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Iceland on Thames revisited

Saturday, January 31, 2009
From Der Spiegel, headlined 'Can countries really go bankrupt', and illustrated with a photo of No 1 Canada Water:

"Take the example of Great Britain. The country is on the brink of financial ruin. Real estate is overvalued, private households are overly indebted and its vast financial sector has been badly hit by the crisis. Confidence in Britain's ability to overcome the economic turmoil is sinking by the day, as evidenced by the precipitous decline of the pound, which has almost reached parity with the euro. Just 13 months ago, it was worth €1.40.

"I wouldn't invest any more money in Great Britain," says American investor Jim Rogers. And economist Willem Buiter, a former consultant to the Bank of England, warns of the "risk that Great Britain will become a second Iceland."

OK, we've heard from Rogers before, but I reckoned the extract was worth taking to a narrower audience.

Sticking with Germany, finance minister Peer Steinbrück has been photographed looking at his lottery ticket. Admittedly winning the jackpot would not do much towards paying off the national debt.

Much though I long to see Brown and his glove puppet sitting in the gutter with pieces of cardboard declaring poverty etc, I would consider a big win for both - if it resulted in their leaving public life forever - a good trade off for even the most unreconcilable of Brown haters.

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If Napoleon had conquered Croydon

Inspired by The Great Bear, other reworked tube maps and my age old pastime of mentally translating tube station names into other languages while travelling (and because I am sad, empty and worthless etc, obviously) I have had a go at rendering the Croydon tram map into French, and await criticism for poor French grammar, use of the wrong font, lawsuits for copyright infringement and so forth.

I have gone for a mixture of translations that are variously semi-serious, gratuitously silly and those based on the idea that we became part of the Napoleonic system. I have assumed that the name George Street stems from the saint rather than the kings, but confirmation or refutation by anyone with knowledge of local history would be welcome.

I generally decided against rendering town names in French, as Vallée Sinueuse or Vallée de Crocus for Croydon seemed a bit over the top.

No mention of Croydon trams is complete without noting that at one point the name signs at stops were stickered letters, so some wag removed leading and trailing letters from Addiscombe, making it sound a great deal more intriguing.

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Does the Civil Service make you sick?

Friday, January 30, 2009
Asks John Bercow:

"To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families how much sickness absence there was among staff in his Department in (a) 2007 and (b) 2008".

And Sarah McCarthy Fry pointed him here.

And just because I felt like it, I have charted sick leave by age and by grade:

Note the vertiginous fall in sickies from the lowest grade - admin assistant - to the senior civil service. An average 0f 20 days a year is not far off one day off every other week. Round of applause for the robust 65+ group, not that there are many of them.

For my sins I suffer from self-employed person's health, and am only ever ill when I am on holiday, and have not had a day off either paid employment or education since the 1970s. Funny that....

And now for something completely different. Click on this, and then wait a few seconds. Totally work safe.

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It's a woman's life in the army

As is well known, there are Amazons in all of our services, bar the Marines. That's fine by me, as a woman only has to be as strong as the weakest man.

Anyway, the figures came as a bit of a surprise:

2007-2008 - All officers - female 17%, Other ranks - 8%.

Higher than I thought, but this disguises heavy variation elsewhere:

Naval officers - female - 16%, other ranks - 13%

Army officers - female - 19%, other ranks - 7%

Air force officers - female - 24%, other ranks - 20%


Further signs of the apocalypse

Thursday, January 29, 2009
This, from the great city of Austin, Texas, and sent to me by a colleague:

The newsreaders think it was a hacker prank, but I think it is further proof that the Apocalypse is upon us.

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That Israeli attack on the UN school in Gaza

The Globe & Mail has a rather important tale to tell:

"Most people remember the headlines: Massacre Of Innocents As UN School Is Shelled; Israeli Strike Kills Dozens At UN School.

They heralded the tragic news of Jan. 6, when mortar shells fired by advancing Israeli forces killed 43 civilians in the Jabalya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. The victims, it was reported, had taken refuge inside the Ibn Rushd Preparatory School for Boys, a facility run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency....There was just one problem: The story, as etched in people's minds, was not quite accurate.

Physical evidence and interviews with several eyewitnesses, including a teacher who was in the schoolyard at the time of the shelling, make it clear: While a few people were injured from shrapnel landing inside the white-and-blue-walled UNRWA compound, no one in the compound was killed. The 43 people who died in the incident were all outside, on the street, where all three mortar shells landed.

Stories of one or more shells landing inside the schoolyard were inaccurate".

A lie is halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its boots on.

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Today's gems from the DPRK

Guess who has been exposing himself to the arts...

"General Secretary Kim Jong Il appreciated a performance given by the song and dance ensembles of the KPA Naval Command and the Air Command". Their artistes put on....male solo "Soldiers Live Near the General" dance "Seamen Who Protected Slogan-Bearing Trees".

The latter sounds especially fascinating. Firstly, trees tend to be land phenomena, so should that not have been a job for the marines or the infantry? Secondly, what would the dance moves involve? Looking threatrening and waving bayonets around? The mind boggles.

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Those confused Republicans

Pew has polled Americans on where they live, where they want to live and so forth and teased out some intriguing demographic data on age, income, politics and so forth.

First up, Detroit is the least sought after large city in the nation, with some 90% of Americans not wanting to live in Motown. Then again, it is the murder capital of the union, with 46 homicides per 100,000, just edging out Baltimore (45). 80%+ would shun Cleveland, Cincinnati (about which I have heard good things, actually), Minneapolis (Prince isn't that bad), Pittsburgh and Kansas City, its 'crazy way of loving' notwithstanding.

Flipping things round, Denver is the most popular, with 43% of Americans fancying the place. It is not a bad place from what I've seen, and has possibly the greatest bookshop in the world. Also fancied are San Diego, Seattle, Orlando, Tampa, San Fran, Phoenix and Portland, all with 30%+ approval rates. Broken down by income, Boston, Noo Yawk and Sweet Home Chicago feature for those earning $100,000+, while the City of the Angels, DC and Miami show for those earning below $40,000.

San Fran is in the top five for women, but does not make it into the top ten for men. There is the old joke about the women in SF being very lonely.... The reverse applies to Las Vegas - 30% of chaps fancy the place, but only 16% of women. Perhaps 'a thousand pretty women waiting out there' is an exaggeration.

And now for the fun bit. Denver is the top choice (48%) for Republicans, although its mayor has been a Dem for at least the last 25 years. Told you they were confused. And by the time I get to Phoenix, 38% of GOP-istas will fancy being there, its predeliction for Democratic mayors notwithstanding. Dems fancy San Diego, although that is led by a Republican mayor at the moment. The cockroach-like infestation of Kennedys is presumably why Dems fancy Boston.

More later, maybe.

