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Python / Star Trek video mash up

Wednesday, February 28, 2007
This is really rather good:

Knights of the Round Table


Another Noriega in trouble

Richard J. "Rick" Noriega, a Houston Democratic Texas State Representative would appear not to be awfully popular, as the Texas House Directory 80th Legislature has a typo / situationist prank: He has had a 'P' added to his nickname... More here.

He is remarkably bald, and has a website so embarassingly tacky that he must rue the added publicity.


Some unexpected entertainment for the nation's finance directors

"[A] glittering black-tie Awards Dinner will be held on 17 April at The Dorchester...the highest profile celebration of the role of the Finance Director".

I cannot imagine that FDs are the most radical of people, but the entertainment for the evening is coming from "the fabulous Jo Brand". I am NOT making this up.

This is the woman who claims "I haven't suddenly shifted from left wing to Tory", and of whom The Independent has written, "Her act contains more swearing and sexual references than the entire work of Tarantino and Cronenberg put together".

Either the bean counters are going to be taken way outside their comfort zone, or else Brand has decided that paying the mortgage etc is a rather higher priority these days.

Curious criminality in Paris

Firstly, a brace of Picassos has been stolen from one of his grand daughters. As with all art theft, the word will get around very quickly, and no reputable dealer will touch them, and if, as I presume, they were stolen to order, the purchaser will not be able to show them off. Which, surely, is most of the point of wanting an original Picasso. All fairly run of the mill.

What is rather more interesting is that the appartment of one of Sego's special advisers (which doubles up as an informal hq for something not entirely unlike our own dear Smith Institute) was also burgled - with only a laptop stolen. I hate to be cynical, but je sens un rat.


Guess who is hectoring the Ugandans?

The Blairina:

"Visiting wife of the British premier, Cherie Blair, stressed that investing in girl-child education and supporting women in business are the best ways to advance Uganda's economy".

"Being a woman, people may think I am biased. But there is plenty of evidence to show that investment in education of girls and women, or in their businesses, is actually the best any society can make," the successful human rights lawyer stressed....it's more important to involve women because they bring special qualities and characteristics to business which makes them successful entrepreneurs".

And going rather against this particular piece of gender-based special pleading, "I may look calm and perfectly organised but I'm just like so many parents and working mothers. I'm like those jugglers who bounce the plates up and there are times some of the plates crush. But the plate I wish to keep up all the time is the push for equality."

I'm sure Tony and the Blairlets are delighted that they are not her top priorities.

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Deputy Speaker has a downer on football shocker

While rooting around in a rather worthy discussion of Mayoral powers in Hansard, there was much trading of football references by Bob Neill and Our Man in Croydon Central:

Neill: "I am beginning to think that I should have had more hopes of the Minister than I had of West Ham United redeeming themselves. I say these things with a very heavy heart, as Members know. I hope that the Minister will cheer us up by saying that the Government will reflect on this issue and give the assembly the basic power that every ordinary Londoner standing on the terraces of Upton Park would say, were they asked, it ought to have, as a matter of common sense".

Jacqui Lait: "Much as I love my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), I was rather hoping that we would get through this evening without endless references to football—if only because I do not understand them".

Pelling: "Does my hon. Friend not agree that the two-thirds majority idea is a bit like Arsenal losing 2-1"

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): "Order. I think that I will join the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) in saying that the football examples have gone far enough".

Given that all Pelling, Lait and Neill are all MPs for Sarf London, there should have been a references or two to clubs from this side of the river, although for family and geographical reasons I carry the curse of following West Ham.

There must be something in the water in Copenhagen

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Because the latest eurostat figures have the Danes leading the EU for rating themselves both very happy (49%) and happy (97%). We are well above average (87%/26%) at 92% /39%, as are the Swedes, belying their reputation somewhat. Things are rather less fine and dandy in the Balkans, with only 39% of Bulgarians rating themselves as even 'happy'. Maybe they need whatever goes into the Copenhagen water supply, or are running low on Danish blue, watery bacon and non-descript lager.

Moving on, we are at risk of losing our reputation as a nation of moaners - 93% are satisified with their standard of living and 88% with their quality of life. The Bulgarians are the least satisfied with either, with the French and Portuguese the only western European countries falling below the average response for the first question and the Portos and Italians below par for quality of life. Worth mentioning that to Algarve and Tuscan ex-pats, I would think.

Incremental updates to follow.

So, onwards:

Pensions are not being anticipated with much enthusiasm. The British are among the more optimistic, with half confident in the future of pension provision. Even the cheery Danes only manage 74%, and top the list. The French manage 32% and the Germans 25%. Mind you, a survey some years back showed that more Britons felt that they were in with a shot at winning the lottery than thought they would have a state pension that kept them comfortable.

88% of Nederlanders feel comfortable walking home at night, to two-thirds of us and a rather unnerving 45% of Latvians.

Health, family, friends and leisure rate as the most important things in the life of Euro man and Euro Woman. Work is rather more popular in France, Slovenia, Italy and Luxembourg at a nauseating 90% plus, whereas we and the Hibernians put the Curse of the Drinking Classes back in its box with 66% and 69% rating it important.

When troubles come, be they a need for advice, health or an attack of the miseries, we chaps bend the ears of our significant others disproportionately. They, however, call on family, by which I think we can assume mother. In terms of matters domestic, Greek women have the least helpful men folk - 91% do all the cleaning, 93% all the cooking and 95% all the ironing. Even in the three Nordic countries, women still do roughly two thirds of the three tasks.

An astonishingly high 30% of Britons judge childcare facilities satisfactory and 62% our schools. We are, naturally, near the bottom.

Elsewhere, what with 'volunteering' being all the rage with wonk groups and the like, watch out for the Austrians, Dutch and Swedes being held up as paragons of civic virtue: more than half volunteer, or else are good at lying to box tickers. 28% of us manage it (yeah, right...) , but the Latvians are having none of it 11%, probably because they do not fancy having to get home after dark.

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Drink driving

There are moves afoot to cut 'the limit from 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood to 50mg', and to introduce random testing.

As the law stands, 'police can only breathalyse drivers if they have reason to believe a driving offence has been committed and that motorists are under the influence of alcohol'.

However, consider these figures: "And if you think you won't get caught, more than half a million breath tests are carried out each year and on average 100,000 are found to be positive". Or for the Lancs Plod, "Throughout the month of December police officers conducted 3,130 breath tests in Lancashire...The total number of drivers who tested positive or refused to provide a sample of breath was 191 (6 per cent) compared to 211 (8 per cent) in 2004".

A 1 in 5 hit rate does not sound very well targeted, does it? Still less a 1 in 20. We could not possibly have random testing, wholly outside the police's authority could we?

I do not have a car, by the way, and do not think that driving under the influence is a good idea. Random testing , if added to the stature books would be a monstrosity, and I will offer the usual odds that once that particular icebreaker has done its work, there will be more, much more, of the same.

Exile on Niueuwestraat

Johnny Halliday is still a Frenchman, despite his best efforts, as the Belgian authorities are not expediting his application for nationality. Unlike Broon's delightful plan earlier, he will not have to engage in slave labour, but rather live there for three years or have 'real links to Belgium'. Given that Pa Halliday was called Smet and was a Belge, he should be in with a shot, despite being born to French mother in Paris. His sudden outbreak of Belgitude would appear to be not wholly unconnected with the interest of French authorities in how comprehensively it might plunder his bank account.

I think he should head for these parts - it would drive the Gauls up the wall.

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Everything you've ever wanted to know about the bluefin tuna, c/o the EU

Apart from how to cook it.

Quite why the EU has decided to branch into memos on matters piscatorial is a bit of a mystery, as "The European Commission has no direct responsibility for monitoring and enforcing fisheries regulations. This role belongs to the Member States of the EU".

Rather disgustingly the page refers to Taiwan as 'Chinese Taipei'.

