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Fun with google maps

Saturday, March 31, 2007
Always supposing you wanted to know how to get from Stanford, California to Croydon, google maps might seem a useful place to check for route planning.

Step 33 offers the marvellous step - 'Swim across the Atlantic Ocean, 3,462 miles'.


GLA candidate selected for Croydon & Sutton

Steve O'Connell, Croydon deputy council leader, was a deserving first round winner. He was by far the most confident speaker, the most authoritative, the most in command of his brief and the most fired up. I have every confidence that he will be an excellent successor to Andrew Pelling, who has stepped down to concentrate on representing these parts in Westminster.

As to the other candidates, Jackie Doyle-Price impressed me once she moved on from a toe-curlingly awful first couple of minutes, when she rather ill-advisedly told us of her love of karaoke and Coronation Street rather than cutting to the chase. Having read the CVs, she was the one I wanted to win prior to hearing the speeches and Q&A sessions. She was passionate in her address, and I think that if she had not made such a hash of things at the start it might not have been a first round knockout by O'Connell, who, admittedly, also had the local advantage . Perhaps wisely the meeting's chairman did not give a vote tally. I know she has applied elsewhere and do hope to see her in Westminster some time soon.

Total turn out was circa 250-300, with blog regular Nick and his wife in attendance, having very kindly furnished me with a lift too, for which thanks.


Brown rumbled

His wrecking of the pensions system, in the full knowledge of the consequences of his actions, leads in the 'graph, The Times and the Mail (judging from the front pages shown at the Sky site). I cannot see anything at the BBC site, and leave readers to draw their own conclusions. The Daily Star considers to divorce of a fading pop star more important.

This should prove the silver bullet that puts the Kirkcaldy Werewolf out of our misery once and for all, but I would not count on it, alas. And with that, I'm off out to help choose a GLA candidate for Croydon (and Sutton). A full report later.

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59% of Britons have not heard of the Common Agricultural Policy

Friday, March 30, 2007
My jaw hit the floor at that one, but that is what Eurobarometer figures on knowledge of agriculture and so forth shows. Right there on page 17. Only the Gauls, the Hibernians and the Poles manage an awareness level of 60% or higher, with the French (fancy...) leading at 64%. The UK figures are quite near to the EU average of 43% awareness, while the Maltese live on in ignorance - 17% know of it.

Further nuggets from the survey later, but only after I have recovered from my current state of shock.

As ever, the Devil is in the detail of Eurobarometer surveys, and it is the responses to what the public judge should be the priorities of EU agricultural policies, opinions as to their success or otherwise that also risk robbing one of the will to live.

It is a maxim of basic economics that maximum prices lead to shortages, and minimum prices create gluts. Hardly an earth shattering insight. I think that we would all - including farmers - be better off if all forms of agricultural support were removed. This approach was a huge success in New Zealand . However, back on planet reality, there is too much mushy sentiment about noble tillers of fields and the like, and more to the point, too many votes in it to make the Year Zero approach a practical possibility.

So, what does Euroman and woman want the CAP to do? (UK figures in brackets):

41% (29%) - Ensure produce is healthy and safe
37% (33%) - Ensure a fair standard of living for farmers
35% (27%) - Ensure fair prices for consumers
33% (29%) - Promote respect for the environment
27% (30%) - Ensure farm animals are well treated

Other published responses include helping farmers adapt to meet consumer expectation, protecting family farms, boosting organic production etc etc. There is nothing along the lines of 'stop interfering / rigging the market', and even supposing that anyone had said that, the highest figure it could have been is the 3% for 'other' in the Netherlands. 'Fair' in these contexts always sets my teeth on edge, as 'fair' is beyond nebulous. Flipping this round, if Euroman and woman had been asked about a common banking or window cleaning policy, would the same proportions have been concerned about 'fair' wages or 'fair' prices? Incidentally, 27% of the UK respondents belong in the dunce's corner, as they answered 'dunno' to the priorities question. All Finns quizzed came up with answers of sorts, but maybe they are too embarrassed to admit ignorance and make something up when a clipboard is waved at them, or else are not in such a desperate hurry to end the questionnaire

Drilling down further, laurels for the Czechs, Danes, former East Germans and the Italians for sub 30% figures concerned about 'fair' standards of living for farmers. Finns, Romanians and Greeks all scored higher than 50%.

And it isn't just the public that send you hunting for the smelling salts, as the EC Joint Research Centre has just discovered the following:

"The DG Joint Research Centre's...map shows that an identical solar system will generate twice as much energy in sunny areas of Europe, such as Malta and Southern Spain, than in areas such as Scotland or Northern Scandinavia".

Next week I expect it to inform us that Elvis is dead and the Pope wears a funny hat.

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French geeks for Ségo

In a rather depressing development, all four of the main French candidates have set up bases in the online virtual world Second Life, or as the Immortals would probably prefer, Deuxième Vie. Further details here.

Based on visitor numbers, Ségo and Le Pen will go through to next round, with Sarko and Bayrou falling at the first hurdle.

I expect we will have similar nonsense to contend with come the next general election.

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An odd way to spend thirty bucks

This, believe it or not, is a wedding ring coffin, yours for $29.95. It can be personalised with a plaque, with suggested options including 'I will survive' and 'He broke my heart but I broke the bank'. Classy, eh? The company is based in the US, more specifically in Westfield, New Jersey.

Website here, but I have not arranged a kickback arrangement with them yet.

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Hitler did not hole up in Antarctica

Thursday, March 29, 2007
Not altogether surprising, but apparently there is a thriving conspiracy industry insisting that Terra Australis had ""a vast underground cavern" warmed by volcanic heat, with docks for U-boats and "hangars for strange planes and excavations galore... We were overwhelmed by the numbers of personnel scurrying about like ants... The Nazis, it appeared, had been on Antarctica a long time."

Debunkers writing for the 'Polar Record', and filleted by the National Post, call the theory 'a load of crap', but do note that "The people who wrote this have a complete northern hemisphere mentality because none of them seem to have cottoned on to the fact that all of this stuff they want to have happened, happened in June. And in June, the southern hemisphere is locked in ice and it's pitch black. They imagine people flying in by seaplane and landing on the sea...The sea at that time of year is covered by ice, and a 1,000-kilometre-wide ice plain extends out from Antarctica towards the north. There's no way any submarine or any seaplane could get anywhere near Antarctica".

They'll be telling us that 'They Saved Hitler's Brain' wasn't a documentary next.

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The somewhat touchy King of Thailand

Or, being charitable, his officials, as he has commented "Actually, I must also be criticised. I am not afraid if the criticism concerns what I do wrong, because then I know. Because if you say the king cannot be criticised, it means that the king is not human". (Source)

If Thai laws on 'offending the dignity of the sovereign' had applied in these parts in 1977, this

could have seen Jamie Reid cooling his heels in Pentonville until 2052. A Swiss man found guilty of the crime of offending etc faced upwards of 75 years for defacing portraits of His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej ('Strength of the Land, Incomparable Power'). The Thai authorities erred on the side of clemency and only sentenced him to 20 years, reduced to 10 because he confessed. (Source)

As a footnote Bhumibol would appear to be as yet the only crowned head to have been born in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Doubtless there are sundry Kennedys prepared to rectify that, given a quarter of a chance.


Livingstone finds more people to offend

This time the Japanese government and its people. There may, or may not be a case for arguing that the congestion charge is not a tax, but this hardly classes as diplomacy, especially when conducted on the radio:

"Commenting recently about Japan's decision not to contribute toward the central London congestion motoring charge, Ken Livingstone told the LBC radio station, "I think there are several problems with Japan that we could go on about here. "Admitting their guilt for all the war crimes would be one thing. So if they've not got round to doing that, I doubt they're too worried about the congestion charge." (Source)

Showing his usual cavalier disregard for the facts, he fails to note that the Japanese authorities have made numerous apologies. Quite apart from the issue of diplomatic niceties, it is hardly good business to offend a major source of foreign direct investment, and the £312,000 which the Mayor considers Japan owes is a trifle compared to the potential investments that he may have deterred. He has taken aim at the US in similarly crass terms, and given that around 50 diplomatic missions are not paying the charge, perhaps we can anticipate a whole range of specially tailored slurs for individual countries.

