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Now I've heard it all - The Spice Girl and the nouvelle vague

Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Liberation is agog that an ex Spice Girl is supposedly an afficianado of French nouvelle vague cinema - think Godard, Truffaut and Chabrol.

Well, that's how they are interpreting her investing in a new platform on Sky called Cine Moi, which will only show French films, although the only quote from Melanie Brown - for it is she - is that 'It is a great business opportunity. It is a unique project'.

There's a wisecrack about being 'À bout de souffle' in there somewhere, meanwhile it's a long way from Alphaville to Spice World.....

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EU stirring up apathy ahead of June elections

Well, how else could this dismal video be explained?:



Makes you want to stay in and listen to the fridge, doesn't it?

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Further Parliamentary odd and ends

I disover that as far as Phil Woolas is concerned, a dog is not man's best friend, but rather "a flexible mobile resource, deployed on a risk-assessed, intelligence-led basis". Admittedly this is in the context of detector dogs at ports and airports, but the next time I encounter a friend's mutt, I will scratch its back and say 'hello, you old flexible mobile resource, you'.

This great nation's gaols appear to be full of villains:

"John Mason: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what property has been lost or stolen from his Department in the last 12 months; and what the estimated cost was of replacement of such property"

Jack Straw: "....For the year to date 2008-09 the following unaudited balances are available for the value of property lost or stolen within HM Prison Service, where the majority of cases arise, totalling £190,396".

I am shocked, shocked.

We have a negative balance of trade with Syria, including invisibles. £441m in exports, £631 in imports. A gold star to anyone who can think of any of Syria's exports, bar international terrorism. I will spare readers the effort, as it is oil, cotton and phosphates.

David Drew's family look to be in with the chance of a holiday of a lifetime:

"Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what his Department's advice on travel to Sudan is; and what recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on travel to the Sudan".

The simple answer would be 'are you on crack?', but Gillian Merron sighed and replied thus:

"Our travel advice is constantly being updated to reflect the current situation in Sudan.

The latest travel advice for Sudan which was last updated on 16 March 2009 is available online at [...]

Trouble is, the link is dead, and the FCO's site comes back with 'Error - page not found'.

Meanwhile, part of the Hague Convention is still swinging in the wind some 55 years on, by the look of things:

"Tim Loughton: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what plans there are for legislation to introduce the provisions of the Hague Convention; and if he will make a statement. [267306]

Barbara Follett: The Government intend to introduce the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill, which will enable the UK to ratify the Hague Convention, as soon as parliamentary time allows".

A bit of sniffing around discloses this:

Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict

Done at the Hague, 14 May 1954
Entered in force: 7 August 1956

Just think of all the idiotic things that the last 12 administrations have found Parliamentary time for, and roll your eyes heavenwards.

Sticking with matters divine, in the other place, Lord Lester is exercised thus:

To ask Her Majesty's Government further to the Written Answer by Lord West of Spithead on 25 February (WA 91) regarding faith denominations whose places of meeting for religious worship have been certified by the Registrar General, which faith denominations are referred to as "other".

Quoth Lord West, "In the Answer to WA 91, the Registrar-General categorised as "other" any denomination where there were less than 150 places of worship certified at that time which included the following"

In among some splendidly named entities, my favourite being 'Who Object To Be Designated By Any Distinctive Appellation', it would appear that there are fewer than 150 Hindu temples, which strains credulity somewhat.







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Her Majesty's most effective police force?

Rosindell is back to his old habit of enquiring about the pink bits on the map:

"Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what records he holds on the number of violent crimes that have taken place in the Falkland Islands in each of the last five years".

Gillian Merron: I understand from the Royal Falkland Islands Police that the number of violent crimes over the last five years in the Falkland Islands was: Murder: none, Attempted murder: none, Manslaughter: none, Attempted rape: none, Robbery: none. Cases of assault occasioning actual bodily harm or common assault: 20 in total—three in 2004, six in 2005, four in 2006, four in 2007 and three in 2008. Rape: two in total—one in 2005 and one in 2007. Grievous bodily harm: five in total—three in 2005, one in 2006 and one in 2008"

For sake of easy maths, let us say that the population of the Islands of the Blessed is 3000 and that of the UK 60 million (and England & Wales 53 m) thus allowing a comparatively straight forward comparison of crime rates. Whether that figure includes our miltary types is unknown, likewise whether the crime figures includes intra-military violence is unknown, but I would guess not. So here they are:

Murder

UK - 0.014 per thousand. Falklands - 0 (Data found here. BCS does not cover murder..)

