for the City's revenge:

Next Friday will be the International City Day of Action. On this day, we ask you all to don your finest pinstripe, apply your monocles, glue Mobile phone to ear and then head off down to Brighton to disrupt as many dreadlocked soap dodging men and women with dogs on
string as possible.

Plan of action:

* To picket henna tattoo stalls.
* Throw cheap pewter jewellery into the sea
* Occupy the dole office and glue the doors shut.
* Throw soap and other cleansing materials at the men with dogs on string.
* Dig up the road and line it with photocopies of huge salary slips.
* Blockade the promenade with open top sports cars.
* Buy up all local supplies of scrumpy, Special Brew, snake bite and black and roll ups - then throw them all in the sea.

Police advice to all crusties at present: "Get a job you scrounging b*stards".

Found here, but the original writer is unknown.

The art of spin - DTI style

Our friends at the DTI are trumpeting a fall in the "total number of reported incidents of disruptive passenger behaviour on board UK-registered aircraft". The figures are indeed down, but the small print shows that relative to total flights and passengers carried, and in absolute terms the numbers of serious incidents are up. Would you buy a second hand car from these people?

Meanwhile, savour the structure of this sentence:

"Smoking in the aircraft toilet, which is classified as a significant offence by the Civil Aviation Authority, is by far the most common offence, closely followed by alcohol-related incidents". (My emphasis).

Sign o' the day

As spotted earlier.

Amazing that after the acid trip that is the Book of Revelations he has come down sufficiently to become a parking attendant of sorts. I wonder if Nelson feels left out through not being beatified?

A bit of sniffing around suggests that petitioning Saint Frances - patron saint of cars - might be in order, and perhaps the two could fight it out between themselves?

Pope in sense of humour failure shocker

An Italian comedian has taken to making mock of the Pope, and the Vatican does not like it, at all. According to the newspaper of the Italian Bishops Conference, "These are vulgar television programs … that attempt to ridicule figures dear to the Catholic world."

Judging from this extract, Maurizio Crozza is not exactly in the same league as Swift:

"In one skit, Crozza as pope is dressed, as usual, in white vestments head to toe. "White! White! White!" he complains. "Why can't I have a bit of color, maybe a green stole that would look really good on me?" he squeals. "Or a camouflage outfit would be nice. I already have the boots." At which point, he hikes up his gown and heaves his foot, clad in a black storm trooper's boot, onto a table".

I suppose Spitting Image and Dave Allen never came to the attention of the Bishop of Rome, and I imagine our utterly useless Archbishop of Canterbury would probably regard any satire of him as a good thing, as it would at least suggest he has some relevance.

What they do for fun in Sweden

Trash off licences.

Or rather break the windows and spray slogans on the windows of a Systembolaget store in Umeå. Given that the off licences are a state monopoly and the cost of booze in Sverige is horrendous, I can think of a couple of reasons why I might be protesting, but instead Sweden has had an outbreak of straight edgers. The Straight Edge Terror Force's statement reads thus : "Alcohol is a terrible poison, which contributes to getting people on (sic) trouble and making them feel bad". Oooh err, just mineral water for me now.

I was vaguely aware of the straight edge movement before, being mainly American punks who eschew drink, drugs, smoking and in some cases making the beast with two backs. Given that the whole point of teenage rebellion is to attempt to run counter to societal norms, I think they deserve some credit for cooking up something a bit out of the ordinary.

Death of Milton Friedman

Thursday, November 16, 2006
The great man has left us, at the age of 94. As with other the titans who have departed this life in 2006, this blog is in mourning for him. As with Sir Alfred Sherman, "in my own secular goyische way, I will say kaddish for him".

It seems only right to include his obit from the Chicago Tribune, which leads with the story. I note from that obit that PBS is airing a biography of him in January.

The art of presenting 'bad' news, which everyone else will think is 'good' news

In the sob story of the decade, the Public and Commercial Services Union seeks to make our skin crawl, our hearts bleed and our tear ducts work double shifts: Her Maj's Revenue and Customs might well be shutting 200 offices and P45-ing upwards of 12,500 people 'working' for The Beast. (source).