Cross posted to Anyone But Ken

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Iran and the Geneva Convention.

Iran is a signatory to the Geneva conventions, and has been since 1949. While we are not at war with Tehran, I have been doing some investigating as to the applicability of the conventions, particularly the Third to current events.

Always supposing that Tehran is correct in its assertion to that Jolly Jack Tars etc were in their territorial waters, article five would appear to apply:

"Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act..." is a prisoner of war "...such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal."

Thence to Tehran's obligations:

13 - "Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated....Prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity".

Article 60 is another curious one: "The Detaining Power shall grant all prisoners of war a monthly advance of pay".


Just what's with the over 50s? They are into heroin, mysticism, atheism, questioning their sanity and schmaltz.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Or so a poll of their favourite songs would seem to suggest.

Lennon's turgid 'Imagine' leads - 'No Hell below us, above us only sky' - There's the atheism.

Second, Lady in Red - There's the schmaltz.

Third, 'Stairway to Heaven. Awful, just awful. Give me 'When the Levee Breaks' any day. Mysticism, arrant nonsense and lyrically fuelled by a lot of hash.

Fourth - Stand By Me. Harmless enough.

Fifth - Crazy (Gnarls Barkley, not Cline). Seems to be about insanity.

Sixth - Lou Reed's Perfect Day. Yes, it is about heroin. Accordingly, the Children in Need version provided a huge amount of wry amusement.

Seventh - Good Vibrations. Hmm...

Eighth - Bridge over troubled water. Also widely believed to be about heroin.

Ninth - Closest Thing to Crazy. I'm beginning to worry about them now...

Tenth - Whole lotta love. They could at least have chosen the Muddy Waters 'You need love' that this was ripped off derived from.

Still, no Beatles, so it isn't ALL bad.


Everybody's a victim department

In this case a 25 year old woman from Calgary, who would seem prone to overdoing it on the scent front. Having been asked to leave buses by two different drivers because her scent proved overpowering. In both cases the drivers alleged they had allergies. The woman was 'shocked, very upset [and] very embarrassed' and wants the drivers punished and an apology from the city. Doubtless litigation will follow.

The offending scent is the witlessly named 'Very Irrésistible'. Further research suggests "[It] is a sparkling, elegant and luscious floral fragrance. Tantalizing the senses with notes of rose, star anise and verbena leaf this perfume will add a touch of glamour to any occasion. This is a scent that is fun, spontaneous and very irresistible". Calgary buses are capable of being glamourised I imagine.

Way back lost in the mists of time, some B movie or other was accompanied by squirting scent into the air ducts as an atmospheric gimmick, resulting in the audience being sent to sleep. John Walter's 'Polyester' was accompanied by scratch and sniff cards in some venues, with the experience dubbed 'Odorama'. Saints preserve us....

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The American update

Latest polling is looking none too good for the junior senator for New York. Harris figures show that Hillary Clinton manages to prompt very strong antipathy, with 39% of those polled ready to say that they definitely would not vote for her if the Dem's candidate. Her best showing based on gender demographics is 19% among single women.

Gen X voters (31-42, like much of my readership?) are the least hostile at 29% definite nots. 60% of the over 62s claim to9 be definite nots. Even 11% of Dems declare as definite nots.

Asked what they have against her, there is not much difference in the figures for her track record as First Lady or as a senator, or for her politics or her personality. Around a quarter strongly dislike all four. 15% claim to strongly like her opinions. The old show the greatest antipathy.

On the upside, she is seen to be highly intelligent (76%) and to have experience (49%). She would seem to have what I am going to call Coriolanus Syndrome: 52% agree that 'She does not appear to connect with people on a personal level'. 34% think otherwise.

More here, but the site requires registration.

This all rather confirms my long term conviction that she does not have a prayer of winning the presidency, and I do not think Obama has much of a chance either. Elsewhere, Bloomberg is pondering on running as an independent, apparently. The two are trading at 2.38 and 4.15 ish at Betfair. Odds on Gore are falling and lengthening for Edwards. Giuliani leads for the GOP, followed by McCain.


Prospects for a live remake of 'Day of the Jackal'.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Le Monde has, very helpfully, counted up the number of tooled up and be-ear pieced goons trailing the various candidates, although the figures do jump around a bit.

Sarkozy would seem to offer the greatest challenge, as he is reckoned to have a security detail of 20, although whether that is per engagement or in total is not clear. Sego trails with a mere dozen. Given that assassins, until fairly recently, tended to be from the revolutionary left, I suppose bedsit Marxists etc will have to ask themselves whether class traitors or class enemies are the higher priority...

Elsewhere, it notes that Bayrou and De Villepin have goons too, but it does not give a figure. Le Pen has his own crew of brown shirts (plus plod too, presumably), while the far left candidates shun all offers of police protection. As to duck wannabe Nihous, no figure is mentioned.


The perils of not rigging votes by television viewers

Who might rate as the greatest Portuguese of all time? Henry the Navigator? Vasco da Gama, Magellan, or my nominee, whoever first created port?

However, given the choice, the Portuguese rose en masse and voted for Salazar. If not exactly a fascist, a dictator certainly. Further details at El País.

The Germans rigged their event to exclude characters from the Third Reich, and - I think - from the Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands. They ended up choosing Adenauer, the French De Gaulle, the Dutch Pim Fortuyn, the Americans Reagan. The Belgians had a split contest and the Walloons chose Jacques Brel and the Flemish Father Damien. Not someone I've heard of.... We got it right and chose Churchill, so sometimes vox populi is vox dei, so to speak.

Further national greats findable here.

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A small memory jog for Polly Toynbee

Today Public Enemy #1 is having a good old rant about the Manchester Casino (she's agin it):

"The word is that the old Son of the Manse in No 11 always shuddered at this gambling bill (Yeah. Right. He, of course can do no wrong in her book. She described as being like 'a kindly uncle' once. C). His other unexpected tax bombshell in the budget slapped 50% on casino takings and 15% on online gambling: it left the whole policy battered.

But heftier tax is no answer. It may slightly diminish profits and bring a shedload more cash into the Treasury. Isn't that a good thing? No, Australia stands as a warning. Their great expansion of gambling, mainly through "pokies" - high-prize slots - now means more than 10% of government revenues come from gambling. The state has become addicted to the nation's gambling habits. No future government could decide gambling was damaging its people and seek to reduce it. How could they afford to lose those revenues? Better by far to try to hold down gambling as best a government can - and it can.

And now for the fun bit, from 2001: "History will record very little of interest about the John Major era. What stands out? His near- criminal rail privatisation perhaps. Yet he did bequeath one great monument to the nation. No, not one but an ever-growing cornucopia of monuments large and small - the bounty of the national lottery....: back in 1998 when gambling fell under the remit of the Home Office, Jack Straw asked Sir Alan Budd to examine our antiquated gambling laws and suggest reform. There were old-fashioned nannyish restrictions to be removed from casinos (no drinking, must be a club member), some new ones needed (protecting children from one-armed bandits) and urgent review of e-betting, which Gordon Brown quickly remedied".

Perhaps she agrees with Emerson that "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines".

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Dodginess involving 'Blue Peter', 'Songs of Praise' and now Ribena

As if rigged phone-ins and 'Easter' services at Lichfield cathedral being filmed in December were not bad enough, "Global drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline was forced into another embarrassing admission today after two 14-year-olds from New Zealand found its popular blackcurrant drink Ribena contained almost no vitamin C". Source.

