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Headline o' the day

Saturday, February 28, 2009
Or only in Pyongyang:

"4th National Meeting of Agitators Closes"

Further comment would be otiose.

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Let them eat...


This, care of Komsomolskaya Pravda via The Moscow News:

"People should ditch kolbasa and fizzy drinks and turn back to homely foods such as kefir and cabbage to beat the crisis, Russia's chief doctor said in a new report".

I've looked up kefir - fermented milk, and kolbasa - a type of sausage, so readers will not have to.

If the Woolton Pie is going to make a comeback in these parts, I think the Government will have to sack Alan Johnson at Health and bring in someone rather more patronising. Stand up Patricia 'very, very regular bowel movements' Hewitt - cometh the hour, cometh the woman.

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Something in his Trill?

Borrowed from the b3ta newsletter:

I prefer 'What'd I say' or 'Hit the road Jack' meself, but the bird has taste.


Encouraging signs from Germany

Friday, February 27, 2009
Tempting though it is to think that the CDU-CSU / FDP / SPD split in Germany equates to Tory / LibDem / Labour split in these parts, things are a tad more complex, even if all three sets of twins belong to the 'correct' international groupings.

Anyway, Der Spiegel has noted the acceleration in support for the Free Democrats, up to 18% in the polls now, having barely scraped into double figures for some time. And why is this good news? Because the FDP are the nearest thing to a party properly committed to a free market economy on the other side of the Rhine:

"The party ultimately decided to sign on to the €50 billion stimulus package last week. But even as it changed course, the liberals managed to fill the headlines with its anti-tax, pro-markets message -- the same one it has been delivering for years. Indeed, say analysts, it is the party's consistency which may now be boosting its image. While the political course being charted by both Merkel's CDU and by her coalition partners from the Social Democrats (SPD) have been varying widely as the government attempts to come to terms with the financial and economic crises, FDP leader Guido Westerwelle hasn't had to budge...."There is a growing feeling that there is a lack of competence on the economy in the CDU," [Professor] Herz says. "In these times of economic crisis, the CDU has moved left, meaning that many market liberals in the party have moved over to the FDP."

Further, the successors in title to the DDR's ruling party / Lafontaine's lot (Die Linke) are making no headway at all.

So, encouraging stuff, and should they go into coalition with the CDU after the election in September I trust they will give it some backbone. Mind you, I think they win the prize for the most ill-thought out slogan in history - "Partei der Besserverdienenden" ("Party of the better-earning people"), which the party had coined in a draft manifesto for the 1994 federal elections".

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Quote o' the day

"London was founded by a bunch of pushy Italian immigrants and we're... grateful to the Romans for what they did."

It could only be Boris.

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What really divides the French Left

Keeping up with the splits in the French Left is pretty well a full-time job, but courtesy of a poll by CSA for Le Parisien, I believe I can divine clear red water, as the tastes of the far left and the near left in thespians are really quite distinct.

Firstly, actresses.

Top of the heap for the Plain People of France is Sophie Marceau, most noted in these parts for 'Braveheart'. Fully 51% of Gauls like her best, as do 59% of the extreme left, but only 44% of Socialists. The only overtly political thing she appears to have done is to refuse to share a TV studio with Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Staying with actresses the average Briton is in with a sporting chance of having heard of, Catherine Deneuve is not especially divisive, whereas Liberals have a bit of a thing for Monica Bellucci - 35% vs the average of 26%. Socialists do not rate her - 15%. She seems pretty apolitical bar being upset about the Italian ban on sperm donations. Emmanuelle Beart (23%), notable for Manon des Sources, rouses the far left (27%) and the Gaullists (28%). She has a track record of leftish activism, but the Liberals (19%) are unimpressed.

Heading onto more purely French phenomena, Greens just love the unfortunately named Catherine Frot, at 37% to the national average of 23%, and Liberals have a thing for Cecile de France at 26% to 17%. She's une Belge, so I think the poll is cheating.

As to male board creepers, Dany Boon reigns supreme, courtesy of 'Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis' (see multiple passim) at 54%, but he is not flavour of the month with the far left - 45%, but very popular with Greens at 60%. Gaullists are fond of Depardieu at 38% to the national average of 29% but he seems to have upset the Liberals - 15%. Greens have it in for Daniel Auteuil at 14% to 26%. I can't find any references to his idea of fun being to fly tip toxic waste, but who knows?

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Those Northern Ireland Inquiries - it is not just the lawyers coining it

That lawyers have done very nicely out of their fees for the Saville Inquiry (£98M and counting) is a matter of record, but Owen Paterson, our man in Shropshire North has wheedled out the IT costs - equipment and consultants - for Saville and lesser known inquiries too, and it ain't pretty:

Of the less well known inquiries - all involving dead people, Nelson was a Republican-friendly lawyer, Robert Hamill a civilian and Billy Wright a Loyalist paramilitary. That the costs of the Nelson Inquiry are so lawyer-heavy is doubtless what she would have wanted.

Taking the inquiry with the lowest IT cost, Hamill's at the bagatelle of £4.2m, one gets a worthy looking website, but what else is uncertain. Anyone with IT project management experience who can contextualise costs would win my undying gratitude.

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Great logos of our time

Recognise this?:

Probably not, but it is the exciting new logo of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Some will recall the Department of Energy, extant 1974-1992 but done away with when gas and electricity were privatised (hurrah).

Anyway, before revealing the cost, I will have a go at reading the semiotics of the logo. Firstly - it is blue, which presumably is supposed to evoke the sky and sea, but is also reckoned to be a calming colour. It slants to the right, this representing change, or if you prefer, progress. Look out for this angle in commercial art. It was very popular for cigarette pack shots when they were still advertised. I believe it is also reckoned aspirational. The quadrant in the lower left is presumably the planet, although the lack of landmass is a bit alarming.

I cannot put a name to the font, but block capitals suggests shouting, as E&CC is 'urgent'. And now for the ohmygosh really clever bit - climate and change have no separator space, but 'change' is outside the confines of the logo box. As in thinking outside the box and changing the world etc etc.

Anyway, sold to Milliband minor for "£38,931 on logo design and associated costs". Stationery was a further £19,226.

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Looking on the bright side, Balkan-style

Thursday, February 26, 2009
Largely unheeded in these parts, all is not entirely rosy in the Western Balkans, as the Gallup Balkan Monitor makes clear:

"Looking at the next five years, do you think there is a chance that there will be
an armed conflict somewhere in the Balkans?"

Certainly / probably

Macedonia - 29%
Montenegro - 15%
Serbia - 22%
Kosovo - 10%
Bosnia Herzegovina - 11%
Albania - 12%
Croatia - 13%

Meanwhile, do not count on Croatia being the 28th member of the EU, the faintly ridiculous border spat with Slovenia notwithstanding, as only 29% think it would be a good thing, compared to 26% who think it bad and the 38% with mixed feelings.

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Asking for trouble. In a fairly substantial way

From Lords Hansard:

"Baroness Warsi: To ask Her Majesty's Government which religions and faiths are officially recognised by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): The Equality and Human Rights Commission recognises all religions and faiths".

