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The 'hotline' that is really a tepidline

Friday, February 29, 2008
The hotline between the White House and the Kremlin was a cartoon / popular fiction staple for decades, not that I suppose it has even been dusted in living memory, but the Chinese have decided that they want a link to Uncle Sam too.

Not grotesquely inappropriate, but note this sequence of events:

"The two sides reached consensus to set up the hotline during US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' visit to China in November 2007"


And today: "China and the United States officially signed here on Friday an agreement on setting up a military hotline between the two defense departments".

There you have it - a need so pressing that it has taken two months to sign on the dotted line.

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Great misleading headlines of our time, #2

"Eritrea: Opposition Launches Satellite TV Against President"

Not a Led Zeppelin-style stunt, but rather a broadcast.

Given that "the aim of the programme is to expose the increasingly dictatorial Eritrean regime to Eritrean both at home and in exile" I wish the opposition good luck.

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John Reid quits the Home Office, bullying there stops. A connection?

I pose the question, in the light of this exchange:

Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many cases of bullying have been reported in (a) her Department and (b) its agencies in each of the last 12 months.

Mr. Byrne: For Home Office headquarters and the Home Office agencies the number of cases of bullying that have been reported in the last 12 months is set out in the following table. Where the figure is fewer than five the exact figure is not disclosed as this could result in an individual's identity being inadvertently revealed.

Home Office

January <5
February 0
March <5
April 0
May <5
June 0
July 0
August 0
September 0
October 0
November 0
December 0

'Knuckles' Reid left office to spend more time with his bank account on the 27th June.

In much the same way that it is said that post-nuclear apocalypse, the living would envy the dead, I rather miss Reid's hand on the Home Office tiller.

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Misleading headlines of our time

Thursday, February 28, 2008
Like this one at Livingstone's website:

"New scheme launched to tackle anti-social behaviour with dogs".

Stowing away my liberal (Small 'l'. Very very small 'l') hat just briefly, the thought of mobile phone bellowers, pavement hogs and the 1,0001 varieties of oaf in these parts being hunted down by Rhodesian Ridgebacks did have a certain appeal, but it turns out one that is not what is planned.

Hey, and indeed, ho.

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This week's brass neck award...

...goes to Miroslav Lajčák, the Viceroy in charge of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and a successor to Paddy 'if I narrow my eyes and gaze into the middle distance, people will think I'm a statesman' Ashdown.

Way back lost in the mists of time, Miroslav was a Czechoslovak diplomat, and presumably without missing so much as a heartbeat, at the stroke of midnight on 31/12/92 moved from what became the Czech Embassy to the Slovak Embassy.

And why should this be of any interest? Well, the Serbs of the Republika Srpska half of Bosnia-Herzegovina have noted what the Kosovo Albanians have got away with, and not unreasonably fancy their chances of self-determination. Miroslav is appalled:

"Last night the National Assembly of Republika Srpska adopted a resolution which inter alia claims the right to organise a referendum on its legal status.The High Representative is deeply concerned by the adoption of this resolution by the RSNA. The High Representative stresses that Bosnia and Herzegovina is an internationally recognized state whose sovereignty and territorial integrity is guaranteed by the Dayton Peace Agreement. Entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina have no right to secede from Bosnia and Herzegovina under the Dayton Peace Agreement. The constitutional structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina, including the existence of the entities, can only be changed in accordance with the amendment procedure prescribed in the Constitution of BiH".

Doubtless Slovakia had no right to secede from Czechoslovakia under the Versailles settlement.....

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A good idea from Norway

From Aftenposten:

"Norway’s Foreign Ministry has decided that the best diplomats should be sent to war-torn or tumultuous places like Afghanistan, Pakistan or Sri Lanka, instead of the coveted, cushy, and prestigious jobs in London, Paris and Washington...The Foreign Ministry feels that many of the undesirable posts are actually more important than the more prestigious ones, and wants to reward those who take on such challenges better".

Absolutely, and I would like the F&CO to take note and follow this example.


Robbing Peter to pay Peter

Or one bit of the state takes money from another bit of the state, shakes it up a bit and puts out a press release.

Because the Office of the Rail Regulator is deeply proud of itself for having fined Network Rail some £14m - a fair scratch, it must be said: "It is right that we should also impose a fine to mark the seriousness of this breach of Network Rail’s licence and to send a clear message to the company’s Board and senior management that it needs to address the weaknesses we have identified as a matter of urgency. Given the scale of the investment programme on the rail network, improved project planning and management will bring real benefits to Network Rail’s customers in terms of improved capacity, performance and value for money".

However, Network Rail is "a “not for dividend” company and all...profits go straight back into improving the railway".

It is by no means clear from the ORR website or its annual report what it does with the fines it pockets. My guess would be that it pockets them, thus giving a self-financing and doubtless self-perpetuating quango. If it does not, and passes the money straight on to the Treasury via the Consolidated Fund we have taxation via the back door. However one looks at, rail users are actually going to end up carrying the cost of this operation, and this is supposed to be good news?

Similar things happen in the water sector.

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Our friends in the North East

Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Very generously, the expropriators of Northern Rock have agreed to continue giving the Northern Rock Foundation large sums of money to spend as the trustees see fit:

"Tim Farron: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will ensure that the guaranteed funds for the Northern Rock Foundation will go to funding arts and heritage projects.

