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Pity Her Maj - she's less powerful than the head of ebay.

Friday, August 31, 2007
At least according to one of those deeply silly power lists that business magazines are so fond of filling their pages with.

The Forbes list has Angela Merkel at the top, with Cynthia Carroll of Anglo American apparently the top British woman at 7th. However, Anglo American refers to her as 'an American citizen' on its website.... So much for fact checking, eh? Which takes us to Marjorie Scardino of Pearson, who also hails from the Land of the Free and is naturalised British. Mrs Windsor rates 23rd behind Meg Whitman of ebay.

No one from our own dear Labour Party makes the cut, fortunately.

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Don't expect any help from our man, or woman, in Moscow

The Moscow Times has an item about the fairly stiff penalties that the Russian authorities inflict for taking medals and the like out of the country:

"...medals granted for personal merits should not be sold, because the state has the sole right to hand them out. "They must not be traded or taken out of the country. Even if found in a roadside ditch, they must be returned [to the original owner or to the state]"... The wrongful acquisition of state awards can result in a fine of up to 80,000 roubles ($3,100), while smuggling carries a potential prison sentence of up to seven years".

So, should one be tempted to 'become' a Hero of the Soviet Union, resist the temptation. The Russians argue that ignorance of the law is no defence, with that a standard piece of jurisprudence the world over, but it is the boneheaded complacency of the heroically anonymous bod at the British Embassy - which publishes no warnings about this law - that takes not just the biscuit, but the packet, the shelf in the supermarket and quite possibly the wheat field:

"Of course, travellers should be aware of the laws wherever and whenever they go".

So that's all right then.

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What *is* a general to wear?

Thursday, August 30, 2007
I ask, because this headline at the National Post makes it sound as though Musharraf is having a wardrobe crisis, and quite possibly a bad hair day too:

"Pakistan's Musharraf 'yet to decide on uniform'".

The story is rather less camp than the headline suggests.

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Walking back, possibly to happiness, but definitely to Bratislava

And the somewhat pointless Euro press releases just keep on coming. Brussels has decided to revisit 2002 and 2005 surveys on physical activity.

Asked 'In the last 7 days how many times did you walk for at least 10 minutes?', the Slovaks made the greatest use of Shanks' pony (or else felt the greatest need to exaggerate), claiming 137.3 minutes walking time per week, whereas Cypriot, Maltese and Portuguese pavements are the least battered at 28.6 minutes per week.

While, to quote Steven Wright, everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time, the Maltese do seem a tad slovenly given that one could get from Valetta to anywhere else on the island without covering more than about 12 miles.

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Euro Thunderbirds Are Go!


(Image courtesy of the outrageously talented, highly generous and all round good egg, Theo Spark)


Not content with having a president of the commission who looks like a Thunderbird puppet rejected by Gerry Anderson for being insufficiently lifelike, the EU has had another one of its great ideas - International Rescue, EU-style:

"The European Union is considering setting up permanent reaction teams to better deal with natural disasters like the current devastating forest fires in Greece.... EU Environment spokesperson Barbara Helfferich said the European Commission had started developing the idea of setting up response units, and hoped to present plans later this year. These civil protection units would consist of readily-deployable, highly-trained personnel backed up with specialized equipment. One of the so-called "response modules" already identified as a key need is a forest fire-fighting unit".

Much though I sympathise with the Hellenes, bilateral arrangements with its neighbours appear to have been fairly successful, and this looks like a classic Euro exercise in empire building, with the scope for spats over which country gets priority where there are multiple disasters going one too obvious to be worth spelling out.


I wonder where the Tracey Island would be....

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The TUC discovers Facebook....

And has written a half way sensible 'Briefing on online social networking and Human Resources', available here.

Savour, however, this Q&A:

"Should I accept a Facebook friend request from my boss?"

"This is going to become one of the big battlegrounds of office etiquette, and there’s no universal answer to it".

The correct response, to quote a friend, to that question would be 'Are you on crack?'

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French, or going to France sometime soon?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007
If so, I commend this rather useful map that Le Monde has knocked up, with 'pins' for summer universities and the like being held by the various French political parties.

Highlights include the infestation of Loire Atlantique by the Left - Fouras, La Rochelle and Segoville Melle all have Socialist bun fights, and Paris and thereabouts has Socialists, Communists and the Nouveau Centre, whatever that is.

Elsewhere the blameless former French capital city (1) of Quimper played host to the great unwashed in the form of Les Verts, which scored a grand total of 2.32% in the first round of the presidential election in that city, making the folk of Cornouaille a tad more naive than the national average of 1.57%.



(1). I'm not making this up. Quimper was the capital for 24 hours, before Vichy was chosen instead. I cannot lay hands on a fuller reference, but apparently the Prime Minister's mistress took umbrage at the prospect of being somewhere so 'unfashionable'. So, the fortunate Quimperois/e do not have to suffer the good name of their city being a synonym for collaboration.

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When the youth of today grow up, they want to be....

Teachers. Yes, really.

I have been thumbing through the Trendence UK School-Leaver Review 2007 Corporate Edition (downloadable here), and some 28.5% of female school leavers fancy a career at the chalkface, and about 18 or so per cent of male school leavers.

For those under 17 at time of questioning, 'science' is the next favourite at about 22%, but this plummets to 14% for over 18s, with meeja etc rising from 15 to 20%.

Away from the general, the list of preferred employers is a bit depressing - three of the top five are in the public sector - and the numero uno preferred employer at 16.4% is Microsoft. The Army comes in at 13th, the Royal Navy at 33rd, and while the RAF does not feature in the top 50 at all, air traffic control does. Strikes me as rather sad that the youth of today would rather direct aeroplanes than fly them.

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What is *a* Governor to do?

Consider the terrible plight of Rick Perry, Governor of Texas:

He presides over a state where support for the death penalty runs at just under 70%, judging from recent polls, and one 'Johnny Ray Conner, 32, has just (23/8) been put to death by lethal injection for the 1998 fatal shooting of a grocery store clerk.' Source

Meanwhile, the EU has a position on this, and showing its usual timeliness and competence has just published a call for halt to the execution. The EU presumes to lecture Texas thus: "The European Union is unreservedly opposed to the use of capital punishment under all circumstances and has consistently called for the universal abolition of this punishment. We believe that elimination of the death penalty is fundamental to the protection of human dignity, and to the progressive development of human rights".

So, in the light of this statement also being supported by that beacon of 'human dignity', Turkey, the Governor must find himself in a terrible quandary.



Update.

I am indebted to Mr Eugenides for digging up Rick Perry's response:

"
“230 years ago, our forefathers fought a war to throw off the yoke of a European monarch and gain the freedom of self-determination. Texans long ago decided that the death penalty is a just and appropriate punishment for the most horrible crimes committed against our citizens. While we respect our friends in Europe, welcome their investment in our state and appreciate their interest in our laws, Texans are doing just fine governing Texas.


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The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007
...'to the north of Khatmandu'.

Possibly, as an Indian politician has just declared that "Some of our neighbours are jealous of India's progress and they keep hatching conspiracies to disrupt harmony in the country". Source.

Perhaps we should count our blessings in that the Quai d'Orsay and the Irish Foreign Affairs office appear to judge we are not worth the effort.

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Not Spain's most popular submarine

The USS San Juan, a rather sizeable Los Angeles class submarine has docked in Gib, and oh how Spanish nationalists and tree-huggers are upset about it, judging from a report in El Pais:

"The general secretary of the Andalusian Popular Party, Antonio Sanz, described the docking of the USS San Juan as a “mockery and a bad joke”.

