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And he calls himself a socialist

Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Livingstone, I have discovered, is not a member of a trade union. He is, however, a member of Froglife.

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There now follows an advertisement for England

In case anyone has forgotten what it looks like:

And why the outbreak of flag waving?

Because, according to Iain Wright, the MP not the near namesake footballer, "Under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 flags come within the definition of “advertisement”. Source.

I discover this as Wright was being quizzed on county flags by Toby Ellwood, our man in Bournemouth East. Presumably Dorset has, or fancies getting, a flag.

And lo, and indeed behold, there appears to be a contender, and pretty retina burning it is too:

I am going to lay claim to Croydon as being part of Surrey, as indeed it was, but such a flag as it has is a sad thing and not worth posting, frankly. Given the effort US states, German lander, French departments etc go to, we Britons do not seem to be trying at all.


What's wrong with *under* the bed?

This does not appear to be a spoof.


Ask a loaded question

Like this one:

PCS is campaigning for fair pay for its members, meaning that their pay should increase in line with inflation and be negotiated nationally instead of 200 separate sets of negotiations. Do you support PCS’s campaign for fair pay for public servants?

Or this one:

The government has proposed to cut over 100,000 civil and public service jobs. They claim these cuts will not impact service delivery to the public, however every day our members are seeing how less staff means a poorer service to the public. Where do you stand on cutting civil and public service jobs?

Or, indeed, this one:

PCS is concerned that the government has privatised more of the civil service since 1997 than the Conservative government did in 18 years. These privatisations are costly and unnecessary as they are jeopardising services being delivered to the public, often the most vulnerable in society. Where do you stand on privatising public services?

The PCS is more fully known as the Public & Commercial Services Union, and it set up the various straw man, straw woman and straw babe in arms questions for the benefit of Labour, Plaid Cymru and extreme left (Greens, Galloway Fan Club (1), Left List etc) candidates for tomorrow's council elections. That some 15% of Labour candidates agreed with clubbing puppies to death did not give the 'correct' response to question one is, to some degree, to their credit.

(1). Is it just me, or do Galloway and Josef Fritzl bear a striking resemblance?

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Curious people, the Germans

Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Der Spiegel has aggregated some polls to show what the German man and woman in the strasse think, and the findings are, in places, pretty curious.

Consider that the nation which gave the world the Reformation, much of its high art, the wirtschaftswunder and a relatively bloodless end to the two Germanies, inter alia, sees 29% of German women considering that there is nothing in German history to be proud of. 14% of the men agree. I am not one to play down the horrors of the '39-45 war, but given that at the very least three quarters of the German population were born post war, is it not time to rein in the breast beating somewhat?

Elsewhere, less than two-thirds of German men would fight to defend their country. If memory serves, the US WW3 TV movie (1) 'The Day After' was a tad controversial in suggesting that the Ossis and the Wessis would find fighting each other too big an ask. Maybe.

In stark contrast to this neck of the woods, 91% of German women and 89% of the men consider 'discipline' important. Crikey. Oddest stat of the lot is that more women think chaps should earn more than ladies - 21% to 15% of the men. Mind you, around two-thirds of those polled think it is gender equality that makes Germany special. Without wishing to knock gender equality, it is hardly a unique selling point, is it?

I have seen traces of an interesting looking survey on the extent or otherwise of basic Christian knowledge, but will not be doing it unless I can lay hands on the source material.

(1) - A term that freezes the blood.

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Bit of a head scratcher, that one

From Hansard:

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Our man in Tewkesbury): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with the Government of Ethiopia about that country's relationship with Qatar.

And the less than surprising answer:

Meg Munn : My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has not had any discussions with the Government of Ethiopia about their relationship with Qatar.

A bit of digging shows that Addis and Doha have fallen out, with Addis throwing a major hissy fit over Qatar's chuminess with Eritrea and hosting of Al Jazeera. Mind you, both are a long way from Tewkesbury.

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The leave me alone box

Monday, April 28, 2008

Further detail here.

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With friends like these

Brown and Co do seem to have failed to make friends with core support, judging by this press release by the TUC:

"I urge trade unionists in this region to reflect on the key issues...Then union members should critically assess the policy programmes that are on offer.

'Millions of people in this region believe that trade unions have a key role in their workplaces and in a modern Britain. So I urge every member of union to use their vote to support candidates that share our confidence that unions have a vital contribution to make in the workplace and in the community. And I urge voters to support candidates who believe in the provision and enforcement of excellent employment and health and safety rights at work for every worker.'"

Admittedly this is not coming from the head of the TUC (1), but rather a South East region organiser, but it is right there on the TUC's site. No mention of Labour at all, and sufficiently wide to be an endorsement of the Left List, rump Respect etc etc. We live in strange times.

(1). Brendan Barber. Hand on heart, how many of us could claim to be able to name the head of the TUC without having to pause for thought?


Someone thinks Brown is King Canute

Friday, April 25, 2008
" We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to prevent coastal erosion on the east coast of Yorkshire". Source

As opposed to the west coast of Yorkshire, of course.

And yes I know it was Canute's SpAd's who thought he could hold back the sea, not the king himself.