Angela Eagle: As part of the Government's decision to take Northern Rock plc into temporary public ownership, on 17 February the Treasury announced that the Northern Rock Foundation will receive from Northern Rock a minimum of £15 million a year in 2008, 2009 and 2010. The distribution of funds is a matter for the trustees of the Northern Rock Foundation.

A quick snoop around the Foundation's website makes it exceedingly clear that it is not going to be operating under straitened circumstances, relative to previous years:

From 1997 to 2007, the Foundation received 5% of Northern Rock’s annual pre-tax profits, totalling more than 190 million. As part of the Government's decision in February 2008 to take the company into temporary public ownership, the Foundation will receive from Northern Rock a minimum of £15 million a year in 2008, 2009 and 2010".

And what is the NRF's remit?:

This: "
Our current objectives are to tackle disadvantage and to improve quality of life in North East England and Cumbria. To achieve these objectives, we invest in charitable activities that help those most disadvantaged in society, and that make our area a place for everyone to enjoy and celebrate".

And more specifically:

Question 3. Where will you fund?

Answer. We offer funding exclusively for work that takes place in North East England (Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, County Durham and the Tees Valley ) and Cumbria . If your work takes place outside these areas, please do not apply.

Might even this government feel that funding such a Foundation is just not cricket?

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A EuroDelight the BBC has shunned. For once.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008
And I am certain that it would have been invited to join in this:

"From April 2008 on, day in and day out,16 radio stations from 13 countries working in a consortium and 7 associate radio stations will co-produce and simultaneously broadcast programmes devoted to current affairs and society in the Europe of 27.

Broadcast daily, the programmes of this EUROPEAN (sic) network will include daily news reports, interviews, debates, magazines looking at subjects in greater depth and coverage of live events. The first broadcasts will go out in April 2008".

Pity the poor wretches of not just Slovenia and Bulgaria (their state radio stations are in the loop, and as newish boys, sucking up to the beak in the form of Margot Wallström was only to be expected) but of France, Germany and Spain, inter alia. But NOT Luxembourg. That terrible Reding woman will be most miffed.

While the BBC is not involved (yet...), there is a UK participant - CUR 1350 Cambridge University. I am sure that students will be gluing the tuning knob to 1350 that they will run no risk of missing europrogs. Mind you, the station's website does not want to load at present.

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How did she keep a straight face?

Trawling through the likes of the Government News Network and EU websites on a daily basis, I thought I was inured to even the most egregious degrees of mendacity, deceit and denial, but the UN has come up with something that does not so much take one's breathe away as shove a hose down one's trachea and turn the suction pump to 11:

"[Samia Ahmed Mohamed, Minister of Social Welfare, Women and Child Affairs of Sudan] went on to say that violence against women in Sudan was almost extinct, except in specific “cases deterred by law and rejected by society”.

Yes, that's 'Darfur, Sharia law, female genital mutilation' Sudan, not some other one.

(With thanks to JuliaM for correcting me on basic biology)

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Cleaning up November's party

Monday, February 25, 2008
There are countless odd ways that the state spends our money, and doubtless there is something to offend everyone. I have found something quite remarkable, which the DTI' Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform' is doing on our behalf: it is paying, along with our Norwegian friends, to clear up someone else's mess. In this case an outmoded November-class submarine (hence the headline) once employed by the Krasny Flot:

"The UK and Norway will share the £3.9 million cost to dismantle the decommissioned November Class submarine No291, which will be de-fuelled and then towed to Nerpa Shipyard for dismantling. Once dismantled to a single compartment unit (containing the de-fuelled reactor) the submarine will be transferred to Saida Bay for land-based interim storage. Project management and technical advice for the UK Government will be provided by NUKEM Ltd (yes, it is called that. But one word, not two)".

And this is not the first time - "
Through the Global Threat Reduction Programme, the UK has successfully dismantled three nuclear powered submarines: two Oscars (Zvezdochka Shipyard) and a Victor (Nerpa Shipyward) including documentation and infrastructure work at both shipyards. This is the fourth submarine dismantling project the UK has undertaken".

Isn't that kind of us? While the Russian Federation does not rejoice in a Swiss-level of income per head at present, and it might well be little more than Burkina Faso with gas, there is an awful lot of gas over yonder. Presumably Putin has decided that he does not like the polluter pays principle, and has been making menacing noises about scuttling the nuclear powered submarine somewhere between Arkhangelsk and the Shetlands, and therefore has convinced Muggins and Møggins that we should pony up for the privilege of that not happening. Sounds like blackmail to me.

The Russians having established this way of doing business, the scope for shaking down the more gullible governments is endless.

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Guess who wants an iPhone

The hamster-faced member for one or other of the Brents would appear to have been seeing too many mobile phone adverts of late:

"Sarah Teather: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform whether mobile telephone providers have a statutory obligation to inform their customers when they have reached the end of their mobile contract.

Malcolm Wicks: Mobile telephone operators are under no statutory obligation to inform their customers when the minimum term of a mobile contract has ended". Source

That she cannot keep on top of her mobile phone contract does not fill me with confidence.

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The art of phrasing

Not one they have mastered at the UN's press office, judging from this headline:

Commission on status of women will hold fifty-second session

Context suggests that the UN is actually going well over the minute mark.


