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'Positively limiting people’s choices'

Wednesday, January 31, 2007
I have crossed swords with the ippr before, and have a pretty fair idea of what to expect from 'The UK's leading progressive think tank'. And it is not an idea I am much in sympathy with. However, I was not prepared for their latest horror - How, and why, the State should help us to keep our New Year's Resolutions. As ever, I am *not* making this up.

So, the 'how': "the Government can help people stick with their resolutions by regulating the atmosphere in which they make them. For example, it will be much easier to stick to giving up smoking after the ban on smoking in public places takes effect. It is also much easier to get fitter if an affordable gym or other sports facilities are available locally"....The report will argue that the Government can reduce the range of bad choices available by setting minimum standards, like capping the amount of salt in food or ensuring that all white goods meet basic environmental standards. People’s choices can be positively limited by government in other ways too".

And the 'why': "many new year’s resolutions have benefits for everyone, for example, in reducing carbon emissions or reducing the pressure on a tax funded National Health Service. It will argue that there is a justifiable role for the state to intervene in changing the public’s behaviour".

Over to Miranda Lewis, ippr Associate Director to sum it all up: “If people live healthier and greener lives, we all benefit through reduced pressure on the NHS and a cleaner environment. The Government needs be confident in its ability to help people to keep their resolutions and ignore the criticism that intervention is the action of a ‘nanny state’.

Feeling nauseous? I am. So, in essence the state will force enable us to be 'free', and not only will it do us all 'good', it can be justified by bowing down to the twin Molochs of being nice to the NHS and 'saving the planet'.


The ippr helpfully includes 'Five things you can to do to keep your new year’s resolutions'. I think they are shy seven points:

1.We admitted we were powerless without the State — that our lives had become unmanageable.
2.Came to believe that the State is greater than ourselves and could restore us to sanity.
3.Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of the State as it understands it.
4.Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5.Admitted to the State, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6.Were entirely ready to have the State remove all these defects of character.
7.Humbly asked the State to remove our shortcomings.
8.Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9.Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10.Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11.Sought to improve our conscious contact with the State as it understands itself, asking only for knowledge of its will for us and the power to carry that out.
12.Having had an awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.


(Shamelessly borrowed and adapted from the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps programme)

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Europe: Be fruitful and multiply

And the results are in. Colin wants to know about the German request that we all have more children, and no one has objected, so here goes.

Frau Ursula von der Leyen, Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (what about middle aged chaps, eh?), for it is she, has laid out under the snappy title 'Seize demographic change as an opportunity and promote equal opportunities for all at work and in society' the following:

1. Strengthen families: more children in families and more families in society

2. Promote equal opportunities for women and men at work and in family life

3. Experience shapes the future: Recognise opportunities – use knowledge and experience – develop new markets

4. Strive for equal opportunities and social participation for all children and young people

She, erm, walks it like she talks it, in that apparently there are seven variously sized von der Leyens. Is an order from the Federal Minister for blah blah blah going to be enough, or might there be inducements? Way back lost in the mists of time, a German politician tried to encourage the people to have more kinder by pointing out that even the most expensive Mercedes could not say 'mummy and daddy'. It did not result in a baby boom.

(And coming up later, 'positively limiting people’s choices')

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Playing with loaded dice

DEFRA has got hot under the collar over the issue of whaling, not that there has been much whaling by those from these islands in quite some time. Fair enough, perhaps, we are a maritime nation and maybe there are some potential Ahabs, Ishmaels etc in these parts. There are certainly plenty of Starbucks....

The government's solution to the 'problem' of the International Whaling Commission losing its in-built majority of anti-votes is to encourage land-locked countries to join the IWC, because:

"Whales are a common heritage and as such the responsibility for their conservation and protection rests with all countries, whether or not they have coastal waters. Whaling is inherently cruel and economically unnecessary and we would urge all countries to join the IWC, protect the IWC's moratorium and take up the global responsibility to protect whales for future generations".

Current non-maritime nations in the IWC include the economic powerhouses that are Mali, Mongolia, Luxembourg and San Marino. And the Czechs, Slovaks, Austrians and the Swiss. Given the suggestion that the Japanese have 'persuaded' Caribbean states to vote for whaling via much economic largesse, and there being many, many low GDP states that might be amenable to a few yen, the one nation, one vote system may yet backfire. Our commissioner is one Mr R Cowan, by the way.

The things Gordon Brown will do for a free copy of Vista (?)

The Would Be Lord Protector (WBLP) has been addressing the portentously named Microsoft Government Leaders Forum in Auld Reekie, and has been sucking up to Gates big time:

"It's technological advances - many of them the innovations of Bill Gates - work for not just some of the people, but all of the people. For what Bill Gates is achieving in building a partnership between rich and poor countries that addresses the health and educational needs of the poor".

The WBLP was persuaded to make another one of his coma- inducing speeches on the same day as the launch of Vista on a blameless world public, and for my sins, I have read it in its entirety.

Since he prays in aid the Sage of Kirkcaldy, a few quotes to damn him with:

"Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice: all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things”.

"Every man is, no doubt, by nature, first and principally recommended to his own care; and as he is fitter to take care of himself than of any other person, it is fit and right that it should be so".


Anyway, some extracts:

"Instead of a retreat into the old isolationism, progress forward through partnership and cooperation:

* Cooperating together to meet energy needs and climate change; (Like Milliband and his 'Environmental Union')
* Cooperating to tackle global terrorism;
* Cooperating together to manage the global economy; (Manage? Not such a free marketeer at all, are you?)
* The means by which through restructuring our international institutions the benefits of this new world order can be shared by not just some but all. (All, that *is* a big ask)

"And so instead of recognising, and indeed celebrating, our interdependence and our connectedness as people and nations". (Let's have a big street party....)

"Scotland is today leading Britain and Europe in three areas:
* First, Scotland is creating more jobs, with unemployment today lower than London".

Maybe so, but it is higher than in Northern Ireland, the West Midlands, the North West, Wales, the East Midlands, the South West, the South East and the East and equal to that in Yorkshire and Humberside. Although it is also lower than in the North East. Doesn't sound quite so impressive now, does it?

And then, "Capital investment per pupil has grown from £100 per pupil in 1997 and by 2011 we will be spending per student over £1,000 per year, a ten-fold increase. In the past 10 years IT investment has increased sevenfold, interactive whiteboard- and IT-based learning helping the teacher be more than a lecturer and a tutor as well". I imagine he did not bother reading a report this week from the Institute of Education which found "Replacing school blackboards with hi-tech interactive whiteboards' has been a waste of £50million".

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Having trouble keeping your Tomcat airworthy?

In which case move quickly, as supplies are about to be become unavailable once and for all, if a senator from Oregon has his way.

Given that the US Navy retired its remaining F14s last September, and the Iranian Air Force (or more properly, the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force) is the only airforce that flies them, this does seem quite a sensible move. Although the sale of spares to Iran has been embargoed since 1979, there is a black market in spares and parts have got through, apparently. Mind you, you would need very dozy customs bods and a fairly hefty overnight bag for a General Electric F110-GE-400 afterburning turbofan...

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Say hello to Thought Crime, EU-style

A new release at the EU press room is headlined 'Outlawing racism and xenophobia', although further examination shows that its ambitions are not quite that broad.

This is a German Presidency initiative, as "in view of [its] particular historic responsibility...[it] has committed itself to returning the combating of racism and xenophobia throughout Europe to the political agenda".

Perhaps they have an education programme in mind? Or maybe encouraging more town twinning or somesuch? No, of course not. It will be wall to wall criminal sanctions.

"The goal is to attain minimum harmonisation of provisions on criminal liability for disseminating racist and xenophobic statements. These include, for example, public incitement to violence and hatred or the denial or gross minimisation of genocide out of racist or xenophobic motives. However, the Framework Decision will not seek to prohibit specific symbols such as swastikas".