"High school students...tested the children's drink against advertising claims that "the blackcurrants in Ribena have four times the vitamin C of oranges" in 2004. Instead, the two found the syrup-based drink contained almost no trace of vitamin C, and one commercial orange juice brand contained almost four times more than Ribena".

All rather depressing, but on the upside, the youth of New Zealand would appear to have a healthy scepticism and to have been paying attention in their science lessons


Conservative Party boycotts The Guardian

Monday, March 26, 2007
Not as such, but that is what the Partido Popular is doing to El País, those two being the best matches for our lot and the Guardian.

And here's why:

El País has accused the PP of 'pure and hard Francoism' over the demonstrations it has organised of late against Zapatero's policies on terrorism (as blogged recently), before going on to say that some in the PP camp want to go back to the Civil War.

The PP wants an apology, meanwhile El País, other political parties, journalists etc are up in arms.

I'm not convinced that the PP has been entirely wise in its course of action, but if nothing else the stand off should be interesting. Would make for an interesting template for similar action in these parts.

I am off out to a funeral shortly, and will be turning on moderation.

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More from Eurobarometer

Sunday, March 25, 2007
This time on animal welfare within the context of farming and so forth.

Asked 'Would you be willing to change your usual place of shopping in order to be able buy more animal welfare friendly food products?', the Cypriots and Greeks are the runaway leaders at 83% and 82% respectively, with Finland and the Netherlands bottom of the class at 42 and 43%. We are joint 18th at 56%, level pegging with Bulgaria.

Looked at demographically, women, the middle aged, urbanites, the self-employed and white collar workers are the most enthusiastic, with the old and unemployed being rather more cash conscious.


Motivating civil servants, the Korean way

From the Korea Herald:

"Officials at the Civil Service Commission, the government's personnel management agency, said yesterday it is developing new guidelines for the evaluation of public servants under which incompetent officials will face demotion to lower grades and positions.

The new five-scale index is scheduled to be implemented in April at the latest, officials said

The new scheme is designed to improve the productivity of officials and remove unqualified officials from their posts, the CSC official said....The program will offer reprimanded officials an opportunity to explain their position. They will be removed from their current posts and given a second chance in the form of an offer by other departments before being reassigned to new duties, such as enforcing traffic regulations and cleaning streets. If they fail to reflect and improve over a period of six months, they will eventually be fired".

I think they might be on to something.

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EU bits and bobs

Saturday, March 24, 2007
Firstly, the liberation of our marines and sailors by the Tehran regime must be assured as the EU, showing a fine command of the niceties of military nomenclature has demanded the "immediate release of the 15 British soldiers arrested yesterday" Source.

Elsewhere, a novel piece of interpretation by the Croats of the machinations of the EU: "The fact that enlargement is not mentioned in the declaration which EU leaders will adopt in Berlin on Sunday on the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome is excellent news for Croatia because it is understood that Croatia is the EU's 28th member, Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said in Berlin on Saturday". Source

Oh aye.

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Who would be an Oz plod?

"After copping a speeding ticket last year, former highway patrolman Dave Gabriel thanked the police and said: "Bye piggies, oink, oink." Told to expect an additional fine for the remarks, he leant out of the window and called: "Well, here's a second go," and said, "Bye piggies," again.

Gabriel was taken away in a paddy wagon and charged with offensive behaviour, but he may have the last laugh. Sutherland Local Court magistrate George Miller awarded him $1300 in legal costs after declaring that the remarks did not constitute an offence. Though "childish", such language was not defined as offensive conduct by the law, Mr Miller said". Source

Lombard Street to a rotten orange that NSW's bravest will be putting up with that constantly from here on out.

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Ségo rips of Danton /and/ Blair

Friday, March 23, 2007
"C’est pourquoi l’éducation, encore l’éducation, toujours l’éducation est au cœur du pacte présidentiel". Source

And the source material: "il nous faut de l'audace, et encore de l'audace, et toujours de l'audace", and 'Education, education, education', so she isn't very good at quoting either.

And they are still doing it

As soon as I read that England fans in Israel for the football had been to Yad Vashem, I just knew there would be a photo like this:

I've said it before (not that I can find the story), but do people really have no sense of what is appropriate attire and behaviour?


Guidance from the HSE - practical demolition

Weasel word watch

Even more from Pravda Central, this c/o DEFRA:

"Proposals for modernising the hosepipe ban legislation are published today for consultation".

What might 'modernising', in the non-debased sense mean to a normal person in this context? Redefining external water supplies, perhaps?

No, of course not: "The joint Defra/Welsh Assembly Government consultation outlines proposals for replacing this with a 'discretionary use' ban, which would extend the scope to activities such as the filling of domestic swimming pools and using a hosepipe for cleaning patios and drives".

So, 'modernising' actually means 'extending' or 'increasing'. Maybe I'll 'modernise' my drink intake and thank my mother for 'modernising' my clothes when I was a small person.


Have the Gauls fallen out of love with their countryside?

The latest polling would seem to suggest that they have. Voynet for Les Verts manages just one per cent at the moment - they polled 5.25% in 2002, and the Hunters and Shooters have slumped from 4.23% to 0.5%. The Soixante Huitards still appear to be frighteningly popular - 10.5% for the various other extreme left candidates.

FN voters are notoriously shy, but some 13% are prepared to 'fess up. Le Pen polled just shy of 17% in the first round in 2002.

Away from the loons,Sego and Sarko are level at 26%, with Bayrou still in the hunt at 21%. There's a long way to go though....


Bandwidth thieves at the DoH?

Pravda Central has a release about the forthcoming ban in smoking in pubs etc, which it mendaciously calls 'the official countdown to smokefree (sic) England', it being nothing of the sort.

So far, so very very uninteresting. Jumping from hyperlink to hyperlink I ended up at the section with the official 'no smoking' signs. The signs themselves are hosted at an Australian domain: http://smokefree.profero.com.au/files/a5_sign_sf_premises.pdf

Most curious.

Then there is the guidance:

* Smokefree (sic) premises sign must be at least A5 in area (210mm x 148mm).
* The international no-smoking symbol in both signs must be at least 70mm in diameter.
* Both signs must be printed in colour (red and black on a white background).

This begs the question whether the use of no smoking signs using, say, magenta and lime green would give an opening for legal address

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">"Valhalla remade as office space"

Thursday, March 22, 2007
Gave me a start when I saw the original too. However, the tale in the Sydney Morning Herald actually involves a defunct cinema.

Still, as those Atari ads in the 80s had it, 'Business is war'.

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Hurrah! - A victory for freedom of expression

Our friends on the other side of the channel have thrown out the lawsuit against satirical paper Charlie Hebdo for publishing some of the Mohammed cartoons. The court found that they were not an offence against French Muslims. More at Le Figaro.

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Independent broadcast media in Iraq

Iraq now has its first independent broadcaster in IRTN (Independent Radio & Television Network), which launched last week and is already reaching (or available? The original is unclear) 11m Iraqis with 14 hours of radio programming a day. Source (requires registration)

Some quotes:

"We respect the Maliki government and all religious leaders," says Rafed Mahmood, general manager ..."But our voice is independent. No one tells us what to say."

"The terrorists are nothing more than criminals. They promise the people safety and protection but only deliver death," says Mahmood. "It's time for Iraqis to stand up and say enough. We must fight for our own freedom."

"Bush and Blair are freedom fighters," says Samir Kamies, television station manager. "The sons and daughters of America and Britain have died on our soil for our freedom. We are grateful but soon they must go home. Now every Iraqi must stand up for freedom."

And here is IRTN's rather spartan website .

Congratulations and good luck.