Hmm. Let us say that I decide to subscribe to the First Presleytarian Church of Elvis the Divine or define myself as a Jedi Knight, should I then be able to avail myself of the full panoply of protections etc under equality law? Equally well, should the same apply to any ethical / moral system that I cook up which owes nothing to the divine?

Could it be that Baroness Royall just gave Warsi a pat answer rather than go through a list, with no thought for what she was letting herself in for? Her religious, or other, affiliation has not been revealed by Google.

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TUC calls for command and control economy

Or our old friend 'Socialism via the back door'. Herewith some choice quotes from its press release on 'Unlocking green enterprise: A Low Carbon Strategy for the UK Economy'.

The use of the word 'enterprise' is a particularly nice touch.

"One of the current barriers to unlocking green enterprise in the UK, says the TUC, is down to the current cost of goods and services not reflecting their actual impact on the environment, leaving companies with little incentive to introduce costlier, greener alternatives. This in turn makes it less likely than firms will invest in new green products and keeps consumer demand low. All of which underlines the need for Government action now to ensure the future success of the UK economy".

Or in other words, because people do not make the 'right' decisions, they must be compelled to do so by the state.

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A thousand years ago...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Actually, a few months ago:

"Some people have been asking why I haven't served my children up for spreads in the papers.

And my answer is simple

My children aren't props; they're people"

Gordon Brown, at the Labour party conference, October 2008.

"A tiny minority of extremists"

Judge for yourself from this polling by Pew Global:

Attacks on civilians in the US:

Approved by 8% of Egyptians, 5% of Indonesians, 9% of Pakistanis, 7% of Moroccans, 24% of people in the Palestinian territories, 11% of Jordanians, 8% of Turks and 4% of Azeris. Or round about 52 million supporters, based on quick 'n' dirty calculations.

Attacks on US civilians in Islamic countries:

Approved by 7% of Egyptians, 6% of Indonesians, 12% of Pakistanis, 7% of Moroccans, 30% of people in the Palestinian territories, 15% of Jordanians, 10% of Turks and 7% of Azeris.

If the US were to withdraw its military force from Iraq do you think the likelihood that al Qaeda would commit attacks against civilians inside the US would increase, remain unchanged, decrease:

Increase / unchanged - Egyptians 19%, Indonesians 12%, people in the Palestinian territories 48%, Jordanians 32%, Turks 31% and Azeris 44%.

There's much more of the same at the Pew Global site, and it is just as encouraging....

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The new map of France

Provisionally, until the squawking reaches a crescendo.

The Balladur (1) committee has come up with a reworking of the French regions, and care of those nice people at Libé, here it is:

I blogged early thoughts on the matter last year, and I think I am going to give Balladur a C+. I approve strongly of returning Loire Atlantique to the bosom of Brittany, and uniting the Alsatian départements and uniting the two Normadies seems sensible enough too.

On the minus side, Poitou Charente has a better claim to existence than the utterly ersatz Pay de la Loire, although I still have not forgiven the Poitou Charantais for slaughtering my Huguenot forbears. Given that Poitou Charente is Ségolène Royal's fiefdom, I imagine she will be livid. It also seem a little raw on the Auvergne that it is added into Rhones Alpes while the smaller (population and size) Limousin retains an independent existence. Can't say I feel particularly strongly one way or the other about Picardy.

(1) The French for walkman is 'baladeur', so I always visualise him wearing headphones. However, hats of to him for continuing to be active in public life at the age of 79.

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Rock stars, is there anything they don't know? Part 73

The Davos boys and girls, or as they prefer to be called, the World Economic Forum, has been crowning this year's crop of Young Global Leaders, 'for their professional accomplishments, commitment to society and potential to contribute to shaping the future of the world'.


They did this last year and crowned Milliband minor, Zac Goldsmith and Elisabeth Murdoch.

And what have we got this year? Sundry business bods, the editor of the Daily Telegraph (could we have Charles Moore back, please?) etc etc and not exactly thrilling.

However, we also have Chris 'I'm married to Gwyneth Paltrow' Martin of popular beat combo Coldplay. Not really my thing, and having checked my man with his finger on the pulse of what is or is not cool, they are apparently far from it. I am slightly hesitant about being over mean to a fellow UCL alum, but Martin's leadership credentials appear to boil down to liking Democratic candidates for the US presidency and having limited understanding of free trade.

Other honourees include Michael Schumacher, Tiger Woods and Sachin Tendulkar, so the list is beginning to smack of being a list of folk the jury want to hang out with and grab autographs from.

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One way of positioning yourself in a competitive job market

Yanick Miel, a desperate or audacious (or both) 23 year old French management etc graduate is selling himself on ebay, at a starting price of €1. The poor devil has made 300 applications and had 20 interviews and is yet to secure himself a job after five months. He is listed in the category of Art, Antiquités , Objets du XXème et récents.

More at Libé, including his plan to loiter at La Défense this afternoon handing out his CV. He also has a remarkably unattractive website.

As things stand, his price has gone up to €1070 but there are nine days to go. All the bidders are Parisians, oddly enough.

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Those Lib Dems and their friends in low places

'Lord' Dykes, one time MP for Harrow East, seems quite keen on some fairly illiberal individuals:

"To ask Her Majesty's Government what discussions they will hold with the government of France with a view to including Hamas in a government of national unity covering all Palestinian Territories".

Dykes, one might note is quite keen on the EU. This is what the EU thinks of Hamas: "The European Union lists Hamas among the entities against which it applies restrictions in order to combat terrorism".

And he then asked this:

"To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to the call by 80 members of the British Jewish community in a letter to the Guardian on 10 January for a programme of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel after the recent military action in Gaza".

In both cases Malloch-Brown slapped him down, by the way.

UK polling report makes this demographic note for Harrow East (2001) : Jewish: 10.3%

I wonder whether he would be asking these questions if he had to face the good people of Harrow in 2010. Perhaps he has been spending time with Jenny Tonge.

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The world's most thankless task

Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Cooking up a national anthem for Bosnia Herzegovina. Some brave soul has had a crack at penning new lyrics, the BH anthem having been wordless for 11 years becuause some took exception to the previous one. Given that around half the population want to be part of Serbia or part of Croatia, the task is of the measure of creating a football chant that unites Villa, Birmingham City and West Brom fans.

Before looking at old and new words, note that the old one was called 'The One and Only', which would appear not to have been the rather dire Chesney Hawkes song of some years back, but rather this:

O you thousand-years old land
I pledge my loyalty to you
from the Sava to the sea
from the Drina to the Una

The one and the unique
my only homeland
The one and the unique
Bosnia and Herzegovina

May God preserve you
for the generations to come
the land of my dreams
the land of my forefathers

Sounds pretty harmless, although the sentiments in lines 3 to 4 are at the very least hommage to Von Fallersleben's Deutschlandleid (colloquially known in these parts as Deutschland über alles :

"Von der Maas bis an die Memel,
Von der Etsch bis an den Belt"

Or in English:

"From the Meuse to the Neman,
From the Adige to the Belt"

Anyway, "The music came from an old Bosnian folk song. Bosnian musician Edin Dervishalidovic penned the words. The Croat and Serb populations of BiH, however, always associated the song with the Bosniak community, dooming it as an instrument for fostering national unity".

