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Yet more childishness over geographical names

Monday, April 30, 2007
This time in Asia, where the Japanese call an area of water the Sea of Japan, and the Koreans call it the East Sea. And here is the area in question:

While the Koreans have some justification in being peevish about the Japanese name (which is the most common usage in international circles), might not the good people of Japan be a little confused by having an East Sea that lies to the West?

A bod from the Korean foreign ministry failed to help his or her cause at the forthcoming International Hydrographic Organization bun fight by saying this anonymously: "We are planning to explain to the member countries why the name 'the East Sea' is more appropriate". More here

I do not fancy the former Hermit Kingdom's chances of swaying the current IHO's board of the US, Chile and Greece, especially if Japan comes out for using FYROM rather than Macedonia....

Anyway, I look forward to the French lobbying for the English Channel to be called The Sleeve, and maybe we can give Hibernia a hard time over the Irish Sea. Meanwhile, the North Sea (which isn't very North unless one is Dutch, Belgian or German) used to be called the German Ocean by us, and there's rather a good Wikipedia piece about it in Scots: "The German Ocean is whit is nou mair aften kent as the North Sea". Meanwhile, the Germans call the Baltic Die Ostsee, so there is scope for much confusion.

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Who would be a astronaut?

Anyway, the European Space Agency has come up with a remarkably ghastly way of annoying the inhabitants of the International Space Station, by opening up a competition for European children to cook up a ten song playlist for them.

Currently in orbit are 41 year old Russian Oleg Kotov, 48 year old Russian Fyodor Yurchikhin and 41 year old American Sunita Williams, although it looks as though she will be replaced by 48 year old Nebraskan Clayton Anderson in June. And just what are the prospects of Euroyouth decentring long enough to think what might please this disparate group? Very low, I think.

I suspect that the ESA will not be able to compel the troika to listen to the winning list, but if it is, I pity them the prospect of having to listen to *anything* on repeat for the duration. Well, maybe Cage's 4'33" might not be too bad.

Obligatory gloat at the fate of enthusiasts for the euro

Hidden away in a rather heartening (unless you have the surname 'Blair') YouGov poll in the 'graph is this call and response:

"Which...of the following would you judge to have been Mr Blair's greatest failures?"

"Failing to take Britain into the euro" - 6%

Granted other more popular options included the likes of the sitting, comatose and klieg-lit ducks that are immigration, crime and Iraq, but I'm struggling to wonder just what is going on in the heads of that unreconciled 6%. Meanwhile, the other 94% might find Britain in Europe's Sunset Boulevard webpage of a Parthian shot worth the click.

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Sarko sticks it to La Gauche

Sunday, April 29, 2007
From Le Monde, my translation:

"I want to turn the page on May 1968".

"Between Jules Ferry (1) and May '68 (2), the Left chose May '68...It has preached welfarism, egalitarianism, a levelling down and the 35 hour week. It has turned its back on the ordinary working people of this country".

And why doesn't he like the Soixante Huitards?:

"Their intellectual and moral relativism. [suggesting] There is no difference between good and evil, beautiful and ugly, true and false and that Jack's as good as his master".

Good stuff. However, the track record of politicians appealing to the 'silent majority' (yes, he did - 'la majorité silencieuse') is not very encouraging.

And elsewhere, Le Figaro notes that at the same rally Michèle Alliot-Marie (the defence minister) accused Ségolène Royal of 'changing her convictions as often as she changes her outfits'. Catty, Michèle, very catty.

1 - More at the usual place, but Ferry was the father of French state education, and a contemporary of Gladstone and Disraeli.

2 - There is no real equivalent to the iconography of May '68 for we British types, but think general strike meets counter culture etc etc. Some nifty slogans though 'Be realistic - demand the impossible' and 'Beneath the paving slabs, the beach!'

Cross-posted to TAB in a slightly different form

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Going that extra mile to please the boss.

They do things differently in Korea, apparently:

"On March 8, Kim Dong-won [son of Hanwha Group chairman Kim Seung-youn] allegedly quarrelled with employees at a bar and was pushed down some stairs, sustaining a 10-centimetre cut to his face.

The media said the chairman later visited the bar looking for the man suspected of hitting his son and was shaking his fist at the employees. Eyewitnesses said Kim told his son to point out the man that hit him and batter him "until his anger is appeased." ...Victims claimed Kim's [bodyguards and company employees] had also used steel pipes and electric shock devices to torture them. Hanwha officials denied the allegations". More here.

And it would be remiss not to point out that "In 1952, the Hanwha Group was founded under the name, Korea Explosives Corporation. The founding chairman, Kim Jong-hee, had built the explosives company from the ruins of the Korean War with a sense of duty, to build a patriotic business that could contribute to the rebirth of the national economy". Source.


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The Italian equivalent of the Inland Revenue rules on taxes for lap dancers

Friday, April 27, 2007
And of two possible tax rates, the Agenzia alle Entrate has chosen the higher, because "shows are in the 10% tax bracket while audience participation bumps up the tax to 16%", and prompted this po faced explanation:

"The active participation of the client in the dancer's act and his physical involvement in it are not caused by mere chance but are a strong characteristic of the very nature of the lap dance". More here

Do you suppose they based this on hearsay evidence, or the various government inspectors had to do some field research?

(And while I know that there are lap dancing cognoscenti among my regulars, let's keep this PG, please)

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Globalisation - It's a good thing

At least that is recognised by the population of the planet, as measured by worldpublicopinion.org's poll, which quizzed people in 17 states plus the Palestinian 'authority'. We, alas, were not asked.

It is the Chinese who have best understood this, with 87% thinking it good, and around two-thirds or more of polled Armenians, Israelis, Koreans, Thais and Australians agreeing.

There were an awful lot of apparent 'don't knows' in Mexico, Russia and elsewhere, but the highest percentage thinking globalisation is 'mostly bad' came from our friends on the other side of the Channel - 42%.

The French, in that rather odd way of theirs, saw 38% thinking that trade is bad for consumers. Erm, how? If they do not want to buy Sony TVs, buy Madonna CDs, drink Scotch, drive a Volkswagen, no-one is holding an AK-47 to their heads. Further evidence that France needs to be carpet bombed with Milton Friedman in translation comes from 73% thinking that trade is bad for job creation in France.

Other points to note include 63% of Iranians thinking globalisation good for Iran, and Armenians and Koreans being the least keen on compliance with WTO rulings against their countries.

More later, perhaps.

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Goldie Hawn upsets the Swedish Left

Goldie Hawn does not look to have done much high profile work in the movie business of late (Did anyone pay to see 'The Banger Sisters'?) but as with many other stars has found that doing TV adverts in other countries is a way of making a living. Not for her the traditional route of adverts for Japanese whiskey, but rather our old friends KappAhl. This has got her into hot water with an unholy trinity of politicians from the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Communist party successor, the Left Party.

And what terrible thing has she done? Been rude to Abba, encouraged racism or said something thoughtful about the Iraq war? Nope. This is what the Social Democrat took exception to:

"It's an ad where a young girl is really depressed because her boyfriend has just broken up with her. Goldie Hawn, who is an actress, encourages her to indulge in some comfort shopping. "We think that because there are so many people with shopping problems it's not a good idea to encourage people to practice comfort shopping". Source

That complete denial of the ability of consumers to make their own choices when faced with an encouragement by a famous face to do something is diabolical, but it gets worse. Much worse.

"The politician was then asked whether the group's stance was not simply critical of advertising in general. After all, is not the point of marketing to get people to shop?

"Yes, maybe so. I'll have to think about that. It was so obvious in this particular ad".

