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News to me

Saturday, May 31, 2008
Inspired by the news that the hoopoe has been crowned Israel's national bird, I have gone in search of national birds for other countries, and some random bloke on the internet says that our national bird is the robin. Well, it is as good a choice as any, but how and when was this decided, I wonder?

Elsewhere, and rather unsurprisingly, the French lay claim to the cockerel, while Germany goes for the white stork and Sweden for the blackbird. Our American friends insist on having birds for all 50 states, but with the bald eagle top of the heap. Then that was about as predictable as Australia going for the emu and New Zealand the kiwi. Mauritius has the dodo, which is a bit silly, frankly.

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Diplomatic spat of the week

"Chile and Peru have for some time been embroiled in a dispute over the origins of the potato. Chile's latest claim to be the region where potatoes first grew is being hotly refuted in the Peruvian press....However, the controversy is not over by a long chalk. Researchers in Bolivia say they have found traces of the potato which are more ancient than those found in either Chile or Peru". Source

And to think that there are people who deem the British press shallow.

Anyway, 'like a sack of old potatoes, the night has a thousand eyes'.

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">"Someone set up us the bomb"

Friday, May 30, 2008
Anyone who has read a half-way serious newspaper etc in the last few days will be well aware of the treaty on cluster bombs etc, and that the US, China and sundry other military heavy hitters have not signed it. After a couple of days of fruitless digging, I have laid hands on the list of those entities that have signed it.

And lo, and indeed, behold, by my reckoning only nine of the 25 biggest military spenders have signed on the line, and 118 out of 221 or so entities that either have full sovereignty or are self-governing to some degree. This includes British and French territories like the Falklands and St Pierre & Miquelon.

So, here are some of the military super powers that have signed up.

  • The Vatican - no armed forces. It employs Swiss mercenaries. While cluster munitions do not have to be air dropped, that is the preferred delivery mechanism. His Holiness would find that St Peters does not provide much scope even for short take off and landing.
  • Niue - has a population of 1700 and "Having no military or the resources to maintain a global diplomatic network, New Zealand retains responsibility for the foreign affairs and defence of Niue". Source. New Zealand scrapped its air force a while back.
  • The Cook Islands - Much the same story as Niue, although there are about 19,000 cooks, and thus in dire danger of spoiling the broth.
  • Nauru - "Though Nauru has close ties with Australia, there is no known defence agreement between the two nations". Source Population does not reach five figures.
  • Liechtenstein - "Abolished their army in 1868 because it was deemed too costly. Army is only permitted in times of war, but this situation has never occurred. According to the CIA World Factbook, defense is the responsibility of Switzerland. However, official sources of both Switzerland and Liechtenstein do not provide any backing to this claim and no defense treaty is ever mentioned". Source
  • Palau - "Defence is the responsibility of the United States". Source.
  • Marshall Islands - ditto
  • San Marino - total military expenditure $700,000 in 2000/1. It does have a crossbow corps though. Source.
  • Vanuatu - "Vanuatu's military consist of a small, mobile, corps of 300 volunteers". Source.

Not all of the world's microstates felt the need to sign up, with Andorra, Monaco and a plethora of West Indian islands not bothering. I do wonder whether Niue and the like were contacted via some sort of Facebook system for states and neo-states, and just could not resist the temptation to join the 'cluster bombs are nasty' group.

As a point to note, by the time one gets to the 71st biggest military spender, that is about 1% of the UK's outlay and 78 of the 118 signatories spend that one per cent or less.

(My headline refers to the All Your Base craze of 2000 /2001. More here.).



As an addendum, here is a map of the Middle East - the world's dodgiest neighbourhood? - with signatories shown in black, these being Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Bahrain has signed up too, but is too small to show clearly


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Headline o' the day

From Italian news agency ANSA:

"Pork strike set for June 1".

Pigs have not become highly sentient and rebelled against farmers in the best Animal Farm tradition, but rather the farmers are on strike. I expect the pigs are delighted. Meanwhile, there is an ample supply of prosciutto in my fridge.

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Words fail me. Almost

Verity having pointed out the following "Hans Christian Andersen is the spitting image of a 19th Century British writer but I can't think who. Maybe George Elliott ... or one of the Brontes. Or someone else. But he is the spitting image of someone", I have been sniffing around the internet in search of the match. No luck so far, but look what I've found:


Why, yes - it is the Jane Austen action figure, as sold by the Library of Congress thusly:

"Jane Austen was one of the greatest English novelists in history. Despite a rather sheltered life, she was able to capture the subtleties of human interaction so perfectly that her novels continue to be immensely popular to this day. This 5-1/4" tall, hard vinyl action figure comes with a book (Pride & Prejudice) and a writing desk with removable quill pen!"

Yours for $8.50.

Other writers available are Poe - "with a hauntingly pale complexion and a removable plastic raven" and Shakespeare. Nominations for the accoutrements that would suit other writers, should they be immortalised in hard vinyl, are welcome - Solzhenitsyn's foot cloths maybe or De Quincey's laudanum bottle.

However, it would be selfish of me not to point out the star attraction:

"If you just can't get enough of the Dewey decimals or if you go bananas for books, chances are you have a Librarian Action Figure. Nancy Pearl's likeness made history as the best selling Librarian Action Figure of all time".


Looks like Nancy can move her arms but lower body movement would appear to be beyond her.

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Making the same anouncement twice

As is well known, ministers in this government would make drums out of the skins of their own mothers the louder to sing their own praises, and announce the same 'announcement' every six months in the hope that the gullible and the complicit will report it as new money.

So much for the history lesson. Now the same press release is attributed to two different departments on the same day:

So DEFRA has this to say - "A raft of new Government measures to help vulnerable consumers and especially the elderly make their homes warmer and more energy efficient are announced today". It goes on to quote the Wickser, Woolas and O'Brien.

And the DTI BERR has this to say: "A raft of new Government measures to help vulnerable consumers and especially the elderly make their homes warmer and more energy efficient are announced today". Guess who it quotes.....

Both were released into the wild at one past midnight according to the DEFRA and BERR websites. However, the ever useful thegovernmentsays.com tells a somewhat different story, detecting BERR's release at 3.12 and Defra's at 4.44.

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Oh dear....

Thursday, May 29, 2008
Sticking to the topic of vanity projects cooked up by superannuated politicians who just will not let go, that Mr Tony is back. With a bang.

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, brace yourself for "The Tony Blair Faith Foundation". Yes, really.

"On May 30 in New York, Blair, 55, formally unveils The Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which, among other things, is dedicated to proving that collaboration among those of different religious faiths can help address some of the world's most pressing social problems".

Doubtless this will end up as being about as significant as The Elders, but meanwhile time to engage in a little light kremlinology to see what Tone has to say about Brown:

"The worst thing in politics...is when you're so scared of losing support that you don't do what you think is the right thing. What faith can do is not tell you what is right, but give you the strength to do it.

Ho ho ho.


Elsewhere, we discover that Ruth 'wrong crowd' Turner is heading the TBFF (1), and that the writer thinks 'Blair's wife is a devout Catholic'. I think the Pope might have something to say on that score. Blair wants to end malaria, a laudable aim: "If you got churches and mosques and those of the Jewish faith working together to provide the bed nets that are necessary to eliminate malaria".

Consider, however, the map below:

Not many Jews or Muslims in some of those areas, are there?

Further digging shows that the foundation's site is live, if not very lively. Turns out that 'The foundation will work with Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists', which is a bit raw on Taoists, Zoroastrians, Jains, Ba'hais etc etc. Let alone the 800 million adherents of Chinese folk religion.