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82 - a fine age for a new career

Thursday, April 24, 2008
And who is the sprightly octogenarian who thinks he is just the man to be the first president of the EU? Say hello, again, to Valery Giscard (1). He has not been so vulgar as to explicitly throw his chapeau into the ring, but he has made sure that his interviewer at Belgian daily Le Soir knew just what he meant. And he draws a parallel that sucks the airs from the lungs:

"a man or woman of experience who would serve for just one 2 1/2 year term, who would set up the system, fix ( le mot juste, eh? C) the rules, set the atmosphere, much in the fashion of George Washington in his first term".

In the 26 years since he was defeated by the grotesque Mitterand, he does not seem to have done much beyond feeling pleased with himself and 'traveling the world giving speeches on European union'. Timothy 'where did my career go after 'Ordinary People'?' is married to his niece.

(1) I am not including his particule (d'estaing) as his grandfather bought the title in '22.

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Good news for smokers / drinkers

Although I would not expect the average English magistrate to pay much heed to the decisions of a tribunal in Avignon, it *might* be worth citing this precedent - a breathalyser test made shortly after someone has smoked a cigarette was reckoned to be unreliable, and thus inadmissible.

More here, c/o Le Figaro.

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Three cheers for us, the Americans, the French, the Costa Ricans and the Belgians

Because the accredited UN bods of those places walked out when the Libyan representative compared Gaza with the Shoah.

Which all rather begs the question whether the Irish, Canadians, Dutch, Germans etc all thought the comparison apt.

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Sentence construction...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008
From the Met:

"A 48-year-old man has been sentenced to life for killing a man as he lay in bed at home".

Could have been phrased more clearly, I think....

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It is not what you know, it is who you know....

"The Queen has been graciously pleased to appoint His Royal Highness Prince William of Wales to be a Royal Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter... The appointment of the Knights and Ladies of the Garter is in The Queen's gift".

There's a full list of those with access to the dressing up box here, the most intriguing bit being the list of crowned heads from abroad who sport the garter - Spain, Luxembourg, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands and Japan. Soo, no Belgians. Or Thais, sons of the desert, Swazis or Basotho, inter alia. Presumably Monaco is viewed as too trashy and Liechtenstein too small.

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Brown's new corporatism

Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Many, many years ago, the governments of Wilson and Callaghan would host meetings with trade union leaders which were dubbed 'beer and sandwich' sessions. While the reason for meeting with the Gormleys and Murrays of this world was largely due to Wilson lacking the ideology and the courage to stop them from holding the taxpayer to ransom, there was an attempt to present the process as being representative of the corporate state - the idea being that there were a range of power centres in the land, based on functional groups that negotiated with each other, so to speak, Back in the mid 80s when I was suffering some of the duller aspects of constitutional law at UCL (a lukewarm bed of SDP activists, by the way) I roundly dismissed the idea that the corporate state could be said to exist in the UK, given that Thatcher was brooking rather less nonsense from (some) special interests than her predecessors.

Anyway, The Worst Prime Minister Since Goderich (1) would seem to be intent on resurrecting corporatism, in that his favourite way of filling time between sessions of nail-biting seems to be to meet with some group or other and then to present it as showing how in touch, and how dynamic he is, how he cracks heads, kicks backsides, takes names etc etc. So, the other week it was 'the bankers', and next up he will 'host a meeting of food producers, retailers and consumers today to deal with the growing world food crisis'.

'Deal with'. Savour that, if you will. The attendees list shows a list comprised largely of quangocrats, NGO-istas and political types. The nearest one gets to the sharp end of growing food is some bod from the NFU. There's also a chap from Sainsburys. 'Deal with?' I will offer the traditional odds of Lombard Street to a rotten orange that they will not 'deal with' anything, but rather will chat away for a bit and achieve precisely nothing beyond a photo opportunity for Brown.

Where Brown differs from Wilson / Callaghan, is that none of the groups being dealt with can be said to have their hands around his throat yet, more's the pity. Rather than seeing these people because he has no choice, or doing it as per the spin, I would suggest that Brown is doing it as an exercise in blame shifting. Instead of taking responsibility for policy failures, and recognising that the game is up when it comes to blaming previous Tory administrations, Brown's latest trick is to make those he drags along to his meetings complicit in his errors. That the people are vain enough to be his useful idiots is dispiriting. I would hope that at least one banker, industrialist or whatever will be prepared to kiss goodbye to a knighthood and risk being monstered in what remains of the tame media - BBC, Grauniad, Mirror etc - by either publicly refusing to attend such a meeting, or else to emerge from No. 10 and declare quite how shambolic it is in the bunker. I'm not holding my breath.

(1) From the No 10 site:

"...Goderich lacked support among his colleagues and in his party, and he was not up to the task of running a quarrelling Cabinet. Goderich had difficulty in coping practically and emotionally. He resigned after four months in office, before he had achieved anything of note.

He also used to burst into tears at the dispatch box.

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The claustrophobics' guide to Europe

Like, I imagine, most of us, I was unaware of the work of EuroTAP, the European Tunnel Assessment programme. My lack of awareness notwithstanding, they have been busy, erm, assessing tunnels, and the results are in.