And here it is, c/o a doughboy who posted it on Flickr:



They are a bit sensitive, aren't they? Last time I checked Spain was part of NATO, there was a US/Spanish naval base at Rota, and Spain has nuclear power stations, if neither nuclear powered submarines nor nuclear powered aircraft carriers. Rather splendidly, the Spanish Navy is more properly called the Armada Española, or Spanish Armada. Yes, really.

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The country with a 15% growth rate

Is Artsakh, better known in these parts as Nagorno-Karabakh.

And here it is:

The Moscow Times has an interesting piece about Artsakh, noting its 15% growth rate fuelled by the Armenian diaspora, a diaspora impressively ready to put its collective money where its collective mouth is, and as a result of investments made out of sentiment has ended up serving the motherland and making money. So it's all good.

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Lockerbie revisited

Monday, August 27, 2007
I cannot see any reference in the English language media to this bombshell in Le Figaro, so here is a minor filetting of the article:

Swiss engineer Ulrich Lumpert has admitted lying in his testimony made to the court in the trial of Abdelbasset al-Megrahi, currently in the Glasgow big house for involvement in the bomb that detonated on PanAm 103 over Lockerbie in 1988. He has added a claim that he stole a timer from his employer, Swiss company Mebo and to have then given it a Scottish police officer involved in the investigation. Translating directly from Le Figaro, "This assertion accredits a thesis maintained by many people - journalists, lawyers and even parents of victims: there had been a "manipulation" in the investigation to incriminate Libya, whereas the first suspicions pointed out to a pro-Syrian Palestinian faction".

Mebo had sold timers to Libya in the past, but has always maintained that the timer in question had not been sold by it to the Libyans.

I recall there being much shaking of heads over the suspicion of Syrian involvement being ruled out at the time - when they were seen as being on our side during Gulf War I - and without claiming to have studied the whole affair to any great depth felt that something was not entirely right in the apparently over-neat fingering of Libya to the exclusion of Damascus and its various cat's paws.

Meanwhile, al-Megrahi was granted leave to appeal in June, although that was prior to this business with the timer....

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"What's best about Britain..."

Hands up anyone whose first reaction was 'the strength and cohesion provided by people getting involved in communities and voluntary groups, including unions'. Source.

Because that is the answer given by the deputy general secretary of the TUC . The idea of an October bank holiday has been floated again, as clearly no-one paid any heed in May when it was first mooted (and I mocked).

Rather amusingly, there looks to be a severe lack of communication between the various tentacles of the Left, as the ippr wants a bank holiday for essentially the same reason in November. I think the TUC shows a greater sense of taste, as unlike the ippr, it does not attempt to conflate military courage and sacrifice with helping old ladies across the road and the like:

"[The ippr] has called on Gordon Brown to create an extra bank holiday in November to help boost national identity and thank community 'heroes'. The Institute for Public Policy Research said that the new bank holiday - which should fall on the Monday after Remembrance Sunday - would serve as a national "thank you" and encourage people to give something back".

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A 99% pay cut for John Terry.

Saturday, August 25, 2007
That, judging from a yougov poll for the Fabians, is what the British public would like to inflict on the Chelsea player, reckoned to be the top division's highest earner. He currently trousers around £135,000 a week, while the poll suggests that top players should make no more than £62,000 a year. So, he would be in line for something like a 99% pay cut. And it is not just a handful of players making a good living. Last year The Independent calculated that the average income in the top division is £676,000 PA.

Having spent a fruitless 15 minutes playing hunt the quote, I will have to rely on this half remembered effort of mine from last year:

"I forget whether it was Friedman or Hayek who observed that while there is plenty of envy directed at wealthy businessmen, there is very little for pop stars, bullfighters and so forth. Or, in our times, lottery winners. Perhaps following the 'logic' of these merry little class warriors, there should be a cap on salaries for footballers, Warner Brothers should restrict the number of Madonna CDs it presses and Tom Cruise should only be allowed to make a film every five years for fear that 'hard working families and ordinary people' might take offence".

Whether I judge Terry's contribution to Chelsea's success is worth the bagatelle of £7m a year is utterly irrelevant. His employers clearly do, and as with any employment contract, no employer will pay anyone more than the value that they create for the employer. Should that urge for a deadly procrustean equality held by some of my fellow countrymen and women ever kick in, the following will happen:

The likes of Terry will sell their services to higher bidders outside this country or retire, the standards of the English game will fall and English teams will get slaughtered in the Champions League and the like. Gate receipts will fall, English TV rights will sell for less while UK rights for Spanish, French, US etc games or wherever our top talent are playing will rise. Meanwhile, the Exchequer will lose the money they take from the players, less money will circulate in the economy and things will be altogether worse....

Still, it is not all bad, the public want to cut Broon's salary by about 28%.

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A novel approach to foreign policy, national debt etc

The Russians and the Finns fought a comparatively little known war in 1939-1940, notable for the Finns inventing the Molotov Cocktail and giving the Red Army a remarkably bloody nose, although eventually giving up the unequal struggle and signing a peace deal that saw substantial chunks of Finland passed over to the USSR, per the map below.



So much for the history lesson. The more immediately interesting thing is that the Finns are falling over themselves to deny that there were talks twist Helsinki and Moscow in the early 90s over the USSR selling Karelia to Finland for what looks to be the bargain price of €10 billion. That figure is considerably less than the cost of the wretched outdoor steroid abuse fest London will have to suffer in 2012.

Some years back the idea of Yakutia ('Siberia') being sold by the Russian Federation to the US, Alaska-style was floated, so maybe this is a way forward. I think we should make the French an offer for Gascony.

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Operation Bold Avenger

Friday, August 24, 2007
While sniffing around my bookmarks I found that a NATO air exercise in Norway next month is to be called Bold Avenger.

Pretty feeble namewise, I reckon, and fortunately at least one of those rather amusing operation codename generators is still live.

The creator is clearly a decent sort, as he notes, "I'm sure there will be more operations, and the US military will have to spend lots of precious hours to come up with sound codenames for those. I thought I could take a bit of load off the hard working men and women at the Pentagon by creating this codename generator".

What is more, one can specify a country/ region and the type of operation.

So, with the best match for an air exercise in Norway being 'Air Strike', 'Central & Western Europe', it offered up the following:

Operation Vigilant Bat
Operation Silver Response
Operation Proud Sword

And not that I think it would be a particularly good idea, it offers up Operation Noble Thunder for a nuclear strike on Iran.

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What the TUC will be talking about at its conference

Given that we are spared round the clock broadcasting of every last cough from the TUC these days, praise the Lord, here are some motions:

Trade Union Freedom Bill
Congress re-affirms its support for the Trade Union Freedom Bill, which is to be placed before Parliament for a second reading on 19 October 2007. Congress agrees that the lack of progress made to date on the repealing of the anti-trade union laws introduced by the Tory government is totally unacceptable. Action must be taken without further delay to restore the rights of the worker in the workplace. Congress therefore agrees to step up the campaign for the repeal of all anti- trade union laws and gives full support to a lobby of Parliament in support of the Trade Union Freedom Bill tabled by John McDonnell MP." NUM

Sub-paragraph vii), after “Trade Union Freedom Bill” insert: “, including provisions in line with this year's request to the UK Government by the ILO Committee of Experts to amend legislation to allow workers 'to participate in sympathy strikes, provided the initial strike they are supporting is lawful';” Unite

Secondary action? Yup, that's what they want. Wouldn't that be good for the economy, eh?

