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The inevitable comes knocking

Sunday, August 31, 2008
Some time back I averred that pub patio heaters would end up in the sights of the Joy Police (thought it was on the blog, but I cannot find the evidence), and lo and behold this is what is coming to pass on the other side of the Rhine:

"The heaters, known as Heizpilze in German, became hugely popular in trendy bars and restaurants, particularly after the smoking ban took effect.

Yet the district of Pankow, which includes the Prenzlauer Berg area, has altered licensing rules in order to ban the heaters – because they contribute so much to global warming by releasing vast quantities carbon dioxide".


"We have put ourselves at the vanguard of the movement,” Green district councillor Holger Kirchner told the Berliner Zeitung. He said he did not want to prevent people from sitting outside, “But one doesn’t have to heat up the outside in November.”....Pankow council has received two challenges against the decision, which will go to court. The Hotel and Restaurant Association has also made an official complaint".

If the Berlin HRA needs funds to fight this, put me down for a tenner or so.

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Pointless gestures dept

This, just in, from the United Nations Secretary General:

"To mobilize people around the world, the United Nations is launching a text messaging campaign. My message reads: “On 21 September, the International Day of Peace, I call on world leaders and peoples around the world to join forces against conflict, poverty and hunger, and for all human rights for all".

I am NOT making this up.

Apparently this will be "a powerful signal for peace that will be read, heard and felt around the world".

Poster Ianvisits points out in the comments that at 188 characters, the message exceeds the maximum 160 characters for a standard text message....

Rendered in loathsome txt spk, the message is this:

"on 21 September, d int'l dA of (-<-), I caL on wrld leadRz & pplz rownd d wrld 2 join forces agAnst conflict, poverty & hunger, & 4 aL hUmN rghtz 4 aL".

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Niche marketing

Friday, August 29, 2008
Available here. I think they deserve each other, frankly.

Moonwalkers, Couch Potatoes, Bug Enthusiasts and Oil Tycoons for etc are also available. Now where's my Goldwater '64 badge?


Keeping sense of proportion, Swedish-style

I am yet again indebted to those lovely people at The Local, this time for a bizarre tale of Scandinavian humour failure:

"One of Sweden's largest teachers unions has expressed its dismay at Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's decision to burst into song at the Polar Music Prize ceremony in Stockholm on Wednesday".

Pink Floyd (named for two pre-war blues singers, Floyd Council and Pink Anderson - true story) were being awarded a lifetime achievement award or somesuch by our Swedish chums, and for some reason Reinfeldt dedided that he just had to sing 'we don't need no education - yeah!' while on stage for gong dishing duties. All pretty rock 'n' roll, eh people?

There is a clip of Reinfeldt bursting into song here, but it may well involve downloading plug-ins and the like. I could not get it to work with Firefox and had to use -shudder - Internet Explorer. Still, worth it for the reaction shot of Roger Waters - you can practically hear his toes curling. Floyd have never really been my thing, so I am at a loss to suggest a more amusing / less painfully predictable lyric for Reinfeldt to seranade the nation with. Answers on a postcard please.

Meanwhile, back at our po-faced Swedish syndicalist Lärarnas Riksförbund: "the Prime Minister should try to make up for his anti-educational crooning by singing something positive about a profession he calls the most important in the country".


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A question of emphasis...

"More than 4,000 officials from the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) are expected to take part in the industrial action on Friday".

And for why?

Well, "over below-inflation pay" for starters.

So far, so very, very par for the course.

Serwotka, the PSC's head honcho and a man not unknown to extreme left circles has his righteous indignation hat on too:

"...and claims of a widening gap between men and women’s salaries...The union says that pay gaps of more than £2,500 exist between the predominantly female-staffed DVLA and the Department for Transport which employs a larger proportion of men"

I wonder, where does one's money go further - Whitehall - home of the DoT, or Swansea - home of the DVLA?

Serwo could also be pressing for pay cuts at the DoT, because that would deliver the deadly procrustean equality he clearly values so greatly


A thousand years ago, or plus ça change...

Thursday, August 28, 2008
From 'Bitov's Britain' (Viking 1985):

"In a desperate attempt to disguise Britain's decline as a sporting nation, sports editors have recently given their reporters a new directive: any contest in which a British competitor features with any degree of success should be referred to as a blue-riband event.

Hence, for several days during the 1984 'Olympics', an assistant bank manager from Croydon was said to be the toast of Los Angeles after his triumph in the blue-riband event for marksmen, the small­bore rifle-shooting. The British were narrowly edged out of the gold in the blue-riband team show-jumping event and broke the national record when finishing a creditable sixth in the blue-event in the pool, the women's 400-metre backstroke. They compensated for a generally low score on the athletics track by managing to win golds in the three blue-riband events there, the decathlon, the 1,500 metres and the women's javelin, a feat that, it was claimed, made Britain the envy of the athletics world.

After a disappointing show in the synchronized swimming, it was decided that this was not a blue-riband event after all but merely a tedious waste of time".

The results of a google news search for 'Olympics blue riband' can be found here.

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Pity Bertrand Delanoë - Kingmaker, but not a King

Delanoë is Mayor of 'The City of Light', and is the popular choice to lead the French Socialists as its First Secretary (Bit Stalinist, the PS's terminology... 'Leader of' is our equivalent) at 31% of both Socialists and civilians. Among PS members that woman Royal is close behind at 28%, and would make her the successor to her ex-husband. Maybe it is part of the settlement...

Only 18% of civilians want her running the show, while Martine 'Daughter of Jacques Delors' Aubry (C pauses to brandish crucifix, garlic etc) is third at 13% of civilians and 17% of Socialists. The rest are nowhere, although rather amusingly the likes of Moscovici and Dray - considerably older than some senior cabinet ministers in these parts - were being dubbed 'Young Turks' in a French item yesterday.

So, that would make Delanoë the kingmaker, but not the King - brief sidetrack, the odious Mitterand called the 5th Republic French Presidency 'a permanent coup d'etat', although I still prefer Antony Burgess's terming of the US system, 'A Tudor monarchy with telephones' - as they do not want him as El Presidente, but rather to give Dominique Strauss-Kahn, curently head of the IMF, a shot at the title (29% civs, 28% PS) and then Royal (29% PS, 20% civs). Delanoë limps into third (17% civilians, 19% PS). I am surprised that civilians were not keener on Royal - maybe her toe-curling utterances have ceased to be amusing.

Delanoë is an out gay man, and I do wonder whether La France Profonde just isn't ready for him, for which seems a little sad if he is good enough to lead Paris and good enough to lead the PS. Looking at previous First Secretaries, the deeply obscure Alain Savary was neither PM nor Pres, lurking as he did under the shade of the upas tree that was Mitterand, while Jospin, Mauroy, Fabius and Rocard all got a turn as PM. Henri Emmanuelli seems to have amounted to little and current incumbent François Holland has been behind the plough since 1997 and still hasn't turned over all the clods. And presumably never will.

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Taking jelly & ice cream with Osama Bin Laden

Not my idea, but our Swiss and Norwegian chums seem to think it is a cracking idea:

"[Foreign secretary Raymond] Johansen told the website for newspaper Dagsavisen Wednesday afternoon that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also called for reconciliation among the various groups in Afghanistan. That would include Osama bin Laden's followers.