And nervous travellers should shun Italy, which is bottom of the league for tunnels tested :

"Tunnels with a "very poor" rating were found in five countries only, mostly in Italy (10 out of 15 tunnels) and Norway (4 out of 9 tunnels). The most positive results were found in Croatia (98.3%) followed by Slovenia (95.9%) and Austria (91.1%)".

And what makes for a bad tunnel? The Segesta and Paci 2 tunnels show how not to do it:

"[They] were rated "very poor"...Although these two tunnels had two separate tubes with unidirectional traffic, apart from the lighting system, there was no other form of traffic or operating safety equipment that could enable the detection of incidents, help people to rescue themselves, or help rescue services to fight fires".

Not enough of our tunnels were tested for Blighty to be included in the rankings, but here are the individual scores for tunnels tested:

Medway - Very poor
Mersey Kingsway - Good
Mersey Queensway - Acceptable

The TAP site is filled with tunnel-related goodness, including video, the audit report quoted above and an exciting tunnel driving test.

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The kosher guide to imaginary animals

As found at Jeff Vandermeer's Ecstatic Days, via a pointer at BBSpot.

Most are pretty obvious, based on the key elements of Mosaic law, but herewith some extracts:

Arkan Sonney (fairy hedgehog) - A: “No, because hedgehogs aren’t kosher, so a fairy hedgehog wouldn’t be any different, monkey.” EM: “But they’re delicious!” A: “Even so.”

- A: “It’s definitely a carnivore.” EM: “What if it’s just for show and they don’t eat their prey?” A: “Well I’m sure they don’t chew their cud and have cloven hooves unless the chupacabra turns out to be some kind of mutant cow.”

ET - A: “…..?” EM: “It had cloven hooves.” A: “It’s a humanoid.” EM: “It looked like a pile of dung. It seemed to chew cud. Would any alien be automatically un-kosher?” A: “I guess it really depends on the alien–like a plant?” EM: “An alien that comes down to Earth.” A: “No, because they wouldn’t be considered an animal.” EM: “What if they looked just like a cow, but with a brain?” A: “Cows have brains.” EM: “Arggh!” A: “But cows don’t travel to other planets using their brains.” EM: “My point exactly!” A: “Anything intelligent is not kosher.”

Jackalope - A: “No, rabbits are not kosher.”

Mongolian Death Worm - A: “No, because you cannot eat anything that crawls on its belly.”

Pollo Maligno (cannibalistic chicken spirit) - A: “When you say cannibalistic, do you mean a chicken that eats other chickens or a chicken that eats humans?” EM: “When I say Pollo Maligno, I have no idea what I mean except I sound fierce.” A: “Well, chickens are kosher, but if it’s eating meat, probably not…” EM: “POLLO MALIGNO! POLLO MALIGNO!”

And finally, some good news:

Vegetable Lamb of Tartary - A: “Oh, absolutely kosher! Vegetables are kosher and lambs are kosher! Nice combination. How about some mint with that meal!”

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Headline o' the day

Monday, April 21, 2008
From EUPravda:

"Classical swine fever in Slovakia: experts in Brussels review the measures put in place to control the outbreak".

As opposed to renaissance or baroque swine fever, presumably.

And just for the hell of it, here are Rita Moreno and the Muppets doing 'Fever':


Economic acts between consenting adults

I'm all in favour of them, frankly but this government is not:

"The Government is now looking to event organisers, promoters and their ticket agents to work together to find new ways of making sure that tickets are properly distributed without fans routinely paying over-the-odds. These improvements can happen without the burden of new regulation, by criminalising fans who want to buy tickets for sold-out events or sell tickets that they cannot use".

Conceivably the people at Pravda Central, or Andy 'just how much eyeliner are you wearing?' Burnham in whose name this went out got their words a bit derrière about visage and missed out an 'or' but why should they be given the benefit of the doubt when the rest of the content is almost as dispiritingly illiberal, ill-thought out and generally ghastly.

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Non-fiction sentence of the year

This, from James Palmer's 'The Bloody White Baron', his take on Ungern-Sternberg. The section at issue is dealing with some of the lesser known elements of Buddhist practice:

"Even the enlightened gods had their dark sides...Even more terrible was Palden Llamo, one of the divine protectors of Buddhism but also a devouring mother who sacrificed her own children. She rode upon a lake of entrails and blood, clutching a cup made from the skull of a child born from incest, her thunderbolt staff ready to smash the unbelievers and her teeth gnawing on a corpse. Her horse's saddle was made from the flayed skin of her own child, who had become an enemy of the faith, and snakes wound through her hair. Like many gods, she bore a crown of five skulls and a necklace of severed heads. Her ostensible purpose was to defend Buddhism against its enemies, and in particular to guard the Dalai Lama, but she must have terrified many true believers as well. The Tibetans considered Queen Victoria to be one of her incarnations".

A worthy winner, I think, and puts me in mind of the Sarah Bernhardt as Cleopatra anecdote:

""After watching Sarah as Cleopatra, lasciviously entwined in her lover's arms, an elderly dowager was heard to say:' How unlike, how very unlike the home life of our own dear queen'."