Crimes of violence (data here)

England & Wales - 4.1 per thousand, Falklands - 1.3 per thousand (on the basis of an average of 4 violent crimes per year)

So far so good.

Sexual violence

UK - 0.08 per thousand, Falklands 0.01 per thousand.

Perhaps the Met etc would be better of going on junkets, cough, fact-finding tours to Stanley rather than NYC, Sydney etc.

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Micromnagement, or what's wrong with using the 'phone?

From Hansard:


"Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many visits were made by Ministers to Brussels, other than on NATO business, in the financial year 2007-08. [264567]

Caroline Flint: During the financial year 2007-2008 our Ministers made a total of 149 visits to Brussels. These visits included both ministerial visits to our bi-lateral embassy in Brussels and the UK representation to the EU.

One hundred and forty nine ministerial visits, or to all intents and purposes, three a week. Someone more suspicious would think someone - all of them - had lovers in Brussels. After all, it is not worth going to for the scenery or the delightful company of the Brusselois.

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Colonel Gaddafi grants himself a new title

Monday, March 30, 2009
Ladies and Gentleman, Boys and Girls, 'The Leader and Guide of the Revolution' is now styling himself thus:

"King of the kings of Africa and leader of the faithful".

Having been born into a peasant family, it is fait to say that the boy done good.

This all came about as he threw a big hissy fit at King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, at an Arab League bunfight, telling him "Britain made you and the Americans that protected you".

Aren't we lucky, having creations like AAAS to our name?

Meanwhile, other Ozymandias-wannabees are listed here.

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Going that extra mile in sex ed

Or Personal, Social & Health Education, as they call it in these parts. This tale, however, is Cisalpine:

"Novara, March 30 - An Italian primary school teacher is in hot water after a sex education class in which she openly discussed whips, handcuffs and genital piercing".

I imagine there will be an upsurge in the seeking of holy orders among Novara's bambini as a result.

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Naked special pleading corner

Care of the Unite website, I discover a huge wrong that needs to be righted. Apparently.

"Proposals by the London Development Agency to spend £2m to lure tourists to such sites as the hotel room in which Oscar Wilde was arrested, have been welcomed by Unite, which embraces the Association of Professional Tourist Guides (APTG).

But Unite/APTG, whose members hold the top Blue Badge qualification, said that there should be a proper regulatory framework to stop tourists being ‘ripped off’ by people masquerading as professional tourist guides".

Hmm.

"Unite/APTG Joint Chair, Tony McDonnell said: ‘Greater regulation of the tourist guiding industry is very important. A professional tourist guide can enhance your enjoyment and experience of London; an untrained guide can ruin your day with their haphazard knowledge and make a serious dent in your wallet.’

‘Due to our training, the London Blue Badge tourist guides know so much more about the lesser known parts of London. Not just that Oscar Wilde was arrested on 5 April, 1895 at the Cadogan Hotel in Sloane Street, but which royal mistress also lived there.’"

Perhaps I am being naive, but surely the best qualification for being a tour guide is to be both knowledgeable and a skillful raconteur, rather than having a certificate from a self-serving restrictive guild. I do not think that regulating and restricting entry into this line of work is the most pressing issue of the day, and I am intrigued by the notion that one's day could be 'ruined' by haphazard knowledge, as presumably one would not be taking the tour if one already knew all the facts, and what one does not know is unlikely to cause the ruination of a day or, come to that, any other period of time.

For what it is worth, some time back I went on a guided tour of political London accompanied by someone of a non-British persuasion, and got to fill in a few gaps for the guide, who I suspect had one of the much vaunted blue badges.