"We support that," Johansen said. "Engagement and dialogue have a lot going for them." He also stressed that "negotiations are not the same as weakness."


Johansen's remarks come in the wake of a visit by Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey to Iran, and her call for dialogue with Osama bin Laden. "We have no military forces (Yes, they do - and I'm not going to make any tired jokes about the SAK. C) we don’t have anything other than the power of the word to influence other states or to influence decisions in a multilateral setting".

One of Johansen fellow Norwegians, legal philosopher / sociologist Vilhelm Aubert devised a bi-partite model for analysing conflict - conflicts of value and conflicts of interest. The latter lend themselves to a splitting of the difference after negotiation, the former decidedly do not. Given that the short form version of OBL's wish list includes the restoration of a Caliphate ruling rom the Atlantic to the South China Sea, the Swiss and Norwegian foreign offices do not really have the power to offer up that on a plate, negotiation with OBL is at best a waste of time, and at worst, well no detail is required.

However Johansen, sensible fellow that he actually is, has gone on to note the following: "I don't think Osama bin Laden or the forces around al-Qaida want dialogue," Johansen said. "They prefer rather to take the lives of infidels." Well done Raymond, ten out of ten.

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Measuring the success, or otherwise, of the NHS

Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Pretty easy to gauge I would think - bottom line life expectancy.

But that is not how it should be done, apparently:

"Improving patient experience, public confidence and staff satisfaction and engagement must become the barometer of success of everything we do in the NHS".

There are plenty of odd little nuggets in 'The Quarter - an update from the Director General for NHS Finance, Performance and Operations', but one thing that leaps out is how chuffed he is at the NHS's predicted £1.75 billion surplus for 2008-9, not that I can see anything bearing any resemblance to an overall balance sheet within his report. But there are about 11 photos of grinning quacks, nurses and patients, which are doubtless far more important.


Lives of the saints

From an ebay listing for Brown's 'Alternative Edinburgh', penned by the Dour One in the early seventies:

"This book was edited by Gordon Brown when he was a student in the 1970s at Edinburgh University. It is entitled Alternative Edinburgh and was penned at the time when Brown was a socialist student leader - it is full of suggestions of how to live in Edinburgh for next to nothing!...my favourite one is how to turn up at a party without bringing a bottle with you - so what do you do... you bring a carrier bag of empty cans and put two half-bricks in the bottom of it to weight it down".

This particular piece of juvenilia is well known, but it is the first I have heard of that tip.

Strikes me as a rather foolish idea, as one would be bound to get rumbled, and perhaps receive summary justice with the two half bricks.


Thought for the day

Just because I feel like it, having recently re-embedded myself in the oeuvre of Flann O'Brien:

Hard to disagree, eh?

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L'esprit des Français

Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Our French friends are in the throes of one of their bouts of weltschmerz, juding by IFOP's findings for Ouest France.

I didn't think much of the way that IFOP charted its data, so a bit of fiddling around with the data gave this:

As ever, click for legibility, but burgundy is negative and the rather attractive greyish-blue positive. Things to note, all pollees have managed to self-assess themselves as optimistic or pessimistic since August 2004, economic pessimism is at its worst since August '05 and in all available data, more than a third of pollees has always been pessimistic. Quite the rayons du soleil, eh?

Digging into the socio-economic etc findings, women are more pessimistic than men (70 / 63), Parisians perkier than the rest (63/68) - there's no break out for Auvergnats, which is a pity. The Communists (87%) and the extreme left (83%) are extremely pessimisitic about the economy, so must be on the verge of dancing in the street presuming that they take their historical materialism etc seriously.

Meanwhile, Besancenot's Trots
have found some useful idiots (Greens, Bovists etc) prepared to coalesce into the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste. I doubt that the revolution really is just a t-shirt away, frankly.

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Not even trying...

B-67 and K-1933. What might they be? Aeroplanes? Statutory orders? Top hit for B67 is a Brum post code, and K-1933 also shows up as an IC made by Weihao Electronics. However, in this context they are the finalists in this year's Greenlandic football league, closely followed by N-48.

I think that Greenlandic teams ought to take inspiration from the teams in Glasgow's Five-A-Side league. This list has appeared all over the place, so quite who first posted it is a mystery. I discovered it on a West Ham United forum the other day, not that it is showing up now.

Here goes:

  • Albion Hungovers
  • Athletico Madras
  • Barearselona
  • Bayer Leverarchfile
  • Bayer Neverlusen
  • Bayern Bru
  • Big Bertha Berlin
  • Borussia Nosobad
  • Deportivo Lack a Talent
  • Dinamo Mince
  • Dyslexia Untied
  • Fake Madrid
  • Fatzio
  • FC Copenbadly
  • Fred West Ham
  • Graham Rix U16's
  • Grass Smokers Zurich
  • Hajduk Spliff
  • Hardly Athletic
  • Inter Masister
  • LSD Eindhoven
  • Outer Milan
  • Rapid Viagra
  • Real Ale Madrid
  • Real Sosobad
  • Red Star Bellend
  • Red Stripe Belgrade
  • Shackthar Senseless
  • Sparka Fag
  • Sporting Abeergut
  • Sporting Lesbian
  • St. Mirnoff
  • Steaua Needarest
  • Substandard Liege
  • Torpedo Belgrano
  • Unathletic Madrid
  • Unreal Madrid

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They do things differently in...


This is *really* odd:

"The health minister has called on citizens to be more active in using the available emergency services... Health Minister Recep Akdağ said the number of calls made to the 112 emergency hotline continued to fall short of international levels. He also warned that citizens blindly intervening could result in accidents".

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

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Honest Gordon - the Punter's Friend

Sunday, August 24, 2008
Broon has switched out of his usual garb into a tipster's country tweeds and trilby, and has a red hot tip for the nation's punters:

"Gordon Brown has predicted honours awards for British medalists in recognition of the country’s best Olympic performance for a century.

Speaking to the BBC in Beijing, the PM said that there had been “such spectacular successes” for team GB members that the honours system “is bound to recognise them”. Decisions on such awards are made by the Cabinet Office, with the sports honours committee due to meet in September".

Nice of the Nostradamus of Kirkcaldy to stick his neck out, as after all the PM has so little say in who gets which bauble at the twice yearly doling outs to the famous for being famous, long term placemen and women and the occasional token civilian.

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Further great lawsuits of our time

Friday, August 22, 2008
Or they do things differently in India.

Faced with a dispute between two companies owned by the feuding Ambani brothers, the doubtless fatigued beak suggested this:

“Why can’t the brothers go back to the mother and discuss it?

Perhaps they will sent to the naughty step. Pa Ambani will not be available to administer the switch as he bought the farm some six years ago. Ma A looks fierce.

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Great government departments of our time

As has been noted widely elsewhere, a licence has been given to a Canadian porn channel on the basis of a 50% local content quota. Mildly amusing, and jokes involving mounties, kayaks etc write themselves.