So there you have it - even the comparatively moderate Swedish left dislikes advertising, based not on serious thought, but rather gut dislike. It would be pointless to note that advertising is rather more than TV commercials and billboards, it is also the sign above a shop, the design of a Coke can, flogging junk on ebay and so on and so forth. Freedom of speech has to include commercial speech, otherwise we could all die of ignorance....

Cross posted to TAB in a slightly different form.

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George the Mad, Victoria the Great and Elizabeth the Last

Thursday, April 26, 2007
I am currently reading a book on the Medici, and was struck by the rather more imaginative tags given to their head honchos - Piero the Gouty, Lorenzo the Magnificent and so forth.

Similarly, the French have come up with some rather good poison pen strokes - Charles the Fat, Charles the Bald, and the Danes Harald Bluetooth and Sweyn Forkbeard.

We have not managed anything much since Richard the Lioneart and John Lackland.

Suggestions to outdo my rather feeble first attempt, please.

Why does the EU Diversity Truck move so slowly?

This is "the bright yellow EU stop-discrimination Truck", coming soon to a town near you, -ish.
I am sure everyone can well imagine what the initiative is all about, so I will not spell it out. What intrigues is quite how stately is its progress around Europa. Having started yesterday in Strasbourg, it will make 23 stops between then and 20/8 when it rolls into Leipzig. Compare that to the speed the Rolling Stones manage - 28 different European stops in less than two months.

I would think that the logistics of getting the Stones' stage show from point to point would be just a tad more complex than moving one truck...

The good people of Liverpool will receive a two day visitation in July.


Silly, but amusing

Domino PCs....

Or as a click through


Well, that's one way of putting it....

Wednesday, April 25, 2007
The Secretary General of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, on the death of Yeltsin:

"I was saddened to learn of the death of Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin, First President of the Russian Federation. President Yeltsin will be remembered for his courage in charting a new, democratic course for his country. He was also at the forefront of the effort to overcome the legacy of the Cold War by forging a new relationship between Russia and the North Atlantic Alliance. This historic effort to set aside the fears and stereotypes of the past in favour of cooperation in facing the challenges of the future, enshrined in the NATO-Russia Founding Act that bears President Yeltsin’s signature, continues to this day". Source

Might not 'Cheers mate, you made our jobs a lot easier' have been rather punchier?

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Free speech

I am really quite keen on it, but to use somebody else's phrase, my conception of free speech does not require me to have to pay for someone's megaphone, or the hire of hall.

An item in the New York Times looks at attempts to limit the scope for political campaigners to autodial would be voters and inflict a script on them. Whereas I would hang up instantly if I got a robocall, "the automated phone calls, have been popular with candidates for years because they are cheap, easy to make and often highly effective".

And here comes, what to me, is the really head scratching bit: "And political speech — even in a prerecorded message delivered electronically — is protected under the First Amendment, raising a host of legal issues".

And here is the First Amendment:

"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".

Not how I would have interpreted the First Amendment, as this seems to be dealing with listening rather than speaking.


You too can 'vote' in the first round of the French election

Care of this rather nifty site at sitoyen.fr. Following the Stemwijzer template used by our Dutch friends - reckoned to be used by maybe a million or so Dutch voters each time - this asks a series of yes/no/don't know questions which serve to suggest who you should vote. With any foreign election, there will be issues that do not make much sense as shibboleths elsewhere, but I think it is worth trying out.

While I would have voted for Sarko (while holding my nose, crossing my fingers etc), it rated the eurosceptic De Villiers the best match, followed by Bayrou, followed by Sarko. The tame Frenchman mentioned on Sunday came out as being a best match for Voynet, and he was appalled.

So that those without French and with too little interest to use babelfish to translate might join in, here is the list of questions:

1 - A reduction in working hours is indispensable for creating jobs.
2 - Companies that create jobs should get tax breaks.
3 - The state would benefit from a reduction in the number of civil servants.
4 - The current system should be maintained, rather than giving parents more choice over schools.
5 - Sanctions against parents whose children who misbehave in school should be strengthened.
6 - Teachers in the state system who accept the new hours should be paid more.
7 - Special retirement schemes should gradually be removed.
8 - Part private funding of retirement must happen.
9 - Contraception for woman under 25 must remain free.
10 - Communes which do not apply the law on social housing (minimum 20% per commune) should be fined heavily
11 - Nuclear power is necessary for protecting the environment.
12 - Pollution tax should apply to citizens and companies.
13 - Euthanasia must remain illegal.
14 - Minimum services must be maintained during strikes.
15 - The national police must maintain a presence in the inner cities. (They call them 'difficult areas'...)
16 - Minors should be criminally liable.
17 - Positive discrimination is a good way of combating the inequalities between people.
18 - Resident foreigners should be allowed to vote in local elections.
19 - An amnesty for illegal immigrants will encourage more of it.
20 - Wealth tax should be increased.
21 - The government should be required to present a balanced budget.
22 - There should be an additional tax on oil companies.
23 - Subsidies should be targeted at environmentally friendly agriculture.
24 - Turkey should be allowed to join the EU.
25 - Hamas is a terrorist group with which we should not negotiate.
26 - Any institutional reform of the EU should be put to a referendum.
27 - It should not be possible to enact a law without a parliamentary debate.
28 - Under the Fifth Republic, foreign policy and defence are Presidential prerogatives. This must be maintained.
29 - Iran has the right to become a nuclear power.
30 - France should spend more on defence.
31 - Third world debt should be cancelled without preconditions.
32 - Marriage should remain that of a man and a woman.
33 - Double jeopardy should return - a foreigner convicted of a crime in France should be deported after serving of his or her sentence.
34 - Cannabis and other soft drugs should be decriminalised.
35 - The state should part fund the building of mosques.

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Female? A smoker? Pravda has news for you

Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Noting, inter alia, that "You can learn a thing or two about a woman who asks you for a light. A woman with lots of self-esteem will never bow her head if you hold out the lighter too low for her. A “man-hater” will take the lighter from your hand. A woman who is dominated by her mother is likely to bend her head for your lighter. A woman with a sensual personality will curl up her lips and blow out the smoke in wisps, whereas a woman with a mannish personality will barely hold up the cigarette to the corner of her lips when inhaling". Source.

And the article is headlined "Women use smoking to attract men's attention to their fragile nature".

So now you know.

I think that is enough posting for one day, but I'm on the couch at 18 Doughty Street from 10.

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It's the EUrovision Song Contest

Be afraid, be very afraid:

"The European Year of Equal Opportunities for All 2007 is proud to announce its official partnership with the Eurovision Song Contest 2007. For the first time in almost twenty years, an official European Union initiative will be associated with this international music competition, connecting Europeans from all around the continent. The European Year's main objectives are to celebrate the benefits of diversity and promote equal opportunities for all".

Can't say that the Eurovision Song Contest is really my cup of tea, but with good company and a plentiful supply of booze it can be a harmless, fluffy entertainment of an evening, with one eyebrow metaphorically raised for the duration. However, regarding Eurovision as an exercise in post-modern entertainment for urban cynics would appear to be all wrong, so over to Vladimír Špidla, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, who has the details:

The Eurovision Song Contest is a perfect platform for informing people about their rights to equal treatment and for spreading the benefits of diversity all around Europe. What better framework than a vibrant European-wide entertainment event bringing together all the different cultures and flavours of Europe?

I suspect that Eurovision is not first choice viewing Chez Špidla, who seems
a rather serious chap
, although given to grimacing, apparently. He might be a Social Democrat, but he clearly isn't all bad as he refused to pursue office or a grand career in the then Czechoslovakia despite an impressive academic track record, as "In fact, a respectable person did not make a special career in my country at that time. So, following my studies I occupied different positions in different sectors very often just as a worker" (all very much sic, and from his EU biography)

Anyway, should the Euro Commissariat gets its greasy little mitts on song selection and the voting procedure, I foresee the viewing figures falling well short of those for the shopping channels on Christmas Day.