(1). Which also stands for The Bahamas Film Festival, Taipei Book Fair Foundation, Texas Black Film Festival, Thunder Bay Fly Fishers and the Thomas B Fordham Foundation.

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Gorbachev to anyone listening - 'I'm not dead'

And furthermore declares, 'look at me'.

As noted the other day, ol' splodgetop was due to attend the Energy Globe Awards, the 9th no less, and indeed did. And hung around for a good old moan the day after.

So what did the man dubbed 'a blow-dried bolshevik' (can't recall the origin, but trust me on this one) have to say, beyond my précis?

Well, firstly an epic re-writing of history:

"1990 Nobel laureate Mikhail Gorbachev, also speaking at the conference, drew on personal experience - both as a young man growing up in Stavropol (1)and a rising star in the Communist Party - to explain how his understanding and appreciation of climate change grew over the years (leading him to found, in 1993, Green Cross International(2), an advocacy group. Europe, he later argued, had a lot to learn from the experience (and errors) of the USSR, where - by the mid-80s, under Gorbachev's glasnost - the "number one issue [on people's minds] was the environment (3)".

1 - Let's be really generous and take 'young' as being under 30. That takes us to 1961 at the outside. Are we believe that he had the jump on new ice age, global warming cough the 'climate change' lobby by at least ten years?

2 - Who would have thought that road safety campaigning has gone international? Maybe Misha the Olympic bear runs the equivalent of the Tufty Club.

3 - I'm calling BS on that one. Not the cost of living, lack of civil rights, the Afghan war etc etc?


And there's more:

"
Complaining about the attitude that the West took vis-à-vis the Soviet Union and the challenges it faced throughout the 1980s, he warned: “if we take the same attitude towards developing countries as we did towards the USSR”, we will face "a catastrophe."


This 1980s Soviet Union was a nuclear-armed totalitarian behemoth, and not exactly on the West's Christmas card list. If it could afford to invade Afghanistan, and fund trouble worldwide then improving the air quality in Magnitogorsk was for it to do, not us.

Meanwhile, "
A special award went to Mikhail Gorbachev in recognition of his work with the "Green Cross Foundation".


Said Foundation is not exactly high profile (no wiki page), or maybe lacks the tender attentions of search engine optimisation, as the lead google hit is for an American "Academy of Traumatology, established in 1997 to bring together world leaders in the study of traumatology for the purpose of establishing and maintaining professionalism and high standards for this new field".

However, it does exist and has a fairly snazzy website. The Board has Gorbachev himself, one of his mates from the glory days back in the Kremlin, a Polish investor, a Swiss brigadier and a Portuguese Socialist. The honorary board is quite a list of the usual suspects, most of whom appear not to have done a damned thing since 2001, or perhaps have not had their biographies updated. I very much doubt that 99 year old
Rita Levi-Montalcini is that active on the board. There is also something of an outbreak of the use of rather old photographs to depict both Robert Redford (when did he last make a half-way decent film?(4)) and 65 year old Pat Mitchell.

(4) Brubaker. 1980. However, we both have accountants for Standard Oil as fathers. Fascinating, eh?



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The easily pleased fan of Javier Solana

Here, in all its glory, is a youtube clip of Solana shaking hands and enquiring after the health of the President of Moldova, Vladimir Voronin. Voronin does not give an audible response, but looks contented



It is not the most exciting youtube vid I have seen, nor does it have exceptionally high production values, but at the time of posting, someone had gone to the effort of logging in to rate the video, and gave it five stars. If it was Javier, shame on him, and if not, the rater needs to check a few other videos to establish a benchmark for star ratings.

Also, youtube user Solana is friends with EUTube and EUSecurityanddefence, which is nice.

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Infantilising the population

Taking prissiness to new highs, certain Danish supermarkets are refusing to stock fizzy drink bottles that have been boosted from half a litre to 600 mililitres, because ''It is the wrong signal to send'.

The signal in this case is in connection with the 'obesity' battle, so perhaps the retailer will also stop stocking sugar, sweets, cakes, alcohol or just about anything other than brown rice and tofu.

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The job so important it takes three months to replace a resignee

Wednesday, May 28, 2008
From the EU site:

"Following the resignation of Mr Markos Kyprianou from his post as a member of the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, by decision of 29 February 2008, acting in accordance with the Treaties, has decided to replace him for the remainder of his term of office. It has appointed Ms Androula Vassiliou".

Markos had his priorities right in that he would rather be the Cypriot Foreign minister. Cypriot politics would appear to be a very small pond in that Markos's pa was Cypriot president a while back, and Androula's husband has been El Presidente too. And both studied law in the UK. However, to muddy the waters somewhat, she is linked with the United Democrats, and he with the (presumably faction riven) Democrats.

Given that there cannot have been that many qualified Cypriots - and it had to be a Cypriot, EU Commissariats being what they are - why did it take three months to drag Mrs Vassiliou away from the delights of Nicosia and off to Brussels? Is it, whisper it low, possible that despite the lack of an active Health Commissar there were no outbreaks of pneumonic plague, consumption, dropsy and who knows what else?



A bit of further digging suggests that she had taken up the reins previously, and this is just a rather silly ritual, but having got that far into posting I was damned if I was going to scrap it.


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Asking the firing squad to reload when the first volley missed

Tuesday, May 27, 2008
What else might one use as a metaphor for this?:

Greenlandic politician Palle Christiansen - "Greenland already has close relations to the EU through the OLT system, but these should be even closer. A self-ruling Greenland or an independent Greenland in the future will not survive in political isolation but through political co-operation. That could very well be through the EU....I don't see any problems with becoming a member of the EU. The advantages Greenland has economically, in educational matters, on health issues and so forth could be strengthened with membership in EU".

Any problems? Blimey. Even the EU's Amen Corner would struggle to describe it as a perfect union.

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Yet another reason to hope Mugabe loses

"The Ethiopian Supreme Court has sentenced the country's former dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam to death...The former leader is, however, unlikely to face execution as he has lived in exile in Zimbabwe since he was ousted from power in 1991. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's government is not expected to extradite him". Source

A brief anecdote to give the man's measure: "He shouted "Death to counterrevolutionaries! Death to the EPRP!" and then produced two bottles of what appeared to be blood and smashed them to the ground to show what the revolution would do to its enemies". Source

More substantially, the toll from the 80s famines lies at squarely at his door as does the Ukrainian 'Harvest of Sorrow' at Stalin's.

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The Scandinavians and their traffic lights

The Danes have decided to follow the Swedish example and mess about with traffic light iconography. Whereas the Swedes have brought in female stick people at pedestrian crossings because it is sexist etc etc to only have men (they could be flat chested women in trousers, couldn't they?). I am NOT making this up.

Anyway, despite the Danish equality quango "'calling the plan 'strange' and 'a waste of money'", Copenhagen's council is pressing ahead regardless, as this business "was not about equality for the sexes but more about creating debate and a bit of a stir". Doubtless Copenhagen has no crime, education, health etc problems, and its councillors are thus free to ruminate on more abstract issues.

While it would be tempting to fulminate in best 'Disgusted of Croydon' fashion, that would be a tad predictable, so rather I will focus on other Danish traffic light oddities and ponder on British possibilities:

In Odense the lights depict Hans-Christian Anderson and in Fredericia local statue 'the brave country soldier'. And here they are. I imagine readers will work out which is which



First things first, how can either of those images be stripped down to one colour and still be instantly recognisable as who they are and to suggest walking / not walking? Any field reports showing Odense or Fredericia traffic lights will be gratefully received. Always supposing the Danes have cracked the challenge I posed, I am looking forward to having my town's traffic lights depicting David Lean.