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Ten individuals, 25 degrees between them, and *how* much sense?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Doubtless we have all been having rage blackouts over the proposals made by 'the Consultative Group on the Past', and I do not think I can add much to the, under the circumstances, extremely measured thoughts of Mr Eugenides, so I will not.

However, I have done a little digging, and this Confederacy of Dunces, this Narrenschiff, this thicket of idiots, has between them at least 25 degrees.

I think I need to lie down in a darkened room for a bit.

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Language, truth and not much logic....

From Unite:

"Unite the union, the biggest union in UK civil aviation, is urging MPs to vote for workers' jobs and futures by backing the modernisation of Heathrow airport".

What could they mean? A lick of paint, a few more bins and a bit of wi-fi? I'm more of a Gatwick chap meself, so not really my problem.

Erm, no.

"Unite's call comes ahead of today's (Wednesday) Tory Opposition Day debate in the Commons, which the union says will be used to undermine this month's decision by the government to press ahead with the third runway at Heathrow airport".

For easy math, as our transatlantic friends put it, let's say that a third runway equals a 50% increase. I am looking forward to a whole range of modernisations myself. Maybe I'll modernise my whisky consumption, or modernise my posting of DPRK updates. We shall see.

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Curious survey o' the day

As every schoolboy knows, supposedly our Gallic chums have the lowest per capita use of soap in Western Europe or somesuch.

However, outline details from a survey on time spent in the bathroom suggests otherwise. Apparently the French spend longer in the bathroom than do any of the other European populaces polled (not named, alas), and are in there two minutes longer than the European average. Must be murder for those members of familles nombreuses with access to just one bathroom.

Admittedly they could be spending all that time applying moustache wax / overdoing it with the hairspray, but I feel confident in offering up that poll finding as a rebuttal to any francophobes touting the soap statistic.

However, other findings show that some of those polled (again no detail) think it is just dandy to use phones, laptops, gaming consoles while in the lavatory. Saints preserve us.

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Now IS the time to panic

From the usual place.

"A delegation of the Workers' Party of Korea led by Pak Kyong Son, vice department director of its Central Committee, left here today to visit the UK".

I have mulled previously on the possibility of the DPRK giving the PM ideas, so who knows what horrors this might lead to. I am more than a little uneasy.

Do not say I did not warn you.


A slap in the face for Paddy Ashdown

Remember how he used to strut around the Balkans as Grand Panjandrum, UN High Representative feeling horribly pleased with himself and trying hard to look like someone in charge of the proceedings in Bosnia Herzegovina post Dayton.

Well, he left that role a while back, and sundry members of the EU's 'great and good' have been doing the same sort of thing since.

So much for the mini-history lesson. If Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje is to be believed, the Serbs, Croats and Muslims have only gone and cooked up a provisional new deal without any help from the viceroys. My Serbo-Croat begins and ends with the all important word 'slivovitz', so I am indebted to Le Monde for an article on this development.

Details are sketchy, but the plan appears to overturn the existing partition and to replace it with three entities and a district - Sarajevo. I would presume that the Croats will get their own bit, and drop out of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, while Republika Srpska appears to be engaging in no more than a little land swapping in the north.

Just goes to show what folk can do on their own, doesn't it?


Let's see the marching classes protest this

From the UN via Ha'aretz:

"United Nations Humanitarian Affairs Chief John Holmes blasted Hamas Tuesday for its "cynical" use of civilian facilities during recent hostilities in the Gaza Strip.

The reckless and cynical use of civilian installations by Hamas and indiscriminate firing of rockets against civilian populations are clear violations of international humanitarian law," Holmes told the UN Security Council".

I am sure the usual suspects will call a march to protest this, won't they?

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Monte Carlo, Vegas, Macau and, erm, Newham

Straight from Hansard:

Mr. Ellwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what assessment he has made of the process of procuring a casino in Newham.

That would be the Toby Ellwood who represents a part of the East End called Bournemouth East. I cannot locate anywhere called Newham in or around Bournemouth, but if there is one I am prepared for ridicule.

I cannot see the highrollers ditching the tables of Monte Carlo for the delights of Green Street, frankly.

(Yes, I know the World's Largest Outdoor Steroid Abuse Festival is coming to those parts, but my point stands)

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Govt to nation - your time is worth less than minimum wage

You, me, the bod in the next cubicle / corner office, all of us, our time is worth the princely sum of five pounds and an all important four pence per hour. And how do we know this, because the government, in the person of Paul Clark, says so:

Jo Swinson: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether he has commissioned or evaluated research on the effect of commuting times on levels of well-being. [251002]

Paul Clark: Yes. Research into people’s willingness-to-pay for travel time savings suggests that, on average, commuters value travel time at a rate of £5.04 per hour. This value is ordinarily used to aid decision making on infrastructure investments because many of the benefits reflect reduced delays for commuters. However it also provides an indication of the importance that people place on the time taken to commute to work.

OK, so I have overegged the pudding just a touch, but this does strike me as pretty worthless research in that there are an awful lot of factors at work in a cost benefit analysis of any given journey.

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Navel-gazing survey o' the day

Tuesday, January 27, 2009
This time from Nord-Pas de Calais, La Voix du Nord having commissioned a survey of the locals to see what splendid folk they reckon themselves to be, and the results are in:

N-PDC types (henceforth Picards, it sounds better) are most attached to their communes, and then to France, with département or provincial loyalty weaker. They feel less European or global than three years ago, oddly enough.

Some 88% of Picards are proud of the place, as I suppose one might expect. Note that for the rest of France the North is regarded as being only marginally preferable to some of the lower circles of Hell, and it is to there or the Paris suburbs that first year teachers and other fonctionnaires get sent. And thoroughly miserable it makes them too, as I can confirm from knowing someone who got sent to Dunkerque, itself regarded as the ninth circle.

The pride in the place falls apart when offered the chance to be elsewhere. 6% want to emigrate, 23% want to be elsewhere in France, and just 56% are quite happy with the area they live in. Mind you, if I was offered a green card (so to speak) I'd be outta here like I stole something.

Anyway, Picards characterise themselves as convivial (76%) and hard working (66%). Five per cent think they are creative... And who do they think personifies the best of Picardy / Artois / Flanders? Danny 'Bienvenue chez les cht'is' Boon at 71% Mind you, he is France's second most popular person at the mo', on the back of a rather successful film set in his neck of the woods. Apparently the dialect is well-nigh incomprehensible to even very good second language French speakers, so if it aired here, sub-titles would be de rigueur. Next up is Charles de Gaulle, (42%) born in Lille, but a man who preferred to get out of the region at the first opportunity. Other locals non-Gauls might have heard of are Franck Ribery (23%), who now plays for Bayern Munich..., Pierre Mauroy (22%) who looks to still be an inhabitant and Louis Blériot who was prepared to risk death to get away from the place.

Asked what symbolises the region, they lead with belfries (41%) - well, one appears on the regional logo - Moules-frites (35%) and their dialect (31%). 20% think the channel tunnel symbolises the place. Could you imagine the men and women of Kent giving a response like that?