Conclusive proof that the Apocalypse is upon us

Sunday, February 24, 2008
There have been any number of false alarms, and I will plead guilty to having raised some of them, but I have stumbled upon definitive and conclusive proof:

It does not appear possible to buy black pudding in Croydon. Not anything especially fancy, nor yet a winner of some concours d'élégance for boudin noir, just common or garden black pudding, for frying, erm, grilling and having as part of the breakfast of an Englishman. But no, it was not to be found in establishments that saw fit to purvey all manner of exotic foodstuffs. The infinitely Better Half, having Northern tendencies, was also sorely disappointed.

Presumably the local merchants deem there to be insufficient demand to make it worth their while to stock suggesting the locals are beyond redemption.

And here's some black pudding just to tighten the thumbscrews on anyone feeling a little peckish:

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The Devil in the detail

Friday, February 22, 2008
From the BBC's website:

I'd prefer 'stolen' myself.

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The country where even the far left shows a degree of sense

Thursday, February 21, 2008
Consider how the brain-dead Left loves consorting with Islamofascists in this country and sundry others. I would have expected it to be the same grim tale with the far left in Denmark, but no:

"In an interview with Jyllands-Posten newspaper, [Villy Søvndal, leader of the Socialist People's Party] continued to lash out at the extremist group [Hizb ut-Tahrir. C] whose demonstration had delivered a direct threat towards Danish society, telling them to 'go to hell'.

'If they want to live in a religious dictatorship so badly, they can go to those countries in the Middle East where such dictatorships exist,' he said.

Amen Comrade Søvndal. Are you listening George?

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A nation of bedwetters

I have thought as much for some years, and here is the proof:

Baroness Tonge asked Her Majesty's Government:

How much was spent in each of the past five years by the NHS on (a) dressings and chemical reagents for incontinent patients, and (b) appliances for incontinent patients.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): Information is not collected on the condition for which a prescription is issued.

Information on the total net ingredient cost of all dressings and incontinence appliances dispensed in the community in England is in the following table. These include dressings and appliances prescribed for reasons other than incontinence. Chemical reagents are not separately identifiable.

YearDressings Net ingredient cost £(000s)Incontinence appliances Net ingredient cost £(000s)
















No word on funding to cover the cost of dealing with verbally incontinent, no - let's call a spade a spade - anti-Semitic members of the Lords.

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Wikipedia vandalism - naughty, but occasionally comic

Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Found in an entry on a south London school:

"The Lockheed Martin Fiasco"

In the Spring of 1998 the school came under some scrutiny after twelve F-22 Raptor fighter jets were discovered in a base built into the school's foundations. It was later confirmed that Lockheed Martin, a leading multinational aerospace manufacturer and advanced technology company, had signed a $4.9 billion deal with NASA. They planned to have military stations based around the UK encase of 'external invasion', this included core site New Cross, coded-named 'Z Sector'. It transpired the London Borough Council of Lewisham had major shares in this transaction, recieved for allowing the base to be built. To this day it is unknown whether the base is in disuse, but according to one Offsted report: "We see F-22 Raptors, C-130 Hercules', A-4AR Fightinghawks and the DSCS-3 satellites being transported in and out of here daily, heck, we wouldn't be suprised to see an AGM-159 JASSM missile get towed through the playground straight after morning break."

Doubtless it will be edited out before long.


"....or in some contrivance to raise prices"

The EU's Left, both traditional and tree-hugging varieties, has banded together in an attempt to raise the price of consumer goods:

"Put forward by Caroline Lucas (Greens/EFA, UK), Gyula Hegyi (PES, HU), Bernard Wojciechowski(IND/DEM, PL), Harlem Desir (PES, FR)and Hélène Flautre(Greens/EFA, FR), the written declaration calls upon the European Commission's DG Competition to investigate the impacts that concentration of the EU supermarket sector is having on small businesses, suppliers, workers and consumers and, in particular, to assess any abuses of buying power which may follow from such concentration".

And how much experience at the sharp end do these people have?

Lucas - Wonk for sundry modish causes.
- Journalist
Wojciechowski - Teacher and former secret police informer
Desir - Wonk
Flautre - Maths teacher

So, no experience in retail, obviously. Let alone farming. Fortunately the Commissar for Competition is one of the more sensible ones - Neelie Kroes. Perhaps she will take the opportunity to tell them to stop wasting other people's time and money.

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Employing a somewhat overbroad brush

There would appear to be the makings of a spat between London and Riga, as Interior Minister (from here on out, that's what I'm calling Jacqui Smith) Mareks Seglins has said 'They are pigs, those British. A piggy nation'.

And for why? Because several of my fellow countrymen have decided to use the Latvian national monument as a pissoir. I can't say I approve. And given that it appears to be guarded by what I suppose are mobile riflemen, even if they look remarkably immobile.

I suppose the equivalent would be the Cenotaph. Mind you, when someone attempted to imitate art by setting fire to a wreath at the Cenotaph I seem to recall no charges were pressed.

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Is a closet case in charge of Cuba?

It is widely believed that Castro jr prefers the company of gentlemen (or perhaps preferred, given his age), with this apparently well known in Cuba and among emigres.

Jokes about Castro Street etc to one side, perhaps Raúl Castro will be a little more sympathetic to Cuban gays than his brother.


I can't believe its not Macedonia, pt II

Here we go again: "Athens yesterday accepted as “a good basis for negotiations” five different composite names for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) proposed by the United Nations special mediator on the Macedonia name dispute during talks in Athens.

