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How to hack off Turkish neighbours

Sunday, May 31, 2009
Be an unmarried Jewish American couple with a taste for the demon drink. Mr and Mrs Yilmaz won't like that at all.

And how do we know this? From an odd poll by Turkish title Miliyet, and picked up by Ha'aretz:

"A new study...said 64 percent of Turks would not want Jewish neighbours.

The study also suggested Turks had a low tolerance for diverse lifestyles in general, as three in four respondents said they would not want to live next to an atheist or anyone drinking alcohol.
Results...also stated that 52 percent would not want Christian neighbors, 67 would not want to live next to an unmarried couple and 43 percent would not want American neighbours".

How very liberal of them. The full detail is here somewhere I presume, although my command of Turkish does not go much further than khan, janissary and yoghurt.


Curious party endorsement o' the day

Friday, May 29, 2009
The name Carlos the Jacakal, the nom de guerre of Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, might ring a bell or two with other greybeards. For younger readers, he was a 70s equivalent of Osama Bin Laden, notoriety-wise, back in the 1970s. Wikipedia background here.

Anyway, he has a fairly extensive rap sheet, and is currently cooling his heels in the Clairvaux Big House in Northern France, as a thank you for his acolytes planting bombs on TGV trains which killed four and injured many more.

He has come out for Dieudonné's Anti-Zionist list thus:

"Count on my sumbolic vote. Onwards to Strasbourg with your free voices. I salute Comrade Dieudonné".

And Dieudonné's lot replied thus: "[we] thank Comrade Illich Ramirez Sanchez AKA Carlos for his support".

Nice. I wonder if fraternal greetings from the Taliban or Al Qaeda would be as welcome, presumably yes.

Meanwhile, the Party of European Socialists has come up with a list of '11 terrible candidates' for the EU elections, and while it finds a place for Nick Gr*ffin, Dieudonné does not make the cut.

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Your chance to tell the Dutch you think the EU 'discombobulating'

NRC Handelsblad, the Dutch business daily is running a Euro-mood meter, and offers the prospects of Euro-moods of, inter alia, 'discombubulating', 'bureaucracy', 'fraud', and for the EU-enthusiast, 'stability', 'solidarity' and so forth. I am NOT making this up - here's the evidence:

Who would turn down a chance like that? Not me... So far 48 people have voted, so there is plenty of scope for skewing the results, although one can only vote once per day, apparently.

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Brown publicising one of his books on the No 10 site

Yes he is, it is his book on 'Courage', available for a quid or so from your nearest remainder shop.

Now I am not going to run the risk of putting money in his sporran by buying it, but care of the extract on Aung San Suu Kyi, we now get a sense of his literary style, which is very much famous people who have met me. He uses the first person pronoun 10 times in four paragraphs.

Dizzy has pointed out that at least there is no link to Amazon or wherever that one might buy the book, but being of a cynical bent I refuse to believer that sales considerations did not enter into the thoughts of whichever of his homunculi edited the page. Mrs Brown is also plugging the book, indirectly, via her twitter feed too (qv). Elsewhere she has tweeted the following: 'Free Burma’s dignified Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi !!!'. Nice use of exclamation marks, eh?

While I agree with her sentiments, tweeting thus is even less likely to succeed in its aim than all of those inbox clogging e-mails asking the Taliban to stop being beastly of a few years back back.


So much for easier voting prompting higher turnout

Thursday, May 28, 2009
Not in Hawaii it hasn't:

"Officials saw an 83 percent drop in the number of voters participating in the Honolulu Neighbourhood Board's recent election that is the nation's first all-digital election, where people could vote over the Internet or by phone. For the first time, Oahu voters had to use computers or the telephone to vote for their neighborhood board candidates and many people did not bother.About 7,300 people voted this year, compared to 44,000 people who voted in the last neighborhood board race in 2007".

Draughty church halls and scout huts are the only way forward....

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EU conference to ask how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.


"Can you measure creativity? Can you compare it across countries and regions or across different fields of human activity? If yes, in what way? An international conference organised by the European Commission and its Centre for Research on Lifelong Learning (CRELL) will address these questions in Brussels on 28 and 29 May 2009. Researchers, country officials, representatives from international organisations and education practitioners will come together to discuss the feasibility of both measuring creativity and — in the longer term — of conducting a large-scale survey on individual creativity".

Well done people.


Some DPRK odds and ends

Despite there being some real news involving the DPRK at the mo', the KCNA continues to plough its own rather curious furrow.

Consider the delights of being the Man from Abuja:

"Yusuf Amuda Abubakar, Nigerian ambassador to the DPRK, and staff members of his embassy Wednesday did friendship labour on the DPRK-Nigeria Friendship Haksan Cooperative Farm in Hyongjesan District, Pyongyang. They helped the farmers in sowing beans and conversed with officials of the farm during break, deepening the friendly feelings".

I bet they just loved that.

Meanwhile, an anecdote involving an 8 year old Kim:

"Anti-Japanese heroine Kim Jong Suk (that's KJI's mum) visited the building site of Kim Chaek University of Technology...together with young Kim Jong Il early in one spring morning of Juche 38 (1949)...After a while she said: "Let's work in a hurry as lots of people are rendering labor assistance", asking him to bring a brick-carrying frame....Young Kim Jong Il also asked him to make a frame. Surprised by his words, the official said he in his young age could not carry bricks on the back and that he must not do such a work. She and young Kim Jong Il, together with constructors, carried bricks on their backs, going up and down the steep scaffolds".

Always supposing the tale is true, I am sure that the toiling workers were just delighted to have KJI living out his Bob the Builder fanatasies while getting under their feet.


Iranian political humour

A selection of quips, as found at Radio Liberty / Free Europe:

You don't change the driver of a car that is falling into a ravine. From The Election Campaign Headquarters of Dr. Mahmud Ahmadinejad."

The Election Commission has announced in its last statement regarding the election that writing names such as monkey, traitor, fascist, silly, and [expletive] on the ballots will be considered a vote for Ahmadinejad."

