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To Croydon infinity and beyond

Thursday, May 31, 2007
Malcolm 'I haven't updated my website in months' Wicks, MP of this parish has his mind on much, much higher things - in fact upon space, the final frontier.

In his capacity as Science and Innovation Minister, Wicks has got terribly excited about a document called 'The Global Exploration Strategy: The Framework for Co-ordination', even though the globe is the bit that most pointedly is not being explored. This has been signed up to by NASA, the Russians and a selection of ticks upon the backs of the bigger beasts , including us, and those noted space explorers the Canadians and the Germans, inter alia.

Apparently "this document marks the start of a new era of space exploration".

And how so?

"The British National Space Centre..was fully involved in shaping this document. Following its publication, it is expected that a voluntary, non-binding forum (the International Co-ordination Mechanism) will now be established so that all 14 nations can share their plans for space exploration, and collaborate to strengthen both individual projects and the collective effort".

'Expected', 'non-binding forum'. Not exactly 'Star Trek' is it?

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Credit where it's due.

I don't find myself agreeing with senior Labour party figures that often, and agreeing with a would be deputy leader is rarer still, given the current struggle to see who can throw the most red meat to the class warrior activist base, but this is just one of those occasions:

Hazel Blears said "That seems something you could look at. You could put more tax incentives into the system maybe to encourage people to give more."Blears said: "Say you wanted to invest in sports facilities or arts - in other countries there's a much more widespread system of people funding things like drama, art; those parts of life". Source.

Absolutely right on the money Haze. I do not doubt that normal service from the six would be cup bearers to Broon will resume shortly.

A telling slip up by the EU?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007
I tend to think that the relationship between the fourth estate and anything it is writing on should be approximately that of a dog and a lamp post, otherwise the result will be something like Pravda, or in UK terms the copying and pasting of press releases which are then 'bylined'.

However, my old sparring partner Viviane Reding, a journalist prior to becoming the EU media commissar, seems to have gone just a little bit too native:

"Nine editors-in-chief discuss the future of the written press with Commission. How to improve the role of the written press in boosting public perceptions of Europe? How do editors-in-chief receive the Commission's recent media pluralism initiative? What is the impact of Web 2.0 features such as user-generated content and enhanced cross-media competition? These are topics for debate at a high-level meeting in Brussels today between Media Commissioner Viviane Reding and the written press". (My emphasis).

Among those presents are the editors of serious newspapers from Belgium, Spain and Austria. If they really are going along with that part of the EU's agenda, they owe their readers an apology, and La Redding needs to ask herself whether there is just the teeniest conflict of interest between the foregoing and this gallery of bromides:

"The written press faces excellent prospects in Web 2.0," says Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Information Society and Media. Many newspapers enjoy the deep trust of their readers. Free newspapers and user-generated contents will continue to gain ground, but I also think at the same time that journalism which is based on editorial discipline and on verifying the facts, will become even more important. The quality of editorial content has never been so important as today, as society overflows with information.”

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An early front runner for woman of the year

Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Or person of the year, but that makes for a lousy headline.

C/O the Washington Post, introducing Barbara Holland, une femme d'un certain age, who has just had 'The Joy of Drinking' published:

"Stuck up here on this mountain, I have only two hobbies," she says. She raises the cigarette: "This is one." She raises the wineglass: "This is the other."..."I'm in favor of a little more sociability, a little more merriment, maybe even a little more singing and dancing."...She's in favor of joy but she feels it's under attack. She wrote the book as a protest against the decline of social drinking and the rise of broccoli, exercise and Starbucks"...."Booze, she writes, is "the social glue of the human race." As soon as humans stopped wandering around looking for berries and settled down to raise crops, they started creating wine and beer and, not coincidently, civilization".

She's right, isn't she? Should we buy a job lot and send them to Hewitt, Flint and the rest of the 'pilgrims' at the DoH?

And she wheeled out this anecdote : "during the Constitutional Convention, she writes, the 55 delegates took a day off to party and they knocked back "54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, eight of whiskey, 22 of port, eight of hard cider, and seven bowls of punch so large that, it was said, ducks could swim around in them. Then they went back to work and finished founding the new republic."

Now if only a few other nations had had such forward thinking midwives....


They do things differently in Russia. Apparently

I have been led to believe that the worst diplomatic posting for Her Maj's men and women of honour sent abroad to lie for their country is Ulan Bator, but it looks as though the lot of lesser diplomatic lights stationed in Moscow is not a bundle of laughs either. The First Secretary, one Nigel Gould-Davies, had the misfortune to be sent to Chita, way out in eastern Siberia. I cannot find out much about Chita, but it is twinned with the Florence of Idaho that is Boise so I do not suppose it features on many tourist itineraries, although it is managing rather sunnier weather than in these parts at the moment.

Anyway, so far so bad, but it gets worse: "Nigel Gould-Davies...was attacked by a group of teenagers when he went out for a night-time stroll in the east Siberian city over the weekend". And now for the curious bit - "The police officer said investigators suspected that rowdy students who were celebrating their graduation from school that night might be behind the assault and started a search for them". Source. Still, not as bad as the fate of Tel Aviv's man in San Salvador.

Makes jumping off Magdalen bridge into the Cherwell seem quite tame, does it not?

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China's rising greeted with a large collective shrug of the shoulders

Those helpful people at World Public Opinion have been harassing the denizens of the planet again, this time enquiring as to the likelihood of the Chinese economy equalling or exceeding that of the US, and whether or not this would be a good thing. The Chinese are among the least bullish, at 50% thinking that they will catch up with their Uncle Sam, although the Indians are the least likely to agree at 22%. 60% of Americans have read the tea leaves and foresee China equalling the size of its economy.

As to whether this possibility is to be welcomed, some 60% of Iranians think it a good thing, as do 9% of Americans. The rest of the countries polled between 20 and 38%. The Mexicans, Indians and Americans were most likely to see this as 'mostly negative' at 31-33%. So, plenty of folk are still wedded to mercantilist economic nostrums by the look of things.

Moving away from questions of economics, WPO asked more pointed questions about whether China, the US and Japan could be 'trusted to act responsibly in the world'. Given that with economic clout comes geopolitical clout, it is unexpected that some of China's neighbours are the most trusting, at 57-59% - Australia , the Philippines and Indonesia. Korea, having felt the dragon's teeth, is a little less naive at 61% distrusting Peking. The French emerged as the least trusting at 76%. And surprise, surprise, the Chinese and the Koreans do not trust Japanese foreign policy either.

All that borne in mind, it is worth reading a piece by Ambrose Evans Pritchard in yesterday's Telegraph, which was ghettoised in the business section:

"Takemasa Moriya, vice-minister of defence, choosing his words carefully..told me Beijing was acquiring the capability to choke commerce on the Pacific Rim. "We need to prevent any situation where China could have a negative influence on trade. The Chinese navy was once primitive but has become very sophisticated. Its crews got seasick when they first crossed the Pacific. We never hear of seasickness any more. We see its warships in the Sea of Japan all the time and we can see very clearly how skilful it has become," he said.


"China has 50 state-of-the art submarines. It has acquired the Ukrainian aircraft carrier Varyag, allegedly for use as an offshore casino - a story that nobody believes. Leaping up the technology ladder, Beijing destroyed an old spy satellite with a deadly accurate kinetic missile in January. The DIA said this was a direct challenge to US mastery of space".