Sources late yesterday revealed to Kathimerini four of the five proposed names: Democratic Republic of Macedonia, Constitutional Republic of Macedonia, Independent Republic of Macedonia and Republic of Upper Macedonia".

I think I can do better:

The Not Even Remotely, Honestly not even a little bit, Hellenic Republic of Macedonia

Anyway, the Macedonians are rather limiting themselves by being a Republic. Part of its territory was ruled as the Despotate of Epirus, which gives pointers. Surely there must be a stray prince bishop or grand duke available at the right price? Or for the truly retro, the Margravate of Macedonia? (Mind you, they could that little bit further and use 'Greece', as their skittish neighbours to the South are more properly the Hellenic Republic)

If the Macedonians are entirely happy with their constitutional arrangements, they could always go for the Latin American look name-wise: The Bolivarian Republic of Macedonia, or the Co-Operative Republic of etc etc. Re the latter, is there a divi for the population, or is it a foreign policy mission statement? If so, I fear the Venezuelans and Brazilians will take advantage, especially as the former has claims on bits of Guyana.

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Three cheers for economic liberals

Wading through the Northern Rock theft bill division list in Hansard, I spotted some unexpected names in the noes list:

Clare Short. I didn't think she bothered with Parliament these days, what with her lack of chums in the House. Equally, I would not have had her name marked for being opposed to stealing the commanding heights of the economy.

Frank Field - way to go Frank. Actually no - I got the wrong Field, as Umbongo pointed out in the comments. So Frank, along with Gisela Stuart, hang your heads in shame. No sign of a vote from the member for Vauxhall....

Pete Wishart - SNPer and formerly of sundry Caledonian beat combos.

More names later if I pin down any other rebels etc.

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Ars gratia artis

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Details of the artists and titles here.


The least surprising event of the year

Less so than the religious affiliation of Benedict XVI, the personal hygiene choices of Ursus arctos horribilis and wrestling being fixed.

Don't believe me?

Here goes:

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government: What sums have been paid in social benefits in respect of second or subsequent concurrent wives or of their children since 1997?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): The information is not recorded centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

How very, very convenient.

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The trouble with language

Having seen an especially fatuous press release about providing tap water to restaurant and bar customers from the 'Consumer Council for Water' (funny that a quango should take up the same battles as a government minister, isn't it?) I had saddled up Rosinante and was off to do battle until this piece of prose drew me up dead:

"The Consumer Council for Water was set up in 2005 to provide a strong voice for water and sewerage consumers in England and Wales".



Leadership - an object lesson from New Zealand

Monday, February 18, 2008
"New Zealand would neither recognise nor not recognise an independent Kosovo, Prime Minister Helen Clark said today". I am *not* making this up.


After Northern Rock, what next?

Facetiousness to one side, the theft of a bank by the state, purely to ingratiate the Labour party with its client vote in the North East is beyond disgraceful. When I heard the news yesterday, it
would be no distortion to say I felt physically nauseous. Note that there were no calls for Barings to be baled out that I have been able to find, but then again there probably were too few potential Labour voters working in settlements and admin for 'the People's Party' to think it worthwhile wooing them.

In the meantime, I look forward to Northern Rock terminating its sponsorship of the Barcodes and other Tyneside sporting luminaries at the earliest opportunity, and for an end to NE specific corporate philanthropy.


Number One, alas without the bullet

Sunday, February 17, 2008
Us magazine Parade (which has a rather different remit than the British title of the same name) has come up with its annual Top Ten Worst Dictators list, and Kim Jong-Il will be delighted that he has finally toppled Sudan's Omar Al-Bashir from the sought after #1 spot.

Bashir drops to second, with Than Shwe of Burma, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia ('That's not a country, it's a family' - Menachem Begin) and Hu Jintao rounding out the top five. There are plenty of other deeply odious characters in the top 20, but I think it is a little rough on Musharraf to place him at #8 - he has suspended the constitution etc - but is not in the same league as some of the other goons. That they refer to 'Equatorial Swaziland ' does not impress either - Mbabane is only about 1800 miles south of the equator.

Continent by continent, the top 20 breakdown is so:

Africa - 8
Europe - 1 (Belarus - or Bel 'r' us, as I think of it)
North America - 1 (Cuba)
South America - 0
Asia - 10
Oceania - 0

Minor subbing disasters of our time

From today's Sunday Times (News Review, page 5, for those who want to find it and have it framed):

I believe the minister in question is actually Phil Woolas.


I Can't Believe It's Not Macedonia!

Friday, February 15, 2008
Which is not much sillier than the US State Department's suggestion for a Skopje / Athens friendly name - New Republic of Macedonia. I am not making this up.

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Lisbon Treaty referendum date leaked.

May 29th. Not here, of course, but on the other side of St George's Channel. Lucky our Hibernian neighbours, eh?

I just hope that Treaty opposers from outside of the Republic leave the Irish to make their own minds up, as I am certain that British Tories, UKIP-ers and others will cost the 'no' lobby a goodly number of votes.

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The country where you can believe what the attorney general says

Is Pakistan: "In a tape released by a US-based rights group Pakistan Attorney General Malik Qayyum says polls in Pakistan will be heavily rigged, TV reports.

The Human Rights watch says their source is impeccable and reliable and that delay in releasing the tape was due to stringent cross-checking". Source


A thousand years ago...

I headlined a comment on 'collaboration' between NASA and the British National Space Centre as 'The union of a dog with its fleas'. Yes, and here it is.