Mark Serwotka of the CPSU fears that the HMRC will 'not be fit for purpose'..... One might note that he has been involved with the far left in the form of the Socialist Organiser, the Socialist Alliance and in 2005 was 'keeping an open mind' about the Galloway's ego / Trots / Burka Front Respect. Just the type you want looking at your tax returns.

Tessa Jowell *more* liberal than every state deputy in Russia

Incredible but true. The Russian Duma has just passed - unanimously, mind - a bill that will end up criminalizing gambling across the entire nation bar four zones (it is unclear whether these will be provinces, cities, houses or rooms). (source).

It does not look as though as though the sons and daughters of the Rodina need to sign up to Gamblers Anonymous en masse - figures suggest that all of 3% of Russians gamble even as often as once a month. Dusting off the Mystic Croydonian hat, I forsee a boom in table gambling in the Baltic republics, and maybe those US online gambling ventures are not quite so doomed after all. Can't say that table gambling, online poker etc are really my thing, but each to their own.

The French update

French Socialists, all 220, 000 of them, get to select their candidate for next year's presidential election. It would appear that the PS is rather better at keeping things simple than our own dear Labour party (200, 000 members, if the party of little Tony who told lies is to be believed) , in that the candidates who stood all went on to the ballot paper, and if anyone wins a majority of votes, he, or rather in the real world, she becomes the candidate. This process was only chosen in January and has served to boost membership of the party greatly. Little sympathy though I have with Socialism, especially in its mutant French form, the democratising of the party is greatly to its credit.

Fabius is a no hoper, and has wasted both his time and money campaigning. To his credit he voted no in the European Constitution referendum, and this has not endeared him to elements in his party. In UK terms, I suppose one might consider him to be a bit of a Robin Cook. Only with a less affable personality. His website is here, with his motto being 'Another future is possible. Fighting against precarity, let us make a France strong through with solidarity'. (Translating 'précaire' and 'solidaire' is notoriously difficult. 'Précarité' implies a mix of social exclusion and angst about just about everything. 'Solidarité' one might call social justice). Another carpet bagger, depite being a Parigot, he lords it over the electorate of Seine-Maritime in Normandy.

Strauss Kahn might edge it to make for a second round. He is the Paris / Limousine Liberal candidate. Maybe a male Tessa Jowell, only with rather more backbone. Snappiest website name by far DSK2007.net. He doesn't have a slogan. His base is the Paris region, from where he hails.

Sego will emerge the leader this time round, probably by knockout. If not, I'll eat my chapeau. Blair in '94 is the best comparison. She lurks at 'Wishes for the Future' (reminds me of the infamous Carter trip to Poland, where 'desires for the future' were rendered as 'lusts for the future', and 'I love the Polish people' came out as 'I desire the Polish people carnally'). She has a very bloggy website, and there does seem to have been quite a lot of action chez elle. She is forever bigging up her base of Poitou Charentes, quite possibly the dullest region in the whole of France. She wasn't born there, of course. She hails from Dakar, Senegal.

Lucky old France, not having a Prescott to vote for...

Common sense from Ottawa

Canada's Minister of Industry Maxime Bernier, speaking on VoIP:

"Barriers to entry in this market are low; there is no reason to regulate it. In a competitive sector, there is no reason to regulate some companies while others can offer the services they want at the prices they want." Source

An example to politicians everywhere.

Algerians for Sarko

Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Probably not in large numbers in metropolitan France, but the Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, seems to like the cut of Sarko's jib, referring to him as 'my friend' and refusing to be drawn on colonisation by the French as he did not wish to upset Sarko.

Le Monde, from where I have drawn the story notes that 'Sarkozy was beside himself with pleasure at treatment worthy of a head of state'. Given that Algeria stands to France much like an amalgam of Ireland and India does to us - the jewel in the Imperial Crown / brightest stripe in the Republican Sash - and relations between Algiers and Paris have sometimes been rather messy, I do wonder quite what the two of them have cooked up - Massive 'development' aid? A guaranteed bolthole on the Côte d'Azur if the Islamists take over? The sale of weapons for dealing with any 'troublesome' Berbers? Doubtless all will be revealed in the fullness of time.