Those were the bet ones. Yes, really. Perhaps there is an unbridgeable cultural divide between the long-suffering people of Iran and these parts.

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Failing Democracy 101

Wednesday, May 27, 2009
(Pauses to check that the good folk over at An All Seeing Eye have not beaten me to this one, ASE and meself both being fans of the Croatian Times).

If anyone thought that some of the nonsense our MPs have been spouting about 'honest mistakes' and so forth was pushing the envelope for credibility, note this:

"Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) member Emil Grgec has manipulated a local election list in Oroslavje in Krapina-Zagorje county. [He] confessed in court yesterday that he had put the names of fictitious and death people on the list in April, Hina news agency has reported...Grgec claimed he was unaware that what he had done was a criminal act and apologised. He added he had thought no one would notice anything".

Shades of Bart Simpson: 'I didn't do it, no one saw me do it, there's no way you can prove anything!'

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Widget o' the day

From those nice people at Le Monde.

I would put it in the sidebar, but the minimum size is still too big:

Can't say that I believe the 13% turnout figure for Germany though. I've found a figure of 43% here.

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Saving the planet, one paper cup at a time

This, from the EU Youtube site:

Oh dear. (Holds head in his hands and rocks gently). I would think that using glassware might be greener than using paper cups, but what do I know?

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Those lucky Cypriots

The stand out finding from a rather dull Eurobarometer survey on 'Confidence in the Information Society' is this - some 33% of Cypriot internet users are not aware of spam. Mind you, some 3% of Britons are unaware of spam. Blimey.

Elsewhere, the Maltese rate as the schmucks of the EU, with some 8% apparently having been phished. Presumably a significant proportion of Maltese bank deposits are now in Nigeria.

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When Nobel Laureates go wild

Obama is visiting Africa, as Presidents tend to do from time to time, and he has to start somewhere. Would it be worth getting upset if he did not make one's own country the first port of call? Not really, I would have thought.

Not, however, in the case of Nobel Literature Laureate (and stranger to the barber) Wole Soyinka, who seems to think that by choosing Ghana as his first stop that Obama has impugned the dignity of Nigeria:

"The Nobel Laureate had told THISDAY on Thursday at an Art Exhibition at the Italian Embassy, Abuja that Obama's decision to visit Ghana ahead of Nigeria in his first trip to Africa was a wise decision.

He went further to say that "If Obama decides to grace Nigeria with his presence, I will stone him. The message he is sending by going to Ghana is so obvious, is so brilliant that he must not render it flawed by coming to Nigeria any time soon", he said".

I doubt that the 74 year old is so good with a stone that Obama's goons will be that worried. Anyway, if other Nobel Lit laureates fancy their chances of lapidating the President, we are in a good position as we have two living Laureates in Doris Lessing and V.S.Naipaul. Mind you, they are both getting on a bit. Elsewhere, if he feels he has not had enough attention of late, Derek Walcott could have a go. Maybe it needs to be opened up to Peace prize winners and so on, in which case Jimmy Carter is going to be horribly conflicted - should he be on the side of the Laureates or that of his President? Decisions, decisions....

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Might the Swedish military be about to come out of retirement?

While our Swedish chums are reknowned for sitting out conflict opportunities, in geological terms it is not so long since Gustav Adolphus and Charles XII were campaigning enthusiastically in and around the Baltic.

Anyway, the Swedish Försvarsmakten do not appear to have engaged in combat since 1814, bar a bit of peacekeeping under the aegis of the UN, I imagine.

However, there is some sabre rattling going on over yonder:

"The head of the Moderate Party’s youth wing has proposed that the military be called in to free Swedish journalist Dawit Isaak, who has sat in prison in Eritrea for more than seven years. "Eritrea and the regime there have chosen to kidnap a Swedish citizen; that is unacceptable. Therefore I think that we should consider a military strike to free Dawit,” Moderate Party youth head Niklas Wykman told the TT news agency.

Its a long way even from Malmö to Asmara, and one does have to doubt the capability of the Swedes to project force that far. Still, if the Swedes rediscover their viking tendencies, maybe the Finns should get nervous.

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One way of fending off leafleters

Tuesday, May 26, 2009
As spotted while out and about earlier:

Given that said party is probably only capable of one leaflet drop per election, this household might be doing nothing more than raising its chance of a half brick through the window.


Not exactly on the ball

Sure as night follows day, MPs kiss babies, get photographed looking concerned in hospital wards and congratulate the local football team when it wins something.

Not, however Kitty 'Wingnut' Ussher:

(see what I mean?)

Here we are, a day after Burnley won the Championship play off (yay) and she still hasn't had anything to say on the matter.


Typo of *the year*

This, from the Radio Netherlands site:

All sniggering to one side, this comes from a tale that puts our Dutch friends in a very good light, as it refers to US military graves in the Netherlands:

"An answer can be found at Margraten, where ordinary citizens have forged personal bonds with the graves. All 8,301 graves in Margraten and the 1,700 names of the missing have been ‘adopted', a tradition that began shortly after the end of the war. As of 2009 interest in adopting a grave is greater than ever. There is even a waiting list of people who want to feel responsible for maintaining the remembrance".

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DPRK-ism o' the day

Yes, they've tested a bomb and they are rather pleased with themselves. This, however, is the best bit:

The test will contribute to defending the sovereignty of the country and the nation and socialism and ensuring peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and the region around it with the might of Songun.

I doubt whether the Japanese feel the same way.

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Quote o' the day

Monday, May 25, 2009
From an English academic writing in the Korea Herald:

"When we try to think of a head of state who has not left office under a cloud, the names Aung San Su Kyi and Nelson Mandela arise. But that proposes another inconvenient truth: that we need to put potential leaders in prison for decades, and curtail the number of years in office, before they behave properly".


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Pyongyang logic. Of sorts.

Nothing from my mates at the KCNA as yet, which is rather annoyong, so it will have to be tomorrow when we get the word from the Chollima's mouth, so to speak.

However, I have this to start from:

"North Korea may carry out more nuclear tests unless the United States ends its "intimidation," a senior official at Pyongyang's embassy in Moscow has been reported as saying".