The new anthem has gone for the anodyne: "The verses focus on examples of the country's natural beauty and on its communities' common future, mentioning "Motherland Bosnia", the "blue skies of Herzegovina" and "proud Krajina" in succession. (So, something for everyone) "Mi idemo u buducnost zajedno" ("We are going towards the future together") is the last line".

And what do the people think? Not a lot:

"The internet portal Sarajevo-x polled its users on the quality of the lyrics. By Monday, 1,060 people had replied: 32% said excellent, 42% average and 26% poor".

I am unable to find an anthem for the Croat / Bosnian bit, but Srpska has one all of its own, having had its previous use of the historic Serbian national anthem ruled unconstitutional (sample lyric - "Let the golden fruits of union Flourish with the freedom grace Righteous Lord, guide and prosper Serbian lands and Serbian kin"). The Republika Srpska anthem does not suggest that they will be getting pally with the other half of the Bosna i Hercegovina any time soon:

"There's my homeland - stout and defiant.

Now let's all pray for it
We have no other land.

In my heart there's only one home
My republic is great in heart
In my heart the most beautiful star shines
My republic, Republika Srpska"

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Would you send Harriet Harman flowers?

Too late, you already have:

Mr. Hunt: To ask the Leader of the House how much her Office has spent on (a) pot plants and (b) cut flowers in each of the last three years.

Chris Bryant: The Office of the Leader of the House of Commons spent £1,872.72 on the provision of plants and flowers during the 2007-08 financial year".

I suppose that saves 'Mr Harman' £36 a week.

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Today's shock research finding

Form Hansard:

"Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the (a) full strength and (b) actual number of deployable troops is of each infantry battalion; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The figures requested are shown in the following table:

Before letting loose my chart, have a guess which regiment is the most battle-ready, numbers-wise.

(Click to see something other than a blur)

Yup, the Gurkhas. 96.8% of 2 Gurkha is deployable as is 96.5% of 1 Gurkha. Next up are the Coldstream Guards at 95.9%. At the other end of the scale at 81.6% are 2 Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, although a little sniffing around shows that its assigned role is 'light duties / public roles', which may well mean they are doing recruitment or somesuch. 2 Scottish Regiment is 82.1% deployable, but also seems to be on light duties. 2 Royal Welsh, however, are down as armoured infantry, and only 83.4% of them are ready to jump in the nearest Hercules, should it be necessary. Before writing anything foolish about the relative health of the Welsh and the Nepalese, any insight from readers with military backgrounds would be welcome.

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Two-thirds of Britons in favour of forced labour

Monday, February 23, 2009
Shocked? I am. But a poll for Prospect suggests just that:

"Prospect asked about public support for a new mandatory period of civic service for young people in response to the recession...a clear majority—64 per cent—backed the idea".

new mandatory period of civic service', or steering clear of euphemisms, forced labour. This is so unbelievably wrong that my usual lack of faith in the Great British Public has proven to be overstated even at whatever low level I had set it to this morning.

Furthermore, and quite disgustingly, Prospect thinks that this is just dandy - "one bright light was a willingness to consider radical measures to get Britain out of the slump...even in gloomy times, you can’t beat a bit of boldness".

I will resist the temptation to haul out the Cambodia Year Zero analogies, but what, pray is the essential moral difference between universal compulsory labour for a certain age cohort and serfdom? One might note that Prospect's fellow travellers on the other side of the Pond went to the barricades (or Canada...) in order to resist a similar initiative in the 60s and 70s.

Quite apart from my very strong moral qualms about this, imagine the colossal waste of talent if would be first division footballers, accountants, architects and so forth are yanked out of productive employment and compelled to dig old ladies' gardens for a year.

In further evidence that the public has taken leave of its senses, "37 per cent agree...that 'there will be serious social unrest in British cities' requiring the army to restore order". At the time of the 1981 riots I asked my father when he thought martial law would be enacted, and his response was 'never'. He was right then, and would be right now.

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Slumdog millionaire - its success is all down to the EU. Apparently.

At least it says so here:

And the Oscar goes to...: Unprecedented success for EU-supported film "Slumdog Millionaire". 8 Oscars were awarded to "Slumdog Millionaire" at last night's 81st Academy Award ceremony in Hollywood. This UK film was co-funded under the EU's film support programme MEDIA. These include the most prestigious prizes: Best Film and Best Director (Danny Boyle).

And frothing uncontrollably we have your friend and mine, Media Commissar Viviane Reding:

"The EU's MEDIA programme makes sure films made in the EU gets a chance to meet judge and jury, in the form of audiences worldwide and competing for international prestigious awards. The success of Slumdog Millionaire shows, more than ever, that MEDIA funding is money well spent, as it helps Europe's cinema spread its cultural diversity around the globe."

Here they claim to have ponied up €830,000 (£734,000), but last week they were claiming to have handed over € 200,000.

Lest we forget, here are some of the other cinematic delights we paid for last year, but I will spotlight the €202,500 for Le silence de Lorna - "An Albanian woman marries a drug addict in order to obtain Belgian residency". And in 2007 we had this - La question humaine by Nicolas Klotz (€25,000) - A human resource manager in a multinational who is losing his mind is told by his manager to psychologically assess the company's general manager.

Both, shockingly, were overlooked by the Academy.

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Caption competition

From the Berlin G20 group meeting at the weekend:

(The back row are Christine Lagarde and Miroslav Kalousek).

Over to you.

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Word association time - French famers

So, what did you come up with?

In yet another one of those 'only in France' polls, Ifop has, for the ninth time, polled the Plain People of France on their image of French farmers:

My first thought was 'subsidised', and some 53% of the French think this true of their farmers. Rather amusingly, folk in rural communes (60%) are more likely to think this than urbanites (51%) or the dreaded Parisians (48%). Maybe because they see each year's new tractor.... There is an almighty gender disconnect with 58% of men and 48% of women thinking farmers subsidised. The far left (39%) are the least likely to agree, and the Liberals (63%) the most likely.

Top of the list for traits are 'modern' and 'have the trust of consumers' (sssh, no one mention the French equivalent of BSE, JCB disease.....), with 78% agreeing.

Elsewhere, 29% think them 'egotistical' and 19% think them 'violent'. As to egotistical, there is another stark gender disconnect - 23% of women agree, but 35% of men do. Is the equivalent of the NFU engaged in some charm offensive that only features in women's magazines? The rustic types are more inclined to agree at 33% than provincial urbanites (29%), but Parisians must have remembered all the manifestations - 34%

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The trouble with broadcast election coverage

In much the same way that every party and his or her dog has a good old moan about the BBC's bias, lack of interest etc etc, AZAPO are not at all happy with the South African Broadcasting Corp:

"Funani ka Ntontela, Azapo's Eastern Cape secretary, said the manner in which the public broadcaster covers political parties, demonstrated bias in favour of the African National Congress (ANC) and its splinter group Congress of the People (Cope). "Azapo sent countless letters to the SABC complaining about this sad state of affairs. In all fairness, thus far nothing has changed despite commitment to the contrary," he said.

A bit of digging shows that the Azanian People's Organization secured a hugely impressive 0.25% of the vote last time, or slightly less than Respect did here in 2005, and slightly more than the Scottish Socialists. As such it was the 12th most successful South African part in terms of votes, on a par with the SDLP.