We've had some fun with this before, and as Verity said last time, "It does not promote LOVE and PEACE". I fear Špidla is not one of my readers.....

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Another well thought out idea championed by George Monbiot

A world parliament.

Now George being the great democrat that he is, presumably thinks that it should be elected on the basis of universal suffrage, with each of the 6,588,000,000 (what are a few millions between friends, eh?) members of this demos electing an MP. Trouble is, if the Vatican, as the sovereign state with the lowest population (783) elects an MP, then the putative parliament would need 8,413,793 MPs. Might take a while to catch the speaker's eye. George could rebut that the Holy See is not a member of the UN. Fair point. So step forward Tuvalu, with its population of 11,920, thus giving an altogether manageable and sensible 552,685 members of Parliament.

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Pascal Lamy goes to Canossa

Pascal Lamy, one time Delors henchman, Énarque, Science Po alumnus, Légion d'honneur laureate and come to that, sporter of the colours of the Order of the Aztec Eagle, can be safely assumed to be steeped in la exception Française so imagine how much it must have stung for him to have said this:

"US leadership is always required to sustain the WTO but the exercise of this leadership by the Administration and Congress in the weeks and months ahead will be key to the fate of the Round". Source

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Quite the macedoine

Greece is still affronted by the name used by its northern neighbour, Macedonia, and Greece's foreign minister has accused Macedonia of 'intransigence' in not coming up with a name for itself that Greece approves of: "We have taken all the necessary steps but all we are getting from the other side is an apparently intransigent stance and we are waiting for this to change". Source

That Skopje was a little unsubtle in laying claim to the symbolism of ancient Greek Macedonia I accept, and Skopje has stopped doing so, but Macedonia is the most relevant name for that part of the world in the same way that Prussia, Burgundy, Lombardy or Wessex might be for successor any states in other parts of the world. For Athens to demand veto powers over national nomenclature does it no credit, and makes it look utterly childish.

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The most alienated place in the whole of metropolitan France

Monday, April 23, 2007
Is not, in fact, the Deux Magots cafe, but rather would appear to be the commune of Gorre, in the département of Haute Vienne, in the region of Limousin (That's just to the south west of the centre of France).

Limousin came up with the highest rate of active abstentions (by way of blank or spoiled ballot papers) at 2.02%, Haute Vienne was the worst in Limousin at 2.14%, and Gorre was the worst in Haute Vienne by a country kilometre at 10.78%. Having had a look at it on Google Earth, it is 15 miles south west of Limoges and surrounded by open countryside. Looks pleasant enough, and although it is 20 odd miles from Oradour sur Glane, which must be a bit depressing, you would think that they would have come to terms with it by now.

Neither google.fr nor the Limoges daily La Croix gives any indication as to what is going on in Gorre that its burghers cannot or will not vote properly. Of those who could be bothered to get it right, Sego just edged Sarko. Things were much worse in Mayotte, an overseas department in the Indian Ocean, but that's another story.


Be careful where you buy a house in France

The French news sites are filled with those glorious electoral maps that are staple of results day coverage, thus sparing me any need to concoct one from the results at the Ministry of the Interior. Said ministry gives results down to commune level, and I am bit alarmed that the extremist parties plus the huntin', shootin' and fishin' candidate polled a shade under 40% in my mother's commune in the South West. Sego won there. I'm shocked, shocked.

Here is a simple one, courtesy of Le Monde:

More detail in graphic form here
Royal fared rather better in the North West and West than Sarko, something of a turnaround from 2002. Bayrou took his home département of Pyrenees Atlantique, as I am sure he had hoped. Royal won her département of Deux-Sèvres 34/27.

Le Pen's strongest regional showing of 15.4% was in Picardy, Trot Besancenot's 5.6% in Nord Pas De Calais, and Communist Buffet 3.4% in Limousin and Corsica. Voynet of the Greens only topped 2% in Alsace, which is quite near her old stomping ground of Franche-Comté. José Bové's 'stronghold' was Midi-Pyrénées - 1.9%.

De Villiers, the eurosceptic and pin up of French monarchists performed far better in Pays de la Loire and Poitou Charente than anywhere elsewhere, peaking at 5% in PdlL.

As to our man Sarko, his best showing was Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur - 37.01%, just outdoing Corsica's 37%. Midi-Pyrénées showed the least enthusiasm at 26.3%, where Sego got her best regional figure - 31.1%. I have excluded consideration of the DOM-TOMs in the analysis above.

As to the DOM-TOMs, New Caledonia almost delivered a knock out for Sarko - 49.7%, and Martinique for Sego - 48.5%

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The perils of early engagement in politics

Sarko has a bit of a Hague moment:


Or as a click through


Happy St George's Day

Apparently it is also National Beer Day on the left bank of the Rhine, so our duty is clear.

It is to be Sarko / Sego. Live blogging of the first round

Sunday, April 22, 2007
The Belgian and Swiss sites which had been promising to give the early indications of the results of the first round of voting seem to have collapsed under the weight of traffic from curious French internautes, but Betfair is providing the necessary detail. Action on Bayrou, Le Pen and the rest seems to have stopped dead.

I took a fairly hefty punt on Sego earlier, which I am about to lay off for an instant win, come what may.

And care of a shy friend of a French persuasion, here are some snapshots from inside the polling room for les Francais/es de Londres at the Lycee:

Rather than putting a cross in a box, one has to take at least two papers with the name of candidate so it is a semi-secret ballot.

And it is 29.6% Sarko (Chirac 19.9 in 2002), Sego 25.8 (Jospin 16.2), Bayrou 18.5 (6.8), Le Pen 11 (16.9), Besancenot 4.3 (4.3), De Villiers 2.7, Buffet 1.8 (3.4), Voynet 1.7 (5.2), Nihous 1.3 (4.2), Laguiller 1.6 (5.7), Bove 1.4. So a big squeeze on the extreme left, compared to 2002 and Le Pen down too.

Sarko's going to walk it.

Live blogging courtesy of TV5:

And Sarko's saying that his vote is a 'victory for democracy' and he wants to say 'merci'. Which is nice. The shy French person (who voted Sego) says that Sarko sounds Vichyite. However, he is torn as if Sarko win he will make the French Lycee free - which would save said SFP circa £6k per annum.

Sarko is making lots of nice noises to the Bayrou etc voters. It will be interesting to see the frantic repositioning of Sego and Sarko to get the votes of the majority who ignored their blandishments this time round.

Bayrou has blamed the opinion polls but says he has broken the mould, so to speak.

Buffet of the PCF says that everyone wanted to vote for her, but voted tactically for Seg

(Irrelevant aside - all five natural blond/e people in France work in the media, and French pols have rather better fitting suits than our lot in these parts).

No sign of Sego yet, but apparently she has a problem with time keeping. Or maybe she just has a sense of occasion.

And she has just shown. Very, VERY wooden. The SFP reckons it the worst speech he has ever seen. Lots of platitudes, a nice outfit, but zero emotion or engagement. But her other half liked it, who in a rather disloyal fashion is loitering in the A2 studio rather then hanging adoringly on her every word. SFP thinks she might be on Prozac or has had her eau mineral spiked. And he voted for her.

Meanwhile, le facteur humain, Besancenot, is going mano a mano with Sarko's spokeswoman (and porn actress look-a-like - according to the SFP) Rachida Dita to no great effect.


Just what Thailand needs - toothbrush star ratings

Yes, really.

Apparently only four out of ten Thais pay much attention to the quality of the toothbrushes they buy. That high? I'm inclined to think that a brush is a brush is a brush, but should you find yourself in the Bankgkok equivalent of Boots or Walgreen, there should be an array of brushes with "consumer information on the package, such as the softness and sharpness of bristles". And it is a legal requirement too.