While Kim's Uncle Sam would prefer that he stops letting off underground 'firecrackers,' one might note that nukes are not exactly rolling off the production lines, so one might reasonably argue that the more tests the DPRK performs, the fewer warheads they will have to threaten Seoul, Tokyo and anywhere else in range.

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A way forward for the Republicans

From Gallup US:

"Veterans are more likely to be Republican than are those of comparable ages who are not veterans. This Republican skew is at least minimally evident across all age groups, ranging from a 15-point difference in the percentage Republican between veterans and nonveterans in the 25-29 age group, to a 2-point difference in the 85+ group".

Well, given Iraq II and Afghanistan, maybe things will look up for the GOP in 2012. Perhaps another war or two the next time they get in, possibly with conscription, is just what it needs to overcome the Democrats.


Free to choose?

Sunday, May 24, 2009
Rather an amusing spat is roiling Romania, the issue being how it promotes itself to tourists (I doubt many would get further than Bran Castle, but that's another story).

Here is the official tourist promotion video, 'Romania the land of choice:

I could not stay the course, what with the music being so awful.

And the response, 'The End of Choice'. This contains some mid-level English language profanity, and a bearded Elvis impersonator, so be advised:

Views for the first are heading towards 32,000, while those for the latter are approaching 148,000.


A new frontier for outsourcing

From Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad:

"The Dutch justice ministry has announced it will close eight prisons and cut 1,200 jobs in the prison system. A decline in crime has left many cells empty.

During the 1990s the Netherlands faced a shortage of prison cells, but a decline in crime has since led to overcapacity in the prison system. The country now has capacity for 14,000 prisoners but only 12,000 detainees".

Good for the Dutch. What are they doing that we are not, and might they offer some hints?

Here, however, is the interesting bit:

Some reprieve might come from a deal with Belgium, which is facing overpopulation in its prisons. The two countries are working out an agreement to house Belgian prisoners in Dutch prisons. Some five-hundred Belgian prisoners could be transferred to the Tilburg prison by 2010.
I had a conversation with another blogger (I forget who) a while back about the prospects of outsourcing gaols to other jurisidictions, and I concluded that considerations over visits by relatives would make this fall at the first hurdle.

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Great prosecutions of our time

From Ha'aretz:

"A Jerusalem magistrate court ruled last week that a Hebron settler who shouted "Heil Sharon" - a reference to then-prime minister Ariel Sharon - at a police officer while making a stiff-armed Nazi salute should not be tried for insulting a public sector worker.

The magistrate judge, Hagit Mac-Kalmanovich, determined that if the settler had used the word "Nazi" or a similar word in referring to the police officers, or if the settler had uttered "Heil Hitler" or a similar statement which implied that the officers are Nazis or resemble Nazis, this would undoubtedly have constituted a crime".

Dear lord, how much more inference do Jerusalem's beaks need? Further, while the date of the salute is not given, the big man officially stood down in April 2006, so it looks as though justice in Israel is not exactly swift.

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Those lucky Parisians

Saturday, May 23, 2009
The Parisians, ore more correctly the people of Ile-de-France have some 28 different party lists to choose from come the Euro elections, compared to the rather feeble 13 on offer in London.

Among those who can look forward to losing their deposits over yonder are 'Europe, démocratie, espéranto', 'Alliance royale' and 'Cannabis sans frontière'. The Alliance Royale is so penurious that they do not have voting slips at the polling stations (I'm not making this up) so one has to print out their list and have it validated at the polling station. A bit odd, that parties supply ballot papers, frankly. Anyway, it has some rather appropriate sounding candidates - Sylvie Prince, Olivier Leconte and Patricia Baroni. However, I doubt whether one Vanessa O'Donovan can claim centuries of French ancestors.

Special mention for the quite disgusting 'Liste antisioniste', led by comedian Dieudonné. I'm not making this up either, although I wish I was. Given that he hangs out with Shoah deniers, the 'it's only anti-Zionism not anti-Semitism' lie just doesn't wash.

I would vote - with a song in my heart and a spring in my step - for the magnificent Mlle Sabine Herold and her 'L’Europe, c’est vous' list. She is a classic liberal / Libertarian who means it. Interviewed in the Telegraph here. I suspect she is spitting in the wind, however.

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More than one in five Britons is an idiot

And I have the proof.

Asked in a Eurobarometer poll whether 'The situation which prevailed in Central and Eastern European countries before 1989 was better than today’s one', some 21% of my compatriots agreed. Mind you, of the pre '89 democracies, it is Cyprus that worries me - some 30% agree with that statement . Not being terribly au fait with the politics of Cyprus, I have found that a Communist Party - the Progressive Party of Working People - fared best in the last Cypriot election. In Central / Eastern Europe, Hungary sees a simple majority agreeing that things were better then. Pretty alarming, frankly.

Meanwhile, all credit to the Swedes and the Finns, with 82% and 84% respectively disagreeing.

More later, maybe.

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Wonders will never cease....

Friday, May 22, 2009
From The Times of India. Note the screamer at the end of the opening sentence:

I am not making this up.

I wonder whether it will be chairs or tables next.

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How art the mighty fallen. Or not, as the case may be

From Lords Hansard:

Lord Laird:To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of whether the IRA are involved in activity involving (a) fuel, (b) alcohol, (c) tobacco, (d) livestock, (e) dumping, and (f) DVDs and CDs.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: The most recent assessment is contained in the IMC's 21st report, published on 7 May. This indicates that the PIRA is not involved in illegal activity.

I can just imagine the conversation:

'Hey, Seamus, can you and a couple of your provo mates dump this fridge for me? It's just that my car's on the blink, and my back isn't up to carrying it to the nearest ditch'

'Not a chance Declan, it's all strictly legit since Good Friday'.

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The daily Hansard trawl

I get terrible blogger's block during the recesses, so hay / sun etc:

Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission whether information is retained by the House authorities on where and when an hon. Member uses their House of Commons pass; and if he will make a statement.

Nick Harvey: It is not the policy of the Commission to comment on security matters.