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Broon having trouble with basic English words

My understanding of the word 'volunteer' is that he or she is one who does something willingly and without coercion. The Would Be Lord Protector seems to think otherwise:

Migrants should volunteer - Brown

"Immigrants should carry out community work before being granted UK citizenship, Gordon Brown will say....The chancellor will tell his audience in London that obliging migrants to carry out community work would help introduce them to the people they will be living alongside".

Now this could just be sloppy subbing by the BBC, but doing unpaid work ahead of achieving a change in legal status sounds an awful lot like pursuing manumission to me, and just how many high net worth individuals are likely to be toiling away in soup kitchens before they can get their hands on UK nationality, I wonder? I look forward to Broon doing so if Caledonia breaks away though.


The Smith Institute and the ippr on the public teat

One would think that the left wonk establishment would keep its collective head well below the parapet, but no.

I have found the following in Hansard written answers from yesterday:

"Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what funding the British Library has provided to the IPPR or IPPR Trading Ltd. in each year since May 1997; and what the purpose was of such funding. [123896]

Mr. Lammy: The only record of a payment to IPPR made by the British Library is one of £10,000 in 2005-06. This was a contribution to the cost of a study on intellectual property rights"

Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport how much money from the public purse (a) her Department and (b) its agencies gave to (i) the Smith Institute and (ii) its subsidiary SI Events Limited in each year since 1997; and for what purpose each payment was made. [123106]

Mr. Lammy: On the basis of available information the Department has made the following three payments to the Smith Institute during the period in question relating to a new technology seminar and a cultural research project:

Amount (£)

25 August1999


30 July 1999


7 March 2000



Meanwhile, elsewhere in the sprawling metropolis:

"Mr. Francois: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what the timetable is for the Charity Commission investigation into the Smith Institute; and if she will make a statement. [120689]
26 Feb 2007 : Column 1017W

Edward Miliband: This is a matter for the Charity Commission as the non-ministerial Government Department responsible for the regulation of charities in England and Wales. The chief executive of the Charity Commission will write to the hon. Member and a copy of his reply will be placed in the Library for the reference of Members". Source

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Kicking the ball into the long grass, Beijing-style

The classic governmental evasion in these parts is the Royal Commission or somesuch, but perhaps Blair in his death rattle might like to follow the Chinese approach:

"Democracy will emerge once a “mature socialist system” develops but that might not happen for up to 100 years, Premier Wen Jiabao wrote in an article in the People's Daily, the main Communist Party newspaper. For now, China must focus on “sustained rapid growth of productive forces ... to finally secure fairness and social justice that lies within the essence of socialism,” Mr. Wen wrote. The Premier said the country is “still far from advancing out of the primary stage of socialism. We must adhere to the party's basic guidelines of the primary stage of socialism for 100 years.(Source)

I've only ever seen five year diaries, and the calendar in Outlook only goes up to 2099.


Will the TUC walk it likes it talks it?

Monday, February 26, 2007
The TUC is in a combative mood, and having discovered venture capital, and just fancy, does not like it. Accordingly, it has come up with three 'challenges':

  • to tell us what they stand for and whether they accept any responsibilities to their workforce or the wider community.
  • to open the industry to greater transparency and disclosure, particularly of the rewards paid to, and the tax paid by, top private equity executives.
  • to establish whether private equity can establish long term sustainability and not just fuel a short term - high risk bubble waiting to burst.
I will save the VC bods the trouble of responding to the TUC's presumption, by pointing them to this excellent speech by Charlie McCreevy, the European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services to the Mergermarket / Deal Drivers Ireland M&A Conference.

Meanwhile, when is the TUC start demonstrating good governance and organisational transparency by telling us how much Brendan Barber and his people pocket, because it certainly is not leaping out at me from the TUC's site.

Meanwhile, Peter Hain has come up with another one of his pitches for the deputyship 'good ideas': "Private equity firms should be barred by government from asset-stripping, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain has urged".(Source). Naturally there would be absolutely no difficulties in framing a law covering this. Amazingly, Hain has a degree in economics.

I'm off out shortly to do a stint at 18 Doughty St, and so have turned on moderation. However, a friend is keeping any eye on it and so there should not be too much of a lag between posting and approval.

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Of colonies and colonialism

The UN has been discussing colonialisation, and has come up with a list of 16 colonies:

Western Sahara - Morocco
American Samoa - US
Guam - US
New Caledonia - France
Pitcairn - UK
Tokelau - NZ
Anguilla - UK
Bermuda - UK
British Virgin Islands - guess...
Cayman Islands -UK
Falkland Islands (Malvinas) (sic) - UK
Gibraltar - UK
Montserrat - UK
Saint Helena - UK
Turks and Caicos Islands - UK
United States Virgin Islands - guess...

And among those countries pontificating on the topic are Iran, China (what about Tibet, eh?), Syria and Cuba...

"In congratulatory remarks, the representatives of Congo, Mali, Indonesia, Cuba and Saint Kitts and Nevis expressed the hope that the Special Committee would fulfil its mandate during the last three years of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism by 2010".

So, step forward Tokelau with its GDP of $1.5m and population of 1,392, and Pitcairn with its population of 45. A bit of rooting around suggests that it is only Western Sahara and New Caledonia which show any great enthusiasm for independence.

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The House of Lords has 633 life peers, the Italian Senate has just 7 life senators

These being three former presidents who get it automatically, and four eminent Italians:

The Presidents: "Ex-Christian Democrat centrist turned populist Francesco Cossiga (78), ex-Christian Democrat conservative Oscar Luigi Scalfaro (88) and central banker turned politician Carlo Azeglio Ciampi (86)".

The four eminent Italians: "Former Christian Democrat heavyweights Emilio Colombo (86) and seven-time premier Giulio Andreotti (88), auto-styling legend Sergio Pininfarina (80) and Nobel Medicine Prize winner Rita Levi Montalcini (97)".

Assuming Thatcher and Major would be our political equivalents, anyone care to nominate the five most eminent Britons? Serious or facetious approaches are equally welcome.

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The lucky country is only 300 odd miles from London, not 9000.

Our fortunate neighbours to the West would appear to have the right idea, in that both the Irish Labour party and the Progos are intent on tax cuts, should they be in power come the next election. A bit of digging shows current income tax rates as being 20 and 42%, and the Progos seek to cut those to 18 and 38%, while Labour only has its eyes on the first of those reductions. Showing the ignorance of laffer curves for which the extreme left the world over is renowned, the Greens think trimming the upper rate is 'inequitable'

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American Mormons for war in Iraq, and American Jews against it.

Gallup polled on attitudes on whether sending troops to Iraw was or was not a mistake (a rather loaded question), and in a change from breaking down the results in the usual fashion, instead did it by religious affiliation.

The most anti were Black Protestants (78%), Jews (77%), and the non-religious (66%), with Mormons by far the most gung ho at 72% pro, followed by non-Black Protestants at 55%. Catholics split fairly evenly at 53% anti and 46% pro, in line with the national 52 anti /46 pro split.

Gallup does not publish a full breakdown of believers by political position, but notes that Democrat and non-Democrat Jews were both strongly anti at 89% and 65%, far starker figures than for gentiles. More here.

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What Bowie should have put in the lyrics to 'Space Oddity'

Sunday, February 25, 2007
Thos enterprising people at The Smoking Gun have the answer, having got hold of a NASA memo on dealing with an astronaut flipping out:

"NASA officials suggest that crew members subdue the unstable astronaut with duct tape and bungee cords and inject the patient with a "potent tranquilizer".

Would have made 'Dark Star' a lot duller too.

Labour ferrets in the sack

Iain has kicked off rather a good slogan for Blears thread, which I imagine everyone has already seen. However, I think it unfair that we've only had Blears to mock, as the rest of them deserve it too.


Meacher / McDonnell - Let's start another 70's revival. Class war is back!

Hain - The Future's Bright....

Johnson - The postman always rings twice

Harman - With a blog like mine, just think what my (deputy) leadership will be like.