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">A pink ice cream called 'Girlie' "not meant to reinforce or cement gender roles in any way"

Yeah, right.

Only, perhaps in Sweden and some of the more left-field London boroughs would anyone think it worth getting upset about the name and look of an ice cream. That, however, has happened, owing to Unilever's Swedish arm, GB launching "'Girlie', a star-shaped, pink ice-cream with glitter make-up stored inside the stick". Apparently it also "signals a "sense of summer", "star status" and "a disco feeling". Doesn't really sound my thing, but then Barbie pink is not a colour that is a mainstay of my wardrobe.

The Sveriges Konsumentråd (Swedish Consumers Association) seems a touch more militant, not to say moonbatty than the rather dull lot in these parts, and seems even more out of touch with the basics of marketing, supply and demand and the basic mechanisms of capitalism than the 'venture capital sours milk, makes small children cry and causes mange in dogs' corner of the trade union movement, and in the form of its general secretary has asked "I question whether there is a demand". My advice to Jan Bertoft, for it is he, is to let Swedish consumers decide that. Maybe Unilever will make a bundle, maybe it won't, but it is at their risk.

It gets better: "Sweden does not need more products that reinforce existing prejudices surrounding young boys and girls. "Especially with a product as neutral as ice cream," said Jan Bertoft. He would like to see alterations made to the product to make it less gender specific. "They can call an ice pop 'Girlie' if they want, but it doesn't have to be so clearly aimed at young girls and telling them how they should be," said Bertoft".

Now that is all quite amusing, but the 'erm, sexist? Not us guv' response from the ice cream makers is priceless: "GB's marketing manager, Christoffer Schreil, considers it unfortunate that some people have viewed the ice cream as being directed solely at girls. "It is not out intention to exclude either boys or girls as consumers of our ice cream. We target everybody. "We think Girlie is a fun ice cream with a retro feel," he said. Schreil hopes that plenty of boys will buy the product but admits there have been a few complaints".

I hate to think what Sveriges Konsumentråd would make of some of the things on sale in these parts: Woman, Woman's Own, Woman's Realm, Woman & Home, The Lady, GQ, Men's Health...

Perhaps the ice cream (which, if Intertran is to be believed, should be called Flicka) will prove a huge hit with the same demographic that snapped up the Spice Girls electric pink briefcases marked 'Girl Power'. Alternatively, some of the sterner Gudruns and Agnethas in Umeå and Göteborg will decide that 'Girlie' is just the summer treat for their sons to stop them from sliding into gender stereotyping at an early age.....

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France's Eric Morley comes out for Sego

Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Nice to see that Le Figaro is tracking the all important opinion formers - Geneviève de Fontenay, the Presidente of the Miss France Committee, is backing Ségolène Royal. Apparently she backed Arlette Laguiller last time. I think it very, very unlikely that even French Trots approve of beauty contests.

My man with his finger on the pulse of French popular culture has suggested that de Fontenay is widely believed to have sapphic tendencies, which perhaps explains why she opts for the best looking female candidate.


A prototype bumper sticker...

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ETA concludes it has killed 819 people needlessly

The leader of Batasuna, ETA's equivalent of Sinn Fein, has just declared that "No one, not even ETA, considers it possible to build an independent state in the Basque Country through armed conflict”, and "it would be an error to think Basque independence can come about through anything but democratic means”. More at El Pais (Pdf only)

Not that Arnaldo Otegi is prepared to condemn ETA violence, but if is is not advancing the cause of Basque independence, it does rather beg the question as to why they should be carrying on bombing and shooting. My tally of ETA kills comes to 819, including two Ecuadoreans killed in December.

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Welcome to Wales...

The Welsh Assembly has cooked up a guide to all things Cymric for immigrants, available in a range of languages. Fairly sensible on the face of things, including pamphlets in Polish, Estonian and French. However, it has also included a version in Welsh...

A quick peer at Wikipedia suggests that there are maybe 10,000 Welsh speakers outside these islands, concentrated in the Anglosphere and Argentina, and it would be interesting to know quite how many monoglot Welsh speakers there are outside the Principality. This is not intended as an exercise in Welsh labguage bashing, and I'm happy enough for Welsh to be an official language there, but what, pray, is the point of having a guide to Wales in Welsh available for immigrants?

Rather unhelpfully, the Welsh Assembly has not linked to the document on its website, but does carry a rather breathless press release about the guide, so I am indebted to Conservative AM Jonathan Morgan for pointing out that the guide to the law suggests that Wales is appealing to some less than salubrious characters, as it points out the illegality of incest and rape.

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Budget betting

As a public service, I have investigated available markets for budget betting, and here are some highlights, courtesy of Paddy Power:

What will he say first:

Economic Growth - 3-1
Commitment - 3-1
Infrastructure - 4-1
Prosperous / Prosperity - 4-1
Stability - 6-1
Inflation - 8-1
Prudent - 12-1

No sips of water is the hot favourite at 8-11, the speech being under 57 minutes is available at 8-13 and 11-15 mentions of 'environment' at 2-1.

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Holidays in Hell

Some years back, a collection of PJ O'Rourke's journalism appeared under that title (and quite entertaining it was too, unlike some of his rather contrived more recent work), with Libya one of the places he was trying to get to. The chapter on his attempts covered his failure to get to the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, largely because his travel plans co-incided with cruisue missile strikes on the country. He found the Libyans he dealt with helpful and charming, by the way.

Anyway, should the Sage of Baltimore fancy another crack at it, as "-- According to Phoenicia Group (http://www.phoenicia.ly/), the leading U.S.-Libyan diversified business and consultancy group, tourism infrastructure development is being given national priority by the Libyan government, with the Libyan Economic Development Board, a policy result of the National Economic Strategy, tasked with steering the far ranging initiative".

Phoenicia? Don't 'diversified business and consultancy groups' check their classical allusions? Tunisia has a better claim to Carthage - and Carthage.tn takes you to the office of the Tunisian president. The .com and .ly suffixes look to be available though. Perhaps they would rather irk the Lebanese than the Tunisians. A perusal of the Jana News Agency site suggests that Libyan hacks have been given a furlough from writing about palm and olive trees, for which they are doubtless grateful.

Predictably, it is Libya's coastline that the group is intent on promoting, but a bit of digging suggests that there are some sights worth seeing - Leptis Magna 'the site of some of the most impressive ruins of the Roman period'. There also appear to be some rather good museums in Tripoli. If a day's beach lounging proves too wearing, Libyan TV sounds worth shunning - 'The main output of Libyan television is devoted to showing various styles of traditional Libyan music'.

For those tempted by the Sex Pistols' 'Cheap holiday in other peoples misery!', note that "According to the U.S. Department of State’s annual human rights report for 2004, Libya’s authoritarian regime continued to have a poor record in the area of human rights. Some of the numerous and serious abuses on the part of the government include poor prison conditions, arbitrary arrest and detention, prisoners held incommunicado, and political prisoners held for many years without charge or trial. The judiciary is controlled by the state, and there is no right to a fair public trial. Libyans do not have the right to change their government. Freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion are restricted. Independent human rights organizations are prohibited. Domestic violence against women appears to be widespread, and there have been reports of trafficking in persons. Ethnic and tribal minorities suffer discrimination, and the state continues to restrict the labor rights of foreign workers." (Source)


The things they say - French Presidential candidates

Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Care of www.programme-presidentiel.com, translated by YT with a verisimilitude check by a genuine Frenchman:

It is not by strolling around and stroking cows’ backsides that one defends agriculture - An earthy José Bové

They will cast any stone, they shake, they multiply charges, they put committees in place charged to supervise me, to target me, to track me and will say who knows what about me. A deeply paranoid Bayrou.