The first rule of Commons Club is you don't talk about Commons Club, presumably.

Sir Michael Spicer (a splendid chap from what his one-time research assistant once told me) seems intent on taking referring to onself in the third person not so much to a new level as to a new dimension:

"Sir Michael Spicer: To ask the Leader of the House when she plans to reply to the letter from the hon. Member for West Worcestershire dated 19 February 2009, on lobbying".

And the MP for West Worcestershire is....

Meanwhile, what manner of mouth breathers are deemed employable by the Valuation Office?:

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what (a) e-learning programmes and (b) modules the Valuation Office Agency has. [275784]

Mr. Timms: There are currently 26 e-learning programmes available to all Valuation Office Agency staff. These are listed as follows and broken down by module....3. Grammar (Basic English Skills Grammar and Punctuation), Punctuation (Basic English Skills Grammar and Punctuation)

Some days it's like swimming through glue, isn't it? Mind you, this one intrigues: '22.Ten Thumbs'.

Meanwhile, don't you envy the staff at the Department of Energy and (snort) Climate Change:

Sarah Teather: To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change how much his Department has spent on branded stationery and gifts for (a) internal and (b) external promotional use since its establishment. [273780]

Mr. Mike O'Brien: The information is as follows....£2,454: the cost of a mug for each member of staff, and low-cost pens.

Given that folk can be quite protective of the mugs they use in the workplace, telling one from the other would be a bit of a struggle. Unless they are such sad cases that they take the mugs home, in which case they are truly lost souls. While the purchase of 'low-cost' pens is not to be deprecated, I'm sure knowing that will make the DECCas feel really appreciated. Can't find either on ebay, by the way.

Anyway, onwards.

Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government pursuant to the answer of 29 January 2009, Official Report, column 784W, on the Tenant Services Authority: publicity, with which stakeholders the authority engaged through the expenditure on public relations activities; and what the output was of each project funded by the expenditure on branding.

Iain Wright:....The TSAs expenditure on branding funded a single project to develop a new brand identity. The outputs included research via consultation with tenants and stakeholders and development of the brand identity covering everything related to the brand, including the TSA logo, publication styles and development of the TSA mission statement, exhibition signage and promotional items.

And here is the logo. Good job they consulted with tenants and stakeholders, eh?

Putting on my semiotician's hat, I suppose one could say that the pink indicates gay friendliness, but beyond that, what is one to make of either a bulging rectangle or a truncated circle. Suggests that the tenants can look forward to being cramped, does it not?

I doubt that when Jane Kennedy first sought the votes of the burghers of Liverpool she knew that this would happen:

John Mann: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent representations he has received on odour emissions from the mushroom composting industry. [276587]

Jane Kennedy: I have received representations on the subject from my hon. Friend and also from Misson parish council.

And for this, she canvassed, kissed babies, stuffed envelopes, toured the 'pool in an open topped bus etc?

And her travails continued:

Ms Buck: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how much waste was recycled in each London local authority area (a) in total and (b) on average per head of the population in (i) 2005-06 and (ii) 2007-08

Excluding the City, Bexley produced the most rubbish per head and Tower Hamlets the least. Hammersmith & Fulham fares none too well, as to adapt a Woody Allen joke, they turn their rubbish into television programmes. (Rimshot)

And is this really a good idea?

Jim Dobbin: To ask the Secretary of State for Health whether proposed walk-in health centres will provide access to incontinence stores.


Meanwhile, in the debates section, what about this for sleight of hand:

Mr. Bone: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that response, but in December 2005 Tony Blair said that our EU contributions were linked to reforming the CAP. Last year, our contribution to the EU was £3 billion, and next year it will be £6.5 billion—an incredible increase of 117 per cent. We have seen no reform in the CAP and a massive increase in our contributions. Is not the EU again fleecing the British people to prop up French farmers?

Hilary Benn: I do not agree that there has been no reform of the CAP. If the hon. Gentleman cares to go back 30 years or so, 80-plus per cent. of the EU budget went on the CAP, and it is currently about 41 or 42 per cent.

Did you spot it?

Meanwhile, I am on the verge of feeling sorry for Jane Kennedy, as the poor woman really seems to be getting the brown end of the stick at the moment:

"Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with representatives of the farming sector on the future of the English pig industry.

Jane Kennedy: I met Mr. Stuart Houston, the chairman of the National Pig Association, at Morrisons’ new abattoir in Spalding, which I was privileged to open last week.

The glamour, the glitz, the pizazz of a minister's life, eh readers? She's a member of Labour Friends of Israel, but does not appear to be of the House of Judah. If she is, getting a minyan going in her birth place of Whitehaven, Cumbria might have been a bit of a struggle.

Having taken pity on Ms Kennedy, doubtless she will do or say something staggeringly evil within the next few days.


A handy 'cut out 'n' keep' guide to American gender stereotypes

Derived from a Pew Research study, which quizzed folk as to which character traits etc were linked to gender. Beyond that, I'm not saying a *mumbling* word:


Speech o' the week. Apparently

Joseph Biden's oratory has made quite an impact in Bosnia-Herzegovina, to the extent that a Bosnian farmer - one Hazim Imamovic - is attempting to gift him some land in the village of Bakici.

A quick look at Google maps discloses that Bakici, and variants thereof, is a name about as common as Newtown, so pinning down which one is not easily done. Biden being a lawyer by trade, somehow I cannot see him taking up more honest toil when he retires / is kicked out of office. Mind you BiH probably has more interesting scenery than his home state of Delaware.

Biden's speech is here. I skimmed it and was insufficiently moved to offer Biden any tangible thanks.

Anyway, time to haul out an antique anecdote - Biden must rate as a more helpful visitor than Susan Sontag, who famously hit upon the great idea of staging 'Waiting for Godot' in Sarajevo mid-siege.


Your chance to vote 27 times in the EU elections

Thursday, May 21, 2009
Presenting the rather splendid EU Profiler, which matches your answers to a series of questions to the parties standing in your part of the world.

Not quite sure why it includes Turkey, but there you are. What is more, from a few random clicks, it looks as though English is an option for all of the countries on offer.