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Great press releases of our time

From Pravda Central (UK):

H/L: "Stars come out for top award in financial investigation"

Sounds good, doesn't it?

And the first paragraph:

"Stars from the UK's financial investigation community gathered at the Arsenal Emirates Stadium in London today to celebrate the winners of the Keith Hughes Award for Excellence in Financial Investigation".

It does not report whether 'the stars' did a meet and greet, autographs etc.


Proof that fence sitting dulls the mind?

Those Gallic pollsters may have come demonstrated the truth of that thesis, as the Plain People of France were asked, 'You know that there is a currently a conflict in the Gaza Strip between the Israeli army and Hamas. In your opinion, is the Israeli government or Hamas principally responsible?'

I cannot say that I know anyone who does not have an opinion on it, but maybe I should get out less.

Anyway, the findings:

Note that Bayrou's Liberals are the most inclined to blame Hamas, and the Left the most inclined to blame Israel (oh quelle surprise). However, it is the appalling 31% of Gauls (including non-partisans) who either did not know or were actually unaware that there was a war on.

Credit again to Bayrou's fan club, as they were the most able to express an opinion albeit at a still pretty dreadful 80%. It is not as though they were asked the ontological question, is it?

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Culture vultures

Yet more from Hansard, this time on theft of artwork from the DCMS:

Mr. Maude: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport with reference to the answer to the hon. Member for Angus of 21 April 2008, Official Report, columns 1737-8W, on departmental property, what the (a) title and (b) Government Art Collection reference number was of the art work stolen from his Department in 2006".

I would have thought the name of the artist would be of more interest than the GAC number, but what do I know?

And the list, GAC numbers excised:

Paradox No. IV
Blackfriars from Southwark Bridge
Lower Wessex Lane, Summer
Lower Wessex Lane, Spring
Strand on the Green
Third day of Creation
Gondola III
Hall of Christ Church Hospital

A bit of sniffing around discloses that some of these works show up on the gac.culture website, and where they do they are hyperlinked above.

That the work titled Paradox IV neither shows in the inventory and has been swiped is particularly amusing. None of the paintings have any great wow factor to my mind, and if not exactly Athena level are hardly bleeding edge art either. Not that I am pointing a finger, the works in question all walked on the odious Jowell's watch, and moreover in the year when she and Mills decided to 'split'.

While I decidedly do not approve of theft, there is some comedy value in DCMS people stealing art. I do worry about the MoD though.

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Snow job to no job

I am in the PR racket, after a fashion, so at the risk of jeapardising any future job applications I make, I will point out this little nugget from Hansard:

Mr. Hurd: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how much the Meteorological Office has spent on (a) public affairs firms and consultants and (b) external public relations companies in the last five years; and on which firms the money was spent.

Kevan Jones (was spelling a struggle for his parents?) has come up with a table of figures, which boils down to around £27,000 in 2004, £1,250 in 2005 and thereafter nada for external PR. As Jones notes, "Payments to external public relations companies relate to the provision of general PR support and advice. The Met Office no longer uses external public relations companies for this purpose".

I am struggling to imagine the job of the PR bods - sidling up to strangers at parties and enthusing wildly about the Met Office? Answering phone calls from outraged members of the public who have been hailed upon despite the forecast being for 'scattered showers and sunny intervals'? Or maybe explaining in words of one syllable that the Met Office merely reports rather than makes the weather?

Whatever it was that the PR folk were doing, it cannot have been of much value if the Met Office was prepared to ditch them even in a time of flush budgets.


How the Bank of Scotland is getting back on track. Readers *will* approve

Monday, January 26, 2009
Dizzy having sent me a link to the electoral register's Labour Party loans and donations page, I spotted this little gem:

Bank of Scotland

Amount - £2,500
Date entered into - 01/10/2007
Interest rate - 13.9%
Repayment made - 01/08/2008

Other banks etc have lent at rates of around 6-7%, so I am delighted by the activities of those fine Caledonian bankers. I hope they will lend more to Labour at similar, or better still, far higher rates. Hey, it's for the good of the country too....

Meanwhile, I am glad that I do not have to be conflicted over Taggart's Alec Ferguson's donations to the Beast of Victoria Street.


Guess which country just loves chaos and disruption

Yup, in one. France.

Yet another poll of out Gallic chums, this one on attitudes to a forthcoming day of strikes, demos and general acting up which is slated for Thursday. Said strikes etc will affect transport, the post, schools and so forth, and is in protest against insecurity of employment (coming from the French public sector, 'that's rich' does not come close. Fonctionaires pretty well have jobs for life, short of murder or major fraud. I exaggerate only a little), purchasing power and what have you.

And how do the Plain People of France feel about this? They think it is a cracking idea - 46% actively support the planned protests, and a further 23% are sympathetic. A grand total of 12% oppose or are hostile. While la gauche (caviar or otherwise) is especially keen - 91% support or sympathise, so do some 41% of rightists.

The demographic breakdown shows women to be more militant - 49% support vs 42% of men. (Insert mental image of Delacroix's 'Liberty leading the people' here). Somewhat unexpectedly, the lowest level of support is among 18-24 year olds at 35%. The 75+ cohort is the most hostile at 11%. Among the other demographic oddities is the apparent 6% of Trots who are hostile. I can only assume this is because whichever rag they read has decided that this is ideologically unsound due to the participation of bourgeois elements or some such. Or, maybe the data is not entirely robust or respondents were being a tad situationist.

The nice people at CSA who conducted the poll have historic data on support for manifestations and the like, and previous highs have been 73% in April last year, 74% in October 2005, 82% in March 2004 and a positively mind-boggling 92% favouring a hospital strike in Jan 2000. At the other extreme, railway bods must have been quite hurt that only 32% supported their May '99 strike.

I hate to tell them that Sarko will not change one iota of policy in reaction to this, so they are wasting their time.

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Headline o' the day

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

"Manly mob rampages through Corso".

I suppose the opposite would be the drag queen element of the Stonewall riots.

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Ban Ki-Moon's super powers

Saturday, January 24, 2009
Apparently. As God is my witness, I am *not* making this up.

"[Film director] Mr. Sciora is showcasing the work of the United Nations in other ways, too. His non-governmental organization, United Media, has collaborated with Marvel Enterprises on a comic book about us that will be launched in September....Imagine how satisfying it must be for him to have made it possible for his favourite Marvel characters to tell the story of how the United Nations fights poverty, disease and conflict worldwide".

I look forward to the hapless Mr Ban appearing in a comic strip averring "My UN-senses are tingling" or "Its Peacekeeping time!". Presumably he gained his supperpowers from exposure to radiation of some sort, or swallowing an AA battery.

Script suggestions from anyone with a more detailed knowledge of the sayings of Marvel superheroes are welcome.