My ideas have not grown old - Trotskyite Arlette Laguiller

If I could be reincarnated, it would be as a duck - Frédéric Nihous of the Huntin', Shootin' and Fishin' Party

So it is extremist to defend the villages and to defend public services against a European Union which has decided on privatization? Trotskyite eurosceptic Gérard Schivardi

If all the cuckolds in France voted for me, obviously one day I will lead the Republic. Le Pen appealing to the 'real man' vote.

I will speak of neither the bombs nor the fires, I will speak only of the Corsica which works. Sego.

One will not convince the electorate with ‘United Colours of Benetton’ type slogans. Revolutionary Communist (and postie) Olivier Besancenot

In France, it is not the balls they cut off, but the head. Sarko

Full blown ecologism by keeping a hand on the shoulder of the state, and the chemical and car lobbies. Tree-hugger Dominique Voynet

The wolf befriends workers, the better to eat them. Less than trusting Communist Marie-George Buffet. No relation to Warren....

An effective fight against the takeover of suburbs by the bearded ones. Philippe De Villiers

Meanwhile, over at the Sego site, someone has suggested dropping religious bank holidays in favour of Republican / Euro ones....


Government plans to nationalise bank accounts

Imagine you are a doting grandparent, and you drop a few hundred quid in a new savings account for grandson / granddaughter and heir, and then all concerned forget about it. Fast forward 15 years, and under proposals from that thing Ed Balls, the government will then be able to get its greasy mitts on it and blow spend it on "worthwhile reinvestment in youth services, financial inclusion and capability". While "balancing the financial interests of consumers". More here.

Supposedly it will be possible for consumers "to visit their bank or building society to reclaim which will repay them as now". The phrase 'getting vintage bordeaux out of a stone' springs to mind, especially if you have changed your name, for instance. What is more, the banks and so on are in cahoots with Balls on this one, which is beyond disgraceful.

Of all the absolutely filthy things this government has cooked up, this is perhaps the most stone cold Hall of Infamy candidate, and having shown the story to the generally mild-mannered Dizzy, he started SHOUTING IN ANGLO SAXON on MSN. And he is not given to doing that.

What's next? Shares? Houses? Cars? Stuff lying around the house that you can't be bothered to throw out / sell on ebay? Spare kidneys of non-drinkers?

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Meet Japan's loosest cannon

Tokyo region's governor, Shintaro Ishihara, who seems to specialise in upsetting just about everyone. Having irked Japan's neighbours, women ("old women who live after they have lost their reproductive function are useless and are committing a sin"), crow lovers and Lefties, he has now taken aim at the French language, calling it "neglectful and appalling" and "French is disqualified as an international language because it is a language that cannot count numbers".

While quatre-vingt-dix-sept etc does seem a bit silly to folk raised on the names of English numbers, our Gallic chums do seem to have had their share of mathematical whizzes, and there appear to be flourishing banking and accountancy businesses across the Ditch, so it would seem that the French are happy enough with their system.

He has a downer on the Beijing regime, supports Taiwan and likes the Dalai Lama, so he can't be all bad. Apologies to any would be readers in the 'People's Republic' of China, as I'm banned there.

(Shocking typo in the headline corrected. Insufficient caffeine at the time of posting. Apologies)

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Sanity tests for dog owners

They are in prospect in Russia, if the state Duma enacts a proposal currently before it. Although I cannot imagine any circumstances under which I would wish to own a dog, the law is not aimed at all breeds, but rather the usual list of dangerous breeds - Rottweilers, Tosas, Pit Bulls and so forth. A prospective owner would have to prove his or her sanity before being allowed to own one of said breeds. In addition, "[The] bill would prevent people who abuse drugs or alcohol from owning dangerous breeds, bar these dogs from many public places and make sure that they were always kept on a leash and muzzled. Owners would also have to receive permission to keep these dogs in their apartments and receive special training". More here.

The idea of dog owners being stopped and required to show a sanity certificate, does - at least in the abstract - amuse. I read somewhere ages ago that small dogs are far more likely to bite than even the demonised breeds, although doubtless a bite from a Jack Russell is less likely to be life threatening than one from a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Perhaps testing the sanity of people who seek to own some of the ghastlier toy breeds could be amusing too.

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The French update

Monday, March 19, 2007
Ségolène Royal has been fleshing out her plans somewhat, and has decided that a few minor tweaks to the constitution merit renaming it the Sixth Republic. As with constitutional meddlers closer to home, all of this fiddling is suposed to make the Republic (which is 'a permanent coup d'etat', in Mitterand's words) more democratic and more efficient. Apart from removing the Senate's veto powers, it looks pretty thin stuff. Given that previous republics have come to pass after revolutions, wars and other, erm, major events, this looks like yet another solution looking at the wrong problem.

What is more telling is that she wants to embed 'social democracy' and what might be called populism, including:

Promotion of mass trade unionism (How very modern)
Worker representation on company boards (How very stupid)
Any petition with a million signatures to be examined by Parliament (and then ignored, presumably)
And not forgetting her wretched citizen juries.

Neither Le Monde nor Libération have managed to get very excited about 'the VIth Republic', so it isn't just me. There are also shades of discontent among the tribunes over 'Désirs d'avenir.org' appearing on the rostrum, with this evoking the 'New' attached to Labour it would seem: "Making Socialist representatives march under this banner is ridiculous. We have not changed the party". Source

(Expect a lot of these over the next few weeks, as I am engaged in an exterior project centred on the French presidential campaign).


Peter Hain 'getting down wiv ver kids'

The Hainster is making mockery of him so much easier by listing his civilian interests on the sundry new media websites associated with his deputy leadership bid:

First up, his youtube site: This currently boasts five fairly antique videos (the most recent is a month old), and has attracted a grand total of 28 channel views. I decided I could not be bothered to view them.

He claims his favourite bands are the Manic Street Preachers, the Stereophonics and Snow Patrol. All are associated with the Celtic fringe, so he is doing his bit to show his interest in the popular culture of the areas he is commissar Secretary of State for. Uh huh. Anyone who can offer up some embarassing lyrics by any of those bands will earn my undying gratitude. We can also surmise that he has neither a dish nor cable, as his only unmissable TV programme is Match of the Day.

Flickr is also quite entertaining, and could be titled 'Photos of famous people who have met me', including rather awkward looking royals and sundry sports people. I also like 'Busy Working' (just a bit staged), and class traitor that he is, he appears to be sitting in a first class railway carriage.

His MySpace page is private, the blighter.

There is no direct link to his Facebook page, but a search brings up a site dealing with a meeting at the LSE last year, and Peter Hain for Deputy, which is categorised as 'humour'. In order to see anything on Facebook registration is required, but I feel it would be selfish not to share this photo with non-registrants:

Among the 16 'members' of his group is someone who is using a 'Blears for Deputy' badge as her icon...

Back at the main page, he finds time to mention any number of his adventures, but not his one time presidency of the Young Liberals. He confesses to being a Chelseas supporter, but it took him until he was 15 to work that one out. Bit of a late developer, I would say, or else a turncoat, as boys choose a team at about five. Further digging shows that his conversion in 1965 happened when 'they were on course for a treble of League, FA Cup and League Cup going into the final stages of the 1964-65 season, winning the League Cup but faltering late on in the other two'. I'm sure it was all about playing style and his heartfelt connection to West London and nothing to do with silverware.

His blog is not exactly alive with comments - I can't find any. Maybe it is because of the spectacularly pompous moderation policy, featuring, inter alia, a ban on 'Comments that look like they come from someone else', so that would exclude, inter alia, Guido, Cranmer, Bienvenuti Durruti, Bhownagree and sundry other fixtures of the blog scene.

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A London story that is national news in France, and local news here

I do not suppose that any of my readers outside SW London have heard of a missing French woman called Michelle Vilimek. Her disappearance is national news in France, but does not appear to have attracted any coverage outside the weekly press in Wimbledon and Richmond.