Anyway, the BNSC is still getting quite excited about hanging with the big boys, "This joint report between the UK and NASA, coupled with the UK's major role in ESA's Aurora programme of planetary exploration and our involvement in helping to shape a Global Exploration Strategy, means the UK is fully exploiting and strategically maximising its technological and scientific strengths in space exploration".

Doubtless. However, a measure of how important the BNSC is to NASA can be found here. Yup, it is a search of the NASA news site that throws up precisely no entries for BNSC. I tried searching the full name, both with Centre and, ugh, Center, and there are no entries for 2008.....

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Petition o' the day - or - If someone else is paying, I'm having the '61 Bordeaux

Thursday, February 14, 2008
"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to, along with Central Government, look favourably on a request by Barrow in Furness Borough Council for funding to erect further sea defences to the beach directly in front of our residential chalet park...The estimated cost of these temporary defences is approximately £70,000, which weighed against the safety of the residents and their homes (329 homes), is a very small price to pay". Source

So small, that they could always pool their resources - £213 per house.


Second guessing criminal motivation

A public building in South East London has just had some of its windows broken. Not good, but par for the course, I fear.

However, based purely open which building it is, and with no detail of any damage beyond window breakages, this is being described as a 'racist attack' by the Mayor of London.

The building is the Stephen Lawrence Centre in Deptford. The Guardian has drawn the same conclusion, and headlines 'Racists vandalise Stephen Lawrence Memorial Centre'. The Met have also decided it is a racist incident.

They may well be right, but are they not all being a little presumptuous?

The Scots. I am beginning to worry about them

The Scotsman has been surveying Caledonians on their attitudes to lurve and so forth, and it has come up with some very, very alarming figures:

"Which celebrity most closely resembles your ideal man?"

Gordon Brown - I like powerful men - 1.8%

"Which celebrity most closely resembles your ideal woman?"

Cherie Blair - powerful women do it for me - 0.9%

Based on the current population, that suggests that a truly alarming 2,218 chaps have the hots for La Booth, and a scarcely less credible 4,764 lassies are pining for the Dour One.

Broon's is more popular in his Fife backyard - 3.3% fancy him. But no-one in the Kingdom of Fife will admit to carrying a torch for letterbox gob Mrs Tony. Should Tone & Cherie split up, she should hasten to the Lothians or Strathclyde, where she will have a better than 1 in 50 chance of being chatted up. Apparently. Mr Valiant for Truth (in *his* estimation) would be most likely to get lucky on Tayside (5.9) or in the Highlands (5.6).

Meanwhile, all hail the sensible folk of the Borders and of Grampian, where neither GB nor CB got a look in.

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Essex - the golden mean

Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Or so Eurostat's findings would suggest. Based on 2005 "GDP per inhabitant, expressed in terms of purchasing power standards" figures, Essex rated 99. 7 of the EU average, while that lot on the other side of the Thames estuary fare slightly better at 101.0.

Inner London is the EU richest region, at 303% of the average, and Nord Est Romania (what folk might, with a touch more lyricism, call northern Moldavia) the EU's skid row at 24% etc etc.

Meanwhile, every region of the Irish Republic is above the EU average, so doubtless Ahern will ask for the money to be turned off as a matter of urgency.

A truly bizarre finding is that the only Dutch region to fall below the average is Flevoland, which all people of my vintage will know is a polder reclaimed from the Zuiderzee / Ijsselmeer. I suspect that there is a moral to be drawn on what happens when states attempt to make land.


Rent seeking, Danish style

As a career cynic, I view many of the fines levied for parking offences and the like as having little or nothing to do with traffic flow, and everything to do with rent seeking and keeping a small army of sociopaths in gainful employment.

Anyway, a Danish civil servant has not merely opted to reveal the cloven hoof, but has adorned the hoof with bright red nail polish and given the hoof a damned good waggle:

"Helping patrons remember to return their books would put us in an untenable situation in which we lost an important source of income". Source

Rolf Happel of the Århus (in the middle of our street?) library system 'fessed up as Danish libraries will no longer remind patrons by text or e-mail that books are due back, as said libraries make so much money from the fines.

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Great typos of our time.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008
From today's Evening Standard (physical edition), opining on Livingstone's congestion charge shenanigans:

"Today's announcement is one of his *queerest* 'class war' policies in his eight years at City Hall". (my emphasis).

Erm, 'queerest' as in odd? Nope, all too sadly predictable. 'Queerest' in sense of aimed at gentlemen who prefer gentlemen (in either derogatory or reclaimed sense of queer)? No, can't see that either.

And there's more - the writer speaks of the election offering voters 'a queer choice'. I think someone has been playing with his autocorrects.

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'One One Two is a joke'

What, if anything does 112 suggest to you? Part of a 5-a-side formation? Grades for whatever O levels are called this week? Those irritating moustachioed chaps who advertise a directory enquiries service?
The latter is nearest to the EU's desired response, for 112 which is, bien sur, the EU wide emergency number, or what I am going to call euro 999. Faced with the question as to the number one should call for europlod etc, some 77 per cent of my compatriots joined me in not having a clue. The Greeks managed an impressive 94 per cent non awareness.

There has been euro campaigning to make us aware of the 112 number, but it would not look to have had much success anywhere bar Poland, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic, where more than half of these blameless populaces were aware of the number. I do wonder quite how many TV programmes etc were interrupted by euronaggers telling them that 112 was just the thing for dealing with their international emergencies.