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Taking one's sugar daddy for granted

Monday, May 26, 2008
That Taiwan hoses down its friends with money is hardly a revelation, but they are pushing their luck in Paraguay:

VP elect Federicao Franco: "I’ve met with authorities at the Taiwanese embassy and they confirmed to me that they will donate US$71 million to the country when the [Fernando] Lugo government assumes office on Aug. 15".

And this is what Taipei has to say:

"The incoming Lugo government has expressed its wish [for the donation], but we haven’t discussed any details yet".

And $71m is more than double the money Taipei was waving at Port Moresby, as noted earlier in the month.

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Where your money goes

The EU meeja commissariat is rather pleased by how some of its part funded projects have fared at the Cannes film festival. Rather thoughtfully, one line synopses of the winners have been included. And they are beyond parody:

Le silence de Lorna - "An Albanian woman marries a drug addict in order to obtain Belgian residency". This got €202,500 of our money.

Eldorado (aka Léa) - "Yvan grows a strange affection for Elie, an adolescent who breaks into his house, and decides to drive the teenager back to his parents". €51 000

Gomorra - "A Neapolitan mafia drama based on a novel by Roberto Saviano". Doesn't sound too bad, all things considered, and this was the the Culture Commissar (the deeply irritating Viviane Reding) and her entourage chose to watch. €45 000.

Tulpan - "Bulat has done military service in the Russian Navy and returns to the Kazakh step (sic) to become a shepherd. For that, he has to learn the shepherding trade and get married". €40 000.

Entre Les Murs - "The story of a French teacher at a secondary school in a difficult area". €30 000.

Les Bureaux de Dieu - "Day-to-day functioning of the family planning centre where women come to inform themselves about a choice they have or want to make". €16 000.

They put out a similar release this time last year, which also received some mockery here.

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Not coming soon to a television near you. I hope

And if it is, head to the hills with the greatest of despatch:

"The 9th Energy Globe Awards for local environmental projects will be presented at a ceremony in [the EU's] Parliament's plenary chamber on 26 May, starting at 20.00".

And there's more:

"Projects from around the world promoting the use of clean and renewable energies will compete in five different categories: Earth, Fire, Water, Air and Youth". What, no 'wind'? I can't help but think that putting 'youth' on treadmills could both clean up our streets and provide energy.

The bunfight will be presented by the not uneasy on the eye Luxembourgeoise actress Désirée Nosbusch (careful with google image searches if at work or anywhere near a jealous spouse etc), and in possibly the worst act of parenting since Saturn, "Mikhail Gorbachev will receive a lifetime achievement award. Mr Gorbachev's daughter Irina Virganskaya will also attend".

Dionne Warwick must be rather down on her uppers, as she will be singing, along with Zucchero and Alanis 'I don't understand the word 'ironic'' Morrisette.

Possibly the most amusing part of the entire press release is this bit: "Parliament, Commission and Council presidents Hans-Gert Pöttering, José Manuel Barroso and Janez Janša are expected to present the awards". This suggests to me that all three would rather be watching paint dry.

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A bridge too far?

Sunday, May 25, 2008
The Italians have decided that they want to bridge the Strait of Messina, that which separates Sicily from the mainland.


In contrast to the rather half-baked (1/8th baked would be nearer the mark) Channel Tunnel, Rome seems intent on doing things in style:

"The 3,690-metre-long bridge has been designed to be able to handle 4,500 cars an hour and 200 trains a day."

And how much? A mere bagatelle at €6.5 bn. The Chunnel cost £10.1 bn in 2007 money, but that was an 80% cost over run, so do not expect the final bill to bear much resemblance to €6.5 bn....

Still, it is quite amusing to think that one could visit all of the Norman conquests - bar Malta, and the Isle of Wight etc - without getting one's feet wet.

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Looks like a post UN Ban-ki Moon won't be on the Exxon board...

Or be very welcome in Riyadh, come to that:

"We must kick carbon habit, Secretary-General stresses"

"Addiction is a terrible thing. It consumes and controls us, makes us deny important truths and blinds us to the consequences of our actions. Our world is in the grip of a dangerous carbon habit".

And then some very dodgy science:

"Our dependence on carbon-based energy has caused a significant build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Last year, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put the final nail in the coffin of global-warming sceptics. We know that climate change is happening, and we know that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that we emit are the cause".

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Another EU landgrab in the offing?

Saturday, May 24, 2008
I can't say I was familiar with Joaquin Almunia, the Commissar for Economic and Monetary Affairs. However, the Spanish Socialist is far from shy when it comes to expressing opinions on matters wholly outside his purview.

He does not like some executive pay awards, as reported by the FAZ: "In my opinion some salaries are completely irresponsible".

The man has form as a leftie, including a stint as director of the research program on 'Equality and redistribution of income'. I think it as well to concentrate on baking the cake before worrying about who gets the biggest slice. Naturally, he has never worked in the wealth producing sector .

While it is dispiriting that the Economic Commissar thinks this way, consider also Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the Eurozone Finance Ministers group, and the head of what counts as the right wing party in Luxembourg:

"On May 14...[he] said his colleagues were considering ways to clamp down on “scandalous” pay packages for senior executives. Terming huge compensation schemes “quite scandalous” and a “social scourge,” Juncker said finance ministers were in particular looking to plug loopholes that allowed tax deductions on generous severance packages in many countries".

Good grief. If Luxembourg Christian Democrats do envy politics and fancy a maximum wage, I fear to think what their socialists are like.

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Non-partisan fun for all the family

The American Worst Political Advertising Awards:

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Life imitating art

Friday, May 23, 2008
This unfortunate business in Exeter does rather smack of the plot of Conrad's 'The Secret Agent', doesn't it?

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The French and their surveys

Yet again I am indebted to the French media for the frankly bizarre surveys that they commission. Today's curiosity is a survey on which of a list of over 50s has had the most positive impact on French society. The commissioning title is a mag for the retired, I think.

Anyway, top of the list is Nicholas Hulot, a sort of French David Attenborough only with a little more bite. He is followed by Simone Veil, who continues to amaze me by not being dead yet. She was behind the legalisation of abortion and freeing up the availability of contraception. So far so not too silly, but number three with a bullet is Johnny Hallyday. Yes, really. The top five is rounded out by Sarko and Chirac. The foreign minister / founder of MSF Bernard Kouchner, Bernie Chirac (Why? What has she done, ever, apart from being married to the former pres?), footballer Platini, Ségolène Royal and football coach Aimé Jacquet. Charles Aznavour makes 11th, Bardot 14th and Belmondo 28th. The still divine Catherine Deneuve is edged out by that old fraud Foucault for 43rd.

Hulot takes the spoils for the 50-59 sub group, Hallyday for 60-69, Chirac for 70-79, and Simone Veil for the 80+.

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Old but good

Thursday, May 22, 2008


I still can't watch the intro to the BBC News without thinking of this.

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We're winning the war on terror

"Contrary to “expert consensus”, the threat of terrorism -– however defined -– was declining, Andrew Mack, Director of the Human Security Report Project said at [UN] Headquarters today". Source

"Mr. Mack, a former Director of the United Nations Strategic Planning Unit before starting the Human Security Report Project, said all three data sets included civilians killed by non-State actors in civil wars, but not consistently so. Some 81 per cent of terrorism victims were from Iraq since the 2003 invasion, but the data sets did not include victims of civil wars in sub-Saharan Africa or Darfur. If the Iraq situation were removed from the data, there would be a 40 per cent decline in the incidents covered in two data sets, with the third still showing a small increase. However, new data from the National Counterterrorism Centre for 2007 showed a decline.