Azania as a name can provoke the odd stiffled snigger, what with it being the name of Waugh's fictional African state in 'Black Mischief'.

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The Liègeois - utter philistines, or the polar opposite?

Sunday, February 22, 2009
The good people of Liège. or if you prefer, Luik, had the opportunity to vote on their city's candidacy for European Capital of Culture in 2015.

And they really could not be bothered
, as less than 10% of the electorate chose to exercise the franchise, and thus a quorum was not reached. Apparently some 18,446 Liègeois/e did make it to the polling station, whereas 171,654 found something more important to do instead.

So, perhaps they are all dreadful philistines who release the safety catches on their Brownings when they hear the word culture, or perhaps they were so busy being cultured that they just could not find the time to vote.

They have doubtless saved themselves from lots of street art and so forth, so perhaps they have chosen wisely.

As doubtless all are well aware, the twin capitals this year are Vilnius and Linz.

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Anecdote o' the day

From Matthew Parris's 'Read My Lips', a collection of political howlers and so forth:

"In 1948, a Washington DC radio station contacted ambassadors in the capital asking what they would like for Christmas:

French Ambassador - Peace throughout the world
Soviet Ambassador - Freedom for all people enslaved by imperialism
Our man in DC, Sir Oliver Franks - Well, it's very kind of you to ask. I'd quite like a box of crystallised fruit".


One Clinton fewer

Saturday, February 21, 2009
Sort of.

The Clinton's mog has shuffled off this mortal coil. Socks, for it is he, has died of throat cancer, which seem an odd thing for a cat to die of.

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The indignities our 'national treasures' have to suffer

The Beckhams, Sean Connery and Keanu Reeves have been press-ganged into promoting an aphrodisiac on Chinese TV, not that they were asked in advance of the broadcast.

The video - of shockingly poor video quality - is here. I would embed it, but it is not on youtube, but rather a Chinese equivalent, and I cannot fathom where, if anywhere, is the embedding code.

"In the video, with Victoria wrapped in his arms, the English footballer is seen praising the product in fluent Mandarin gushing that his performance on the soccer field had greatly benefited and that the product was his secret to “satisfying Victoria in bed”.

Keanu Reeves and Sean Connery said the product was a great surprise to both them and their partners. Sporting moments and intimate scenes captured from their movies were used to demonstrate how effective the product was".

More here.

Entirely work / significant other safe - assuming same lack facility in Mandarin, I suppose.

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Crystal ball gazing

Friday, February 20, 2009
From those nice people at Pravda who were threatening us with all sorts of nastiness for the coming year, a selection of predictions:

2010: Scientists will finally prove that the human soul exists after death

I doubt it. How could the hypothesis be falsified? If not, then it is not science.

2010 – 2012: Countries of Europe, America and the Pacific region will unite into large regional blocks.

Well, there's already the EU, NAFTA and ASEAN, so that is not enormously radical, unless they mean the total extinction of national sovereignty in those places.

2015-2025: Radioactive wastes will be removed from Earth and launched into space;

Sounds like a plan.

2016: The world will begin to run out of oil reserves.

Peak oil - yawn....

2022: Man will land on Mars

Harrumph, when I was a lad we thought it would be done in the 1970s. Somewhere I have a set of tea cards illustrating it.

Courtesy of google, here goes:

2029: Cyborgs will see the light

I wonder which denomination.

2069: A military conflict between Russia and China for Siberian territories will occur;

I'd expect it to happen a lot sooner than that.

2075: Euthanasia will be legalized in all countries;

Fancy. Including the Vatican. With a bit of luck I'll be long dead by then.

2110: Transsexuals will make five percent of the Earth’s population.

I doubt it.


A brief observation on train fares

Great are the rumblings from passengers and the political classes on the state of train fares in these parts, they being rather higher per mile than elsewhere in Europe. I make the odd short hop once or twice a week, off peak, so it is not much of a problem for me, although doubtless long distance commuters find the prices irksome.

While I take anything the government says cum grano salis, it is touting a figure of £500 million per year to reduce fares to the European average. For the sake of easy maths, let us say that roughly two thirds of the population are of income tax paying age, or about 40 million. Given that not all of working age are working, I have found a figure of 78.7% for the working population, which suggests 31.5 m tax payers, say 30 million to keep it simple. Put another way, that is about £17 per tax payer head, per year, which strains credulity far beyond breaking point.

Anyway, back at the point, rail travel is strongly demographically skewed to the better off, so any further subsidising of rail travel would inevitably involve redistribution of wealth from the less well off to the better off. Further, commuters are the best cost avoiders, not the general tax base, and I would suggest that commuters should not be subsidised for the travel arrangements that they have made. Even supposing that they were, a rough tallying up of entry / exit numbers at the London termini gives a figure of 400 million odd. per year Half that for passenger numbers, and the saving per year is of the region of £2.50 per year.......

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The Judgement of Paris

A shock survey by IFOP reveals that Parisians are not very generous, in that having polled the Plain People of France, the Paris region was bottom of the list for those certain to give to a charity in the next three months, at 17%.

South Westerners were the most generous at 31%, followed by North Easterners at 26% and South Easterners were the only others to exceed the average (23%) at 24%. Auvergnats, widely regarded as the Scots of France for their 'meanness', presumably fall within the SE category.

The rest of the survey is not particularly thrilling, but it is notable that the over 65s are the greatest givers, while there is an almighty disconnect between what 18-24 years old have done, and what they say that they will do - 29% gave in the last year, but 58% say that they will in the next quarter.

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'Good Europeans'

Thursday, February 19, 2009
Here, courtesy of the EU's Internal Market Scoreboard, is the data for countries infringing internal market rules:

(As ever, click on the chart for improved legibility)

Note that two of the three worst offenders - France and Italy - are founder members, and the five best behaved are all new boys. Arguably, the audit trail in Romania might not be as clear as it could be, but even so.... We are ninth out of 27.

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The art of crafting a convincing manifesto

From, where else, the 'Democratic People's Republic' of Korea, and from Kim Jong Il himself:

"Voters' meetings were held in all constituencies of the country to nominate candidates for deputies to the 12th Supreme People's Assembly...they nominated me as candidate for the post of deputy to the Supreme People's Assembly....

I extend my heartfelt thanks to the entire electorate of the country for their deep trust in me. True to President Kim Il Sung's noble will, I will live up to the expectations of the entire electorate by devoting my all to the prosperity of the country and happiness of the people, mixing myself with the service personnel and the people all the time.

All voters should take part in the election as one with high pride and honour of having created a new, brilliant history of our country, our motherland, under the leadership of the great leader and the great Party and true to their duty as citizens of the Republic, thereby rendering active contributions to consolidating our state and social system and people's government rock-solid.

Note that he does not, anywhere, say 'vote for me', still less 'please vote for me', and astonishingly the open letter would seem to suggest that he thinks he has it in the bag. Astonishing.