Digging deeper, Estonia would appear to be a rather alarming place in that 48% of the population have called the national emergency number or 112 in the last five years. I imagine the emergency services must be rather busy, unless it was the entire population of Tartu panicking that the Russians are coming...

As Ed notes in the comments, having a number to ring is not much use if there is a language barrier, and 12% of 112 users and 28% of '999' callers had 'a communication' problem. Well yes - I doubt that a monoglot Slovene ringing Valetta's finest would get much satisfaction.

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A heartening tale from Sweden - a quango that has not done *anything* in 32 years is being disbanded. The Stängselnämnden, or Railway Safety Fencing Board, vanishes in a cloud of splinters at the end of the month. However, the wheels of bureaucracy grind slow and exceedingly fine - it took a special commission to conclude that the RSFB should get a lethal injection. No reaction from the Swedish labour unions as yet.

Bringing it all back home, I would count it as major progress if our quangos managed, as it were, to first do no harm.

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Would you let these people run a lentil stall?

Monday, February 11, 2008
Some time back I registered on the New Economic Foundation's website, and accordingly get the occasional e-mail from them.

This one is a classic:

"When nef's new book...Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth? was launched just under a month ago a rush of purchases led to stocks running out at Amazon, and a number of disappointed people not being able to buy it".

So, they have A - grossly misjudged prospective demand, and then B - taken the thick end of a month to schedule a further print run and get the book back in stock. And C, they appeared to have scheduled it to come out just after Christmas. Only missing the busiest time of the year for the book trade.......

'Economics as if people and the planet mattered' is its website mission statement. I would have thought 'economics as if rank amateurs were allowed anywhere near the till' would be nearer the mark.

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The world's oddest pairing of town twins

Odder even than the non-descript French town (so non-descript I forget its name) twinned with Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso: Tel Aviv is twinned with Gaza City. Yes, really.

Unsurprisingly, the Likud deputy mayor is not best pleased about this, and wants to terminate the agreement, but the mayor - of uncertain political hue - has succeeded in going no further than suspending the agreement.

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Rewriting history, EU style

From a Deutsche Welle interview with Viviane Reding, EU InfoSoc commissar:

"....that there was a lot of criticism of past EU expansions -- huge criticism of those countries that went from Communism to democracy. But it was the most wonderful reunification project you could imagine in world history. It was the first time that such a large number of people moved into freedom and self-determination; and that, not through war, but on a voluntary, democratic basis".

Right. Let us say that '89 was the year that Central Europe freed itself from Soviet tyranny, and Eastern Europe broke free from Moscow in 1991. It was not until 2004 that eight nations from Central and Eastern Europe joined the EU. Is the Reding woman seriously suggesting that the Czechs were in limbo for some 15 years before they joined the EU, and the Latvians for 13? Or still worse that pre-EU they were neither free nor possessed of self-determination? Yes, I think she is, because I am unaware of anyone bar tankies thinking shrugging off the red wheel was a bad thing, so she can only be referring to controversy over the eastern / central eight joining the EU.

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...Gods's apology for relations

Saturday, February 09, 2008
Libération has news of the electoral ambitions of the wiser relatives of sundry luminaries of the French Left:

Gérard Royal, ex (?) spook and brother of Sego, is on a Gaullist list for the local elections in Camaret-sur-Mer, a village on the tongue of the Finisterre. He's the one who helped sink the Rainbow Warrior all those years ago. He, quote, 'is not saying a mumbling word about his sister' according to the local press, presumably Le Télégramme de Brest.

Laurence Besancenot, sister in law of the Trot postie, is a Gaullist candidate in Le Havre or thereabouts. Ollie's Ma is a Trot in the unappealing sounding département of Eure.

Elsewhere Pierre Mauroy's niece is a Gaullist in Lille, while sundry Hollandes, Sarkozys, Bérégovoys, Hulots etc are sticking with the ancestral teams.

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One up from faxing a pizza

Friday, February 08, 2008
USB wine.

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Great typos of our time

From Serbian paper Blic: "The EU shall offer to Serbia singing of the agreement on stabilization and association on February 18".

Ohh err....

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Year of the Rat - good for the Germans?

Thursday, February 07, 2008
I treat all forms of astrology with the same disdain, but some recently harvested nuggets on the year of the rat are too good not to share:

Firstly China Daily calls it Year of the Mouse rather than Rat, with the symbol for both being the same, apparently.

Above and beyond that, apparently Germany, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, Brazil, Colombia and the US of A are rat, erm, mouse countries. Whether this stems from traits or from dates of birth (so to speak) is not made clear.

Anyway, supposedly they suffer from being the following: "Controlling, obstinate, resentful, lacks-a-sense-of-humor, manipulative, cruel, vengeful, power-driven, critical, possessive, stingy, bossy, fickle, defensive" (and I'm not saying a *mumbling* word).

On the upside, our Teutonic friends etc are supposedly "Meticulous, intelligent, shrewd, compassionate, charismatic, charming, ambitious, practical, industrious, honest, eloquent, versatile, familial, creative, hard-working, neat, organized, lovers of music, loving".

We subjects of Her Majesty turn out to be ruled by a dragon lady, for the UK is a Dragon country. Along with Denmark and Bulgaria..... Still,we are compatible with our rodent chums, apparently.