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Really rather good

Friday, January 23, 2009
As found by someone at B3ta:

I think catapult is a better word for the device meself, but then I lack Rufus Hussey's facility with a 'slingshot', so if he still walked the earth I wouldn't argue nomenclature.

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Fact o' the day

From the consistently informative Radio Netherlands site:

"During the Eighty Years' War (The Dutch Revolt 1568-1648) more Spanish soldiers died of syphilis than in battle".

Presumably they did not die with their boots on.

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TUC - it's all Fatcher's fault

Yes it is, apparently, and furthermore the evidence of hundreds of years of economic history is as nothing compared to what Brendan Barber thinks:

'This recession is not bad luck or an inevitable swing of the pendulum.

'Its cause is irresponsible behaviour by banks and financial institutions taking advantage of the deregulation started by Mrs Thatcher and President Reagan, and continued to a greater or lesser extent ever since".

So who on earth can he blame for pre-1979 recessions, depressions, slumps, economic meltdowns and so forth? Mind you, perhaps this is his backhanded way of handing the laurels to the Dynamic Duo for the growth in our economies since 1979 too....

Discussing BB's call for a public enquiry with Dizzy, he notes that Barber has already made his mind up but wants to throw lots of money at barristers to come to the same conclusion. He has the scope to be the Bar's greatest benefactor since Lord Saville. £179m and counting.

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Ethical foreign policies....

WorldPublicOpinion.org has had the imagination to come up with a more interesting than usual survey, this time polling the world, or rather parts of it, as to the morality or otherwise of the foreign policy of sundry nations:

Clicking should render the graphic a tad more visible, but for those who can't be bothered, Jordan gives itself top marks - 44% of Jordanians think it is light unto the nations and so forth. 40% of Indians feel the same way about sweet home Bharat Ganarajya (There's a really bad pun about Bharat Homes to be had there), and 39% of Azeris are pretty impressed with themselves. Shush, don't mention Armenia.

Meanwhile a certain country you would bump into if you rowed due south from the south coast of England gives itself the highest mark for hitting the golden mean - 66% of Gauls think its foreign policy is just as moral as the average. I am *not* making this up. Elsewhere, there is breast beating in Mexico, where 54% of Mexicans think its foreign policy is morally under par. Can't say any horrors of Mexican diplomacy leap out at me. The (South) Koreans might have been reading the daily denunciations from Pyongyang, as 42% think they are lacking an ethical foreign policy.

As to dear old Blighty, 17% of us think we are above average, 49% average and 23% below average. But what does the world think of us?

Our best friends are Kenya (memo to Obama...) with 53% thinking us ahead of the curve, and 31% of Nigerians think the same. It can't just be a question of hosing them down with aid / falling for 419 fraud etc, as the Taiwanese (44%) and South Koreans (39%) seem to like us too, lack of diplomatic relations with the former notwithstanding. And where should we send Miliband senior on a charm offensive? The PA Territories, where 57% give us an 'F', as do 36% of Jordanians.

Lots more of this sort of thing here.

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At last, a politician stands up for the free market

The altogether splendid, utterly sound and sadly missed José María Aznar López, former PM of Spain has been interviewed by Le Figaro, and here are my favourite bits:

"Doesn't the economic crisis signify the failure of the free market?

It is certainly not a failure of the free market, but a failure of the current mechanism of state regulation and intervention in a sector which is already highly regulated, the banking system. It is the same with politics - democracy is not discredited merely because a bad government has been elected.

What would you do to end the crisis?

We have an obligation to save the banks because without a sound financial system, there can be no stability. But economic reforms should be made. More flexibility and freedom in the economy, less taxation, less expenditure, more budgetary stability and less intervention of the State".

Shame he has retired from active politics, frankly. He would be very welcome in these parts to encourage a bit of sinew-stiffening. Just this once I will forgive him for sporting what appears to be a brigade of guards tie.

Some of the comments suggest that our Gallic chums would like him in their corner too.

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Suspiciously focused crime waves

From Hansard:

"Mr. Grieve: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice how many fines for the non-payment of penalty notices for disorder (PND) were registered by the courts in each of the last four years, broken down by (a) the offence for which the PND was issued and (b) how many fines were paid on time in full".

Straw was unable to give the breakdown sought, but the detail on PNDs that emerges is intriguing. Here are some examples:

Sale of alcohol to a drunken person -
2004 - 0,
2005 - 11,927
2006 - 9,
2007 - 9

Possession of an adult firework by an under 18 -
2004 - 7
2005 - 4,702
2006 - 21
2007 - 31

Theft (retail <£200) -
2004 - 1,128
2005 - 60
2006 -21,157
2007 - 24,344

Those are just the most extreme examples, but there are plenty more oddities in the table.

I am, broadly, in favour of police discretion, but the ebb and flow of figures for some of these offences is absurd.

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The highest rated inauguration ever

Thursday, January 22, 2009
Straight from Radar online, to which thanks are due:

"Given the outpouring of support, you'd think the ratings for the inauguration of President Barack Obama would have been the highest ever.

Not so! He's number 2: more people watched the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

Reagan was watched by 37.4 of American households vs. 29.2 for Obama. George Bush is the lowest on record, pulling roughly one-third that of Reagan".

Maybe Republicans were happier to be shot of Carter than Dems were to be shot of Bush the Younger...


"Decadence, narcissism, rampant drug use...lawlessness and death"

That is what Hollywood is exporting to the world, apparently, along with "extramarital sex leading to the spread of sexually-transmitted disease", but I decided that had to be excised from the headline for reasons of space. And furthermore, "The lack of morals and values in Hollywood culture has been destroying the fabric of American culture, particularly the family...Hollywood has also been accused of exporting the above-mentioned values overseas, thus negatively influencing other cultures, distorting the view of what Americans are, and inciting hatred from people of other nations".

Sez who? Conservapedia, the much mocked anti-wikipedia, with this quoted in an item at Zogby.com, which features the launch of Big Hollywood, "a group blog featuring hundreds of conservatives from the fields of politics, journalism, entertainment and culture". And for why? "to change the entertainment industry. To make Hollywood something we can believe in – again".

I cannot be bothered to get into a debate about the liberal values or otherwise of Hollywood, but suspect that the films made will reflect what they think will make money, and I also incline to think that art imitates life rather than vice versa.

"The article further claims that "Even the respected awards are often given to the most outlandish and gratuitously deplorable".

Respected awards? Might that be a synonym for the Oscars? I suspect as much, so time for a few facetious asides concerning some recent Best Picture Winners: ”

(Spoiler alert)

No country for old men - the title gives it away, and is clearly offensive to retirees.
The Departed - Bent cops. Shocking. There are none of those in real life.
Crash - Suggests that Angelenos suffer from anomie. I imagine they do, actually.
Million dollar baby - A woman boxing? Shouldn't she be at home?
Lord of the Rings III - There's a frightful lack of respect for authority going on there.
Gladiator - as above.

