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That's her insurance premium through the roof..

Tuesday, July 31, 2007
The 'her' in question being Ségolène Royal, who has just been burgled, again. I'm not sure whether this says more about French lawlessness, Ségo's poor home security practice or who one has to be to get a security detail.

I suppose I could make the old joke about theft merely being DIY socialism, and that she ought to be rejoicing in having inadvertently done her bit for wealth redistribution.

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Now who are 'the good Europeans'?

By the look of things: us, the Swedes and the Spanish. And nul points for France, Germany, Slovakia, Greece, Luxembourg and Austria.

Being on the side of the angels, we plus our unlikely allies are in favour of a Commission proposal to decouple production and distribution, whereas the villainous sextet are keen on maintaining their 'national champions'.

I am not aware of Luxembourg Electricity or whatever it styles itself being a power in the EU, but let it be noted that EDF owns, inter alia, what were London Electricity, Seeboard and SWEB, and e.on owns what were Powergen and East Midlands Electricity.

I don't think some of our European friends get it, do they?

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There's nothing like a Dane

At least if one is a New York City official, looking for bright ideas as to how to tart up Coney Island. Apparently the owners of the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen will be acting as advisers. Source.

Can't say I've been to either place, and have very little interest in fun fairs and the like, but what comes to mind is that the Tivoli Gardens supposedly suffer from large numbers of drunken Swedes, which might be more difficult to arrange in Brooklyn than Copenhagen.

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The trouble with statistics....

Monday, July 30, 2007
Greens and sundry other ne'er do wells are not at all happy with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, as the fortunate mayor of that borough, Andrew Dalton, is going to be chauffeured around in one of these:



Nice, isn't it? It is a Bentley Continental Flying Spur. Said Greens etc do not like its tendency to produce CO2, but here is the amusing bit: "Tony Bosworth, spokesman for Friends of the Earth, said: "This car is one of the biggest contributors to climate change of any of the cars on sale."

Right. A little light googling suggests that just under 2000 Bentleys were sold in the UK in 2006. In comparison, Ford sold 444,211 cars and GM Group 328,641 in the same period. Soo, said Bentley pumps out 100,000 times more CO2, does it? And that's even before one factors in that the car is made in Crewe, rather than Wolfsburg, Saarlouis, Detroit or Tokyo....

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Petition o' the Day

Or the Order of the Broon Nose, with swords, oak leaves and diamonds:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to keep doing his best well done". I'm not making this up.

And Linda Congdon, the petitioner, glosses thus:

"we thank the primister minister for the long hours he works and his dedication to Great Britain making us simply the best and better than all the rest.making England one of the greatest and farist countries in the world" (multiple 'sics').

Just the petitioner has signed so far.

The only Linda Congdon that a Google UK search throws out is involved with colostomy bags. I'm not saying a mumbling word...

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1st July 5020 - a date for your diary

The Association for Canadian Studies (no sniggering about moose and maple syrup at the back) has been looking at figures for US emigration to Canada and vice versa, and notes: "The number of Americans accepted into Canada reached 10,942 in 2006, almost double the number admitted in 2000. By contrast, the number of Canadians admitted to the United States in 2006 dropped sharply from the previous year, falling to 23,913 from 29,930". Source

By my calculations, Canada will be entirely populated by Americans (assuming the natives stopped reproducing etc etc) by 5020, while the US will have to wait until around the 147th century to have been Canadianised.

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Ask a silly question

Saturday, July 28, 2007
You just have to love wonks, don't you?

The IFS has just published a 32 page paper on, get this, "Why home-owners with large mortgage debt work longer hours than those without such debt".

I think Occam's Razor could do with a good stropping.

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For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"

Friday, July 27, 2007
And, alas it would appear that he is no longer "Saviour of 'is country," when the guns begin to shoot".

A profoundly depressing tale of quite what a ghastly place this country is turning into, courtesy of the Epsom local rag:

"Neighbours have launched an offensive over proposals to convert a £1.7million property in Ashtead into a guest house for relatives of servicemen wounded in Afghanistan or Iraq....about 100 local people objecting to the proposed alterations, which include fitting a wheelchair ramp. Their main complaint was that increased noise and traffic would "ruin the special character and appeal" of the private lane. Other criticisms were that the families "would not be welcome" and that their arrival could destroy the "unique charm" of multi-million pound properties".

A spokesbod from Mole Valley District Council hits the nail squarely on the head:

"The objectors clearly don't understand what it feels like to have your life changed in a second by a bomb blowing up in Basra."

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"No, unhappy the land that needs heroes".

My opposition to the honours system is repeated on a regular basis, and I am appalled that the Irish Republic, having managed without one all these years, now seems to be intent on inflicting the whole ghastly system on its blameless citizenry. Source.

The amusing bit is that it seems to be in part informed by sundry Irish nationals having been given baubles to play with by British politicians - "Increasingly what we are seeing is [that] the British are now honouring Irish citizens. There's been a number of them in the last five years" reckons Bertie Ahern. (The paper namechecks Michael Smurfit, Tony O'Reilly, Bono and Bob Geldof).

Perhaps someone should have a word in his shell-like and point out that this was not an attempted land grab by the British on Irish business and entertainment types, but rather part of a bi-annual nonsensefest whereby honours are dished out to party supporters, time servers and those likely to catch the eye of the average newspaper reader.

Don't do it Bertie - it is not too late to save the Irish from this horror.

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Just what has the Foreign Office been telling Pakistan?

Thursday, July 26, 2007
Miliband Major is in Pakistan at the moment, and an anxious nation holds its breath, awaiting his return. So far, so very dull indeed. However, a report on this momentous event in Pakistani newspaper Dawn is remarkably telling:

"Foreign Secretary David Miliband at 41 is the youngest to hold the office in Britain in 30 years. A graduate of Oxford, he is said to be ‘a rising Labour star’ and is seen as a possible future Labour Party leader. His appointment as foreign secretary is perceived in some quarters as a likely shift in British foreign policy to one in which criticism of the US and Israel is not off limits.

Mr Miliband, who earlier served as the Environment secretary in Blair’s final Cabinet, was opposed to the Iraq war and within the Cabinet also criticized the Israeli attack on Hezbollah last year".