Benn - Nothing reaches Middle England like the name 'Benn'.

Crudass - We can better Canaan Banana as the daftest name in politics.

I'm sure you can all do a lot better.

Al Sharpton - the Strom Thurmond connection

Odd story of the day:

"According to the [New York Daily Times], the genealogists found documents establishing that [Al] Sharpton's great-grandfather, Coleman Sharpton, was a slave owned by Julia Thurmond, whose grandfather was Strom Thurmond's great-great-grandfather".


Do Indy readers know what goes into the Sindy's business section?

I do wonder, because one of its business writers sticks it to Sego in a most unIndy-like fashion:

"The French economy has crawled along at a growth rate that has averaged half that of the UK's in recent years. Unemployment is stubbornly high, and even after a recent recovery, remains nearly twice the UK's. All this despite the extraordinary act of generational theft that is being committed daily by the French pension system, which is funding current consumption by inadequately providing for the future. Not to mention incredibly high government spending - 43 per cent of GDP, while national debt is now equivalent to 70 per cent. Income tax and national insurance, too, are frighteningly high...brain drain...appears to be accelerating...Royal's famous "100 Point Plan" seems more like "100 Ways to Make Things Worse"....Spending too high? She'd spend even more...Businesses have a lot to fear".

Crikey. He's right though.


This weekend's scandals

First up, the generally tiresome Rory Bremner's entrapment of Beckett. Not something I approve of, and generally in the same league as any other hoax phone call. However, what is significant is this: "Last night Beckett condemned an 'unprincipled and unpleasant breach of privacy', adding that she did not remember the conversation". (Source). If she really cannot recall a 10 minute conversation, then I worry about her ability to deal with the detail of the Foreign Office portfolio.

Michael Foot's apparent track record as a swordsman rates with Major / Currie for the unexpected. His official biographer reports he had a mistress in the early seventies, but dismisses Foot's claim that he and Barbara Castle had a thing going on. I presume it must have been his role as Secretary of State for Employment which turned the lady's head.

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Carrots and sticks, Swedish-style

Saturday, February 24, 2007
"Many Swedes remain on long term sick leave even when they are capable of returning to work because they are worried about becoming unemployed - where they will earn less than their sick pay."(Source).

And what do you suppose Stockhom has concluded? That benefits might be cut to make malingering less appealing, medical checks and stopping of benefits? Nope: "An official inquiry into Sweden's social insurance system has concluded that initial unemployment benefits should rise, at least to the level of sick pay, to encourage people to move from one system to the other".

It looks as though being 'sick or being unemployed in Sweden is quite profitable: "The difference between sick pay and unemployment is significant. People on sick leave currently receive 80 percent of their salary up to 28,660 kronor per month (£2068), while the ceiling for unemployment benefit is 18,500 kronor per month (£1335!)".

I despair sometimes.


Advice from the Kentucky State Police: add your dealer's number to your mobile

A rather unlucky Kentucky school teacher is the recipient of that advice, having texted a state trooper rather than The Man over a dope deal. (Source)

As a result, she had her collar felt, and has been charged "with conspiracy to traffic in controlled substances within 1,000 feet of a school, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia" and the trooper commented "She learned her lesson. Program your dealers into your phone".

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Freedom of speech includes commercial freedom of speech

Friday, February 23, 2007
So, let us welcome Professor Ian Gilmore of the Royal College of Physicians, who has averred "We need a complete ban on alcohol advertising..the ban should include sponsorship in sport". (Source).

This is, naturally, all part of the moral panic over binge drinking, which is a wholly new - and an exclusively British - phenomenon. Hogarth's 'Gin Lane' must have been the creation of an over-active imagination.

And there's more:

"The new president of the Royal College of Physicians said drastic action was needed to curb Britain's binge-drinking culture. He also criticised "irresponsible" supermarkets which use cheap drink as loss leaders. (It is called competition) and The professor called for higher taxes on alcohol. He said rates should be linked to its strength because drinks such as strong cider were too cheap and were being bought by children (Children? If they under the 18, both they and the traders are breaking the law. Or does he mean those old enough to vote etc etc who happen to male choices that the professor disapproves of?) aiming to get drunk as quickly as possible".

And avoiding hyperbole, he further comments, "Alcohol is pervasive, it has become impossible to have a celebration in this country without drinking. Alcohol has never been more available or cheaper". So the various dry religions and sects never celebrate? And as for all those toddler birthday parties that degenerate into drunken free for alls.... And let us again forget about Hogarth and later on the 1830 Beer House Act which abolished tax on beer.

And the DCMS's truly pitiful reaction: "A spokeswoman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: 'Sponsorship by the drinks industry is worth many millions to British sport - money which in many cases is then used to support youth and grassroots development programmes. There are currently no plans to impose greater restrictions on alcohol sponsorship of sports events.'"

The French example of a ban on TV alcohol advertising and sports sponsorship is cited, and in a classic post propter ergo post propter hoc 'argument' a fall in consumption is noted.

As and when commercial free speech has been limited in the past - cigarettes etc etc - what tends to happen is that existing market share ossifies, making it that much harder for new market entrants. Tobacco yesterday, 'junk food' today and alcohol tomorrow. What's next? As I have noted before, 'Better England free than England sober'.


Consulting the populace, EU style

"What future do citizens want for Europe? In each of the 27 Member States, this question is currently being answered by citizens. Between February and March 2007, 27 European citizens consultations are being held. The answers to this question will be summarised by European citizens into a joint “European Citizens’ Perspective on the Future of Europe”. This will then be presented to the heads of the EU institutions in the European Parliament shortly before the EU Council summit in June". Source.

Naturally I had to investigate what is being done in thses parts, and lo and inded behold, consultation will indeed take place in the UK. Not an enormously extensive one though - one 200 place meeting at the University of York.

Details are a little limited, but it will feature our old friend 'Baroness' Helena Kennedy, a Lib Dem MEP and the basically decent if self-confessed europhile John Bowis.

I would trust that Yorkshire eurosceptics will do their level best to get tickets, although the EU claims "randomly selected citizens will discuss the...selected topics".

Further, be advised of the London Festival of Europe, whereat "For two weeks in March 2007 the centre of London will be host to philosophers, political theorists, artists and curators who will engage a public audience in discussion of the multiplicity of European questions". To the hills, to the hills....


Mixing high life with low life

The Università degli Studi di Firenze does inflict some odd assignments - it tested the city's sewers for evidence of cocaine use, and has concluded that peak times for riding on the white horse are August and December, and reckon that Florentines went through 12 kg of weasel dust last year to 1.149kg (precise, eh?) of brown sugar.

As a point of comparison, a similar test in what ansa.it rather sweetly calls 'swinging London' reckoned Londoners went through 730kg of nose tabasco.

While sniffing around for some of the more inventive terms for cocaine, I found out that Phil Woolas, the member of Parliament for Oldham East and Saddleworth and junior minister for local government has a namesake in a 'cigarette laced with cocaine; marijuana cigarette sprinkled with crack'. I will enjoy his next media appearance

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One Tiger Woods equals between nine and ten Bill Clintons

The Washington Post reckons that Slick Willy pulled in between nine and ten 'units' from making some 352 speeches last year. I wonder whether he uses the same jokes every night?

For purposes of comparison, I dug up the Forbes celebrity rich list, which estimates Woods as having made $90m last year, although that is back of the couch money compared to Oprah Winfrey's $225m. Further down the food chain, one could get between four and five Clinton's for one Simon Cowell, one and a half for the cast of Desperate Housewives but only 7/9ths of a Clinton for Paris Hilton. There is rough parity between the dog hard to keep on the porch and both Serena Williams and the two Broadway leads in The Producers.


Logo watch

The Mark of the Beast did not come cheap:

"Mr. Francois: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much has been spent on developing the HM Revenue and Customs brand since 2005. [119415]

Dawn Primarolo: Since 2005, £720,000 has been spent on developing the HM Revenue and Customs brand".