He said part of the decline was due to tactical successes in the “war on terror” -- sanctuary denied, leaders killed and networks disrupted -– but mostly because Islamist terrorist organizations had “shot themselves in the foot”. Al-Qaida in Iraq, for instance, had angered even Sunni Iraqis by its indiscriminate violence against civilians, and some recent polls showed that “100 per cent” of Iraqis thought the attacks were unacceptable.

Just 1 per cent of Afghans felt strong support for the Taliban, and in north-west Pakistan, Osama bin Laden’s popularity had dropped from 70 per cent in 2007 to just 4 per cent in 2008, he said. That could lead to the conclusion that, as terrorism went up, support went down. The fact that about 2,000 people a year were killed in terrorist acts should be put in perspective. An estimated 500,000 people were murdered annually and one million died from traffic accidents. The threats of Al-Qaida were real, but terrorism posed no threat to civilization.
...

Stressing that the drop in terrorism was a net decline, he said incidents in Algeria and Pakistan had gone up, but terrorist activity in Algiers was small compared to what it had been in the 1990s.
Islamist terror groups lacked the support they had enjoyed in that decade as they had alienated the population to such an extent that it had started to cooperate with the authorities. He said he did not know whether or not the Iraq war remained a recruiting tool for terrorists, but the flow of foreign fighters into that country had declined. The diaries of captured or killed jihadists had mentioned a lack of morale for some years now and it had become increasingly difficult to recruit people for what seemed a losing cause. Asked about 'Palestine', he said that was the only area where support for suicide bombers stood at 50 per cent, simply because the bombers did not target fellow Muslims".


So, good news. Not that I expect to see this reported by a certain state controlled broadcaster, even though the study was part funded by DFID. More once I've read the report, and not just the UN press release.

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Incitement to class hatred...

Continuing on from what I was saying yesterday, here is a filleting out of salient comments from a Brendan Barber speech last night:

"Britain's workers increasingly feel an acute sense of unfairness - aware that the spoils of corporate growth, of record profitability, are being creamed off by a tiny elite while pay rises for everyone else struggle to keep pace with the true cost of living".

....

There is a growing sense that the Square Mile is enjoying almost limitless power; yet sometimes behaves without responsibility. A small City elite of investment bankers, hedge fund managers and private equity partners are enjoying riches beyond the dreams of avarice, while outsourcing the risks to the rest of us - taking one way bets they know they can't lose'.

And ordinary working people - whether they are heartland trade unionists or Daily Mail readers in marginal seats - increasingly feel they have no stake in this casino capitalism. They are angry that they are struggling to pay the bills as a super-rich minority is allowed to float free from the rest of society. Angry that they pay proportionately more tax than people whose earnings are a hundred or even a thousand times greater. And angry that they are now paying the price for the profligacy of others, with public money propping up the markets while billions are still being paid out in bonuses.'

I would unpick all of the errors of fact but lack either the time or the energy. However, as a short cut, try changing 'elite' and 'minority' with the demographic of your choice and see how it reads.

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Nice work if you can get it

From whichever glove puppet is Brown's spokesman this week, referencing the Man U / Chelsea game last night:

"Asked who was representing the Government in Moscow, the PMS said that it was Andy Burnham and Gerry Sutcliffe".

Quite why it was necessary to send anyone 'to represent the government' is the unanswered question, let alone two. Burnham represents a Mancunian constituency but follows Everton. Sutcliffe's loyalties are unknown, but he is a fellow grammar school boy and therefore can't be all bad, his being a socialist notwithstanding.

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A modest proposal

Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Straying quite some way from what the Tolpuddle 'martyrs' or, come to that, Len Murray would think of as the TUC's remit, Brendan Barber has got quite agitated about 'vicious hate crimes against disabled people'. Although he comes up with some anecdotal evidence, I think his is a solution looking for a problem, for shameful though his examples are, they smack more of random victims rather than gangs of psychopaths roaming the streets looking for people with walking sticks, cerebral palsy or whatever that they might beat them up. Still less are there - as far as I am aware - papers, websites etc calling for the able bodied to rise up and attack the blind, the deaf or the club footed.

Anyway, this is what I consider the most intriguing part of Barber's intervention:

"The Government has begun to recognise this is a serious problem, and has introduced legislation to outlaw incitement to hatred on a growing number of grounds. But more needs to be done to fill in the remaining gaps. 'The police and law enforcement bodies need to understand, recognise and respond to hate crime - and attitudes in society that give rise to such violence need to be challenged head on".

OK, Brendan. What about incitement to class hatred?

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A history lesson for Jacques Rogge

With one eye on his first class air travel, accommodation, chauffeur-driven limousine etc etc for this year's Open Air Steroid Abuse Festival in Beijing, Jacques Rogge had this to say:


"You don't obtain anything in China with a loud voice. That is the big mistake of people in the West wanting to add their views. It took us 200 years to evolve from the French Revolution. China started in 1949," Rogge added, noting that was a time when Britain and other European nations were also colonial powers, "with all the abuse attached to colonial powers". "It was only 40 years ago that we gave liberty to the colonies. Let's be a little bit more modest."


Since 1968, the UK has given independence to these jewels in the crown: , Antigua & Barbuda, the Bahamas, Brunei, Dominica, Grenada, Kiribati, Mauritius, the Maldives, Nauru, St Vincent & the Grenadines, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, Samoa, the Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Swaziland, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. We sold Hong Kong down the river in '97 of course. The French empire was effectively a dead letter by 1960.

Belgium gave independence to the former Belgian Congo in 1960, or more accurately ran away and left it to anarchy.

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The world's most useless intelligence service

I nominate the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, or the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the German equivalent of MI5.

In a truly astonishing finding, it has worked out that Die Linke - the German Left Party - has extremists in its midst. Die Linke is a newish party formed by Oskar Lafontaine's mates (the hard left of the SPD) and the soi disant, cough, Party of Democratic Socialism, the successor to the Socialist Unity Party, the former rulers of the far from lamented German 'Democratic' Republic.

Later in the week, the BfV will reveal that wrestling is fixed.

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Way back lost in the mists of time...

..., or rather just under 26 years ago, the Swedes complained about Soviet submarines dodging around in Stockholm harbour and generally violating territorial waters, Sweden's neutrality (1) etc etc. Being interested in this sort of thing, I remember the original spat, which caused a degree of hilarity in these parts.

Anyway, a tape of submarine-like sounds was Olof Palme's exhibit A when complaining to the USSR, but "the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) has now been able to determine that the sound in all likelihood originated from the passing charter boat Amalia".

Whoops. Carl Bildt, former PM, member of the '80s submarine commission (it's ok, they had aqualungs) and current foreign minister has tried to remove the egg clinging to his face by downplaying the FOI findings.

I would think that if this had happened in these parts such finding would never have been made public. Were I Bildt, I would have kept schtumm, or if absolutely necessary, pointed out that I was a mere boy of 33 at the time.


(1) As I believe I have noted before, at the height of the cold war a senior Swedish figure noted that while on paper Sweden might be neutral, they knew which side they were on. The USSR complained, NATO did not.