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Losing something in translation?

Sunday, April 20, 2008
From China Daily:

"Protests against "Tibet independence" continued in several Chinese cities on Sunday. Protestors gathered in front of outlets of the French supermarket chain Carrefour, chanting "Oppose Tibet independence", and "Oppose CNN's anti-China statements" on Sunday morning. Chinese police were monitoring the demonstrations, which had no effect on the supermarkets' normal operations, Xinhua said. More than 1,000 students and citizens in front of the Carrefour in Xi'an (Xian is about as far from Lhasa as Lerwick from London....C) held banners, saying "Strongly oppose CNN's anti-China statements" and "Condemn Tibet secessionist in France tearing up the Five-Star Red Flag"(I really like this one. The language that is, not the sentiment. C). They chanted "Support the Olympics", "Go China" and "Condemn CNN" through loudspeakers".

Maybe they sounded snappier in the original. Also, could they not have wheeled out 'running dog lackeys', just for old times' sake?

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Bad news for Jewish smokers

Either go cold turkey for Pesach or break The Law:

"In an unprecedented initiative, numerous leading rabbinical arbiters have warned the public in signs posted in haredi neighborhoods that cigarettes and cigars "contain essences that are leaven [hametz] and that they should not be smoked during Pessah". Source.

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Seeing ourselves as other see us

Saturday, April 19, 2008
Most folk would benefit from this ability, as would many organisations:

"Nearly 40% of Europeans do not use the Internet at all, This ranges from 69% (Romania), 65% (Bulgaria) and 62% (Greece), to 13% (Denmark, The Netherlands). To encourage use of new online technologies, the Commission will publish a Guide to EU Users' Digital Rights and Obligations later in 2008".

I do not doubt but that that will make all the difference to the man on the Cluj omnibus.

And note the absolutely vile misuse of font sizes and so on here. Surely there must be a few half way competent web designers in Brussels?

Also, what on earth is supposed to be going on in this graph?:

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Now that's what I call a privatisation

Friday, April 18, 2008
"With only seven days to go before the [Kenyan mobile phone network] Safaricom initial public offering application window closes, available data shows that a total of 1.65 million investors have placed orders. The large number of investors puts the government close to achieving its target of bringing one million new investors to the market, through sale of the mobile phone company shares". Source

Excellent stuff. Note that Kenya has a population of 31 million or so, so that is an impressive take up. Furthermore, "in case of local oversubscription by 200 per cent, 15 per cent out of the 35 per cent will be a clawed back to the local investors, leaving the international investors with 20 per cent".

Ex Africa semper aliquid novi, eh?


Keeping a sense of proportion

This is good, but *really* needs sound turned on:

The three hour bit is a fabrication, apparently. More on 'cloudy with a chance of fabulous' here.


A public apology to the German people

Thursday, April 17, 2008
Our German friends have had quite a lot to put up with quite a lot from us over the last few years - the tabloid press, soccer hooligans, lack of enthusiasm for German re-unification etc etc, but a line has been crossed:

J***ie O***ver has taken it upon himself to lecture die Deutschen völk on their eating habits. More here, in English.

I am really, really sorry. You have done nothing to deserve this. I had to apologise to Australia a while back too.

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Some corner of a foreign field...

I am indebted to the Turkish Daily News for this marvelous stat shot:

"January data indicates that a total of 60,351 immovable properties on an area of 37,125,330 square meters were sold to 70,336 foreign nationals in Turkey. British citizens topped the list, owning 4,867,676 square meters of land (or 7.6%. C), daily Milliyet reported yesterday".

More data like this, please.

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Meanwhile, in a parallel universe...

..inhabited only by Mirror leader writers, this thought has occurred:

"A win for Labour's Ken Livingstone will be a devastating blow for Tory leader David Cameron. Questions will start to be asked about whether Cameron can deliver votes in the ballot box rather than just easy soundbites for the cameras. Murmurings of unrest among Conservative backbenchers will get louder".

The Mirror has never had any pretence to balance, let alone fairness in its op-eds (and to think people on the Left moan about the Mail....), but it does owe its readers something approaching nodding terms with reality.

So, such London-wide rule as there has been since the fall of Horace Cutler's GLC administration in 1981 has been by Labour. If Livingstone wins (kayn ayn hore), it will not be a surprise, still less 'a devastating blow' for Cameron as London has been a Left-leaning city for years, for reasons that I cannot see any value going into right now.

I think what they meant to say was this:

"A win for Conservative Boris Johnson will be a devastating blow for Labour leader Gordon Brown. Questions will again be asked about whether Brown can deliver votes at the ballot box rather than photo opportunities. Existing loud noises of unrest among Labour backbenchers will develop into open revolt".

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A challenge to the readership - political food

Wednesday, April 16, 2008
The New York Times has an interesting piece on the political demographics of certain foodstuffs:

"If there’s butter and white wine in your refrigerator and Fig Newtons in the cookie jar, you’re likely to vote for Hillary Clinton. Prefer olive oil, Bear Naked granola and a latte to go? You probably like Barack Obama, too. And if you’re leaning toward John McCain, it’s all about kicking back with a bourbon and a stuffed crust pizza while you watch the Democrats fight it out next week in Pennsylvania.