Feel free to add similar one line hatchet jobs.


Obama - the DPRK's take

From the usual place:

"Pyongyang, January 21 (KCNA) -- Barack Obama took office as the 44th president of the United States on Jan. 20.

The inauguration ceremony was held at the Capitol building that day.

He made an inaugural address there".

As an enthusiastic amateur Kumsusanologist, I note A - the lack of denunciation and B - the lack of congratulations, these normally being forthcoming when a new head of state assumes office.

So, perhaps the DPRK is prepared to give the new chap a crack of the whip before normal service is resumed.

Meanwhile, there are some freshly unveiled slogans with which the denizens of the DPRK might rend the air:

Let all of us turn out in the drive for implementing the tasks laid down in the joint editorial!

Let us bring about a new great revolutionary upswing on all fronts in the same spirit as displayed by the workers of Kangson!

Let us exalt the dignity and might of Songun Korea with the mental power of all the servicepersons and people!"

World, look at the spirit of Songun Korea!
(I like this one a lot)

Let us bring about collective innovations!

For independence, democracy and reunification!

Hate to break it to them, but the overuse of screamers is utterly passé.

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Why Liberals should seek repeal of the 1832 Reform Act

Inspired by an map of Parliamentary representation prior to the 1832 Reform Act (in my handy Atlas of Universal History (Philip & Son, 1953)) , I have been engaging in a little light number crunching.

Always supposing that voters in the pre'32 seats would divide in the same way that they did in 2005, and doing what one can with the odious 1972 dismembering of the historic counties, the LDs perform far better under the '32 arrangements, securing 80 English seats, compared to 46 in 2005. The Conservatives also fare rather better, winning 243 of the English seats, rather than 197 while Labour's tally drops from 265 to 160. The butchering of Scottish counties renders the task of sorting out Caledonia far too complicated, although I might have a crack at Wales and NI later.

2005's results look like this:
Where the LDs really lose out under current boundaries is Cornwall, as in the unreformed house Cornwall had 44 MPs, as opposed to the five it has now. Following the rules of the game I have concocted, the Libs would scoop all 44. Similarly, Wiltshire becomes a particularly seat-rich environment for the blue team, as that fine county had 34 MPs pre-32 to its six now. Looked at from the other perspective London/Westminster/Middx had 8 MPs, but now has 73, and Lancs/Cheshire/Merseyside/Gtr Manchester drops from 70 to 18.

Thoughts, additions etc in the spirit of the exercise are welcome.

Commentator James D has been kind enough to do a number on Wales, for which thanks:

"Wales would be interesting. Although it's a bit hard to separate the boroughs out from the counties, it would have been something like:

Plaid Cymru 12
Liberal Democrats 11
Labour 10
Conservative 4

I bet Plaid and the Liberals could have ganged up to cause a nice little constitutional crisis there. There might even have been splinter groups of Liberal Unionists and the like".


Blighter o' the day

Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Readers may wish to substitute a stronger word...

From Lords Hansard, I bring you this exchange:

"Lord Avebury: To ask Her Majesty's Government what discussions the Department of Health has had with HM Treasury and other departments on the impact on consumption of measures to ensure that alcohol duty increases are passed on to consumers in full".

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): Increases in alcohol duty are a matter for Her Majesty's Treasury".

Thanks a whole bunch Lord Avebury. His lordship is a hereditary (4th) and a Liberal Democrat, and ought to be ashamed of himself. His rechabite tendencies might be owed to his Buddhism, as apparently the Buddha enjoined his followers to abjure intoxicants.

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Parliamentarians gone wild

A video from, of all places, the French National Assembly:

Socialists, unhappy about reform of article 13 of the Constitution (Presidential powers, by the look of things) etc etc decided to make a scene, and at round about 4 minutes in, can be heard giving a rather spirited rendition of the Marseillaise, having tired of chanting 'democracy, democracy' and milling around in front of the presiding officer.

Not though I approve of deputies acting up, it is quite moving that the protesters chose the national anthem as a vehicle of protest. Unless our parliament was attempting to scrap the monarchy, a protest rendition of GSTQ would be rather silly, frankly.

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Bureaucracy - how it works

Remember David Blunkett? Presumably folk will, but he left the government in November 2005. He continued to enjoy accommodation in Belgravia at our expense for a further four and a half months. Blunkett himself is not the story here, but rather the security arrangements, to which as Home Secretary 2001-2004 he was undoubtedly entitled.

Soo, Blunkett lived in South Eaton Place in Belgravia, well outside the Whitehall / Westminster 'green zone', with various inconveniences to drivers, pedestrians common to both.

Fast forward to February 2008: "In February 2008, Westminster city council submitted an application to the Department for Transport to have the Whitehall security zone reduced to Whitehall and the streets leading from it".

And just under a year later, this: "The Metropolitan Police Service have now agreed with Westminster's application to reduce the security zone. When the Department receives a formal request to amend the Greater London Highways and Road Traffic (Various Provisions) Order 2000 it will do so".

Being really unkind I could argue that security arrangements, parking restrictions should have been lifted in December 2004 when Blunkett left the Home Office - just over four years ago. I am not going to be quite so small-minded, so instead I will take Blunkett's leaving Eaton Place as my starting point - March 2006. Even with this more generous stance, nigh on three years later the combined forces of Westminster Council, the Met and central government have still not managed to sign it off and change a couple of parking signs.

Well done people.


The government's social housing policies - *another* triumph

From Hansard:

Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what assessment she has made of trends in the number of families on council house waiting lists since 1997; and if she will make a statement.

Mr. Iain Wright: Our latest figures show 1.67 million households registered on local authority waiting lists in England in April 2007 compared to 1.02 million in April 1997.

So that's a hike of two-thirds then.

Admittedly it is councils that deliver social housing rather than central government, but an increase of nigh on 66% during its term in office is something of an indictment, whether viewed in terms of failure to meet demand, or that it is making subsidised housing more appealing than paying one's own way.


Getting your excuses in early

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Or 'It's a fair cop, but society is to blame' or 'hose everything down with taxpayers' money'.

This from the NASUWT, generally regarded as the more moderate of the main teaching unions, (formerly headed by Nigel De Gruchy, famous for his 'so draconian it would shame Dracula' gaffe of many years ago):

  • school staff felt that living in run-down areas encourages pupils to carry out minor crimes, such as vandalism and graffiti;
  • substandard housing, a lack of play areas and insecure school sites were all felt to have a negative impact on pupil behaviour and achievement;
  • areas with low quality housing tend to have highly transient populations, which has a negative impact on schools’ ability to meet education standards and promote positive pupil behaviour. It can also lead to demotivation among teaching staff and high staff turnover;
  • schools in deprived areas are under pressure to play a larger role in the community by hosting services and facilities for families. This can detract from teaching and stretch schools’ capacity;
Or in other words, it does not matter how much more money is thrown at education unless a Socialist New Jerusalem is built at the same time. Funny how pupils in the undeveloped world seem to behave and learn when the only teaching tools at a teacher's command are a blackboard and a stick of chalk.