Trade union rights for prison officers

Congress reaffirms its policy to insist that prison officers have returned to them full trade union rights, including the right to restrict and withdraw their Labour – these rights being no different from those enjoyed by other public and emergency service representative bodies. POA
Striking prison officers. What a great idea.

There's a whole lot more, and I will be returning to this, I think.

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Out

Nothing from me until later as I am off to hear kaddish said for the father of my friend, and sometime poster, Mr R.

How to lie with statistics?

Thursday, August 23, 2007
Note the chart above. How would a reasonable person describe the trend? Upwards, as Dizzy did when posed the question, or if being really liberal, plateauing?

Not at the BBC site they do not: "But at the same time, the trend in gun crime overall has been going down". Yes they do, right there in the fourth paragraph.

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Oh that La Serenissima ruled London....

Because the City Council of Venice has set up an Urban Decorum office, with volunteers dishing out on the spot fines for '"indecorous behaviour' among tourists, which the city has decided includes sitting on the [pavement], eating sandwiches there or going bare-chested". More here.

Failing that, more power to The Chap magazine's 'Civilise the City' Manifesto:

"Pleasantness and civility are being discarded as the worthless ephemera of a bygone age - an age when men doffed their hats to the ladies, and small children could be counted upon to mind one's Jack Russell while one took a mild and bitter in the local hostelry....

The Chap proposes to take a stand against this culture of vulgarity. We must show our children that the things worth fighting for are not the latest plastic plimsolls but a shiny pair of brogues. We must wean them off their alcopops and teach them how to mix martinis. Let the young not be ashamed of their flabby paunches, which they try to hide in their nylon tracksuits - we shall show them how a well-tailored suit can disguise the most ruined of bodies. Finally, let us capitalise on youth's love of peculiar argot only replace their pidgin ghetto-speak with fruity bons mots and dry witticisms".


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Even worse than giving your home town as Pratt's Bottom....

..is living in the municipal area containing Durban, known these days as eThekwini.

This, apparently, translates from the Zulu as 'a pair of bull's testicles', and the Mayor of Durban thinks that "KwaKhangela, which translates as 'Watch Out' (for attackers) in Zulu" would be a better bet.

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Resigning because the powers that be will not do one out of a job

That is the rather curious position of the head of the Swedish National Board of Film Classification, Gunnel Arrbäck. She wants to end all film censorship for adults, as do her colleagues, but because the Swedish government will not change the law she has resigned. Source.

Erm, didn't this amount to 'sack me or I'll resign'? For most folk in employment, avoiding the Spanish Archer is a major pre-occupation, but I suppose I should sigh wistfully wishing that this nation's quangocrats and the like would see the light and call for an end to their wretched organisations.

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Jacqui Smith talking out of her, erm, hat

"No government took any action on anti-social behaviour until the Labour government". Source

Because the criminal law did not exist before 1997, did it? Interesting that she damns MacDonald (snigger), Attlee, Wilson and Callaghan, and one does wonder whether given the year zero approach of Broon that she was wise to extend a degree of unspoken credit to Blair.

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Of headlesss chickens, shot foxes and other additions to the gaiety of the French nation

Wednesday, August 22, 2007
It looks ever more likely that Sarkozy has played an absolute blinder in backing Dominique Strauss-Kahn as the European candidate for the head of the IMF. In June I asked the following:

"Sarko is backing French Socialist Dominique Strauss-Kahn candidacy for the leadership of the IMF, commenting, "Could I deprive France of his candidacy just because he's a socialist?". Yes, Nicky, vieux haricot, of course you should.

Admittedly DSK is less neanderthal than some of the French Left, and perhaps Sarko is being a tad smart and trying to remove one of the French socialists with the greatest prospects of dragging the Socialist party into the 2oth 21st century".

The interesting bit is that Libé has asked the French people 'Who would be the best leader of the Left in the years to come?', and among the overall population, DSK leads the way at 30%, with Sego trailing at a frankly dismal 15%, followed by Trotskyite Besancenot on 8%. The contest is rather closer among leftist sympathisers, at 24% apiece for DSK and Sego, with Sego leading among Socialists at 31 to 27 . I am presuming that Gaulists and so on back DSK for reasons other than sheer devilment, otherwise presumably they would be lining up behind one of the 57 varieties of Trots, tankies, greens or other figureheads of the extreme left.

The mouche in the ointment is that Russia is backing a Czech banker as head of the IMF, thus wrecking the united front among we European types. The Czechs themselves are not best pleased and are backing DSK.

From what I can discover about Tošovský, he looks preferable to DSK as an IMF candidate, claims of past collaboration with the Czechoslovak secret police notwithstanding, so perhaps the ideal result is that DSK and Tošovský engage in some manner of fight to the near death which the Czech wins, but leaves DSK so hopelessly compromised that he can never hope to participate in French domestic politics.


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Great subbing errors of our time?


The photo above appears in the Moscow Times in an article about the MAKS 2007 Air Show, and is labelled "A delegation of Pakistani military officials visiting MAKS 2007 on Tuesday".

They do look a bit young to be in the market for serious military hardware, and lack military bearing and the distinctive moustaches so popular with the Pakistani top brass.

And now with a screenshot care of someone more technically able:

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Oh the indignity of bearing the name Max

Max, or in its long form, Maximilian, has struck me as a decent enough forename, but Wall, Bygraves and a former Emperor of Mexico, inter alia, now have to cope with the indignity of Max being the most popular name for insured dogs and cats in the US, for the fifth successive year. (More here, registration required).

Apparently, "The continuing popularity of Max is largely due to the fact that it is monosyllabic and simple for people and pets to remember, yet easy to distinguish from common commands," said Dr. Carol McConnell, vice president and chief veterinary officer for VPI. "Plus, it's a fitting name for an active, energetic pet".

Active and energetic? I suppose going for a stroll in Central Park, or come to that MacArthur Park, must be a tad awkward for any human bearers of that name, what with all the cries of 'Max, fetch', 'Max, sit' etc etc. Elsewhere, the other leading mutt names were Molly, Buddy, Bella and Lucy, with the feline top five including Chloe, Lucy, Tigger and Tiger.

Way back lost in the mists of time I was having a conversation with a philosophy graduate about which would be the most suitable philosopher to name a pet rat after (don't ask...), and he reckoned it was Schopenhauer, this probably being related to the tale of Schopenhauer praising the concept of suicide when pleasantly replete after dinner.

The Justice Minister with a smack-dealing brother

Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Is Rachida Dati, the French ministre de la Justice. Her brother, Jamal, has just been sent to la grande maison for a year for possession and dealing in heroin. More at Libé.

Makes the problem relatives of Jimmy Carter, Jack Straw, and Mr Tony (remember him?) seem quite minor, do they not?

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Great publicity stunts of our time

Insurance against being attacked by the Loch Ness Monster. Yes, really.

This has been cooked up by the organisers of a duathlon, this unholy beast being conducted in kilometres (bah...) around the edge of the loch. Although not in it.

The downside to this is that Alistair Campbell is a participant, and I would not be best chuffed if the extended family Campbell coined it from his being digested whole by a miffed plesiosaur or whatever the monster is reckoned to be this week.

How long is 'ever'?

All the way back to the Big Bang, the emergence of Homo Sapiens, the earliest literate civilization, or being really generous, a human life span?