Labour Lords for apartheid

For squirrels at least:

'Lord' Rooker: "So if anyone wants to see red squirrels, the Isle of Wight is the place to go. There are no greys on the Isle of Wight and, what is more, no greys are allowed. That is the reality". Source

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One for the anti-globalisation mob

The BBC World Service has commissioned a global opinion poll on globalisation etc, and has some findings that mesh with its institutional biases, thus allowing this headline:

"Most See Unfairness in Distribution of Benefits and Burdens of Economic Growth".

Note, however, that the BBC polled rich countries and developing countries, and does not weight the figures by population, thus giving the nonsense of giving as much heed to Lebanon as China. Yes, really.

What it chose not to highlight quite so dramatically is the 'perception of pace of economic globalisation', and in particular, the simple majorities wishing it was quicker in:

  • Central America (all of it bar Belize)
  • Brazil
  • Mexico
  • Russian Federation
  • Portugal
  • Turkey
  • Kenya
  • Indonesia
  • Philippines
And what is more, the countries where support for globalisation is at its strongest is where there is a sentiment that the benefits and burdens of economic growth to their nation have been shared unevenly.

By and large the countries strongly wishing it was slower are developed economies - us, the French (fancy...), Oz and the US etc, plus Egypt and the UAE.

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Alec Salmond - no Volestrangler he.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008
The member for Banff & Buchan is not renowned for spending time in Westminster, but in a written question, he had voles (rather than Georgia) on his mind:

"To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether any prosecutions have taken place for offences related to the protection of vole habitats under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 since 1998".

I am favourably disposed towards voles, in as far as it goes, so it is with a measure of dismay that I have to report that there were 25 prosecutions of the sort detailed above between 1998 and 2005, but 22 in 2006.

Does this indicate that vole bothering has reached epidemic proportions, or more likely that there is a new vole sheriff in, erm, country and he or she is rounding up the outlaws?

Meanwhile, "Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole"....

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Peter Hain has at least one friend left....

From Hansard:

"Mohammad Sarwar (Lab): What consideration he has given to amending the regulatory regime for tanning salons...The Minister will be aware that recent research suggests that sunbeds may be responsible for 100 deaths every year from skin cancer. Is not it time that, perhaps with the support of the Health and Safety Executive, a full review is conducted of commercial salons, with a view to drawing up legally enforceable guidelines for their management and operation?"

Peter, it is for your own good, really.

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Petition o' the day

If only it was this easy:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Stop widespread waste of finances at all levels of government from HM Government down to local councils forthwith".


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Winning hearts and minds. Very slowly.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Harvard's Centre for European Studies invited Ségolène Royal to address an audience on the topic of 'Rebuilding the European left'. And.....

...the address was made to "about 50 students and some lecturers".

I realise they are a serious-minded bunch in Cambridge, MA, and so would not be impressed by Sego's star quality. Unless, unless - it was because she was speaking in French maybe?

The abstract suggests that all she had to say was a daisy chain of clichés, so not much was missed.

Sticking with matters Gallic, just to show that I do not only mock goings-on Outremanche, here are some headline findings from a survey that puts the British political class to shame:

"70% of French people have met their mayor, 12% just the once, and 58% several times".

Lest one thinks this is all down to folk living in small communes, note this: "92% of the French living in rural communes (2000 inhabitants or fewer) have met their mayor, compared to 58% in communes of 100,000 or more".

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785 Arthur Rimbauds in Brussels

If the EU's press office is to be believed:

"In his famous poem “Voyelles” (Vowels) French poet, Arthur Rimbaud, associated each vowel with a particular colour. MEPs are just as adept at using colour, but don’t be fooled into thinking that they have been inspired by the poetic muse".

It then rambles a bit about the colour coding of parliamentary calendars. Yes, really.

To my lasting shame, I did not know of the existence of that Rimbaud poem, still less could I quote it.

For those intrigued by the vowel colour matches, here they are: "A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu".

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Survey of the week

Monday, February 04, 2008
The Department of Transport decided it would be a really good idea to ask a particular demographic (those 60+ or disabled) whether it would like something for nothing, and strike me down with the proverbial, those questioned - by a thumping majority - reckoned that something for nothing was good news for them. Rosie Winterton - of whom more later - has the shock findings:

"New research published today reveals that more than 90% of those entitled to the free England-wide bus pass are eagerly awaiting its introduction on April 1st 2008".

Naturally, the source material had to be investigated, that I might discover to what extent the recipients of taxpayer largesse were slavering, Pavlov's dog-style. Well, 'eagerly awaiting'? Not as such, no. The call and response our tudor rose (well, she's a socialist and sits for a Yorkshire seat) is referring to, presumably, is this - 'How far do you agree with the following statement? I think that extending the free local off-peak bus pass to cover the whole of England from 1st April 2008 is a good thing'. 91% strongly agreed, but regarding something as being a good thing and 'eagerly awaiting' it are hardly one and the same. The burghers of Nottingham and Liverpool were the most likely to disagree, at 6.8% and 5.9% respectively. Answers on a postcard please....

Armed with a new England-wide bus pass, our survey respondents are likely to try a bit of retail therapy, with visits to relatives and train stations also popular. Perhaps Ian Allan can expect a rush on his train spotting guides, judging from the latter. However, the alarming bit for Rosie is that 1.3% will use the bus for facilitating romantic assignations. Let it be noted that the member for Hull East is thoroughly entitled, by virtue of his age to a bus pass.