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That's an awful lot of Green Ladies

From Hansard:

Mr. Ruffley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what pieces of artwork valued at over £1,000 were (a) purchased by her Department and (b) transferred to her Department's ownership in each of the last three years; and what the (i) name and (ii) value is of each.

Mr. Byrne: My Department does not have an annual budget for art. However following the opening of 2 Marsham Street in 2005 £122,000 was spent on the provision of internal art for the new building. This demonstrated the Department’s support for UK arts. The developer had direct responsibility for the costs of the external art strategy, the cost of which is included in the combined PFI charge for the building.

Or maybe weeping urchins, cat's eyes on black velvet or Spanish dancers were more to Ministry of the Interior's taste?

Note the bold text. I think this has the makings of a fabulous recurring rationale, not that there is any indication of the provenance of the art. Perhaps expensive chairs etc will 'demonstrate the department's support for the UK office supply industry', and 48" plasma screeens will 'demonstrate the department's support for the UK's retailers' etc etc. Burning our money indeed.

The Green Lady can be found here. Being a sensitive soul, I did not want her staring out at me for the rest of the day, so link, no picture.

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Cynical, moi?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008
From Pravda Central:

"Local Government Minister John Healey has today launched a consultation on whether or not the date of the 2009 local elections should be moved to coincide with elections for the European Parliament".

Hands up anyone who thinks that a decision will be based on a reason other than the prospective electoral advantage to the Labour Party.

One might note that the government has had plenty of time to think about this, what with council and EU 'parliament' terms being fixed.

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Headline o' the day

"Gordon Brown wins victory over human-animal embryos". Source

Well, embryonic minotaurs would not have been able to put up much of a fight, would they?

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Socialist admits mistake

Not here, obviously.

However, Ségolène Royal has cast her eye over the doleful (pun very much intended) effects of La Loi Aubry, the idiotic 35 hour maximum working week brought in on Martine 'Jacques Delors is my pa' Aubry's watch:

"One knows full well that the second 35 hour week law has often been brutal, and has led to major problems in hospitals and certain other enterprises, where low paid workers in particular have seen their working conditions worsen, because the 35 hours [law] has been badly applied".

Mind you, she is still accusing the French right of 'scapegoating' the 35 hours law. That Sarko has not done the right, as well as compassionate thing and scrapped this law brings to mind Thatcher's famous comment about pendulums and ratchets.

For what it is worth, I have had the challenge of explaining what would happen as a result of this law to more than one monoglot Gaul at the low paid end of the medical business.

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Hell freezes over

(If not in the Dante Alighieri version)


"UN torture committee criticizes Sweden".

Yes, I think that is up there with Elvis being alive, pigs flying and Dunwoody fille winning in Crewe.

However, the remainder of the news story makes clear that Swedish gaolers are not making free with crocodile clips, but rather that "The Swedish military waited four years before looking into allegations that Swedish troops had remained passive while a Congolese militia member was tortured by French troops".

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Unlikely spammers of our time

Monday, May 19, 2008
I was more than a little taken aback at being spammed by John Locke, of all people. He was offering me, and several hundred other recipients a method of 'monetizing hyperlinks'.

Can't say I'm tempted, but I do wonder what the other giants of Anglo-American philosophy might offer in future....

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The French and their shoes

In quite possibly the least credible survey so far this month, French researchers have revealed that the average Frenchwoman has just nine pairs of shoes (1). Scarcely less believable is the claim of six pairs for French men. I have been testing a shoe theory for 12 years or more, which is that the average woman has a double figure tally of footwear, whereas chaps (bar trainer nutters) will struggle to reach double figures even if they include wellies, last summer's espadrilles and that pair of decaying football boots in the attic. In all the years of asking the question, only one woman has failed to reach double figures, and she was a white woman with dreadlocks and therefore not exactly Ms Average.

Judging from other results, the mean, mode and median of shoe ownership must be quite different:

"4 out of 10 women stop to look in window displays / can't resist going into a show shop". The 2/10 men who feel the same way have Dorothy on speed dial.....

And a third of women with 20+ pairs of shoes think that to have such a number of pairs is "reasonable". The wealthy and Parisiennes were statistically the most likely to think this.

Anyway, I'm eager for Trixy's take on this.


(1) Note that the results were not audited, and anyone who knows a woman with a fondness with footwear knows full well that boots, espadrilles, sandals etc do not count as shoes.

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A somewhat unlikely childhood ambition

This, from a speech by Ban Ki-Moon (to a group of children):

"So, please indulge me while I tell you a true story about someone I know very well. His name is Han Seung-soo, currently the Prime Minister of Korea, where I come from. When he was a young boy, he lived in an isolated village in the mountains of my country, Korea. He had to get up at dawn and travel for miles, crossing two different rivers, just to get to school. The only thing that kept him going was the dream that he might one day become President of the United Nations General Assembly. He later wrote that this great dream, I quote “offered one destitute boy the hope and sense of purpose needed to continue studying”....It was a great dream, but I think, looking back, it was also a very unlikely, unrealistic dream, because, at the time, Korea was not even a member of the United Nations....Still, he never gave up his dream. He studied hard and began to work on the international scene. And finally, in 2001, right here in this room, he was elected President of the United Nations General Assembly -- the fifty-sixth session of the General Assembly. I worked as his Chief of Staff at that time".

When very small, I wanted to be an astronaut and when an adolescent would tell all and sundry I wanted to be a mercenary (great for unnerving relatives). Anyway Seung-soo was born in 1936, so he would have been nine when the first meeting of the general assembly was convened, at Methodist Central Hall, of all places. There's a list of GenAss Presidents here, and I would be dumbfounded if anyone outside Turtle Bay could name any of them. Paul-Henri Spaak, Lester Pearson and Abdelaziz Bouteflika ring bells, but for other achievements.

I wonder if Seung-soo was overcome with tears, Miss World style, when enthroned? Or more likely, is he going to hunt down Ban-ki and use him for taekwondo practice as a punishment for foisting this unlikely tale on the populace?

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Norwegian humour - and very funny it is too

Friday, May 16, 2008

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Loose lips sink ships

I am much obliged to A, the internet, B, News Group and C, big-mouthed Tamsin Kneafsey-Dunwoody for this interview:

TKD: "She's an old-style campaigner, whereas I've learnt newer techniques in terms of targeting key voters and working out what the result is going to be....The thing she's drilled into me is the importance of the constituency. Both of us see that it's important to have a relationship with the electorate that is based on the person as much as the party. Watching the way she did it has helped me to realise the importance of building up your base". (She has no connection to the place and was parachuted in)

GD: "I do wish that Tamsin had come to Westminster rather than the Welsh Assembly. I'm not supposed to say that - it's the one thing we really disagree on. This is the power base where she could have made a contribution. She will contribute very well down there, but it is a smaller arena. So I don't like her decision on that - but I do understand it".

One might note that Dunwoody fille was not always so ashamed of her husband's name, and googling Tamsin Kneafsey or Tamsin Kneafsey Dunwoody lands right on the money.

So, more findings:

"Asked for her aspirations for the assembly she wants to continue to improve the economy and raise the profile of the assembly in Wales". Source. This was when she lived in a part of Crewe called Haverfordwest

Apparently she is in Burke's, although I only have that on hearsay.

Meanwhile, on Betfair the Tories are at 1.2 to win the by-election and TKD is at 5.6.

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Inaccurate precis....

If I was asked to describe the NHS using a boxing metaphor, the best match would be 'on the ropes'. However, Pravda Central has other ideas, headlining 'Chief Executive's report confirms the NHS is fighting fit in 60th year' . Yes it has .