Well, by Tony McNulty's opinion, 'ever' is thirteen years:

'The number of people applying for asylum in the UK fell by over 2,000 in 2006 to its lowest level since 1993, according to statistics published by the Home Office today.....Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said..."There are now fewer people than ever coming to Britain and making claims for asylum"'.

Well did you evah....


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Something is rotten in the state of Denmark

(To say that I am pleased that I have found an excuse to use that headline is an understatement).

Councillors from the Danish city of Sønderborg have seen fit to pay for their attendance at a Michael Moore film and lecture out of public funds, at a total of DKK112000 (£20277.7), reckoning that it "can be ‘inspirational’ for the city’s businesses and government". Source. Said municipality is run by Socialist International participants, the Socialdemokraterne.

Given that Sønderborg's tribunes were not allowed to pillage the public purse to see Pavarotti in concert last year, one does wonder about the Danes if an agitprop film about the US healthcare system is more 'inspirational' to them than one of the world's great tenors.

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You too can vote in the Norwegian election. Ish

Monday, August 20, 2007
Or at least answer a raft of questions to find out which party best suits one's views. Here is the Valgomat test, which the lovely people at Aftenpost have made available in English.

And my electoral date is with the Progress Party, "The Party advocates free market economics and deregulation of the economy, stricter limits on immigration, especially from immigrants who break the law, closer cooperation with NATO, United States and also Israel in foreign policy, a more controlled state aid to developing countries, social and cultural conservatism, the decentralization of government."

Sounds fairly promising, doesn't it?

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The poor darlings

The PCS is appalled to discover that " that one in 20 officials were breaking the working time regulation limit by working more than 49 hours a week. Nearly 2,000 civil servants took part in the survey, published on Monday, with 45.8 per cent of them admitting that they worked between 40 and 48 hours a week". Source

We in the private sector rarely rack up more than five hours in the office a day during our three-day weeks, and most of that is spent drinking coffee and sending joke e-mails.

The anaconda - cute?

Sunday, August 19, 2007
Yes it is. It is there along with the rather more predictable lemur, orang utan, panda and dolphin in its list of 40, viewable here. The WWF requests that website readers should "Select your five favorite animals from the list of 40 below, and we'll keep score of the ones that receive the most votes. Then, come back on September 1, and vote for your favorite finalist as it competes for the title of World's Cutest Animal!"

Other left field candidates include the great white shark, dugong and and the walrus. I deem it remarkably gutless of them not to have included the adonis that is the naked mole rat...

I am sorely tempted to attempt to kick start a campaign in favour of the anaconda, but one has to register to vote, and doubtless that would precipitate an avalanche of begging e-mails.

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Petition o' the day

Friday, August 17, 2007
" We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Use the UK military to help protect endangered wildlife across the globe".

I am NOT making this up.

So, perhaps every panda could have a team of bodyguards, and maybe razor wire, klieg lights and minefields should surround the rarer orchids. After all, the British armed forces have little to do beyond play cards, drink and stare out of their barrack windows at the moment.

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Quote of the year

"Elvis posed a dilemma for capitalism, but it was not an insurmountable one".

Straight from this week's Socialist Worker. And they are referring to that Elvis.

Submissions in a similar vein would be very welcome.

Nonsense upon stilts

I am not a big fan of Bentham, but his terming of 'human rights' as 'nonsense upon stilts' seems quite extraordinarily apt in the case of those deemed to apply to protesters in Ottawa.

Bush, Calderon and Harper are having a summit meeting in Ottawa next month, and doubtless it will prove a fairly pointless exercise, in common with G8 meetings and the like. Why they can't do a bit of video conferencing is beyond me.

Anyway, politicians cannot hope to meet up anywhere without there being a rag bag of lefties, greens, and 57 varieties of other loons following the baggage train, and so it will be in Ottawa. Doubtless politicians everywhere regard the camp followers as just one more pain in the backside, but which can be shut out once inside the summit venue. Not, however, this time:

"There will be a video feed of the protests inside the buildings," a senior official said at a media briefing on the summit. "People have a legitimate right to protest."

The government said the decision to stream footage of the protests in view of the three world leaders is consistent with the protesters' human rights and assertions in courts that protesters have a right to be seen and heard".

Right. So it is not enough that one has the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, but rather Ottawa falls just short of supplying the venue, soap boxes and bullhorns. Having once started on this folly, where will it all end, and might Bush, Calderon and Harper decide that they want to exercise their freedom of speech by having their bon mots relayed to the crowd by speakers mounted on Chinooks or somesuch?


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If this lot are shaping our future, I'd rather be living in the past.

Thursday, August 16, 2007
The World Economic Forum runs a dull if essentially worthy website, and it has just made this breathless announcement:

"More than 250 young leaders from 61 countries will participate in the third Annual Young Global Leaders summit in Dalian on 4-8 September. They will be looking to define the future of leadership during their three-day meeting, held prior to the Inaugural Annual Meeting of the New Champions. The Young Global Leaders will participate in an intense workshop where they will discuss what will be required to be a truly effective global leader in the face of emerging trends and new challenges and will then be tasked with creating a new leadership model for the future".

Who could these young leaders be? Well, Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper, who might be prepared to share a room and save us all some money. And Justin Forsyth, who "advises Prime Minister Tony Blair". Time to update the site chaps? Elsewhere, a slew of bankers, bean counters, asset managers - none of whom are household names bar Stelios 'easy' Haji-Ioannou - a Dutch Princess (not that her biog at the WEF 'fesses up that) and one Hilary Cottam. Her blog is a corker: "Welcome to my blog. Watch this space for more…" That was dated 4/10/6. And no list of 'the Great and the Good' could possibly be complete without Ellen 'whine, whine, whine' / "[there] are a lot of people in the professional sailing contingent who wouldn't sail across the Solent with her" MacArthur.

I have skimmed the rogues' gallery for France, Oz, Canada and the US, inter alia, and their young turks are equally depressing. And the three from Israel are an MK from a marginal left wing party, a singer / song writer and a professor.

"I've seen the future, and it smirks". (With apologies to Simon Hoggart fort stealing his line)

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Israel in expansionist mode again.

Regrettably it is not going to make the day of numerous Arabs and give Gaza direct rule from Jerusalem, but rather there is talk of building an airport on reclaimed land off the coast of TA.

Sounds like it would be quite a feat of engineering: "Our sea is not calm," Danny Kaiser, who was Tel Aviv's city engineer from 2000 to 2005, told the Post. The Mediterranean coast experiences high winds and waves, and reaches great depths, he said. "To build an artificial island, one must have a very good reason".

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Fun with stats

Care of a new American gameshow called 'The Power of 10':

"48% of Americans said people who don't speak English annoy them". Erm, including non-Americans? Seems a bit harsh.

"41% of American women said they prefer chocolate to sex". Yes, I'm going to make that joke: How unfortunate for American women who have sex with other Americans....

"37% of Americans said when they wake up in the morning, they do not look forward to going to work". I'm way more concerned about the 63% who do not think the Curse of Cain is that bad.

"32% of Americans have kissed a dog on the mouth". Any connection to the sex / chocolate figures?

"7% of Americans think professional wrestling matches are real". Figures for those Americans who think that the Bishop of Rome is a Seventh Day Adventist and that Ursus arctos horribilis habitually uses restaurant rest rooms are not yet available.

"42% of Americans think girls should be allowed to try out for and play on the boys' football team". But how many male Americans....