I very much doubt that there is a single jurisdiction where "public incitement to violence" is not already severely sanctioned, so that is a 'we have to appear to be doing something clause. "Denial or gross minimisation of genocide out of racist or xenophobic motives". Note 'genocide', not specifically the Shoah, so this can be taken as targetted quite directly at what the Turks did to the Armenians, inter alia, and will doubtless be applied to any number of other assaults by one people on another. Note also 'motives', a concept historically alien to English law - motive matters little, but rather the act itself plus a criminal's state of mind at the time of the offence. This, clearly, takes us into a category of thought crime


So much for the theory, and on to proposed content:

"Public incitement to hatred and violence for reasons of racism or xenophobia will be criminalised....The maximum penalty for such conduct will be at least one to three years in prison".

I am presuming they are using the demotic sense of xenophobia as 'hatred' rather than 'fear'.


"Public approval, denial or gross minimisation of genocide, crimes against humanity [Defined by the Rome Statute and Nuremburg] ...against a group of persons or a member of such a group, defined according to the criteria of race, colour, religion, descent, or national or ethnic origin, will be criminalised".

This is broad enough to encompass most wars, including and not limited to the Crusades, the bombing of Dresden, the Albigensian crusade, the '44 invasion of Prussia by the Red Army, the St Bartholomew's Day massacre and probably the Irish potato famine.

"The Framework Decision also provides that racist or xenophobic motives may be considered an aggravating factor in other criminal offences".

We already have this within English law, and the motives are defined by the victim's thoughts on the matter. Is it necessarily worse to attack someone physically for one of the foregoing than for other things a person has limited control over such as class or body size?

My regulars know me well enough that I am not going to insult them by making protestations of innocence of racism and 'xenophobia' on my part, but rather let us stick to the very profound issues of free speech that this raises. Free speech should not encompass the right to shout fire in a crowded theatre, or in this case the active incitement to criminal acts, but the Pan-EU criminalising of unpopular opinions voiced in less incendiary terms takes us onto a remarkably slippery slope.

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The art of winning, and losing, graciously

Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Or matters casino related.

Manchester first: "Councillor Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council said: “This is fantastic news for Manchester, and the region". So, they see the slightly bigger picture.

Greenwich: "The Leader of Greenwich Council, Councillor Chris Roberts said: "I would like to congratulate Manchester on the success of their bid and wish them every success for the future. I would also like to pay tribute to the Casino Advisory Panel for their hard work and commitment
to the process." Remarkably gracious, all things considered.
Guess who had to wade in too: "
The recommendation by the Casino Advisory Panel that the first regional casino should not go to Greenwich is disappointing. An opportunity to boost the regeneration of one of the UK’s most deprived areas has been missed".

Blackpool, however, wins the sourest of sour grapes awards, and headlines 'Peoples choice rejected': "We are surprised and hugely disappointed by the Panel’s recommendation but we are not giving up. The decision that the panel is proposing is an enormous missed opportunity for Blackpool to become a world-class resort destination. A regional casino would be a catalyst for substantial change in Blackpool. We are also the people’s choice nationally having received well over twice as much support nationally as any other location. “Of all the other locations on the regional casino shortlist, Blackpool has no other realistic alternatives for regeneration".

And the veiled suggestion of lawsuits, perhaps? : "We are convinced that casino led regeneration remains the best and right solution for Blackpool and we will therefore seek to influence the final decision which lies with the Secretary of State who can increase the number of licences".

The French election - the intellos wade in....

France without pontificating intellectuals would be like a fish without a bicycle, would it not?

"We need to draw up a diagnosis of society that is as precise as possible, as the French political crisis, above all, comes from there" - an unnamed prof at the ENS (What was that quote from Brecht suggesting the DDR should sack the proletariat and choose a new one?)

And, "It is a movement which is exerted in two directions, notes Thierry Pech, reviews editor of 'the Republic of Ideas': the political world seeks to understand society in a more operational way and the intellectual world seeks to become more useful." It is a good news, for a society which appeared condemned to what the historian Marcel Gauchet called a 'theory hangover'".

And then, "Max Gallo, who wrote on "the silence of the intellectuals" in 1983 in Le Monde explains this movement: "In 1981, we were in an old France, over determined by the actions and analyses of '30s then by those of the cold war. Then, for a long period, the intellectuals of the '80s withdrew themselves. But then there was the collapse of the USSR and globalisation. Today, there is a new generation of intellectuals who are no longer satisfied to be [merely] experts, and policy is back on the agenda."

And.... "Even if the rupture between the left and academia is not completely healed post Claude Allègre, Ségolène Royal has effected a disconnect between socialist culture and her, which could be a positive sign."

And finally, the most astonishing outbreak of 'look at me maman!' from sociologist Christian Baudelot of the ENS : "Sarkozy hates science, hates intellectuals, so - all things considered, all of our reasons for living".

Elsewhere, Jacques Vergès, a far left barrister in France who makes our lefty lawyers look like lightweights when it comes to 'the struggle' is now suspected of having passed on information to Carlos the Jackal, (one of his many delightful clients, along with Klaus Barbie) which would have been useful in an attack on a train carrying Jacques Chirac. He offered to defend Saddam, and unconfirmed rumours place him in Cambodia during the horror that was the rule of the Khmer Rouge.

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Foreign government consulted on the date of an election in the United Kingdom

Yes, really. Blair has been meeting with a foreign prime minister in order to agree on a date for an election in this country.

Surprised? Appalled? You should be. And if I reveal that it concerns Ulster and the Republic of Ireland, it should make no difference.

Manchester - so much to answer for

I can't really imagine Morrissey in a white jump suit singing 'Viva Ashton Canal Corridor', can you?

The things they say in Ljusdal

Apparently they are a bit rude, to the extent that a councillor is pushing for legislation for "a zero tolerance approach to this sort of thing [in public]", although "I'm not talking about stopping people saying 'oh damn' when they hit their thumb with a hammer or something", she says. The paper helpfully includes a list of English and Swedish profanities.

That Ljusdal has been the home of the Bandy World Cup, bandy being a cross between football and field hockey played on frozen football pitches, and is the geographical centre of Sweden might not be wholly unconnected to all of this cursing.

Of Unions and 'human resources'

The TUC and Personnel Today have co-funded a survey on the role of unions in the workplace, focusing in particular on how unions and HR droids view each other. It is full of intriguing insights, as are the very different emphases in how the two different reports tell the tale.

Both lead with the figure of 92% of union shop stewards who think that their syndicalism is jeopardising their careers (The word always reminds me of the joke about the man who sees a a headline saying '1000 jobs in jeopardy, and so makes haste to the station to buy a ticket...). 36% of the HR droids think the same thing, although a propos both, they would say that, wouldn't they?

Elsewhere, shop stewards rate their relationship with HR at 5.6 out of 10, to the 6.7 from the other side. Astonishingly 62% of shop stewards reckon HR pleasant / easy to deal with, with the reverse figure 69%. Elsewhere, "58% of HR professionals agree that their main union is professional in its approach); openness (36% v 51%); and quality of negotiating skills (31% v 55%)".

The magazine carries quotes from HR bods critical of unions, and union reps critical of HR which the TUC does not run with, and here's one involving a particularly hideous form of words: "Being a rep can get you air time. An incompetent rep may blame union activity for poor progression, but it is more likely they made a fool of themselves too often". (My emphasis)

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Fidel Castro - not everyone's hero...

With the old thug on his last legs, Miami is speeding up its preparations for dealing with how Cuban-Americans wish to mark his passing. Given that some of them fled Cuba on inflated tyre inner tubes and the like, they do not think as highly of him as some European politicians, and there is unlikley to be much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Instead, the Miami Orange Bowl is being readied. This, note, has "a regular capacity of 74,476 orange seats, and can seat up to 82,000 for concerts and other events where additional seating can be placed on the playing field".

A curious e-mail...