"Hitoshi Tanaka...éminence grise of Japanese diplomacy: "China wants to maintain a benign image. I don't think it will pursue hegemony for the time being, but nobody knows, so we need to maintain a hedging policy by expanding our security capability. What happens if China intervenes in Taiwan? That's a very real question."

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That poll in The Telegraph

Monday, May 28, 2007
Which is here, includes the priceless finding that 20% of the population consider Broon to be, get this, 'cheerful and outgoing'. In comparison to on duty undertakers? Angsty adolescents? Small children that have failed to win an egg and spoon race?

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Government acts to help innumerate park bench drinkers.

Or so this release from the Health Commissariat would suggest:

"By the end of 2008 the Government expects all alcoholic drinks labels to include alcohol unit information, following a ground-breaking agreement between Government and the drinks industry....Labels with unit information will help people keep an eye on how much they are drinking, allowing them to monitor their alcohol intake more easily. The labelling information will be supported by a major cross-Government campaign on alcohol from 2008, a large part of which will be about raising unit awareness".

So, off licence owners, tramps, binge drinking teenagers and the like will be able to scan bottles on the shelf and work out that much more quickly what is going to take them to palookaville at the fewest bangs per buck. Isn't that thoughtful? I wonder if the next step will be for thoughtful retailers to include price per unit information on their display units, thus promoting sale of the viler ciders, English 'sherry' and the like.

As ever, this is a problem looking for a solution. Drinkers intent on moderation already know that stronger alcohol content per unit will lead to faster intoxication, and probably worked that out from practical experience with their first few drinks. Excluding those with impaired mental capacity, are there really people unaware that vodka is stronger than babycham or shandy?

La Flint in her role as big nanny sees this things differently, and prefers to infantilise the population, especially pregnant women: "In addition, the Government is also encouraging the alcohol industry to include sensible drinking information for pregnant women on labels. Avoid alcohol if pregnant or trying to conceive is the shortened form of the Government advice announced on 25 May". There are times when I ponder whether the 'health' industry is intent on proving the old misogynistic saw that women lose half their brain capacity upon getting pregnant.

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A new low for reality TV?

Sunday, May 27, 2007
A competition to see who gets a kidney transplant, airing next week in the Netherlands. Yes, really.

"Dutch broadcaster BNN plans to air a television show next week where a terminally ill woman will decide who out of three young patients will get her kidney, Dutch media said on Saturday. Viewers will be able to advise the 37-year-old woman, known as Lisa, via SMS which of the candidates to pick, the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper said. The show is scheduled for next Friday in a prime-time spot". It comes care of the people who cooked up Big Brother.

Supposedly it "is meant to highlight the acute shortage of donors in The Netherlands". Uh huh.

While this is likely to attract more attention than a plodding documentary, one does have to wonder about the moral compasses of those involved in this project.

The concept of willing trade in kidneys may well be not an entirely pleasant one, but I find it less offensive than the prospect of the nationalisation of our viscera, which is the de facto solution others would wish upon the populace.

Anyone seen 'Network' recently?

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Gung ho Swedes

Saturday, May 26, 2007
The Swedes have been opening up their archives a tad, revealing that in the early 50s their armed forces were prepared to launch counter strikes against the Soviet Union and its glove puppets in the event of a war breaking out. Source.

Perhaps Putin et al should be a little concerned, as not all of the files are out in the open yet, as "there are structures from that time that are still very much current".

Given the doughty defence put up by the Finns in 1939 /40 during the Winter War, perhaps Stalin was a little wary of trying it on, the result of Poltava notwithstanding. I suppose it says something about the lack of historical perspective brought to our notions of various nations that the Swedes are thought of - if at all - as having stopped fighting with the vikings, despite having been very martial indeed in the 17th and 18th centuries, and to all intents and purposes Gustav Adolphus saved Protestant Germany during the 30 Years War.

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Our man in Stanley has to explain things to the UN - again

Friday, May 25, 2007
Because it is having 'Seminar on Decolonization', which fortunately for all concerned is being held in Grenada rather than overlooking the East River.

Since it has not been listening, over to Richard Davies, the Territory’s representative: "who stated that the “clear and informed” wish of the people in the Territory was to continue the present association with the United Kingdom. They did not seek independence or integration. It was a voluntary partnership, based on self-determination, and was not a colonial relationship. They did not wish the British Government to negotiate their sovereignty with Argentina. “Falkland Islanders are strongly opposed to Argentine sovereignty, and no one who visits the Falklands could have any doubt about that.” As the Territory had never been part of Argentina, territorial integrity was not a valid argument. The people did not want to become a colony of Argentina". “It is the people of the Falkland Islands who should be deciding their own future, not the Argentine and British Governments,” he said. Annually, the General Assembly passed a resolution calling for negotiation between the United Kingdom and Argentina, although the population of the Territory were “vehemently” opposed to that.

Naturally the Argentinian bod saw things differently, but I think Davies came up with the master stroke: "In a short discussion following the statements, the representative of the Territory took issue with the historical overview and found it “ironic” that Argentina came to the Seminar to seek support for colonization, which was “absurd and immoral”.

Meanwhile, the Governor made his state of the nation speech yesterday, noting inter alia the visit of parliamentarians and others in June. As we have Lord Parkinson, Nicholas Winterton and Liam Fox on our side as opposed to Labour's sole representative Adam Ingram, I hope they will rag him mercilessly all the way from Brize Norton to Stanley and back again.

Geoff has kindly included a sizeable story from the Gib press related to this theme in the comments, for which thanks - well worth the read.

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Be afraid. Be very afraid

Because the Osmonds are reforming. More here, but readers of a sensitive disposition may well want to ensure that sound is off before proceeding. Apparently they are marking 50 years in the biz, although I find the maths a little troubling as I can find no reference to their having done anything prior to the 60s, and in order for them to be a plurality, the second oldest would have been six at the time of founding.

October - what a great time for a bank holiday.

When it will, in all probability, be cold and wet. And what is more, the grim coalition (unions and various busybodies) behind this wants us to have this day not that we might visit obscure relatives, lounge around on the beach or slump in front of a Bond film on TV, but rather that we should "celebrate and promote community activity and involvement". I am not making this up.

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By popular acclaim, the greatest Spaniard of all time is...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007
El Rey himself, Juan Carlos.

We have been here before, with TV polls on great Britons, Germans, Canadians and the like, and it would look like republicanism is not exactly flavour of the month among our Iberian chums, as La Reina, Sofia makes fourth place, with Cervantes and Columbus third and fourth.

I suppose it does the Spaniards some credit that they regard the Athens-born Greek/Danish Sofia as one of them, likewise the Genoese Columbus. Franco made 23rd, while Spain's Iberian neighbours gave the nod to Salazar when they had a go at one of these polls.

I have just recently been re-astonished by the achievements of Hernán Cortés, and while he was nominated, I imagine la Leyenda Negra counted against him.

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Nationalised eating - any takers?

Way back lost in the mists of time, Professor Anthony Flew took issue with the NHS in, I think, a Libertarian Alliance article, and created a fantasy of a National Mess Service in which the state would feed us. Judging from this comment on childrens' diets in the Commons, perhaps the satire was insufficiently subtle for Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods, MP for the City of Durham, and, fancy, a Socialist.

"Dr. Blackman-Woods: I thank the Minister for her response. Does she agree that much could be done to tackle child obesity and health inequalities if she was to work with colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills to build on the excellent initiative of providing free fruit and veg to schools and deliver free, compulsory, nutritious school meals for all children?"