Perhaps some of my better travelled posters could inform me if Thai oral hygiene is especially poor or their toothbrushes particularly useless. But some how I doubt that either is the case, but meanwhile let us trust that this does not give Patricia 'very, very regular bowel movements' Hewitt ideas for ever greater levels of interference.

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Russian broadcast news - even more biased than the BBC

(One fairly major broadband outage later).

The New York Times has an odd one: quotas for good news on Russian broadcast media - "at least 50 percent of the reports about Russia must be “positive.

And what counts as positive?: "If the stock market is up, that is positive. The weather can also be positive."

Furthermore, "opposition leaders [must] not be mentioned on the air and the United States [is] to be portrayed as an enemy".

Applying this to British broadcast news, a day of stock market falls, hail storms, not to mention war, famine, pestilence and death might result in an awful lot of coverage of skateboarding ducks and the like.

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Do they really have nothing better to do?

Saturday, April 21, 2007
I am not a huge fan of the European Commission but I suppose it does come up with the occasional good idea. However, what possessed it to think that what Europe really, really needs is an EU-wide maximum cabin baggage rule? Because there is one, and those eagerly awaited dimensions are a memorable 56cm x 45cm x 25cm. Or 22" x 17.7" x 9.8".

However, "The Commission decided to postpone the implementation of rules on maximum cabin baggage size, as more time is needed to reassess the advantages and disadvantages they entail, notably regarding air security and passengers' comfort". Postpone, note, not reconsider - the rules come in May next year. If the rule will come in, come Hell, high water or hot air, what is the point of 'reassessing the advantages and disadvantages'?

And more to the point, why on earth should the EU presume to interfere in the way that airlines conduct their business? Is there any evidence anywhere that airlines have been unable to agree on a standard maximum cabin luggage item size? Are there euronauts marooned across the continent's airports because bags which were the sauce for Euro Air were not the sauce for Air Euro?



Great street signs of our time

Friday, April 20, 2007

Good job I had the 'Pedestrians' sign to help me navigate, isn't it?

Blair gives a straight answer to a straight question - have it framed..

His Imperial Toniness has been interviewed by Le Monde, and here is the historic exchange:

LM: "Would you be interested in becoming the president of the European Union in the future?"

TB: "No, no, absolutely not, thank you. That is not in my plans".

However, he is at his slippery mendacious worst elsewhere:

"Those who want us to join the single currency know that we have not done so for economic, not political reasons".

On Euroscepticism: "There will always be sceptics. Public opinion is influenced by the media, and there is not a lot I can do about it". Whatever became of his reckoning that it falls to a politician every generation to make the case for Europe, or words to that effect?

"After all, the Conservatives have fought two elections on a very eurosceptic platform and they lost"

"Barroso has given back the Commission its dynamism and credibility". Given back? Erm....

And the Constitution?

No referendum: "If it is not a constitutional treaty altering the fundamental relations between Europe and the Member States, we do not need a referendum. We will approve it in parliament...as was the case, for example, with the treaty of Amsterdam".

Asked about the attitude of the next president of France to the British position: "That's his or her business. I will not say anything more as it would not be good to meddle in French politics". Zapatero, take note.

Asked about Brown's stance on Europe, with the Would Be Lord Protector referred to as his 'probable successor', Blair does not nuance matters by taking issue with the probability of the same. Ho ho.

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The union of a dog with its fleas

Well, how else could you describe this: "NASA and the British National Space Centre (BNSC) have signed a historic agreement to jointly study how the two space agencies might work together on future planetary explorations to the Moon and beyond".

I am certain that NASA will have so much to learn from the people who brought you Beagle 2.

However, Malcolm Wicks (which almost means something rather unfortunate in German) reckons "During my recent meeting with NASA's Administrator Dr Michael Griffin, I was keen for the USA and UK to co-operate on exactly this sort of exciting endeavour". I wonder how long it took Griffin to stop sniggering?

The things they say

Harman's demand that the next prime minister create a secretary of state for the family (almost as toe-curling a title as that of Fernand Boden, Luxembourg's Minister for the Middle Classes, Tourism and Housing) signally failed to set the Thames on fire, but has prompted a rather odd response from the head of the NCH, Clare Tickell:

"The ingredients for supporting families are already in place - if the government really wants to support families it must ensure all departments consider the impact policies have on families and ensure it is delivering consistent messages".

Erm, all departments? The Foreign Office? Defence? (Which really should revert to being called the War Office) .

And then demonstrating some quite remarkable monomania: "A minister for families could even alienate those children who were not being brought up in a family and were most in need".

I do not doubt that being incarcerated in a child gulag is no laughing matter, but is it really credible to think that the average child would be aware of the niceties of ministerial nomenclature?

A really wise strategy for failing businesses - merge

Thursday, April 19, 2007
The TUC is attempting some rather feeble spinning on falling union membership - "Today's relatively small fall in the number of union members is actually a union success story". Not that it deigns to say what the figures are, naturally. Until such time as I can avail myself of the figures, I suppose England's cricketing performance in the World Cup, the current inflation figures and Labour's poll ratings also count as 'success stories'.

In a not wholly unconnected event, Amicus and the T&G reckon that hooking up two spavined donkeys is not enough to keep them busy, and have concocted an, erm, interesting and well thought out scheme to merge with the United Steel Workers of America. Before considering the implications of that, it is richly comic that this news is all over the US news sites, but seems to have scarcely registered here. The Grauniad covers it, care of its Westminster correspondent - whatever happened to moustachioed labour correspondents in shapeless brown jackets, a perennial delight of the 1970s?

Supposedly this is to "create an international trade union that would be able to deal with multi national companies on an equal footing". Given the law on secondary action, I cannot see that the Tribunes of the Proletariat either side of the Pond are going to be much use to each other, and if the prospective organisation is intent on international pay scales, they really have lost it completely. Companies that can look forward to dealing with this diplodocus include Alcoa Inc., Rexam Beverage Can North America Co. and Georgia-Pacific. Source.

Showing his customary grasp of economics, one time Communist Party of Britain member and Trekkie, Derek Simpson of Amicus reckons "Multi national companies are pushing down wages and conditions for workers the world over by playing one national workforce off against another. The only beneficiaries of globalisation are the exploiters of working people and the only way working people can resist this is to band together". Sounds like his bedtime reading is Engels under the influence of spiked cocoa.


Brace yourselves - 2011 will be 'International Year of Forests'

The fun at Turtle Bay never stops. This, apparently is all down to the Croats, as Croatia’s Assistant for Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management, Ivica Grbac was keen to point out that it had 'initiated the General Assembly resolution designating 2011'. Thanks a bunch Ivica.

Indonesia’s Minister of Forestry M.S. Kaban reckoned it will be a 'a momentous occasion', but possibly sensing he had strayed over into hyperbole then declared it was 'an important commemoration for forests and the forestry community'. Doubtless Sumatra's clear cutters will swell with pride come 1/1/11. and Costa Rica’s Vice Minister of Environment Jorge Rodriguez wants 'to consolidate the global dialogue on forests'. Indeed, Jorge, indeed. Hans Hoogeveen of the Netherlands wants it to be 'more than a celebration of forests'. Any suggestions for how one might celebrate forests? Tree hugging? Baby Bio all round?

Lest anyone think that the UN only produces lots of pious chin music, "Performing as a part of today’s launch of preparations for the International Year was the Young People’s Chorus of New York City. Jim Papoulis, Composer and Founder of the Foundation for Small Voices of the United States, also spoke. Shamsul MomenPalash of the Organization of Art for children and Proprietor of BanChashi Nursery in Bangladesh also made a statement".

And to think that bien pensants were scandalised by John Bolton's quip that "The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If you lost ten stories today, it wouldn't make a bit of difference."