Monday, January 29, 2007
I cannot say that I write a great deal about issues involving household pets and the like, although cats have had the occasional mention in comments threads.

However, I have received this e-mail:

Dear blog author,

We recently came across your site, croydonian.blogspot.com, while searching for bloggers who blog about Cat issues.

A small group of us have started a new site called Cat Bloggers. Our intent is to bring Cat bloggers closer together, and make a positive contribution to the Internet community.

Would you be interested in joining Cat Bloggers? Please take a few minutes to have a look at what we are trying to do, and if you are interested, there is a sign up page to get the ball rolling. We would greatly appreciate your support in this endeavour.

If you do not feel that your blog would be a good fit for Cat Bloggers, but enjoy this subject area, come visit us and one of our member bloggers. You can also check our FAQ Section to learn more about Cat Bloggers.

We look forward to hearing from you and seeing you on Cat Bloggers.

Craig Cantin



I am, to put it mildly, mystified. The sole post a blog search brought up was on diversity in fire brigades where I referenced cats being rescued from trees.

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I wish I was Lithuanian...

Because based on the eurostat figures for rail passenger and train transport, Lithuanians only averaged 33.3 passengers per train in 2004, to our 95.7. Still, it could be worse - 185.3 Frenchmen and Frenchwomen are jammed into the average TGV / RATP train etc.

I would note that the Gauls go in for spectacularly long trains, and it is as well to get to the station in very good time. I once caught a train from Paris to Montpellier, and discovered to my cost that there was an engine in the middle as well as at both ends, and therefore could not get to my reserved seat from where I had entered the teain. Net result, I had to sit on my suitcase all the way to Nîmes. Delightful.

Livingstone's idea of a debate

As is painfully obvious, the mayor is keen to get his hands on ever more areas of the capital's life more properly dealt with by borough councils or the citizenry themselves. However, the attempted land grabs are quite mild compared to how he reacts if he thinks he might be undermined.

In his, or the press office's. words: "The Mayor of London Ken Livingstone said today that he must retain the ability to guarantee free bus and tube travel to older and disabled Londoners, as London Councils stepped up their campaign to abolish the reserve scheme that allows the mayor to step in if there is no agreement on the funding for the Freedom Pass".

Showing just how open to a debate he is, note the following with its rather limited audience and the very loaded use of words: "The Mayor said that he would be inviting representatives of groups who benefit from the Freedom Pass to discuss the undermining of the free travel scheme".

And I'm sure theat the invitees will rise as one to declare that they are really not that bothered one way or another. This is not really the time or the place to examine the virtues or otherwise of benefits of group application, but note that Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, 6th Duke of Westminster, would be eligible for a pass in 2011.

Oh, and two examples, from different organisations, make for 'a sustained attack': "There is now a sustained attack on free travel schemes in London. Late last year the deputy chair of the London Assembly transport committee proposed that free travel for children on our buses and trams should be abolished".

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And bloggers are accused of not checking their facts

Jackie Ashley of the Guardian clearly believes in rigorous fact checking and advancing her
'argument' only after a careful examination of all the facts at hand, witness this:

"If Guardian sites are any guide, bloggers tend to be disproportionately young, male, angry and rightwing".

Erm, Jackie, bloggers are the people who write the piece that is commented on. If so, I am delighted that CiF is casting its net so much wider than the usual pool of bien pensant 'liberals'. Forgiving her that lapse, I can think of plenty of bloggers who are young (under 30), plenty who are male, precious few who are angry and plenty who are right wing. But all four?

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Today's petitions to Number 10.

And there are some corkers:

"Ban TV / Magazine advertisement of Credit Cards and Personal Loans".

Who cares about commercial freedom of speech? How will folk discover other financial options? etc etc...

"Fruit and vegetables should be given to people via NHS instead of Slimming medication".

And that would be cheap, wouldn't it?

"Be fairer to the Southwest of England".

Hmm. You are generally prettier than Croydon. Feel better now?

Make rule 238 of the Highway Code an endorsable offence and therfore educate drivers that do not return to the loft (sic) most lane of the motorway after overtaking".

I suppose that could work with underpasses.

"Introduce atx (sic) for people with a B.M.I tax of 30 or over, i.e obese people".

We are a nation of punishment feaks, aren't we?

"Stop prosecuting minor offences in court, birch them and send them on their way".


As above. 'Sending them on their way' is the best bit.

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Yet another flagship policy heading for a shipwreck

And this time it is the digitising of NHS records. The Information Commissioner has considered the application of the '98 Data Protection act in this area, having:

"...received a number of enquiries from people who have seen articles in the media relating to the introduction of electronic care records across England. Many of these individuals have expressed concern at the plans and are worried that their health records will be available to everyone across the NHS".

.....

"Once the basic health information...is uploaded on to the NHS Summary Care Record:

• you will be able to choose to remove some or even all of the information initially uploaded

• you will be able to keep the uploaded information but make the Summary Care Record invisible."

Furthermore, "The Commissioner will be monitoring the implementation and operation of the new NHS Care Records Service to ensure patients are provided with adequate information and choices and that their health data is maintained in a safe and secure way. As part of this he will continue to engage with NHS Connecting for Health on a number of issues, in particular those relating to the accuracy of the information to be uploaded, the way people are informed about the changes and the systems in place to allowpeople to access their own information".


One might note that this is in direct contravention of the Government's averral that patients have no right to refuse consent, and I forsee an awful lot of litigation over this.

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Viral attack ads

Here's John Edwards fussing over his hair:




The Los Angeles Times has an interesting item on viral attack ads, which fall outside any rules on campaigning, and I think it is extremely likely that video editors with an agenda will be doing similar things in these parts, with a vengeance, before long.

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The French update

Sunday, January 28, 2007
Sego, lucky thing, is in Guadeloupe on the campaign trail, and has lapsed into creole, which I imagine is as toe culing for the Guadeloupais/e as it would be if Mr Tony tried to get all Trenchtown on us. Least there be any doubt, 'I am an upright woman, we are going to break the mould!' is 'Moin sé on fanm doubout, nou kay cassé ça!' in Creole. I'll offer you short odds that she'll end up in Tahiti at some point and very long odds on her heading to either Kerguelen or St Pierre & Miquelon. Our empire building Canadian friends have their beadies on that too....

Given that she is on the ropes over Quebec / Corsica, her inabilty to remember quite how many submarines make up the force de frappe etc etc, she's also having a good old whine about the unnamed Sarko and his camp's 'methods'. All very predicatable.

Elsewhere, the McDo trashing José Bové is intent on stepping up to the plate, to the chagrin of the PCF and la Ligue communiste révolutionnaire. Quite why is a mystery, as all can anticipate lost deposits or the equivalent all round.

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Possibly the most soulless press release of ALL TIME

I offer you this little 'gem' from Gwynedd Council, or Cyngor Gwynedd as it also likes to be called:

"With St. Dwynwen’s Day and St. Valentine’s Day fast approaching, Gwynedd Council has teamed up with Waste Awareness Wales (WAW) to play Cupid by encouraging people to show some love to the environment as well as with their loved ones by sending e-cards.

Around 24 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent in the UK each year, to be opened, read and then eventually thrown away. So in a bid to reduce waste, WAW has designed two new e-cards especially for St. Dwynwen’s Day and Valentine’s Day".


Romance, who needs it? And too bad hefyd 'n ddrwg for forestry, paper mills and printers.....

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Guess who is the Mayor of Salamanca?

First clue - He's been dead for more than 30 years.

Second clue - Socialists do not hold his memory exactly dear.

Third clue - He's been mayor since 1964.

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An interesting Canadian development

Saturday, January 27, 2007
Verity has tipped me off to an interesting item in La Presse, where a small village in Québec has decided, after polling the citizenry, to stick a stake in the ground and make a stand for what one might call liberal values:

Here are some of the questions:

'Do you believe that men and women are of equal worth?' Yes - 193, Not sure - 1, No - 2.