"10% of Americans said they have shaken hands with a U.S. President". 30 million odd? Yeah, right.

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A Kiwi Tony Martin. Only without the complications.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Tony Martin, it might be recalled, used lethal force in defence of property, although there did seem to be elements of entrapment / retribution. Nevertheless, much of the nation was outraged that he ended up in the Big House for taking the law into his own hands failing the catastrophic failure of Norfolk's 'Finest' to do anything to protect his life and property.

Anyway, if that was bad, what of this from the Antipodes:

"Waikato police say they do not yet know if they will charge a farmer who fired two warning shots over the heads of two men he caught allegedly stealing petrol from his Morrinsville farm".

The New Zealand Herald has more details, but the core of the story is the possibility that a very mild exercise in force in defence of property could render the farmer liable to prosecution. So what should he have done? Handed his keys etc to the criminals, and then called from a payphone in order to let them thieve in peace?

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Stoke well the fires of Hell

Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Let us hope Old Nick has a few spares logs ready to keep things warm for Heinz Barth, one of those responsible for the Oradour sur Glane massacre.

Barth has died at the age of 86, having been at liberty for 10 years, despite being sentenced to life in 1983. Le Monde has more, although the paper's subs have misspelled the village's name in the headline.

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From the wonderful people who brought you the Al Yamamah arms deal

This from the Jerusalem Post:

"The British government has blocked almost one third of British military exports to Israel this year, citing possible threats to regional stability and fears the equipment might facilitate human rights violations".

Meanwhile, "
The report also reveals that during 2006 the UK authorised the export of more than 15,000 sniper rifles to countries including Pakistan, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Saferworld said the exports to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey were of concern because the UK has no way of finding out where the weapons end up. Export licences approved included components for military aircraft and tanks for China, heavy machine guns for Colombia, and components for combat aircraft and armoured vehicles for Russia". Source.

And all of the countries above are peaceful, stable, human rights-loving liberal democracies with interests that no way clash with our own......

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...nor iron bars a cage

Monday, August 13, 2007
Digging in the Stasi's archives has thrown up this particular smoking gun in relation to would be escapees from the veritable paradise that was the Deutsche Demokratische Republik :

"Do not hesitate to use your firearm, even in the case of breaches of the border by women and children, as they are often used by traitors". Source.

While I think that the Germans and the other liberated nations of eastern and central Europe struck the right balance between reconciliation and justice, it does pain me that the odious Honecker did not end up with his feet dangling in the breeze.

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Petitions o' the day.

And there are some absolute corkers:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to ban all tourists from devon and cornwall in august.... the devon and cornwall locals have every summer ruined by the influx of tourists, we should be allowed to enjoy our summer and not spend it stuck in traffic or fighting for a spot on our beaches". Source. And keep the local economy afloat. And what about Somerset?

" We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to stop the slander off (sic) working dogs and the people that work them". Source. Erm, can anyone help me out with this one?

But I like this one. A lot.

" We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to abolish all taxes". Source

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Some background facts and figures for Don Foster

In a rather sad attempt to show how they are down with the people and so forth, the Lib Dems, in the form of Don Foster, have had a pop at the price of football season tickets.

Given that an awful lot of Lib Dems would not recognise economic liberalism if it scored a goal on the volley from 50 yards out, I suppose it would be utterly pointless to note the prices charged to watch football games are absolutely none of the business of the government, still less one that last held power in the 1920s.

However, because I'm feeling liberal, I am going to provide Donald with a bit of context:

Old Trafford - capacity 76,212
Stamford Bridge - 42,055
Highbury - 60,432 (Yes, I know they don't call it that any more)
Anfield - 45,362.

Compare this with the following:

San Siro - 85,700
Camp Nou - 98,772
Bernabeu - 80,400

Might Don draw a conclusion or two from this? Meanwhile, he is also unhappy that 'Last season we saw empty seats at premiership grounds'. Not at the homes of the top teams, no. Furthermore, the clubs with empty seats are not those with the most expensive season tickets etc, rather those lacking a big fan base like Wigan, Bolton and Blackburn, and football fans rarely make a decision on long term support based on ticket prices, so fans outpriced by the larger teams in the North West are not going to switch allegiance, drive a bit further and buy cheaper tickets, any more than there is much to-ing and fro-ing between say Chelsea and QPR.

Would folk like to pay to less for tickets? Erm, yes. Would they also like cheaper beer, balti pies / prawn sandwiches, replica shirts, parking / travel too? I think they probably would.....




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Musicians against royalty cheques...

Saturday, August 11, 2007
Not what one would expect, but a bit of litigation on the other side of the North Sea suggests otherwise. The internationally obscure, but once big in Denmark 'Dodo & the Dodos' let slip the dogs of law when Sony BMG wrote to tell them that they were going to start selling their music as digital downloads, including the doubtless dance floor filling 'Vågner i natten’ (‘Waking in the Night’). And they won - Sony BMG can no longer sell music downloads without explicit consent from the artists under contract. More here. It is not entirely clear whether this Baltic Beat Combo is still under contract, so the repercussions could be broader still.

From what I have read, and from people I know on the fringes of the biz, musicians who get record contracts end up signing over their souls, first born children and droit de seigneur over their significant others, let alone rights over how their music is distributed and sold, so I cannot help but think that Sony BMG Denmark ought to be having words with their lawyers over some pretty poor contract drafting.

The Jyllands-Posten, from whence this tale comes, reckons this could have implications well beyond Denmark, but I suspect that contracts in the US, here and the other major markets have been drafted with more care.

Meanwhile, this is definitely the place to note the music biz quip about poor sales - 'It has gone cardboard in Albania'.

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Idiot Watch

This from El Pais:

"Three men, between the ages of 19 and 25, were arrested Wednesday in Madrid after trying to perpetrate an unusual swindle. The three, all with white complexions, tried to use an identity card of a black man to finance the purchase of a 40-inch television valued at €1,300, the Civil Guard said".

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Iain Dale's Top Twenty Blogs

Friday, August 10, 2007
On the off chance that any of my readers are not aware, Iain is collecting votes for favourite political blogs. More details here.

"Just order them from 1 to 20. Your top blog gets 20 points and your twentieth gets 1 point.

The deadline for submitting your Top 20 to me is August 15th. Please email me your list to iain AT iaindale DOT com and type Top 20 in the subejct line...You don't have to send 20, but try to do 10 as a minimum".

I sent in my list a while back, but given that there are many more than 20 blogs that I think worthy of voting for, I am not saying how I voted.....

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Hedging one's bets?

That is the only way I can make sense of the news of business figures making donations to the South African Communist Party, which, apparently has stopped using the slogan of "Workers of the world, unite and fight for a white South Africa!"

Over at the SACP's site, one can buy a t-shirt with the image of one Vladimir Ulyanov, and the slogan 'Quality never goes out of fashion'. Nice. Still, no watered down eurosocialism for the comrades in Jo'burg, eh?

Meanwhile, back at the plot, "Senior communists have raised questions about a total of R1,7-million in donations made to the South African Communist Party (SACP), which they say are unaccounted for. And they claim that the donations were made directly to SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande".

...

"The R1,7-million (a shade under £120,000) includes R500 000 which, as reported last Sunday, is the subject of complaint by controversial businessman Charles Modise to the South African Police Service. Modise claims he gave Nzimande the money in cash for salaries and that it subsequently went astray.

In addition, the SACP is alleged to have received three other payments that are not accounted for: a R600 000 donation by a Limpopo politician-cum-businessman, R360 000 paid over accidentally by the Banking Association and R300 000 from the Chinese Communist Party".