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Introducing America's East Dunbartonshire

Which is the town of Asheville in North Carolina, according to a survey by Relocate America. I make the Caledonian parallel as that was rated the best place to live in these islands the other day. Rather selfishly, the survey fails to come up with an equivalent to Reading, which rated as our Village of the Damned.

I take East Dunbartonshire's showing with a whole salt mine's worth of salt as the 1,162 people polled had 408 locales to choose from. Unlikely to be statistically valid, I would think. Similarly, I'm inclined to think that Asheville's standing is bunkum (1) as the survey is self-selecting. Mind you, it was the home of the Fitzgeralds, and Zelda ('when it comes to plagiarism, my husband thinks it begins at home') died there, and the rather lovely Ms Andie MacDowell resides in the area.

The town labours under a Democrat Mayor, has a rather comically named baseball team in the Asheville Tourists, and the egregiously awful 'Forrest Gump' was part filmed there.

Apart from the relocators, it has also won plaudits as one of "The 50 Most Alive Places To Be" one of "America's Top 25 Arts Destinations," "Happiest City for Women", one of the "Best Places to Reinvent Your Life", "New Freak Capital of the U.S.", "a New Age Mecca", the "most vegetarian-friendly" small city in America. Source. The place must be crawling with tie-dyed boomers. How very unlike the life our own East Dunbartonshire.....

Chicago proves to be a sweet home too, edging out Cary NC from fifth place.

(1) - Asheville is in Buncombe county: "In 1820, a U.S. Congressman, whose district included Buncombe County, unintentionally contributed a word to the English language. In the Sixteenth Congress, after lengthy debate on the Missouri Compromise, members of the House called for an immediate vote on that important question. Instead, Felix Walker rose to address his colleagues, insisting that his constituents expected him to make a speech "for Buncombe." It was later remarked that Walker's untimely and irrelevant oration was not just for Buncombe--it "was Buncombe." Thus, buncombe, afterwards spelled bunkum and then shortened to bunk, became a term for empty, nonsensical talk". Source

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Two birds with one stone

Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Someone's a bit cocky:

"I know bloody well if the Olympics isn't ready by May 2012 I won't get a fourth term".

What greater incentive could there be to hope for the XXXth Olympiad to be the disaster?

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Best 419 spam ever

Supposedly from Haughey's widow:

"My dear ally-in-waiting

I am Maureen Haughey, widow of former Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, Charles J. Haughey and daughter of former Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland and heir to de Valera, Sean F. Lemass....

I write to you, an old weary woman, sick and almost tired of living. My end is nigh but I will not depart until my final mission is accomplished. Also, I write this with an unshaken belief in the power of aspirations and dreams of a human being.

The Irish government thinks it can shave and reduce me to a poor widow but I have the winning ace. A few years ago, when we weren’t sure if my Charlie would be convicted, he kept some money in trust for me in a Security and Finance company. He did not open the account in our names so it will not be traced to us to enable the past remain past....The amount he deposited in this name here in Ireland is 10,000,000 (Ten Million Euros).

I want an honest person to come forward and lay claims to this amount, moreover use the funds as instructed by me. I have all the documents needed I just need a face for the name. I have mapped out 10% of the funds for you, as you will help us (you and I) execute this job.
As soon as I receive your acceptance for this work I shall give you necessary details of my solicitor who will facilitate the release of the funds in your name.

Please for privacy reply to this email(

I'm not entirely convinced, but am happy to pass on the e-mail to anyone who is..

A nuclear reactor in a less than secure location

The Democratic Republic of Congo

"Despite coup attempts and sporadic violence a fragile peace has held since the formal end of the war. But the...government has no control over large parts of the country and tension remains high in the east". Source.

Not exactly Sweden, is it?

And further, "Only a thin barbed wire fence protects Africa's first nuclear reactor..that today sits dormant on an eroding hill in a country wracked by decades of misrule and conflict. Last month international experts again voiced concern about security at the Kinshasa Regional Centre for Nuclear Studies (Cren), a few weeks before violence killed about 200 more people in the troubled capital. The new warning came in a report stating that United States-supplied uranium bars stored at Cren "are at an enrichment level sufficient to potentially be ... transformed into a nuclear weapon ... or be used as a 'dirty bomb'," according to a copy obtained by Agence France-Presse"....The country, through decades of fighting, dictatorship and political upheaval, has repeatedly been accused of selling its naturally enriched uranium or of being unable to guard against it being removed from the country. According to some observers, more than 90% of the country’s mining exports, including uranium, slip past the country's customs officers". Source.

Conclusive prooof that lawyers are not like the rest of us

Infertility is no laughing matter, and one has to feel sympathy for women who cannot conceive, however a Canadian lawyer has a rather curious take on her 7 year old daughter's infertility: she is donating her own eggs for freezing and prospective implantation for however many years down the road.

Where most of us would see our moral compasses twitching over the prospect of a woman giving birth to a half sister which would share a mother and a grandmother, the Canadian lawyer lacks doubts: "If my child had needed a kidney I would have given her one and no one would have questioned it. In this case it’s a gamete". More here

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Endorsing a candidate - an object lesson in proportionality

Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Yes, it is the French Presidential election again. Last French post for a couple of days unless I find something as jaw-dropping as stage director Ariane Mnouchkine's endorsement of Ségo.

Being of a theatrical disposition, she could not restrict herself to something along the lines of 'Vote Ségolène Royal for a better deal for you, your family and your local theatre'. No, not at all. Instead she has penned a nigh on 1000 word encomium for the deputy for Deux-Sèvres. And Ségo's site has published it in all of its insane grandeur.

Some tasters:

"Five years ago... you remember? O our pale faces, our hands on our trembling mouths and our eyes filled with tears. O that day our faces... did we already forget them? The shame of that day, have we already forgotten it? Do you want to see them again, those faces? Not me."

"For this reason I think that we, in the evening, at our tables, must cease our equivocation...It is a luxury. And a shameful luxury today. Many in this country cannot afford it. They suffer. They are badly housed or are homeless. They eat badly. They are badly cared for, do not know their rights, and therefore have no rights. Neither glasses, nor teeth, nor holidays, nor tools for culture. Their children inherit only their only brittleness. They suffer. They are humiliated. They do not want, they cannot afford, to pass a turn. Always a turn. Never their turn".

"Hurry up! There's a world waiting for us! Let us go there, good people! Quickly! This woman, oh yes, this woman carries our colours, she carries them valiantly, courageously, nobly. And when I say colours, I do not speak only of the three colours of our flag. I speak about the colours of France, those that I love, that of its vigilant citizenship, of compassion for the weak, severity for the powerful, its intelligent love of youth, its respectful but exacting hospitality. I speak about the colours of Europe, which we miss and misses us.

For this reason I vote for the labours of Hercules, I vote for Ségolène Royal, and I sign her manifesto".

Top that Barbra Streisand.

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Step forward, 2007's 'Humanitarian of the Year'.

Which, according to the UNHCR, is, erm, Tony Bennett. PRNewswire has the details, but requires registration. They are, for some reason, keeping schtum about it on UNCHR's site.

Apparently, this is "in recognition of Bennett's lifelong contribution to human rights and his recent work as spokesperson for USA for UNHCR's Aid Darfur campaign". Lifelong?

He is a perfectly acceptable middle of the road crooner, but from what I can see, his paintings are just awful. Perhaps mercifully his art site is failing to load, but the starstruck, brave or curious can click here for an introduction to his painting by numbers style.

Meanwhile, I can never see someone termed a 'humanitarian without thinking of the recurring speech in 'All That Jazz': "A great entertainer! A great humanitarian! And my friend of 17 years!".