Meanwhile,Bouteflika was quizzed on his health, which irked him no end, and while he admits he was 'very, very ill', now he is 'absolutely fabulous'. (No translator's licence there - he said 'absolument fabuleuse').

Rather amusingly the Algerian national anthem includes praise for the FLN, the local ANC equivalent, which is not the party the president is signed up to. Odder still, Algeria's name is taken from what were islands off the coast (now connected to the mainland), and following that example, maybe the UK should be renamed the Isle of Ely or somesuch.

Croydon councillors keeping their feet *out* of the trough

Showing a degree of forbearance not often encountered in those elected officials able to set their own levels of remuneration, the council is arguing against 'the recommendations of an independent panel to increase allowances for elected members in London'.

I'm quite impressed, although given that virtue is supposed to be its own reward, why did they put a press release?


Local government websites

24dash.com reports "on tests carried out by SiteMorse, which assess key aspects such as code standards, functionality and accessibility". Thrilling, huh?

Anyway, because I have not suffered enough recently, I thought I would have a look at the top five: Liverpool, Bridgnorth, South Norfolk, Thurrock and Slough. And the bottom five: North Lanarkshire, Torbay, Hambleton, Ballymoney and Dungannon. All places I will not be making tracks for any time soon, by the way.

So, herewith my wholly unscientific judgments, based entirely on my gut reaction to the various front pages.

Liverpool - Ugly as sin. Far too much gratuitous spot colour and logos a go-go.

Bridgnorth - Which is in Shropshire. Lots of green, and a rather badly designed logogram which makes it look as though the place is called Briagnortn.

South Norfolk - Lots of blue and orange. Bad mix. And a gratuitous arty photo of a wind turbine.

Thurrock - Just plain ugly. Looks like it has been knocked up as plain text and has then had some bits added on. Although it does wish visitors a 'good afternoon', which is nice.

Slough - Fairly clean and modern looking, but it leads with some minor pop star having been paid chosen to turn on the Christmas lights. Classy.

North Lanarkshire - Same sins as Thurrock, but does not stop to wish me a good time of day. Although it must be psychic, as it says 'you are here: home'.

Torbay - Not bad, although there is so much blue, with a bit of yellow, that it looks like the old conservatives.com.

Hambleton - Which is in Yorkshire. Claims to be 'An Excellent Council Making Life Better'. Uh-huh. Nasty, nasty, nasty. Hideous mess of fonts, coloured blobs and the like.

Ballymoney - Also a mess. I rather like the 'how to find Ballymoney' link, although sad to say it did not suggest digging down the back of the nearest armchair. Fonts are all over the place, and it uses Courier - the world's ugliest font - in places.

Dungannon - Has Father Christmas on the front page. Oh dear. Seems to be an odd place, in that the Republicans / SDLP have a majority, but the mayor is UUP.

If anyone has examples of spectacularly ugly council sites, let me now. The Croydon site is likely to send you into a coma within seconds, it is so lifeless.

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The aftermath of the US mid-terms

Joe Lieberman of Connecticut is key to the Dems having a majority in the Senate, and the Gray Lady (sic) notes that he is very much flavour of the month in DC.

Having done a Ken Livingstone of sorts, that is fail to get the Dem nomination, run as an independent and won, the Dem grandees are falling over themselves to suck up to him. Among those who had backed Lamont against him were Kerry and Clinton (H). As Lieberman jr noted 'These would be many of the same good friends “who were happy to leave my dad by the side of the road”'.

Lieberman is in an enviable position, and I wonder whether he will lay down his ambition and ego for the good of the party, or will work this situation to his advantage? Given he will be in his late sixties by the time of the next election, if I were him I would spend the next six years playing the role of Eastwood in 'A Fistful of Dollars': "The Rojos on one side, the Baxters on the other and me right here in the middle".