Could the comrades have had their fingers in the till? Heaven forfend......

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90 billion chopsticks

That is the number of disposable chopsticks the population of China went through last year. Quite a few then.

However, the secretary general of the China Cuisine Association has called upon the public to "abandon the use of disposable chopsticks for the good of their health and the environment". Source.

Now everything I have seen suggests that bamboo is the raw material used to produce disposable chopsticks, so I am a little curious that the debate is being framed in terms of "a cost to the environment of about 25 million trees".

Moreover, "Both restaurant owners and consumers prefer them, their supporters say, and an industry has grown up around their manufacture".

They'll be installing a Starbucks inside the Forbidden City next. Well, actually they already have .

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Pakistan - our 'ally' in the war on terror.

This from Syed Tanveer Hussein, a parliamentary secretary for defence in The Times of India:

"that Quranic concepts should be allowed to guide foreign policy since in the case of Kashmir, there was clearly an US-India conspiracy to make the region autonomous. He said talks were never going to settle the issue. Taking the populist anti-US position, Hussain said that "our love affair with US should come to an end and we should have better relations with Iran, Russia and China. We should wage jihad against US and resolve the Kashmir issue through jihad, not talks".

However, "the government distanced itself from Hussain's remarks, claiming that these were individual views, Hussain remains a member of the ruling party, who also holds a post", so that's all right then.

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Socialists against wealth redistribution

Thursday, August 09, 2007
Alas there has not been a wave of Damascene conversions, but rather PASOK - the Greek Socialist party - has just had its fox well and truly peppered with buckshot by New Democracy, the relatively sound party ruling the land of the Hellenes at the moment.

ND's decision to ladle out the drachmas euros to "help pull 500,000 Greeks above the poverty line" has left PASOK shouting 'Foul!', 'Electioneering!', 'Bribe!' etc.

And there was I thinking that as good socialists they'd be all in favour of this sort of thing.

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The world's least surprising poll result

24dash.com, which describes itself as offering 'News for the public sector and beyond' ran one of those statistically worthless self-selecting polls on prospective candidates for the London mayoralty, and strike me down with une plume, Livingstone is preferred to Boris by a substantial margin. Mind you, the 'don't care' option is fairly popular, and presumably a top choice among folk in the provinces.

Anyway, the poll is still up if anyone fancies trying to push the vote in the direction of the member for Henley.

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The Second Reich lives

In Namibia they even call out 'Viva Caprivi' in court. Georg Leo Graf von Caprivi de Caprara de Montecuccoli succeeded Bismarck as Reichskanzler in 1890, and even appeared to model his look on the (original, and still the best) Iron Chancellor:


Caprivi presided over a thawing of relations between Germany and Blighty, and is most famous for the strip that bears his name, an offshoot of Namibia to the North East which gives the country a somewhat odd outline:



The rights and wrongs of separatism in that part of the world are not really worth going into, but it is rather amusing that Namibia has in the Caprivi Liberation Army a separatist group named after a remarkably dead Prussian. Up there with the Cuban daily Granma, named after a boat the previous owners of which had named said boat after a beloved relative.

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Geraint Davies - are you listening?

To much delight at Croydonian Towers, Andrew Pelling took Croydon Central for the Blue Team at the last election, deposing expenses king Geraint Davies. Not exactly news, admittedly.

However, Davies had a Kunte Kinte moment a while back and decided he was pining for a safe seat the Land of his Fathers and did the chicken run to Wales (note that he was born in that noted Welsh city of Chester), where, quelle surprise, he has got himself selected for a textbook pig with a red rosette constituency, Swansea West. Pelling holds CC by all of 75 votes (including mine...), and courtesy of boundary changes is notionally Labour now, so zero marks to Davies for commitment to his former constituency.

And the newly selected candidate for Labour, one Gerry Ryan, has been quoted thus: "I am a local lad, which I think is important". Source. Ho ho ho....

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Tessa Jowell, slave labour enthusiast

Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Our old 'friend' Tessa Jowell has poked her head out from under the wainscotting, and is engaging in the logically curious concept of celebrating an event that has not yet happened:

"Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell today celebrated one year to the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing by pledging to learn from the Chinese experience".

So, we can look forward to slave labour, extermination of the indigenous culture of outlying parts of these islands, a one child per couple policy, a one party state, a virtually zero score on the classic liberal rights and so on. Nice experience to learn from, eh?

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'A consultation' - Livingstone style.

Maybe I am being naive, but the concept of 'a consultation' suggests that something is being investigated without there being pre-ordained aim. Not, however, when it comes to City Hall and the Mayor of London.

The 'consultation' is about an exciting new class war attack on folk fortunate enough to drive large and / or luxurious cars. Not that it is phrased thus, it is all about CO2 emissions, which Livingstone has determined to have caused the recent floods. Uh-huh.

There is, as one would expect, some rather poor reasoning at work in the press release, and some fairly masterful sleights of hand. The attack on the owners of these cars is justified by their only being driven by '8% of Londoners'. Given that the congestion charge zone covers Westminster and K&C, the honest figure to dig out would be the percentage of these chariots of CO2 owned by people living in those boroughs, but as the average Westminsterian / Kensingtonian probably drives something a little further up the food chain than a 10 year old Toyota that would not allow him to produce a figure of 8% for the rest of us to place, metaphorically speaking, in the stocks and pelt with unread copies of 'The Londoner'. Although doubtless he would love to do that too.

And it is 'argued' further, "Some of the worst examples produce two or three times as much greenhouse gases as the average family car". Per mile? Per day? Per whatever? If I have been taxed for the privilege of driving a car in town, having once paid the tax there is absolutely no disincentive to spend all day in it, rather than just use it for the originally planned scoot to the shops.

And there's more: "The proposals are part of the Mayor's strategy to do everything possible to reduce pollution and London's contribution to climate change - a top priority as the recent catastrophic weather has brought home".

"Everything possible"? Given that by Livingstone's own admission less than half of the non-aviation transport produced CO2 comes from cars, what is he doing about his ghastly bendy buses, for instance? And that is before he targets people for breathing out, plants for photosynthesising, etc etc.

And then compare this statement: "The Mayor will keep an open mind on the proposals until he has considered the responses to the consultation".

With this: "The highest CO2 emitting cars - like some of the so-called Chelsea tractors, high powered sports cars and luxury executive cars - can produce twice as much carbon dioxide emissions as the kind of car driven by the average Londoner. By proposing these changes to the congestion charging scheme we are encouraging people to take into account the impact on the environment of their choice of car".

Any bets on Livingstone deciding not to charge extra for some vehicles? I'll happily take any money anyone wants to stake.


Cross-posted to Anyone but Ken.

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Hurrah for Canada

Or rather two suicidally reckless extraordinarily brave Canadians, who unveiled a pro Tibetan independence banner on the Great Wall, and kept it there for 90 minutes. More here.

The two bold Canadians, Melanie Raoul and Sam Price, members of Students for a Free Tibet have been hauled off in the Chinese equivalent of the black maria, and are yet to be heard from.

The action, naturally, is on youtube:



The comments on the video are extraordinarily telling.... Still, I'm locked out from the 'People's Republic' of China by the Great Firewall of China, so I'm not anticipating a blizzard of Pekiing's straw men and women telling me what a dirty gwailo I am.