For example, Dr Pepper is a Republican soda. Pepsi-Cola and Sprite are Democratic. So are most clear liquors, like gin and vodka, along with white wine and Evian water. Republicans skew toward brown liquors like bourbon or scotch, red wine and Fiji water. When it comes to fried chicken, he said, Democrats prefer Popeyes and Republicans Chick-fil-A. “Anything organic or more Whole Foods-y skews more Democratic,” Mr. [Matthew] Dowd [ex Bush strategist] said

Sadly I cannot run to funding a survey, but perhaps readers would care to make some suggestions?

I'll start off with a couple of sitters - 'fair trade' goods must skew left, and deliberate buying of Jaffa Oranges / Carmel avocados must place one on the side of the angels.....

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"For a better world"

I doubt whether any reader, or come to that, any sentient being could be sufficiently Panglossian to imagine that what we have right now is the best of all possible worlds. Accordingly, I would imagine that 'for a better world' rates as about the least offensive slogan imaginable, with the possible exceptions of 'kittens are fluffy', 'be nice to your mum' etc etc.

Anyway, in its French form - Pour un monde meilleur - it has given the French Olympic authorities quite the fit of les vapeurs, and French Olympians have been banned from sporting the slogan on a pin's (sic) while participating in the World's Largest Outdoor Steroid Abuse Festival.

I would think that a bit of ingenuity would see our French friends dig up a line from the Olympic charter like 'respect for universal fundamental ethical principles' that the knife might be twisted a little more.

Similarly, given the ban on the Tibetan flag in the Olympic Village (gulag, maybe?), how about displaying another flag that is predominantly red, blue and yellow? Perhaps that of Romania, Chad, or pretty well anywhere in the top left corner of South America. The snow lion issue could be addressed, ish, by waving the flag of Sri Lanka too.

Revision leave for Jacqui Smith?

Being older than dirt, I am delighted that there is no prospect of my having to sit an exam ever again, the last time being in 1987. However, the Minister of the Interior, or one of her homunculi, might have to lock him or herself away with just Brodie's notes / BBC 'bitesize' revision guides or whatever for a while, as the Time of Testing will soon be upon us, just as it was for the Dutch:

"On Tuesday the Netherlands was one of the first countries to take an exam at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. All UN member states are now to be critically examined on their human rights policy. Deputy Justice Minister Nebahat Albayrak and Human Rights Ambassador Arjan Hamburger went to Geneva for the Netherlands to answer questions on the report the Dutch government has drawn up on human rights in its own country...In the Palais de Nations Ms Albayrak had to answer 50 to 60 questions presented by the countries that sit on the Human Rights Council".

Among the liberal democracies on the HRC are the 'People's Republic' of China, Cuba, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia. The HRC is led by Romania, with lieutenants from Uruguay, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka and de facto one party state, Djibouti.

If I were an invigilator, I would want to examine Smith's sleeves lest she had written the answers on the cuffs.

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How to lose friends and alienate people

Tuesday, April 15, 2008
(Title borrowed from Toby Young's book. Said book is very funny)

I suspect that Politicshome need a small lesson in e-mail etiquette, as I have just received an e-mail that goes to all the movers and shakers in 'Fleet Street' - with many non-corporate e-mail addresses - plus much of the blogosphere, with ALL the names in the 'to' box, and not as BCCs. Hey ho....

Anyway, 9 out of 10 of PH's panel of journos and so forth reckon the Dour One is a liability. No, he's a catastrophe. The story was penned by Andrew 'General Urko' Rawnsley, so maybe the blame will attach to him.

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Surprise o' the day

Straight from EuroPravda, this headline:

"Ombudsman: EU institutions must become more transparent".

Well knock me down with a feather, European Ombudsman, P. Nikiforos Diamandouros.

It would seem that it has taken Niki a while to work this out - 'He was elected by the European Parliament and has held office since 1 April 2003', and this statement of the, dare I say it, bleedin' obvious, would also seem to have eluded his predecessor Jacob Söderman, even though Jake has also been a 'Member of the Group of Wise Persons'. Although the where, what, when etc of that group eludes me.


Hurrah for Denmark. Again

The more I read about Denmark, the more I admire her citizens:

"A new Rambøll survey indicates that nearly half of Danes support the country's participation in the current Afghanistan military operation. Despite 10 soldiers having been killed in the past seven months during the campaign, public support has grown from 43 percent in January to 48 percent today. The poll also found a corresponding 5 percent fall in those wishing a total withdrawal of troops from the Asian country". Source

I cannot lay hands on recent figures for support in this country.

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Further signs of the apocalypse

Wednesday, April 09, 2008
I have in my mitt a flier for an event that boasts the presence of a Socialist Magician. Yes, really.

I suppose his act involves creating a run on sterling.