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Voter prejudices in the US and France

Way back I posted on demographics Americans would not vote for, judging by polling evidence, with the most salient bit this:

"4% would not vote for a woman and 3% would not vote for an African American. However, some prejudices are clearly more palatable - 14% would not vote for a 72 year old (as McCain will be in '08) and 14% would not vote for a Mormon".

I have just laid hands on a broadly comparable French poll from earlier this year:

13% admit that they would be discouraged from voting for a Jew, 22% for a homosexual, and 38% for a Muslim.

And further oddities: 16% would prefer the next president to be male, 21% to be female, and over half want their president to be in his or her 50s. Rather amusingly 21% of right inclined voters consider sang froid a key presidential skill compared to 16% of lefties, and being multilingual is a plus for 54%, versus the 44% who are not bothered.

Combining some of those and sundry other characteristics, robocandidate would walk it if he or she was the following: in his / her 50s, able to understand daily life, honest, a listener, polyglot, a degree holder, Catholic, married and has the same standard of living as the Gaul dans la rue.

So, are Americans less prejudiced than the French, or more wary of what they say to pollsters?

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Aeroplanes are noisy shocker

The rather attractive beasts above are F-15J's, as flown by Japan's air force. Those based at Komatsu in the Ishikawa Prefecture (about half way down the west coast of the mainland, and its watch presumably includes the 'Democratic People's Republic' of Korea) have been the subject of litigation over the noise they make, and "The court ordered the government to pay a total of 1.188 billion yen to 1,580 people who live around the base".

Assuming we are talking American billions, that's about £3,150 per head. Should pay for a bit of double glazing, and ear plugs for all the family plus spares for visiting friends and relatives. Note further, "During the appeal, the plaintiffs claimed the noise caused sleep disorders to those who work during the night, which the high court rejected. The government said the noise from air drills has largely decreased due to various measures, including financial assistance for sound-proofing of nearby houses".

Ishikawa is not exactly Tokyo in population density terms, nor is it the middle of nowhere. A bit of sniffing around shows that it has a density in line with that of Northamptonshire, at 282/km to Northants' 275/km.

A couple of points for the appeal: How in tarnation is the Japanese air force supposed to operate, and were people living in and around Komatsu not aware of the prospects of an airborne racket when they moved there?

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Information wants to be free, but the French establishment is shackling it

French law on survey etc publication reads thus: "The publication, diffusion and comment of any survey, by whatever means, on the eve of the ballot and the day itself is prohibited".

Bans on polls on the day itself are fairly common, but this would seem to go way, way further, in that speculation about results is reckoned to fall foul of the law. A journo at Europe 1 is intent on breaking the 8PM emabargo (When the polls close): ""I think that we should all have same the info. Thus, from 6PM on the days of the first and second rounds I will post the "rumours" circulating (...). We should all know the figures and the trends and not just VIPs, the privileged the journalists." This is fairly bold, given that fines for breaking the embargo can reach €75,000 (£51,000)

Naturally the French blogosphere has taken sides, and upholders of the law can get themselves a nifty little logo like so:

The profoundly sinister sounding Commission Nationale de Contrôle de la Campagne will be keeping its beady eyes on naughty bloggers and hacks in general. More here.

Further investigation shows that it is also laying down the law on campaign websites: "it orders candidates not to change the contents of their Internet sites from the closing date of the election campaign and thus not to post new information...from this date. It also orders the cessation of any interactive activity, in particular in the form of online dialogue with net users". And, curiouser still, it asks "asks the candidates to deactivate links to sites which are likely to carry surveys". Given the foregoing, all 12 of the brass ring grabbers would be well advised to delete all their links at zero hour. I feel rather sorry for the webmasters, frankly.

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An embarassment for the French

Monday, April 16, 2007
Despite her having been burnt at the stake, the museum of Old Chinon has claimed to have one of Joan of Arc's bones in its possession, based on this 'test' of authenticity: "In 1867, a jar was found in a Paris pharmacy with the inscription "Remains found under the stake of Joan of Arc, virgin of Orleans". They consisted of a charred human rib, carbonized wood, a piece of linen and a cat femur — explained as the practice of throwing black cats onto the pyre of witches. The Catholic church recognized them". Source.

However, in the best Shroud of Turin tradition, the bones have been carbon dated, sniffed at and generally poked. And, quelle horreur, they are an awful lot older than 576 years. It turns out the bones were actually those of an Egyptian mummy from between 300 and 600 BC. Whoops.

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A further string to my blogging bow

Sunday, April 15, 2007
A few days back I was invited to contribute to a collaborative blog - The Astute bloggers - which operates out of NYC and I have just made my maiden post, on the Trotskyite candidates for the French presidency and their rather alarming poll ratings. I would expect most of my posts there to be cross-posts from here.

Anyway, the site's credo is this: "An international group blog - Highlighting under-reported news & views - Exposing leftist disinformation & propaganda - Promoting universal human rights & justice". It has posters from Oz, Israel and Scandinavia apart from the Land of the Free and I trust that many of my readers will be in sympathy with the blog's aims.


"...The lone and level sands stretch far away".

From our beloved PM: ""When you ask the question 'Will our changes stand the test of time?', the answer is they will."


Coming soon to a TV near you. Or maybe not

"The United Nations audiovisual family will offer ‘green’ stories and projects to major international broadcasters as they join MIPTV (Marché international des programmes de television), the leading international television programming market, in Cannes, France, from 16 to 20 April". (Source)

And the delights on offer include:

"...compelling short documentaries on environmental subjects, including stories on the future of the Aral Sea, the prevention of natural disasters in Kazakhstan and cleaning up radioactive waste in Serbia".

"Bling: A Planet Rock is a 90-minute documentary produced by VH1 Rock Docs, Article 19 Films and UNDP. The film, featuring hip-hop artists from the United States and Sierra Leone, raises its voice on behalf of the millions of diamond diggers to help disadvantaged communities and promote conscious consumerism..".

"Wake Up World, a documentary by Vanessa Redgrave and Carlo Nero that takes a very personal look at the history of UNICEF".

But here, I think, is the winner:

"The United Nations audiovisual family at MIPTV also actively seeks co-production partners on various projects, including One World Manga, an animated series from the World Bank about the adventures of an orphan who learns about global issues".

Channel controllers, clear those schedules. Previous UK leader, the '66 World Cup Final and US leader the '57 TV movie 'Cinderella' are about to be dethroned.

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Here come the temperance fanatics

In the form of my absolutely favourite wonk group, the ippr.

And here is the core of his idea: "Gerard argues that the UK has ‘lost the plot’ when it comes to regulating alcohol. He proposes raising the drinking age to 21 or requiring 18-year-olds to carry smart cards which record how much they have drunk each night and restrict under-21s to three units of alcohol".

Shall we investigate the flaws in this? If 16 year olds can easily pass as 18 year olds, then 18 year olds can easily pass as 21 year olds, can they not? Plus there would be the absurdity of adults who can vote, own shotguns, marry (Just imagine the wedding receptions for under 21s...) and do all sorts of other things suddenly being denied the right to choose their own damnation or otherwise. Doubtless the day such a law came into force, previous pub habitués would meekly acquiesce and instead stay at home boning up on antique tracts by the Fabians. Still, as the American experience shows, older people never ever buy alcohol for younger friends, so this will all work marvellously. As to smart cards, this is sinister beyond belief, quite apart from requiring all bars, off licences etc etc to have card readers.

Gerard warms to his theme:

"Increasing the number of prosecutions and the level of fines on retailers selling alcohol to minors".

Maybe 'we' could increase the number of prosecutions for cocaine smuggling, jaywalking and arson in naval dockyards, but for the small problem of the offences having to be committed before prosecutions can take place. Doubtless the tiresome efforts of councils to entrap retailers would be pursued with still more enthusiasm.