I imagine that her family would be more than a little disappointed that the press in these parts is not exactly pushing this story.


"Bong hits 4 Jesus"

An odd tale from the US: The Supreme Court will be considering a case involving high school pupils in Alaska who unfurled a 14' banner with that motto, only to have it torn down by an irate principal. The architect of the stunt got suspended for 10 days, and surprise surprise, lawyers got involved.

The lining up of pressure groups in favour and against the school has proved fairly predicatable, but sundry religious lobbying groups have come out for the student, fearing that First Amendment rights (Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.) are being imperilled.

As the Chicago Tribune reports, "[the] Liberty Legal Institute, a non-profit law firm "dedicated to the preservation of 1st Amendment rights and religious freedom" ...told the justices in its brief that it was "gravely concerned that the religious freedom of students in public schools will be damaged" if the court rules for the school board".

Further details when I see them.

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Tessa Jowell concedes she is a child

Sunday, March 18, 2007
"Tessa Jowell threatened to 'jump out of her pram' if the £10billion Olympics budget was cut by reducing the amount spent on non-sporting facilities, it has been revealed". Source

Yes please.

As 'mania and I were agreeing the other day, Pacino's insult of 'you (expletive deleted) child' to the Spacey character in the peerless 'Glengarry Glen Ross' is remarkably effective in context.

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Need to tart up your office?

Saturday, March 17, 2007
I have just the thing - a used desk, currently failing to meet its ebay reserve of $25,000:

According to the blurb, "The one-of-a kind desks were designed by Gensler Architects and fabricated by Brochstein’s, one of the nation’s premiere manufacturers of custom architectural furniture. According to Brochstein’s, the desks, with an elegant Makore Pommelle veneer, would cost well into five-figures to replicate today".

No, it isn't my desk. It belonged to Ken Lay of Enron.

Rather unfortunately perhaps the most notorious desk of all time, that of Michael Milken, is not showing up in image searches beyond this graphic:


When the boot's on the other foot

It was not so very long ago that the Americans were agonising about the Japanese buying up great swathes of US commerce, and the Japanese would pass the time calculating whether the Emperor's gardens were worth more at constant real estate prices than the whole of California.

Anyway, Matsushita, owner of JVC, Panasonic and Technics (inter alia) looks to be on the verge of selling its majority shareholding in JVC to US fund Texas Pacific. This, apparently, 'will be the first major acquisition of a Japanese consumer electronics maker by a foreign investment fund'.

Hasn't the Japanese equivalent of the TUC told them that investment funds are in league with Satan?

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Broon speaks on smoking - and gets a well-deserved fisking

Friday, March 16, 2007

The Would Be Lord Protector has been hectoring addressing the nation, or as Pravda Central puts it "Speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, at the National Consumer Council - responsible choices on smoking".

First of all I want to thank the NCC for inviting everyone along to debate how people, public services, companies and government can all work together to make Britain healthier - and to thank all of you for coming along today.

Not much of a debate if a goal has already been pre-defined, is it?

Nothing matters more to any of us than our health and the health of our family and friends.

Absolute BS. If health was always one’s prime concern, we would never engage in any risky activity (mountain climbing, driving, drinking too much etc etc) and would be having weekly, perhaps daily check ups and attempting to bully said friends and family into doing the same. And you would have gone to the dentist far in advance of getting a toothache wouldn’t you?

And as our population knows more about how to improve health, what we do matters more so than ever before. Now there are things that we can all do as individuals to be healthier but there are also certain things that governments can also do.

And who exactly is ‘we’? The royal ‘we’ perhaps?

This is the last of our pre-Budget consultations.

Thank God for that.

In the past you looked at a budget just for what it said for this year about the economy or inflation or interest rates. Now budgets look far further into the future - about changes we can make together to improve the country.

Trying to fetter your successors, aren’t you?

So in my preparation for the Budget, I have been talking and listening to families around the country about child benefits and Sure Start and nursery education. I have listened to what the elderly have to say about pensions. I have talked to parents about schools. I have talked to employees and companies about the skills and jobs of the future. I have talked to community groups about environment and regeneration. And today we are talking about health.

So, lots of hot air. I could spend all day every day talking to functional groups with differing agendas and achieve precisely nothing. Note that you have said nothing about whether your chat fests have served to change your plans.

But when we talk about health we're also talking about the kind of country we want to become - as well as what we want as individuals - and how high our aspirations are. Let me give you some examples.

What do you mean ‘we’? I didn’t vote for you, and your idea of the ‘country we want to become’ is vastly different from mine.

Australia made a decision to become a sporting nation by becoming a non-smoking nation. And by 2029, 90 per cent of adults will be non-smokers, a target we may on present trends achieve only by 2050. And recent research indicates that there may be no female smokers at all by 2030 in Australia.

By which you mean the Australian political class. I’m not aware of a plebiscite in Oz where every last ocker signed up to this. Will be’? Remains to be seen doesn’t it? You and your confederates reckoned that five years on from the 1997 Year Zero this would be the land of milk and honey. I’m still waiting….

Finland made a decision that to tackle heart disease they had to become a fitter nation. Figures suggest 70 per cent of adults now engage in physical activity once a week. Only 40 per cent do so in Britain.

Define physical activity. Are 60% of us in a persistent vegetative state and incapable of movement?

And in Britain some years ago we made a decision to cut deaths on our roads - introducing seatbelts, breathalysers and aggressive advertising against drink driving. Today, person for person we have half the road deaths of France and a third of the road deaths of America.

By enforcing criminal sanctions you cretin, and therefore a grossly unsuitable parallel. Rather different from ‘persuasion’, isn’t it, unless you are planning on criminalising tobacco.

So we can make other decisions as a nation to become healthier.

Well whoopee do. You could enforce a law making us all go jogging every morning, but that does not make it one with which I would concur.

Patricia Hewitt the Secretary of State for Health and Caroline Flint Minister of State for Public Health are here to discuss health issues with you.

Or rather to incline their heads, say ‘mmm’ rather a lot and then continue as per normal. As for the National Consumer Council, I doubt that they are especially representative of the nation. Note that it is headed by ‘Lord’ Whitty, erstwhile Labour minister. Plenty of other board members and ‘advisers’ strongly indentifed with the broad left too.

Take smoking.

Don’t mind if I do.

One in four adults smoke.


And almost one in every five pregnant women continues to smoke
For lower income mothers it's one in every three that continue to smoke. And we know also that today girls are more likely to smoke than boys, unskilled workers more so than professionals.

In part because of the brilliant idea of letting on that smoking results in low birth rates, thus appealing greatly to dimmer women.

Smoking costs the NHS £1.5 billion a year. In England in 2004/05 there were approximately 1.4 million NHS hospital admissions with diseases that can be related to smoking. And an estimated 88,800 (18 per cent) of deaths in 2004 were caused by smoking.

And why don’t you mention the rake from tobacco tax? And if we all stopped smoking, 18% would live forever, would they?

In 1998 the Department of Health set a 2010 target of reducing adult smoking to 24 per cent, a target we've hit with 1.6 million fewer smokers now.

Maybe, maybe not. How was this figure arrived at? Self reporting surveys, making assumptions based on sales?

Our new target is 21 per cent by 2010.

So what can we do?

(Shut up and sit down, or better still go away, please)

Better treatment and the NHS now offers a comprehensive stop smoking service:

- an assessment by a GP;
- support through counselling;
- helplines; and
- through the NHS, nicotine replacement patches and gum.

The Department of Health has allocated £56 million to stop smoking services this year - approx £189 per quitter. And spending on nicotine replacement products like patches and gum is around a further £50 million.

Well isn’t that a bargain? And you are bragging about it? And what happens to backsliders?