That the relationship of governmental press offices to the truth is, at best, at the bitterly contested divorce stage is hardly news, but the inaccurate precis of NHS Chief Exec David Nicholson's words does represent a classic of the type.

This is what he actually said: "The NHS is in good shape".

Not the same, is it? Not by a long chalk.

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Memo to Cherie Blair

Cancel the Spanish translation, and don't bother with a promotional tour of your memoirs in Spain:

"The possibility that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair could become the EU’s first president generally produces an adverse reaction among Spaniards, with 45 percent against compared to 37 percent in favor". C/O El País

Mind you, would 37% of Britons want Mr Tony as Holy Roman Emperor?

Further, our Spanish friends may well have discovered the Errors of Socialism (thanks Friedrich Von..) in that

"Two out of three Spaniards believe Spain has “little or no influence” in the European Union, according to a new opinion poll that confirms public perceptions of their country’s waning influence in the world...Spain’s Socialist government finds itself increasingly isolated in Europe, following the election of right-of-center leaders in Germany, France and, most recently, Italy".

Ho ho.

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Further portents of the Apocalypse

The great British costermonger, celebrated in verse and prose, is renowned for wit, banter and downright salesmanship.

So, consider, if you will, how disappointing I found this effort, overheard in Surrey St market yesterday:

"Pound a bowl, pound a bowl, pound a bowl, pound a bowl, pound a bowl"

The woman was out of earshot a little after that. However, there was no attempt to name the fruit, extol its quality, taste etc etc, and in this innumerate times one might further note that fruit is being sold by volume, not weight.

The vendor was not in the first flush of youth either, so no excuse there, and plenty of other market traders make a somewhat more impressive pitch.

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Equality before the law, Spanish style

Thursday, May 15, 2008
The punishment for a crime, subject to mitigation, should be identical where the crimes are identical, yes?

Not in Spain:

"The Constitutional Court has approved the controversial Gender Violence Law, which allows judges to impose harsher sentences on men convicted of domestic violence against their partners than a woman would face for the same crime".

Clearly the average man has greater physical strength than the average woman, but a broken nose is a broken nose is a broken nose, whether inflicted by Carmen or by Don José.

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Take that, John Cage



Really rather clever. Must have taken the creator quite some time.

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A French idea worth borrowing

"This morning [housing minister] Christine Boutin will unveil the outline of a decree bringing in 'progressive rent payments' for renters of social housing on average or above average income". Source.

While one would expect the Left to whine about this - because that is what they like to do - it can be rebutted that this is just another form of redistribution, and generally they like that sort of thing.

This is not a solution looking for a problem, with tales of the wealthy in social housing a mainstay scandal of the French press.

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Great headlines of our time #382

"[Dutch] Lower House supports general ban on stilettos". Source

Chiropodists, foot fetishists and most adult women are openly weeping at the news. Furthermore, 'women in sensible shoes' has ceased to have any secondary meaning.

As I have not registered with the site, the tale from NIS cuts out before it settles the question as to whether we are speaking of knives or footwear.

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Reading the electoral tea leaves for Croydon

Tuesday, May 13, 2008
I have just got hold of the ward data for the London elections, and judging from the Assembly vote, Gavin Barwell ought to walk Croydon Central at the next general election. I make Steve O'Connell's share in the Croydon Central wards 46.6%, to the 25.5% for Labour.

The seat is notionally Labour, given boundary changes, but we won it in 2005. Pelling's share of the vote was 40.8% to Davies's 40.6%. The Lib Dems were squeezed from 13% to 9.2%. UKIP and the Greens fared better, share-wise, than at the general election.

Croydon North looks to be safe for the Wickser - 42% for Labour, down from 54%. The much mocked Jason Hadden should be aiming for 27%, up from our 22% last time.

That Richard Ottaway will retain Croydon South cannot be in doubt.

More of this sort of thing for other marginal seats on request.

Gavin - should you (or any of your people) read this, do something about your gavin4croydon site - it only makes page three of the googling of Gavin Barwell. *Not* good. I cheated and tried Gavin Barwell Croydon Central, and that makes page one. Just.

Update

Further peering at the darjeeling suggests that Carshalton & Wallington would be lost by the Yellow Peril - Brake's 40.3% at the election compares to 31.4% this time, with the Tory candidate securing 39.8% in May, compared to 37.8% in 2005. (Re-worded for clarity)

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French TV shocker - Formula One more popular than Trotskyism

At least judging by last weekend's viewing figures, with the Turkish GP attracting more viewers than an interview with my old mate Olivier Besancenot.

So far, so very so what. However, Besancenot has attracted the highest audience share for a politician so far this year, outdoing Ségolène Royal, Rachida Dati (the French equivalent of Jack Straw, if a great deal easier on the eye) and Simone Veil - still alive, amazingly enough. The interviewer is more of a Wogan / Jonathan Ross type than an Andrew Marr, from what I can divine.

However, the Trot postie has a long way to go before toppling Bernie Chirac as the most watched pol. She reaped a 27% share to his 20%. I was about to note that one would be hard pressed to find anything interesting to say about her, but apparently Mlle Chodron de Courcel's father was an Etonian, if my source is to believed. Can't say I am wholly convinced, actually.

Further digging has turned up this photograph at the Élysée's site, which I think deserves a fresh audience:




Captions welcome.....

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Free money?

Something for any other gamblers out there - Real Madrid vs Levante in the Spanish Primera Division, this Sunday. Not because RM are top and Levante are bottom, but because of this:

"The threats and warnings by the players of Levante soccer club were officially voted into concrete action yesterday, as the team decided to go ahead with a players’ strike starting this Saturday for an indefinite period, which will affect Sunday’s final game of the season against champion Real Madrid at the capital’s Santiago Bernabéu stadium". (Source)

RM can be backed at 1.2 on Betfair. If the Levante second 11 turns up it will be slaughtered, and if the game is forfeited the bet is cancelled.

(If anyone fancies the bet, e-mail for a referral to Betfair as it gives me a kickback)

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The man with a bee in his bonnet

Ben Chapman, the remarkably obscure MP for Wirral South would seem to be a bee obsessive, having tabled and received four written answers on bee-related issues yesterday.

Amazing that Jonathan Shaw's patience did not snap and result in him telling Chapman to buzz off. (rim shot)

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A little bombshell for the Premier League

From our friends in Brussels:

"The Commission recommends to sport organisations to pay due attention to the creation and maintenance of solidarity mechanisms. In the area of sport media rights, such mechanisms can take the form of a system of collective selling of media rights or, alternatively, of a system of individual selling by clubs, in both cases linked to a robust solidarity mechanism".

Two points. Firstly apologies for calling it the Premier League. I think of it as the First Division and always will do, but had to use the current form for sake of clarity. Secondly, 'solidarity' is eurospeak for redistribution. While the sport white paper is filled with hedgings and caveats, it notes very early on that 'sport is subject to the application of the acquis communautaire, or a legal land grab as we might term it in less high falutin' terminology.

Here are some figures a Grauniad journo used in August:

"The Premier League's bottom club can expect £30m from TV this season, a 50% increase on last year's £20m. The average Premier League club will receive about £40m from TV, top clubs about £50m. Championship clubs' TV revenues, plus the new ladder payments, may amount to about £2m each, but the gap with even the Premier League's bottom club has grown from £19m to £28m. Overall, the Premier League's £900m a season dwarfs the Football League's £33m. The £11.2m basic payment being handed out to the 72 clubs is only 1.2% of the Premier League's deal".