However the bit that really amuses me is that the application and criticisms etc are being dealt with by the, get this, Department of Canadian Heritage.


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TUC admits defeat

They really are coming up with some corkers at Syndicalist Central at the moment.

As has been noted previously, the TUC wants a new bank holiday - "a 'Community Day' bank holiday in late October to celebrate and encourage volunteering and community activity".

The latest broken arrow in its quiver is this:

"In sectors likely to benefit from a new bank holiday, consumer spending has grown from 31 per cent of household income in 1971 to 39 per cent in 2005. A new bank holiday will therefore help to continue this spending boom, says the TUC report".

Right. So there actually won't be very much by way of 'celebrating and encouraging volunteering and community activity' (whatever that is supposed to mean) but rather that everyone will be expected to go shopping, for a change.

Two problems - pity employees of 'customer-facing businesses, such as those in the retail, hospitality, leisure, tourism and transport sectors' as they will be dealing with the Great British public when doubtless they would rather be 'celebrating community activity', and pity all the employers of non-customer facing employees who get to pick up the tab for another day of absence.

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Trade unions for monopoly capitalism

Thursday, August 21, 2008
Not that they expressed it in exactly those terms, but they do not like the idea of BAA being force to sell an airport or two:

"Unite, Britain's biggest union is today raising serious concerns at the likelihood of BAA being forced to sell 3 of the UK's 7 airports".
Unite national secretary, Steve Turner, said: "Any attempt to break up BAA will be resisted. This union and our members will not sit back while the market plays games with their jobs and their terms and conditions of employment.

"Airports are an essential part of the UK's transport infrastructure, they are the gateway to our nation and further development and expansion is central to plans for economic growth and success".

And here's the bit I really like:

"If what is being said is that the privatisation of the UK’s airport infrastructure has failed, as it has following the sell off many other areas of privatised infrastructure and utilities, perhaps now it is the time to bring this essential infrastructure back under public control".

Many? Not all? He'll be running from a lynch mob if he shows up at the TUC's conference. Still, maybe his second clause will get him off the hook. I am sure we are all dying to see BT, Carlisle pubs, BA and the like expropriated and under the supervision of Brown's drinking buddies.

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Those who can't teach

Would appear to be making a living as history teachers in Sweden.

Those lovely people at The Local have a report on a survey on Shoah awareness among Swedish teachers by the Living History Forum, and 7/10 of surveyed teachers failed the test, with only 2 out of 5081 getting 100%.

I have not been able to find the quiz, and so it is difficult to know whether the questions were basic or were asking questions like the name of the wife of the commandant at Majdanek. Perhaps the Forum will include the details at some point, but thus far I cannot track down the details.

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You'd need a heart of stone not to laugh..

Wednesday, August 20, 2008
From El Pais, writing on matters Nicaraguan:

"One of Nicaragua’s most famous singer-songwriters is engaged in a heated political battle with president Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo over the use of his music during government ceremonies. Carlos Mejía Godoy ignited the feud when he told the president and first lady that they are not allowed to use his revolutionary lyrics or songs for their Sandinista Party rallies, warning Murillo in a letter that he will sue if the copyright of his music is violated. “Because of the dramatic context in which are people are living — once again threatened by another dictatorship family, which is no different from the sordid tyranny of the Somozas — I cannot allow my songs, which are inspired by the sacrifices of thousands of Nicaraguans, to serve as the musical background to the tragicomedy of the past few years,” the singer said in a statement.

Some have called for Mejía Godoy’s music to be expropriated through presidential decree...The first lady has been circumspect when asked about the dispute: “In life there are things that don’t personally belong to us; things that don’t have an owner. They cannot be considered personal property.”

I'm still chortling....

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The, cough, 'bally' Olympics - no escape even here

I have succeeded in ignoring the WLOSAF thus far without too much effort, but the wretched 2012 event is now about to impinge on sweet home Croydonia:

"Croydon will be celebrating the moment of the olympic handover with a flag raising ceremony on the 24 August with (sic) at Taberner House....Croydon will be celebrating the Paralympic handover on the 17 September will (sic) a themed sports day as well as events taking place in the borough's schools. More details to follow".

Judging from the page at London Councils, few if any boroughs will be safe from this particular plague.

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Great lawsuits of our time

I am indebted to Italy's supreme court for deciding that 'Teachers must not spit at headteachers'. Yes, really.

And there's more:

'The court also slammed the teacher's claim that his actions were an acceptable form of disagreement, ruling that spitting is not a ''legitimate'' means of ''critical expression'''.

In the best Jarndyce and Jarndyce tradition doubtless there will be further litigation needed to clarify the application of the precedent.

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Credit where it is due department

Bean counters, 'Professional services organisation' KPMG has polled CFOs and the like on value added indirect taxes, and our lovely VAT system is reckoned the most VAT friendly of the systems in the major economies. Italy comes last and the US eleventh.

I will give the Dour One no credit for this, as doubtless he is intent on doing a similar number on VAT to that inflicted on the rest of the tax system, and any readers who suffer VAT returns can be excused for being in a state of shock.

Give KPMG's fun and games with tax shelters a few years back, I admire its chutzpah for drawing attention to tax issues, frankly.

No mention of KPMG would be complete without drawing attention to its hilarious corporate anthem, available as an MP3 for the strong of stomach / those who have been living under a rock here.

For those lacking PC speakers etc, this is the chorus:

KPMG - We're as strong as can be,
A team of power and energy,
We go for the gold, together we hold
Onto our vision of global strategy!

Further lyrics here.

Go on, click on the MP3, you know you want to.

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A nation of moochers...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008
The DWP has been polling the nation on 'intergenerational ties'. Thrilling, huh? Most of it is far too dull to be worthy of note, but the reasons for being chummy with one's neighbours are classic:

1. To keep an eye on my house when I'm away 72%

5. To borrow things when I run out 29%

7. To feed my pets when I'm away 23%

Don't answer the door people....


And today's brass neck award goes to....

...Pravda Central, for this little gem in a release on 'e-borders':

"The announcement comes as the Home Office publishes 'A Strong New Force at the Border' its strategy for ensuring the UK continues to have one of the most secure borders in the world".

Go tell it to the marines.

And there's more, as the Jacqui Smith seems to agree:

"The UK has one of the toughest borders in the world and we are determined to ensure it stays that way

Yeah, right. I am sure the Israelis will be simply begging for hints and tips.

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Ex Africa semper aliquid novi

(Apologies for the quote overload today...)

Heartening news from the IMF:

"The criteria for an emerging market set out here—growth, private sector–led growth, and investible markets—can be identified in eight sub-Saharan African countries: Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia...This group of African countries compares favorably with the ASEAN countries of 1980 (see table). ASEAN was already experiencing strong economic growth in 1980 but, in many other areas, the ASEAN countries looked quite different than they do today—and the African candidates perhaps have lower vulnerability and greater economic stability than the ASEAN countries had in 1980".

ASEAN members in 1980 were Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, all of which have come a very long way from Skid Row.

And here's the table:

"The rise of some African countries to emerging market status gives them a tremendous economic opportunity. Access to capital markets is a key ingredient to high and sustainable private sector–led growth, and this access had long seemed out of reach for Africa; it is now a reality".