Opposed to the Iraq war? Really? Theyworkforyou.com has his voting record, and rates him as having 'voted very strongly for the Iraq war'. I can find no trace of any speeches in the Commons either for, against or firmly on the fence .

Maybe young David only informed other Milibands of his opposition, or maybe the Foreign Office has been feeding a line to a lazy hack who cannot be bothered to check his facts....


I'm off to Doughty St shortly for a bit of political chat, I'm in the 10-11 slot.

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And the point of this exercise is?

Say hello to 'TRAFFIC RADIO'.

Apparently the AA, RAC, local radio, internet sites, ceefax etc etc are failing to keep the nation informed about tailbacks at the Talgarth roundabout and so on, so at who knows what cost, the Highways Agency has unleashed a digital / internet only traffic radio service.

This being a state initiative, the emphasis is on the joys of the road and fun, fun, fun: "It offers regional traffic news, depending on which part of the country people are listening, as well as national headlines. There will also be short infomercials, for example explaining our Traffic Officer service, safety advice and tips about planning your journey".

I do not expect that programme ratings will be that impressive, especially given that DAB radios are hardly ubiquitous.

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Setting the bar a little too high?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007
The Malyasian Deputy PM is none too impressed with that nation's bloggers, and had reminded them of section 121b of the penal code: "Section 121b deals with offences against the authority of the king, ruler or Yang DiPertua Negeri and carries a maximum penalty of life in prison".

He added "In the name of freedom, these websites allow the broadcast of slander, lies and swearing, the use of harsh, degrading language and racial slurs without regard for the reader or those concerned".
(Good job nothing like that happens on this side of the planet, eh?)

However, it is what the Deputy PM thinks blogs should be doing that is the interesting bit: "
We want blogs to be clean, a place to obtain accurate information, a reference point for honest opinion, not a platform to abuse and slander people".

I would wish him good luck, but for the fact this seems to be more about attacking freedom of speech than trying to raise the tone...

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And to think some folk think Prince Charles is a crank...

He would appear to have a fight on his hands for the title of European 'Royal' with the oddest worldview, as Princess Martha Louise of Norway "is launching an alternative school aimed at training students to contact angels". Yes, really. She is fourth in line to the Norwegian throne, and 65th in line to the British throne. Should anyone fancy the course in angelic communication, it is a bargain NOK24,000 (circa £2,000) per year.


All makes talking to one's plants seem quite harmless.

Broon: "It's not what I do, it's what I say"

The Lord Protector is not at all happy that the Conservatives may vote against elements of his anti -terrorism laws, and his this to say in The Sun :"I would urge David Cameron to put party politics aside and look at the national interest. We are in a new world".

Could this be the same Gordon Brown that sat on the opposition benches in the 80s and 90s when Labour used to vote against the Prevention of Terrorism Act? I do believe it is.

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Canada being less than culturally sensitive

Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Not really the place I would expect this sort of thing to happen, but folk with the surnames of Singh or Kaur cannot emigrate to Our Lady of the Snows unless they change their surnames.

Rather than this being a Canadian exercise in Sikh bashing, the rationale is explained by a spokesbod thus: "I believe the thinking behind it in this case is because it is so common. [With] the sheer numbers of applicants that have those as their surnames, it's just a matter for numbers and for processing in that visa office".

One might note that the use of those surnames by Sikhs is not a mere passing fancy: "In 1699, the Sikhs adopted the name "Singh" due to the wishes of Guru Gobind Singh. Every Sikh male bears the name Singh, whilst the female equivalent is 'Kaur', meaning 'princess'".
Source

I think our Sikh friends have every right to be less than chuffed about this, and if a google.ca search is anything to go by, there are an awful lot more Smiths, Joneses etc showing up there than Singhs.

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Fixed term Parliaments

Yesterday's Hansard carries a fairly desultory exchange on this topic, with the shocking news emerging that "The Electoral Commission advises me that it has not held any recent discussions on fixed-term Parliaments".

My instinctive reaction is that no matter how irritating it sometimes is that an incumbent PM can choose his or her time to go to the country, enforcing fixed terms would be unwelcome in that we could end up with hobbled and useless minority administrations. However, a cut of a year in the electoral cycle to render de jure the current de facto four year term has the makings of a half way decent idea.

Meandering a bit, the Chartist demand for annual parliaments used to make me stretch my eyes, and I cannot help but wonder at some of the oddities that might have thrown up - an SDP administration in the early eighties perhaps, a Hague administration if an election had happened during the fuel strikes and so on. It is worth noting that all of the other Chartist demands became law eventually, although there are times when I wonder about equal sized electoral districts, given the substantial advantage Labour derives from out of date constituency boundaries....

How not to impress as a prime minister in waiting

Monday, July 23, 2007
The likely next Prime Minister of Belgium is Yves Leterme, a Flemish speaker. About 1.18 into the clip below he is asked by a reporter if he can sing La Brabançonne, the Belgian national anthem. He declares that he can, and even those readers with no knowledge of French, and little of national anthems will be struck by what he decides to sing. Anyway, enjoy.




And this is what he should have been singing:

"O Belgique, ô mère chérie,
A toi nos cœurs, à toi nos bras,
A toi notre sang, ô Patrie !
Nous le jurons tous, tu vivras !
Tu vivras toujours grande et belle
Et ton invincible unité
Aura pour devise immortelle :
le Roi, la Loi, la Liberté !
le Roi, la Loi, la Liberté ! (2x)"

Polyhymnia has deserted me

A bit of rootling around makes me think that Polyhymnia is the nearest thing to blogging's muse:

"Polyhymnia ("the one of many hymns"), in Greek mythology, was the Muse of sacred-poetry, sacred hymn and eloquence as well as muse of agriculture and pantomime.

A very serious woman, pensive and meditative often depicted holding a finger to her mouth, dressed in a long cloak and veil and resting her elbow on a pillar. She brings fame to writers whose works have won them immortal fame. Polyhymnia is also sometimes accredited as being the muse of geometry, mime, meditation, and agriculture".

More on the muses here.

So, think of this as an open thread.

More on road fatalities and the like

Saturday, July 21, 2007
Continuing on from 'on drink'.

I've found some data on road fatalities which I am too lazy to format and type out in the comments, so here is a C&P job:


Road fatalities

Deaths per 100,000 pop.