We have already banned practically all tobacco advertising, use hard-hitting warning labels, are raising the age limit for cigarettes to 18 and - this is for discussion today - used the tax system to encourage people to stop smoking.

Let’s not talk about Formula One eh? ‘Encourage’ – how weaselly does it get?

And this summer we will see the most radical reform yet: banning smoking in public places.

Erm no. I can still smoke in the street. That’s a public place. And you have nationalised a chunk of behaviour, which is shameful.

After smoke-free laws in Ireland, cigarette sales fell by 15 per cent, in Norway by 14 per cent, in New York 100,000 people have quit since the start of the ban.

Given any thought to how you are going to make good the tax rake shortfall?

I am keen to explore some of the options we have to us to further reduce smoking.

I bet you are. You are never happier than when meddling and foisting ever monstrous pieces of social engineering on the populace.

For example:

- Should patches and nicotine gum be made cheaper, for example free of tax?
- Can we give better incentives for getting fit?
- Should we tax cigarettes more?
- How can we stop smuggling of illegal cigarettes into our pubs and communities?
- And how does smoking fit in to a wider campaign for public health?

I look forward to hearing your views. This is an opportunity for you all to influence the way we do things and any changes we make.

So, you address an audience of unelected fellow travellers, and expect them to do anything more than clap like circus seals?

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Denunciation watch

Although no sane person could regret the fall of the Eastern Bloc, it does deny us the minor pleasures of denunciations from Moscow, Warsaw, Tirana etc. However, the 'Democratic People's Republic' of Korea is keeping the flag flying, and here are some extracts from a corking communique on Japan:

"The Japanese authorities like to talk about the building of a "beautiful country." But they are becoming more vulgar and shameful in their behavior quite contrary to their motto. This is evidenced by the fact that the suppression of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) and phobia about Koreans in Japan have become evermore pronounced throughout Japan since Abe's assumption of premiership....The attempt made by the Japanese authorities to block even a legal protest meeting, not content with suppressing Chongryon, only betrayed their sinister design to force the Koreans in Japan into slavery in violation of their elementary rights. This is nothing but a repetition of the gangster-like logic that Koreans should sacrifice their lives and properties for the sake of the "Great Empire of Japan" and a revelation of the brazen-faced intention to dominate other nations...History goes to prove that the more black-hearted intention a country entertained, the more glossy words it used and the fiercer the fascist junta got, the more loudly it trumpeted about "democracy" and "human rights."...It, at the same time, glaringly shows what base and wicked country Japan, which claims striving to build a "beautiful country," is."


However, Pyongyang might be intent on ending this nonsense, as "North Korea hopes to become friends with the United States and Japan and become a responsible member of the international community, the North Korean officials said at a nuclear negotiations working group in Beijing yesterday". Source

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Prudery in Oslo...

I will admit that I had not heard of sculptor Gustav Vigeland, or come to that, the Vigeland sculpture park in Oslo before today. Anyway, said sculptor (a follower of Rodin) filled the park with mainly nude statues between 1907 and 1943.

However, yesterday an irate Norwegian took 'the time to hang bars of black paper over every sex organ and buttock cleft in the series of statues on the park bridge'.

The manifesto left behind is the best bit: "
There is too much nudity in newspapers and magazines, so here on the bridge the limit has been reached!" More here

Probably just as well that the contents of
the Naples National Archaeological Museum's Gabinetto Segreto have never been exhibited al fresco in Oslo.

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Anyone for re-politicising the civil service?

For all that the civil service has a certain organisational culture (it is not very keen on change, for example...), by and large it would seem to be staffed by men and women of good will seeking to serve the nation and who also are at the very least dimly aware of the dividing line between working for the administration and being party hacks.

This, however, would not seem to be good enough for sundry minister and ex ministers:

Straw: "For sure you shouldn’t turf people out as you come in, you should take those who are there, but as they change you should have a high level of discretion over them”.

Charles Clarke, another former home secretary, also expressed frustration with the fact that ministers were unable to swiftly get rid of unwanted permanent secretaries.

..David Blunkett said politicians were confronted with a system where they couldn’t appoint, promote or sack those working under them.

He said secretaries of state should be directly responsible for the appointment, from a shortlist, of their permanent secretaries and the next three highest ranks.

“How can you have a situation where in the end the permanent secretary isn’t answerable to the secretary of state, but is answerable to the secretary to the cabinet?” he asked".

I do not think that one would have to be up to an Olympic standard of cynicism to recognise that this would set place us on the express train to wholesale politicisation of the civil service, with advancement dependent on sucking up to ministers rather than ability to perform a task. Not good.

Geography and history lessons needed for Telegraph hacks.

The 'graph his disgraced itself by publishing this today:

For once I can say, in all honesty, 'as every schoolboy knows' (because WW2 is about the only period of history taught universally), the grey areas were part of Germany in 1939.

This is what Germany looked like at the height of the war:

Being charitable, perhaps the paper meant to label it 'areas ceded by Germany to Poland' as part of the post war settlement.

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Under 24, pregnant and a driver? The EU thinks you are triply stupid.

Thursday, March 15, 2007
Or so one might think from the EU's latest bright idea - health warnings on cans and bottles of booze.

One would have to be quite the hermit (and brewing one's own, perhaps?) not to have noticed research, public campaigns and, erm, personal experience to realise that over indulgence in grape and grain can have adverse consequences.

And it is not just the Commissariat that thinks we all need to be told - their polling suggests 77% of the EU's population think product health warnings and nannying adverts are a really great use of public money. However, the most diabolically illiberal proposal of the lot is lower permitted blood alcohol levels for younger drivers. A determining age is not given as such, but much play is made of 15-24 year olds elsewhere. It is hardly worth going into the details of body size, and years of experience on the road being at least as relevant as age, is it?

As always with eurobarometer polls, there are all sorts of other little nuggets hidden away in the findings, with Italy having 40% of the population claiming to be total abstainers. (Of which I imagine a goodly proportion are also pathological liars, as 92% claim to have had a drink in the last month ). Denmark can only muster 7% claiming to be rechabites.

Back on product health warnings, the Maltese, Cypriots and Hellenes are keenest on them, with the Finns and Danes the least. 75% of Britons favour them, apparently. As to random roadside drink testing (which we effectively have already, see passim) , the highest proportion against is 29% in Slovenia. The Greeks must have forgotten about liberty, as 92% are in favour.

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Suffer from migraines? Good news for you.

Well, ish. Neurologist Piero Barbanti of the San Raffaele research hospital in Rome has informed the world that "Migraines are an 'illness of the brainy'".

And his proposed action? A film festival encouraging "Film-makers..to make short films which illustrate how failing to seek professional advice about migraines can be disastrous". I can't see any of these being the next 'Dolce Vita' or 'Ladri di biciclette', although doubtless Dottore Barbanti means well.

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Less than joined up government

In possibly the silliest proposal by any government in living memory, the Dutch Health Ministry is proposing to ban smoking in the nation's infamous cannabis 'coffee' shops.

Although I am pro-legalisation, I cannot see that there is much point in rehashing all of the old pro and con arguments about drug legalisation, but if the Dutch are seeking to change legal practice in those parts, using the figleaf of passive smoking as a way to enforce prohibition is remarkably mendacious. One Dutch MP noted that this "would be the same as banning alcohol in pubs". The ruling coalition lost the vote by the way.

Just one year's peace and quiet on The Drain remaining.

The Drain being the underground line between Waterloo and Bank. Mobile 'phone coverage will be available at the stations, and even more horrifically on the trains themselves from April next year, probably, with the 'success' or otherwise of this trial defining whether the 'benefits' of miobile reception will be rolled out across the rest of the network.