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Every spy a prince

Or more accurately, some princes spies, to adapt Leviticus 13:1-2.

Newly opened documents from Washington show that Norway's King Olav (1957-1991) was on the OSS's payroll during the war, he being the crown prince at the time. By all accounts his Majesty was a thoroughly decent sort, but I do wonder quite how much use any spying prowess he had would have been, given that he was in exile in these parts.

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Failing to learn from the mistakes of others

Monday, August 18, 2008
The good bit:

"Eleven of the 14 countries that are part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) will participate in the free trade area".

The stupid bit:

"plans for a common currency by 2018".

Integrating successes like Botswana with basket cases like Zim would make the efforts of the EU look quite unambitious....

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Opening a family-sized can of worms

At least they just have in KL:

"Malaysia's Islamic opposition party has urged the government to cancel a concert by Avril Lavigne, saying the Canadian singer's on-stage moves are “too sexy,” an official said Monday".


A spokesman for the concert's organizer, Galaxy Group, denied that Lavigne's show had any “negative elements.”

Shades of Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show all those years ago.

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Electoral suicide, French style

Saturday, August 16, 2008
Ouest France, very kindly, has polled Gauls on what they think of the French Socialists, and even more kindly, Libération has published the figures a day early.

Ségo, Delanoë et al are reckoned to be letting down La Patrie by failing to oppose Sarko's / Fillon's government with sufficient vigour (52%), understanding the preoccupations of the man on the Limoges autobus (55%), not to have good leaders (66%), and not knowing what it is doing (67%).

As to what the PS should do, 41% of Gauls want it to get into bed with Bayrou's MoDem (sort of Lib Dem types), 30% to link with the non-Trot extreme left (PCF, Greens) and 18% want it to cosy up to baby-faced rot postie Besancenot's Trot rabble. Curious bunch. As to left leaning voters, 45% want a menage à trois with the broad extreme left and 12% with the Trots. Were I Gaullist I would be very very keen on a link with as many loons as possible, popular fronts being unlikely to be all that popular with the aforementioned Limogeois/e passager d'autobus.

As to who will lead the Socialists to the sunny uplands of the voters hearts, the general populace want it to be Dominique Strauss-Kahn, currently the king over the water at the IMF, while leftists want Ségo to have another crack at it. Hope they choose Ségo again, as she has been a source of immense amusement with her 'curious' statements. Expect Sarkozy to have her, or any other contender, for petit déjeuneur in 2012.

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Where not to park

Care of London Councils, which provided the data, and MS Paint, a map of parking fine hot spots in London. Note "6,176,752 penalties were issued in London in 2007/08 for illegal parking, driving in bus lanes [etc etc]".

Red (Westminster and Camden) managed to levy 824,687 and 529,874 parking fines respectively in the year to March

The next tier (yellow) between 150,001 and 300,000 fines each

Tier three (green) 100,001 to 150,000.

Tier four (pale blue) 50,001 to 100,000.

Tier five (dark blue) - City, Sutton and Havering, a derisory 0 to 50,000. Lest folk make haste to park in Sutton, Suttonians live under a reign of terror clamper-wise - it leads London boroughs for that particular form of extortion.

I do not have a car, so this is not really my problem, but it has long been clear that parking fines and so forth have precious little to do with keeping traffic flowing and an awful lot to do with tax farming. My brief rant on the topic is here.

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Fire in the hole

Friday, August 15, 2008
The long-awaited fire brigades attendance figures for the year ending September 2007 are in, and it is a reasonably good picture, in that fires are fewer, as - rather more importantly - are deaths.

However, well over half of all fire brigade attended incidents are at false alarms, at 421,300 out of 826,500 attendances. I am quite surprised by that, and it should be noted that the bulk are due to apparatus false alarms rather than idiots placing hoax calls. I hope those concerned or their insurance companies get at least partly hit for the cost of the call out.

Meanwhile, digging around in the detail, London had the highest number of fires (32,849), followed by Greater Manchester (23,843) and Strathclyde (23,609). I do not have the energy to compare fire rates by population for each county, but Manchester looks to be the most inflammable.


"The Paraguayans have no exalted sentiments. They can all be bought"

To adopt Napoleon speaking of Albion perfide...

Our friends in Taipei are still doing their bit to grease the wheels of international amity with a touch of chequebook diplomacy, with the targets of their largesse this week being that diplomatic, economic etc behemoth, Paraguay:

"President Ma Ying-jeou was to meet with Paraguayan president-elect Fernando Lugo yesterday in Asuncion amid unease over his previous claim that his country would switch ties to China if it does not receive US$71 million in foreign aid from Taiwan".

Lugo has donned a figleaf, however: "But the incoming president appeared to backtrack on the matter when he told local media on Wednesday that Paraguay would maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan after he assumes office. He said that cooperation projects between the two countries would extend to the agriculture sector".

I think 'co-operation' is a family-sized euphemism for a tsunami of money....

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Loony tunes...

Our Oz chums have a would be Jihadist up in front of the beak, charged with 'attempting to incite the commission of a terrorist act'. So far, so hum drum.

However, it is Belal Saadallah Khazaal's magnum opus on terrorising the kufr that is the point of interest:

"[It] lists assassination methods including smothering a target by throwing a "cake". The book states "cake throwing" is well-known in the west, and suggests that instead of the sweets, an "adhesive substance could be used"....A couple could pretend to be joking before attacking the target," the translation reads. "This would lead to his eyes, nose and mouth being plugged and loses the ability to breathe. "Few would suspect the fatal consequences".

Shades of some of the more comical targetings of Fidel Castro.

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An MP with a past

What about this for 'youthful peccadilloes'?:

"[he] orchestrated threats, violence and intimidation of six top civil servants at the economic affairs ministry in 1985".

The Dutch (for our MP is a a Hollander...) being the way they are, time limitations mean that GroenLinks MP Wijnand Duyvendak cannot be prosecuted. One would think that he would have the sense to keep his head down, but no: "The GroenLinks MP complained on Wednesday he has already been pursued for 10 days by a storm of negative publicity on his activist past".

They don't like it up 'em, do they?

Groenlinks are big on fairy tale economics: "a just distribution of power, knowledge, property, labour and income, within the Netherlands, but also on a world scale". And, as is often the case, our miscreant comes from a good family - he is the son of a preacher man.

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Money can't buy happiness. But it helps...

Thursday, August 14, 2008
I am indebted to the research wing of the Scottish 'Government' for that particular jaw-dropper (links to be added later), it having investigated life satisfaction North of the Tweed.

Our Caledonian chums belying their rep are the third perkiest Europeans after the Danes and the Swiss at 8.06 out of ten. The rest of the UK rates 13th at 7.2. *krainians are last at 4.38. Those deeming that they are living comfortably outscore those struggling for life satisfaction by a commanding margin.

Further, Morag is happier than Angus and the young & the old outdo the middle aged. Wodehouse's Scotsman with a grievance would appear to be a middle aged man, unemployed, in poor health and living in a city.

Looking grim for Labour ex MPs in 2010, isn't it?