Wrong man sent to Antarctica

It looks as though someone in the Government decided to follow up on my suggestion to send someone to the Antarctic, but alas it is not Dawn French.

Instead it is Malcolm 'I don't understand intellectual property law' Wicks, MP for Croydon North has been packed off to Antarctica for the week. Apparently he has been there since the 20th, so maybe he should be worried that Pravda Central has only just seen fit to report it. So, off on the world's least appretising junket, and no-one realises or cares that you have gone. Feeling unloved Malcolm?

A typically robust Australian approach

Thursday, February 22, 2007
Taking an approach that has much to recommend it, our Oz friends have come up with something to put the wind up the extreme left, bunny huggers and their fellow travellers:

"The federal Treasurer (Peter Costello) yesterday announced changes that would leave groups that organise boycotts against companies for moral or ethical reasons at greater risk of prosecution. [It]...will give the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission powers to initiate legal action and seek compensation on behalf of companies targeted by boycotts. Mr Costello said the changes were aimed at protecting farmers against groups such as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has called for a global boycott of Australian wool over sheep mulesing. It is targeting designers in Milan during its fashion shows this week... Under existing competition law, the consumer commission can launch action and impose penalties on organisations that seek to hinder or prevent the supply of goods to or from a company. Unions have been fined as much as $150,000 for physically blocking goods or services.... He denied the changes could be used to limit free speech. "You can say what you like. You can be as ignorant as you like. There's no law that's going to stop ignorant commentary, but there will be a law which allows the ACCC to stand up for Australian farmers when they suffer from a boycott."


Time to change tailors

Because Gieves & Hawkes, by appointment to sundry Saxe-Coburg-Gotha / Battenbergs, and the top end of the UK spook establishment (apparently) has just comped Livingstone with a rather nice suit.

I'm taking my business elsewhere, or rather would do if...


What's with DC's Catholics?

Sticking my neck out, if a non-Catholic was asked to list things that separate Catholicism from most of the reformed churches, I imagine that going into the confession box would be highlighted.

However, the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington DC is leafleting (how do they spot Catholic households? They do not have the equivalants of mezuzot on door frames), advertising on public transport, billboards and on the radio encouraging Catholics to go to confession.

Most curious.


Joined up government

Supposing the government, or come to that, any organisation identifies a problem, where should the money go? To where the problem is severest, or to somewhere that "has already made excellent progress...[has] earned the right to be an exemplar..through its strong track record...and the willingness and capacity to do more".

I do not suppose that it took very long to work out what actually happens. The remarkably well-fed Louise ''Doing things sober is no way to get things done" Casey, Labour's Tsarina for its absurd 'Respect' programme is carpet bombing Leicester with £200,000m which will doubtless turn the place into a veritable Utopia. Rather amusingly Debbie 'I think we're alone now' Gibson seems to have abandoned cheesy pop music in order to become a Leicester Anti-Social Behaviour Unit. Or maybe they are different people.

Logo watch

Is this 'instantly recognisable'? The client that commissioned it thinks so. Reactions please.

Even more stat shooting

Wednesday, February 21, 2007
This time featuring the unmissable 'Fourth European Working Conditions survey', fresh off the presses..

I'm working on it at the moment, but it includes such unexpected facts as men in the UK and Ireland claiming to do more housework hours than any other nationals in Europe, the high likelihood of wokplace bullying and harassment in Finland, and the awesome hours worked by the Turks.

Firstly, the break down of the labour force by occupation. Turkey is way ahead for the percentage in fishing and farming, with Italy off all places coming in last. I'm even more bitter about the CAP as a result. France is second behind Croatia for the proportion of unskilled blue-collar workers in the workforce, while some 40& of the Dutch are senior manager or professionals. I wonder how they can find anyone to sweep the streets.

We, along with the Irish are the most likely to work in companies with 250 plus employees, with the majority of Bulgarians and Romanians working in companies with 10 employees or fewer. I imagine the works / office parties are dire, although getting the boss to buy drinks all round is less of an ask.

On a pan-EU (plus accession candidates) basis, the hospitality trade shows the greatest skew to the under 24s and farming the greatest to the over 55s. Not a huge surprise. What they see fit to call real estate, which presumably goes beyond house pimping has the most even split between those two groups. Meanwhile, 80% of health workers are female and 90% of construction workers male, so pick your calling based on your proclivities for that all important workplace romance. Rather amusingly, models are classed as blue collar.

Returning to the T*C's figures from earlier, the Dutch have it the easiest for working hours at an average of 33 hours a week, and do not expect much quality time with the kids, TV, pub or whatever in Turkey - Turks average a 54 hour week. Some 30% of Italians work six-day weeks. Meanwhile, out of 31 countries tracked, Her Majesty's subjects come in 29th, just ahead of the Dutch and the Norwegians. I discovered this report from a very selective TUC press release earlier, which did not mention this fact. Fancy... Norwegians are keenest on moonlighting / portfolio careers, with more than 15% having two or more jobs. We, along with the French and the Cypriots are the least likely to at less than five per cent.

As to housework, men in the British Isles claim to spend just under an hour a day on housework, with women claiming 17 hours a week - a higher combined total than for any other of the grouped nations. So, are we pathological liars, tidiness freaks or just not very good at it? And check for dust bunnies in Zagreb and Ankara - those two countries average a little over 12 hours of housework a week

The British Isles, Danes, Dutch, Finns and Swedes are the most likely to suffer violence or threats thereof at work, with the Mediterranean countries proving consideraly less dangerous. Likewise the Balkan duo. Bullying and non-sexual harassment is commonest in Finland, so remember that the next time you are tempted to buy something stamped made in Finland. The Dutch and Luxemburgers are not much better, with Bulgaria and Italy altogether more laid back. As to sexual harassment, the most likely to suffer it are under 30 women in the Czech Republic and Norway. For those 50+, harassment is roughly equal for both sexes, and reported as less than one per cent. The hospitality trade and healthcare see the most sexual harassment, so warn any daughters intent on a summer bar job in Karlovy Vary or Prague. And there is marginally more violence in finacial intermediation than manufacturing, with healthcare the worst.

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How French politicians fill their time

By having two or more elected roles. Le Monde has a rather nifty graphic showing the breakdown of additional political roles for deputies and senators. It calculates that only 12% of deputies do not also act as mayors, regional, departmental, municipal councillors etc, while just over 20% of senators only sport one hat office wise.

To put this into perspective, the paper reckons that only 10 % of Bundestag members, 13% of UK MPs, and 15% and 16% of Spanish and Italian MPs only hold one elected office, and that the current 85% figure for the Fifth Republic can be contrasted with 42% for the Fourth Republic and 35.7% for the Third Republic.

Maybe it is all down to road and rail links now making it easier for deputies and senators to whizz between Paris and Clochemerle at speed than it was before.


Do not read this until 00.01 on Friday 23rd

An organisation that shall remain nameless, but which shares a three letter name with a type of savoury biscuit beginning with a 'T' and ending with a 'C' would not seem to have the world's savviest press office. It has put up a release on its website that is has embargoed until the date above, even though it is trying to promote 'Work your proper hours day', which takes place on, yes that Friday. So, given that daily newspapers generally go to press for their first editions long before midnight, readers far from the presses will not know that ''Work Your Proper Hours Day is a chance to have bit of fun at work tomorrow, but it should also get people asking some serious questions about work/life balance in [insert name of region]".

Or indeed that "The [mystery organisation] is today urging people in London to take a proper lunch break and leave work on time to remind managers of all the extra unpaid hours, and is calling on Britain's bosses to say thank you for the extra work by taking their staff to lunch or an after-work coffee or cocktail. There are many fun ways of marking the day at www.workyourproperhoursday.com , including the chance to win a special 'work your proper hours day' clock for a photo of what people get up to in their lunch breaks".

Maybe we should show some blogger solidarity by refusing to post after 5.30.