'Would you accept a ban on Christmas trees?' No - 100%

'Would you accept a ban on alcohol?' No - 100%

'Do you think that a male nurse should be permitted to treat a woman?' Yes - 194.

'Do you consider yourself a racist?' No - 100%

Armed with this findings, the municipality has made this declaration:

"We consider that men and women are of equal worth. So, a woman may, inter alia: drive a car, vote, sign cheques, dance, decide for herself." Consequently, "we do not consider normal stoning women in the town square, burning them alive, throwing acid at them or genital mutilation". As the Mayor says to any would be new villagers, "Don't be surprised by this. For us this is the norm. You will be free to appreciate this new way of life".

I rather agree with him.

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The Fourth Defenestration of Prague

In a less than reported development in these parts, the Germans are still trying to bring the EU constitution back to life, despite the Dutch and French no votes which for a government of laws, and not one of men, would have killed it stone dead - at the crossroads, with garlic around its neck and a stake through its heart.

Perhaps unwisely Frau Merkel has had a go at coaxing the Czechs into a measure of support for it, but the famously straight-talking Vaclav Klaus ('The Third Way leads to the Third World') and his equally pugnacious Prime Minister are having none of it: "Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek insisted to reporters that "the document must be more understandable for people," and said the Czech Republic would not stand for a quick-fix solution at the cost of quality. Czech President Vaclav Klaus advocated "smaller steps" in the direction of a constitution, and said the current draft was still "kilometers" away from what the Czech Republic would accept".

Previously Topolanek has dismissed the constitution as 'a pile of crap'. In one of life's delightful outbreaks of symmetry, it was a pile of just that which broke the fall of the Imperial Governors defenestrated in 1618.


(PT - Sorry if I'm infringing your demarcation)

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The business of business is business, despite what some might think

Yet another obscure syndicalist organisation - has anyone ever heard of UNI? - is stamping its tiny foot over the mechanisms of global capitalism, and this time it is private equity with which it has beef: "The philosophy is buy it, strip it and flip it," Mr Jennings [of UNI] said. "It's all about value extraction and not value creation." Gosh, how wicked. I would counter with the words of the Sage of Lichfield: "No man is more innocently employed than in the making of money".

The weapon of choice in combating private equity is the touting of nostrums of 'good corporate governance', which in this case boils down to little more than moaning about 'social responsibility'. Companies have an obligation to their shareholders - c'est tout - and anything that they do beyond that should be a question of choice, not attempted blackmail. However, it gets better: "the rates of return expected by the new private entrepreneurs were incompatible either with good corporate governance or the fight against climate change".

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Debasing of the language

It is not just the Danes having trouble with English, it is our friends in Canada too, and the National Post takes careful aim at one of my most loathed words, 'community'. As if it had not already had all meaning sucked out of it through absurd usages around ethnic groups - consider the growing use of 'white community' in the UK. What unites us bar lack of melanin? Erm... Similarly Asian community, Black community etc etc.

And, "So it is that there is now the clubbing community, the composting community, the conspiracy theorists community; and online, people form the "diaper-lover community" (often associated with the "adult baby community"), the fans of MacGyver community and the cigar aficionado community; and there would be 1.2 million hits on Google for the seemingly nonsensical phrase, 'world community'".

Further absurdities detected by the Post include 'pedestrian community', 'Eating community' and within the Campbell's Soup community, an academic imagines there is probably "the 'chunky community' and the 'consomme' community".

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Something rotten in the state of Denmark, or revenge on the Jutes some 1600 years late

Or so it would seem, as the Danes are rather concerned about English undermining Danish language in those parts, to the extent that "parliament [is preparing] to debate a bill that would legally secure the Danish language's status as the language of Denmark, ensuring that all correspondence, public speeches and meetings are held in only in Danish". While the proposal comes from one of the anti-immigration parties, it is also notable that "in schools..130 of the nation's 329 educational programmes offered are taught in English". I would suspect that they are using schools in the US sense of higher education establishments, but even so.

For many years I have reckoned that the less spoken languages of the Nordic and Low Countries would end up on life support systems within my lifetime, as with English being the language of popular culture, science, commerce and just about everything else it will be increasingly difficult for Swedish, Dutch and the like to be usable much beyond the home and in day to day matters. Some years back a friend was studying Swedish at university, and had to spend a term in Sweden, where he was fighting a constant battle to get his fellow students to speak Swedish, which they thought it was pointless to learn.

While I can have a good snigger about the likes of L'Académie française attempting to cook up new words to counter 'illegal imports' of English, the prospect of a language being killed off as a living thing is considerably less laughable, as that would break the link between a population and its culture and render it unintelligible. Let is trust that there will continue to be nothing like a Dane....

The only Danish word I can think of is hygge, which is notoriously unrenderable in English, but suggests something along the lines of cosiness, especially in a group.

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The legislature where just three seats are 'a comfortable majority'

Friday, January 26, 2007
In the Turks & Caicos Islands, one of the few remaining pink dots left on the map. Anyway, the good people of T&C will be getting to exercise their franchise on the 9th, and the electorate of around 20,000 gets to choose 15 MPs - so it has around three and a half times as many elected members per head of population as Croydon.

The Prime Minister, the Hon. Dr. Michael Misick would appear to take his public duties rather more seriously than some prime ministers nearer to home, and declared: "We have more than fulfilled the mandate that the people have given us, and there is every indication that the people are ready to give us a fresh mandate. Elections are the most honorable and democratic manner of consulting with the people. And so, my government and my party, having so diligently and prudently discharged our obligations and fulfilled our mandate, we believe that the time has come to return to the people, so that their voice and their will can be heard.” (Source). Furthermore, the people of T&C, or at least the supporters of the incumbent seem a little more enthused about exercising their franchise than folk in these parts, as his "speech...was punctuated by thunderous applause and deafening screams of support".

I would love to stick my oar in and urge the populace to vote one way or the other, but all that I have been able to discover is that the opposition People's Democratic Movement is centrist, while the Progressive National Party fails to disclose what it stands for, and looks to have failed to renew the domain registration for its party website.

I also discover that the Canadians have their beady Canuck eyes on the T&C Islands, and have explored the possibility of the Islands joining a union with it, T&C becoming a province or taking up Nova Scotia's offer to join that province. I'm *not* making this up, and the Canadians have form at this sort of thing.

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Looks like Sego has just lost the Corsican vote

A noted French impersonator would appear to have fooled Ségolène Royal into thinking that he was the Prime Minister of Quebec, and engaged her in conversation for some 11 minutes.

In the light of her blundering into the Quebec issue with all the subtlety of a saloon bar drunk, 'Jean Charest' decided to have some fun over Corsica, suggesting it might seek independence, and Sego replied, laughing, thus:

'"The French would not be against that" before adding: "but do not repeat that. That would make for an incident, that idea..It is a secret", with a further burst of laughter'.

So far, no response from the Royal camp....

As to Corsican secessionists, if I could persuade Corsica Nazione to open, I would fill in the details on the platform of the legal party. A referendum on greater autonomy split 49.02% yes, 50.98% no in 2003. The wiki entry on the Fronte di Liberazione Naziunale di a Corsica seems a little confused, or else has been computer translated from a French original, as it notes that it is "a militant group that advocates an autonomous state on the island of Corsica, independent from France".

Corsica is a very attractive place, from what I've seen of it, but I suspect it leads, if not the world, than at least France in terms of the number of road signs riddled with bullet holes.

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Anyone for a little light vote rigging?

The extraordinarily obscure labourstart.org, 'Where trade unionists start their day on the net' apparently, is holding a ballot for trade union of the year. Unison fancies its chances, and has boosted them by including a click to vote for Unison link on its website. I'm tempted to see whether multiple voting is possible, but don't want to blow the only chance, if it is that, on Unison in case there's a more amusing set of syndicalists to vote for.