Tread on an orchid - go to jail

From the European 'Parliament':

"Seriously damaging the environment should be made a criminal offence in all EU Member States, so as to ensure that EU legislation is properly enforced, says the Legal Affairs Committee in a co-decision report, approved on Tuesday, on a proposed EU directive on the protection of the environment through criminal law.
MEPs in committee agreed that in principle governments should apply criminal measures to punish any illegal behaviour likely to seriously injure people or damage air, soil, waters, plants and animals, when committed intentionally or with serious negligence.
"The report, by Hartmut Nassauer (EPP-ED, DE) was approved by a small majority, with 15 votes in favour, 11 against and 2 abstentions".

Try as I might, I cannot discover how our tribunes voted.

A terrible warning for Straw, Blunkett etc and Jacqui Smith

From Dawn:

"LAHORE, April 8: Lawyers beat up the former minister for law and parliamentary affairs, Dr Sher Afgan Niazi, at the Fane Road here on Tuesday, ignoring bar leaders’ warnings that their action would jeopardise the drive for the revival of the pre-emergency judiciary....When Dr Niazi was finally brought out, visibly charged lawyers swooped down on him from all directions, thrashing him with fists and kicks....A lawyer took off one of his shoes and lashed at Dr Niazi while others threw eggs and tomatoes at him. When Dr Niazi tried to board the Edhi ambulance, a lawyer seized him by the collar and dragged him into the vehicle, punching him repeatedly".

Perhaps sundry ex Home Secretaries and La Smith should steer clear of the Inner Temple for a bit, lest the robust approach of lawyers from the sub continent is spreading.

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Something to note for future reference

Here is a chart 'borrowed' from tns-sofres.com, a French pollster (Merci...):

The figures in blue are the percentages of French folk judging that the political class cares what the people think, and the red the reverse. The only time an absolute majority have felt listened to was in September 1977, under the less than man o' the people President Giscard, and - rather worryingly - anti-semite Raymond Barre. Disillusionment has been highest under Sarko / Fillon (now) and under the unspeakably vile Mitterand and the, tiptoeing around the laws of defamation, less than brilliant Édith Cresson.

Anyway, considering how supine the French media is, no-one can seriously accuse the meeja of undermining faith in the political process, so given the Gauls view their pols with such a high degree of cynicism, mull on that the next time some odious fraud from the Labour party attacks the media.

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How the United Kingdom is governed, part 46

Want to influence the government's foreign policy? Easy - be a film star, or find someone who is a film star to front your campaign:

"Gordon Brown has called for swifter progress on Darfur following a meeting with actor and activist George Clooney in Downing Street".

I happen to agree with George on this one, but would the actor pay any attention to the Dour One's interpretation of Stanislavsky(1) technique?

(1) I started reading 'An Actor Prepares' a while back and it is unintentionally hilarious. Significant Other, who has crept the boards, agrees.

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A pointer from Singapore

Tuesday, April 08, 2008
From The Straits Times 29/3:

"....Singapore's winning bid for the 1978 Asian Games...Singapore never staged the Asiad, stunningly giving up the quadriennial games a year after the victory, in 1973, as the Government decided that priority was to be given to the construction of low-cost housing".

Doubtless the IOC would stamp its little foot if we followed this example, but it would seem that those sensible Singaporeans found a higher priority than paying for people to run round in circles and dealt with whatever the consequences were.

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Those who cannot remember history....

A rather splendid, subtitled, video of an Italian manager making a rare old hash of his motivational speech.

Alas embedding has been disabled but click through, it is worth it.

With thanks to ANSA for telling me all about it.

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Government to people earning £60 000 or more - you are *not* hard working

In spite of the fact that anyone earning £60 000 has either impressed an employer to get paid that much, or else is doing quite well if self-employed or in partnership.

And where did I find this slur?

"A new campaign to help hard working parents get their kids (sic) ready for university this autumn is being launched today by Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell".

Digging around shows that no grant will be paid to students with parents earning £60 005 or more. Which is not too outrageous, but inferring that they are slackers is.

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A bit of gratuitous Jowell bashing

Monday, April 07, 2008
A video, not necessarily the original, has appeared at the Number 10 site:

Note that Tessa refers to the Olympic values of 'excellence, tolerance and friendship'. Yes she does, right there at about 40 seconds in. They are bland enough for Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong-Il to sign up to, and not even remotely in conflict with the policies of the 'People's Republic' of China.

However, a little digging reveals points one and two of the charter:

1. Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.
2. The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.

And what is the most basic ethical premise, one shared by every ethical system and every serious religion?: the Golden Rule, or do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Lest the Chinese government is uncertain how this might apply to cracking heads in Tibet, I offer this from the Analects:

Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself

Or from the Buddha:

One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter

Meanwhile, Jowell is also noting the people in Downing Street to greet what is basically a rather stylised hurricane lamp, without being honest enough to say that they were hand picked.

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The right man for the job?

From Pravda Central:

"Health workers to tackle climate change".

I do hope that sundry meteorologists and the like will repay the compliment by rolling up to their nearest hospital and sneering at in-patients hoping to book an appointment.