Motor vehicles per1000 pop.

Deaths per 10,000 motor vehicles

GNP per capita ($USD)

USA

41,967

15.8

787

2

29,339

Japan

9,942

7.9

669

1.2

38,264

Germany

8,758

10.7

559

1.9

28,335

France

8,080

13.8

524

2.6

26,409

Italy

6,198

10.8

617

1.8

20,224

Spain

5,483

14.0

488

1.9

14,509

UK

3,598

6.1

408

1.5

20,946

Canada

3,082

10.3

573

1.8

19,856

Portugal

12,100

21.1

436

4.8

11,024

Greece

2,068

19.7

497

4

11,688



Note that this is including pedestrians, but the point made about the horrendous driving habits of our Gallic chums is borne out

Lèse majesté in Madrid

A Spanish satirical mag has got itself in trouble with Felipe Juan Pablo Alfonso de Todos los Santos de Borbón y de Grecia (better known in these parts as crown prince Felipe), by publishing a front page cartoon (no, I'm not posting the picture here) of said prince getting intimate with Princess Letizia. More here.

The underlying joke is that the Spanish government is offering a €2,500 subsidy for any child born after July 3rd, so Felipe's speech bubble runs thus: "Just imagine: if you get pregnant, this will be the closest thing to work I've ever done".

The mag itself has been pulled and will presumably be pulped, with the web site reckoned to be in the firing line too, and those involved at El Jueves face prison terms of between six months and two years. I have seen plenty of cartoons and the like subjecting the dysfunctional family Battenberg / Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to similar indignities, but at least they have had the sense to avoid litigation.

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I hope 'Al Qaeda' lacks a maritime capacity

Because our snus-loving friends on the other side of the North Sea (and the Skaggerak) are sending us a rather sizeable consignment of weapons grade plutonium next month.

Turns out the Swedes (for it is they), had a weapons programme in the 50s and 60s, which they gave up circa 1970. Had they gone all the way, they would have beaten India, Israel etc to be the sixth nuclear armed state. Anyway, it looks as though the Swedes are not too worried about the Norwegians, Estonians et al and have decided to send it to Sellafield, as "Andreas Carlgren, Sweden's environment minister, said that the government had no choice but to export the waste, as Sweden has no facilities for processing it at home".

Greenpeace are none too happy about this development, as they have misgivings about Windscale Sellafield, which I suppose shows a lack of parochiality in its approach.

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'Happy Feet' meets '300'

This is really rather good:

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On Drink

Friday, July 20, 2007

(Click for legibility...)

Given the rumbling about raising the driving age from 17 to 18, because teens are supposedly more likely to drink/drive/crash, here is a rather entertaining map courtesy of drinkingmap.com

Must say the 25 mark in India (or parts thereof) seems a little stern, and the prospect of a Belgrade bar filled with 14 year olds does not appeal.

Man of the day

Is Brian Jenkins, MP for Tamworth, and a Socialist. Yes, I'm a bit surprised too.

A fairly routine discussion on supermarkets and their 'monopoly' power opened up by Keith Vaz, with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Jonathan Shaw saw this intervention from Jenkins before he was cut off, for no apparent reason:

"Does my hon. Friend recognise that we live in a capitalist system? Does he recognise that some of these supermarkets produce the most efficient delivery systems for foodstuffs in the world? Does he recognise that to try to change that philosophy is probably a bit more than he and his Department are capable of? Does he recognise that free trade—".

Well done that man.

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They do things differently in...

Thursday, July 19, 2007
Thailand.

"The Committee for Teachers and Education Personnel agreed in principle on Thursday to toughen penalties for teachers and education personnel who commit adultery or have an extramarital affair, [Education permanent secretary Jaruayporn Thoranin] said....If a disciplinary inquiry deemed a teacher guilty, punishment could vary from dismissal from the service - with or without pension - to the revoking of a teacher's vocational permit, she said....The spur for increased punishments stemmed from the fact that every time the committee met to discuss disciplinary measures, the issue of teachers' adulterous affairs was raised. Thus the committee felt tougher punishment was needed to stop such offences occurring".

I would that this was the leading problem in education in these parts, frankly. I am yet to discover whether the Thais are similarly harsh to other public sector workers in parallel circumstances, whether all the swingers in Bangkok want to hang out by the blackboard, or whether teachers are reckoned to have a particular obligation to be morally upright.

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Chris Bryant failing to walk it like he talks it. Dismally

From yesterday's Hansard:

"Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): What steps he plans to take to consult the public on a British statement of values. [150197]


The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. Michael Wills): In the coming months, we will be starting a series of consultations, using a range of formats, to involve the British people in the formulation of the statement and to give them a decisive role in the process.


Chris Bryant: I warmly welcome the Minister to his new post, and his appointment is long overdue. Recent opinion polls suggest that the British public think that the most important British values are a sense of fair play, a respect for minorities and the belief that everyone has the right to say precisely what they think. But has my hon. Friend watched “Little Britain” recently? Does he believe that one of the most important British values is our ability to laugh at ourselves?

This, let us recall, is the man who goes to quite extraordinary efforts to prevent websites showing that photograph of him in his underpants, used to promote his charms on a gay contact site. And showed a major sense of humour failure over the Guardian publishing a spoof diary in his name. Which they had to apologise for.... Guido has had some fun at Bryant's expense too.

Meanwhile, isn't making a statement of values the kind of half-witted idea a failing board comes up with when a company is on the skids and desperately casting around for a way to look modern? Doubtless Bryant wants a rebranding of the nation as TUK, a new flag, and almost certainly a mission statement.

Holding back the Mediterranean with a mop

This from the TUC's website:

"TUC unites with Tunisian unions to tackle globalisation".

And it gets better, "TUC spokesperson Sally Hunt [General Secretary of the University and College Union] said: 'Despite our different cultures and economies, our basic situation is the same. Globalisation can do enormous damage to manufacturing - such as the textiles industry - and can lead to unemployment, social breakdown and popular discontent. But with trade unions involved, globalisation can be shaped to deliver huge benefits - increased trade, decent work and more growth - which we can and must share.'