By a curious coincidence, the current leader, the IWW also has a 'vote for us' button atop its website. I had been led to believe that the wobblies had been consigned to the dustbin of history, but not quite. According to Wiki "Today it is actively organizing and numbers about 2000 members worldwide, of whom roughly half (approximately 900)are in good standing (that is, have paid their dues for the past two months). IWW membership does not require that one works in a represented workplace, nor does it exclude membership in another labor union".

And all 900 of them, paying between $6 and $18 a month for the privilege, subscribe to this: "Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work," we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wage system." It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old". I cannot say that I wish them well in this endeavour.

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Guess which Mayor is sticking his oar in...

The hyperactive media relations team for Livingstone is at it again, as he has taken umbrage at Wandsworth Council exercising its right to cut off the money tap to the Battersea Arts Centre, and marshalls a gallery of luvvies the great and the good to decry this decision.

He comments, 'Wandsworth council must immediately reverse its decision to cut all funding from Battersea Arts Centre'. Erm no, it is entirely within the competence of the council to do whatever it pleases with subsidies, the removal thereof etc. Normally I would call on elected officials to stick to their knitting, but I suppose he can do less harm through this grandstanding than by getting on with beggaring London. I was also under the impression that he was making a nuisance of himself in Davos.

Given that the BAC was responsible for launching the careers of the thoroughly tiresome French & Saunders and Harry 'I'm about as funny as tuberculosis' Hill, the good burghers of Wandsworth may well count themselves lucky.

Anyway, subsidising the arts - yes or no?

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Curious press releases department

Our friends at Croydon Council do not seem to have got the hang of this media relations business, and 26 days into 2007, the link on the front page to 'council news' still only brings up releases from December. However, a bit of fiddling with the URL takes one to January, and this peerless piece of municipal prose, 'Croydon ready for cold snap'

Always supposing that any of the site's regulars managed to find their way to this announcement, would anyone really expect to get weather updates there? Apart from the weather forecast, there is a somewhat more relevant part to the release where it discusses gritting and the like. I'm sure all fellow Croydonians will feel their chests swell with civic pride when reading this gem: "Croydon’s salt stock levels now stand at 2,100 tonnes, with further reserves to hand should they be required. And up to 500 grit bins around the borough have been replaced and/or topped up".

If the links are not sorted out soon, I think it will be safe to say that I do not have any readers at the Red Lubyanka.

(I am about to switch over to blogger beta, so there will be a brief outage shortly)

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Big trouble for Pakistan?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

In what seems like a classic nose / face set-up, the Americans are not from legislating to cut off the tap of military aid to Pakistan: "..new US legislation, already endorsed by the House of Representatives, calls for stopping military assistance to Pakistan if Islamabad fails to halt the resurgence of Taliban inside its territory... It asks that for fiscal years 2008 and 2009, US military assistance to Pakistan “may not be provided” unless the president “determines and certifies” that the Pakistan government is taking all actions against Taliban". (Source)


And there's more, including a long overdue pulling out of the rug from underneath 'our friends the Saudis': "The new provisions form part of the Implementation of 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act, 2007, aimed at revamping the US national security and foreign policy apparatus to address challenges post 9/11. Three countries have been singled out in the proposed legislation: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. A congressional aide, who did not want to be identified, told Dawn newspaper that the legislation “shows the general mood in both the chambers, which is not very favourable to Pakistan.”


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Phrases that induce comas: 'minister calls for national debate'

Malcom 'I haven't updated my website since August 2006' Wicks is the one doing so, calling for "the first ever mass public engagement programme designed to get the nation talking about the science and technology of the future".

And there's more, much more: "...sciencehorizons - the first ever mass public engagement programme designed to get the nation talking about the science and technology of the future....Community groups, schools, families and friends up and down the country are invited to get together in village halls, classrooms, living rooms and pubs to have their own sciencehorizons discussions using the free packs. The sciencehorizons packs use stories, cartoons and a CD-ROM to prompt discussion. They cover four topics: mind and body, home and community, work and leisure and people and planet".

Have Wicks and his department taken leave of their senses, or were all involved rolling around the floor in hysterics after they cooked up the notion that 'Community groups, schools, families and friends up and down the country' really would be sitting down to have a good old chinwag about scientific ethics?

Here is an artist's impression of what a meeting might look like:

Always supposing that anyone actually asks for a sciencewise pack (Register for it at http://www.sciencehorizons.org.uk/request.asp), this is what will happen, apparently:

"The results of the sciencehorizons programme will be presented to the government in Autumn 2007. Your views will help the government understand how people feel about the way developments in science and technology could be used in the future. This will help them make decisions about how to research, regulate and communicate science and technology".

What I think this means is that the DTI gets to look modern, trendy and oh so interactive (even if it is at the death rattle stage) before going on to completely ignore whatever the public says and convening a panel of Labour supporting lab coat wearers to deliberate at great length and produce a report which will sit on a shelf ignored.

Mr Wicks studied, not at UCL, not at Imperial, not at UMIST, not at Brunel or some other noted seat of scientific learning, but at the NW London Poly and the LSE , where he would appear to have studied sociology or something of that sort, so he is clearly the ideal candidate to ponder high-end science.

And just to crank up the cyncism meter to 11, the sciencehorizons programme will be run by Dialogue by Design, Demos, the Graphic Science Unit, BBC Worldwide Interactive Learning and Shared Practice.

Dialogue by design specialises in working for the state sector and has directors associated with sundry modish left wing causes

As for Demos, I'll let Wikipedia do the leg work: "Demos is an influential left-wing think tank based in the United Kingdom. It was founded in 1993 by journalists from Marxism Today, the theoretical journal of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). In the run up to the 1997 UK general election it was seen as being close to the Labour Party, in particular the current leader Tony Blair. It is however, independent of any political party".

The Graphic Science Unit seems to have trouble capitalising proper names and writes toe-curlingly awful prose and notes its projects including 'cool science' and 'wow science'. As to the BBC, you fill in the gaps.

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Yet another word of the year, a startling admission from Roy Hattersley and other matters arising

Roy first: "I regard myself as classless". So do I Roy, so do I.

The latest in the round of words of the year comes from our good friends in Australia, who are a little late to the lexicographical party, although they are nonetheless welcome.

Their offering is 'muffin top', "the fold of fat around the midriff which, on an overweight woman, spills out over the top of tight-fitting pants or skirts". Icky. Elsewhere, they have the self explanatory, not to say not exactly up to the minute, 'affluenza', 'ubersexual', 'cyberstalking', 'water trading', 'plausible deniability' and 'ethical eating'.

The last segues nicely into another tale of councils with nothing better to do than engage in moral grandstanding: York Council (guess which party runs it) is seeking to ban foie gras in restaurants within the city limits, following Chitown's example. So, all is sweet and dandy in chocolate town so the city fathers can afford to let their focus wander from the more mundane? Not quite. The last OFSTED report on York LEA noted the weakness of 'the pace of developing support for gifted and talented pupils', 'not all looked after children have personal education plans', and 'the analysis and use of data about racist remarks'. As to policing, crimes of violence against the person and sexual offences are above the national average. The councillor leading this, has something of an agenda: Paul Blanchard is a lacto-ovo vegetarian. He has terrible taste in music, although by and large he has decent taste in TV, films and blogs. And he got whipped when he ran for Ryedale in 2005.

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Someone at the DCMS's press office thinks he's /she's a tabloid sub-editor

Wednesday, January 24, 2007
How else to explain this headline:

"Government accepts Nazi loot panel's advice that drawings seized by Gestapo in 1939 but currently in UK museum must be returned to heirs".

Nazi loot panel? The body of the text makes it plain it is really called the
Spoliation Advisory Panel. The tale involves David Lammy, but I've had enough of him for one month. And how different from the almost Wodehouseian prose of the Maritime And Coastguard Agency.