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008
How much further can the Hello-ization of the mass media go? Not much further, judging from this line in a report on a campaign for some Cuban detainees:

"To coincide with the anniversary of their arrests in Miami on 12 September 1998, UK personalities, including several trade union general secretaries are adding their name to an appeal for justice for the five and their families".

I look forward to paparazzi dogging the every move of our syndicalists, and weekly reports in OK, Hello, Closer and for all I know, both Good Morrow and Nice Weather for the Time of Year.

Tony Woodley will be appearing in Celebrity Hamster Swap in the autumn....

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Here come the food police - in full SWAT mode.

At least on the other side of the North Sea:

"The Netherlands Nutrition Centre wants the brakes put on the growth of snack bars and fast food restaurants. In neighbourhoods with an abundance of such outlets, it wants local authorities to prevent any more being opened. In areas around schools, its demands are even stricter: it wants a complete ban on any business selling fast food".

How long before our very own soi-disante 'liberals' float that idea in these parts, or have they already done so?

I don't suppose there is much point bewailing the death of personal responsibility and that the freedom not to deal with the consequences of one's actions is only for children and gods.

(Blogging, in the time honoured phrase, will be light for a few days as the Futures of Croydonian-kind are visiting)

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You should see the state of the bus...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008
From the Met's site, this arresting opening sentence:

"Police in Kingston have issued CCTV images of a man they wish to trace in connection with a serious assault on a bus".

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They do things differently in....


"President Lee Myung-bak yesterday decided to grant a special pardon to over 340,000 people on Aug. 15, Liberation Day...The amnesty list of 341,864 people to be pardoned or to be reinstated includes high-profile tycoons such as Hyundai Kia Automotive Group Chairman Chung Mong-koo, SK Energy Chairman Chey Tae-won, Hanwha Group Chairman Kim Seung-youn and Hyundai Motor Vice Chairman Kim Dong-jin".

And for why?

"The decision...came after the nation's top five economic groups sent a letter last week to the president. The letter said the pardon of 106 business figures is indispensable to bolstering the deteriorating morale in business circles".

I don't think the CBI ever campaigned for Ernest Saunders to be freed for the good of the economy....

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Good grief

Visualise a doctor. He or she is wearing a white coat, and maybe sporting a stethoscope but Lombard Street to a rotten orange will have an expression of extreme smugness.

Not, however, North of the Border, as our Caledonian chums have just published the 'NHSScotland (sic) Dress Code (Interim)' report:

"Appropriate steps should be taken to minimise the risks of infections and cross contamination for patients and the public;

for example: staff should wear short-sleeved shirts/blouses and avoid wearing white coats or neck ties when providing patient care".

As if cracking down on the basic sartorial standards of a gentleman was not bad enough, life is about to made unpleasant for nerds too:

"Staff should not carry pens or scissors in outside breast pockets".

The plod will be wearing shorts next, you'll see. Meanwhile, I hear the thundering hooves getting ever nearer.....

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The new Huguenots

Not a perfect match, but the fact of expropriated Zimbabwean farmers being welcomed to Nigeria smacks of it.

As Libération reports, the Nigerian states of Nassarawa and Kwara have persuaded white farmers from Zim to farm in their states. Loans and about 45,000 acres have been allocated to each farmer persuaded to head north.

Nigeria suffers from chronic under use of land, and one farmer quoted reckons he can quintuple the manioc yield per acre, having already tripled it, and is employing 100 people already

Good luck to all concerned.

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Vox populi...

The readers of Flight International have been polled on the greatest aircraft, engines, people etc of the preceding century and the votes are in.

And, discerning and wise people that they are, they have voted this one number one military aircraft:
Had to be, didn't it? The remainder of the military top five is a bit less predictable, with the SR-71 Blackbird, C130 Hercules, P51 Mustang and F16 Falcon rounding things off. After that, the Sukhoi SU-27, the Messerschmitt 262, the F4 Phantom, B17 Flying Fortress and the Lancaster.

Other highlights include the Hurricane, the Mig 21, Mirage 2000, Mig 25 Foxbat, B2 Stealth bomber, Lockheed U2, Northrop F5 and the Mitsubishi Zero.

Off the top of my head, the poll seems to have got most of the standouts I would have included - if not in my order - apart from the omission of the Fokker Triplane and the ever lovely B52. I am shocked, shocked.

So here's a picture of the B.U.F.F:

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Bad news for Londoners born in 1994 or later

Not my problem, fortunately, but here is an advanced warning for those, resident in these parts, with young children:

"The government is working to fill all seats at London's 2012 Games, Olympics minister Tessa Jowell has said....If they were not filled "by people who have paid the full price", they should be filled by schoolchildren she said".

Sounds like a cruel and unusual punishment, and I recommend parents make plans to get out of Dodge well before 2012 or to at least book a holiday away for the duration, otherwise some way down the line there will be an awful lot of psychoanalysts hearing 'my parents hated me - they made me watch underwater tiddlywinks for hours on end '.

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A really, really poor point of comparison

Monday, August 11, 2008
Who is this mysterious woman, who painted it, and where does it hang?

I would say answers on a postcard please, but there can be scarcely anyone, worldwide, with any pretence to culture who would not know.

However, a nameless organisation that hangs out in Brussels is worried that folk are insufficiently familiar with the Gioconda. It has come up with a plan to create a European Digitlal Library (which I am not going to condemn out of hand), but check what that woman Vivianne Reding has to say:

"The European Digital Library will be a quick and easy way for people to access European books and art – whether in their home country or abroad. It will, for example, enable a Czech student to browse the British library without going to London, or an Irish art lover to get close to the Mona Lisa without queuing at the Louvre".

Sigh. Our lucky Irish person is unlikely to stumble upon the painting at the EDL and for it to come as a surprise, I would think, and the plastic arts do not lend themselves to being digitised in the same way that the written word does. That said, having seen the painting up close (behind roughly inch thick glass) it is fairly unimpressive - perhaps through gross over familiarity, before everyone shouts 'Philistine!' - and I was far more taken by Le Radeau de la Méduse.

Footnote - given the speculation that Mona is Leonardo, the chorus from Little Milton's 'Grits ain't groceries acquires a twist. Judge for yourselves:

If I don't love you, baby
Grits ain't grocery
Eggs ain't poultry
And Mona Lisa was a man"

(Sounds better sung, honestly)

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Barack rolling

Anyone who sniffs around the sillier end of the internet will have been Rickrolled: clicking on a video link or some such and then finding themselves on the receiving end of Newton-Le-Willows' finest singing 'Never gonna give you up'. And hilarity ensues, naturally.

An Australian prankster has gone that little bit further and edited extracts of Obama speeches to fit Astley's lyrics, and I am indebted to Libé for this youtube link of the results:

The chap must have the patience of Job.

Meanwhile, this just in from The Atlanta Journal Constitution, writing on the office decoration of the two contenders: "Obama has...a tiger-beating stick from his grandmother's village in Kenya". A tiger, eh? Someone has a a very wobbly command of zoology....