I do hope that the news channels carry election night coverage, as judging from the 2003 results we should be in for a thriller - 687 seats for the Workers' Party of Korea, no change, and "According to the report by the Central Election Committee on August 4, 99.9 percent of all the eligible voters registered on the poll books went to the polls and 100 percent of the casters voted for the candidates of deputies to the SPA who had registered at all the constituencies". Source

The DPRK's release entitled 'The Superior Election System of the DPRK' notwithstanding, 99.9% is beyond absurd, as proxy voting is strictly banned, and as Snelling notes in 'Stranger than the Bullet' (Robson, 2002), "Even the most up-to-date and well-produced electoral register will yield at least a 2 or 3 per cent vote for the Dead Party". It also seems highly unlikely that just one in a thousand have not been correctly identified as 'mentally deranged' (their term, not mine), are bed-ridden up in the hills etc etc.

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Children - is there anything they don't know?

The Department of Health has come up with one of its good ideas, and is intent on doing all it can to forment generational conflict:
"A hard-hitting new Smokefree campaign - 'Worried' - launches today. The ads, aimed at parents who smoke, communicate an uncomfortable message to viewers - that teenage children worry about their parents' future due to the harmful health effects of smoking.

The campaign is supported by new findings which reveal that nearly half (46 per cent) of teenagers are more worried about their parents smoking than anything else, including money, bullying and divorce".

Hmm. I find that just a little hard to credit, as other surveys suggest that children are more worried about spots, weight, having a cool MySpace page and whether that boy / girl they saw on the bus fancies them. They are probably also worried that their parents will just be sooo embarassing in front of their friends too.

And here is the - presumably - unintentionally hilarious bit:

* Nearly a third (29 per cent) of teenagers feel they are the 'health experts' in the family

* Three quarters (75 per cent) have asked or told their parents to stop

* And almost half (43 per cent) are angry that their parents won't listen to them.

The survey, note, polled 11-15 year olds, so the vast majority of parents putting up with these berations are going to be somewhere in their 40s. As such, these parents will be quite aware of the health risks from smoking, having neither been born yesterday nor having hidden away in a cave for a lifetime (unless that cave had a particularly well-stocked humidor, of course).

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Coming soon - the mutant offspring of Concorde and the Chunnel

Or at least if the head of EADS - Airbus etc as was - has his way, as he thinks that what Europe (I think he means the EU) really, really needs is an industrial policy, so that it can pick winners. I simplify, but not much:

"I am in favour of the idea of a European loan programme to finance research and technological investment. After nuclear power, Airbus, Ariane, and now Galileo, the time is right for other programs: renewable energies, CO2 reduction, space exploration. If we do not do it, the Chinese or the Indians will take over".

Louis Gallois, for it is he, also has a good old moan about Boeing and US defence procurement, while keeping very quiet about the disaster that is the A400M transport plane, but that is a tale for another day. Gallois is an énarque (naturellement...), so this sort of thing is second nature to him.

As an unreconstructed old believer (a Raskolnik....) in the ability of the free market to make rather better decisions on what will and what will not work than those smart civil servants in Brussels, Paris, or dare I say it, London, it is amsuing that the special pleading always comes from the more decrepit sectors of the economy. As one of the greats noted, the movers and shakers in new areas of the economy are too busy making hay to have got around to building much of a lobbying etc team to angle for the state to give them money, market share etc which they cannot attract through non-political means.

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EU to UK - hike taxes or cut spending

Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Or in somewhat longer form:

"In view of the Commission assessment, the United Kingdom is invited to (i) proceed in financial year 2009/10 with the stimulus measures consistent with the European Recovery Plan while avoiding any further deterioration of public finances; (ii) strengthen the pace of budgetary consolidation from 2010/11 onwards to ensure a rapid correction of the excessive deficit; (iii) define a fiscal framework consistent with an improvement of the long-term sustainability of its public finances".

It also notes the following:

"After the expansionary fiscal measures in 2009/10, the UK authorities plan some consolidation from 2010/11 onwards, but there are risks to the achievement of this consolidation and the deficit in 2013/14 would still be above 3% of GDP. Improvements would depend on a significant economic recovery as well as the achievement of spending targets. The debt ratio, which was close to 40% of GDP in 2007/08, is now expected to rise to almost 70% of GDP by the end of the programme period".

And this, it must be said, is taken from the fantasy document submitted by the Treasury in December. I say fantasy, as it is, inter alia, assuming that the recession we are in will be less severe than the last two, and in 2011 the economy goes into fifth gear. Micawber-ish, Pollyanna-ish or just mendacious?

Look at the chart on page 12 of the document:


March or die, erm, take a bubble bath.

Or the more traditional 'marche ou crève', both being the motto of the French Foreign Legion.

Anyway, in perhaps the least surprising research finding since a Swedish academic discovered that old people move more quickly when in a hurry, a French group - L'Association de défense des droits des militaires (Adefromil) - unveils the shock finding that it is a bit tough in the FFL:

"The Legion works on a system of pressure. The guys are kept [in line] by force and by threats...commanders have power over them, because they are all foreigners: they decide on certificates of good conduct, which determine residency permits".

While being nicer to the grunts would be a beau geste, one does note that the FFL's reputation as being the hard nuts' hard nuts was not won lightly. I cannot lay hands on the reference, but supposedly the FFL was the furthest into Iraq of any force (excluding special forces types) when Gulf War I was brought to a halt.

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Turning back the clock with Fidel Castro

20th century? Pah. Fidel prefers 1879:

"Cuba’s Fidel Castro opened some historical wounds last week when he publicly asked Chile to return land Bolivia lost in a war 130 years ago that cut off its access to the Pacific....the ailing former president compared right-wing supporters of the late General Augosto Pinochet to the same Chilean “oligarchy that robbed Bolivia of its coastline” in 1879. “Bolivia suffered an extraordinary historical humiliation in that struggle,” Castro wrote. “Not only was [the country’s] coastline and access to the ocean stolen away from it, but extensive territories were also taken away from it.”....Meanwhile, Bolivian President Evo Morales thanked Castro, who has become a close ally. “With the utmost respect to the Chilean people, we may have to take this [dispute] to the international level,” he said in a statement from Russia, where he is on a state visit" (El Pais - link will only work today though).

Details on the War of the Pacific here, but note that it was Bolivia that made the first declaration of war, 1/3/79. Chile did the same 5/4/79. Anyway, it is still a bone of some contention, with the Bolivians taking it badly, and Chilean football fans chant "Vamos a la playa" ("Let's go to the beach")' when playing Bolivia, apparently.

Anyway, Bolivia at its greatest extent:

(Atlas of Territorial and Border Disputes, NEL 1980)

And going that little bit further, South America in 1883:

(The Student's Atlas, Collins, circa 1880. Every home should have one...)

Fidel should be wary of this revisionism, as Cuba was still a Spanish colony in 1883, and did not abolish slavery until 1886. However, this is all about sucking up to one of his mate's on the continent, obviously. Further, a quick glance at the respective militaries of Chile and Bolivia - should Morales fancy upping the ante - suggests that Bolivian forces would face annihilation. Plus the Chilean Army has never lost a war, marking this with the motto, "siempre vencedor y jamas vencido".

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The most ignoble use of science since...

(Fill in your own over-blown comparison here)

"A group of Spanish academics at the Université de Montréal has established a research group to tackle the question of why Celine Dion, who is worth more than $250-million and has sold more than 200 million albums worldwide, has failed to capture the Latin American market".