Meanwhile, globalisation would appear to be the friend of the man and woman on the Tunis omnibus, as "Real growth averaged 5.0% in the 1990s, and inflation is slowing. Increased trade and tourism have been key elements in this steady economic growth".
Source

Perhaps Sally would like the good people of Tunisia to go back to subsistence farming. However, fairness requires that I point out that she (2.2 from Sussex in international relations.
) is not all bad: ""As I said at our congress, I simply do not believe that the majority of UCU members support an academic boycott of Israel or that they believe it should be a major priority for the union," she said. "When I speak to members, they tell me they want their union to focus on pay and conditions." Source

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Group of old politicians make desperate plea for attention

Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Let me introduce the soi-disante 'Elders', "a group of leaders [convened] to contribute their wisdom, independent leadership and integrity to tackle some of the world's toughest problems". Source, registration required.

And now for the fun bit, a little light fisking of the track records of some of these elders:

Nelson Mandela - who is now 89.

Graça Machel - Happens to be married to Nelson Mandela, and one time minister in the one party state that was Mozambique on her then husband's watch.

Desmond Tutu - Given to less than nuanced comment on Israel.

Kofi Annan - A conspicuous success as UN secretary general....

Ela Bhatt - Indian woman involved in micro finance.

Gro Harlem Brundtland - Former Nowegian PM, who apparently 'suffers' from "electrosensitivity or electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) - ...a condition in which a person experiences physical and/or psychological symptoms that they report, against established scientific and medical opinion[citation needed], to be aggravated by electric or magnetic fields (EMF) or other electromagnetic waves at exposure levels tolerated by the general public".


Jimmy Carter - Words fail me.

Li Zhaoxing - A Chinese Communist.

Mary Robinson - Former Irish President

Muhammed Yunus - also involved in micro finance.

(Spot the Elder who could conceivably be described as *not* being on the Left)


I would not expect much even by way of pious bromides from this group, as "In 2001 [Peter] Gabriel and [Richard] Branson [took] their idea to Mandela and Graça Michel. Mandela is immediately enthusiastic...sets about bringing together the people you see today". So, it took six years to round up the other elders, and put out a press release. Very dynamic.

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Well London

This, I imagine, will make everyone squirm with embarrassment, starting with the horrible and presumably intentionally 'street' name for the venture:

"Lottery funding worth £14million was today granted to fund a major campaign to make Londoners happier.

Tens of thousands of people will be shown how to improve "wellbeing" by growing vegetables in window boxes, becoming more optimistic and taking more exercise".

Imagine the reaction of most Londoners to a 'Happiness Commissar' rolling up at the doorstep when said Londoner is watching TV, having a chat with the other half, blogging etc and declaring 'I'm from the government and how can I make you happier?'. I imagine the commissar would be fortunate if the response was as mild as 'going away would be a very good start'.

What with recycling being all the rage in quango etc circles, perhaps the programme could be renamed 'Strength Through Joy'.


Meanwhile, in a wholly unconnected development the Spanish Publishers Federation and the Culture Ministry is paying out of work (presumably) actors to dress up as Don Quixote etc to wander around Spanish beaches berating the populace for not reading. You can lead a whore to culture, but you can't make her think, as the great Dorothy Parker once put it.

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A terrible blow to France's amour propre



How will the man in the Deux Magots cope with the news that sales of Gauloises and Gitanes cigarettes will shortly be making profits for a British-based company? This is courtesy of Imperial Tobacco having bought Franco-Spanish company Altadis.

I look forward to the Gitanes woman being replaced by a morris dancer, and perhaps Boudicca would look good on the Gauloises packet. Anyone fancy joining in a bid to takeover Pernod-Ricard?

Le Monde seems remarkably unconcerned about it all, by the way.

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A joke

I would tell this to my mother, so I think it passes the safe for work test:

"A couple made a deal that whoever died first would come back and inform the other of the afterlife. Their biggest fear was that there was no afterlife. After a long life, the husband was the first to go, and true to his word he made contact,

'Mary. Mary.'

'Is that you, Fred?'

'Yes, I've come back like we agreed.'

'What's it like?'

'Well, I get up in the morning, I have sex, I have breakfast, off to the golf course, I have sex, I bathe in the sun, and then I have sex twice. I have lunch, another romp around the golf course, then sex pretty much all afternoon. After supper, golf course again. Then have sex until late at night. The next day it starts again.'

'Oh, Fred you surely must be in heaven.'

'Not exactly, I'm a rabbit in Troon.'




With thanks to my fellow UCL alum Helen.

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Harriet Harman's ability to reason

Speaking on her priorities as Minister for Women:

"This first strand of work will also include pressing forward with the Government’s commitment to tackle the pay gap between men and women—a gap that is not only unfair in principle, but which plays such a large part in the unequal division of labour in the home, preventing fathers from playing a more active role in their children’s early years and preventing women from fulfilling their opportunities at work". Source

What on earth connects pay levels to the willingness or otherwise of a father to spend time with his progeny?

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Internet crash 2007

Tuesday, July 17, 2007
This is really rather good:


Breaking News: All Online Data Lost After Internet Crash

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Move to Liverpool or resign. The choice is yours....

Civil Service Network reports that Whitehall HSE bods are a tad flustered about the prospect of a move to Merseyside, and have even gone so far as to "[take] part in a small demonstration".

I await a furious response from the Echo and the usual rent-a-quote scousers that emerge from the wainscotting whenever the 'pool is criticised, however obliquely.

I would have thought that the prospect of escaping a London commute and having money go heaven knows how much further on property while keeping one's job and presumably the same pay would be quite appealing.

The Open Society and its Enemies...

A title I stole from a better man, but it seems remarkably apt given this news in the Jerusalem Post:

"A number of delegations that have visited Syria have delivered messages from the Israeli prime minister by which he is seeking peace. One even came during the Second Lebanon War. We consider this a positive step but our official policy is against a secretive channel of negotiations," [said] Syrian President Bashar Assad".

Given that Syria is hardly a liberal democracy, there is a fair amount of chutzpah in this call for everything to be out in the open. And then the grandstanding: "
Furthermore, he stressed, any peace negotiations would be based on Israel returning to pre-1967 borders. Such conditions, said Assad, would need to be made clear by any "serious" peace envoys".

Not going to happen, is it?

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The EU answers a straight question. For once

And there it is, near the top of the press room page:

Europe's cultural heritage only a click away?

Clearly not, as it is a dead link.