Anyway, nothing like sticking to one's knitting, is there?

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Experts - doncha just love 'em?

In this case, Dutch scientists, who have discovered something truly remarkable:

"Lighting experts are worried about the disappearance of the incandescent bulb. They fear that other light sources, such as the compact fluorescent lights (CFL) and light emitting diodes (LED) will deliver a far inferior quality of light. Amongst other disadvantages, these give a less natural reproduction of colours. That has repercussions for households, but also for hospitals, museums and theaters, say technicians and museum specialists. They call the ban on the incandescent light bulb an example of unwanted patronising by the government".

Having moved into a property where the ecofascists have insisted on sockets that will only accept rubbishy CFL bulbs, ghastly CFL lighting enrages me on multiple occasions daily. Try illuminating a room with one of the gottverdommern things, let alone reading without a light within an arm's length.

And this why LED bulbs are rubbish: "The colour-rendering index of an incandescent bulb rates a 100, just like the sun. Yet LED or fluorescent tubes and bulbs only merit between 80 and 90".

And an expert user: "Hans Wolff, a lighting designer for museums, hospitals and other institutions, worries about the developments: "I will be hoarding the incandescent bulbs and I'd advise others to do likewise."

I've moaned about this before, by the way.

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Obama: the American Ségolène Royal.

Or so the lady herself would have it:

"Barack Obama's team spent two days at [my HQ] during my campaign. They adapted my method to the the American system".

As Libération puts it, 'it is easy to mock'. Just *a bit*.

In fairness, she caveats a little concerning the scale of things, although in Le Monde she goes further - "Yes, I inspired Obama and his team copied us”. I do not expect a namecheck for La Royal in his speech and Swedish bookmaker Betsson has the odds for words Obama will use in his inauguration speech (United States - 1.01, God Bless America 1.05, United Kingdom - 35.0, banana - 800.0, a four letter word beginning with F followed by off - 1000.0 etc etc), and there appears to be no market in 'France', 'Ségolène Royal', 'Desirs d'Avenir' etc etc. Maybe I should take this as insider knowledge and dive in and clean up?

Still, she has made some decidedly odd pronouncements in the past, so this is just another day at the office for the soi-disant Joan of Arc of Poitiers.

If nothing else, she continues to add to the gaiety of this nation as well as of her own, and I trust she will be providing me with amusement for many years to come, although I hope never from any position of power greater than that of the Presidency of Poitou-Charente.

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2700 years of congestion charging

Note, if you will, this Parliamentary exchange yesterday:

"Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will extend the boundary for exemption from the Dartford Crossing toll...

Paul Clark: The purpose of the charge at the Dartford crossing is to tackle congestion..".


The Dartford tunnel as was has been around since 1963, and to my knowledge has always charged, so we can take 'London' congestion charging back 45 years. Given that other bridges in these parts charged prior to 1963 we can then go back the Bridges Act of 1530, make that 478 years. And if bridges, why not toll roads, the earliest ones apparently being those of the Assyrians. Well, chariots build up at rush hour could be frightful. That gives us 2700 years.

Mr Clark should be utterly ashamed of himself, as if it looks like 'take it or leave it' pricing, quacks like 'take it or leave it' pricing etc, then assuredly that is what it is, whatever damn fool name Clarke wishes to give it.

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The free economy, French style

Monday, January 19, 2009
I've long found French right-wingery a curious beast, but how about this:

"While Nicolas Sarkozy asks French bankers to give up their bonuses in exchange of the State aid, the UMP has announced that it will name and shame any recalcitrant bankers".

Two grand fromages at BNP-Paribas have foregone bonuses of €875,000 and €2,270,000 this year, which must have hurt. If French bankers spouses are anything like those in The Telegraph's Alex strip, they can look forward to divorces, or at least an outbreak of shoe-throwing to go along with their acts of masochism / solidarity / patriotism / insanity or whatever. Maybe legions d'honneur will be forthcoming.

Soc Gen and Crédit Patate Agricole bods have already told Sarko where to get off. I believe Geneva is nice this time of year....

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As if the British pensions system wasn't stuffed already

then the TUC and a group of bien pensants want to complete the taxidermy.

"The TUC, MPs and leading figures from the pensions and investment industry (none of whom are exactly householf names, I might note) are today urging the Government, institutional investors and fund managers to back a series of proposals on responsible investment to help address the practices that contributed to the current financial crisis".

And how do they propose to do this?

"The statement calls for pension funds to insert a 'do no harm' clause into their statement of investment principles".


"The statement also calls on institutional investors to sign up to the United Nations- backed Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI). The principles set out commitments for investors on engagement around corporate governance, environmental and social performance".

This is part of the gloss at the PRI site: "We also recognise that applying these Principles may better align investors with broader objectives of society".

And who, I wonder, defines those? They could not possibly be modish left wing causes, could they? Signatories from these parts include the BBC pension fund, Haringey and Merseyside councils and Co-Op financial services. Draw your own conclusions, I know what mine are.

If memory serves, some time back a comparison was drawn between a theoretical 'unethical' portfolio of shares in arms manufacturers, alcohol and tobacco barons etc and a portfolio of 'ethical' companies - mung bean vendors, health food stores and so forth, and the former kicked backsides and took names.

I consider the duty of my pension provider to focus on maximising my retirement fund, and so long as what they do is legal, I do not care how they go about it.

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Your chance to vote in Israeli elections

Sunday, January 18, 2009
Well, ish. It is another one of those nifty 'how should I vote?' Electoral Compasses, care of those nice people at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

And my results:
Unsurprisingly, it thinks I should vote for the Likud, which is what I would do anyway. Can't say I spend a huge amount of time doing the test, so on another day I might come out more hawkish.

Folk who like this sort of thing can also try out compasses for the Belgian election in 2007, the US Presidential election, etc and the all important Dutch water board election of 2008. Enjoy.

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Just what every worker wants - students getting in the way

Saturday, January 17, 2009
As if the helots toiling in the DPRK's power stations had not suffered enough already:

"Students of the DPRK are doing their bit in seething realities (sic) during the vacation in response to the call of the joint New Year editorial. A lot of students have been visiting the Pyongyang Thermal-power Complex....They brought home to the power producers there the content of the editorial and the letter sent by the workers of Kangson to the working people across the country. They gave sincere labor and material assistance to the workers. Their forceful political work and labor assistance raised the morale of the workers so as to increase the power production from the first shift of the year".

More likely it irritated the toiling masses beyond measure and provided a mess to clear up. With any luck, they were despatched to hunt out striped paint, a long stand etc etc.