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Yesterday, or rather Friday, in Parliament

First up, Liam Fox was enquiring as to the safeguarding of the spiritual welfate of the boys and girls in uniform:

"To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many military chaplains there were in each of the armed services in each of the last five years".

And lo he got some data in return, which was crying out to be charted, so below are the numbers of RN, Army and RAF chaplains 2004-2008:


I was preparing to take umbrage over the referrence by Ainsworth to the Naval Service rather than the Royal Navy, but it does include the Marines and the RFA. Still a rather diminishing name, so I have labelled it the RN in my chart. Anyway, while the Army chaplaincy remains unchanged numbers-wise, both the RN and the RAF have seen falls, although the 2008 figures were described in the answer as provisional. So, does this mean that the RAF and RN are becoming increasingly godless or that they can't get the staff?

Elsewhere, Gregory Campbell wanted to know the cost per inmate of gaols in Northern Ireland: "The target for 2008-09 is £81,500". Not cheap, and I doubt that Ulster lags are living in the lap of luxury.

Julia Goldsworthy has hit upon what ought to be a rich vein to mine:

"To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families which former (a) hon. Members who left Parliament since 1997 and (b) Members of the House of Lords from each party have been appointed to positions on public bodies within his Department’s responsibility; and who made each appointment".

I would very much like to see that one answered, but I am not going to:

"Sarah McCarthy-Fry: This information is not held centrally. Information on board membership and remuneration is published in individual bodies’ annual reports and accounts"

Lame. Very lame.

Another one throwing out lots of figures:

"Mr. Dunne: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how many leaflets promoting overseas voter registration were sent to each British mission overseas in the last 12 months".

Go on, guess which mission got the most. It would have to be a country swarming with out compatriots, would it not? Somewhere in Western Europe or the Anglosphere, maybe?

Nope, it is our man or woman in Podgorica who is inundated with leaflets, as 500 were sent to Montenegro. Compare that to the 50 for NYC. Ankara also got 500, while third was Athens with 400. Joint fourth with 300 were Bangkok, Jakarta, Manila and Moscow. Port Moresby got eight times the total for New Delhi, and Kigali eight times that for Karachi.

Evan Harris really, really needs to get out more. He has introduced a bill to change the succession to the throne, and 'Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to welcome real progress from the Government on this issue'. Nothing? Come off it.

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What's going on with Nigel Evans MP?

Sunday, March 29, 2009
I ask, because he was suggested as a friend on Facebook, and the profile photo was a tad unexpected:


Making a wild stab in the dark, I would imagine the lady concerned is his mother, but one could be forgiven for being a little bewildered.

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A corner of the Indian Ocean that is forever France

If oceans can be said to have corners.

Anyway, the Mahorais, or the inhabitants of the island of Mayotte have decided that they want to be French, and have voted in favour by a landslide. The fact that this will then allow them unfettered access to the metropolitan job market, and indeed that of the EU, not to mention the tidal wave of money that France will send the island's way, may well have had a bearing on the vote.

The island has had an arms length-ish relationship with France since the island decided it did not want to join the rest of the Comoros archipelago in gaining independence back in '74. In a development that will irk the self-detonating community, Islamic law (including polygamy) will be be replaced with French civil law. The UN and the African Union have been less than chuffed about the Mahorais cosying up to La Douce France too, but tant pis.

Mayotte will be the 101st departement, but 976 will appear on French-plated cars. Anyone photographing one in the field and sending it to me with proof of authenticity can claim the usual fiver. Generous, eh?

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...and at number 57, Caroline Flint

Friday, March 27, 2009
Spanish daily 20 Minutos, a sort of Metro equivalent, is conducting a poll on the world's most beautiful female politicians. Curious how it is so rare for the gents to be ranked in the same way, but enough with the boilerplate demonstration of how I am above with this nonsense and on with the fun.

The list is lead by Peruvian Luciana Leon, admittedly not lacking in pulchritide, but less than a household name away from Lima where she is a leftie congress member. She would also appear to be benefiting from studio lighting and so forth in the photo proffered for judgment, whereas a google images search removes that advantage.