Where to start? Perhaps with Milton Friedman's observation that there's no such thing as a free lunch. This 'free' fruit and veg will have to be paid for by someone, unless the doctor intends a cashless socialist command economy, and would result, overall, in a transfer of wealth from the less well off to the well off.

The youth of the nation having got their greasy little mitts on sundry items of 'free' fruit, some will opt to play football with their apples, some will stuff their pockets with soft fruit and take it home to their parents, and the more enterprising will muddy it up and take a stall at a farmers market to sell it.

Supposing the junior consumers cannot be trusted to take and consume their allocated quota, the 'compulsory' element comes in. Presumably food commissars will be appointed to patrol every school canteen keeping beady eyes on the scholars. Perhaps they will check that students are chewing the 'correct' number of times while they are at it.

I do think that the doctor lacks ambition - surely what is good enough for primary and secondary pupils is also good enough for college students, and is there not the danger that Xavier's principle of having control of the child until seven (1), or in this case, 18, 21 or at the end of one's doctorate just would not be enough? Surely all of those kitchens, supermarkets, restaurants and the like are just so inefficient, and should not Moloch a benign state be running state dining halls in every street that we might eat properly?

She's a sociologist, not a sawbones, by the way.

(1) "Give me the children until they are seven and anyone may have them afterwards".

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Avoiding awkward questions, Brussels style.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007
My old friends at the Europa press room have cooked up a Q&A on tobacco.

And rather entertaining it is too. It asks:

What is the "philosophy" behind tobacco control in the EU?

Smoking prevention and tobacco control are a priority for Member States and the European Community. Progress in reducing smoking is still disappointing. The last Eurobarometer on Tobacco reveals that about a third of Europeans are daily smokers.

Elsewhere, it has clearly been out collecting vox pops, as other questions include 'What will be the follow-up to the Green Paper?, and 'In July 2005, the Commission published its first report on the implementation of the Tobacco Products Directive. What have been the developments since then?'

However, it fails to ask 'How much do EU subsidies for tobacco cultivation cost?' A bit of rooting around delivered the figure of €920 million. Population of the EU is currently estimated to be 494,070,000, but excluding new members Romania and Bulgaria, gives a rounded 464 m, so it costs every euro man, woman and child a scratch under €2 per head. I wonder why they did not think that was worth noting?

Meanwhile, pictorial health warnings are on the way, and presumably because no one in either Switzerland or the Land of the Long White Cloud has ever suffered any visible ill effects from smoking, "The Commission has also concluded copyright agreements with New Zealand and Switzerland, allowing them to use the EU’s images in their own tobacco campaigns". I'm sure our Swiss and Kiwi friends will enjoy looking at the blackened lungs etc of some deceased euro example.

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How long is 'ever' to the Home Office?

'Ever' might be taken to go back to the dawn of recorded time, the dawn of permanent records, or if feeling especially liberal, a century or a human life span.

Not to the Home Office it isn't. 'Ever' would appear to be in the region of 14 years. Liam Byrne, for it is he, gleefully mixes up his statistical bases in a press release on asylum applications, rejections and the like, but makes no reference to any year prior to 1993, claiming in the key sentence "Stronger border controls have helped make sure the number of unfounded asylum seekers continues to fall. There are now fewer people than ever coming to the UK and making unfounded claims for asylum. Applications are down 75 per cent since intake was at its peak in 2002". Source.

The release also includes this rather telling detail (my emphasis): "All asylum seekers from Bosnia, Mauritius, Montenegro and Peru who are refused asylum following a clearly unfounded claim will have no right of appeal in the UK. The same rules will apply to male asylum seekers with clearly unfounded claims from the Gambia, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali and Sierra Leone". I spy sexism....

An outbreak of typographical technical speak in the Commons

The nonsense on stilts that is the prospect of compulsory 'No Smoking' signage in ecclesiastical buildings got an airing in the Commons yesterday. Stuart Bell answering for the Church Estate Commission made some vaguely emollient noises, although no promises.

And here's the fun bit:

"Michael Fabricant: I was somewhat alarmed to hear the hon. Gentleman say that all smoking was banned, as I presume that incense is not covered. I support the smoking ban in general, and voted for it but, if he is right and we have to have signs, does he agree that they could be Gothic, with twirly whirly bits, or Norman? Signs like that would fit in more appropriately with beautiful cathedrals such as the one in Lichfield". (Guess where Mickey is MP for...)

There are some rather pretty gothic fonts, with serifs 'twirly whirly' bits here. I suspect he actually meant 'Old English', but never mind.

The perils of bragging about Facebook

Monday, May 21, 2007

From epolitix: "Meanwhile, Hilary Benn's team noted that the international development secretary has 560 supporters on social networking site Facebook on Monday morning.

This represents a massive lead on the other contenders - education secretary supporters Alan Johnson has 269 'friends', Labour chairman Hazel Blears with 226, Cruddas with 201, Hain with 143 and Harman with 136".

And here is facebook page for the Son of 'Inishally the premish ish thish'. (Will require registration). And we have five 'friends' sporting Alan Johnson for Deputy avatar pictures, no fewer than five people with the surname Benn (one of whom uses a photograph of long dead bluesman Mississippi John Hurt), seven Cruddas for leader avatar users, someone who is pretending to be Hunter Thompson, another one pretending to be Keir Hardie, a miserable looking chap from Edinburgh with 'First vote Green' attached to his photo, Jonathan Isaby (who is One of Us), Norman Lamont (apparently), and a Hazel Blears for Deputy avatar user.

Still, don't Benns campaign on the issues, not personalities?

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French politician seeks power - Socialists shocked

Or the Parti Socialiste failing dismally to find its own backside, despite the use of both hands, a barrage of klieg lights and a handy 'How to' guide.

Sarkozy's successful wooing of Kouchner has confused the poor dears terribly: "One can see the manoeuvre : with very little time, just three weeks, before the first round Sarkozy seeks to be unfettered the day after the legislative elections" rued François Holland. "Is it really necessary to crush [all opposition], to dominate, to seize all the ground?". Elsewhere, Julien Dray thinks that Sarko is trying to destabilise the left, and would seem to regard this as less than full adherence to Marquis de Queensberry rules. Source.

Perhaps les rouges think that the gentlemanly thing for the UMP to do is to not contest the election too enthusiastically, and maybe give them a clear run at certain seats, and perhaps a few hints and tips. All that's missing is a chorus of 'It's not fair'.

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They do things differently in Sweden....

Pause briefly to consider the door steppers one is least likely to invite across one's threshold: Politicians? Unlikely. Double glazing salesmen? Very unlikely. Jehovah's Witnesses? Erm....

However, some somewhat inventive criminals in Sweden took a novel approach: "Police...are on the lookout for two well-dressed young men following an unusual burglary in Orsa on Sunday evening. The men, aged between 20 and 30, managed to gain entry to an elderly woman's apartment after dressing up as Jehovah's Witnesses. "Once inside the apartment, they pulled out a knife and forced her to hand over jewellery and money... According to [a spokesman] there has never before been a robbery in the central Swedish county carried out by such well dressed young men". Source.

Are Swedish types particularly receptive to religious types going door to door, was the victim an enthusiastic shopper in the supermarket of religious choice, or might the criminals have suddenly decided that a life of crime was more appealing than one of witnessing?

As a sidebar, I only get witnessed maybe once a year, and I have found that 'not now, thanks' generally sends them on their way and saves all concerned wasted time and effort, and given that they believe that the only way to Paradise is through their faith, it is actually rather kind of them to engage in active recruitment.