"Increasing taxes on drinks targeted at young people, such as alcopops; restricting advertising of drinks aimed at youngsters"

Jasper, old bean, the brewers, distillers and so forth are not allowed to target under 18s anyway, and there is an awfully large regulatory framework surrounding this. He also appears not to have noticed that alcopops are currently about as fashionable as spats with the youth of today. And what if the next big thing among younger drinkers is Madeira for example? Will there be an annual audit of the demographics of drinking by product?

"Allowing 16 and 17-year-olds limited amounts of alcohol in pubs, bars and restaurants when consumed with a full meal and accompanied by someone over 21".

Which was allowed prior to the 2003 Licensing Act.... Which, inter alia, makes it a criminal offence to sell liqueur chocolates to under 16s. I am *not* making this up.

Meanwhile, there is evidence that suggests Jasper likes a drop himself: "Waiters - always around but never oleaginous - are true enthusiasts, even able to answer a question about the sugar content of a demi-sec Taittinger Champagne". That comes from a restaurant review of the Fat Duck for the Telegraph earlier this year.

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Greek Communists none to keen on an extended franchise.

Saturday, April 14, 2007
Hell has indeed frozen over. The KKE presumes to have a position on the “will of the Greek people”. Source.

A rather unclear item in Ekathimerini quotes a KKE bod on the prospect of the Greek diaspora being able to vote in national elections, and he does not like it: "[he] argued that most Greeks living abroad were not in touch with developments in Greece".

Quite possibly not, but if the franchise is denied to those less than au fait with the politics of any country, where will this all end? A current affairs quiz at the polling station including the likes of 'describe the challenges for health policy in the next ten years', 'should we be nicer to the Albanians?', 'what is to be done about the fire-extinguisher brandishing monks of Athos?' etc.

Wonder if Athens should give me a vote?

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Green / Liberal shenanigans

Odd behaviour by the Canadian Liberals - Dion has concocted a non-aggression pact with the Greens in connection with the seats of the leaders of the two parties. More here and here.

In common with these parts, the bunny huggers poll miserably, lack MPs and presumably lose their deposits or the local equivalent on a regular basis. That Dion will not be challenged by the Greens in his Quebec seat should make no difference to his chances - it is reckoned to be their safest seat and he won 60% of the vote last time, and the Greens 0.4%. Similarly, the Nova Scotia seat the Greens are pursuing is not exactly prime territory - they polled 1.59% last time. The additional mustard in the mix is that the Nova Scotia seat is held by the Conservative Minister of Foreign Affairs, Peter Mackay.

All things considered, it would seem unlikely that the Green party's leader will be striding into the Commons come next time's election results, but Dion has effectively allied himself with a far left party in order to appeal to the environmentally minded. Hostage to fortune is putting it mildly, and having once established that he is prepared to make a deal with a minor party, it does imply that similar deals could be forthcoming.

In broader terms, I think it shows contempt for the electorate and democracy in general not to stand in a seat that a party deems itself unlikely to win. That Labour continues to treat members in Ulster as second class citizens is a perennial disgrace, and for all that the Tory party will always fail dismally in any number of seats is the price it pays for being the sole national party.

Meanwhile, I discovered this week that my uncle is running for the Yellow Peril in May. Can I ever live this down?

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Let them eat cake. The EU dimension

Friday, April 13, 2007
In a new, and by its standards, fairly harmless departure, the EU has branched out into offering cake recipes on its website. Yes, really.

This somewhat half-baked idea would appear to have been cooked up by the German foreign office. And what is more, "With the support of the German federal confectioners and bakers associations, the European birthday cakes will be on sale throughout Germany until 25 May 2007. A poster advertising the campaign will be displayed in participating bakeries and cake shops".

Isn't that nice?

The British contributions are hot cross buns and eccles cakes. Naturally the weights and measures are only given in metric, although it does deign to include Fahrenheit and a gas mark number. Further digging suggests that the French, Italian and Estonian (inter alia) cakes need only the power of thought to appear on one's table, as no cooking instructions are given. Or maybe the recipes count as state secrets? Who is to know?

And whereas all other countries are only allowed two cakes, the Belgians get three - Brussels waffles (snigger) , doughnuts, and Geraardsbergen matte cakes

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Republic of Ireland alarmed by figures that would have the Church of England en fete

Monday, April 09, 2007
The youth of the Republic has been quizzed on basic knowledge of Christianity, and has not done brilliantly well:

5% could quote the first of the ten commandments
32% could not name Jesus's birthplace
35% did not know the significance of Easter
47% could name the Trinity
38% could name the seven sacraments (More than I could...).

I very much doubt that the youth of the UK could achieve anything like those figures. Further details in the Irish Times.

I am not religious, and although baptised have never made a positive act of faith as an adult, but as I have commented elsewhere, the history and culture of not just this country but Western civilisation scarcely make sense without a proper working knowledge of Christianity.

Returning to biblical number crunching, I was discussing the Ten Plagues with a mate (Mr R) the other day, and when challenged to name them asked 'English or Hebrew'. He managed about half in English, but all of them in Hebrew.

I will be away until Friday, so moderation is on. I hope to be able to check and authorise posts before I get back, but new posts are unlikely.

And I'm back, moderation is off, and once I've got my breath back, there may well be a post or two.

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The Dalai Lama rows back

Sunday, April 08, 2007
The Dalai Lama's precise position on sovereignty for Tibet has not always been entirely clear, but it would seem to be now:

"The past is past. When the People's Liberation Army came to Tibet, according to legal experts, Tibet was a de facto independent nation. Therefore, we consider it an occupied land. But that doesn't mean we are seeking independence". He made these comments in an interview to be screened by CNN, although this post is based on a report in the Taipei Times.

Alarmingly, he conceded "Tibet is a backward country, economically, materially. Therefore, for our own interest as far as material development is concerned, we want to remain within the People's Republic of China". More encouragingly he notes, "I think many visitors to Tibet, including many Chinese, can see that Tibet is actually ruled by terror, the rule of terror".

Tibet is in no position to resist the Chinese occupation, and Beijing is unlikely to be conscience stricken any time soon, alas. Meanwhile, I continue to support self-determination for the people of Tibet. The Central Tibetan Administration's (Govt in exile) page is here, complete with what would appear to be a rather literal translation of their national anthem. Given quite how bloody many national anthems are, this is a rather noble sentiment: "may everyone throughout the world enjoy the glories of happiness and peace".

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Osiraq II - more popular than one might think

The Jerusalem Post reports on a poll by Open Europe , which shows 52% of Europeans polled agreeing "We must stop countries like Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, even if that means taking military action". The Danes are the most hawkish at 68% and the Slovaks are the most doveish at 37%. We come in at 51%.

I doubt that the 'we' in the question means the Flyvevåbnet or Royal Danish Air Force, although they do have 48 F-16s, the same planes our Israeli friends used to take out Osiraq in 1981. As per usual, I expect 'Europe' expects the IDF or the Seventh Fleet to furnish the reckoning, as only 23% of those polled judge that "
Our country should spend more on defence and less on other things"

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Borrow money from Andrew Rawnsley - he's not very good with figures

At least judging from an article of his in The Observer:

"Nearly half of the EU's members have fewer people than Scotland's five million".

Hmm, I thought. There are around 5.1 million Caledonians. So, what would count as "nearly half" of 27 ? Thirteen, or being generous, twelve? Nope, in Mundo Rawnsley it is eight - Cyprus, Estonia, Republic of Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta and Slovenia. Details here.

Lend me a couple of grand General Urko, I'll pay you back "nearly half" next week


EU to successful businesses - we want you to stop being successful

Saturday, April 07, 2007
Yes, really. That is, in effect, what a likely to be adopted report on football says. More here, care of Libération.