The first person I have heard of is Ukrainian president Yulia Tymoshenko (#9), who while ideologically sound does go in for a mediaeval hair do.

Scrolling through sundry Latins etc I have never heard of, one gets to Sarah Palin at #32, Hillary Clinton at #44, Ségolène Royal at #45, and at #57 speaking for England the United Kingdom, our very own Caroline Flint, in what is frankly a shockingly bad photo.

Not being a habituee of the websites of Spanish freesheets, I only discovered this because China Daily seems rather pleased that foreign ministry spokewoman Jiang Yu is in the running.

Anyway, voting is still open. I could not be bothered.

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Fancy flying a Harrier?

I know I would, but for my lousy hand-eye co-ordination, less than 20:20 vision etc, and I suspect many readers would also be salivating at taking the joystick of one of these:


However, the Senior Service is lacking in naval aviators, with a 33% shortfall in recruitment for GR7/9 instructors and a 9% shortfall in GR7/9 pilots. The only less popular - in percentage terms - role for the Navy is as a 'leading aircraft controller', where there is a 44% shortfall. In contrast, they are near as a damn it queuing round the block to be an 'AB Logs (Pers)', where there is a shortfall of just one in 392.

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Some 'white, blue-eyed' bankers for Lula

"This was a crisis fostered and boosted by the irrational behaviour of people that are white and blue eyed," says Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva.

Challenged about his claims, Lula responded: "I only record what I see in the press. I am not acquainted with a single black banker." Source

So here are a couple of black swans:

Stan O'Neal - "He became president of [Merrill Lynch] in 2001 in a palace intrigue that eventually led to the early ouster of his predecessor and one-time mentor David Komansky [3]. By 2003, he was CEO and chairman.[1] He was the first African American to hold such a high position on Wall Street".

And Franklin Raines - "In accordance with the mission of Fannie Mae to enable home ownership by a greater proportion of the population, Franklin Raines, while Chairman and CEO, began a pilot program in 1999 to issue bank loans to individuals with low to moderate income, and to ease credit requirements on loans that Fannie Mae purchased from banks. Raines promoted the program saying that it would allow consumers who were "a notch below what our current underwriting has required" to get home loans. The move was intended in part to increase the number of minority and low income home owners.[15] Some observers have noted that the expansion of easy credit to home buyers with a lesser ability to pay them back was one of the major contributing factors to the subprime mortgage crisis".


As a coda to this, a nice lady from the BBC world service contacted me about appearing on a phone in about the issues raised by this, and we had a briefish chat. However, she said that the phone-in would be bumped if something bigger came up, which was perhaps a euphemism for my thoughts being insufficiently interesting. Anyway, the world was spared the input of 'William from Croydon'. Just as well, perhaps.

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French Trots for Merkel, worshipping the remote control and other opinion poll oddities

Thursday, March 26, 2009
To commemorate its 60th birthday, Paris Match has polled the Plain People of France on events marking the last 60 years, what they miss, what they hope for, who they have faith in etc etc. As ever, there is lots and lots of juicy demographic detail to pore over and then scratch one's head in shock.

Onwards.

A certain tall General rates as the stand out political leader of the era at 32%, followed by Nelson Mandela at 28%. Kennedy (yawn) is third at 15%. Our own Lady Thatcher takes a 3% share of voice, quite impressive really. Thatcher gets stand out showings of 6% in the North West and rural areas, and rather alarmingly, 7% of Frontistes.

Asked who is best placed to face the challenges ahead, Obama (72%) leads from Sarkozy (12%) and Merkel (9%). The soi-disant saviour of the world (that's our PM) is not offered as an option, although Chavez and Lula are. The blameless, if somewhat dull Frau Merkel outperforms her overall rating among old school Trots (14%) and new wave Trots (11%), which is just downright odd. Obama leads in all demographics, even Frontistes. Lula is second for the liberal professions etc, which is also curious.