The story is all over the North American media, but would seem to be insufficiently newsworthy for a certain broadcaster that does, however, sees fit to drivel on at length about the forthcoming Olympics in Peking.

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The return of Mangosuthu Buthelezi

Well, I suppose he never really went away, but it is the first time I have read about him in a long time, and what a lot of sense the leader of Inkatha (and, as every schoolboy knows, star of 'Zulu') speaks:

"The next object of liberation in South Africa must be the national economy, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said on Tuesday. "Our people have been given political rights, but they still lack the freedom to participate fully in the market economy". The labour market remained constrained by racially defined regulations resulting in skills shortages. Financial markets still bore the brunt of sanctions-busting strategies....For his part, Buthelezi said the argument had always been "more about wealth creation than wealth redistribution". The IFP had consistently advocated a free enterprise economy in which the fruits of growth were shared on merit". Source.

Alas Buthelezi is unlikely to be implementing a freeing up of the South African economy any time soon, as the IFP has seen its share of the vote fall in successive elections - to just 7% in 2004 - and is only the third party in SA after the ANC and the Democratic Alliance. Still, it is encouraging that a man in his late 70s is still fighting the good fight.

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The joys of being a Portuguese spook

Tuesday, August 07, 2007
You get to drive one of these:

This being a Fiat Stilo, doubtless a harmless enough vehicle, if lacking the glamour that Lisbonian would be James Bonds / Mata Haris / Kit Marlowes etc might have hoped for. Still, a company car is a nice perk.

So far, so dull, but here's the good bit, courtesy of Portugal News:

"The car was stolen three months ago from under the nose of one of the country's top agents while patrolling a Quinta do Lago villa belonging to Congo opposition leader, Jean Pierre Bemba.

The vehicle, a silver Fiat Stilo, was filled with all the SIS's latest surveillance equipment. Among the items said to have been inside the car when it was stolen, were three fake licence plates...a camcorder, a number of digital cameras and mobile phones.

According to Jornal de Noticias, [the spooks] were forced to file an insurance claim after an agent went walkabout after answering his mobile phone. He made the mistake of leaving the car keys in the ignition".

Maybe anyone reading who is au fait with motor insurance (Newmania?) can tell me what the chances would be of such a claim succeeding in these parts....

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Brief reflections on the 62nd anniversary of the Hiroshoma bomb

The UN is making much of that anniversary, and has taken to referring to the 'the nuclear attack of 6 August 1945'. It then uses this as a hook on which to hang some cant about nuclear disarmament.

I have long been of the opinion that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved lives by shortening the war, but the peerless Victor Davis Hanson in 'Ripples of Battle' makes that point all the more clear cut in his analysis of the battle of Okinawa.

This is comparatively little known in these parts, but the three month campaign for the island resulted in 12,520 American deaths (and over 33,000 missing or wounded), 110,000 Japanese military dead, and perhaps 100,000 civilian dead. This, note, was an outlying island of the archipelago, and inhabited by people speaking a language near incomprehensible to the Japanese. And yet the Japanese armed forces were prepared, to all intents and purposes to fight to the last man, and to take kamikaze operations to levels not previously seen. Consider then, what might have been the fate of the four main islands of Japan if the Americans, with our assistance, had engaged in saturation bombing ahead of a full scale invasion in the planned Operations Olympic and Coronet, targeting Kyushu and Honshu respectively. Hanson quotes from George Feifer's 'Tennozan: the Battle for Okinawa and Atomic Bomb':

"Okinawa's caves, killing grounds, and anguish ought to be re­membered. It ought to be suggested, at least for the sake of the am­bivalent human record, that the first atomic bombs probably prevented the homicidal equivalent of over two hundred more of the same: the twenty million Japanese deaths if invasion had been necessary, in addition to all the other deaths, Western and Asian.

It is difficult to comprehend such figures and to remember the strains of 1945. Focusing on the bomb is easier. But if a symbol is needed to help preserve the memory of the Pacific War, Okinawa is the more fitting one".



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An odd measure of success

The Scottish Executive has been berating 16-26 year olds who go out once a week or more on the perils of Bolivian marching powder, and is feeling remarkably pleased with itself, judging by the executive summary.

Digging a little deeper, the following is buried deep in the text:

"Respondents were asked whether they were more or less likely to take cocaine after seeing the campaign. The majority (58 per cent) said that the campaign had not altered their likelihood of taking cocaine. A quarter said they were less likely (25 per cent), whereas 12 per cent said they were more likely".

So, all that money, and three quarters of that demographic have unmodified behaviour or are making haste to see The Man. And always bear in mind that if someone walks up to you waving a clip board and starts asking impertinent questions, you are always going to be commendably frank in your responses....

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All hail the robust common sense of the good people of London

Because the inhabitants of the Great Wen were the least likely of the populations of the standard UK regions to 'see' a UFO last year. The MOD has a little list of 2006 'sightings' here. It could be that even we chirpy cockernee types are gulls compared to Ulster, with no reported 'sightings' last year, or more likely the province is not included in the statistics.

Rather alarmingly, the greater South East looks to be the place to see a UFO, with the burghers of Guildford, Chelmsford and the like some seven times more likely to claim a UFO sighting - and then to ring up the MOD to tell them all about it - than Londoners. And the Scots are the second most likely, per head of population to see things.

The actual 'sightings' do seem to be more common well after what could have been a full evening's drinking, and the prose used to describe the sightings is a joy:

20/7/6 Paisley, 23:45 "One pure-orange object, that was spherical. The size of a street light".

14/9/6 Kettering 23:05 "A triangle shaped object that had lights on that looked similar to a helicopter. There was one white, one green and one red light".

29/9/6 East Lothian "A big, round, swirly thing in the sky".

And there are plenty more to enjoy....

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A nation of troll lovers

That is what we would appear to be, or at least those of us who holiday in Norway, judging from some wholly unscientific research carried out in a souvenir shop by Norwegian daily Aftenposten:

"Souvenir shop managers that Aftenposten spoke to, said however that tourist from different countries generally buy different souvenirs. The Norwegian jumper is especially popular with Americans, Germans generally prefer a bumper sticker for their car, Britons have a predilection for trolls, while the Spaniards and Italians love the Vikings, said shop manager Tor Fredrik Frøberg".

I think it is to Mr Frøberg's credit that he can tell said nationalities apart. I can't help but think that the Norwegians are possibly missing out the profits from some other choice merchandise - the "My uncle Sven went to Bergen and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt" T-Shirt, a 'Hammer of the Gods' for Led Zeppelin fans and perhaps a series of items commemorating Norway's frequent outbreaks of good sense in shunning EU membership.

Readers sharing my advanced age may have fond memories of O and A Level geography lessons in which one could gain the impression that the entire Norwegian workforce worked fjord-side farms, or maybe that was just me.

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"An artist is someone who produces things that people don't need to have but that he - for some reason - thinks it would be a good idea to give them"

Monday, August 06, 2007



Quote c/o Andy Warhol.

Warhol is having his life and death celebrated by the National Gallery of Scotland, and feeling that a bit of art would be a fine thing to experience on a wet Sunday, I hastened to the exhibition with my infinitely better half. Well, we attempted to hasten, but the 43 miles from the Fair City to the NGS took around 4 1/2 hours, including the delightful 45 minutes it took to work our way through a very, very tacky parade which blocked up Princes St and its surrounds. Still, I suppose one must be prepared to suffer for someone else's art.