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Great corrections of our time

From Hina, the Croatian news agency:

'Please note that the first sentence of the news item headlined 'Residents of Zagreb best joke-tellers in Croatia - survey' should read correctly: 'Residents of Zagreb are the most successful in telling jokes in Croatia', according to a survey [in] the Croatian edition of Reader's Digest recently conducted'.

I can just imagine that Hina was deluged with e-mails from Outraged of Osijek and Disgusted of Daruvar moaning that they told much funnier jokes than Zagrebites, and the Reader's Digest tale had been horribly distorted. Furthermore, perhaps the good people of Split, Pula or wherever are much better than Zagrebites at telling jokes when not in Croatia?

I do wonder how they measured success in joke telling. Remembering the punch line? Not telling jokes reliant upon knowledge of recherché sexual practices when trying to amuse maiden aunts? Volume of laughter? Duration of laughter?

Any Croat jokes (in translation...) would be gratefully received. At one point I was doing a re-write of Lear's 'Old man with a beard' limerick involving sundry Balkan nationalities, but it never got beyond private beta testing because it was not very funny.

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Erm, not quite

PoliticsHome appears to have finally got off the ground, and moderately interesting it looks too.

However, this bit does not do its credibility much good:

"A pioneering online focus group of cross-party MPs, senior political editors, commentators and campaign strategists has delivered a strong majority verdict on the best way for Ken Livingstone to rescue his London mayoral campaign. The Phi100 panel is an expert panel of over 100 of the top political brains in the UK. It includes senior members of the government and some of the biggest names in political journalism, responding by email to 5 political questions every working day".

So far, so ho hum. But what's this? 'Who do you think is most likely to win the London mayoral Election'? 69% Boris, 30% Leninspart, one per cent Paddick. What manner of top political brain thinks Paddick is going to win, eh? The spread at Betfair for Paddick is 100/150 at the moment.....

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The London protests

But for pressure of work I would have gone up to town to cry 'shame' at the Olympic quislings and so forth yesterday, and rather regret that I could not. So, a big round of virtual applause to those who braved the intemperate weather.

Generally speaking, marches, demonstrations and so forth are dismal failures in terms of the outward aim - to change the policies of one's own government or that of another. However, the marchers, banner wavers also have themselves as a psychological target, and Countryside Alliance, CND, stop the war types etc will all have felt a nice rosy glow of self-righteousness and taken away a sense that they had at least done something.

Where the Tibet protests succeeded was not in persuading the 'People's Republic' of China to decolonise Tibet (and come to that East Turkestan), which they are not likely to do any time soon, alas, but to ensure that Tibet's struggle and the vile human rights record of the 'People's Republic' of China becomes global news, and penetrates even the consciousnesses of the boneheaded retired athletes and ''ims and 'ers off the telly' who judged that getting their faces in the papers (that they might plug memoirs, diet supplements, television programmes or whatever) was more important than exhibiting even the most elementary sense of decency. So, Trevor MacDonald, Konnie Huq and the rest of you - avaunt.

That the preservation of law and order was part delegated to a series of Chinese secret policemen / special forces types (they certainly weren't athletes, were they?) is also profoundly shocking.

Meanwhile, make haste to the Number Ten site, and attempt to play the embedded video of the Dour One doing an embarrassed nod at the torch. And fancy, just fancy, a message flashes up saying 'sorry, this video is no longer available'.

And since I am having lots of fun with wonder that is hindsight, enjoy this from Livingstone's site:

"On Sunday 6th April the Olympic flame will be carried across London as part of the global Olympic Torch Relay. Large crowds are expected to cheer on the 80 torchbearers, including Paralympians, Olympic athletes and celebrities as they carry the torch through ten London boroughs from Wembley to Greenwich".

One final (?) afterthought: it is a desperate shame that Peter Hain is no longer in the government, as it would have been delightful watching him trying to square collective ministerial responsibility with his known stances on 'normal sport in an abnormal society'.

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A great voice for print journalism

Friday, April 04, 2008
Here is a vid from Novosti, on an airborne training exercise near Pskov. No embedding possible, alas


Dizz reckons the voice is computer generated, and he may well be right, but it made me snigger and prevented me from taking the content seriously.

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Good news from an unlikely source

This, at the MSF/AEEU, AmicusUnite's site:

"European Court judgement could derail the London Olympics say Unite".

And they present this as though it is a bad thing. Turns out to be scare tactics based on a reading of an ECJ ruling, whereby 'a Polish subcontractor operating in Germany can lawfully pay construction workers less than half the German construction industry’s agreed wage'. Unite reckons 'London’s Olympics will either be built on poverty wages or not at all as industrial unrest spreads'. I'll take the latter please, but I could live with the former if means that London council tax payers are skinned slightly less thoroughly to fund the World's Largest Outdoor Steroid Abuse Fest.

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Your chance to give the EU a piece of your mind

Commissioner Grybauskaitė, Commissar for for Financial Programming and Budget wants to know how Euronauts would like the budget reformed.

Here's my modest proposal - a full audit trail for all expenditure.


Headline o' the day

From EUPravda:

"EU calls for urgent action to improve working conditions for 1 million posted workers".

Yes, give them some air holes.