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Trusting souls, the IOC

From the Jerusalem Post:

"The International Olympic Committee has accepted the explanation of an Iranian swimmer who pulled out of an event that included an Israeli competitor. Mohammad Alirezaei withdrew from the heats of the men's 100-meter breaststroke on Saturday just before he was due to compete against a field that included Israel's Tom Be'eri. He cited illness as the reason".

And what did the IOC do to confirm this? "The athlete has withdrawn because of sickness," [IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies] said. "He confirmed this in writing to the swimming federation".

'Confirmed it in writing', eh? No scope for any doubt about Alirezaei's health and honesty there then.

Ungallant and wholly irrelevant footnote - Ms Davies bears an uncanny resemblance to Steve Jobs.

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Say hello to the *twenty five* year plan

Not, admittedly, from the Keystone pols in Downing Street, but rather from Ofwat:

"Ofwat last year asked companies to produce 25-year plans for maintaining and developing services. Each company has been challenged to set its five year business plan in the longer term context, demonstrating how it will deal with issues such as climate change, sustainability and meeting consumer expectations".

It shows a certain degree of hubris on the part of the watery quango that it is counting on being around in twenty five years that it might then stick some litmus paper in Thames Water's, erm, water in 2033, and also a complete lack of faith on its part that a free market in water will deliver. The CEO, Ms Finn is Hibernian, and does not appear to have ever done a day's work in the wealth-creating parts of the economy, thus making her the ideal candidate to tell business how to run itself.

Ofwat has form when it comes to empire building, and when it, as it doubtless will, decides to variously fine Mersey, Tyne and Irwell Water for failing to be sufficiently alarmist about 'climate change' or for failing to show 'excellence in customer service' the fines go straight the government. Yes they do.

The auguries for such plans give some pause - Stalin's first five year plan involved the creation of collective farms and the liquidation of the kulaks. If memory of O level history serves, he said something along the lines of 'we will smash the kulaks so hard that they will never recover'. Perhaps the board of the water companies should be concerned, meanwhile I am worried that five year plans can also be superseded by a 'great leap forward', and end up with a 'cultural revolution'.

As a footnote to that paragraph, a letter in today's Telegraph refers to the Cultural Revolution as 'an unhelpful distraction'. Given that estimates of the Butcher's Bill for that particular outbreak of Maoist savagery range as high as 3m dead, that is perhaps the most unsuitable euphemism I have encountered in a while.

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Politics and popular culture collide

Sunday, August 10, 2008
From Italian news agency ANSA:

"A CD of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi singing Neapolitan love songs may not come out in time for Christmas unless he takes a break from politics to focus on his musical career, his song-writing partner warned Friday. Neapolitan folk musician Mariano Apicella said he and Berlusconi were currently working on their fourth CD together, but bemoaned the premier's work commitments...The relationship soon blossomed and two years later the pair released their first album, ''Meglio Una Canzone'' (Better A Song), which sold about 45,000 copies - just 5,000 short of the number needed for a Golden Disc".

Reading this, I have started to mull on the possibilities of other pols going into the studio to cut some wax - an awful lot of them would do a great deal less damage if they sang rather than governed.

So, I want some suggestions for genres for sundry politicians to work in, and possible collaborations.

I suggest the Dour One should raid Kraftwerk's back catalogue, or perhaps appear with them on stage to make them appear more human and vulnerable. "We are the robots" indeed.

Further, I could imagine Mugabe might try his hand at being one of those rappers who goes on and on about his vast wealth and his stable of 'hoes' etc.

Maybe Ahmedinejad would like a crack at 'Fiddler on the Roof'. Vladimir Putin, naturally, must have 'Georgia on [his] Mind'.

Over to you.

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Oh dear....

Saturday, August 09, 2008
More fun and games with grotesquely inappropriate visuals at the Commonwealth Secretariat's site:
Looks an awful lot like the declaration of Independence, doesn't it? - "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America".

The Commonwealth Secretary General thinks the new constitution is a corker: "“This is a major milestone in the history of the Republic of Maldives. It represents the beginning of a new phase in Maldives' journey to democracy. Multi-party politics and the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms will be strengthened,” said Kamalesh Sharma".

And have the Solons of Malé created a document that betters that of the Philadelphia Convention? Let's see.....

Maldives -

  • 1 "The Maldives is a sovereign, independent, democratic Republic based on the principles of Islam".
  • 9(c) "Despite the provisions of article (a) a non-Muslim may not become a citizen of the Maldives"
  • 10(a) "The religion of the State of the Maldives is Islam. Islam shall be one of the basis (sic) of all the laws of the Maldives"
  • 10(b) "No law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives"
  • 11 The national language of the Maldives is Dhivehi
  • 27 Everyone has the right to freedom of thought (NB - NOT speech. C) and the freedom to communicate opinions and expression in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam.
  • 36 (c) Education shall strive to inculcate obedience to Islam, instil love for Islam, foster respect for human rights, and promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all people"

And what did our American friends have to say?

US of A: First amendment "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances".

And to think that Commonwealth apologists get upset when it is called a dictators' club......


The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - the Cabinet Office's stabling arrangements

Friday, August 08, 2008
"As announced in the National Security Strategy, the Government has published a National Risk Register which sets out our assessment of the likelihood and potential impact of a range of different risks that may directly affect the UK". Source

Which is nice, isn't it?
Judging from Figure one above, (page 7 in the full report) , electronic attacks and attacks on transport (those pesky Methodist fundamentalists...) are reckoned more likely than animal disease, flooding and major transport accidents. Given that the Fenians are resting and the, cough, Methodist fundamentalists appear incapable of finding their own backsides even when aided by a bank of klieg lights, both hands and access to phone a friend, this strikes me as either alarmist re terrorism, or showing utter complacency about natural disasters and transport matters.

Enough of the serious stuff, on with teasing out 'Protect and Survive' style advice like 'hide in a ditch'.

Organisations first:

3.6 "Organisations may wish to put in place measures to maintain essential business activities for several weeks in the event of high levels of staff absence". Well strike me down with the proverbial...

3.12 "Loss of mains electricity can affect lighting, heating, air conditioning and electronic equipment". Fancy...


4.3 ..take time to find out:... how to tune in to your local radio station
4.4 ... Make sure 999 has been called if people are injutred or if there is a threat to life.
4.10 It is important to consider how you might cope if your land line and mobile phone were out of action
4.14 - Covering the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing

No doubt the Four Horsemen will turn tail and head off in search of a more ill-prepared populace when they read this.

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When Comrades attack....

Unheeded by the rest of us, the British Far Left is in the middle of quite a firefight, concerning, of all things, Israeli-Iranian relations.

Here are some choice extracts from the CPGB's polemic against the 'the loose-cannon patriach of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty':

"The AWL should have gone into (actually long overdue) outraged rebellion and demanded the man’s head on a pole when his shameful piece...Even by Matgamna’s putrid standards, this contribution marks a new low in his political decay...The article’s last feature of note is Matgamna’s straw-targeting of those who would condemn Israel for making a nuclear attack on Iran. He bundles together no less than nine varieties of deviation from his moronic viewpoint - most are figments of his imagination alone....More importantly, how much longer can Matgamna hold his sect together? This is thin gruel indeed - reminiscent of nothing so much as the senile final writings of Kautsky...Clearly. Matgamna is a ‘stick-bender’ and this an attempt to maintain his hold against what he sees as creeping ‘kitsch leftism’ in his organisation’s ranks". One of the co-authors is one James Turley, a name he shares with the global head of Ernst & Young. Or maybe they are one and the same? Doubtless dialectical materialism is more fun than International Financial Reporting Standards...