Anyway, there goes the next half hour while I see what I should be doing were I a Lithuanian etc

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Arnie for President?

No, not the US of A, but Austria:

"People’s Party (ÖVP) Environment Minister Nikolaus Berlakovich has prompted speculation California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger could run as the party’s Austrian presidential candidate. Berlakovich said in an interview in today’s (Weds) edition of weekly magazine News: "Yes, I can readily imagine a Schwarzenegger candidacy." The minister, who visited California last week, added the governor was "an excellent and extremely-successful politician" and when asked if the ÖVP would ask Schwarzenegger to become its presidential candidate, Berlakovich said: "That is a question for the party leader".

Can't see it, frankly. Arnie was friendly with a former Austrian president.....

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The 'Mother Church' as Gaullism at prayer

The Plain People of France are being harassed by clipboard-wielders again, and the issue of the hour is the Roman Catholic vote in the Euro elections. The commissioning party is La Croix, the Gallic equivalent of The Tablet.

First up, the overall electorate:
(As ever, click for legibility)

So, the Gaullists are well ahead at 26% to the 21.5% for the Socialists, while the extreme left musters 24% of the vote between them (Old Trots, New Trots, Communists, Greens). The Lib Dem equivalent Mouvement Démocrate appeals to some 14%, while 7.5% opt for the Front and 5% for the curious coalition that is the Huntin', Shootin' & Fishin' Party / Mouvement Pour France list. They are part of the Libertas slate for this election, so are moderately eurosceptic.

What, however, of practicing Roman Catholics?

Well, the certifiable Left is not very popular - a combined share of 7%. The Gaullists are way out in front with 42%, and then there is a three-way scramble for second between the Socialists, MoDem and the Eurosceptics. One might further note that église goers have considerably less truck with the Front than the French overall, at 4% to 7.5%. I think that is to their credit. So, while 31.5% of the French are happy to vote for horse frighteners, only 11% of Roman Catholics are. What a very moderate bunch they are.

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An opportunity missed and other Parliamentary snippets

Why, oh why was it not Douglas Hogg asking this:

"Mr. Ancram: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how much his Department and its agencies have spent on the restoration of riverbeds in each of the last three years".

Meanwhile, Rosindell would appear to be a Unionist:

"Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what recent steps his Department has taken to encourage tourists to visit Scotland".

As I grew up in Essex, I am allowed to point out that even Rozza would not attempt to push Romford as a destination.

The Marquis of Lothian is on fire 'today':

Mr. Ancram: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence which potential aggressors he expects to be deterred by the Trident nuclear deterrent programme in 2024.

A good, if somewhat edgy question, and deserving of an answer, no matter who it would upset, yes?

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The 2006 White Paper: The Future of the United Kingdom's Nuclear Deterrent (Cmd 6994), section three, paragraphs 3-8 to 3-13, states that over the next 20 to 50 years we can foresee nuclear risks in three areas: Re-emergence of a major nuclear threat; emerging nuclear states and state-sponsored terrorism.

Ah well.

And there's more:

"Mr. Ruffley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department with reference to the written ministerial statement of 24 November 2008, Official Report, columns 37-8W, on Tasers, how many Tasers each police force has; and how much expenditure her Department has incurred in supplying Tasers to each police force in the last 12 months".

And where do you stand the greatest chance of being zapped? The West Midlands, followed by Greater Manchester, followed by on a train, followed by Merseyside, followed by Lincolnshire. Yes, really. The boys and girls in blue in Lincolnshire have some 364 tasers for living out their Star Trek fantasies, compared to 150 for the Met. Honestly....

And now we know about the decor of Prescott Towers:

"Mr. Maude: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster ...in what manner the sign of the Deputy Prime Minister's Office was disposed of".

Watson: "...The Department for Communities and Local Government have confirmed that the sign of the Deputy Prime Minister's Office was given to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) when he left office. The used value of the sign was minimal".

Wonder if it is mounted on the door of his shed.

And Maude is having more fun:

Mr. Maude: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster pursuant to the answer of 23 February 2009, Official Report, columns 392-93W, on departmental mobile telephones, (1) whether any of the 14 damaged mobile telephones had been allocated to individuals who work in 10 Downing Street".

Mr. Watson: None of the 14 phones that were damaged had been issued to individuals who work in Downing street.

Oh aye.

And over at the other place, a late breaking contender for Man of the Year, who is - get this - a Socialist:

Lord Dubs: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will pay taxpayers the same rate of interest for repayment of overpaid tax as they charge them for late payment....Will my noble friend confirm that the position is that if any of us as taxpayers owes money, we are charged 2.5 per cent interest, but if the tax authorities owe us money, it is 0 per cent? Why?

He was fobbed off, naturally.


Election platform o' the year

Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Step up Josko Risa, independent candidate for the mayoralty of the southern Croatian town of Prolozac (there's a joke about lifting depression in there somewhere) :

"A politician running with the slogan "All for me, nothing for you" has made it into the second round of local elections...Independent candidate Josko Kraljevic Risa also campaigned using the slogan "It is definitely going to be better for me, but will be the same for you... "I've promised my wife Karmelita that Prolozac will be like our family business", Risa told the online edition of the daily newspaper Jutarnji List yesterday (Mon)".

I can't place the author of the definition of an honest politician as being one who once bribed stays bribed, which is a shame. Meanwhile, it is pretty tragic that after less than 20 years of independence, democracy and so forth that the Croats are so disillusioned in the electoral process.

Having discovered this nifty source of central European news, I will add this:

"Communist authorities in the former Czechoslovakia planned to build a tunnel under Austria and Slovenia to the Adriatic Sea, it has emerged. Czech media reported today (Weds) that the planned tunnel would have been [255 miles] long running between Ceske Budejovice in what is today the Czech Republic to Koper in Slovenia. The plans date back to 1975 but experts say they never got off the ground for political and financial reasons".

A little light googling suggests that the longest tunnel for human traffic is a Japanese railway tunnel 33.5 miles long, so the Czechoslovaks were hardly lacking in ambition, if rather lacking anything approaching sense or the mastering of the concept of cost / benefit analyses.