Doubtless the link will be fixed at some point, when quite possibly further mockery will ensue.

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Democracy Moscow-style

The Russian Constitutional Court has just upheld "a law requiring political parties to have a minimum of 50,000 members". The appellant, the doubtless deeply odious Russian Communist Workers' Party-Revolutionary Party of Communists, can muster 35,000 members.... Source

The rationale for upholding the law is that a party needs "at least 50,000 members to represent a segment of society". Converting 50,000 into a UK equivalent of about 21,000, how many UK parties would fail to pass that threshold?

The Greens - 7,110
UKIP - Official figures are not easy to lay hands on, but I've seen 11-12000 suggested. Source.
Respect - 5,739
SNP - 10,85
Plaid Cymru - ? Cannot find anything.... However, Istanbul Tory reckons 10,000, for which thanks.
Sinn Fein - Also a mystery, but it would include members in the Irish Republic...
Ulster Unionists, Democratic Unionists, SDLP - also a mystery.
BNP - unknown

Labour stands at circa 200,000, the Tories 290,000 and the Lib Dems 70,000 ish.

Corrections, fuller details would be most welcome.

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Say hello to Europe's most incompetent customs service

Monday, July 16, 2007
Which I reckon to be that of Macedonia. The UN has just published a rather exciting study called '2007 World Drug Report' which includes tables giving typical street prices and so forth for a range of drugs. I reckoned that cocaine was the most interesting narcotic to focus on, and if the UN is to be believed, the going rate for a gram in Skopje is the equivalent of US$50.30. Compare that to $92.50 in the UK or the $150.00 plus it would cost in Moscow, Nicosia or Oslo.

As it also has the wholesale price per kilogram per market, the enthusiastic coke user might note that The Man in Turkey has the most outrageous mark-up at around 14X - $113.20 per gram, and $8,117 per kg wholeale, whereas figures would suggest that The Man in Bulgaria and Moldova is so useless that he makes a loss. Cypriot, Luxemburger, Estonian, French and Norwegian dealers seem to be doing quite well too, at a greater than 2X multiplier.

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Oh my giddy aunt....

"Patents are pending on Europe's first furnace fired entirely by soiled nappies, which was constructed for the Liebenau Foundation, an operator of rest homes in the south-west corner of Germany". Source

"The 11-meter-high (36-feet-high) plant can consume 8 million diapers annually. By [chief technician Marco] Nauerz' calculation, that means it can continuously eliminate the waste from 12,000 incontinent patients. There is no risk the supply will dry up".

Apparently the furnace is odourless, but I feel quite nauseous.

(If anyone with Teutonic connections were to inform me that the 16th July is the Hunnish April 1st I would not be greatly surprised)

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"Bookish economics"

That is how Mugabe has reacted to criticism of his latest act of madness - ordering "that all shop prices be cut by at least half, and sometimes several times more". Source.

This has led to this sort of thing: "Car dealers said officials were trying to force them to sell vehicles at the official exchange rate, effectively meaning that a car costing R212 000 ($30 000) could be had for R425 ($61) by changing money on the black market".

Clearly this will ruin retailers, but there is more to come: "Parliament is expected to pass legislation in the coming weeks that will effectively give a controlling stake in all publicly traded companies to ruling party loyalists and others chosen by the government".

Pity the nation indeed.

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The hunt for Sarah Teather's 'off' switch continues

Friday, July 13, 2007
I'm not in the habit of posting Lib Dem campaign videos, but just this once I will make an exception:



Fast forward to circa 1m 10, and behold some poor unfortunate trying to find Sarah Teather's off switch, apparently located at the back of her head. I wish him every good fortune with this venture, as I'm sure do many of my regulars.

For those of a nervous or lazy disposition, Dizzy has kindly arranged a screen grab:


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Where Zanzibar leads, London follows

Yes, really. Way back I blogged about a ban on plastic bags on that island. So far, not so awful, bar the six month prison sentence and / or $2000 fine for violating the law...

And now this: the usually fairly sensible London Councils organisation is seeking a 10 pence levy on plastic bags because so many end up in landfill. Despite the claim that "the proposal is not a revenue generating exercise", I fail to see how it can possibly cost 10 pence per bag to administer this scheme and then to incinerate or otherwise be rid of the things. Judging from the way so many women seem to hoard plastic bags, I fear that this would end up as a tax on blokes....

Factoid of the day is this footnote: "Forty five per cent of shoppers claim to have bought a reusable “Bag for Life” but only 12 per cent use them regularly". (Snigger).

The current vogue for hessian bags that allow the carrier to feel smug by sporting their 'principles' on their arms through modish slogans makes me wonder if there might be a market niche for bags with slogans taking a different approach....

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Frequently Asked Questions Watch

A new regular spot, perhaps.

With many, many EU press releases there is an attached list of FAQs, and call me a raddled old cynic if you like, but I refuse to believe that the e-mail servers, mail rooms, phone lines, fax machines etc in Brussels have been overwhelmed by concerned Euro citizens craving an answer to this question:

"Does the USA require access to [passenger name record] data on the types of meal that passengers request or on their medical condition?".

I'll spare said e-mail servers by furnishing the response here:

"This information is collected by airlines in order to provide special services to certain passengers and may therefore be contained in some PNR. However, this is sensitive information (see previous question) and the information is not used to identify potential subjects for border examination."

Glad they cleared up that one....


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Union to Ford - we should be in the driving seat

How about this for hubris:

"Unions must be involved in all stages of the intended sale of Jaguar Land Rover including any final decision on who will buy the iconic British brands. The demand has been made by Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of the T&G Unite".

It gets better though - "the last thing that you should consider is an auction in which the highest bidder wins".

Good job he is up to snuff on company law, isn't it? He also has a five point plan including that Ford should "Retain a sizeable financial stake in any new company established to take over Jaguar Land Rover".

Fair to say that Tone has been wasting his time, although he adds that "my union will have no hesitation in calling on the UK government to directly intervene if it is necessary to ensure the long term future of manufacturing plants". Given all those lovely votes to be had in and around the plants, I imagine we can expect a replay of the MG Rover farce. Now if only Alchemy Partners had not been stymied, MG would doubtless be making rather more cars than Longbridge will under Nanjing Auto's ownership.