An EU law text book for M de Villepin please

Showing the usual national disregard for EU law and institutions when they do not dovetail precisely with the Matignon's / Elysee's world view, de Villepin has been engaging in mischief:

"We can't let the European Central Bank act alone on the exchange rate," he said at a meeting with Airbus sub-contractors in Toulouse....Mr de Villepin also called for the creation of industrial giants with clout to defend Europe's "strategic interests" against the Americans and Chinese, and a shift away from free market competition policy set by Brussels. "Europe must apply the law of reciprocity in global trade when foreign practices are unfair," he said. Mr de Villepin also called for the creation of industrial giants with clout to defend Europe's "strategic interests" against the Americans and Chinese, and a shift away from free market competition policy set by Brussels. "Europe must apply the law of reciprocity in global trade when foreign practices are unfair," he said."(Source)

This, note, is from a prime minister who heads not a Socialist, but ostensibly a centre right administration.

Can't say I was aware of that particular Maastricht clause, but yet again I am glad sterling remains outside the euro. As to dV's rather ridiculous views on economics, someone should tell him that Colbert and mercantilism went out with square wheels. Has 'The Wealth of Nations' ever been translated into French I wonder?

Meanwhile, his commitment to the black hole of Toulouse remains undiminished: '[I will] do whatever it takes to save France's aerospace industry. "We will not let Airbus fail," he said'.

An Entertainment

Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Some very classy video / audio editing at work here:

Totally work safe.

Being upon 'joined up government'

Remember that? Here are a pair of examples showing just how core this is to the Government's daily operations:

#1 Ruth Kelly speaks on homelessness: "there should be no place for homelessness in 21st century Britain". (source)

(She also references 'Cathy Come Home', which aired when she was minus 2, so I wonder how she can know at first hand that it was a 'powerful drama documentary'?)

#2 John Reid speaks on showing how he's tougher than Brown and wants to be the next PM turbo ASBOs: "
Mr Reid said he wanted to create new powers to evict people rapidly from homes and other properties which cause persistent anti-social misery. 'I want to give the police powers to close down places which are the bane of a community,' he said". (source)

Impressive, huh?

Meanwhile, Reid's speech is bone-chilling: "The problem we face is what I call the justice shortfall. That is, the difference - sometimes big - between what you and I think is justice, and what a lawyer or legal academic might think it is. "My kind of justice is swift, effective and matches the crime. "To me, justice should work for the victims of crime, not against them. I suspect that's probably your idea of justice too"....I'm not arguing against people having a fair hearing. But...having a fair hearing doesn't always mean having your day in court, although there will be the option of a court hearing. It's common sense to me that if we can deliver swifter justice for a large number of community offences, then we can free up time in the courts for more serious crimes"

So, to hell with due process, let alone trial by jury. Maybe kneecapping and punishment beatings would prove even more popular 'just'?

Auditing the EU

The House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union, has in so many words, told us all to stop being so nasty about the EU's failure to have its accounts signed off. As the full text of the report isn't available, I've had to make do with the BBC's item on its findings.

A bit of research into the composition of the committee suggests that a cynic could draw certain conclusions about its findings very quickly - five Socialists, three Liberals, five cross bench members of the 'great and good' and four Tories, only one of whom - Lord Blackwell - would appear to be clearly eurosceptic. Lord Bowness is a fellow Croydonian, so clearly must be beyond reproach. There is no information as to whether this report was unanimous, but anything presented by a euro-obsessive like Radice makes me suspicious.

More Chinese sabre rattling

Or perhaps that should be 'Dao' rattling.

As I've noted before, Beijing has territorial claims all over the place, ranging from bits of Siberia to islands in the South China Sea. This time it is with India over Arunachal Pradesh. The state's government has a rather eye-watering website which rather patronisingly refers to the natives as 'simple, friendly and hospitable people'... The area is in the far North East of India, and as with all of the Chinese irridentist claims, dates to the 'Unequal Treaties' of the 19th Century. As with most of the Chinese claims, this is to an area of comparatively sparse population, and the reason why borders were not delineated a lot earlier is because there was limited point in clearly extending the powers of either the Emperor or the Raj to somewhere of doubtful value for tax farming.