Note to over-enthusiastic DCMS bod - throwing in a bit of slang does not a Sun sub-editor make. Does anyone feel that they can improve on the DCMS's headline?

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Bored with underwriting, IT or corporate data mining and fancy a new job?

In which case, have I got the job vacancy for you: the people who live in the dark (MI5) need a new head spook.

It sounds like quite the workplace - 'We are based in modern, air-conditioned office accommodation with onsite facilities that include a subsidised restaurant, coffee bar, squash courts and multi-gym'.(Source) And it is an 'Investor in People' and is 'Positive about disabled people', so it looks bad for Italians...

But if any of you apply, you'll have to keep schtum: "
If you decide to apply for a position here you must limit those you tell about your application to your immediate family (parents and/or siblings) and/or your partner".

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Yet more of Tony's cronies?

"The Prime Minister has appointed Professor Simon Schaffer, Dr Tony Sewell, Lady (Catherine) Chisholm, Lord (Richard) Faulkner of Worcester and Sir Howard Newby to the Board of the National Museum of Science and Industry with effect from 14 January for periods of four years each". (Source)

One would think that one could find plenty of political eunuchs for such a thing, so...

Professor Simon Schaffer - 'Mr Schaffer has not carried out any political activity in the last five years'. I cannot find anything politically controversial anywhere.

Dr Tony Sewell - 'Dr Sewell has not carried out any political activity in the last five years'. But, 'He also has experience in the media, writing for Voice and The New Statesman and regularly speaking on radio and television on subjects linked to education and the arts. He has a strong interest in diversity and has conducted research and published several articles on race and education'. He has to be a Tory, doesn't he?

Sir Howard Newby - 'Sir Howard has not carried out any political activity in the last five years'. He was a sociology lecturer, and got his gong in 2000.

Lord Faulkner - 'is a parliamentarian'. And who for? 'He was an unpaid communications advisor to the Leader of the Labour party in the 1987, 1992 and 1997 general elections'. (Source) He got his gong in 1999. He voted in 83% of divisions (the average is around 40%), and 'hardly ever rebels'... (Source)

Lady Chisholm - 'Lady Chisholm has not carried out any political activity in the last five years'. As with Schaffer.

Hmm....

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Swedes are racist, Italians are ‘ableist’, sexist and homophobic, and Magyars are ageist.

Or so those polled in those respective countries would appear to think of their fellow citizens, judging by a Eurobarmoter poll on 'Discrimination in the Europen Union'

As to our Swedish chums, 85% consider that discrimation on the basis of ethnic origin there is widespread, whereas in Lithuania it is 23%. For the record, 85.7% of Swedes are ethnically Swedish, with 97.7% of Lihuanians of eastern Slav ethnicity. Conversely, 86% of Swedes fell enriched etc etc, whereas the Maltese are less than convinced - 32%.

The Italians, it would seem, hog the disabled seats on the bus - 68% think the disabled are discriminated against. And the French are not much better. So much for the 'mutiles de guerre' seats on the metro. Denmark would seem to be the place with lots of wheelchair ramps and the like - less than a third think the disabled have it raw.

The Italians, Greeks and Cypriots all poll 68% + on thinking discrimation on the basis of sexuality widespread. Only 26% of Estonians think likewise.

The Magyars and the Czechs would seem not to respect their elders - 66% and 63% see ageism as widespread. The Republic of Ireland is the place to be an oldster - 30% there. Then again, it could be the reverse, agewise, with snotty teenagers getting the back of the hand treatment in the former Hapsburg lands.

In terms of religion, a derisory 63% of Gauls think the religious are discriminated againt. Just try getting a job in Paris if your name isn't Martin or Lefebvre. 10% of Latvians think the same. Latvia has its own home grown religion - "Dievturība started in 1925 and is primarily based on Latvian folklore, old folk songs and mythology". (Source)

As to the issue that got BA into trouble recently, 79% of Maltese think it OK to wear your faith on your sleeve, or more likely head or lapel, in the workplace. Lithuania comes bottom at 29%.

The Italians and the Spanish live up to their machismo reputation (or possibly the exact reverse...): 56% and 55% detect sexism in the workplace. Germany and Lithuania must be 'progressive' utopias or they have all been sent to diversity seminars by the thought commissars powers that be.

Finally, the Poles are crying out to be hectored - 24% think enough is being done to fight discrimination, while the Cypriots have had enough - 67%.

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Pineapple Face is counting the days...

Or to use the name he was born with, Manuel Antonio Noriega Moreno. The Miami Herald reports that in September he will be eligible for parole, having served two-thirds of his sentence, and having the added bonus of good behaviour and the like. He is, however, sought by both the French and the Panamanian authorities, so I do not suppose he will feted Mandela style. He has repeatedly been denied parole in earlier bids.

Given that the CIA itself admits that he was on the payroll, I would think that he has the scope to make some rather damaging comments once he is at liberty, and perhaps Bush the Elder is none too keen on seeing Noriega grandstanding in front of a press conference.

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Opinion poll corner – India

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Back to another of my favourite places. Polling by the Hindustan Times makes for happy reading for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, in that if elections had been held in January the UPA would have won an outright majority, gaining seats at the expense of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.

Both the BJP and Congress are clearly wed to sane economics, and although there are various breeds of Lefties floating around at least one of the Indian parties with a far left identifying name has been keen on privatisation. Not, however, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) , judging from its equivalent of The Worker, which reports on CPI(M)’s affiliated trade union congress: "With a call ‘Forward To Bigger Class Battles’ Pandhe ended his speech saying, ‘We shall overcome one day!’ "

This rabble, plus sundry others form a third group, the Left Front, which with 59 seats holds the balance of power. They are currently supporting the UPA.

A bit more rooting around shows that coalition building in India must be a rather complex process – 39 parties are represented in the Lok Sabha, plus five independents. Congress and the BJP secured less than half of the total vote in 2003, although they are clearly the Big Beasts – the next biggest party, our chums at the CPI(M) took 5.7% of the vote, and the Bahujan Samaj Party, that of the Dalits (or ‘untouchables’) 5.3%.

Just for a point of comparison, there are ten parties plus two independents in Westminster, 10 parties in Moscow, 11 in Paris and six in Berlin.

As a footnote, Sir William Wedderburn, 4th Baronet, was one of the founders of the Indian National Congress.

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More Livingstone - This time with a Croydon angle

I am a regular user of the really rather good local tram system, and have never had any serious complaints about it, although it is pretty horrible at around 4 when it is awash with schoolchildren. Still, public transport the world over suffers the same curse, and doubtless I was regarded as a noisy nuisance as a child too.

Still, on to the plot:

Livingstone speaks - “New information has now come to light. In October last year, HMRI found Tramtrack Croydon Ltd to be in breach of both the Health and Safety at Work Act and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations. As a result, Tramtrack Croydon Ltd was served with two Improvement Notices. These are legal notices informing the company that they have broken the law and that in order to avoid prosecution by HMRI, they must meet certain conditions within a set time limit. Tramtrack Croydon Ltd failed to inform TfL, as they are contractually obliged to do, of these notices". Source.

Ever the one to be in favour of upholding contracts, if Tramtrack are in breach then doubtless there will, and should be, consequences. However, guess who thinks it should go just a wee bit further:

"This leaves me no choice but to call for the directors of Tramtrack Croydon Ltd to resign and for the company to sack its entire management team. I would urge the banks and shareholders to hand the company over to Transport for London so it can be safely, efficiently and reliably managed, allowing those who live or work in Croydon to enjoy the service they deserve".

Showing a most selective use of facts, Livingstone notes that two of the three improvement notices issued to tram operators have been issued to Tramtrack Croydon Ltd. Given that are only a handful of tram systems in the UK, this is not that much of a shocker, frankly. A more useful comparison would be with rail operators, and lo and behold there are multiple repeat offenders among the othe rail companies. The Office of Rail Regulation has the details, complete with monetary figures marked against each offence. Given that the figures are variously ten pence and twenty pence, if they are fines I suspect the companies were not that concerned.