Meanwhile, apparently Woodley is the president of Vauxhall Motors FC....

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Yet another terror alert categorisation

This time care of wired.

Reminds me of the joke about the Zen master who walks up to a hot dog stand and says 'Give me a hot dog with *everything*'.

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And what if Cécilia sees this?


This touching photograph by Reuters shows Nicolas Sarkozy with Maud Fontenoy, who has just been a made a chevalier of National Order of Merit. She would appear to be a French equivalent of Ellen McCarthur, in that she sails solo. I hope for France's sake she whines rather less though.

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"Yes, we have no bananas"

Well we do, actually, but availability of varieties varies. The never less than thrilling WTO site reports that "The [WTO's Dispute Settlement Body] has set up a compliance panel, under DSU article 21.5, at the request of the US", because "The US said more than a decade after this dispute began the EC still appeared not to have come into compliance with the DSB's recommendations".

And what is all this really about? It is about discriminatory treatment of bananas hailing from Latin America by the European market, which treats bananas from former colonies more favourably. In an act of remarkable dishonesty, Brussels has responded thus "The EC said it was an unfortunate move by the US and questioned the US's interest in this case as the US is not a producer or exporter of bananas".
Erm, Chiquita (the former United Fruit Company, by the way) is based in Cincinnati, and Dole in what I imagine is the less than bucolic Westlake Village, California. So our Uncle Sam has quite a distinct legitimate interest in what is happening to bananas grown in Latin America at the behest of US companies.....

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Geography lesson for Derek Twigg?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What does 'on the continent of Europe' mean to you? To me it excludes this Sceptred Isle, and by extension, Hibernia, Iceland and sundry other islands.

Not, however to Derek Twigg, who sees fit to include Cyprus as being 'on the continent', judging from this response to a written question on 'what British military bases there are on the continent of Europe'. Source.

Twiggy has had his wiki page played with, by the look of things, as he is described as "Member of Parliament for Chemically contaminated Halton (UK Parliament constituency)|Halton]] in Cheshire". Source.

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Petition o' the day

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Impose legal limits on alcohol content of beverages". Source.

I'm sure that will go down a storm with whisky distillers....

Facebook discriminating against Gays

Yes it is.

It would appear that if you have that surname and attempt to create an account, Facebook responds "Please enter a legitimate name". I did some searching and there are people of that surname on the site, so maybe this is a new development.

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Alistair Campbell may have dropped someone in it....

Wednesday, July 11, 2007
From the coverage I've skimmed, Campbell's diaries seem to be remarkably dull and have been purged of all content of any great moment, but for this bit:

"On 28 February 2003, after just 5% of people questioned in Spain back the war: "TB said to [Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria] Aznar that 4% was roughly the number you could get in a poll for people who believed Elvis was alive, so he had a struggle."

And this is where it gets interesting, as "The Andalusian United Left-Green coalition has cited the diaries of Campbell...in a campaign to have ex-Prime Minister of Spain José María Aznar tried for war crimes". Source, pdf only. "According to United Left deputy Antonio Romero, the revelation shows “the disregard shown by [...] Aznar for Spanish public opinion.” The party is inviting citizens to sign an online petition to bring Aznar to trial".

It is a rather odd conception of international law that considers legality of an action to be based on popularity.....

Meanwhile, the Izquierda Unida Los Verdes - Convocatoría por Andalucía appears to be a ragbag of "leftists, greens, left-wing socialists and republicans, but...dominated by the Communist Party of Spain".

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They are a tad sensitive in Perugia

Judging from an anathema being pronounced on jazz pianist Keith Jarrett for responding to heckling by referring to said place as a 'damn city'. Source

And that reaction from the jazz festival's artistic director Carlo Pagnotta, "I can understand everything, even being obsessed about the cameras, but you cannot insult an audience and even an entire city just because of a few flashes. As an artist Jarrett is sublime, but as a person he leaves much to be desired. It was unfortunate that we had to witness the schizophrenia of these two aspects".

A bit of digging makes it clear that Jarrett has form on these things, "Jarrett is notoriously intolerant of audience noise, including coughing and other involuntary sounds, especially during solo improvised performances. He feels that extraneous noise affects his musical inspiration. As a result, cough drops are routinely supplied to Jarrett's audiences in cold weather, and he has even been known to stop playing and lead the crowd in a "group cough." Source

Turns out Perugia is twinned with Seattle, and some how I cannot imagine Seattle-ites being quite so prickly.

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">EU to the world: "Silence those who oppose freedom of speech"

Tuesday, July 10, 2007
At least that is how it looks, judging from this speech by Viviane Reding (Yes, her. Again).

In a broadly worthy discourse on freedom of the press etc etc etc she drops this little bombshell:

"Even if freedom of expression and freedom of information may appear self-evident to many in Europe, these freedoms nevertheless require constant confirmation. Let me give you only a few illustrations why.

It is just a couple of weeks ago when politicians in a major EU Member State (she's talking about Poland. C) called for the BBC children series "Teletubbies" to be banned, for the strange reason that it would encourage homosexuality".

Admittedly the Poles getting hot under the collar about the Teletubbies is not exactly a new story, my point is more that Viv clearly regards certain forms of freedom of expression as being a bad thing. If freedom of speech is to have any meaning at all, it has to include expressions thereof that are unpopular, boneheaded or both.

And while I'm at it, guess which organisation has just decided to block comments on its videos at youtube? Yup...

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No shortage of ambition at Turtle Bay

A bit of digging has turned up the latest outbreak of hot air from the UN, in which this time "The Economic and Social Council this afternoon held a general discussion on the reports of the Secretary-General on the role of the United Nations system in promoting full and productive employment and decent work for all". Source. After all, the UN has been so successful in giving us peace, love, understanding, slices of battenberg cake and so forth. Worse than the disconnect between the UN's aims and its inabilities to achieve anything are the statements from those making a grab for the megaphone.

And first up is Themina Janjua (Pakistan), 'speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China'. Pakistan, one might note "has weak trade freedom, financial freedom, property rights, and freedom from corruption. Imports are subject to a high average tariff rate and burdensome non-tariff barriers. The judicial system does not protect property rights effectively because of a serious case backlog, understaffed facilities, and poor overall security. Serious corruption taints the judiciary and civil service, making Pakistan one of the 20 most corrupt nations rated by the Index. Pakistan's financial market, though advanced for the region, is similarly constrained by regulation and bureaucracy". And Themina reckons "The developing countries had demonstrated dedication to implement their part of those commitments – to devise national development strategies, improve governance, and create a macroeconomic climate conducive for growth, trade and investment". Uh-huh.