The retrospective included a fair selection of his signature pieces, including Marilyn, Jackie O, Elvis, the soup cans and so forth, but as has been pointed out elsewhere, no Mao. I am no great fan of the Great Helmsman, so that was not particularly distressing. However, it did leave the impression that the exhibition had been rather cobbled together from whatever the NGS could lay its hands on, rather than perhaps for it to have been prepared to gather together more pieces for the show, at greater cost and time, no doubt. I also concluded that rather more space was used than was needed for what the NGS had to exhibit.

Away from the iconic pieces, Warhol's juvenilia was perhaps the most interesting, in that I could see something of both Georg Grosz and especially Jean Cocteau in his early drawings and graphic art.

Was Warhol a great artist? I doubt it, but his melding of art with commerce is undeniably influential, and for many years I have looked at commercial art & design through the prism he created, and regard the Bird's custard tin as being a thing of rare beauty.

As a footnote, The Times obit of Warhol was a pearl, the last line of which, rather than referring to family as is the norm, was 'He always wore a silver wig'. It is not in that paper's online archive, but I committed the line to memory at the time and have been wheeling it out ever since, so perhaps my readers will trust me on this one.

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An alarming sighting in Auld Reekie


Anyway, it made me rather nervous and quite spoilt a pleasant stroll around the Athens of the North.

And I'm back.

And may well do a 'what I did on my holidays' post in a bit.

AWOL

Friday, August 03, 2007
I'm away until Monday, but being a connectivity , erm, 'type', will be checking in periodically, plus Dizzy, splendid fellow that he is, will be keeping an eye on proceedings.

Romano Prodi, theologian....

Thursday, August 02, 2007
As if being a former EU head commissar and leading a coalition including the extreme left is not enough, Prodi has decided to lecture Rome on matters of faith and the like:

"Prodi sparked the row on Tuesday when he said in an interview published by Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana: "When I go to Mass, why do I almost never hear the priest talk about tax evasion, which is an important moral issue?" The Catholic premier said a third of Italians were major tax dodgers and that "in order to change mentality, everyone has to do their bit, the schools and the Church included". Source

Well, well, well. The Church has been around an awful lot longer than the Italian Republic, and it ill behoves Prodi to tell it what to put in its homilies.

I cannot lay hands on the details, but I read some years back that if the Italian state collected all of the taxes it levies, they would amount to something like 110% of GDP, and that an espresso bought in a cafe suffers about a dozen different taxes.

Meanwhile, my archepiscopal hero of the day is Bruno Forte, the Archbishop of Chieti, "[who] said part of the blame lay with the government because it failed to show citizens that their money was being well spent".

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The British abroad....

The F&CO has an illuminating press release on the trouble and worse that British holidaymakers, ex pats and the like get themselves into while abroad, from which I have discovered the following:

Britons in Spain are 11 times more likely to get arrested in Spain than France. Does that say more about trigger happy members of the Guardia Civil, or about behaviour rather more loutish in Magaluf than the Dordogne? Mind you, the risk of getting one's collar felt is at its greatest in the USA, at some 35 times greater than that in Italy.

The rather more alarming issue of rape sees Turkey, Greece and Spain as the most relatively dangerous, with Turkey by far the worst.

In terms of useful phrases to learn before getting on the plane, the Greek for 'It hurts here' would appear to be one to commit to memory, as Greece sees by far the highest level of hospitalisations per visits. And how can it be that losing one's passport is 286 times more likely in Oz than the Irish Republic? OK, it is a big country, but....

And finally, it is not see Naples and die, it is see Bangkok and die - Thailand is 20 times deadlier than Italy, and 80 times more than the Netherlands.

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Even more trouble with statistics

This headline - "Mid East: One Million Demand Two-state Solution" seems pretty clear, doesn't it? (Source, registration required)

However, it only takes until the first paragraph of the release to discover that the One Voice Movement is being remarkably mendacious: "Frustrated with ongoing instability in the region, the recent crisis in Gaza and lack of progress, the OneVoice Movement today announced that nearly 500,000 Palestinian and Israeli citizens have united to demand immediate, ongoing, uninterrupted negotiations until a comprehensive two-state agreement is achieved. OneVoice has committed to recruit one million signatories to join the movement by October".

In the Amen Corner is the delightful Saeb 'the number will not be less than 500 [in the Jenin 'massacre'] Erekat. Fatah reckoned 56, and "Amnesty and Human Rights Watch say there was no evidence of a massacre".

There are already two states - Israel and Jordan.....

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The future belongs to the Haredim

Think of someone you know who is Jewish. Chances are, he or she looks and acts and dresses very much like a gentile, probably doesn't drink very much and isn't enormously strict on keeping kosher.

As I am forever saying, it isn't a case that 'some of my best friends are Jewish', more a case that 'most of them' are, and the template I have just outlined holds good with the folk I know. And the relevant bit is that a study has found that 3 out of 4 Jewish births are to ultra orthodox or Haredi parents. Projecting those figures, a study by a British academic suggests that the Haredim will grow from around 17% of British Jewry to over half by 2050 or so. Much the same is predicted for the US and Israel. This is due to the Haredim being keen on having large families, and the less orthodox rather less so, and / or marrying out. The latter has been termed, rather unpleasantly, the silent holocaust.

Observance of a religion I do not subscribe to, and the choices folk make as to family size is absolutely no business of mine (not that such a realisation usually stops me), but it does seem a little sad that a very distinct Anglo-Jewish identity is heading for oblivion

If the United Kingdom was Malaysia's 14th state....

Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Things could look quite different, judging from this speech by Dr Nazrin Shah:

"The Raja Muda of Perak Raja Dr Nazrin Shah said the fight against corruption should see good governance with figures in authority being qualified for such positions. He said the corrupt should be held in contempt by society. "Those with a chequered past or clear evidence of questionable morality should be prevented from taking office".

And if that wasn't setting the bar a tad on the high side for the likes of Mandelson, Prescott and other members of the rogues' gallery, "Only Malaysians who [are] capable, hard working, bold and scrupulously honest [should be] allowed to serve in positions of responsibility".

Erm, who'd be left in British public life?

The Raja himself has a rather more impressive CV than the average Crown Prince: a PPE from Oxford and both a Masters and a Ph.D from Harvard.

Mind you, his calling card must be a bit lacking in white space: "Duli Yang Teramat Mulia Raja Muda Perak Darul Ridzuan Raja Dr. Nazrin Shah Ibni Sultan Azlan Muhibbuddin D.K., D.K.II (Selangor), D.K.S.A, S.P.C.M, S.P.T.S, S.P.M.P. (Perlis), Ph.D (Harvard)".

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And to think London and Paris are less than popular in the provinces

Shamelessly appropriated from a friend's facebook page.

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I think they might be serious.

They being the American Mustache Institute.

Having first heard of them via the good offices of the Globe & Mail, which notes that voting on the "the greatest mustache in the history of sports will be revealed at the 2007 'Stache Bash in St. Louis", I went to see what the AMI has to say about itself:

"AMI continues to battle negative stereotyping that has accompanied the mustache since those glory years of the 1970s - the peak of mustache acceptance - fighting to create a climate of acceptance, understanding, flavor saving, and upper lip warmth for all mustached Americans alike".

The list of moustache (ha..) sporters involves precious few individuals that we British types will have heard of. Conrad Dobler? Walt Frazier? Anyway, vote here.

I suppose I could take nominations for British political moustaches (beards etc excluded...), which are pretty thin on the ground at the moment, although there is Caroline Flint's rather rakish Ronald Colman number.