Beneath the pavement, the beach

Or in the original, 'Sous les pavés, la plage'.

Pelerin magazine, a French Catholic title, has decided to jump the gun on the vast outbreak of soixante-huitery that can be expected in about a month's time by polling French teens and twenty somethings on Les évènements of May '68.

Indicating that modern-ish history is taught in French schools or that boomer parents etc will not keep schtumm about the piece of gravel flicked at The Man back then, some 60% of those polled reckon they know the meaning of the term 'Mai '68'. Student demos (49%) and the general strike (35%) are seen as the central events. And what were the demos / strikes for?: the struggle for social justice (1) and rejecting the consumer society.

Just over three quarters think May '68 was a good thing, and 45% feel close to the values of May '68. 50% do not, and the five per cent of mouth breathers did not know. Mind you, given the chance to leap in a time machine and go back, 76% would take the opportunity (Presumably so they could bore their children / grandchildren, random strangers etc rigid with their war stories too).

And having exited the time machine, what would la jeunesse be chanting?

'Make love, not war' - 70%
'Everything is political' - 52%
'Down with consumerism' - 46%
'Every teacher is a student, every student is a teacher' - 42% (It sounds snappier in French)
'Be realistic, demand the impossible' - 41%

And so on. The 'beach' slogan was not on offer.

(1) - Anyone feel up to explaining how the soft soaping of envy into a higher virtue was ever pulled off?

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Good news, everybody - the death of socialism

Thursday, April 03, 2008
Swedish Social Democratic Party Leader Mona Sahlin: '"If developments continue, this party won’t exist in 10 to 15 years"... The Social Democrats lost 19,000 members last year. The 16 percent drop is the largest in more than 10 years...Membership has been cut in half since the 1990s'. Source.

A Swedish model I would counsel our own dear Labour Party to copy closely.

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Deckchairs at half-mast....

Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Because the father of Benidorm has just finished his stay on planet earth - Pedro Zaragoza, former mayor of the place and the architect of its growth has died at 85. More at El País.

And an anecdote that deserves a wider audience: "In the 1950s Zaragoza famously prohibited offensive remarks being made about women in bikinis".

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And if we had been asked about the theft of Northern Rock....

"The results of a Zogby Interactive poll...show 68% of those surveyed were opposed to federal bailouts for ailing Wall Street financial firms holding soured mortgage portfolios....A majority, 54%, said they also did not support government assistance for the tens of thousands of Americans who are facing foreclosure on their homes. A minority, 43%, of those polled said the government should help distressed homeowners who could lose their properties to foreclosure".

As to "the
25% of those canvassed believ[ing] that the government should help financial firms struggling to manage hefty losses", I am reminded of this classic from Catch 22:

Major Major's father was a sober God-fearing man whose idea of a good joke was to lie about his age. He was a long-limbed farmer, a God-fearing, freedom-loving, law-abiding rugged individualist who held that federal aid to anyone but farmers was creeping socialism".

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Ahmadinejad will be happy...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Harris.Fr has polled the Great British people and sundry others on both NATO and wider military issues, and has helpfully provided the data for this chart:

(click for heightened visibility)

Iran leads, with 45% thinking it could be a military threat to this Scepter'd Isle in future, followed by 35% who are scared of Iraq. Erm, not any time this century I think. Pakistan edges it for the 'stans at 32% to 31% for Afghanistan, and Putin clearly is not trying any more - just 31% go to sleep at night fearful of the Red Wheel. China manages 29% (ssshh, don't mention that there are Tibetan exiles here). The brain dead left makes an appearance with the 14% who think that the 101st Airborne is coming our way soon.

An intriguing 7% reckon it is some other nation we should be fearing. France maybe? I admire the bravado of the 8% judging no country will be a future military threat.

The Spanish present some odd figures, with 22% naming 'other' - us, perhaps? Or Morocco? Then again, 23% do not anticipate any threat at all...

More later, perhaps.

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Spoiling Bin Laden's holiday plans

After a hard few years in and around Tora Bora, one might imagine that OBL would fancy a break - maybe put his feet up by the pool, partake of a few long drinks (non-alcoholic, of course) and catch some rays.

However, the following news will put a knot in his turban:

"Senior police officers and prosecutors from six Caribbean countries are among participants in a one-week counter-terrorism course in Kingston, Jamaica from March 31 to April 4...Some 40 participants...from Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Bahamas, Dominica, Jamaica and St. Kitts and Nevis are being trained".

Heaven forbid that this might be a junket....

Puts me in mind of an Onion item from a while back: "Security Beefed Up At Cedar Rapids Public Library".

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"....a little temporary safety....."

From Hansard:

Mr. Dai Davies: "To ask the Prime Minister whether the information to be published on the National Register of Risks will be made public in unredacted form".

The Prime Minister: "The national register of risks will be written with the express purpose of informing the public of the risks that they face. It will include as much information as possible without prejudicing national security".

I am concerned, as I do not recall an Inspector Calling to ascertain the sharpness or otherwise of knives in my cutlery drawer, the prospect of falling out of the living room window, or come to that, slipping on the bathroom floor. Perhaps there is a national security angle....

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