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Exciting news for political obsessives everywhere

So that will be me and many of my readers then...

Our chums in Brussels are doing Euro Election night TV on the internet at europarltv, which has the scope to be a bit of competition for Sky and the BBC. Being a truly tragic case, I forsee that I will be watching results on the TV with the trusty laptops by my side. Don't you envy me my rich interior life?

Where I imagine that EuroPravda's coverage will be a bit weak will be its (presumably) studied attempts to be non-partisan and non-analytical, although I do wonder how those taking the EU shilling euro will manage to restrain themselves if UKIP and the like do well. The other tragedy is that because of national lists, I will be denied the delights of the like of 'and Socialists have just lost Bydgoszcz' and 'will the Greens hold Stockholm North?'.

I wonder what an EU swingometer looks like?

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The DPRK speaks on the Welsh

And it is all a bit alarming, frankly:

"Taffy is a favorite sweet food of the Korean people...There are three kinds of taffies--glucose (jochong), black taffy and white taffy...In order to give a flavour to taffy, it is coated with various materials such as sesame, pine nuts, walnut, black pepper, cinnamon, powdered ginger, pounded jujube...Taffy is not so sweet but tasty and nutritive"


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Hansard trawling

Nets hauled in, here's what I have found:

"Keith Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport how many representations he has received on television programmes with content claimed to be unsuitable for viewing being broadcast before the watershed in each of the last five years.

Andy Burnham: The information requested could be provided only at disproportionate cost. Approximately 50 per cent. of the correspondence received by the Department on broadcasting is about content of which quite a large proportion is about the watershed. Source

Erm, what on earth would the other half of the correspondence be about, or am I having a sudden unintelligence incident?

And Paul Burstow, LD MP for Sutton and Cheam wins the prize for focusing squarely on the big issue of the hour:

Mr. Burstow: To ask the hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission what estimate the House of Commons Commission has made of the number of (a) styrofoam and (b) plastic food service items used in House of Commons cafeterias in each of the last 12 months for which figures are available. [275498]

Nick Harvey: The House of Commons catering service estimates that it has used the following number of (a) Styrofoam and (b) plastic food service items in its cafeterias in each of 12 accounting periods from April 2008-March 2009...

I am amazed Harvey did not fob him off with the old 'disproportionate expense' line. Meanwhile, my sympathies to the peon who had to make the estimate. For what it is worth, cup lids peaked at 53,000 in period eight - whenever that was, plastic cutlery (would you trust these people with your silverware?) at 108,100 in period three and plastic food containers at 32,911 in period eight.

Meanwhile, if you do not drive and do not have children living with you, the sharp end of council service provision is rubbish collection. When I pay the council tax I occasionally daydream about contracting out of it and sending my rubbish by chauffeur to the tip and pocketing the difference. /facetiousness. Anyway, would not one think that a tolerable return on one's council tax would be weekly collection? Apparently not:

"Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs...which of the 10 councils awarded beacon status for best practice in waste collection have (a) weekly and (b) alternate weekly collections.

Bexley, Ipswich and Preston, inter alia, have the doubtless coveted beacon status for best practice even though rubbish is left to rot, attract vermin and so forth for up to a fortnight. I do not suppose that the good burgers of Bexley etc were asked whether they considered that waste collection in their area rated as a shining city on the hill / flashing orange light in the distance. I imagine beacon status is not related to the direct business of collecting rubbish, but rather to how many wretched logos appear on the council letterhead - investors in people etc etc.

Elsewhere, Jack Straw does not seem to have noticed Irish independence: "For the purpose of paying the discharge grant, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland are included within the United Kingdom". Éamon de Valera must be turning in his grave.

Does Joan Ryan know something we do not?

"To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with the French Government on Israeli soldier Corporal Shalit".

Erm... Last thing I heard it was Hamas rather than Lutte Ouvrière holding the unfortunate corporal.


Great political insults of our time

Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Enough of domestic to-ings and fro-ings, back to the more pressing issue of what is going on in Pyongyang.

Insults involving missing or impaired functions of the human body are common enough (and we are not going to stray south of the waist) - heartless, gutless, blind, deaf etc etc, but my old sparring partners in Pyongyang have been thumbing through Gray's Anatomy and have come up with an absolute corker:

Having scraped a C at O level Biology a lawwwnnng time ago, I have made recourse to check on what the gallbladder does (it stores gall / bile. Roughly what I thought), and one might note that as the gallbladder is considered a non-vital organ, so the insult is of the measure of referring to 'traitors missing appendices', I suppose.

And for why have these traitors been slammed?

"Mandarins of the “Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade” of south Korea, when meeting an official of the U.S. administration on a recent visit to it, talked nonsense that “north’s repeated steps are throwing hurdles in the way of the six-party talks” and “the north Korea-U.S. dialogue is not taking place due to the former”, zealously supporting their American master. They also blustered that “the north will have to pay a due price in case it conducts a nuclear test.”

Given how we refer to folk having 'gall', the DPRK's usage is a fairly neat inversion.

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Has the Speaker had plastic surgery on expenses?

Judging from how Les Echos is reporting the fall of Michael Martin, he has:

Not sure who the chap pictured is, but he does not look the re-incarnation of Sir John Trevor, does he? Whoever he is, it might be actionable.

One might note the coincidences connecting Martin with the disgraced Trevor - both have forenames as surnames, both hail from the Celtic fringe, and while Trevor was cross-eyed, one might argue that Martin is either one-eyed or no-eyed. Commenter John has been kind enough to point out that the chap photographed is the Republic of Ireland's Foreign Affairs chap Micheál Martin. Doubtless whoever is in charge of photographs at Les Echos had fat fingers when searching the photo library.

Anyway, as a fine woman once put it, 'Rejoice! Rejoice!'.

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Eurovision as the continuation of war by other means

To adapt Von Clausewitz.

Fortunately I no longer have to put up with Eurovision, which is a mercy. However, it would appear that I missed out on all sorts of Kremlinology, so to speak, particularly in how it impacted Armenia, Azerbaijan and Artsakh.