9/11 rates as the biggest event of the last 60 years (38%), ahead of the fall of the Wall (19%), and as ever with these polls, there is always a proportion which cannot remember anything much beyond last week, so the recession rates joint third at 12%, along with May '68. Further, one in 20 think that the French World Cup win was the big event. Sigh. Mind you, we would probably have similar figures for '66. Of the choices offered, I would have gone for the fall of the Wall, and among the most sensible demographics are 35-49 year olds (26%) and Greens (boo, hiss) at 31%. Communists think May '68 was the biggest event, which is frankly laughable. Mind you, 18% of PCF voters think winning the World Cup was the big story, more important than the Algerian war or the 2008/9 crash. Not one of them thought the fall of the Wall was the stand out, but I suppose one should not intrude overmuch in private grief.

As to scientific advances, the internet is reckoned the stand out (26%), followed by cancer research (23%) and the discovery of DNA (22%). Showing a greater sense of history than their elders, 12% of 18-24 opted for space exploration compared to an average of 8%.

Elsewhere, 1% of French men think the remote control is the technological breakthrough of the period, although the computer (34%) leads among the chaps. Women opt for the pill (45%). Oddities include 7% of Communists opting for the microwave, where overall only 2% did and 4% of old school Trots nominating MP3 players. Good grief...

And what do they miss? Paying in Francs - the leader at 33%. There is a massive gender disconnect on this one - 23% of men and 43% of women. I can't recall any women on French bank notes, for what that's worth. Old school Trots and Frontistes miss it the most at 48%. 27% of Parisians miss unprotected sex, compared to the average of 17% and 9% of South Westerners.

L’Abbé Pierre (a now deceased doer of good works) is their most admired personage at 51% followed by the Dalai Lama at 21%, JFK at 13%, Zinedine Zidane at 8%, and - as God is my witness, I am NOT making this up - Princess Diana (or 'Lardy Dee' as she is referred to trans-Channel) at 7%. Note that she was the choice of 12% of women but only 2% of men. The disconnect over Zidane is not quite so stark - 5%/11%. The one time Queen of Hearts has a particular appeal to Communists, old school Trots and Frontistes at 15%. ZZ is second only to L’Abbé Pierre among Frontistes at 23% to 36%.

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Britain's smartest trade union leaders?

Returning to the issue of 'modernisation' funding for trade unions paid out of the public purse by the Government, I have compared donations to the Labour Party with modernisation grants received.

Firstly, all unions falling in to both categories (donors and recipients):


Unite, the GMB and the CWU so dwarfed the others in the size of donations that I judged it worth highlighting the position of the smaller donors:


Had you ever heard of Community? Nor I... Note this: "Community is a British trade union representing workers in the clothing, textiles, footwear, steel and betting industries as well as workers with disabilities....Community supports the New Unionism project of the TUC, particularly the TUC organising academy. The first member to join the newly constituted union in 2004 was future British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown". I suppose Brown is in as a gambler....

Aslef and the RMT need no introdiction, while BWAFU is the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers' Union. The hitherto obscure Connect is 'the union for professionals in communications', apparently. And what very smart leadership it would appear to have, as it has given Labour £13,500 over the past two years, and - as if by magic - has received some £65,038.00 in modernisation funding.

Charting what a cynic might term return on investment...

...shows that Connect, the RMT and BWAFU all received a higher figure in 'modernisation' funding than the sums given to Labour in the last two years.

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Dropping the neutron bomb of excuses

From Hansard:

"Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): When he expects the consultation on options for access to the island of St. Helena to conclude......As my hon. Friend is aware (Yeah, right. C), Swindon has the largest St. Helena community outside London.

(sundry interventions, equivocations etc)

Mr. Mitchell: Does the Minister not understand that Ministers’ handling of this matter has been shameful, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn), the respected former Foreign Office Minister, has eloquently explained? The people of St. Helena are British citizens, so do we not have a duty to them to resolve this issue? Is not it time that he and his colleagues got a grip?

Mr. Foster: At a time of global downturn, we are talking about 50 million people around the world being unemployed. An extra 90 million people will earn less than $1.25 a day, and it is expected that an extra 3 million children will die as a result of the global downturn. We have to take all those circumstances into account when making a decision about spending the amount of money that we are talking about on an airport for St. Helena.