Introducing the world's least threatening sounding militia

Bolivia's Red Ponchos.

"Bolivia’s President Evo Morales is facing mounting pressure to disarm indigenous communities who have been given weapons to deter groups in the east of the country who want increased autonomy. Morales encouraged indigenous communities to unitewith the country’s armed forcesfor this purpose, giving the so-called “Red Ponchos” military status and frequently referring to them as an army in their own right.... But it hasnot been an easy task. It is estimatedthat some 100,000 menwere armed in the initial campaignthroughout the country."

So, not quite so comical after all. The autonomy movement is in response to much of Bolivia's natural resources being in the west, whereas the population is tilted to the centre. Equally, eastern / central Bolivians are largely mestizo or Guarani, with the westerners different ethnic group and less than happy about the province's natural resources not benefiting them to what they consider a commensurate degree.


Book your place in a bunker for the 28th

As this date may well be circled by Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong-Il and various other ne'er-do-wells. And for why? Because Prospect will be striking at the MoD on that date. Not a union that had top of mind recall, but it turns out to be the fruit of a union between Institute of Professionals Managers and Specialists (IPMS) and the Engineering Managers Association.

Apparently, "This [2.5%] offer is a kick in the teeth for years of commitment by dedicated staff, without whom the front line simply could not function. The action is not an attempt to bring government to its knees, it is a demonstration of resolve that government must value its most skilled staff if it wants decent logistical support for the armed forces". So that's alright then.


A war that did not happen

The Japan Times has made an interesting find in the UK archives: an intelligence briefing note the Americans sent to us arguing that the USSR, and the 'People's Republics' of North Korea and China were intent on invading Japan in 1951, right at the point of their high tide in South Korea.

The reaction at the time was one of doubt, with a contemporary expert also unconvinced. Intriguing though.

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">"Smoking those things will cure cancer you know".

Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Care of Le Monde I present a potentially quite wonderful double whammy - genetically modified tobacco with added diterpenoid molecules, these being close to Taxol and Taxotere, drugs used against certain cancers and prospectively quite useful.

Librophyt SA, a French biotech start up is waiting for regulatory approval before planting a hectare's worth of tobacco, but the prospects of enraging the luddite tendency and the anti-smoking lobby is the best news I have read in ages. Let the fun begin, and meanwhile hoorah for France!

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The shade of Brecht returns to scare Berliners

A restaurant in Berlin has been named after the long dead old fraud (His 'worker' suits were hand cut and his haircut was specifically to emphasise his intellectual's brow), causing the ire of his daughter. Said daughter is intent on letting slip the dogs of law, but "The [restaurateur's] lawyer determined that German law allows a person's name to be used commercially 50 years after his or her death as long as it's not sullied".

Rather less loathsome than the family Picasso seemingly licensing its name to anyone who wants to use it. I am not up to speed with Becht's plays, so the best quip I can come up with is one of his: 'Grub first, then ethics'.

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A little light stat stat shooting

Now with added rubbish....

Eurostat has just published its 2006 yearbook, and has put a press release of some highlights. I spent a few seconds mulling in whether I should fork out €30 for the book itself, so should I just shoot myself now? Please note that the results of voting are not binding.

However, first up the findings on the body mass of euroman and eurowoman. German men are the most likely to be overweight, at 66.6% of the Volk. We come an honourable second at 66.2%, with the Maltese hard on our heels at 65.3%. Our Gallic chums are quite good at resisting the appeal of the patisserie, at a Europe wide low of 43.5%, followed by Latvian men at 44%. From what I have heard of Latvian food, I am not greatly surprised.

As to women, the British top the scales at 56.6%, easy winners ahead of the Germans at 53% amd the Maltese at 50.3. Given that there is only the Inn dividing them, Austrian women must be shunning the viennoiserie, with 28.9% overweight. Gallic and Italian women would seem to be keenest on pursuing una bella figura at 30.4% and 31.4%.

Overall, in all countries there is a higher percentage of overweight men than women except in Latvia and Estonia. A curious business. Austria wins out for the highest differential between overweight men and women at 30.5 percentage points, with Latvian and Estonian men and women the most closely matched. As a footnote, there are no figures for Luxembourg - maybe it is a state secret.

Updates later on fuel prices, rubbish generation aned language learning. Probably.

Nick's wish being my command (within reasonable limits, of course), the EU's leading municpal rubbish generators are our Hibernian neighbours at 753 kilos per head, whereas the Czechs and Slovaks manage barely a third of that tally. We come in at ninth, well behind the greener than thou Dutch...

The Cypriots beat the Maltese by a nose to be European landfill champions per head, and given that Malta is not exactly a big place, I'm quite impressed. The Dutch would scarcely dream of it - they landfill less than 2% of the per capita total of the Cypriots.

If you love the smell of rubbish in the morning, make tracks to Denmark. The Benelux countries and France are all going to be pretty whiffy too.

Assuming that the shortfall between rubbish generated and the total incinerated / landfilled represents that recycled, then the place to live if you want to avoid the bin stasi is Poland, at 14kg per head. The Czechs and Slovaks would appear not to have to live in fear of the knock on the door at three in the morning either. Whereas in the Netherlands, it is 412kg per head. But before they start polishing their collective halo, that is a greater weight recycled per head per annum than the total rubbish produced by the Poles....

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Be afraid, be very afraid

Paul Gascoigne, movie star. Yes, really:

"Football Legend Paul Gascoigne is to feature alongside Lois Winstone, daughter of Ray Winstone, in the action/horror feature 'FINAL RUN'. Billed as a cross between Blackhawk Down and Alien, Final Run is set in the not-too-distant future, following a group of survivors after a devastating alien invasion has assimilated the vast majority of the human population. Paul Gascoigne plays a misguided survivor, who is forced to decide between his own survival, or humanities! (sic) Paul Gascoigne, a lifelong genre fan, lends his considerable expertise as both Producer and feature actor. As a part of the key creative team, Paul's input into the script and vision are invaluable".

Expertise as an actor? I do not suppose that dropping like a sack of coal after an innocuous tackle really bears comparison with studying at RADA or treading the boards at the RSC. And just when did he get his Equity card I wonder.

And there's a MySpace page for it, with the director namechecking, inter alia, David Lean, Michael Mann and two chaps called 'Georige Lucas' and 'Steven Speilberg'. Very professional.


Solutions looking for problems

Annette Brooke, Lib Dem for Poole and co-owner of 'Poole's premier Gem, Mineral and Fossil shop' (doubtless in the face of cut throat competition) is most exercised by degenerate gamblers in choky:

Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): "What programmes he plans for those serving prison sentences to tackle gambling addiction?.....One of my constituents has now been in prison for six months without receiving any treatment. Given the increase in online gambling, the proposed new casinos and the fact that a proportion of compulsive gamblers are likely to commit crimes to feed their habit, should there not be a coherent plan in place before the problems become any greater?".

Unless I have not been paying attention, there are comparatively few roulette wheels, chemin de fer tables etc in the nation's big houses, especially those allowing payment by credit card and I imagine such problems as come about from unpaid debts from cell poker games are settled in a fairly robust fashion. I imagine she is just as pointlessly concerned with alcoholics in stir too. Might it not be reasonable to suggest that a lengthy bout of enforced cold turkey would be a fairly effective way of confronting any form of addiction? Similarly, one does have to wonder what La Brooke's constituency post bag is like if this is the burning issue for her after a week's Parliamentary recess.


Our straight talking man in Zagreb

That the Croats are mulling on EU membership is hardly news, but I feel this pearl from our man in Zagreb deserves an audience:

"British Ambassador John Ramsden said that there were also Euro-sceptics in his country". (Source)

Meanwhile Italy and Croatia have made nice over the spat the other day.

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What civil servants think..