That Livingstone might have more on his mind than safety, efficiency and reliability of the network is suggested by the TFL site: " TfL is directed by a management board whose members are chosen for their understanding of transport matters and appointed by Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, who chairs the Board".

Naturally there has never been a health / safety breach by the underground or bus network. Or has there? The HSE has ten pages worth....


Meanwhile his phalanx of press bods are still duplicating press releases, with this (10573) and and this (1578).

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Michael Gove at the NCF

(Usual caveat about this not being a verbatim transcription. Any disconnects, leaps, lacunae should be considered mine).

“Discussing the intelligentsia at the House of Commons is a bit like discussing haute cuisine at a Happy Eater”

The Conservatives are traditionally the ‘stupid party’ and views intellectuals with suspicion and at worst distaste. The suspicion of intellectuals runs deep in the British character, and Conservatism is at core pragmatic. Is intellectualism alien, and should we pay note? The American thinker Richard Weaver entitled a book ‘Ideas Have Consequences’. The intellectual struggle by economic liberals in the 1970s led directly to the reforms of the 1980s. Intellectuals in the UK are predominantly of the left or left / liberal. Thinking of the intellectuals who appear on the Today programme, Newsnight Review etc, both those discussed and those discussing are of the left – Pinter, Pilger, Greer et al. To call someone a right wing intellectual is doubly damning as it suggests ‘conscious wickedness’. In the UK we could speak of Andrew Roberts and Roger Scruton, with American right wing intellectuals – Milton Friedman and Irving Kristol still more ‘wicked’. We need to reclaim respectable intellectualism on the Right. Right wing intellectuals tend to go into business or the law after university, while Left Wing intellectuals are more likely to go into academia or the media. Whereas ‘we’ are making money rather than making influence, ‘they’ are influential as they chose that route. However, there is a long tradition of conservatism in English (creative) writing, including T.S.Eliot, Yeats, Pope, Dryden and Shakespeare. The current intelligentsia are very much of the Left – Charter 88, Nexus etc

Post 9/11 the intellectual voices raised are of the Left – Chomsky, Pilger, Pinter with their critique anti-US and anti-West, with this the dominant strand of their thoughts, and encompassing other writers like John Le Carre, Arundhati Roy and journalists including Jon Snow, Seumas Milne and those more of the Right like Jenkins, Hastings and Barnett. One gets the sense of a sneaking regard for the US’s enemies.

The reaction against that stance has come from within the left, with Nik Cohen’s item in this week’s Observer a case in point. He noted that the Left ended up supporting Saddam over Kuwait, Serbia over Albania and the London Review of Books carrying coverage of 9/11 Jewish conspiracy theories that would not be out of place in a Nazi propaganda sheet. The Left finds itself excusing overseas fascism and anti-Westernism. And it is not just Nik Cohen. Christopher Hitchens has described the opportunistic alliance between ex Stalinists and Islamists. David Aaronovitch has also denounced it, as has John Lloyd who has argued that the Left needs to fight for as well as against and that Fascism, Communism and Islamism are all strands of the same totalitarianism.

And novelists of the Left have come out too – Ian McEwan who had denounced ‘morally selective outrage’, Salman Rushdie who has written of ‘paranoid Islam’ and Martin Amis. Amis wrote that the single most depressing event in the UK last year was the spectacle of white middle class protesters holding placards with ‘We are all Hizbollah’. This moral relativism leads them ‘up the arse of those who want them dead’. All three have shown bravery as their jobs, friendships and status are reliant on keeping the faith. It is notable that reviews of Amis and McEwan novels have been more hostile of late…

Historically the Left projected its revolutionary fantasies onto the proletariat, but the proletariat proved reluctant, so the fantasies were then projected onto third world revolutionaries like Che Guevara. What the Left has failed to acknowledge is that the third world left has morphed, but it still follows the ‘logic’ that my enemy’s enemy is my friend and this ends with the idealisation of terrorism. The Prada Meinhof tendency involves making common cause with terrorists because it is blinded by hate. The six writers named see the threat to the UK, with the Danish cartoons controversy implying a freezing out of free expression in the West. Islamism is not Fanon’s ‘rage of the dispossessed’ but is attempting to close down debate. Islamists are explicitly hostile to western liberal freedoms. Paul Berman has noted the roots and consequences of Islamism.

The little reported Euston Manifesto shows its disgust at the excuses made for Islamism, and support for it has been built on blogs, not the mainstream media, or even the Left mainstream media. It has been signed by Labour MPs including Mann, Stuart and Pope. Even Gordon Brown has noted the importance of the battle with Islamism. The cultural battle has already been joined, so why are the being marginalised?

In the Middle East and Iran there are equivalents of Natan Sharansky and Jerzy Popieluszko (I failed to catch the names. C) but the Left is not raising their plights and their struggle against Islamism should be ours. The Middle East Transparent website has called for a fatwa on terrorist justifiers, which over three hundred have signed, but with no reaction from Western politicians.

The situation in the Middle East is bleak, but made still bleaker by our doing nothing.

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Fewer than 70 MPs care about the Shoah

Or at least that is the inference that one could draw from the signatories to this EDM.

Andrew Pelling, my MP, has signed it, so he obviously has EDM signing tendencies that go beyond commiserating over the death of Rick Stein's dog.

With thanks to Justin for pointing this out.

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The perils of dying intestate

Succession law in these parts is fairly civilised in that if you die without a will considerable lengths are gone to in order to pass the estate on to a relative.

However, our Swedish friends only allow transmission of an estate to immediate family if one dies intestate, and an unnamed 86-year-old farmer from Umeå has just forfeited SKR 80M or £5.7m.

I feel quite ill.



Meanwhile, in a totally unconnected development, a Dutch court has ruled that one is allowed to use a very distinctive English word beginning with F and ending with K, plus 'you' when addressing a police officer. I don't suppose one would get one's collar felt if one used Dutch profanities to the plod in these parts, so it is nice to see a bit of symmetry.

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TUC to Government: targets are bad. And so are contract terms, markets, competition and choice.

One of the delights of our time is that the TUC and other mastodons can bellow out from the primeval swamp and scarcely anyone pays a blind bit of notice. How very different from the greatly unmissed 1970s and early 1980s.

However, they are still howling in the wilderness, and they have just come up with this "ministers should stop saying that reform is necessary because public services are failing as it damages morale and causes resentment, especially at a time when the Government is trying to keep public sector pay rises below inflation".

And here's the TUC's plan, with my helpful comments in italics:

* reducing top down performance management targets and instead giving services flexibility about how they meet service standards; (Let the public sector do whatever it wants and follow its own agenda, that of serving itself)

* accepting that the public sector ethos cannot be safeguarded by writing terms and conditions into contracts with private suppliers; (So contracts involving the private sector are not upheld in the courts? News to me)

* rejecting the use of market mechanisms and accepting that a plurality of suppliers fragments public services, replacing collaboration and partnership with competition; (When the private sector acts in 'collaboration and partnership' rather than competition it is called a cartel and involves retraint of trade....)

* rethinking the approach to giving users choice in public services, so that users are given the choices that they want to exercise rather than using choice as a quasi-market-mechanism to pit providers against each other; (And how is choice to be exercised if users do not have the opportunity to define it either through the ballot box or voting with their wallets?) and,

* strengthening the capacity of public services to improve by boosting the skills of the workforce and involving staff in change. (Lots of days off for 'training', pay rises across the board, reduced hours, longer holidays, beer, skittles etc etc)

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An e-mail from 10 Downing Street

The temptation to sign this petition was just too great: "We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Resign immediately".

And with heart a-flutter, I opened an e-mail from 'team@petitions.pm.gov.uk', only to find this response: "The PM has made clear that he will be leaving office before the next Labour party conference."