So in other words, Foster is using the 'eat up your sprouts - think of the starving children in Africa' rationale for this area of government inaction. I anticipate a lot more of this in the future.

The inaction over St Helena actually has a lot more to do with a certain PM being an obsessive micro manager, as noted previously.

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Petition o' the day

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Rename "Bank" Holidays to "Public Holidays".

Yup, that's worth doing.

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Yesterday in Parliament

Andrew Rosindell has taken a break from enquiring about the remaining pink bit on the map / our four-legged friends (his usual topics) to wheedle out something of huge import for the nation:

"Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport how many swimming pools he has visited on official business in the last 12 months. [267030]

Andy Burnham: In the last 12 months I have visited five swimming pools on official business".

I hope Burnham fell in at least once, that way we could have discovered whether his mascara is water-proof.

Elsewhere, Frank Field (PBUH) wanted to know this:

"To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the detection rate was for incidents of violence against the person reported to the police in each month in the last two years".

Data was forthcoming, and would appear to suggest that London's, Cleveland's, Thames Valley's etc finest are at their most effective in the colder half of the year:


Perhaps sunstroke interferes with operational efficiency, or summer criminals are smarter than winter criminals. Campbell caveated 'From 1 April 2007 the rules governing recording of non-sanction detections were revised to reduce the scope within which they can be claimed a very small limited set of circumstances', but the seasonal point stands.


Elsewhere, Miliband and Clinton have not been talking about the DPRK:

Mr. Ancram: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with the US administration on the political situation in North Korea. [265398]

Bill Rammell: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has regular conversations with the US Secretary of State, but they have not discussed North Korea recently.

I anticipate a denunciation at KCNA ere long.

Francis Maude came up a question more likely to prompt teeth grinding from the response:

"Mr. Maude: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform how much had been spent from the Union Modernisation Fund on grants to each trade union at the latest date for which figures are available; and how much of the available funding had not been allocated".

Replies Mr. McFadden [holding answer 13 March 2009]: Projects under rounds 1 and 2 of the Union Modernisation Fund have been allocated from a commitment of £6,393,024. Round 3 of the UMF, which is open to applications until 5 June, has an indicative budget of £3 million, the allocations will be determined once the round has closed and the process to assess the bids has taken place and awards have been made to successful bids.

In 2007-2008 the various unions have contributed £20.5m, so getting roughly one pound back for every three they donate is not a bad deal. If I have the time I will compare donations with grants union by union later.

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Something else interesting said in the European 'parliament'.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009
By now - presumably - we have all had the pleasure of seeing Dan Hannan eviscerating Brown, so here's a fresh outbreak of Brussels-related newsworthiness:

"Jean-Marie Le Pen again claimed in the European Parliament that it was “evident” that the gas chambers were a “detail” in WW2".

One might think that there were more important things to be discussed than establishing a hierarchy of the historical importance of the events of the war. However, one might note that the Normandy landings and the liberation of Paris are pretty peripheral to the Russian view of the war.

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Essex small children both more gifted and more talented than Hertfordshire small children

Or so it would seem, judging from a brace of written answers:

Mr. Newmark: To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (1) how many and what proportion of (a) primary and (b) secondary schools in (i) Braintree constituency and (ii) Essex have a gifted and talented register

and

Mike Penning: To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families how many and what proportion of (a) primary and (b) secondary schools in (i) Hemel Hempstead and (ii) Hertfordshire have a gifted and talented register

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: The following table shows the number and proportion of gifted and talented pupils attending primary and secondary schools in..Essex and Hertfordshire and England according to the summer 2008 School Census



Primary
Secondary
Essex 10195 9.70% 10275 11.50%
Herts 7159 7.80% 12142 15.20%
England 347,400 8.40% 454770 14.20%

All of my primary and secondary schooling took place in God's Own County, so the figures for primary education are quite encouraging. However, the dramatic increases in percentages of G&T children at 11 are a bit curious. Are the children of Welwyn and St Albans force-fed fish during the summer holiday of the year that they leave primary education?