Item One, from the Moscow Times:

"...The web site Panarmenian.net reported Monday that television viewers in Baku, Azerbaijan, were unable to see the telephone number to vote for Armenia on their screens. The historic enmity between the two countries was reflected at Eurovision: Azerbaijan gave Armenia zero points, while Armenia gave its neighbour 1 point. Public Armenian Television has submitted a complaint to the organizers, Panarmenian.net reported, but no one could be reached immediately for comment Monday at either country's national television network".

Item Two, from Turkish daily, Hurriyet:

"The 54th Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow on Saturday turned out to be an arena of politics. When the host from Moscow turned the live feed to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, striking pictures were reflected to television screens worldwide. Sirusho, the Armenian pop star who represented the country last year with the song “Qele Qele,” was onscreen to report the Armenian votes when she lifted the card she was holding to cover her face. There was a photograph of "Menk Yenk Mer Sarerı" (We Are Our Own Mountains), in another name, "Dad u Bab" (Grandmother and Grandfather), the gigantic statue that is the symbol of the Armenian administration of Nagorno-Karabakh, on the card. The same picture was also on barcovision".

And here it is. Prettier than the Angel of the North:

Although not a patch on the remarkably lovely Sirouhi 'Sirusho' Haroutunyan herself (qv).

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The Parliamentary round up

From Hansard:

Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many sheep farms in Scotland he has visited in an official capacity in the last 12 months.

Mr. Jim Murphy: I have not visited a sheep farm in Scotland in my official capacity.

Which begs the question, has Murphy been sheep worrying in an unofficial capacity?

Might there be a lesson for Miliband here:?

Chris Huhne: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many members of staff in his Department and its agencies were dismissed (a) for under-performance and (b) in total in each of the last 10 years.

Gillian Merron: 19 members of Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) staff have been dismissed for inefficiency (which covers failure of sick absence procedures and poor performance) and eight members of FCO Services (FCOS) staff have been dismissed for under-performance. 43 members of FCO staff have been dismissed since 2004 and 24 members of FCOS staff have been dismissed in total over the last 10 years.

And hurrah for St Kitts & Nevis:

Mr. Amess: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports he has received on the number of persons who walked out during the speech of the Iranian President at the UN Durban 2 anti-racism conference; and if he will make a statement.

Gillian Merron: The Government are aware that all EU delegations who attended the Durban review conference, and the representative of St. Kitts and Nevis, left the hall when the Iranian President made comments deemed to be offensive.

And 101 damnations for all of the delegates who thought that Ahemedinejad was just engaging in a bit of banter.

Meanwhile, going on active service is not exactly remunerative:

Daniel Kawczynski: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what levels of Operational Allowance are payable to troops in (a) Afghanistan, (b) Iraq and (c) each other country in which Operational Allowance is payable.

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The operational allowance is paid at the same rate for all qualifying locations. The allowance amounts to £2,380 for a six month operational tour, equating to £13.08 per day.

I would look up per diems for Parliamentarians, but I am too lazy.

Has Mark Lancaster spotted the new property hotspot?

Mr. Lancaster: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what the estimated value is of each of his Department's properties on Ascension Island; and when the last valuation was carried out. [276174]

Mr. Kevan Jones: The Ministry of Defence has some 200 individual property assets on Ascension Island recorded on its asset registers ranging from stores to accommodation blocks. Valuations are carried out on a rolling five-year basis based on the depreciated replacement cost of the assets. The last formal valuation of the assets was carried out in 2005-06 and the next will take place during 2010-11.

How, one wonders, does one go about valuing property on Ascension Island? I do not suppose there are that many residential sales each year there, let alone commercial property transactions. A market price can only be established if there is a buyer.

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That's it - the apocalypse is finally upon us

Monday, May 18, 2009
I know I have warned of this a few times in the past, but this time I really have the supporting evidence, as the Ramblers (which used to be called the Ramblers Association, but presumably that was too boojwah, was insufficiently inclusive etc etc) have put out a press release, spotted at ePolitix.com:

"Get Walking Day is the Ramblers' annual celebration of the joy of walking".

OK, with you so far.

"We want to inspire people of all ages to go for a walk on 30th May and, ideally, to continue walking regularly afterwards. Walking is really good for physical, social and emotional well-being".

Unless you are walking back from a funeral, from having been dumped, lost you job etc. However, those are details.

Ok, here it comes:

"No special equipment or training is needed and almost anyone can do it".

See, I was right, wasn't I? And what is more, there is an EDM using much the same form of words, including that stake directed at the heart of anything even vaguely approaching common sense.

Shoot me now. It would be a kindness.

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Scarcely credible headline o' the day

From the Miami Herald:

Where, indeed, are the SQL tables of yesteryear?

The tale is actually about the ledger detailing the arrival of Cuban children in the 60s, but the headline does not do the story justice, frankly.

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Westminster MPs - /still/ rank amateurs when it comes to unethical behaviour

Note this from the Mail & Guardian (Jo'burg):

"The Minister of Transport S'bu Ndebele has accepted a R1,1-million Mercedes Benz S500 from a group of contractors with contracts worth more than R400-million in the department, the Star reported on Sunday....Among other gifts Ndebele received was a herd of cattle.

But Ndebele defended the gesture by the contractors and said it was planned long before he and the contractors became aware that he would be appointed into the transport portfolio".

At least he did not say it was an honest mistake.

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Further finds from Hansard trawling

Perhaps it is just me being infantile, but I am enjoying the fact of questions about gambling being asked by Clive Betts:

Mr. Betts: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) what discussions his Department has had with representatives of the bingo industry on levels of taxation in the industry in the last three months

Elsewhere, the deeply obscure member for Rochford and Southend East asked this:

James Duddridge: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent discussions she has had on the classification of anabolic steroids

Having found a photo of him, he does not look like an iron pumper, so there you are.

Elsewhere, Lord Alton having returned from Pyongyang, he is again asking rather dull questions:

"Lord Alton of Liverpool To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their assessment of bilateral relations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea".