Whether one likes the 'commercialisation' of sport or not, even the EU knows that this is way outside its area of competence (in both senses...). As Libé notes, "The European Constitution envisaged including the sport in its fields of competence, but since the French and Dutch referendums, it is a dead letter".

According to the report, football euro-style is "the result of a democratic tradition anchored in society as a whole". And "football does not function like a normal area of the economy and supporters cannot be regarded as merely consumers". And so, "The usual criteria of economic competition must thus be adapted to "the balance of the competition" They do talk rot, don't they?

The brain behind this is a French Green. Doesn't he have some climate change scare stories to fabricate? Doubtless at the back of his mind he is thinking about the US sports model, which is immensely more moneyed than football, but everything is focused on keeping the sports competitive in order to keep the TV viewing figures up. Consider this - 10 different gridiron teams have won the Superbowl in the last 15 years, whereas in the same period just five different teams have won the FA Cup.

Further thoughts later, perhaps.

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Yet another Blair decision coming back to bite us?

Or neighbours on the other side of St George's Channel are rather pleased with themselves because "[The Republic of] Ireland has become one of the first countries to be permitted to extend the boundaries of its territorial waters. The State has received final and binding recommendations from the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf that it could increase its continental shelf off the south-west coast beyond the standard 200 nautical mile limit....A coastal state exercises over its continental shelf the sovereign right to exploit its natural resources, including oil and gas deposits as well as other minerals and biological resources, located on or under the seabed". (Source).

While the division of waters around the United Kingdom and the Republic is largely undisputed, I did wonder what the score is vis à vis Rockall. And lo and indeed behold, "In 1997, the UK abandoned any claim to an extended EEZ around and beyond it". This refers to You Know Who (OK, probably not literally) signing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 25/7/97. That is a fairly substantial chunk of maritime real estate that has been blithely signed away, "relinquish[ing] its right to claim an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles extending from the rock", by agreeing that "Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf".

As to the Hibernians, they "regard it as merely an uninhabitable rock without any territorial waters and thus irrelevant when determining the boundaries of the exclusive economic zones of Denmark, the Republic of Ireland, Iceland, and the United Kingdom", and in a written answer, "Ireland claims an extended continental shelf … up to more than 500 nautical miles (926 km), particularly in the Hatton–Rockall area."

Great. Just great.

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Wonks to Labour - go ahead, wash your hands of all responsibility for your actions

Friday, April 06, 2007
Our wonky 'friends' at the ippr have been engaging in a little light kite flying:

"The doctrine of Ministerial Responsibility, which holds that ministers alone are accountable for everything that happens in their departments, should be reformulated so that while ministers remain accountable for policy, resources and strategic decisions, civil servants become externally accountable for clearly defined operational matters and for ensuring that their departments are ‘fit for purpose". Source

Lest there be any doubt as to the agenda of this organisation, note that it was founded by a former adviser to Blunkett, and has trustees including Kinnock, Gavron, Hollick and Marquand. The Adam Smith Institute it is not.

I cannot help but imagine that this report will be seized on with immense enthusiasm by the Labour party, so what in practice would this mean? Firstly, everything - but everything - will be defined as operational, and whenever there is a disaster at the Home Office or elsewhere, a smirking Reid or whoever will eyeball his inquisitors and say 'it's a fair cop, but the civil servants are to blame'. So, having waved goodbye to the resignation on a point of honour (doffs hat to Lord Carrington, the last man to do such), resignations, sackings and the like would appear to be reserved for cases of ministers caught performing armed robberies or committing arson in naval dockyards. As to the mandarins - lucky them. Doubtless no salary hikes, and the chance to play the fall guy for whichever mouth-breathing placeman or woman who is dropped into a department because of successful greasing up to the party leader. I think it unlikely that mandarins will get any credit, public or private, if a ministry actually achieves something.

Compare this to commercial practice. Chairmen are responsible to the shareholders for the performance of the companies they lead, and as with Truman, 'The buck stops here'.

Shameful, just shameful.


French celebs line up for the candidates

Thursday, April 05, 2007
Care of La Tribune, filleted to include only people of at least some international renown.


Bernard Tapie (former owner of Olympic Marseilles)
Jean Reno
Gérard Depardieu
Alain Delon
Alain Prost
Henri Leconte
Roger Hanin - Mitterand's brother in law....


Yannick Noah
Jeanne Moreau
Emmanuel Béart
Youssou N'dour
Mazarine Pingeot - Mitterand's wrong side of the bed daughter...


No one I've ever heard of


Ken Loach

Overall, I'm not sure which is worse - politicians whoring after celebrity endorsements, or said celebs thinking it right and proper that they should influence elections. Perhaps politicians will repay the compliment by giving their considered opinions on the rights and wrongs of the long ball game, The Method and more pertinently, whether Mitterand is the most appalling human being to lead a Western Democracy since '45.


Just how much trouble can a 137 page book for 12 year olds cause?

The book in question being the standard Greek history text book for junior Hellenes.

It has managed to upset the Orthodox Church by downplaying its role in the War of Independence, and nationalists are less than keen on the downplaying of Turkish atrocities and the recognition that the Greeks might have behaved badly themselves too.

Elsewhere, "Education Minister Marietta Giannakou paved the way yesterday for the authors of the controversial primary school history book to counter one of the textbook’s main criticisms by providing more detail about certain events in Greek history". Erm, more detail in a 137 page book? That should not be enormously difficult, should it?

The Turks are regarding this with what looks like amused detatchment: "In response to the criticism against the textbook that is devoid of animosity towards the Turks and exaggerations of martyrdom, Greek Education Council Chairman Thanos Veremis told the Greek daily Eleftheros Tipos that it was not correct to accuse the Turks continuously. "Textbooks are not bibles, and therefore they can be re-written" he explained. "Violence is an integral part of history, but there's no sense in continuously narrating it. That is not the aim of textbooks".

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War memorials

Having grown up in a small village, I always found the size of the village's war memorial quite chastening, especially as it had names listed that were shared by current residents. As the village had an active parish council and wider citizenry, the memorial was well maintained during my time there and I trust it still is.

Anyway, this all came to mind as the government has issued new guidance on 'managing' war memorials. Nothing particularly thrilling, or silly or otherwise notable to read there bar the list of relevant links. Particularly the one for the National Inventory of War Memorials, or ukniwm.org.

Well worth checking for areas one lives or has lived in, as there are rather more memorials than one might think.

Flying in the face of common sense

Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Those no doubt wonderful people at Trip Advisor have unveiled a survey on airline passengers' likes and dislikes. Source (requires registration)

First the sensible bit: A comfortable seat is the number one priority.

What else might one be concerned about? Well, if a Trip Advisor 'community' member, it is to have a clean (reasonable enough) lavatory, but also a roomy one. I would have thought that claustrophobics fought shy of clambering into junk metal in the air anyway. Then a clean pillow / blanket. Given that airline pillows are about the size of pin cushions and the blankets would leave the average midget shivering, I would have thought the average Trip Communard would be better off packing his or her own, erm, seat linen.

Thence to in flight snacks. I think that the 36% who claim fresh fruit / veg as their preferred snack are lying. Celeriac slices all round, maybe? Flipping TA's figures around, some 64% think that 'free' snacks are worth paying extra for.

Continuing with the epic levels of dishonesty, the communards rate mineral water as the top liquid freebie. Yeah, right. Men are marginally more honest than the ladies, with 36% vs 25% opting for booze of some description. Mine's a Bloody Mary.

Elsewhere, 56% of my compatriots claim to buy from in-flight catalogues. Do airlines pump mind-altering substances through the air con, perhaps?

Southwest rates as the worst airline for amenities, followed by Ryanair. I can only assume that a lot of travellers have yet to experience a Ryanair 'makes a veal crate seen like Elysium' flight.

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