And in the other corner, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty:

"“AWL’s Sean Matgamna” excusing an Israeli nuclear attack on Iran”. Supposedly a reference to a “discussion article” which I published in the last issue of “Solidarity”, the words on WW’s front page were a straightforward lie. No reasonable (or even unreasonable!) “construction” on what I wrote could licence or justify those lying words...The latter, expressed in duff “anti-imperialism”, pretend, one-sided, pacifism and hysterical appeals to “international law” and “the UN”, will be the response of the kitsch left to an Israeli attack. International socialists should have no truck with it....

There is a fundamental issue of current politics involved in all this Stalinist dung- pile, into which the WW has pulled AWL and the present writer: Is it possible to have a rational discussion on the Middle-East and Israel — or on anything? — in the existing “left”? This doesn’t involve only the WWG, which is insignificant in its ideas, size, influence (it is “significant” only as the producer of a “left” gossip sheet). But the WWG gives it a sharp, indeed a looney, expression.

The WWG is a strange political formation with a very strange history and political “practice”. Over nearly 30 years they have produced a paper under three titles — the “Leninist” (!), “Daily Worker” (It wasn’t a daily, anymore than the miniscule WWG is the “CPGB” — and the “Weekly Worker”). Their main asset is that the paper passes for a well-informed source of information amongst those who don’t themselves know much about the affairs of the left".

(Pulls up chair, opens popcorn)

Apparently the 'Kitsch Left' also goes by the terms 'post left' and 'rococo left', but I think we could do with a bit of Socialist Realism......


Unhappy the land etc etc

Thursday, August 07, 2008
Just why is the government so keen on getting the Greatest Generation, as our American friends call it, to leave the country?

"Since October 2004, every British citizen born on or before 2 September 1929 has been exempt from application or renewal fees for UK passports in recognition of the bravery of both veterans and civilians during World War II".

Apparently some 519,000 of our septuagenarians etc have taken advantage of this outwardly rather minor free lunch. I doubt that the free passports were ever planned as a reward for the wartime generation etc, but rather there was an assumption that take up by the over 75s would not be that great and it could be listed as a government achievement at election time. Based on the footnote to the press release, some 4.5 million souls were eligible in 2004, so let us say that around one in nine has taken it up, and with income etc not taken into account, this is necessarily a fairly regressive piece of wealth redistribution - anyone who can afford to travel overseas is likely some way from the breadline.

I am yet to hear of free TV licences for oldsters as being a reward for wartime sacrifice, but maybe it has been spun that way. One might also note that an awful lot of pensioners would probably have preferred to receive the funds in another form.

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Telling, very telling

From a piece on a council by-election by a Labour London Assembly Member at Labour Home:

"Whatever else, l can safely say that Tony is spinning in his grave as a result of this outcome. As always we will need to consider carefully the implications of the loss of Church Street and work with the whole community to ensure that when we go back to the ballot for the ward in 2010, it will have a much higher turnout and return it to its rightful owners".

There are plenty of seats where a pig with a red or blue (if not yellow) rosette could count on pretty secure tenure, but I do not think our safest seat, Richmond, feels owned by William Hague, still less that it is rightfully his by the will of history, reason or God.

Hubris, one might note, often ends up clobbered by Nemesis.


Another great investment by our lords and masters

Wednesday, August 06, 2008
(Warning - this post contains facetiousness)

From the wonderful people who had a fire sale of gold reserves, this:

"[Sports minister Gerry] Sutcliffe, in Macao to visit the Team GB preparation camp, said competitors needed to come home with 41 medals and show the British public that the country's £500 million investment into elite sport was "value for money".

A little digging discloses that an Olympic Gold medal weighs around 250 grammes.

And how much gold is in one?:

Yup, 3%. So 250 grammes x 41 is 10.25 kg. Three per cent of that is 307.5 grammes. And at the time of writing, the current London gold price per gramme is £14.51. So, the gold is worth £4,461.82, and at £500 m, that is well over a 100,000 fold mark up. Or 112061.77 to be precise.

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Negotiation à la Turque

Turkey and Armenia are not the friendliest of neighbours for reasons scarcely worth going into, but there may yet be talks about talks between Yerevan and Istanbul.

Not that the Turks want much:

"It is apparent that Turkey brings forth several preconditions for normalizing relations with Armenia, and these preconditions include the withdrawal of Armenian troops from [Artsakh] and Armenia's rejection of the policy of genocide recognition".

And the head of President Serge Sarkisian on a plate, maybe?

Meanwhile, I discover that the Armenian currency is the Dram, which could make for fearful confusion in Armeno-Caledonian relations.

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The decline and fall of Australian political invective

Paul Keating appears have lost his demon, judging from the transition from this:

"You just can't have a position where some pumped up bunyip potentate dismisses an elected government."

"The little desiccated coconut is under pressure and he is attacking anything he can get his hands on... (he is) still there araldited to the seat".

"For John Howard to get to any high moral ground he would have to first climb out of the volcanic hole he's dug for himself over the last decade. You know, it's like one of those deep diamond mined holes in South Africa, you know, they're about a mile underground. He'd have to come a mile up to get to even equilibrium, let alone have any contest in morality with Kevin Rudd".

To this, in today's Sydney Morning Herald:

"In national terms, to have such a nong(1) - and [former Oz chancellor Costello] is, in policy terms he is a mouse - to have him back again, speaks volumes about the Liberal Party,'' Mr Keating said.

(1) - 'in Australian slang, nong is used as a pretty mild and/or endearing insult. a bit of a twit, or idiot. nothing too mean or horrid is meant by calling someone a nong'. Urban Dictionary

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Lèse majesté at the Royal Mail

Tuesday, August 05, 2008
Admittedly a number of years ago, but flicking through a New Statesman pamphlet called 'This England' which contains curious news clippings I found this and felt it would be selfish not to renew its audience:

"As a great admirer of the Royal Family, I was disgusted to see ,that two of the animals in the special Post Office issue of stamps showing rare breeds of cattle had their hindquarters to the Queen's face. Surely face to face would have been more dignified". (Letter in Daily Express)

Here are what I believe are the offending cows, from June '84:

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France's favourite Frenchman

Rather impertinently, IFOP asks, on a fairly irregular basis, the same question: 'from this list of 50, which 10 do you find the most sympathique? (As every schoolboy knows, it is well nigh the Everest of French ambition to be considered sympa).

From 1988 to 1999 the laureates were either Jacques Cousteau or Abbé Pierre. The former had world renown, but Pierre needs a little explanation - he was in the Resistance (really, not like so many Frenchmen d'un certain age) and later was well known for his charitable works.

And from explorers and doers of good works to judo exponent David Drouillet in 2000/2001, with Pierre making a comeback for 2001/2003. November 2003 marked a new ascendancy, and Yannick Noah and Zindedine Zidane have been duelling for the nation's affections ever since. Noah is this year's winner.