Speaking in my name is Francisco Xavier Esteves (Portugal), 'speaking on behalf of the European Union': "Decent work was a key factor in improving the living and working conditions of millions of people, and could help poor people to improve those". Thanks Frankie, that was worth saying, wasn't it?

And Mohammed Sahib Majid (Iraq) must reckon that all is rosy in the gardens of Babylon, Fallujah, Basra and elsewhere as "It [is] time to mainstream and centralize the objectives of full and productive employment and decent work for all".

Tamara Kharashun of Belarus reckons "Liberal models had not always taken into account the need for social justice in a country. The solution to that problem should be multifaceted. In Belarus, the wage difference between the richest and the poorest was 1 to 5. The Government was paying attention to improving salaries. Belarus was bothered by the question of the politicization of providing aid. In the United Nations system and ILO efforts had to be made to provide unconditional assistance without discrimination". Belarus rates 145th for economic freedom by Freedom House's reckoning, and "Starting a business takes an average of 69 days, compared to the world average of 48 days. Entrepreneurship should be easier for maximum job creation. Obtaining a business license is difficult, and closing a business is very difficult. Burdensome regulations discourage private enterprises, leading small and medium-sized private companies to concentrate in retail and catering, where relatively low sunk costs prevent excessively high losses. The overall freedom to start, operate, and close a business is limited by the national regulatory environment". Motes, beams, anyone?


I could go on, but instead will cut to the chase. Cuba....

"Economic growth in the last five years had only served to increase the wealth of the rich and the differences between developed and developing countries. Large multinational companies were duping the world. They were increasing poverty throughout the world".

Savour the implications of that statement: asymmetric economic growth is bad. In the same way, presumably, it is a bad thing if someone gets a pay rise and another person does not, as that increases 'inequality'. Who cares how big the cake so long as the slices are even? Perhaps Pedro Luis Pedroso (for it is he) would like the developed world to promote economic contraction in order that 'the differences between developed and developing countries' should be smaller? I will be keeping an eye out for Cuban representatives demanding that the richer countries hose down poorer countries with money, which doubtless they do on a regular basis. Is it too much to ask of the brain dead left that it might grasp that greater wealth, personal or national is an enabler? Sigh....

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And just who can she have been talking about?

The lantern-jawed Geordie MP (1) Hilary Armstrong has been interviewed in Whitehall & Westminster World, with this filleted by its website. And pretty dull most of it is too, but there's one interesting bit:

"There was a period where there was a lot of trouble about drinking. It was an issue for the public and it was an issue for the House of Commons, as there were two or three Members who died having had a really serious drink problem.

“They didn’t die because they drank, but it certainly would be a contributory factor. I felt that we should do something about this, and if we knew someone had a problem they should have our support. We started to try and help, but this prompted questions from the media. It was headline news when we said we wanted counselling services to be available to Members and it made it very difficult to do anything.

She has a good old moan about the media for other reason to dull to go into. Given that dead men (and women) cannot sue for libel, I am prepared to open the finger pointing with Fiona Jones, (even though she did not die an MP, of course) but who else might she be thinking of, I wonder? Gordon McMaster looks a likely candidate, and here's a list of recent by-elections for anyone else who fancies digging.


(1) Deliberate inaccuracy....

Have they been rebuilding Hadrian's Wall?

Monday, July 09, 2007
I have to wonder, having just read this little gem from 'Alan Cowan, UNISON Scotland's representative on the UK Labour Link committee':

"The areas of equal opportunities, energy, council tax benefit, pensions and immigration are all areas where greater devolution could have allowed the Scottish Parliament to make some very progressive decisions for Scotland". Source.

Erm, this is still a United Kingdom with free movement of people across the nation, and if Caledonian state pensions are made more generous than those on this side of the Tweed, stand by for wily pensioners to make haste to Tayside or wherever. Likewise, given that 'progressive decisions' on immigration presumably means that it would be easier to emigrate to Scotland, just how would Holyrood hold on to its new Scots, I wonder?

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I mustn't go down to the sea again

Our friends at the Maritime And Coastguard Agency have put out another one of their courtly worded press release, involving an apparent Cleethorpes inebriate rescued from quicksand, noting "Once again we must stress that sea and alcohol don't mix, and ask that people stay well away from the water's edge after consuming alcohol".

I reckon that sea water would make a fairly lousy cocktail ingredient (although I might drink a sea breeze if offered one), and it does make me wonder if the elf and safetee mafia will campaign to close down all waterfront hostelries for our own good.

Meanwhile, here's the John Cooper Clarke poem I borrowed my title from.

Nicolas, how could you?

Sarko is backing French Socialist Dominique Strauss-Kahn candidacy for the leadership of the IMF, commenting, "Could I deprive France of his candidacy just because he's a socialist?". Yes, Nicky, vieux haricot, of course you should.

Admittedly DSK is less neanderthal than some of the French Left, and perhaps Sarko is being a tad smart and trying to remove one of the French socialists with the greatest prospects of dragging the Socialist party into the 2oth21st century, but even so let it be noted that he is in favour of renewing Socialism by 'redistribution of wealth, regulation of the economy and the struggle against inequalities at birth'. (Source, French original) And this, erm, is some kind of Gallic troisième voie?

Meanwhile, should DSK get to be the head honcho at the IMF, conspiracy theorists, anti-semites and loons of every imaginable stripe will revel in the fact that he is of the House of Judah.

Brushed with greatness

Friday, July 06, 2007
I always find it more than a little laughable when the media gets horribly excited about 'the first Briton to' climb a mountain or to copy some absolute achieved by another. (I feel the same way about 'the first woman' to etc etc but that is another story).

Anyway, the Indian press has taken that template just a little further: all hail Wing Cdr Rahul Monga, who is the first Indian to fly solo across the Bering Strait. I'm not making this up. At the time of writing this is the third lead at The Times of India's site.

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A novel approach to industrial relations

Remember strikes at household name private sector companies? I'm struggling to as well.