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Naughty Liberal Democrats get a kicking from the UN

Saturday, May 19, 2007
Well, ish, as it was not the Lib Dems per se, but rather Liberal International, the yellow equivalent of the Socialist International or the International Democrat Union (which my lot and the Republicans are members of).

However: "The Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), acting on a complaint by China, this afternoon withdrew the general consultative status of Liberal International, a United Kingdom-based body that had won that status in 1995. By a vote of 13 in favour to 3 against (Israel, United Kingdom, United States), with 2 abstentions (Peru and Romania), the Committee stripped Liberal International of its consultative status with the Economic and Social Council on the grounds that the organization had severely abused that status on 4 March by assisting a ranking official from China’s Province of Taiwan to gain access to a meeting of the Human Rights Council and advocate Taiwan’s membership in the World Health Organization (WHO)". Source.

Among the delightful liberal democracies supporting China were Cuba, Sudan, Egypt, Angola, Burundi and Syria. The reasoning for Cuba's support is remarkably frank: "Cuba’s representative said Liberal International had seriously violated the provisions of resolution 1996/31 and had also severely criticized Cuba. The decision to withdraw its general consultative status was the right one".

The Taiwanese Democratic Progressive Party is a member of the Liberal International, while neither the Socialist International nor the International Democrat Union appear to have Taiwanese parties as members. Anyway, hats off to LI for actually being liberal and for doing something righteous. It is a pity they did not get away with it.

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Taking one's civic commitment to a whole new level

Step forward Christos Kortzidis, mayor of Athens' beachfront suburb of Hellenikon, who is on hunger strike "as a means of pressing the central administration into helping remove illegally built businesses from local beaches".

I am hoping that Livingstone will follow this Hellenic example and take similar action over something, anything.


An object lesson in hypocrisy

Friday, May 18, 2007

"China's foreign minister warned Friday that attempts to politicize Beijing's Olympic Games by highlighting the Darfur crisis will fail. There are a handful of people who are trying to politicize the Olympic Games," Yang Jiechi said at a press briefing with visiting British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett. "Their objectives ... will never be attained." Source. The original item has since lost a quote from Beckett where she was a little too supportive of the Chinese position over Darfur for anyone with a scrap of decency, but I suppose neither comes as a surprise.

Amnesty has reported on weapons sales to Khartoum, noting "
Sudan imported $24 million worth of arms and ammunition from the People’s Republic of China, as well as nearly $57 million worth of parts and aircraft equipment and $2 million worth of parts of helicopters and aeroplanes from China, according to the data from Sudan for 2005, the last available trade figures. During a meeting in Beijing, the Defence Minister of China reportedly told Sudan's joint chief of staff that military relations had been "developing smoothly" and said: "[We] are willing to further develop military co-operation between our two countries in all areas."The Chinese company AviChina Industry and Technology recently delivered six K-8 military training/attack aircraft to the Sudanese Air Force and a further six will follow soon"...."Amnesty International is concerned that the Sudan Air Force has transferred these jet bombers to Darfur without authority from the UN Sanctions Committee and is highly likely to use these newly acquired jets, as it has other aircraft, and the acquisition of expertise to fly the jets supplied from China, for indiscriminate attacks in Darfur in violation of the UN arms embargo and international humanitarian law, thus also posing serious questions about the systems of accountability and training provided to the Sudan Air Force to ensure respect for that universal law".

Elsewhere, the BBC noted: "But Mr Yang said a campaign to boycott the Olympics is "against the spirit of the games. It also runs against the aspirations of all the people of the world, thus their aims will never be achieved."

And guess which highly populous nation in Asia with a name beginning with a 'C' boycotted Moscow 1980....

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Overcrowding legislation

Suppose you have a family, or wish to start one. Who is the best cost avoider, as it were? Seems pretty clear that it is the parents. So, if space in one's house is limited, there would appear to be two options - limit the size of the family, or move somewhere where there is more space. Reasonable?

Not, however, in the opinion of Shelter and various other organisations they have co-opted, including the CRE. They are unhappy with the definition of overcrowding under housing law, which would appear to be this:

"A dwelling may be overcrowded when the number of persons sleeping in the property exceeds the permitted number with regard to the number and floor area of rooms available for sleeping or, where persons over the age of ten who are not living together as husband and wife, must sleep in the same room". Source

Note in particular the second clause and then consider Shelter's comments "With almost one million children now trapped in cramped, squalid conditions". Or the still more hysterical line taken by the woman from the CRE: "For most of us it is hard to imagine being crammed into a bedroom with three, four or even five other people. It's unfathomable that in 2007 almost a million children have to put up with this day in, day out".

I think this is what Bron Waugh called 'pilgering'.

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And now the Labour MPs who did not nominate a deputy

Most of the cabinet heavy hitters did not vote, understandably enough, but there were a few others where non-voting was less immediately comprehensible:

  • Ian Austin
  • Margaret Beckett (cabinet)
  • Anne Begg
  • Tony Blair (cabinet)
  • Gordon Brown (cabinet)
  • Charles Clarke (Do you think he's got passive aggressive tendencies?)
  • David Clelland
  • John Denham
  • Roger Godsiff
  • Sylvia Heal (Deputy speaker)
  • Doug Henderson
  • Keith Hill (Blair's PPS)
  • Alan Keen) Trying to avoid a marital row, maybe?
  • Ann Keen)
  • Piara Khabra (he's not very enthusiastic, is he?)
  • John McDonnell
  • George Mudie
  • John Spellar
  • Jack Straw (cabinet)
List of MP nominators here. Of the Cabinet, worth noting that Prescott, Des Browne and Miliband came out for Johnson, Jacqui Smith (chief whip), Jowell, Kelly, Armstrong, Hutton and Reid for Blears, Alexander, Hewitt and Darling for Harman and Timms for Benn.

Hain, Benn and Blears nominated themselves, as did Broon for the leadership. Which makes his Uriah Heep speech yesterday all the more dishonest.


Foxes in charge of the hen house

Our old friends on Turtle Bay have just "elected 14 members of the Human Rights Council in two rounds of secret balloting".

And here they are, with Freedom House's political rights and civil liberties scores (One falling to seven) in brackets:

  • Angola (6/5)
  • Egypt (6/5)
  • Madagascar (4/3)
  • South Africa (2/2)
  • India (2/3)
  • Indonesia (2/3)
  • Philippines (3/3)
  • Qatar (6/5)
  • Slovenia (1/1)
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina (3/3)
  • Bolivia (3/3)
  • Nicaragua (3/3)
  • Italy (1/1)
  • Netherland (1/1).

I suppose it could have been worse - Belarus was a candidate for the Eastern European States Group, and has a score of 7/6. Note that Belarus received 78 votes.