And there's more:

"Meanwhile students of Pyongyang Jang Chol Gu University [et al] found themselves on socialist co-op farms where they helped agricultural working people in farming preparation of the year. They carried a vast amount of manure to fields together with peasants and explained in a profound way during breaks the content of the joint editorial calling for concentrating all efforts on hitting this year's target of grain production with the extraordinary determination to solve food problem by the Korean people's efforts in any circumstances to cope with the world-wide food crisis".

There you are having a fag, a cup of tea and a peer at the sports pages and some spotty student starts ranting at you. Sounds like hell on earth.

Meanwhile, and rather late in the day, here is a link
'Communist Christmas' by those wags at rathergood.com.

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Navel-gazing survey o' the day

Friday, January 16, 2009
From France. Obviously.

The Ministry of Housing has been fretting about what unites the French, and the results are in:

Not a wholly outrageous set of answers, although our Gallic chums were choosing from a list. They were then asked which of the three Republican Values they felt France needed more of, and it was equality. I would have opted for liberty, but it split 39% for Equality and 30% apiece for Freedom and Brotherhood. Less than 100 as France has its mouth breathers too.

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And now the undead roam the land

As if we didn't have enough trouble already.

Furthermore, the government would seem to be seeking at a third way in dealing with them, as Pravda Central (UK division) says the government wants us to avoid 'Unnecessary staking' in cemeteries. Perhaps lining tombs with the Host, brandishing crucifixes and sporting lots of garlic will do the trick (Yes, I've watched far too many Hammer Horror films)

Yes, really. Here's the tale.

OK, it is really about propping up tombstones and so forth, but it was just crying out for an outbreak of facetiousness.

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Pravda predicts martial law in the UK in 2009

Yes it does:

"The economic collapse in the UK will continue a foot with the US. Rights of the citizens will continue to be usurped by the state and all pretenses of civil rights will disappear after the Islamics in the city center start to agitate and push out through direct violence all remaining British nationals....Once the majority starts leaning to the hard right and violence starts to break out..the UK government will drop all pretenses of the citizens rights and clamp down with martial law".

Nope, can't see that happening.

And elsewhere:

"Demonstrations, riots and looting will break out in various sections of the [USA] hardest hit by the collapsing economy. The government, which in the US has a history of using draconian tactics once violence starts...will lead to casualties and an escalation of tensions. The US army's North America command will be called in to affect areas, forcing martial law and gun confiscations".

Or that.

"Mexico will face complete collapse as a nation"


"France will have early elections and will take a hard left turn"

They would be daft enough to do that, but they will not.

"As its economy collapses, Poland will become even more of a puppet for the US regime"

Pravda doesn't like Russia's near neighbours much.

"Look for total economic collapse from the Baltics"

See above.

"For the Balkans as general, look for war in 2009"

Possible I suppose.

"Israel will face a protracted series of wars on its borders, primarily in Lebanon and Egypt's Sinai and Gaza"

Also possible.

With a continued economic down turn, Iran will be rocked by riots

Possible too.

It isn't all pestilence, war, famine and death, however: "Spain will have elections and a center right government will win".

I like that one. A lot.

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Clerihew time

Thursday, January 15, 2009
Nick having kicked it off with this in the comments to another post:

"Kim Jong-Un
is obviously a wrong 'un
Could he ever really fill
the boots of Kim Jong-Il ?"

Anyway, I counter with -

Won't dance the haka
More's the pity
For Manchester City

I do not doubt that the witty and inventive folk who show up here can better my opening effort.


Just a quick one for the 'boycott Israel' mob

'nuff said.

Or maybe not:

And shunning Jaffa oranges and Carmel avocados won't hurt the man on the Tel Aviv bus much - agriculture accounts for less than 3% (figures vary) of Israeli GDP.

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Bizarre survey finding o' the day

Eurobarometer is back. Hurrah!

Only it would think it a good idea to ask this question:

"[What] would most strengthen your feeling about being a European citizen?"

And a list of rather odd possibilities is given, and the leading answer (39%) is 'A European social welfare system harmonised between the Member States (health, pensions, etc.)'. Couldn't possibly be a bit of push polling going on, could there? Heaven forfend...

Other popular options are "A community action service to fight European and international natural disasters" (24%) (I've mocked euro Thunderbirds before) and "A President of the EU directly elected by Member State citizens" (20%).

A rum business all together.

In an amusing development, it looks as though persons unknown have been touring Europe stirring up apathy, as interest in the Euro Elections has fallen two points from the last survey. EB will continue to use disinterest as the antonym of interest, a usage that never fails to enrage.

Rather disgustingly, only a pitiful 34% of EU voters declare that they will definitely vote in June. The United Kingdom's electorate disgraces itself with a derisory 18% certain to vote. Mind you, the Portuguese have obviously forgotten Salazar, as only 8% of them will definitely vote. Belgium leads with a still contemptible 55%, although voting is (or certainly was in 2008) compulsory. EU-wide turn out in 2004 was 46%, apparently. We managed 38.2%.

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Sticking a fork in Gordon Brown

For reasons not worth going into, I was doing an image search on our beloved PM, and look what came up:
I am not a fan, but eating people is wrong....

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An utterly bizarre crimewave

From the GLA:

"Violent attacks against betting shop employees in London increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2007".

Hard figures are not given, so it might have been a rise from five to seven for all I know. Not good, however.


Brown - The DPRK connection

I am grateful to Dizzy for pointing this out, having missed it yesterday:

"Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development how much aid the Government has provided to North Korea in each of the last 10 years; how much is planned to be provided; and what the (a) purpose and (b) nature of this aid is".

The answer is not 'not one brass farthing', but little short of £37 million. So much for the DPRK's Juche policy, and one has to wonder quite how odious a regime has to be for this rabble to get a fit of the vapours and turn off the tap. Perhaps Pyongyang provided Brown with some of his dimmer policy ideas as a quid pro quo.

Elsewhere, it is from Le Monde rather than the KCNA that I discover who is the heir apparent to the Kim Dynasty: Kim Jong-Un, the 24 year old third son of KJI, who has presumably earned the undying enmity of big brothers Jong-Nam and Jong-Chul.

There are some curious definitions for Jong over at the Urban Dictionary site, by the way. These include a term of abuse used by skiers and a type of pizza.

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Scotland's classy Labour MSPs

From The Scotsman:

"Bill Butler, the Labour MSP for Glasgow Anniesland and a former candidate for deputy leader, listed the £1 claim as a "carer fund donation".

"The list of rejected claims included attempts to claw back money for Christmas cards, plants and satellite navigation kits. Another senior Labour MSP, Malcolm Chisholm, tried and failed to get £3 back for a charge on a pay-as-you-go smart card"

I think this is the best one though:

"Some have got away with strange claims. In 2007 Lib Dem MSP Jamie Stone was able to get 42p back for a pint of milk".

On the subject of elected Scots, there may well be a tale involving some rather poor behaviour by an MP from Scotland's east blogged later.