Anyway, Vodacom, Vodafone's 50% owned South African operation is suffering a strike at the moment, and in move of distinctly low cunning has blocked their cell phones on the basis of a '"no work, no pay, and no benefits" policy'. Seems reasonable.

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Prepare to be outraged

Care of 24dash, Dorchester (of all places) town council has turned down Prince Charles' (or his staff's) suggestion that streets in his Petit Trianon of a town, Poundbury, be named after locally connected war heroes and battles.

And do these Dorsetshire men at arms have particularly odious names? Nope. They include Private Samuel Vickery, VC. Vickery Street sounds pleasant enough to me, as do Kellaway, Queripel and other suggestions.

Based on district results the town looks to be Lib Dem run, although it has not proved easy to lay hands on town results.

On this basis, I look forward to the renaming of Waterloo station, the 80 odd Wellington streets, roads in the London area, 50 odd Blenheims etc etc.

Snubbing an insurance policy someone else will pay for.

Thursday, July 05, 2007
That, in essence, is the position of two MEPs, Tobias Pflüger of the extreme left grouping and Achille Occhetto ('Achilles - you're a heel') of the Socialists, although he would appear to be on a mini break from the Communists.

What they are not very keen on is the prospective missile shield which our American friends are proposing to site in Poland and the Czech Republic.

"
Two experts in missile defence - Dr. Patricia Sanders from the US Missile defence agency and Peter Flory - Assistant Secretary General for defence investment at NATO, both agreed on the need for the system. Dr. Sanders spoke of a "real and growing threat" and said that it would be prudent to have "a defensive option instead of pre-emptive strikes and retaliations". Two MEPs - Italian Socialist Achille Occheto and Tobias Pflüger, a German member of the European United Left (GUE/NGL) strongly disagreed. They expressed doubts on the probability of the threat". Source .

Is there a threat from the likes of Iran? Quite possibly, but even if one doubted that there was one, how bright is it to shun the offer of free insurance?

Meanwhile, the dear old EU illustrates the item with this less than relevant image, called '
US firepower in action':


Now why would it do something like that, eh?

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Al Gore nicked on drugs charges

"The deputy smelled marijuana and searched [Mr Gore's] car, Mr. Amormino said. The deputy found less than an ounce of marijuana and prescription pills that included the narcotic Vicodin, the addictive sleep and anxiety aids Valium, Xanax and Soma, and the amphetamine Adderall. “He doesn’t have a prescription for any of these pills,” Mr. Amormino said, “and that’s what makes it illegal.” Source

Perhaps I should point out that it was Al Gore III, the son of the Wooden One. Still, Democrats, tree huggers and the like will be pleased to know that he was nabbed driving a Prius.

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"I am accurate, you are a nitpicker, he is a pedant".

One of my favourite irregular verbs came to mind when I read Wikipedia's 'lamest edit wars' page.

Click through and revel in the ink spilled on the vexed questions of whether the Death Star has a diameter of 120, 160 or 900km, the release date of 'Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure' and the quite astonishing "Slow, simmering edit war between anons as to whether guinea pigs had no need to jump and climb in the natural environment in which they were created, or in the natural environment in which they evolved".

Well worth the read. Meanwhile, submissions of further irregular verbs would be welcome.

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"Kill the liberals"

Not my sentiment, I hasten to add, but rather of one Maxim Martsinkevich, a Russian ultranationalist. He has been arrested for 'incitment to hatred' under Russian law, although there is also the matter of his having been shouting 'sieg heil' too (one would think that Russians would have 23.6m extremely good reasons not to play fast and loose with Nazi imagery and language...). Source

I suppose that someone shouting 'kill the liberals' in these parts could be charged with incitement, but I would not anticipate a successful prosecution. Still, if it did it would have the scope to clip the wings of the extreme left somewhat - not so much 'eat the rich' as 'attempt to persuade the rich of the superiority of our dialectic'. Can't see it catching on.

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Human Tetris

Wednesday, July 04, 2007
C/O Verity.

Only in Japan?



Or as a click through.

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This Alan Johnston business

Some thoughts from one of Abbas's aides that do not seem to be showing up in the UK media as yet:

"Yasser Abd Rabbo said Wednesday that Hamas' release of the Briton, held in Gaza for nearly four months, from the custody of militant group Army of Islam, had been staged, as the two groups were in league with each other. He said Hamas staged the rescue in order to "appear as if [Hamas] respects international law."

"We're watching a movie, where the thieves in Gaza fall out and one of them claims to be honest and brave, and the other is the bad guy. This Hamas game fools no one," Rabbo said". Source

Although Fatah and Hamas are hardly bosom buddies, I think this has the smack of truth.

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Petition o' the day

Is this one: "We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Honour Tony Blair for his ten years as Prime Minister especially in his contribution in the third world, Helping the poor of Africa, London's 2012 Olympic bid, Appearance on a fundraising show with Catherine Tate for Comic Relief plus so many more".

Quite the candidate for Private Eye's 'Order of the Brown Nose'. The creator is one Alan C. K. Lee MC MSYP. MSYP appears to stand for 'Member of Scottish Youth Parliament', so I suppose the dodgy grammar and the sentiments can be excused on the grounds of age. I suspect that MC does not stand for Military Cross, but who knows? Acronym Finder offers a number of other options.

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Des Browne takes shamelessness to another dimension

Tuesday, July 03, 2007
All decent people were outraged at the refusal of access to the UK for Honourary Lieutenant (QGO) Tulbahadur Pun VC of the 6th Gurkha rifles, on the grounds that he had "failed to demonstrate...strong ties with the UK".

That wrong has been righted and he arrives here tomorrow. So far, so good.

However, Des Browne has the brass neck, brass head, brass torso and quite possibly brass limbs to associate himself with this via a press release published at the Ministry of Defence.

And what does he have to say?: "I am pleased that Honourary Lieutenant (QGO) Tulbahadur Pun VC has arrived in the UK to receive medical treatment. I hope that both he and his family enjoy their time in the UK and that the medical treatment is successful." No apology, naturally.

And what of the disgraceful earlier circumstances? 'Explained' thus: "Honourary Lieutenant (QGO) Tulbahadur Pun VC has a settlement visa. This was granted on exceptional grounds earlier this month".

I am seething.