Guess who won't be getting preferment under Broon

Thursday, May 17, 2007
A bit of rooting around here and here has allowed me to isolate those Labour MPs bold / stupid / principled enough not to nominate the Dour One for the Lord Protectorate:

  • Diane Abbott
  • Ronnie Campbell
  • Martin Caton
  • Michael Clapham
  • Katy Clark
  • Charles Clarke (who actually has the courage of his convictions, unlike those bed wetters Byers and Milburn)
  • Harry Cohen
  • Frank Cook (Thanks to Andrea for pointing this out)
  • Jeremy Corbyn
  • Jim Cousins
  • Ann Cryer
  • Jim Dowd
  • David Drew
  • Bill Etherington
  • Frank Field (way to go Frank)
  • Mark Fisher
  • Paul Flynn
  • Neil Gerrard
  • Ian Gibson
  • Nia Griffith
  • Dai Havard
  • David Hayes
  • Sylvia Heal
  • Kate Hoey (she really ought to cross the floor. Good woman is Kate Hoey, even if I campaigned for her Tory opponent in the Vauxhall by-election of whenever it was)
  • Kelvin Hopkins
  • Lynne Jones
  • Piara Khabra (I hear he's not well)
  • Peter Kilfoyle
  • John McDonell (like duh)
  • Siobhain McDonagh
  • Michael Meacher (Newly added - thanks for the correction)
  • Gordon Prentice
  • Linda Riordan (Thanks to Andrea for pointing this out)
  • Clare Short (Would she have been eligible to vote?)
  • Alan Simpson
  • Dennis Skinner
  • Graham Stringer
  • David Taylor
  • Robert Wareing
  • David Winnick
  • Mike Wood
Most of them are old class war lefties, but corrections and insights as to individuals are welcome.

As a foot note, the Dour One scooped up 18/20 Mac/Mc MPs, both the O's and all six Smiths.

So, will Broon let bygones be bygones and have a group hug with the Campaign Group, or can the Jurassic Left etc expect to find horse's heads caught up in their bed linen?

Double checked, changed)

Of the Iraq enquiry rebels,
Godsiff, Jackson G, Marshall-Andrews, Soulsby and Strang bottled it.

All the MEPs supported Broon, the wusses.

The good guys at Labour-Watch have attributed seats to the refuseniks, and Norwich would appear to be the most heroic town in England as both MPs refused to back Broon. Only one Scot failed to back him - Katy Clark, while four Welshmen held out.


Oh Canada....

The things they think worth legislating on in Ottawa:

"The federal government proposes to ban immigrants who want to come to Canada as exotic dancers, the immigration minister announced Wednesday. Canada will ban immigrants who want to come to Canada as exotic dancers, the federal government announced Wednesday". Source

It would look as though our Canadian friends give quite a lot of legislative time to worrying about strippers, as "in 2004, the Liberals scrapped the controversial program that granted temporary work visas to foreign exotic dancers. Under that program, foreign dancers could apply to fill a labour shortage in Canada in the industry".

Why would ecdysiasts and the like be making a beeline for Moose Jaw or Yellowknife anyway? Are Canadians fabulous tippers, or is there a really dynamic trade union for the sector? The mind boggles. A lot.


A rose by any other name...

The Millennium Dome, the Dome, the white elephant, the O2 Arena, Tony's Folly - there are plenty of naming options available for the wretched thing without having to think too hard. None of these proved suitable for a rather breathless press release from Livingstone's office about the NBA (National Basketball Association) setting up an office in London - apparently it is 'London’s new state of the art NBA-style arena'.

Now this is alarming on a number of levels, as given the 30 odd teams in the NBA does this mean that North America is littered with Rogers-inspired buildings that cost the earth and serve little or no purpose, and if this is 'new state of the art', what are my chances of selling a seven year old car or computer on ebay and terming it thus?

Back at the plot, I suspect that the NBA's main ambition in these parts is to sell more baseball caps and the like to individuals incapable of finding on a map the host city of the team whose colours they sport.

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Probably *not* coming to a cinema near you

Wednesday, May 16, 2007
The EU is a bit pleased with itself as some films it has part funded are airing at the Cannes Film Festival, and rather thrilling they all sound too:

Here are some 'highlights':

Auf der Anderen Seite by Fatih Akin (MEDIA support €70,139) - Six characters seek forgiveness and reconciliation between Germany and Turkey. I wonder if they succeed, or whether that is for AdAS II?

La Soledad by Jaime Rosales (€50,000) - In Madrid the destinies of four women meet. Gosh, that sets the pulse racing.

Garage by Lenny Abrahamson (€23,857) – A small town misfit working in an Irish petrol station, comically searches for love, acceptance and the best place to display the motor oil. Oh dear, that sounds 'wacky'.

La question humaine by Nicolas Klotz (€25,000) - A human resource manager in a multinational who is losing his mind is told by his manager to psychologically assess the company's general manager. And they get a full 90 minutes or so out of this?

Tout est pardonné by Mia Hansen-Løve (€37,498) – When an Austrian couple move to Paris with their young daughter the family splits. Twelve years later, the daughter goes to see her drug addict father in Paris. And this was only 53% as worthy as the film at the top?

What, no films about ennui among Bulgarian turnip pickers? I suspect that none of these will be challenging for inclusion in the list of highest grossing films of all time.

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Unexpected web pages of our time

The CIA site's kids' page. Yes, really. Neither MI5 nor MI6 seem to have anything similar. My Russian not being all that it could be, I cannot tell whether the FSB (the successor to the KGB) is reaching out to Russian small people.

Since there is a woeful lack of the bloggable out there, feel free to treat this as an open thread.

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Work in the mineral water sector? UNISON wants you out of a job

Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Judging from this press release:

"Employers have a legal duty to provide their staff with drinking water in the workplace. But they often provide bottled water, which is expensive and has a high environmental impact. Where tap water is offered to employees, it is often from unsatisfactory sources such as lavatories.

The Water@Work campaign addresses three important issues. First is the health and safety aspect of encouraging more people to drink water instead of unhealthy fizzy drinks or tea and coffee, which have a dehydrating effect on the body....

And finally, Water@work promotes the fact that British tap water is among the highest quality tap water in the world and it's produced by our members. It costs less than 1p per litre, as opposed to fancy bottled mineral waters that don't necessarily taste any better.

In addition to these advantages, providing tap water in workplaces is an environmentally friendly solution. Where employers have attempted to do something positive by installing drinking water units that use large plastic containers, the environmental impact is huge.

Water is heavy, and transporting it in bulk around the country uses a huge amount of unnecessary fuel and energy. The containers are made from a type of plastic based on crude oil, which is not recyclable and takes up to 1,000 years to biodegrade. Tap water, on the other hand, comes straight into the workplace through the mains supply".

I'm sure that the people working in water bottling plants, which generally are not in areas with especially varied economies, will be delighted that UNISON regards their way of making a living as being so worthless.

In other news from the Tribunes of the People, "UNISON and the GMB are looking to the Labour leadership contest as an opportunity to push for real change within the party - to policy as well as personalities...Between them, the two represent a third of the trade union vote in the electoral college, which they believe gives millions of ordinary trade unionists the power to influence the future direction of the Labour party...The two unions will now draw up a list of issues to use to assess candidates. These will cover privatisation, equal pay, employment rights, the NHS, and pay and pensions for public service workers". I am rather looking forward to Broon having to suck up to them if McDonnell gets on the ballot. That should scare the horses, should it not?

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The dog that said 'sausages'

For obscure reasons I was pondering on that infamous dog, and courtesy of youtube, here's the video clip in all its glory. I seem to recall that it was the talk of the nation for what seemed like weeks, and I suspect most of my fellow greybeards will remember it.


Or as a click through.


Didn't they listen to that still, small voice?

If setting up a group to work with dyslexics, would anyone think that it was a really, really smart idea to have a misspelt name? Apparently someone did, as there is one called Xtraordinary People. Yes, really.

Coming soon, no doubt, the innumeracy body with 'phone numbers rendered in hexadecimal.


Could you have kept a straight face?