Senior civil servants at the Cabinet Office, presumably those belonging to the ludicrously named First Division Association have been quizzed on attitudes to leadership in the civil service etc etc. I was going to make the usual joke about how they really ought to call themselves the Coca-Cola Championship these days, but showing the world shortage of acronyms, abbreviations and the like they are now the FDA - which to me is the US Food and Drug Administration. I would link to the full report, but the Cabinet Office's site throws up a page of gibberish rather than the promised PDF. Disgruntled techies, perhaps? However, Dizzy informs me it is a MIME problem and has duly sent me a version that works. I hope that a non-linked version will be taken on trust.

So, what does the Mandarinate think of itself:

5% did not answer yes to 'I am committed to seeing my department succeed'. Time servers or deliberate wreckers?

19% considered 'change is managed well in this department'. That many?

36% claim they will be seeking a job outside the Civil Service within the next 2-3 years. Presumably those seeking jobs now would have replied no... Especially as elsewhere only 71% were prepared to say they would still be with the Cabinet Office in a year's time.

57% 'feel a strong sense of belonging to the senior civil service'. So much for the Mandiranate being a calling.

21% think that poor performance (who by?) is dealt with well.

Rather bizarrely 78% claim to have discussed with a line manager how long they will be staying in their current post. Meaning 'I'm on the next train outta here', or 'I want your job'? Both sound like really great career moves....

And what do they think of each other? 73% could not give the nod to 'the SCS can make tough decisions when needed’, nor 48% to 'is effective in delivering results'. 30% do not think 'the system of career progression is fair for everyone'. Meanwhile, they must be in clover as 71% are 'comfortable with the level of pressure' placed on them'. I wonder what they would say at Magic Circle Law firms, Big 4 Accountants etc etc....

A startling admission from the Home Office

Monday, February 19, 2007
At present it is 'defenceless in the war against illegal immigrants'.

That is the conclusion I draw from Liam Byrne's (With that name, I wonder if his ancestors hailed from Sussex....) claim that without ID cards, the country will be defenceless. And seeing as we do not have ID cards at the moment....

I can't help thinking that if someone outside the government used the word 'war' in the context of illegal immigration all hell would break loose.

Escaping speeding fines the Italian way

It can be done, but being a priest on the way to give the last rites or to take someone's last confession helps. Seems a reasonably civilised attitude to take, all things considered.

Meanwhile, watch the speed limit if driving anywhere near Santa Luce in Tuscany. The town's speed cameras raised €1.7m in 2005, more than three times that raised in local taxes.

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Beckett's in for a long wait at the FCO gym.

Those lucky people at the FCO have just had their gym refurbished, and I discover that the 1500 odd staff have a grand total of 13 weights / cardio-vascular machines.

So, that's around 115 people per piece of kit, and assuming a 10 workout, if Mags does not pull rank and joins the back of the queue, she'll only have to wait a little over 19 hours to get her turn on the treadmill. I expect the aerobics classes will be quite crowded too, and I'd advise her to avoid the lunchtime and early evening peak periods.


Of Presidents, policy and gender

A US TV network has commissioned a poll on attitudes to a prospective female president, and has come up with some rather odd findings. (The survey is at PR Newswire, which requires registration, so no click through alas). Neither PR Newswire nor oxygen.com gives any detail as to methodology, beyond their having quizzed 200 men and 200 women.

And the headline findings:

"85% of women polled and 66% of men polled said they would vote for a woman president. In addition, both women AND men think that a female president can do as good of a job as a male president -- 92% and 73% respectively". I suspect that the results are heavily coloured by attitudes to La Clinton, but I really cannot imagine that anything more than a tiny minority of Britons would think that one's X chromosome tally made a blind bit of difference to the ability of someone to take on the job or whether it would colour one's voting intentions.

However, it gets stranger still:

"92% of women and 74% of men think a female would be more effective at handling education

-- 92% of women and 73% of men think a female would be more effective at
handling healthcare
-- 87% of women and 72% of men think a female would be more effective at
balancing the budget
-- 80% of women and 58% of men think a female would be more effective at
handling social security.
--36% of women and 14% of men think a female would be more effective at
handling military decisions and priorities

I do not think that I am absolutely the last word in New Manliness, but I'm puzzled that there is not a huge majority in each case for something along the lines of 'what a daft question - a president's gender would not make a blind bit of difference'.

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Peter Hain's priorities

What would you suppose that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Wales considers to be the key planks of his bid for the deputy leadership for the local elections? Council tax maybe? Law and order? Education? Regional assembly powers?

Nope, it is animal welfare. In an item with his name appended to it appearing on 24dash.com, and appearing in one of the Welsh dailies, he rants at length about the ban on fox hunting, and the piece includes these gems:

"It will prove that only with Labour can we ensure that animal welfare is put at the heart of government's objectives".

"And now it is down to all members of the animal welfare community to come together to not only defend the Hunting Act in the face of a Tory party that would completely reverse it, but to highlight that it is Labour who will turn progressive belief into progressive policy. It is this message that must be at the heart of our campaign to win the local elections".

I'm no more keen on cruelty to animals than the next man, but outside of animal rights nuts, how many people really consider that this is the number one issue that stands between the electorate going to the polling station or slumping slack-jawed in front of their televisions?

Petition o' the day

Someone's been watching 'The Dirty Dozen':

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Send criminals to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan etc", and continues, "The govermnent and justice system is failing us by not sending criminals to jail for crimes they have comitted and so putting them back into society to offend again because the jails are full. Why allow your Tax to go towards the keep of some of the criminals that are in Prison, let them earn a living instead. Why not make them serve their Country? Football Hooligans love to fight so let them by sending them to help our Troops in Iraq etc...It will probably make real decent Men/Women out of them. It would also be beneficial to the likes of Burglars, Rapists, Muggers, Drug Dealers, Pimps, and your ever annoying ASBO's and many more that don't like to play by rules that we all do called Law and Order. Keep the prison places then for the Dangerous Criminals".

And that would be a great way of increasing war crimes, would it not? What concerns me is that the petitioner does not seem to regard rapists as being 'dangerous criminals'.

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Good sense in unlikely quarters

This time from the Canadian New Democratic Party, a left wing party aligned with the Socialist International like our own dear Labour Party.

"The federal government needs to do more to recognize the foreign credentials of immigrants who come to Canada in search of a better life, said NDP Leader Jack Layton on Sunday....The NDP will put forward a seven-step plan that will make it easier for immigrants to get their foreign degrees and designations recognized. Its plan calls for the creation of an agency for the recognition of foreign credentials, the establishment of uniform recognition practices across the country, websites to publicize accreditation processes, and more mentorship and training programs for newcomers". (Source)

I would think that recognition of degrees, professional qualifications etc would be best dealt with by bilateral agreements than by supranational bodies, although I will give the EU credit for taking on the middle class trade unions (BMA etc) and making it easier for people with professional skills to work with them elsewhere. Many, many years ago a friend of my parents moved from Germany to the UK, armed with a German opticians qualification. I think it fair to say that German exams are really quite rigorous, but back in the 70s he was never eligible to do much more than lurkin the background, rather than work at the sharp end.


A great new excuse in the making.

Sunday, February 18, 2007
Always supposing I had a conventional job and I was sacked for dodging around adult chat rooms during working hours, I would accept my fate and try to make nice with my wife.

Not, however one James Pacenza, 58, of upstate Montgomery, recently given the Spanish Archer by IBM. Instead, "In papers filed in federal court in White Plains, Mr. Pacenza said the stress (he is a Viet vet) caused him to become 'a sex addict, and with the development of the Internet, an Internet addict.' He claimed protection under the American with Disabilities Act".

And he wants $5m in compensation....

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Something to make a Media Studies degree look like a PhD from MIT

Filton College in Bristol will be offering 'workshops' where "Students will examine the "cultural importance" of hit shows like Pop Idol and I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out Of Here". More here.

Nigel Eagers, the college's vice principal, said he expected the Big Brother course to be a big hit with teenagers....However, he failed to explain how studying the likes of Jade Goody and Chantelle Houghton would help young people find work and boost their job prospects".

I've lost the will to live.


Need a doorstop?