In the words of the somewhat undiplomatic Chinese Ambassador to New Delhi,"In our position, the whole of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory and Tawang is only one place in it...We are claiming whole of that (Arunachal Pradesh). That is our position". The Chinese Foreign Ministry has outwardly rowed back, claiming "the "strategic goal" of the two countries to find an early, fair and rational solution to the vexed boundary issue". (Source). Knowing how the Chinese interpret 'early, fair and rational' when it comes to their national interests, the retraction is really nothing of the sort..

Furthermore, the claim to the entire state is actually an extension from prior Chinese claims which had been to the McMahon line. The new claim adds in the three 'counties' on the Indian / Burmese border.

Strange bedfellows on the other side of the Channel

French comedian Dieudonné, of mixed Cameroonian / Breton heritage, has been standing up for Le Pen: "We should stop saying this man is the devil. It is a theory that doesn't correspond to the facts".

This all dates back to Dieudonné attending a speech of Le Pen's in which Le Pen commented "I have extended my hand to Frenchmen of overseas origin, and especially to those of African origin. In so far as you respect our habits and our laws, in so far as you aspire to lift yourself up in this country by work, we are ready to have you in the national and republican melting pot". It gets still more unexpected, "SOS Racisme (no precise equivalent in these parts - not a state body and not an SWP front like the ANL. C) is much more to blame for the suffering of the youth in the inner cities".

A bit of further digging reveals some perhaps telling anecdotes about the comedian:

The Independent called him a “French Louis Farrakhan…obsessed with Jews”’

'Among other things, he called the observance of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz “memorial pornography", and referred to the French Jewish organization CRIF as "an anti-constitutional organisation" and "a mafia that controls everything in France"'.


Blair comes up with another /really/ good idea - ask Syria and Iran to the Iraq 'party'

Monday, November 13, 2006
The same story is running in these parts, but I'm going to focus on the version in the Sydney Morning Herald, as it includes the mind bending phrase 'In his annual Guildhall speech on foreign affairs to be delivered last night'.

The Metternich of our time 'is calling for Syria and Iran to be engaged in efforts to stem violence in Iraq and to secure a broader Middle East peace settlement'.

Iran and Syria are not exactly neutral in matters Iraqi, and both have irridentist claims on Iraq. There can be little doubt that the Iranians are supplying weaponry and the like to the Shi'ites, and in the best Leninist tradition if they are faced with mush they will advance with cold hard steel. I don't suppose Tone has read this item at Memri which suggests that his Iranian friends were up to their eyeballs not just in connivance, but active engagement, with Al Qaeda.

Obsidian black ironies department

Apparently Adams, McGuinness and the more obscure Gerry Kelly 'have now increased their security' owing to threats from 'dissident' Republicans'.

Can't say I'm hugely surprised, as these careers tend to follow the same arc - radicalising as a youth, followed by low level involvement, 'active engagement', progression up the 'career' ladder followed by a winding down in late middle age when they decide that a quiet life is preferable to going down in a hail of bullets. Those at the bottom of the food chain regard the final part of the arc as a sell out, and itching for a bit of action themselves get a tad irked if they don't get the chance.

The 'Alliance of Civilizations' report

Because I am a masochist, I have speed read this 39 page document, available in all its 'glory' here.

Anyway, herewith the short form version:

Blah blah inequality, injustice, all our fault for colonialism, Israel, terrorists /Islamofascists are reacting to this, address the causes...

Sort out 'Palestine', address inequality / injustice, no Western 'interference' in the Islamic world beyond hosing it down with money, all the change to be on our side of the fence etc etc.

It is, as I expected, the kind of mushy 'liberal' document one would expect an assemblage of western 'bien pensant' cultural relativists collaborating with the Islamic 'great and good' to cook up. Among the authors from the West were Karen 'Carrie' Armstrong, "I usually describe myself, perhaps flippantly, as a freelance monotheist. I draw sustenance from all three of the faiths of Abraham. I can't see any one of them as having the monopoly of truth, any one of them as superior to any of the others", French Socialist Hubert Védrine, Spanish Socialist José Zapatero, John Esposito, who fronts an organisation that has accepted $20m from Saudi Arabia and a Spanish former head of UNESCO. And Desmond ‘Israel is like Hitler and apartheid’ Tutu.