The world's leading producer of hot air has been discussing indigenous people and the like:

"As is the Forum’s tradition, the sixth session was opened with an invocation from Tracy L. Shenandoah, Chief of the Onondaga Nation, Eel Clan. Acknowledging Red Willow as the leader of medicines, he said the creator had planted medicines, including berries, for people to use. He also gave thanks to the birds, especially the eagle, and to the “three sisters” of all foods: corn, beans and squash. He also gave thanks to the waters for their help in creating peace. His statement was followed by a performance by the Laihui cultural group from Manipur, India".


Gaddafi about to meet his maker?

Monday, May 14, 2007
The Jerusalem Post has noted a wire report from a Palestinian agency that the 'Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya / Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution' "Muammar Gaddafi was rushed to the hospital Sunday after a blood clot was discovered in his brain, and is now in a coma".

Can't say I would don sackcloth and ashes if he departs this life, although he is by no means the worst ruler in the Middle East.


The EU does something useful.

For once. Here is the taxes in Europe database, an online tool that permits the user to perform searches on the basic tax structure of EU countries. I have already discovered that Romania taxes gambling wins at 16%, which seems a little mean. Anyway, worth playing around with, and I am dreaming of Estonia's apparent 11.9% income tax rate.

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Yet more Livingstone antics

Saturday, May 12, 2007
Today Livingstone is hosting 'The state of London Debate', with the aim being "a chance to discuss with London’s policy makers the reasons behind London’s success and how it can remain successful in the future".

I have had a look at the speakers, all 83 of them, and done a rough and ready sorting into politicians, wonks, lobbyists and the like.

This is what I've divined:

Elected politicians: 16, of whom two are Conservatives.
Livingstone's office, advisers etc: 10
Quangocrats: 13
Media types: 3
Arts / sports: 5
Special interest groups / lobbyists etc etc: 24. Of which, there are three from Muslim organisations including that nice, moderate Mr Bunglawala, and fancy, no Jews.
Business people: Gita Patel of the remarkably obscure Stargate Capital Management and Alistair Soyode of BEN TV. Both are very specifically ethnic minority businesses.

CEO's of FTSE 100 businesses, senior partners from Big Four professional services organisations, senior partners from 'Magic Circle' law firms, Lloyds brokers, London Stock Exchange, money market figures etc etc : Zero.

Given that "Londoners have always known they live in a great city – a place where people from around the globe come to do business and enjoy all that the capital has to offer. Now an official report identifies London as one of the most successful cities in the world" what chances are there that this particular set of people is going to have much insight into the successes of the City of London - the engine of the London economy?

Cross-posted to ABK.

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Three cheers, maybe four, for the Irish Republic's Electorate

A most heartening poll in The Irish Times:

"A substantial majority of voters are not prepared to pay more taxes to fund public services, but they believe the Government already has enough money to fund those services... Asked if they would be prepared to pay more taxes to fund public services, 72 per cent said no, while 23 per cent said yes".

Is it because the Irish Republic's electorate is clearer sighted than our own, or that they are more prepared to tell pollsters what they think, in contrast to this neck of the woods where pollees seem inclined to give the 'right' (or rather left...) answer to the man or woman with the clipboard and another answer in the voting booth?

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The War on Common Sense - US branch

Friday, May 11, 2007
Curious news from the other side of the Pond, the US film censoring board, the MPAA declares that "Depictions of smoking in movies will now be a factor when deciding what a film's rating will be, possibly making a PG-13 movie R-rated". Source A PG-13 film warns "Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13", while an R warns "Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian".

As a point of comparison, drugs references also inform restrictions on film ratings, and 'Trainspotting' was rated an R. 'Trainspotting' is very, very graphic on the needle and the damage done. And then there are considerations of screen violence, strong language and all of the other things that some people get worked up about.

While smoking is not exactly healthy, and is getting progressively less common, it is still legal, and I regard the MPAA's bowing to some of the more fanatical lobbyists as quite lamentable. This *is* an issue of artistic expression and free speech, and given that there is an awful lot of material on TV involving smoking, it is also utterly silly.

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A UN with teeth - more popular than one might think

WorldPublicOpinion.org has polled the planet (or at least an apparently representative selection covering 56% (1) of the world's population) on strengthening the UN's ability to authorise force and so on, and the results are, to say the least, surprising. Who would have thought that 72% of Americans would think that “having a standing UN peacekeeping force selected, trained and commanded by the United Nations” was a fine idea? Or, come to that, that 60% of Israelis favour UN regulation of the arms trade? Can't say that I would.

A standing UN peacekeeping force is the most popular proposition, at 64% overall, with majority opinion in favour in all places polled, topped by 77% in Peru. The Peruvian military has been actively involved in peacekeeping, so they cannot be called on hypocrisy in that regard. The Philippines and Argentina showed the least enthusiasm. Quite how a chain of command would work with a standing UN army is a moot point, as is how it would be equipped, deployed etc etc, given security council veto powers.

74% are in favour of the authorisation of force 'to defend a country that has been attacked', and the French really like this one - 84%, as do the Americans at 83%. The Chinese clock in at 70%, although doubtless they were not thinking that this would have covered Tibet or its incursions into India. Despite having been a beneficiary, I'm puzzled that the enthusiasm of Korea is not greater than 76%. There are clearly problems of definition when it comes to wars, as it not often that there is a Yom Kippur war, Falklands or Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, but rather conflict is more often along the somewhat chaotic lines of the Yugoslav succession or Congo wars. With the three 'clear' examples, cases were made that the attackers were in the right. What chance of any future war being regarded as morally black and white by all non-engaged sovereign states? Zero seems like a good starting point.

A similar figure, 73% would approve action to 'prevent severe human rights violations such as genocide', with majorities in all places polled in favour. As to the UN having a responsibility to do so, enthusiasm wanes somewhat. Note the vile human rights record of some of the states polled....

To be continued.

(1) China, India, the United States, Russia, France, Thailand, Ukraine, Poland, Iran, Mexico, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Argentina, Peru, Armenia and Israel, plus the Palestinian territories

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The Emperor Brown is naked

Thursday, May 10, 2007
Or he will be if he clothes himself care of the Labour Campaign shop (google it, I'm not linking to them):

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A good day to make up bad statistics

It was bound to happen, wasn't it? Admittedly this is a fairly harmless piece of fluff from Jowell's DCMS. Tessa notes that 94% of the English adult population in England 'have engaged in at least one form of cultural or sporting opportunity during the past twelve months' and she reckons (or more realistically, one of her peons reckons) that 'This comprehensive survey shows the vital role culture and sport play in the life of our country'.

Before I start making hay over the definitions of sport and culture, how does the fact that people choose to do something demonstrate a 'vital role...in the life of our country'? The same 'argument' could be made for scratching one's head, staring out of the window or crossing the road.

However, onwards:

Sport is taken to include angling, hill walking, indoor bowls, darts (I just *knew* it would be), and my favourite, 'Snooker, pool, billiards (except bar billiards)'. Righty-ho, no bar billiards. That shows they are serious in their definition of 'sport', does it not?

And as for arts participation, the DCMS's definition goes just a little beyond what most of us would consider it to be. And the nation's leading form of arts participation is, wait for it, having 'Bought any original/handmade crafts such as pottery or jewellery for yourself' at 16%. Also popular is mucking about with Photoshop 'creating original artworks using a computer' (11.6%). Getting a touch more high brow, supposedly 0.5% of the nation did ballet last year, and the same percentage opera. Could that be Rattus norvegicus I find myself downwind of? The single most alarming statistic must be the 4.3% of the population that claims to write poetry.