In which case, the Ministry of Defence's Disposal Agency site has a rather tempting lot - not one, but two anchors from RFA Sir Percivale.

And here one is, in all its glory:

Rather disappointingly, no price is given and VAT will have to be added. It weighs around four tons, so it should be a fairly effective doorstop though.

Other bargains include a morse code unit which is 'unsued', apparently.

Some light relief

This is really rather good:


Which European democracy has a constititional ban on Jews, inter alia, running for the presidency?

Bosnia-Herzegovina. And it is right there in the constitution: "The Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina shall consist of three Members: one Bosniac and one Croat, each directly elected from the territory of the Federation, and one Serb directly elected from the territory of the Republika Srpska". (Source).

This is not me being overly sensitive, as a lawsuit to the ECHR is being mounted by Jakob Finci, a representative of Sarajevo Jewry. (The Post calls him 'the community leader', but I doubt he gained his office from a vote). The response from an unnamed Bosnian official is quite the smear: "However, the case of Mr. Finci is special. Finci is the director of the state agency for employees in Sarajevo, and is using the issue for gain. You must keep in mind that Jews still have a lot of power in Bosnia-Herzegovina and that there are other positions besides the presidency."

Note that Mr Finci is only asking for the right for non-Serbs, Croats and Bosnians to stand for office, not for it to be given to them. And these oh so sinister Jews with '
a lot of power in Bosnia-Herzegovina' amount to circa 500 people, or 0.013 of the population. I have not been able to find estimated figures for other minorities beyond 0.6 for 'other', although I imagine that would largely be comprised of the other nationalities that made up the former Yuoslavia.


Criminalising economic acts between consenting adults

Saturday, February 17, 2007
Yes, that is what Hugo 'Hero of the Brain dead Left' Chavez is now intent on. The New York Times has the details:

"Faced with an accelerating inflation rate and shortages of basic foods like beef, chicken and milk, President Hugo Chávez has threatened to jail grocery store owners and nationalize their businesses if they violate the country’s expanding price controls"...."José Vielma Mora, the chief of Seniat, the government’s tax agency, oversaw a raid this month on a warehouse here where officials seized about 165 tons of sugar. Mr. Vielma said the raid exposed hoarding by vendors who were unwilling to sell the sugar at official prices. He and other officials in Mr. Chávez’s government have repeatedly blamed the shortages on producers, intermediaries and grocers".

And why might they not be willing to sell? Inflation is running at at least 18%, far higher than official figures, and unsurprisingly supply / demand and profit / loss issues have come into play. Venezuela is a major grower of sugar cane, and that there is shortage of sugar and everyone bar Chavez is being blamed really tells you everything.

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The Cuban approach to internet access

Over in Havana, they have taken the 'walled garden' approach to the internet further than AOL ever did, with the launch of Cuban search engine, or more correctly a Yahoo style directory that only 'finds' Cuban sites. More here.

A search for Free Cuba on google brings up the Free Cuba Foundation as its first hit, while Infosoc presents a lengthy anti-Yanqui tirade.

The 'Latin Paradise' has the lowest level of net access in Latin America - 1.7 users per hundred, and "accused of voluntarily restricting free access to the Internet..., the Cuban authorities claim that this is due to the US blockade which prevents any connection to the marine backbone".

If the photocopier and the fax machine helped to break the Soviet Union, then the net is my weapon of choice for finishing off Castro. Time for a derogation from the blockade to facilitate net access?

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Good money is where you find it

The Jerusalem Post has an entertaining tale about a Saudi prince, Al-Walid bin Talal, who is apparently in negotiations to build an eight story, 150-room, Oriental-style hotel in Tel Aviv.

Mind you, Talal has his fingers in enough pies to hack off the boycott Israel rabble already - he has shares in Motorola and News Group.

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18 Doughty Street

Friday, February 16, 2007
I'm off up to town to sit on the 18 Doughty Street couch to attempt to talk politics with Shane Greer (standing in for the Dalemeister) and Paul Osborn of CWF. The site does not give any details as to what's on the agenda or whether anyone else will be joining in.

Should be entertaining - for me at least.


"How many divisions does the Pope have?"

Or rather, how many aircraft carriers does the EU have? One, perhaps.

I make the point as the latest outbreak of clear blue water between Sego and Sarko concerns building a second aircraft carrier for the Marine Nationale. Sego would rather spend the money on education, whereas the Gaullists rather like the idea, and there is already co-operation text us and the Gauls on the design etc. A fairly run of the mill tale of military expenditure so far, but there is a sting: The UDF (Bayrou's mob - the somewhat wetter wing of the Gaullists) want the EU to share the cost.

Supposing the EU did decide this was a great use of its money, I could foresee a potential difference of opinion between a Gaullist President and an EU Foreign policy commissar as to how it should be deployed, with the distinction at its prospective sharpest if the Gauls wished to be steaming around Tahiti or Reunion for whatever reason, and the EU had other priorities. What I imagine would happen is that if the EU had plans for the use of the carrier (let's call it the Giscard), and the President did not, it would suddenly become unsuitable and unavailable, just like a certain gin palace was in 1982, even though at the time of commission the public was told that it would be serve such a purpose during wartime....

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"I am not a number, I am a FREE man!"

In a move of staggering ghastliness, in patients can look forward to sporting bar codes on their wrists when next in hospital. Yes, really

"By wearing a bar-coded wristband a bar code reader can be used to verify the patient's identity at any time, and be an extra check that the right patient is about to received the right care. At present errors, many of which are caused by getting the patient identity wrong, cost the NHS around £2 billion in extra bed days. Auto-identification could make a significant impact on this cost...Auto-identification is not a new technology - we've all been used to bar codes in supermarkets for years." Yup, we're tins of beans, and as we all know from the monumental sucess of NHS IT programmes, absolutely no errors will ever be made when patients are branded.

Why not go the whole hog and scrawl the details on the patient's forehead with a magic marker?


How to win friends and influence people - a lesson from Chirac.

Revisiting has reputation as 'le Bulldozer', Chirac has decided to put a few (45m?) Spanish noses out of joint by noting that he has always snubbed invitations to celebrate Spain's National Day, marking Columbus reaching North America, as '1492 is not a great day in history - the Vikings got there five centuries earlier'. And indeed the aboriginal inhabitants crossed from Eurasia a lot earlier, but....

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Of coalitions, Lib Dems and referenda

The little known - at least in England - Nicol Stephen, head of the Scottish Liberal Democrats has been interviewed by the Scotsman, and there is much that is deeply telling in his reponses.

He has ruled out voting for a referendum on Scottish independence unless the separatist parties win a majority of seats in the May elections, thus effectively putting the kibosh on a coalition with the SNP. I would have thought that those who are both liberal and democratic would regard an unsuccessful referendum on independence as a good way to clear the air and to defend the Union, rather than falling back on procedure as a substitute for principles. It does not seem beyond the realm of possibilities that Labour / Tory / Lib Dem voting is not absolutely coterminous with support for the Union, and SNP / extreme left voting is not coterminous with opposition to it.

The same item notes that Stephen's numero uno priority for Scotland is young people and he prays the now infamous Unicef report in aid. As I have noted, the survey did not question anyone in Scotland. I can put up with lazy journalists not reading through a 52 page report but instead making do with second hand analysis, but our Lib Dem friend is a corporate lawyer by training, and should be well up to the task of wading through the small print. If not, I fear for the solidity of any M&A documentation he has been involved in.

Ming Campbell has also decided to join in the festival of folly, and in well thought out and serious intervention has called on Salmond to step down from his Westminster seat and concentrate on Holyrood. I look forward to Campbell telling Sinn Fein, Plaid Cymru etc the same.