He must have been working on the wording of that one for days.

Malloch-Brown's reply is to dull to bear repeating.

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Paris might be worth a mass, but Minsk scarcely rates a kopek

From Hansard:

Mr. Hague: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 27 April 2009, Official Report, column 1032W, on departmental public expenditure, what resource allocation was made for each overseas post for (a) 2007-08 and (b) 2008-09.

David Miliband: The following table gives net administration allocations by post for 2007-08 and 2008-09.

There then follows a lengthy table showing the cost of our various postings, and because I've got time on my hands wake up, I have been having some fun with the European statistics.

Here are costs by embassies etc, with outlying consulates for Germany, France and Russia combined. I have excluded those Belgian offices connected with the EU and so forth:

So, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Russia are the heavy hitters, and Montenegro, Belarus and Reykjavik are bottom of the heap.

However, dividing population by expenditure provides another way of measuring how important the Foreign Office thinks that various places are:

And we would appear to have a thing for islands, as Cyprus, Malta and Iceland have by far the highest spend relative to population, and Belarus is bottom of the heap. However, Gibraltar, excluded from the chart as it is not a sovereign state, knocks Cyprus into a cocked hat, with a spend of £38.56 per head, compared to £3.57 for Aphrodite's Island. Minsk gets all of £0.03 per head.

Clearly there is a baseline cost for maintaining a diplomatic presence, and excluding countries with populations south of three million, the Swiss come out on top, although doubtless this is skewed by the presence of NGOs in that neck of the woods. Our Irish and Danish neighbours also impress.

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Inventive protest o' the week

Sunday, May 17, 2009
Borrowed from Knees Up Mother Brown, the West Ham forum:

"Angry Chelsea supporters want to get their own back on Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo, who made a number of controversial decisions in the Blues' Champions League semi-final, second leg against Barcelona. They have set up an internet campaign to stop Norway winning the Eurovision song contest".

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Money can't buy you love

Pity our Uncle Sam. He hoses countries down with money, puts up with less than subtle support for terrorism, liberates / shields them from Ba'athist tyranny etc etc. And does he get any gratitude? Judge for yourselves with this chart abstracted from here, wherein this question was asked:

"Taking into account all the things which you think are important, how favourable or unfavourable is your overall opinion or impression of the United States?"

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Real estate opportunity of the year

Friday, May 15, 2009
The Governor of California is proposing to flog off the site of San Quentin prison, and quite choice its location is too:

"The correctional complex sits on Point San Quentin, which comprises 432 acres (1.75 km2) of desirable waterfront real estate overlooking the north side of San Francisco Bay. The prison complex itself occupies 275 acres (1.11 km2) of land, whose value a 2001 study estimated at between $129 million and $664 million".

Sounds like a plan. I would imagine that of British prisons, Wandsworth must sit on the most valuable real estate. One would think that our mainly 19th century prisons, often built in central (ish)residential locations, could be flogged off for redevelopment and be re-built to more modern standards elsewhere. After all, if the concept of prisons was invented today, how many of the current sites would be deemed sensible?

Anyway, shame the Man in Black isn't around to write another song about it.

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So, who's the careless minister at the DoT?

From Hansard:

Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many (a) BlackBerry devices and (b) mobile telephones have been lost by (i) Ministers, (ii) special advisers and (iii) civil servants in his Department in each year since 2005

Hoon [blah blah blah]

The table shows a blackberry lost by a minister in 2009. Anyone fancying a witch hunt - and who doesn't? - might note that the current ministers at the DoT are the Hoon himself, Lord Adonis, Jim Fitzpatrick and Paul Clarke.

Meanwhile, some curious figures involving 3 Para:

Dr. Fox: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many soldiers in 3 Para are not (a) authorised, (b) trained and (c) certified to parachute.

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: 500 personnel out of 594 posts in 3 PARA are trained as paratroopers. Of those, 327 personnel are currently certified to parachute.

Note the waggishness of Peter Bone

"Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I am very encouraged by what the Minister says. Does she agree that, where there is a male in a top job and a talented female deputy has been in place for a considerable time, done a very good job and has stood in, at times, for the boss, she should automatically get the next job? Can the Minister think of anyone close to her to whom that might apply?

Maria Eagle: I think I know what the hon. Gentleman is getting at, and I do not wish to get drawn into the individual circumstances in particular workplaces—he is inviting me to walk down a very difficult path. We need to do better overall in order to use the talents of all our people, including the women.

And from the Other Place, a burningly important issue comes to the fore:

"Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay To ask Her Majesty's Government whether (a) members of the public, and (b) police officers, are prohibited from using mobile phones while riding a horse on a public highway; and, if so, what are the penalties for the offence. [HL3474]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Lord Adonis): Members of the public and police officers are not prohibited from using a mobile phone while riding a horse on a public highway, so there are no penalties.


Gillian Shephard, how could you?

La Shephard always struck me as decent, competent and sensible, but it looks as though she has somehow become one of the PM's 'useful idiots', in that she is on 'The panel on fair access to the professions', led by that oily chancer Milburn. This is its remit:

"The Panel on Fair Access to the Professions was announced on the 13th January 2009. The Panel will complement measures contained in the New Opportunities White Paper. The Panel will look at the processes and structures that govern recruitment into key professions. It will identify actions that the professions, supported by government where relevant, could undertake to improve access into professions. The Panel will run until summer 2009 supported by a secretariat based in the Cabinet Office".

Here is the list of other members, and it is full of all of the kind of people you would expect - Gail Rebuck, wife of Philip Gould (Labour peer), Elinor Goodman, Trevor Philips etc.

Anyway, this is the kind of quality 'research' it is coming up with:

"The Panel published new figures showing how Britain is divided when it comes to getting a professional career. In the North East England only one-third of the workforce are in professional or managerial jobs while in London it is over one-half".

Do I need to explain why that is the case?


Fancy Elliot Morley running out of things to tweet...

Thursday, May 14, 2009
Like so:

His bio line is 'Proud to be Scunthorpe's Labour MP'. Is he now violating electoral law, I wonder?

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