I suggest that Jowell should be subjected to a lengthy term of incarceration with the nation's amateur poets forming a relay to declaim at her as payback for the egregiously dishonest 94% 'cultural or sporting opportunity' engagement figure.

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Trots' Corner

It looks as though we all missed the big story last week. It was not our lot winning 900 odd seats, or Labour and the Lib Dems getting stung, or even the SNP winning in Scotland, but rather the Trots / Burka Alliance Respect's showing:

Three seats, in Preston, Brum and Bolsover, with the winning candidate in Preston reckoning:

The vote in Preston shows that Respect can win and increase its majority by representing people and showing that another world is possible.”

And the revolution's only a t-shirt away.

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Where were you when Thatcher stood down?

Inspired by a post chez Dizzy on the End of Blair (maybe...) where he refers to being in a PE lesson at school when the greatest peacetime Prime Minister of the 2oth century announced her resignation, I was mulling on what I was doing and who told me.

At the time I was doing a McJob as a messenger at an investment bank and was told the news by a colleague. Banking being what it is, there was not much glee in evidence at the establishment, and I was able to pass the rest of the working day without having anyone intruding on private grief.

What about the readership?

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The British are twice as proud of being European as the Dutch

Who would have thought it? This comes courtesy of a scatter chart in a report called Marktplaats Europa produced by the SCP, the Dutch Social and Cultural Planning Office. It is in Dutch, and I am indebted to Nisnews.nl for alerting me to the basic findings in English, and babelfish for a quick and dirty translation of key phrases.

The Germans rate as being the least likely to be 'very proud' of their nationality at 23%. OK, we all know why the Teutons feel a bit embarrassed about Deutschtum, but it was more than 60 years ago, and they have achieved many fine things before and since. It is not as though being European sets their hearts surging either - 9% are 'very proud' of being European. I have not been able to confirm whether 'European' is meant in the debased sense of being part of the EU, or Europe in the geographical, cultural etc sense. Cynicism tells me it is the former. The Dutch are a little more enthusiastic about being Dutch - 29%, but one would have thought that Rembrandt, Spinoza, Tasman, Audrey Hepburn et al would have lifted their spirits rather more. And very proud 'Europeans' they are not: 7%, the lowest figure of the 27.

We British outdo the Portuguese, Latvians and Estonians for Euro fervour, as well as our friends on the other side of the North Sea. As to being proud of being British, only six countries outdo us for their equivalent, including the Irish Republic and both the Greeks and the Cypriots. Maybe it is something to do with history text books in Athens and Nicosia that the Hellenic countries manage a pride level of 79%.

The Greeks also rate as among the most enthusiastic about being European, at 23%, outdone only by Luxembourg at 24%. The Cypriots are less engaged at 13%. The Danes are Mr, Mrs and Ms Average, with 47% thrilled to be Danish, and 16% thrilled to be European.

Further findings later, perhaps.


The Republican debate

Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Cut down version:

Or as a click through.

Things are looking promising, aren't they?

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The 'news' story that is showing up everywhere else, but not here.

This being Save the Children's Mothers' Index.

STC is one of the less obnoxious household-name charities, and seems to do a reasonable job of spending money on its charitable aims rather than on administration and so forth. Anyway, its Index supposedly rates 140 odd countries on how good or otherwise they are as places for mothers to reside. The Swedes, naturally, are rather pleased that they are top of the league, and Spain is quite chirpy about making ninth. The UK rates twelfth, bettering France but losing out to the Netherlands.

However, as with all of these surveys, even if they are forms of virtual tin rattling, a little attention to detail is worthwhile. Firstly, the grouping of countries into developed, less developed and least developed is just a little curious. Israel, Korea and Cyprus rate as 'less developed', despite GDP's per capita of $26K, $24K and $31K respectively. How they must envy their neighbours in the mansion on the hill, 'more developed' Moldova ($2K), Macedonia ($7K) and Albania ($6K). The Moldovans keep company with Switzerland, Japan and the US, whereas Korea is slumming it with Swaziland and well nigh post-economic Zimbabwe.

If that did not have you reaching for the safety catch on the Browning, perhaps the considerations that go in to making the top tier countries better or worse for being a mother will:

  • Lifetime risk of maternal mortality (reasonable enough)
  • Percentage of women using modern contraception (Hmm. The UK comes top at 81% , by the way. Italy manages 39%)
  • Female life expectancy at birth (Also reasonable enough)
  • Expected number of years of formal female schooling.
  • Maternity leave benefits and percentage of wages paid. (The US is bottom at 12 weeks, compared to one year in Albania and Bosnia)
  • Ratio of female to male income
  • Participation of women in national government - % seats held by women. (Right, might it be that STC had decided on the results they wanted and threw this in as a deal maker? The US is only just over half as good as the very Elysium for women that is Belarus)
Added to the women's issues are three categories concerning children - infant mortality, nursery school enrollment and gross secondary school enrollment. Naturally there is no explanation as to the finer points of statistical method, weighting and so forth.

Tier Two sees Israel, Singapore and Cyprus ranked on availability of safe water (I am NOT making this up) and percentage of moderately or severely underweight under fives, and parallels them with, inter alia, Papua New Guinea, India and the 'People's Democratic Republic' of Korea. In this category we also find Cuba, which makes 7th for children beating out South Korea.

So, why not a peep out of STC UK? Are they not very quick on the uptake, did they have misgivings about the methodology, or was the UK's twelfth position insufficiently bad to make it worth making a song and dance about?


Headline o' the day

Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Maybe even of the week:

"Bradshaw hails new EU chicken welfare rules".

Alas this is not the Bradshaw of railway timetable renown, nor the Bradshaw who passed the death sentence on King Charles, or even the town of that name in Nebraska, but the rather uninteresting minister for animal welfare, Ben Bradshaw.

Apparently said EU rules are

an unprecedented step, ensuring that this major sector has for the first time a set of strict rules to adhere to".

Unprecedented in what context Benjamin? Has neither government nor supranational authority ever acted over anything ever prior to this handing down of the tablets of the law? Were previous rules enforced with insufficiently draconian sanctions?

The welfare of meat chickens is a major concern to people throughout the European Union.

Indeed. The talk in Croydon is of little else. I believe it was Sarkozy's stance on poultry that made all the difference on Sunday. Whereas for those fiendish non-EU Switzers and Norwegians, torturing chickens is the highlight of the week.

"This agreement sends a strong message to the rest of the world that we care about animal welfare".

And I am sure that my perusal of the international news sites tomorrow will bear out your ambition Benjy. How shamed they will be from Almaty to Zanzibar that they love their chickens less than we do.

"Ben Bradshaw added that the UK successfully fought - supported by Sweden, Denmark and other welfare-minded countries - against a further watering down of the proposals led by France".

Boo hiss. I can just picture Johnny Frenchman twirling his pantomime villain's moustache while intent on poultry worrying and the like. And why do only three countries get mentioned, one wonders? Could it be that press releases about chickens are really a way of letting foreign governments know who is on the enemies list at the Foreign Office?

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Le dernier mot on the French Election

Yes, really. Thank you for the forbearance of those who have been bored to tears by this.

However, having passed on the thoughts of the intellos during the campaign, I'm pleased that Bernard-Henri Lévy has deigned to wade in and make 'Hommage à Ségolène Royal'.