Calderon and matters Mexican

Thursday, February 15, 2007
A guest post by Verity

Conservative forty-two year old Felipe Calderon won the presidency of Mexico last year with the slenderest of majorities – just under 1% in a heavily supervised recount. His opponent, Andres Obrador, the Evita Peron des nos jours who has built his career working for “social justice” - meaning wealth transfers for Mexico’s admittedly millions of uneducated disadvantaged - reacted by threatening to set up an alternate government. He also swore to disrupt the Inauguration ceremonies on 1 December last year, and indeed, he could have mobilized at least one million people, many of them armed, to do so.

Calderon, the outgoing conservative President Fox and other senior members of the PAN (National Action Party), knowing the damage such disruption of the swearing-in could do to Mexico’s image overseas, and the damage it could do domestically in light of the tiny majority, arranged for President Calderon to be sworn in, in a secret ceremony, at one minute past midnight on 1 December, 2006. It was a legitimate ceremony, with well-respected witnesses, the most important of whom was President George W Bush’s father, President Herbert Walker Bush. The presence of Mr Bush signalled a drive to greater unity with Mexico and, obviously, he was there with his son’s blessing.

This ceremony meant that if Obrador tried to pull anything during the official Inauguration later that day, Calderon was already chief executive of the country and could order out the military. And would. The man is not a ditherer.

President Fox, Mexico’s first ever conservative chief executive, had adopted a softly, softly approach to civil disorder, devoting himself to developing a capitalist infrastructure in a country that had none. He was criticized for not being confrontational enough, but I think he didn’t want to frighten the voters, new to conservative theory, off. So Mexico had six years of stunning growth, but with civil disorder, mainly due to powerful drug interests, in a few areas.

Calderon, who has two Master’s degrees, one from the Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de Mexico and the other from Harvard University, and who speaks fluent English, is not as conciliatory as President Fox and has already ordered the military out on several occasions – the most notable being to Oaxaca, where unions and drug interests had paralysed the city’s sanitary department. There had been no garbage pick-up for three months. The effect of this in the tropical zone is unimaginable. Calderon wasted no time in ordering the military in with orders to shoot union officials if necessary, which indicates an astute grasp of the tenets of trade unionism.

Since Canada finally elected a conservative prime minister last year, the entire N American continent – around 440m people – is now governed by conservative principles. Calderon has pledged to President Bush that he will be an ally in the war on drug dealers, and he has already proved it.

Mexico and the US have problems on the border, but they are working together to solve these. (It doesn’t hurt, by the way, that President Bush’s sister-in-law – Florida governor Jeb’s wife – is Mexican and that his nephews and nieces are Mexican-Americans.)

NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Association brought in under President Fox – has been a powerful engine for economic development. Drive into a Wal-Mart, or Home Depot parking lot in a Mexican city and you would think you were in the United States with row upon row of shiny new cars and full shopping trolleys.

Capitalism and conservative management are working. A friend tells me that as little as 10 years ago, it was against the law to criticise the Mexican government, and anyone heard doing so would be arrested. Today, anyone can voice any opinion they like about the government.

Who would have dreamed, seven years ago, that a Mexican president would win an election in 2006 by promising “to take Mexico further into the global economy”? When President Calderon leaves office, that will be 12 years of conservative government. That means an entire generation of young Mexicans who have never known anything but capitalism and conservative government.


The Gauls get it right. For once.

Unlike this country, French broadcasters do not take kindly to 'impartial' journalists / presenters coming out for politicians and parties. So, Alain Duhamel was regarded, quite rightly, as having crossed a line when he said of presidential candidate (and no hoper...) François Bayrou, 'He is someone I like, and I will vote for him' , and is on leave from France 2 until the end of the Presidential camapign. A video of his declaration was posted on YouTube equivalent Dailymotion, the comment having been made at a conference at Science Po in November. For what it is worth, Bayrou is basically a good oeuf, but rules are rules, or rather should be.

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Failing to understand takeovers

Quite the press release from the T&G.

Imerys, a French listed company with operations in over 40 counties has a UK subsidiary which is engaging in lay offs. I cannot say I know the ins and outs of that, and for the time being they are not hugely relevant to the issue at hand - its acquisition of UCM, a ceramics company.

Here are some quotes to savour:

"Imerys is spending over £20 million to buy UCM and says it can afford to do so from existing resources," said Jennie Formby, T&G national secretary. "They also say their offer represents of premium of nearly fifty per cent on UCM's share price. To our members facing redundancy and bleak job prospects it means Imerys is paying over the odds and has misled them by saying there is no money for a decent pay-off."

Jennie, go and read up on M&A tactics, practice and law. Imerys is not actually paying a premium because it fancies giving away money, it is doing so to avoid the cost of a hostile takeover. Doubtless the funding for redundancies and for acquisitions are not found in the same place in corporate accounts.

And there's more:

"She carried on to say today's announcement gave the real picture of a company which can "afford to pay probably already wealthy shareholders more than their shares are worth yet deny the people who have given years of service a proper pay off."

Erm, heard of institutional investment and pension funds? UCM is a PLC, so it is unlikely that every last one of its shareholders is a cigar-chewing plutocrat in a top hat.....


New York got the Statue of Liberty, Quebec City gets the Vachibou

Making a bid for the least welcome and least suitable 400th birthday present award, the French have decided to give this to Quebec City:
I think that a pair of socks might have been more suitable. It will not be cast in bronze and set atop the Heights of Abraham, but rather is a logo for use in publicity etc for for French funded events commemorating the quadricentenary of the city. Lucky Quebecois. Supposedly it will "invoke (sic) the famous dairy cattle of Normandy, homeland of Quebec's original settlers, and the wild caribou that roam the Quebec tundra". ( Source)

Certain problem arise - they are moose not caribou antlers, and udders and antlers do not generally go together....

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Even more dumbing down

That I am Unionist is well known, but were I not I think it would be big ask to find anything more insulting than an item in The Daily Record on the SNP's broadcasting plans.

Were Scotland to gain independence, among the other possible trappings, it would seek to have a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation. Seems reasonable - I do not suppose Slovenes tune in to Belgrade broadcast TV any longer, Kievans to Moscow etc etc. The Record quotes that woman Jowell to the effect that a license fee would cost £250 to 'match the output of the BBC'. A number of issues arise - the SBC could be pay per view, it could take adverts etc etc, the BBC could sell programmes cheaply to SBC. After all, if the Dutch and our Hibernian neighbours can pick up the BBC for nada, it seems more than likely that trasmitters covering Ulster and Northumberland would be more than powerful enough to facilitate signals viewable in the Central Belt where some three quarters of the population reside. I will concede that the digital switchover might well make that harder, but I doubt the problems would be insurmountable. If the BBC had a choice between flogging its output to SBC at a knockdown price in order to reach the Highlands and Islands and get some money back, or charging a fee that would not be paid by Edinburgh as most of the population were free-riding, the outcome is blindingly predictable

Meanwhile, quite how shameful would it be to fight a referendum with the slogan 'Stick with the Union so you can watch EastEnders'?

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Just what is Lib Dem defence policy?

Ming seems to have blundered into an elephant trap, in that he has signed a 'no Trident renewal' letter along with the usual laundry list of bien pensant 'liberals' and members of the extreme left, which posits, inter alia, "The urgent need is both to halt the spread of nuclear weapons to new countries, and for all states which possess them to move more rapidly and substantially towards nuclear disarmament. "More here.

The latest LD policy discussion paper suggests the following:

4. In the light of such circumstances it would be unwise for Britain to abandon its nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, in the current situation Britain no longer needs the size of
deterrent that the present Trident system represents.
5. The current Trident nuclear weapons system should be retained and its operational life extended for as long as is cost effective.
6. Britain should now reduce its nuclear arsenal by approximately 50%, retaining no more than 100 operational warheads, with each Trident submarine carrying no more than 24 warheads when on deterrence patrol.

It could be argued that the two positions are not necessarily antithetical, but it would all too easy to paint Ming in the same shades as Labour in the 80s.

Odder still is the Wee Eck of the SNP has signed it too - surely the Socialist Republic of Scotland will be digging itself into the ground long before any money is spent on renewal......