Might a litigious lower league club want to argue the toss about 'solidarity'?

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And if Brown resigns for 'health reasons'?

Monday, May 12, 2008
I cannot see Brown willingly letting go of the brass ring, having finally got his greasy mitts on it, but should Straw and the other eminences grise of the party persuade him to do so, there is the potential for a fearfully long interregnum while the People's Party grinds into action. It does beg the question as to who would be running the show while Brown is locked away in a sanatorium?

Unlike Blair, Brown has foregone making the deputy leader of the Labour Party the deputy PM, although I imagine that Harman would be most keen to insist that she should become the PM pending a leadership election should Brown be pushed. Straw would probably present himself as a safe pair of hands, and if truth be told, he would be the sensible choice for that caretaker role. As with Beckett in '94 or whenever it was, both Straw and Harman would regard the stopgap role as a dress rehearsal for the real thing.

As has been noted elsewhere, the Tories do regicide rather better than Labour, but the Hague leadership rules would make the process of replacing a sitting Tory PM messy and drawn out too. While Brown could name a deputy PM - and there should be as clear cut a line of succession as there is in the US - I do not imagine that he will, as that would be an admission that he is indeed mortal.

So, perhaps I should be careful what I wish for, although if Straw were in charge one might at least expect a degree of competence.

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Good grief

Following a link trail, I ended up here:

The British Parking Awards. As in parking of a car. "[the] award was announced by actress and journalist Meera Syal". Well, a resting actress is entitled to make a living, but how in Vishnu's name did she keep a straight face?

I am *not* making this up, and I fear that words have actually failed me, so I will fall back on the old line about the apocalypse. I think I can hear hooves in the distance.

A little further digging shows that Adrian 'Voodoo' Chiles presented the awards in 2007, and showing the neutrality we expect of BBC figures referred to himself as "a leftie liberal". Yes he did.

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A history lesson for Chavez

Hugo Chavez does not seem to be up to speed with German political history, judging from this little outburst at Frau Merkel:

"The Venezuelan leader criticized Chancellor Angela Merkel for belonging to the conservative Christian Democratic Union, calling the movement "the same right wing that supported Hitler and fascism".

Well, the CDU was founded by Adenauer, who would have no truck with the Nazis, and consequently spent time in The Big House. Still, why let the facts stand in the way of a good rant?

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My favourite quango

I am not a fan of quangos, but I make an exception for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency because of the prose style of its media people.

Here is a classic:

Headlined "Drink and stupidity lead to two in the water at Studland", and continues "Portland Coastguard have been co-ordinating in the wee small hours of this morning a search for two young people who took off from a beach in a dinghy just after 3.00 am this morning with no visible means of propulsion".

That pretty much relays all the necessary information, and I wish that other quangos, government departments - well, all press rooms, actually - could be as forthright.

Previously the MCA has erred on the side of polite, as with this release:

""At ten minutes to nine yesterday evening Solent Coastguard received a 999 call from a concerned gentleman. The man was concerned for two ladies, they had both gone for a walk with a dog at half past four in the afternoon".

Further MCA shenanigans can be retrieved by clicking on the quango tag.


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The joys of bluetooth

Saturday, May 10, 2008
If you have a mobile 'phone, a universe - well, a minor asteroid - of entertainment is yours for the having, and gratis to boot. Search for bluetooth enabled devices in a public place and all sorts of oddities will leap out.
So, humble narrator is in a pub and goes for a bluetooth check while S/O is powdering her nose. And lo and indeed behold, I get 'blk kitty cat', 'ginger kitty cat' and some other form of cat which i will have to check in a second.
Previous bluetoothings have given 'killer of rabbit' in a Spanish bar, 'lonely angel' at an airport, 'sexy queen Ann' (so much for history / spelling) and rather alarmingly someone called Mito who had three different Nokia phones, apparently.

Anyway, give it a go.

Can't Brown get anything right?

Thursday, May 08, 2008
Just spotted this in the transcript of his speech about the Miracle on the Med (not that he called it that):

"Naturally I agreed to do it and I spent some time writing the lecture. It was only at the last minute, literally a day or two before, when I was making arrangements to get to the Hilton Hotel that I discovered it was not the Hilton Hotel in London where I was to speak, but the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv".


Either he (or rather his flunkeys) could not find Brown's backside with the aid of both hands, a bank of klieg lights and shouted out instructions, or this is the lamest attempt of humour this year.

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What have Europe's children done to deserve this?

"On 9 May, pupils in the schools of the four corners of Europe will discuss the EU's role in the world with European Commission 'ambassadors'. By going local, to talk directly to European students (13-18 year-olds) and listen to their views, the Commission 'ambassadors' will stimulate debate on the EU's commitment to solidarity".

Poor wretches. Especially the children, but I imagine it will be a pretty ghastly experience for the 'ambassadors', some of whom might be relatively blameless.

Meanwhile, the 9th of May is Europe Day. Apparently. And this is what the EU website has to say about it:

"On the 9th of May 1950, Robert Schuman presented his proposal on the creation of an organised Europe, indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations.

This proposal, known as the "Schuman declaration", is considered to be the beginning of the creation of what is now the European Union.

"Today, the 9th of May has become a European symbol (Europe Day) which, along with the flag, the anthem, the motto and the single currency (the euro), identifies the political entity of the European Union. Europe Day is the occasion for activities and festivities that bring Europe closer to its citizens and peoples of the Union closer to one another". How delightful.

Europe is not alone in having a day of fervour named for a continent, as it will be Africa Day on the 25th. Not that I am a cynic, but I imagine the Afro bunfight slated for Trafalgar Square was an initiative cooked up by the previous Mayor.

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"It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... but for Papua New Guinea?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008
With apologies to Robert Bolt. The quote is not entirely appropriate, but indulge me, please:

Taiwan, rather sadly, has to buy its friends, given the clout the 'People's Republic' of China has. More's the pity - Taiwan is a liberal democracy, the PRC anything but. Anyway, Taipei decided that a friend in the South Pacific would be nice, and duly set about wooing Papua New Guinea, not with flowers, not with chocolates or even tickets to the opera, but rather with a huge bribe, cough, a substantial sum of 'aid'. How big? $29.8 million. Just under five bucks per head, but given that PNG's GDP per capita is $2,418, still a worthwhile sum.

Faintly embarrassing having to rent one's date, but that is not what has led to ministerial resignations. Some people resign when they foul up - inhabitants of Downing Street, kindly take note - the foul up being that Taiwan having concluded that rolling up to Port Moresby and pleading through the letter box for a chance was not worth the candle, one of the, ahem, go betweens ran off with the money. How very caddish. More here.

Experience should have told Taiwan that PNG is not that sort of girl - previously it has threatened Oz that it would accept less aid if a spat over a former AG of the Solomon Islands was not resolved.

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The country that won the lottery - so to speak - and blew it

Cat calls and jeers for the leaders of Indonesia:

"Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said yesterday that Indonesia was considering quitting OPEC because it is no longer a net oil exporter....The country is Southeast Asia’s only OPEC member. But it has to import oil because of decades of declining investment in exploration and extraction because of corruption and a weak legal system that makes oil companies wary of doing business there". Source

Meanwhile, "Oil set a new record high of $122 a barrel on Tuesday, the latest spurt in an advance that has seen prices double over the past 12 months". Source

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Steer clear of that midnight train to Georgia

Because "Georgia is close to an outbreak of hostilities with Russia, but Tbilisi has only itself to blame for the current state of affairs, the Russian envoy to NATO said on Tuesday".