Knowing a few teachers, I always approach the DSCF's definition of 'gifted and talented' with a couple of truckloads of salt, not that I was going to let that get in the way of a blog post. As a footnote, I derive far too much amusement from knowing that 'gift' is also the German word for poison.

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The profligacy of the Welsh Office

This is shocking. Brace yourselves:


Mr. Hoban: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how much was spent by his Department on flowers in the last 12 months. [266289]

Mr. Paul Murphy: In the last 12 months, my Department has spent £40 on flowers.



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A brief observation on Sir Fred Goodwin

The man has been demonised by politicians for weeks on end, with this lead followed with much vim by the media and thus parts of the public. Given that level of incitement, it is hardly surprising that some have seen fit to engage in criminal acts against his property. Doubtless there are some who would like to form a lynching party.

Envy, one might note, is a particularly loathsome state of mind, and I will not be at all surprised if there will be dog whistle messages of approval coming from some quarters of the commentariat. Were I Sir Fred, I would be booking a one way ticket out of here.

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EU raps Brown's knuckles

Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Like so:

Commission takes steps under the excessive deficit procedure for France, Greece, Ireland, Spain and UK

"The United Kingdom is under the excessive deficit procedure since July 2008, when the Council recommended, on the basis of a Commission proposal, to bring the general government deficit below 3% of GDP by 2009/10. But since then the budgetary situation has worsened substantially on account of the sharper-than-expected economic slowdown and the deficit-increasing discretionary measures adopted by the UK in line with the European Recovery Plan.

According to the 2008 update of the UK's convergence programme, the deficit in 2009/10 is projected to reach 8.2% of GDP, with the discretionary loosening accounting for around one-third of the increase over the previous year. The January forecasts of the Commission envisage an even sharper contraction in economic activity and project a deficit in 2009/10 of 9½% of GDP. The government gross debt ratio, which was close to 40% of GDP in 2007/08, is expected by the UK authorities to rise considerably to almost 70% of GDP in 2013/14.

Against this background, the Commission recommends to the Council to decide that, in a context of progressively weakening economic conditions, the UK authorities have not taken effective action to end the excessive deficit situation by 2009/10 and to adopt a new recommendation under Article 104.7 setting a new deadline of the 2013/14 financial year to correct the deficit below 3%. To this end, the UK authorities are asked in 2010/11 and beyond, to ensure additional annual efforts beyond those envisaged in the 2008 update of the UK's convergence programme. The UK is also recommended to reverse progressively the increase in the government gross debt ratio".

Note that the deficit in these parts is higher than in any of the other countries targeted. I fear it will take more than the combined power of every river in the country to clean out these Augean stables, come The Reckoning.

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Oh dear. Hazel Blears has had one of her 'good ideas'.

Block book the week of 15-21 November, as it will be 'England's first-ever 'Inter Faith Week'.

This will aim to:

* to strengthen good inter faith relations at all levels;

* to increase awareness of the different and distinct faith communities in the UK, in particular celebrating and building on the contribution which their members make to their neighbourhoods and to wider society; and

* to increase understanding between people of religious and non-religious belief.

Sounds harmless enough, although the folk who cannot get on with other folk will not be participating, will they?


Anyway, this is the good idea that jumped out at me:

"a football match involving young people from different faith communities".

I doubt it would take until the first crunching tackle by Methodist United's centre back on Zen FC's star striker for the choice epithets to start doing the rounds both on the pitch and off it.

Or am I being overly cynical?


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Tony Blair supplies 'pogi points'

Mr Tony is sojourning in Manila at the mo', and it would appear that the leadership of the Philippines thinks it has a job for him:

"President Gloria Arroyo on Monday sought the advice of Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair on bringing peace to southern Philippines after decades of separatist bloodshed there. The pair discussed the problems in Mindanao, where a violent Muslim insurgency has raged for 30 years, over lunch at the presidential palace"....“The President is confident Tony Blair, with all his experience, can contribute a lot to resolving our peace and order problems in Mindanao,” deputy spokesman Lorelei Fajardo told reporters".

However, opposition Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero is not impressed:

"Tony Blair is just good for public relation or pogi points of the Malacañang”.