Much more at The National Post, but I will spare you the grisly details. Would not a more fitting task for these men and women of science be the hunt for a cure, or at least an antidote to La Dion's oeuvre?

Meanwhile a few degrees of longitude further east, MIT grads (an institution that has furnished 26 Nobel prize winners) have supposedly tackled the world's most pressing problem - frizzy hair. Ho hum.

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Survey finding o' the afternoon

Tuesday, February 17, 2009
From Pew Global, asking the all important question: "Would you prefer to live in a place with more McDonald's or more Starbucks?"

Admittedly it was our American friends that were asked this rather than us, but the results are in, and MickeyDs wins 43/35, with 22% preferring neither or not caring. Men go strongly for McDonalds (46/30), and the ladies margninally so (41/40). Hispanics prefer Starbucks (39/38) and black and white Americans for the Golden Arches.

Conservatives opt for McDonalds by the broadest margin (50/28) and Liberals flip the other way (46/33).

More here, presuming it is legible.

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Want to halt nuclear proliferation? Call the Dept of *Energy*

As though the DoE does not have enough on its hands, it is now taking on nuclear proliferation, or as it rather idiotically puts it, 'eliminating [the] threat of dangerous weapons'. As opposed to those child-friendly bunker-busting bombs, assault rifles, muskets, broad swords and pointy sticks.

"The UK Global Threat Reduction Programme 2008 Annual Report highlights the progress made on projects including the safe destruction of chemical weapons in Russia, other former Soviet Union countries and elsewhere. The programme is funded from the UK's Global Threat Reduction Programme annual budget of £36 million".

One would think that Mother Russia (Upper Volta with gas...)could afford to do this herself, but she would be foolish to turn down our taxpayer-funded largesse. More to the point, what on earth has this got to do with the Department of Energy and (grr) Climate Change? Surely this is a job for the Foreign Office in the person of Thunderbird puppet Milliband, or perhaps Hutton and Defence. A mate is still scandalised by the change of name from the Ministry of War, but that's a topic for another day.

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Survey finding o' the day

Ifop has asked the Plain People of France if they agree with the following:

"I choose environmentally friendly products even if they cost more".

And with the results having come in, the pointing and laughing can begin:

14% of Greens disagree. As some wise person once put it, a principle is as nothing until it is inconvenient to hold it.

Admittedly, the Greens score highest on this question, but partisans for other parties do not make such a song and dance (or maybe 'un son et lumière') about how principled, ethical, hair-shirted yadda yadda they are.

Lutte Ouvrière, Arlette Laguiller's Trots put money first, with 38% disagreeing. The somewhat less simon-pure other Trot party, the LCR (or the New Anti-Capitalist party as it now styles itself, it having found some useful idiots to broaden its base) sees 81% making haste to the organic section at Carrefour.

Away from political affiliations, men are more taken in by greenwashing at 77%, compared to 74% of women. One can guess who does most of the shopping. As to age, the under 35s are the least persuaded at 67%, compared to 79% of the over 35s. Unexpectedly, the 65+ cohort is the keenest at 85%.

The other questions in the poll do not offer as much scope for amusement, but note that Lutte Ouvrière voters (72%) are the most prepared to make daily economies in order to fund leisure activities and so forth. Presumably that would be the cost of travel to all those demos. Greens follow at 69%. There is a distinct split between the apparently fun-loving left, where 68% live for Saturday night, so to speak, compared to the Liberals (54%) and the Gaullists (53%) who feel the same way.

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Are you happy with the crime rate? Jacqui Smith is.

In the best traditions of the DPRK, the government has unveiled a new slogan, and shortly it will "appear in national and regional newspapers, television and radio":

'Lets (sic) keep crime down'.

Or at least that is what it is in the press release at Pravda Central. A look at the adverts themselves suggests that they did a bit of pre-press proofing. However, pointing out typos is not that thrilling an entertainment for anyone, so on to the infinitely more fun task of playing semantics:

If the Home Office's figures are to be believed, and for now I will suspend disbelief, 'let's keep crime down' implies that crime has fallen to a level that is acceptable. I disagree, it has not. It might be argued that this is just a snappy slogan cooked up by the HO's agency, and therefore overmuch should not be read into it. Again, I disagree. I would accept 'let's cut crime' or 'let's fight crime'.

I will not even get started on what one might derive from 'let us...'

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Anecdote o' the day

From Ha'aretz:

"[in 1951] As [Israel] tries to come to grips with foreign names, a dispute arises over whether the name of the Roman statesman and orator Cicero should be pronounced Kikero or Sisero. Menachem Begin quotes "Sisero" in an address to the Knesset, to which Speaker Yosef Sprinzak responds: "Mr. Begin, we say 'Kikero.'" Begin retorts: "Thank you very much, Mr. Sprinkak."

Many more fine Knesset related tales there, as there is a list of 33 of them, but I like that one best, and decided after a few days' mulling that I would post it.

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The perils of speaking on the hoof

Monday, February 16, 2009
A cracking foot in mouth from Labour MP Martin Salter on the World at One just now - he referred to the government's 'safety blanket' for bankers. I am now picturing Goodwin et al clutching on to pieces of cloth like that child in the Peanuts strip. I suspect he meant 'safety net', but his pseudo-malaprop is far more arresting.


An endorsement she probably does not want

Martine 'daughter of Jacques Delors' Aubry is likely to be offered up as the Socialist Party's sacrificial lamb in 2012, although another possibility is the erstwhile partner of the losing left candidate last time.

Anyway, that old Poujadiste Jean-Marie Le Pen has been asked who he would choose if faced with a Sarko / Aubry presidential second round - 'a cruel dilemma' he calls it, and rather half-heartedly opts for Aubry:

"If I had to choose, I do not know whether I might not choose Mrs Aubry".

Meanwhile, Le Figaro reports a poll on awareness of MoDem MEPs, and thinks Bayrou should be alarmed that only 18% of respondents had heard of one of his chief lieutenants, Marielle de Sarnez. I imagine out own dear LibDems would be delighted if 18% had heard of any of their MEPs. Having just looked at a list of their people in Brussels, the only one where the name immediately rang a bell was that dreadful turncoat Emma Nicholson.

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Surf's up.

A curious tale involving the Islands of the Blessed:

"DailyStoke.com one of surf-addicts most popular sites is inviting its followers to try the empty, consistent waves of the Falkland Islands...“Are you interested in surfing with penguins, dolphins and sea lions, in empty, consistent waves? If you don’t mind a very long trip and the occasional mine field, take a trip to the Falklands".

Surfing Port Stanley, eh? Where are the Beach Boys when you need them. I imagine that anyone who heads to the Falklands with a board will be less than a dilettante.


The most soul-crushing phrases in the English language

Sunday, February 15, 2009
The worst four words - "As seen on TV"

As to the worst seven, it is a toss up between the following:

"We need to talk about our relationship" and "A replacement bus service is in operation".

Nominations for other candidates are most welcome.

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*Thirteen* sets of flowers for Kim Jong Il - the world's most sought after valentine

Saturday, February 14, 2009
Unless any readers have greater bragging rights.