How to turn a recession into a depression, pt II

Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Unheeded by most, Tony Woodley of the T&G Unite is still crying in the wilderness, and what a plan he has got:

"Our priority must be using that public money to save jobs and skills, not to fund redundancy".

By public money, he means money extorted from the productive parts of the economy, I think.

"We desperately need to see creative, strategic action to save jobs, such as job sharing and reduced hours in industries where demand has plummeted because of the crisis, with pay losses made up by the state".

That will be cheap, won't it?

"First of all, I want to see a properly-funded strategic plan for manufacturing, of the sort that is operating in France, Spain and Germany. This must be backed by a readiness to take control in sectors vital for the future of a high-skill high-tech industrial base"

Sounds like a scary combination of the 'commanding heights' and 'the white hot heat of the technological revolution', as 'orrible 'Arold had it. At least some of the people who gave us Concorde, British Leyland and pubs in Carlisle had some experience of commerce. I hate to think what great business operating decisions a selection of ex policy wonks and lawyers would come up with.

"We therefore urgently need targeted assistance for manufacturing".

Bring out your lame ducks. Intriguing that manufacturing is considered worthy of being hosed down with money, whereas other areas of work are not. Maybe they lack the dignity of labour...

"It should redirect money from the useless bankers and instead set up a national, state-owned people's bank - one that puts people, communities and our economy before profits for shareholders".

Just wait till The Man has instant access to your bank records as well as other private data. Scared? You should be. Doubtless the Apparat will make many excellent lending decisions based on moral character rather than creditworthiness. At the risk of jumping on a pseudo meme, 'Atlas Shrugged' is looking more like a work of economic history (bar the feeling of being hectored through a megaphone for hours on end) every day.

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Overplaying one's hand, DPRK-style

Just a quick one:

"If the nuclear issue is to be settled, leaving the hostile relations as they are, all nuclear weapons states should meet and realize the simultaneous nuclear disarmament. This is the only option".

And that is really going to happen, isn't it?

Oh hang it, another one:

The turning of the wheels of justice in Pyongyang:

"A suspected Japanese drug smuggler departed from the DPRK after being held in custody here....Yoshiaki Sawada...who had been held in custody in the DPRK since October 2003 for attempting to smuggle drug[s]...the DPRK treated him in a humanitarian manner and leniently dealt with his case, taking his wish to go back home and health condition and so on into consideration".

Five years in the Pyongyang Big House. I hate to think what a non-humanitarian manner and severity would entail.

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Lord Tebbit asks the question we would all like an answer to

From Lords Hansard:

"To ask Her Majesty's Government how they define “spending” and “investment” in relation to public expenditure".

And this is what Lord Myners had to say:

"Public sector current expenditure: is the sum of the current expenditure of general government and certain distributive transactions (interest and rent) paid by public corporations to the private sector and abroad" etc


"Public sector net investment is all public sector capital expenditure less an amount representing all public sector depreciation".

I would like to see someone attempting to trip up the PM with that one, as by Treasury definition, non-capital expenditure is not investment, is it? I am not holding my breath.


Coming next - an IMF bailout?

That's what some of our Hibernian neighbours are concerned about:

"The Taoiseach Brian Cowen has endorsed the warning of a senior trade union official that the State's borrowing figures are unsustainable and could possibly lead to the International Monetary Fund ordering mass dismissals of public sector workers in the future...Mr Murphy wrote to branch secretaries of his union warning that the IMF might take action if public borrowing was not curtailed. He said that the public deficit could reach €15.5 billion by 2011 unless changes were made in the tax regime and in public sector spending. If the IMF were to intervene, wrote Mr Murphy, it could lead to mass dismissals being forced upon the public service. He emphasised the need for a solution to the current serious situation".

Statistics UK, always supposing I can believe them, show a public sector deficit of £39.4 billion between April and November last year and a public sector net debt of 44.2% of GDP.

Back of an envelope calculations make our PSD around 50 billion euros, and our GDP is around 10 times that of Erin. If our PSD grows at the same rate as that of the Republic, we will have a PSD of 61 billion euros by 2011.

That seventies revival is looking more lifelike by the day.

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Great press releases of our time

You don't have to do much to merit a headline in a press release from City Hall, by the look of things.

Our man Boris (for whom three cheers) has given his support to a laudable scheme to pass on unused musical instruments to schoolchildren. So much for the boilerplate approving text, now for some mockery:

"Sting donates bass guitar to campaign to increase music education"

Yup, that's the headline. Not the bass he wrote song X on, or one with any particular resonance, but 'a' bass guitar.

Sez Boris: "I'd like every kid in the capital to play an instrument and the prospect of learning on one owned by a superstar like Sting must be absolutely thrilling".

Thrilling? Unlikely, none of them will have heard of him. Let us say that the instrument will go to an 11 year old, born in 1997. That child would have been -2 the last time that Sting graced the top ten. I know I could not whistle 'When we dance', and I don't expect many of my readers could either. Heading back to his heyday at the turn of the 80s, that is probably when most of the parents of the budding musicians were small children. Still, perhaps if Chloe and Jack ask their grandparents, maybe they will explain why they should be thrilled.


What the people who know think of Brown's borrowing binge

Tuesday, January 13, 2009
These being the folk behind the World Economic Forum's (The Davos boys and girls) 'Global Risks 2009' report, penned in collaboration by Swiss Re, MMC and Citigroup, inter alia:

"The US, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain and Australia are all already running high deficits. Massive government spending in support of financial institutions and growth are threatening to worsen fiscal positions that are already precarious in many countries".

Much more here, including some graphics that risk sparking epilepsy.


The TUC makes the bed for Procrustes. Same linen though.

If our delightful PM will make class war dog whistles to his pay masters, this kind of thing is not to be unexpected, is it?:

"'But evidence shows that social mobility is greatest in societies with low levels of income inequality. For everyone to have an equal chance of success there needs to be a much smaller gap between rich and poor in the first place".

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Headline o' the day

This is good:

"Swedish cows make lousy earthquake detectors: study"

More here, but the pay off line is a winner:

"One can probably say that, as a species, cows are not the world’s most earthquake-sensitive animals”.

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At last, PROOF of declining educational standards

Straight from Hansard, figures for Key Stage 2 (that's 7-11 year olds) English and Maths:

"The National Assessment Agency (NAA) is responsible for administering National Curriculum tests. The NAA has provided the following table of marks required in Key Stage 2 English and mathematics tests to achieve Level 4 and 5. NAA uses a range of statistical and judgmental procedures to ensure that the standards of performance required for the award of each level are maintained consistently from year to year".

English KS2 L 4 English KS2 L 5 Maths KS2 L4 Maths KS2 L5
1999 48 39 52 80
2006 43 37 46 78
2007 43 37 46 79
2008 43 37 45 78

Apologies for the less than beautiful formatting.

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