How very disappointing.

However, how does one define 'conference'? There is one called the Labour Spring Conference taking place in Glasgow between the 16th and 18th of February....

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New Culture Forum event in 'Town'

Monday, January 22, 2007
I'm off out shortly to attend a New Culture Forum event where Michael Gove is speaking on this topic: "Are We Seeing the Emergence of a New Anti-Islamist Intelligentsia?".

Should be interesting, and all things being equal I'll do a write up tomorrow.

Further details here: New Culture Forum

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Yemeni double think

Imagine that you are an 'anti-zionist', and live in a country with a very, very small Jewish population. In this case Yemen. One would imagine that if one was an 'anti-zionist', rather than an out and out anti-semite, one would not be seeking to offer the Jewish community the choice of flight or slaughter. That, however, is what has come to pass care of threats from Shi'ite-leaning Hossein Bader a-Din al-Khouty.

If these people succeed in leaving Yemen, then it seems extremely likely that they will seek to make aliyah and take refuge in Israel, which at present they have no desire to do. And so Mr al-Khouty, is the departure of the remaining Yemeni Jewish community likely to result in the strengthening or the weakening of Zionism?

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Political insider to other political insiders – the people trust *me* but not you

The inaugural (and soon to be coveted) Croydonian Chutzpah award goes to ‘Dame’ Helena Kennedy for this little gem: “Power inquiry chairman Baroness Helena Kennedy said: "British politics is in crisis, trust is at an all time low and people have little faith in politicians to deliver meaningful change. Renewing our democracy cannot be left to the political class who will fix the rules in their own interest."

This, note, is a woman elevated to the ermine in 1997, and who sits on the Labour benches. This latest broadside is a follow up to her ‘Look at me!’ Power Inquiry released last year, which few of us will have more than a dim memory of, as judging by the press coverage section of its website, it failed to make much of a stir away from the regional press. And note that it is called 'The Power Inquiry'. Very 'The Face', typography-wise.

HK’s personal website paints quite a picture. She lists her 19 honorary doctorates, if not her former membership of the CPGB.

Meanwhile, she is such a fan of getting her hands dirty with parliamentary politics that she spoke in five debates in the Lords last year, and attended one fifth of the votes….

Sarko 'gets it'

Or so it would seem, judging from an interview in Le Monde:

Q - "What is your first economic priority?"

Sarko - "The number one priority is to make working worthwhile. The French moral crisis has a name: it is the crisis of work. It is that which is a creator of employment..Work creates work. It is therefore necessary to reward work, to create business, to favour growth. And..these are the reforms that will give growth, not the budgetary economies....Why have we had, for fifteen years, a growth rate lower..than that of more liberalised economies? Because wages are too low, and are too heavily taxed. The [maximum working week of] 35 hours served as a pretext for wage restraint and increased the state's deficit...".

Q - "How are you going to give the French back their spending power?"

Sarko - "I propose a veritable economic revolution. One cannot be European and be satisfied with a state take of 45,3% of our gross domestic product (GDP), that is to say 4 percentage points higher than the European Union 15 average. It is vital that the French get something for their money".


Sounds promising, and not before time. However, the issue with French politicians is always that talk is cheap, and does Sarko have the nerve to take on the vested interests etc?

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Who cares if a building has failed - as long as it wins architectural prizes...

My old sparring partner David 'I nationalise old things' Lammy has done it again: he has given a grade II* listing to Newcastle's Byker Estate. I cannot pretend to be enormously au fait with all things Novocastrian, so this calls for a little digging.

Lammy reckons: "The Byker estate is an extraordinary and outstanding piece of architecture which has won awards and attracted attention throughout its life. Its influence, both on design and the way we involve communities in the planning process, has been profound".

Carol Pyrah of English heritage, about whom I could uncover nothing of note comments, "English Heritage is delighted that the Byker Estate, one of the nation's most important 20th century housing schemes, has been listed. The Estate's groundbreaking design has been influential across Europe and has proved a pioneering model for its approach to public participation. Residents of the Estate and Newcastle City Council have long recognised the architectural value of Byker".

Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Although one would expect architectural merit, however defined to be the key issue in a discussion of listed status, there is not a mumbling word to be said about what it is like living there. So....


"Byker has suffered the kinds of the social problems common to other inner-city urban housing areas, including juvenile crime and vandalism. In parts of Byker turnover of tenancies is high and limits on the money available for maintenance and repairs has led to further deterioration. Neighbourliness has been undermined as families have moved away - particularly those in employment. Some shops and services have been abandoned and boarded up. Open landscaping invites vandalism and youth crime includes break-ins and muggings. In the mid-1990s it has been estimated one in three of Byker's adult inhabitants was unemployed.

The demand for rented accommodation in Byker is depressed. There has been a general decline in demand to rent council housing across Newcastle upon Tyne city. In some parts of the Byker estate it may be possible to convert dwellings into family homes with defined gardens for which there is greater demand. It should be noted that house prices in Newcastle are lower than many other British cities and there is a good supply of rented housing in 'upmarket' areas such as Heaton and Jesmond where there has been considerable gentrification". Source


It was also the home of 'Ratboy': "The six-year criminal career of a youth known nationwide as Ratboy was halted yesterday when he was locked up for four years. Kennedy was nicknamed Ratboy because, when frequently on the run after absconding from council care, he used to hide in central-heating ducts in the Byker Wall flats complex. He generally targeted old people and was finally caught by police as he climbed from the window of the home of an 84-year-old man". Source

I have a vague race memory of another prize winner, James Stirling, having designed public housing which also proved hellish to live in.

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A further Greek clerical curosity

If the pitched battle between monks was unexpected, what about 55 nuns disappearing from their convent having, apparently, run up a debt of around a third of a million pounds? Ekathimerini quotes €500000, which is a suspiciously round figure, so I fell justified in rounding up in sterling.

How they managed to do so would seem to be something of a mystery, as the paper notes: "The nuns had allegedly used the Kirykos and Ioulittis monastery as a base for producing knitwear which they sold to 25 stores across the country. It was unclear how the alleged debt was amassed".

The mind boggles. A lot.

Meanwhile, showing Christian compassion at its finest (if not, perhaps, to the creditors...), "Archbishop Christodoulos has reportedly offered to take the Sidirokastro monastery under the wing of the Holy Synod if the nuns return". Nun but the brave would do so.

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GDPs if US states were nations

Sunday, January 21, 2007



C/O Carl Størmer, to whom thanks are due. Click for legibility.

Highlights include the following (in order of population, not state GDP as I cannot find it):

California - France
Texas - Canada
NY - Brazil
Florida - Korea
Illinois - Mexico
Pennsylvania - Netherlands
Ohio - Australia
Michigan - Argentina
Georgia - Switzerland

And at the other extremity:

South Dakota - Croatia
Alaska - Belarus
North Dakota - Ecuador
Vermont - Dominican Republic
Wyoming - Uzbekistan.

I have what appear to be like for like stats for Canadian provinces, which I can collate if anyone's interested.

And Canada:



Stats for Canada here, and for the countries used, here


Bringing it all back home, the economy of London accounts for 19% of UK GDP, which makes it bigger than Belgium's GDP.

And since I'm on a roll now, selected companies with turnovers in line with the GDP of various European states. (Right click to open a more legible version in a new window):

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Cheer up Tony - it could be worse

The left wing ruling Uri party in Korea (the legitimate Korea...) is in the process of falling apart, with it reckoned that upwards of 50 MPs are to desert the sinking ship ahead of a possible slaughter by the good guys, the GNP, in December.

Rather amusingly, "Yeollin Uri Party can be abbreviated as Yeoru Party, but that usage is discouraged by the party because that roughly means "inferior fellow" in Korean. Hence, the form Yeoru Party is used only by the opponents of the party in a derogatory way". (Source)

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