Admittedly the floral arrangements were for his forthcoming birthday rather than for SVD, but here's the list:

  • Central Committee of the Communist Party of China
  • Mahmoud Abbas, chief of the Palestinian National Authority
  • Miguel Angel Gala Valiente, military attache of the Cuban embassy
  • Japanese Women's Society for Solidarity with the Korean Women
  • Miyagi Prefectural Japan-DPRK Friendship Association
  • Noboru Kameda, representative of the Society of the Japan-Korea Culture
  • Nada Takashi, representative of the Ehime Institute for Contemporary Korean Issue in Japan
  • State Academic Igor Moiseyev Dance Company of Russia
  • Hassan Turkmani, minister of Defence who is deputy commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Syria
  • Harpal Brar, chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist)
  • Family of Zhang Weihua, Chinese anti-Japanese revolutionary martyr
  • Family of Zhou Wei, daughter of Zhou Baozhong, Chinese related to the anti-Japanese revolutionary struggle
  • Family of Jong Il Sim

I wonder if he has any plant allergies.


A product endorsement Apple probably did not seek...

From The Hindustan Times:

"Taliban in Afghanistan may be a sworn enemy of US forces and everything western yet technology is one western influence they find hard to resist. Its former ambassador to Pakistan Mullah Zaif is an iphone addict. Yes you heard it right and that too while his organization early last year had issued an ultimatum to Afghanistan's four mobile phone operators, to shut down operations at night or face dire consequences. Call it comedy or irony, the threat was issued via cell phone".

Maybe there is scope for some ambush marketing by Nokia or Blackberry. Way back lost in the mists of time, I used to mull on whether Rolls, Cadillac etc would benefit from targeting Mercedes with a slogan along the lines of 'Our cars are NOT the first choice of Third World Despots'.

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Good grief

Friday, February 13, 2009
This, from The Miami Herald:

"A lawyer for the widow of a Cooper City man who died from lung cancer said Friday that smoker Stuart Hess bears some responsibility for his addiction to cigarettes, but that cigarette maker Philip Morris USA is largely to blame".

For the record, Hess died at 55 in 1997, meaning that he had been seeing health warnings on his cigarette packs since he was 24, the Yanks having introduced health warnings in 1966.

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Curious survey o' the day

From, where else, France.

Paris Match, of all things, has polled the Plain People of France on recent decisions by the Pope, lifting excommunications of four bishops raised by Archbishop Lefebvre and permitting the Mass to be said in Latin. As an Anglican (with Calvinist complications) agnostic / atheist, this is not something I can summon much strength of feeling over, but the French seem to feel otherwise.

47% approve of the Mass in Latin, 51% disapprove. I am struggling to see why anyone would object to this, as it is an option, not a fiat. A gentleman of my acquaintance is a seriously devout Catholic who prefers the Mass in Latin, and making this form of worship easier for him and those like him seems like a Good Thing. 27% approve of lifting the excommunication, 70% do not. This has been complicated by the fact of one of the 'bishops' - Richard Williamson -being a Shoah-denier. While this sinks him deep, nay submerges him in odium, it is not theologically relevant.

As to those to whom these issues are pertinent - practicing Catholics, 60% are pro Latin, and 41% pro lifting the excommunication.

Digging around in the socio-demographic detail is half the fun of blogging French surveys, and it is Frontistes (61%) who are keenest on the Mass in Latin. This is not surprising, as there is a certain strain of opinion in France where traditionalist view on a whole range of things seem to coalesce. Greens are the most hostile (39%) for reasons I cannot begin to fathom. Muslims are none to keen at 35% anti, not that it is any of their concern, and given that they use pre-medieval Arabic shows rank hypocrisy too.

As to the excommunication lifting, Trots are the most anti (57%), and Communists (37%) and Gaullists (33%) keenest. A rum business.

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A career change at *84*

Hats off to the new Armenian Ambassador to Switzerland.

You will have heard of him - Charles Aznavour.


The global middle class under the microscope

Pew Global has been quizzing the bourgeoisie and the proletariat of sundry nations as to values, alas not including questions as to dining and decor habits, but it is amusing nonetheless. Folk from these parts were not polled, which is unfortunate.

Freedom of speech emerges as more important to the middles than the workers world-wide, with the solid middle of Chile coming closest to glory in that 80% of them think it very important, compared to 68% of the workers. The figures in Malaysia are a frankly shocking 34/33,

Similarly, freedom of the press matters most to Chileans - 76/68 and the Egyptians - 77/77. Given that the Egyptian press is far from free, that is quite heartening. The Malaysians disrace themselves - 35/31, as do Russians - 46/37. The biggest gap is in Poland - 60/42.

Freedom of religion is key for Egyptians - 92/90. I think I can be excused a hollow laugh at this point. Russians are the least bothered - 50/42.

When offered freedom of speech or 'freedom from poverty', white collars deem the former morte important and blue collars the latter.

Acceptance of homosexuality is more common with middles than workers in most countries, except Argentina - 70/75. The biggest disconnect is in Bulgaria - 50/34.

More later, probably.

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They'll be packing 'em in at Pyongyang's fleapits this month

Thursday, February 12, 2009
"A 10-day film show was opened with due ceremony at the People's Palace of Culture today to celebrate February 16, the birthday of General Secretary Kim Jong Il".

Kurosawa and Ford are obviously out of the question, so a Bergman retrospective, maybe? Or perhaps a season of Fassbinder? Maybe the works of Satyajit Ray?


"Among them are documentary films "Kim Jong Il Gives Field Guidance to Various Sectors" (I do hope this is on ebay), "Cherishing the Leader's Desire" (Ooh err) and "February 16, the Greatest Holiday of the Korean Nation."

Feature films including "Photograph Left by Him", "Airman Kil Yong Jo", "People in Jagang Province", "Taehongdan County's Chief Party Secretary" (That title makes the heart beat double time, does it not?) and "A Schoolgirl's Dairy" (sic. The cream of the crop. I'm sure it won't be too cheesy, although I expect it will involve much buttering up of KJI, and the milking of the Juche angle for all it is worth) will also be screened".

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Good news on the economic front

Muzak - yes, it is a company - has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, so perhaps this marks the end of the Elevator Symphony. Or not, as the case may be. Symapthies go out to the backroom personnel, by the way.

Any other suggestions for recession / depression / economic apocalypse victims that would be welcome? I am excluding media companies, as that would be like hunting penned sheep with a 12 bore.

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Surprise o' the day

From Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Helmut Kurth of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftunfg has unveiled this factlet to an astonished world:

'Only one in nine Bosnians believe in the Bosnian state'. Marginally more detail here, although it is only a short-term link.

I am amazed it is that high, frankly


Did *you* celebrate 112 Day?

It was yesterday and apparently the Finns did.

As most of us will be unaware, "Since December 2008, EU citizens can contact emergency services from anywhere in the European Union by dialing 112, the EU-wide emergency number, free of charge from both fixed and mobile phones". Source

Not an entirely bad thing, although clearly there are issues with language barriers. Maltese folk with a grasp of the less popular languages will doubtless have jobs for life, should they fancy sitting at a phone bank in Sofia, Riga or wherever doing some very serious thumb twiddling.

Anyway, "In Finland 112 day is celebrated annually on 11 February". They do know how to have a good time in Helsinki, don't they?