There is plenty more filler in the survey, but two questions just cry out for mockery: "Is there a place or attraction on your local bus route that you would be proud for visitors to visit?" 58% of Mancunians could come up with no candidates, with Scousers showing only marginally less civic pride - 55% would be ashamed, presumably. Elsewhere, Brummies, Tykes and whatever people from Plymouth call themselves are overcome with civic loyalty - 60%+ have something on the bus route that makes the heart beat a little faster.

That was fairly toe-curling, but someone at tickbox.net actually penned this - "Being on a bus is not just about getting from A to B. Some people have incredible life experiences whilst travelling on a bus. Have you ever had the following happen to you on a bus?"

An 'incredible life experience'. Hmm. It has a list of possibilities, none of which are particularly realistic - being sworn at by a schoolchild, having to put up with nosebleed techno coming from some vile adolescent's mobile phone etc etc. 1.2% claim to have 'fallen in love', and a still less credible 0.4% to have saved someone's life. 90% have not had a life experience, still less an incredible one though. Folk in Brum and Sheffield are the most likely to claim to have fallen in love on a bus.

I wonder if any stops were missed.

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Random anecdote o' the day

Having rediscovered a really rather good second hand bookshop the other day, I have availed myself of 'Stranger than the Bullet - an unconventional history of the vote', and will be doling out snippets from it whenever the mood takes me:

"The shockingly silly photo opportunities continued unabated in 2001…First, there was the mistake only narrowly stopped from turning into a disaster when William Hague spoke outside an aircraft museum in Essex [Doubtless Duxford. C]. A smart aide noticed that he was speaking in front of a World War Two Luftwaffe plane. Only the strategic movement of a few supporters and their placards made sure that he did not appear in the next day's papers against a backdrop of swastikas".


Advance Australia fair....

Rather late in the day, Oz lexicographers have come up with a word of the year for 2007, although it might better be termed a phrase:

Pod slurping

"Pod slurping, officially listed as a noun, is the downloading of large quantities of data to an MP3 player or memory stick from a computer". Source. I like it.

"The committee gave an honourable mention to the noun infomania - the tendency to give immediate attention to incoming messages such as email and text messages, resulting in constant distraction and a corresponding drop in the recipient's attention levels and work performance....The People's Choice Award went to password fatigue. This noun means the level of frustration caused by having too many different passwords to remember, resulting in an inability to remember even those most commonly used".

The people's choice disgraces the wit and ingenuity of our friends in the Antipodes.

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France's very confused right wing voters

Friday, February 01, 2008
One of the oddities of French polling is that voters are asked a question along these lines, 'Which of the following would you like to see playing an important role in the future', and a laundry list of politicians is then offered up. Like this.

Had they been asking me, I would reply 'no' to every last member of the Left, but 50% Gaullists would like to see 'an important role' for Strauss Kahn, thus making him the Right's favourite leftie. In contrast, the reverse sees Jean-Louis Borloo (1) as the Left's fave. Neither Sarko nor Fillon are in the list, by the way.

While that is all fairly disturbing, the truly unnerving finding is that 18% of Gaullists want a role for Trot postman Besancenot (2), and 15% want a role for Communist Marie-George Buffet, who - hilariously - was Minister of Youth Affairs and Sport when in her 50s.

(1) - I had never heard of him, but he is Minister for being nice to trees and not putting up too many ugly buildings of Ecology and Sustainable Development and Planning. The most interesting thing about him would appear to be his wife, who is an ex news reader, and who has the most bizarre personal website - if you want clips of her reading the news, or photos of her reading the news, or the lyrics to a song composed for her by her former husband, then make haste to beatrice-schonberg.c.la. She is quite pretty in that groomed way of newsreaders the world over.

(2) Oliver has been a silly boy and has not renewed his Presidential campaign domain name - besancenot2007.org - and it has been squatted. It has pop ups and a list of retail etc type links, including one for champagne, golf maps and so forth. Perhpas, like Bevan, Besancenot thinks 'Nothing is too good for the working classes'.

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The cow that scowls

French supermarket group Centres Leclerc (no relation to the tank) has come up with a rather crafty stunt designed to appeal to those Gauls exercised by fears over purchasing power: it is destocking six products it considers have had excessive price rises imposed by their producers. One of which is the cheese kind enough to supply me with a headline of sorts. Ajax, a cake and some anti-wrinkle creams have also been targeted in this stunt. The cow cheese people justify the 20% rise by noting that the wholesale price of milk has gone up 40%. Preliminary digging suggests that the Bel plant is in Dole, and a Centre Leclerc there or thereabouts, so there is scope for a reciprocal boycott.

Given that it is the supermarkets rather than the producers who are seen as villains (by some, not me) in these parts, I wonder whether Tesco ought to give this idea a whirl.

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O tempora, o mores

Woolworths is justly famous for the less than razor-sharp minds operating its tills, but it would appear that are plenty of remarkably dim people further up that particular food chain, as this tale from The Standard makes clear:

"An online campaign by a group of mothers has forced Woolworths to withdraw a line of bedroom furniture for girls called 'Lolita'....A spokesman for the company said: "What seems to have happened is the staff who run the website had never heard of Lolita, and to be honest no one else here had either".

Only one of the most infamous books of the last century, isn't it? And furthermore one which has seen the L name become tabloid speak. Perhaps I should go for a nose around its website to see if they sell anything called Humbert.

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