At the risk of being accused of hypocrisy, it seems blinding obvious that success will be measured solely by whether London Underground makes money out of this venture, with the desire on the part of other passengers to be allowed to complete their crosswords etc in comparative peace not likely to be factored in. Given the lay out out of the network, one would be hard pushed to spend more than an hour underground, and doubtless many journeys are much shorter, so is it really too much to ask that connectivity a-holes contain themselves for the duration of a tube journey rather than inflicting their conversations on everyone else? From my use of the overground network and so on, oafish mobile use seems to span age, gender and class, and perhaps the network operators might care to point out that modern mobiles have extremely powerful microphones and high volume speech is not required. Mobile phone bellowers are therefore either morons or exhibitionists. Probably both. And no apologies for returning to this again.

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The EU bans Zippo lighters

Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Yes, really

"On 11 May 2006, the Commission adopted a Decision requiring Member States to ensure that, from 11 March 2007, cigarette lighters are child-resistant when placed on the EU market. The Decision also prohibits the placing on the market of lighters which resemble objects that are particularly attractive to children; so-called Novelty Lighters. Certain lighters, such as luxury lighters, are excluded from the scope of the Decision based on a number of technical criteria, but must anyway comply with the general safety requirements for these products. In short this means that from 11 March 2007":

Cigarette lighters placed on the EU market must be child resistant
(With the exception of lighters which are sold with a 2 year written guarantee, are refillable and can be repaired by a European-based after-sales service). (My emphasis).

Now as is commonly known, Zippo lighters have a lifetime guarantee, and to get one's Zippo fixed, one sends it to Zippo Repair Clinic, 1932 Zippo Drive, Bradford, PA 16701 United States of America.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, lucky Pennsylvanians, is not part of the EU.

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How others see us...

US operation Trip Advisor has polled its users on European destinations and has come up with some curious findings:

Paris - Favourite city, most romatic, top for culture, but also the most over-rated and the unfriendliest.

The Great Wen - Second favourite, top for shopping and night life and the most family friendly. Crikey...

Auld Reekie - Joint most under-rated along with Prague.

Prague - Home of the bargain.

Dublin - Friendliest.

Rome - Best looking locals.

Germans - most annoying travellers followed by us and the Gauls.

Italy - Best food, followed by France and Spain.

More here, but it is PR Newswire and requires registration

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More idiocy from the T&G

What is the purpose of a limited company? To make money for its shareholders. Anything else is at best peripheral to that primary purpose.

So, savour this 'criticism' from the T&G of "US billionaire Nelson Peltz and his affiliates":

"Cadbury's is an iconic British brand and a very successful company which does not need the attention of Mr. Peltz," said Brian Revell, T&G national organiser for food and agriculture. "His intervention in Heinz has been a ruthless pursuit of profit for shareholders." (Source)

Mr Peltz is not one of those scary VC people, but rather the head of a publicly traded company, Triarc, and if a company wants to prevent its stock being traded it should never have had an IPO.

I do not suppose it is worth spelling out that shares in C-S are not all held by cigar smoking, top hat sporting plutocrats, or come to that by hair shirted Quakers, but rather by institutional investors quite probably managing the pension funds of T&G members, inter alia.

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One MP who will not be voting for Hain for the deputyship...

Or perhaps she thinks he is younger than he is and is concerned about his health:

"Mrs. Siân C. James (Swansea, East) (Lab): If she will assess the merits of placing advertisements in magazines and media aimed at teenagers about the (a) potential dangers of sunbed use and (b) availability of fake tanning products".

To which Caroline Flint replied:

"The Minister of State, Department of Health: The SunSmart skin cancer prevention campaign will, we understand, include in its next phase the dangers of sunbed use, especially by those under 18. SunSmart is an integrated public health campaign that includes a high profile, intensive press and PR programme, supported by targeted distribution of public information resources".

To add insult to injury, Swansea East borders the Hainster's constituency of Neath.


An Asian update - featuring an unnerving prospect for MPs and a Marxist apologising

Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Form the Bangkok Post: "Political office holders will face criminal prosecution on top of a five-year ban if they conceal their wealth or wilfully file false financial statements". And on that basis, Mandelson would not have been able to stand in Hartlepool in 2001 because of his mortgage dealings in 1998...

As to the Marxist apology, regrettably it was not for being espousing Marx, Lenin or Engels, or accepting part of the collective blame for the Gulag, but rather for this:

"When the House resumed and Baalu stood up to speak, Anil Basu followed by Shaumik Lahiri (both Communist Party India (Marxist)) barged towards the minister. As Basu was about to snatch papers from Baalu’s hand, minister of state for Finance SS Palanimanickam came from behind and formed a wall in front of the minister. In the meantime, other CPI-M members rushed towards the Well, who were confronted by DMK MPs resulting in jostling and both groups shouting at each other. Two union ministers - Shivraj Patil and PR Dasmunsi - were caught in between them even as DP Yadav of RJD and Prabunath Singh of JD-U tried to separate the two groups, with BJP members as spectators".

And all this over the siting of the Indian Maritime University. Our MPs get photographed demostrating about hospital closures from time to time, but rarely resort to parliamentary jostling...

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Has CiF just published the worst piece of journalism ever?

The Guardian has let loose Michele Hanson on private equity, and must be quite proud of it, or else is having some fun at her expense, as it is a Pick of the Day. Some extracts:

"But whatever is private equity? I've looked it up and I still can't quite make it out".

"My friend Fielding saw a programme on it, and he explained. "They can just do what they want," says he. "It's a new game called I Want It So I'll Have It. To play, you borrow squillions, buy a company, keep it for a bit, strip it of its assets, sack loads of workers, tell everyone that you've made it more efficient, then sell it again at a gigantic profit, making billions in 'performance fees', on which you pay a lower tax rate than teachers and nurses".

"Meanwhile shares are zooming up, people are mumbling about insider dealing, and I'm learning a little more about private equity. I can't say I like it".

The ENTIRE article is written with the same intellectual rigour. I think I might ask the Guardian if it will commission me to write a piece on something about which I know little or nothing. High Church Slavonic, the Chadian pharmacy sector or womens' basketball perhaps. However, I would feel honour bound to do some research first, so that rules me out, I fear.

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The Pentagon goes to war against the demon drink

What happens when you take lots of hopped up young men far away, and put them under a great deal of stess but ban alcohol? They find ways of getting hold of booze or narcotics, and in common with drunk and stoned people the world over end up doing things they regret later. The New York Times has discovered that "Alcohol- and drug-related charges were involved in more than a third of all Army criminal prosecutions of soldiers in the two war zones — 240 of the 665 cases resulting in convictions".

Further, it notes that "While average rates of alcohol consumption in the Navy and Air Force have steadily declined since 1980, the year the military’s health survey began, they have significantly increased in the Army and Marine Corps and exceed civilian rates". This is not exactly surprising - the dough boys and the fly boys do not have to deal with very much by way of incoming at the moment, whereas grunts and leathernecks are rather more at the sharp end. Air and marine supremacy does make combat rather less stressful I would think.

So, what is Uncle Sam doing about his misbehaving nephews and nieces? It "has spent millions of dollars on several initiatives to reverse the trend, including a new Web site that deglamorizes drinking".

And as a public service, I have taken an extended tour of duty around thatguy.com, for that is the website in question.

It is very heavy on Flash, and has a rather annoying soundtrack, so be warned. The 'are you that guy' saw more fail dismally, as I've never woken up with drawings on ny face and I'm unlikely to sing 'Living on a prayer' loudly or quote all the drill instructor insults from 'Full Metal Jacket'. Among other useful indicators it has a game where cheesy pick up lines (which you cannot choose) fail to get the girl - who looks a bit like Cameron Diaz. Unsurprising really. And based on a hypothetical annual bar spend I could buy a howler monkey. Uh-huh.

Now with Nick's splendid e-mail tale in the comments....

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