Another look at the Knesset results

Having an unhealthy level of interest in matters psephological, I have had a look at Knesset election results since 1949 (all figures taken from Wikipedia, which I hope I can trust) and had a go at charting seats won by the leading political parties. Given that Israeli political parties like splitting, winning big for an election and then disappearing, there are issues with continuity, but there is the certainty that at any election there will be a left Zionist party, heirs to Herzl, Ben Gurion and the other founding fathers (and mothers) - Mapai / Labour, a right or Revisionist Zionist party, heirs to Jabotinsky and Begin - Herut / Likud, a far left party - Mapam / Meretz and at least one major party that is deeply Orthodox. As such, I have attempted to pick my way through the labyrinth of splits, hissy fits, renamings and so forth in order to show how the state of the parties has changed over 60 years.

The breakthrough of Yisrael Beitenu has been treated as one of the major themes of coverage outside Israel, along with the eclipse of the Labour party. However, YB was fairly well placed last time, and Labour has been in decline since the 60s. Equally, Likud's results were its second weakest in 40 years. The far left Mapam / Meretz grouping appears to be heading for oblivion, while Shas, the Sephardic Orthodox party is treading water. The National Religious Party appears to have a more fluid electoral position than one might have thought, and it is tempting to suggest that YB has taken votes from it this time round. What is also evident is the inability of either Likud or Kadima (or once upon a time, Labour) to reach the 61 seat mark by allying with a few small parties, and even a two party grand coalition would not have a majority now, but would have to be Likud/Kadima/Labour. Labour /Likud had a combined 95 seats in '81, whereas Likud/Kadima/Labour now muster 68 seats between them.

I might add in the Arab parties later.

And now in mono for Geoff and anyone else who is colour blind:

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Cassandra corner

Wednesday, February 11, 2009
From Businessmonitor.com:

"Britain is facing an unprecedented fall in its economic world ranking, according to a newly produced report by country risk specialists Business Monitor International (BMI). Ranked by GDP per capita, the UK is set to fall by nine places, from 12th place in 2007 to 21st in 2010".

And it gets worse:

  • Britain will suffer a far deeper recession than either the UK Treasury or IMF predicts. GDP is forecast to contract by 3.5% in 2009, followed by a shallow 0.2% recovery in 2010. Unemployment will peak at 3.2 million next year, an 11.2% rate, with the financial services sector set to lose 570,000 jobs between 2008 and 2010.
  • Despite enjoying 11 years of strong growth between 1997 and 2007, the UK ran a budget deficit of 1.7% of GDP over this period, fuelling a fiscal time bomb. Faced with the financial burden of bailing out the banking sector and kick-starting the economy, the budget deficit will swell to an unsustainable 9.3% of GDP in 2009, and average 6.7% over the following four years.
  • Property prices will see a cumulative fall of 41%, from peak to trough, and could take more than 10 years to recover to the levels of 2007. The impact of negative equity and declining asset values will further serve to depress consumer spending and economic growth.

Those leapfrogging us are the UAE, Austria, France, Japan, German, Canada, the US of A, Australia and Italy.

And just to wrap things up:

"The UK has also suffered a steep fall in BMI's short-term Political Risk Rating table, slipping 16 places since the start of 2008 to 31st place out of 150 ranked states. A key factor here is the government's diminishing policy credibility, which is seen to be endangering long-term fiscal sustainability. With the added uncertainty of parliamentary elections due by May 2010, the UK's political risk ranking could well dip lower over the next year.

Another area of concern examined by the report is the current state, and future prospects, of the British labour force. Continuing shortcomings in the education sector, combined with an array of damaging social and demographic trends, have weighed heavily on the UK's deteriorating Labour Force Quality index. Amongst a peer group of 20 developed and key emerging economies the UK is ranked 9th overall - below Canada, the US and Germany - and fares particularly badly on the health (10th) and social & Demographic (13th) indicators. Most worryingly, though, on the Future Opportunities component (which measures the potential for future improvement in the Labour Force Quality Index), the UK lies in 16th place".

More at the site linked, or the whole report for anyone who fancies forking out $130.

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What the French call each other

Only highlights thus far, as the full data has not been put up by TNS-Sofres, but enough to go to work on.

Suppose a pollster asks you what manner of terms of endearment you use for your significant other. I would refuse to say a mumbling word, as some things really are best kept in the private domain. However, waving a clipboard at French folk seems to make them 'fess up to all sorts of things. Hey and indeed ho.

Anyway, 82% of Gauls call each other by a first name (Radical, I know. However, the Chiracs are famous for using 'vous' rather than 'tu' to each other).

59% use pet names of some description, with "chéri(e)" the favourite at 26%, followed by mon coeur" or "mon petit coeur" (9%), and "bébé" / "mon petit bébé" (*creepy*) at 8%. "Mon amour" or "amour" is not hugely favoured at 6%, nor is "puce" also at 6%. Puce variously means flea, the colour, a type of integrated circuit and a form of orthography. Strange bunch, aren't they? Animal names like "biche" (*doe*....), "poussin" and "canard" also feature with 4% admitting to using them.

And chaps are the sloppier ones, with 64% using pet names compared to 55% of women.

So, should any readers find themselves making serious headway with a Gaul, I trust this usage guide will prove helpful.

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A miscellany of Israeli election odds and ends

First the election broadcast of the Holocaust Survivors and Grown-Up Green Leaf [Cannabis enthusiasts] parties alliance. Yes, really.

Ha'aretz has the story. Well worth reading.

And a little light data mining from here. 15% of Bedouin voted for non-Arab parties, including a possibly rather confused 2% who voted for Shas, the religious party for the Sephardim.

Kibbutzniks voted left - 31% for Labour, 18% for Meretz and 2% Meimad. Kadima got a further 31%.

In Sederot, 33% voted Likud and 23% Yisrael Beitenu. TA went for Kadima - 34% to 21% for Likud. Jerusalem swung 24% Likud, 19% United Torah Judaism, 15% Shas. Ma'aleh Adumim, the largest town in Judea Samaria voted 45% Likud, 15% Yisrael Beitenu, and a derisory 3% for Labour.

To be updated, probably.

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Go fly with them

To adapt ole Blue Eyes.

Mr. Maude: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs with reference to the answer to the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East of 21 October 2008, Official Report, column 162W, on departmental air travel, if he will place in the Library figures for 2007-2008

Huw Irranca-Davies: From information held centrally, 2007-2008 air travel mileage figures available currently for all Government Carbon Offsetting Fund (GCOF) participants are as follows...

And I have charted the figures, but before doing so, it would appear that the Red Arrows are in the carbon offsetting fund. Should one laugh, cry, or hammer nails into the wall with one's forehead? Good job the Battle of Britain did not happen on their watch.

And the DfID has the biggest collection of frequent fliers, followed by the MoD. Fair enough, I suppose. The Foreign Office - inter alia - does not appear to be listed, and I have not included every last minor department, but the figures are all there.

Enough of caveats and being fair(-ish). Why in the name of all that is holy does the Revenue lead the way in taking domestic flights? Why does Trade (BERR) do so much more long haul than short haul? Whatever happened to 'our European partners'? Curious also that the Home Office and Work & Pensions fit in so many junkets fact-finding missions.

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