Drilling down a bit further, Ifop also gives favourites by gender, age and broad political inclination, and notes the meteoric rise of Dany Boon, not rated in 2007 but second this time. He is a comic actor / director, and crafted 'Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis', as has been discussed - obliquely - previously. Zidane drops to third and their rather more militant equivalent of David Attenborough, Nicolas Hulot is up one place at fourth. The glory that is google discloses that Mimie Mathy is a dwarf comic actress and Sister Emmanuelle is a nonagenarian nun. Many, many of those named will be unknown outside France etc to all except the most ardent francophiles. Actors and sporting types predominate, with Trot postie Besancenot the leading politician. Sarko beats Royal, at 44th to 49th. The divine Mrs Sarkozy is 50th, having ditched her homeland for France. I expect her to do better next time.

Zidane is the leader among French males, and Noah leads among women. The youth opt for Jamel Debbouze - my wild guess is that he is un rapper. Erm, no, he is a comic actor and only has one arm. The old like National Hero of Armenia Charles Aznavour, lefties go for Noah and righties for the nun.

Alas there is no list of Gauls deemed far from sympa.

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The Despotate of Massachusetts, the Margravate of Ohio and the Grand Duchy of Rhode Island

It could happen, unlikely though it seems. Zogby has polled Americans on separatism, secession and the like and found a jaw dropping 18% would be in favour of their home state leaving the union. Annoyingly, there is no detail by state level.

However, the detail given shows that support for the right to secede is highest among Hispanics (43%) and African Americans (40%), in the South (24%) and among those identifying as Liberal (32) or very Liberal (28%). The young are keener than the old and support for it falls with education.

The group that commissioned the poll, the Middlebury Institute, has a surprisingly long list of North American separatist groups, ranging from the Alaska Independence Party all the way through to the Vermont Republic. Not much doing in the state I'd most like to secede, Massachusetts.

Should Obama fail to win in November, expect more - admittedly small and not entirely serious - rumblings either side of flyover country.

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Pitiful. Absolutely pitiful

Monday, August 04, 2008
Imagine you are a hopeless Prime Minister, attracting 'plaudits' as the worst PM since the war, assailed by the press and with the payroll vote in near open rebellion. What is the eye-catching initiative that is stone-cold certain to turn round the supertanker?

"Gordon Brown will attempt to reinvigorate his leadership with a special cabinet meeting held outside London".

It is the unfortunate people of the West Midlands who will be subjected to this plague, and luckily for them, there is more:

"Ministers will also be taking part in a series of other events in the region on the day where they will have an opportunity to "engage" with the public".

Expect 'the public' to be carefully positioned members of the Labour party, and any site visits to be to Potemkin schools 'n' 'ospitals. I am particularly hoping that Brown will decide to inflict homilies concerning prudent energy use, saving the planet etc shortly before they are all choppered back to the bunker.

Doubtless all the fruit and veg stalls for miles around will be denuded by Brummies seeking to engage with the prime ministerial equivalent of Eddie the Eagle.

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Oh come off it...

Today's scarcely credible research finding comes from the Partnership for a Drug Free America (Doubtless Pfizer, Glaxo, Novartis etc are a little concerned as to what a DFA would do to their business models, but less of that later), which polled teenagers for its 2007 (a bit late, people) Partnership Attitude Tracking Study.

And what is the number one (73%) response to the question, 'why do kids take drugs?'

'to deal with the pressures and stress of school'.


Rather more likely to pass the smell test are “feeling cool” (65 percent) and “feeling better about themselves” (65 percent).

Lots more here, including figures on misuse of cough syrup - 10% of teenagers like nothing better than getting bombed on Benylin. Yes, really.

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Here come the Fat Police. Again.

The chin-rich environment that is Ivan Lewis has some news for the nation's parents:

"From September this year, parents of children who have been weighed and measured at school could automatically receive their child's results in a bid to get parents to be more aware about healthy lifestyles, and help their children achieve a healthy weight, Health Minister Ivan Lewis announced today".

Isn't that nice? How, I wonder, will the letters be worded? 'Junior is a fatso, has greasy hair and smells'? Will there be scope for arguing the toss, or claiming that it is all down to his or her glands?

Presumably the parents of the various wobbly masters and misses are incapable of persuading their charges to stand on the scales, or should said scales be inadequate cannot quite bring themselves to make the journey to the nearest council weighing station.


News that matters....

In the '20s and '30s it was common for BBC radio announcers to declare 'there is no news tonight. We will have some piano music instead'. (BBC Review of the Year 1930).

Such, however, is not the approach of Greenlandic newspaper Sermitsiaq, and here is today's lead story: 'Church gets new digital clock'.

I am *not* making this up

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Sunday, August 03, 2008
As everyone knows, popularity contests and the like are utterly worthless until one wins one. The well-informed, discerning and cultured subscribers to the Witangemot Club site have voted in its blog awards thus:

Best Foreign Affairs (including Iraq and Afghan wars)
  • Croydonian
  • Harry's Place
  • Devil's Kitchen
I am rather pleased.


Can the Dour One top this?

Saturday, August 02, 2008
The Japanese PM has set a new benchmark for re-shuffles:

"Japan's embattled Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda yesterday reshuffled his cabinet, bringing in more than a dozen new ministers in a last-ditch bid to revive waning public approval as elections loom".

Macmillan only dumped six minsters in the night of the long knives. Quoth Thorpe, "G
reater love hath no man than this, that he should lay down his friends for his life".

I think the lad's got what it takes....

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How long is 'ever'?

I will allow that leeway might make 'ever' a few hundred years, since statistics were first compiled, or even the course of a lifetime.

Not however at the Department of Health. In those parts, 'ever' is TEN YEARS.

Yes it is

"The national suicide rate is at its lowest ever level, Care Services Minister Ivan Lewis announced today...Suicide rates, whilst fluctuating year on year, show a downward trend since the early 1980s. The target detailed above is to reduce the death rate from suicide and injury (and poisoning) of undetermined intent by at least a fifth by 2010 from a baseline rate of 9.2 deaths per 100,000 population in 1995/6/7 to 7.3 deaths per 100,000 in 2009/10/11".


This week's brass neck award

Friday, August 01, 2008
Fond though I am of both France and the French (some of my best friends etc etc...), I ask readers to peruse this exercise in brass neck / self-deception:

"France's foreign policy is founded on several centuries of diplomatic tradition and some fundamental principles: the right of peoples to self-determination, respect for human rights and democratic principles, respect for the rule of law and cooperation among nations".

That is taken from France's European Presidency website. Would it not be more honest to say this:

"France's foreign policy is founded on several centuries of diplomatic tradition and some fundamental principles: doing whatever we want, whenever we want and going out of our way to antagonise les Anglo-Saxons whenever the opportunity presents itself"?

More nuggets if I unearth them.

There's a marvellous French wiki page on Albion Perfide, by the way. They are not happy about the denouement to Agincourt, inter alia.


The future has arrived

At last, a practical (apparently) personal jet pack:

Flying cars next, please.

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