I can't imagine that this would be much less one-sided than the Anglo-Zanzibar war of 1896. We won, by the way. It lasted 38 minutes and we made the defeated foe pay for the munitions used by the Royal Navy.

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I want my €116 back. Do you?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008
The EU's budget has been published, and the total to be spent on agriculture and ancillary matters comes to, get this, €57,525,729,686.00. Yup, there it is, on page 19.

Which is quite a lot of money. I make that £44,870,069,155.00.

Taking the population of the EU as being 497,198,740 that gives a cost of the CAP, per head, in direct costs only as €115.69 or £90.25.

(Edited to remove the superfluous renderings of the figure in full. Copy and paste problems not seen at the time of posting).

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Do liberal journalists, or their editors, engage in basic fact checking?

Not Johan Hari and whoever is running The 'Independent' this week:

"At last – a solution to my Boris blues! I have just forced myself to read the detailed election stats from last Thursday. It seems the media cliché is true: it’s the angry, whiter outer suburbs that elected Boris, out of rage with the congestion charge and council tax. Boris will forever be the mayor of Zones Four to Six, the chief executive of Watford and Bromley and Amersham".

Of those three places, only Bromley is part of Greater London and was able to vote Boris. Watford and Amersham are not within zones 1-6 either.

Further, results are not available at a depth greater than constituency level, and the only constituency which is wholly within zones 1-2 is West Central, also known as Westminster, K&C and Hammersmith and Fulham - 54.8% for Boris. The seat that gave Livingstone his strongest showing - City & East - stretches all the way to deeply chic Dagenham, which is zone 5.

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Three cheers for the Peruvians

And for the Mexicans and Argentinians too, as they posted the highest percentages judging media freedom important, at 96% for Peru, and 94% for Mexico and Argentina. Rather depressingly, India underperformed tyrannies like China and Iran, with only 52% valuing media freedom.

Rather disgustingly, 12% of Britons judged media freedom neither very nor somewhat important. Is Broon's payroll vote really that big?

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Pull the other one

Showing more chutzpah than the boy who killed his parents and begged for clemency as an orphan, 'Sir' Ian Blair has had this to say:

"I look forward to developing an effective working relationship between the Met and the new Mayor".

It is a damnable shame that Boris cannot sack the man.

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The politics of envy

Are alive and kicking - with some vigour - on the eastern bank of the Rhine:

"Some 68 percent of those [polled] were for a ceiling on salaries for well-paid managers, whereas only 29 percent were opposed. In former communist eastern Germany a whopping 77 percent backed capping what corporate fat cats make. The survey...comes amid a political debate in Germany whether the government should try put prohibitive taxes on high salaries to discourage widening income disparity".

Note the procrustean approach here. Nothing to do with whether the salaries are justified or not, but rather that they should have a ceiling set in the interests of 'social justice'.

One might note that the CDU/CSU polled 35% at the last election, and the FDP (Genschman's old lot) 10%, so there are some very confused conservatives & liberals.

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The hot air festival of the year

Monday, May 05, 2008
Imagine the most tedious 'in a very real sense' Radio Four 'Thought for the Day', and I doubt it will come close to this gabfest:

"an informal dialogue took place on 5 May in the headquarters of the European Commission, bringing together around twenty high-level representatives of Christianity, Judaism and Islam in Europe...This year, discussions centred around "Climate change: an ethical challenge for all cultures". President Barroso declared: "Climate change obliges all of us to take urgent action. Each part of civil society must contribute to ensuring a sustainable future of our planet. Thanks to their outreach and role in our societies, religions and communities of belief are well placed to make a valuable contribution in mobilising them for a sustainable future".

I hope it was recorded, as it could probably double up as, at the very least, a useful interrogation tool, and possibly a psyops weapon in the field.

I almost feel sorry for Barroso.

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A thousand years ago..

Sunday, May 04, 2008
I took notes at Conference as to what a Tory mayor of London should do in his first 100 days. Herewith some highlights:

Richard Barnes: "So, the first thing the new mayor should do? Lock the doors to keep Livingstone's advisers and wonks inside while a thorough forensic audit is connected of who does what, why it is done and so forth. Similarly, the accounts will need to be gone through carefully

....

Then TfL needs to be brought under proper accountable and democratic control, and not to be run by a bunch of 1979 throwbacks intent on class war and making life unpleasant for motorists.

The establishment of the Metropolitan Police by the 1829 Act called for the force to engage in the prevention and detection of crime and to ensure public traquility. (I cannot pin down the precise text, but those are the key words) Those are worthy aims, and the people of London, all the people of London are entitled to the full protection of the police 24/7, 365 days a year etc etc"

Merrick Cockell: "Send a skip to city hall,for the political hacks to fill up and exit the premises by lunchtime. (Looks like Barnes and Cockell were not co-ordinating responses, but the divergent sentiments are both pretty good). These advisers are 70s throwbacks disconnected from the real London. And after that, well, throw a party.

As to the other civil servants, they need to be told that unless that they are prepared to work with the mayor, in the manner of civil servants everywhere, then they need to resign. The lease on City Hall needs to be investigated, with a view to getting new premises, possibly overlooking the Treasury, given that it gets £13 billion a year net from London. Further, TfL needs a new chairman, someone with real business experience. Costs need to be cut, expenditure needs to be trimmed. Then appoint a chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority with real clout - the mayor. The chair of London Councils, the leader of the assembly should meet and talk about future co-operation, and cost cutting.

....

Following the pattern of Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor needs to say ‘This is GOING to happen’ and then see how that expression of will galvanises. One of the things that needs to happen is the equivalent of 311 - a non-emergency number for all public services".

Boris: "We need to get rid of the bat-eared labour spin doctors, who will hang on to the radiators with their finger nails to avoid being dragged out....Once I’m inside the Mayor’s office – and what does it look like? – Stalinist Brutalist I would imagine, I will end the civil war between the Mayor and the boroughs, and I will work with the boroughs, not against them....I will work together with the boroughs and end the civil war. The police budget needs to be looked at , in order to get more police on the beat. As to transport, Livingstone's record is far from great, and the operation of the congestion charge is far from perfect. A Code Red is when a bus driver just cannot take it any more, stops the bus and radios for help - these are up 230%. There has to be a crackdown on hooliganism etc on buses, and we should have PSCOs on buses, conductors AND commission a successor to the Routemaster. There are more than 100 people at LT paid more than £100,000. There are just seven at the treasury....

I will axe The Londoner, Livingstone's propaganda sheet, and spend the money on where it came from in the first place - trees.

So, my priorities -tax payer value, democratic accountability and working with the boroughs. London will be a model for the planet, and as the lion shall lie down with the lamb, so shall the cyclist be reconciled with the bus driver.

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"A rightwards swing on a European scale"

That's what a professor at Science Po in Gay Paree is calling it, noting that of the 11 general elections in Europe since 2007, the Right has retained or taken power except in Spain.

And there's more:

"In countries where the [far?] Left is strong...social democratic / socialist have suffered significant reverses. That is the backdrop to the election in Rome and London". Further details at Le Monde.

Maybe Broon should have used that as part of his grab bag of excuses in his interview with Marr this morning.

Meanwhile, some descriptions of Boris from the French dailies:

"This extravagant figure of the Right....this painted bird" Le Monde. (L'oiseau bariolé is also a novel and a Paris gay bar. Ho hum)

"Eccentric Conservative". Le Figaro

"Eccentric" La Tribune.

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