Before cutting to the chase, savour if you will, how very different our Gallic neighbours are, in that not only do they have public intellectuals, but their thoughts get reported on candidate websites without said candidate thinking this in any way odd. For a taster of BHL, consider this:

"Lévy is, with his third wife, actress Arielle Dombasle, a regular fixture in Paris Match magazine, wearing his trademark unbuttoned white shirts and designer suits. Lévy's reputation for narcissism is legend. One article about him coined the dictum, "God is dead but my hair is perfect."He once said that the discovery of a new shade of grey left him "ecstatic." . Source

Anyway, onwards:

"'Not having anything to say' while she actually took the time to listen to the electorate, 'scandalous' when she broke the silence (the 35 hour week) or broke orthodoxies (her stances, so brave, on a nuclear Iran or on Darfur), Bécassine (1) before the debate with Sarkozy and Cruella after, and by committing the lèse majesté of interrupting, challenging, not letting anything pass on the nod and pinning him down. She's no longer a woman, went the rumour, she's a witch".


"But one has to recognise that Nicolas Sarkozy was good. Really good. He rode the Zeitgeist with a mixture of talent and cynicism, neither less remarkable than the other".... Who could have guessed that the trauma of May 68 remained so acute that he would call, repeatedly, "to liquidate" - what a word! - the heritage of the "party of the hooligans and the wreckers" and make him spout such geysers of gall, schadenfreude and resentment?".


(1). This is Bécassine:Bécassine is an antique cartoon creation, a Bretonne peasant somewhat overwhelmed and confused by Paris where in the original tales she was a maid / nanny etc. (Note that Sego's home turf of Deux-Sèvres is not in Brittany, but *is* in the north west and a largely rural département). So, an innocent abroad, basically. She continues to circulate as a character in French popular culture, but irks Breton separatists, nationalists etc no end. Imagine how our friends on the other side of the Irish Sea feel about stereotypes of thick paddies and the like for a parallel of sorts.

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The organisation that has to pass resolutions showing it knows right from wrong

This, of course, being the United Nations:

"Addressing its comprehensive review of a strategy to eliminate future sexual exploitation and abuse in United Nations peacekeeping operations, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) recommended this afternoon that the General Assembly reaffirm the need to implement a zero-tolerance policy towards such behaviour, and to assist victims of sexual exploitation and abuse by the Organization’s staff or related personnel".

It is beyond shameful that it has to do this.

Cross posted to TAB.


The way they do things in the Netherlands....

I suppose most of us have a certain idea of the Dutch and the Netherlands, and although I was well aware of the Calvinist background of many of them, this came as a bit of a surprise: The equivalent of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association, cough, 'mediawatch-uk' (yes, it is written a la e.c.cummings) styles itself the Union Against Swearing. NIS News has more details.

A selection of what one must presume to be appalled burghers have been monitoring every last Dutch TV programme keeping a running tally of 'invective and cursing', and this year's figure totals some 112,000 instances, up 13% on last year, and "About two-thirds of the coarse language consists of obscenities or invective and about one-fifth of what the Christian organisation calls "taking the name of God or Jesus in vain".

There is further stat crunching to be seen, my favourites being these "On both public and commercial stations, swearing occurs on average 0.3 times an hour. The government-sponsored youth channel BNN is invariably the station averaging by far the most coarse expressions an hour (6.7 in 2006)".

It could be that National Viewers' and Listeners' Association mediawatch-uk *is* already doing something similar, but its spectacularly ugly and amateurish-looking website is awash with broken links, so I remain none the wiser.

I do not find swearing, blasphemy etc offensive per se, but I try to keep my language reined in on the off chance that others might, and also because endless effing and blinding is just so tedious.

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So he's done it.

Monday, May 07, 2007
As I think we all suspected that he would. As with all French elections in living memory, the big question is whether Sarko really has the nerve to take on the vested interests. I think he will talk a good fight, but do little more than tinker at the margins, in part because I suspect there just is not the will among the French political class to pick fights with the unions, the fonctionnaires and the rest of the apparat. Also, Sarko is a comparatively young man and doubtless fancies his chance of winning a second term in 2012. If he does succeed in that I would suspect that there might be a touch more audace from a Sarko presidency.

As to Royal, her 'there will be riots' etc speech was about as misjudged as Churchill's 'road to serfdom' speech in '45. If Sarko does have the will to make substantial changes in the way France is run, he is in a very good position - the Left will probably engage in another bout of fratricide (or should that be sororicide?) , Bayrou's would be centrist project looks to have been still born, and both Le Pen's lot and the extreme Left look to be fatally wounded. I would not be at all surprised if the Left re-aligns itself German style, with the PS splitting into a far left party that makes common cause with the Trotskyites and the other loons, with the more realistic faction adapting itself to changing times.

Le Monde has a nifty graphic showing the results:

Libération has a Flash graphic showing the voting in the two rounds, and it is instructive that département by département, France was again split along very clear lines - Royal's best showings were in the North West, South West and the centre, with only two départements, Pas de Calais and Val de Marne gained from outside the first round's approximate comfort zone.

Meanwhile, one of the French blogs has a sneak preview of Sarko's cabinet, which suggests Cecilia Sarkozy as PM, Raffarin as minister for truth and common sense, Johnny Hallyday as minister for artists persecuted by the tax authorities etc etc. Ho ho ho...

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The view from across the channel

Saturday, May 05, 2007
Anyone else driven to distraction by the BBC's mantra that 'there was no clear winner' (And Anthony King in the 'graph, I mean you too) in the local elections, might wish to turn to the French press for a spot of reality:

Libération: "In the English local elections, it was the Conservative Party of David Cameron which emerged victorious, gaining 37 councils... With 41 % of the votes compared to 27 % for Labour, the Tories are growing in confidence for the next general election".

Le Monde: "In England the Labour Party suffered a major setback".

And my fave, Le Figaro: "In Scotland, Wales and England, the Labour government was punished by voters wearied by ten years of Blairism".

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Foul play?

Friday, May 04, 2007
Just had this passed on to me by one of my narks. Was Sego wearing an earpiece during the debate with Sarko?:

Oreillette Ségolène Royal ?

I think it is a trick of the light, actually.

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The Karma Meter

Care of the Globe & Mail, the Karma Meter.

Mildly amusing and does not take long.


Someone still likes Mr Tony...

The Portuguese prime minister, José Socrates, in an interview in Le Point:

"You are often described as the Portuguese Tony Blair. Does that please or irritate you?"

"It pleases me. And I take it as a great compliment. In ten years of power, Tony Blair has achieved considerable change in Great Britain".

Pass the hemlock....

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The TUC gets it right. For once.

I do not find myself in agreement with the TUC very often, but their response to the Department of Work & Pensions' plan to trial lie detector technology is pretty well right on the money:

"The TUC says that the problem with the lie detection technology that the DWP intends to use is that it cannot detect lies. Voice risk analysis and lie detectors can only detect, with varying accuracy, changes in the body, such as heart or breathing rate, or any changes in the tone, pitch or tremors in the voice".

Meanwhile, the local election results seem a bit of a damp squib, and Ségolène Royal's lot are falling back on the old favourite of attacking opinion pollsters:

"Without giving any detail on margins of error, Opinion Way declared the candidate of the Right the winner on economic and social questions, and Ségolène Royal on those termed 'compassionate'...The campaign co-directors [condemn] these polls".

Quite the snit.

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The things people get exercised about...

Thursday, May 03, 2007
In this case, a Thai protest outside the US Trade Representative's office in Bangkok because of a report accusing Thailand of intellectual property violations.

Admittedly it goes a little deeper than that, as it involves generic drugs, but the headline - 'Protesters protest outside US embassy against US report' - amused.