Pogi points looks to be the Pinoy term for brownie points (Yes, I had to look it up) and the Malacañang is the equivalent of the White House. Anyway, the Senator would appear to be a perceptive fellow, and is part of a coalition grouping in Manila called 'Genuine Opposition'. One trusts it does what it says on the tin.

Readers of my Methuselah-like vintage will recall that 'chiz' appears in the Molesworth books as a word for 'swiz, swindle'. Thus there is mild amusement to be had from the Senator's website masthead:

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Barroso and Pöttering are 'Conquistadors'

Semi-retired Greenlandic politician Jonathan Motzfeldt is not at all happy with the EU, and has expressed it in fairly strong terms:

"Jonathan Motzfeldt...has written a letter both to commission president José Manuel Barroso and parliamentary chairman Hans-Gert Pöttering criticising the handling of debates regarding the future of whaling and sale of sealskin. ‘The way the European parliament and commission handle these cases is a direct attempt to put an end to an Arctic culture that is over a thousand years old,’ wrote Motzfeldt. ‘It is reminiscent of the policies used by the conquistadors in South America over 400 years ago. Shame on you Europe.’...‘The politics of the commission and the parliament are morally reprehensible and based on a lack of knowledge and respect for other peoples.’

I have some sympathy with Motzfeldt's championing of the traditional hunting etc practices of his fellow countrymen, but I think he has got his dates a litttle askew, as by my reckoning the conquista was a done deal by around 1540.

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Philistines at the Department of Energy & Climate Change

Or so it would seem:

"Mr. Vara: To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change which works of art from the Government Art Collection each Minister in his Department has selected for display in a private office.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: No Minister within this Department has currently selected any works of art from the Government Art Collection for any private office".

So Miliband minor, O'Brien hisself, 'Lord' Hunt and Joan Ruddock work in offices with no adornments bar, presumably, date planners festooned with pink stars, yellow circles etc and maybe a clock or two. Or maybe there is that Reagan / Thatcher 'Gone with the Wind' parody above Ruddock's desk? A sorry state of affairs, and it denies me further harmless pleasure in dissecting their tastes. Mind you, I am beginning to wonder whether inveterate quizzer Shalesh Vara is asking these questions as the various makeover TV programmes are failing to provide inspiration for his own office.

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Gordon Brown rated the world's 10th biggest loser

Monday, March 23, 2009
'Foreign Policy' has decided to get its hands dirty and rate the month's losers, and Brown only rates 10th, although he makes 7th among politicians, loosely defined. Top of the list is Josef Fritzl, a fairly difficult act to follow.

Here's the encomium for Brown:

"It's hard to hate Gordon Brown. In fact, it's hard not to feel bad for the guy. This is due in part to the fact that he is Britain's first prime minister who is also part basset hound. Also, he had to follow Tony Blair who was quite telegenic and appealing, particularly in that phase of his career when he was being played by Michael Sheen. (Less so later when he was being played by one of George W. Bush's hand-puppets.) Still, Gordon did accept the job of PM, did screw it up to a fare-thee-well and now is on the verge of blowing his last big moment on the public stage as he prepares to host a G20 Summit that is very likely to realize somewhere between zero and few of his grand ambitions for it".

The magazine is published in Washington DC, so the misplaced lack of venom is perhaps understandable. The 'basset hound' link gives a potted history of the breed etc, but it seemed sufficiently amusing to leave in.

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Unexpected poll finding o' the day

Now suppose you were a Swede, and you were asked about keeping universal male conscription or replacing it with an all volunteer force. Which demographic would you expect to be keenest on conscription? Men over 65, maybe? And least enthused? Young men, perhaps?

Nope:

"The greatest support for mandatory service comes among young men, 74 percent of whom want to maintain it. The corresponding figure for the entire population is 63 percent, according to the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper. Overall, a slightly higher number of women want to continue with mandatory military conscription, 65 percent, versus 61 percent for men. Among young women, however, support is somewhat lower – 61 percent – than among women in general".

Who'd a thunk it.

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Headline o' the day

From, where else, KCNA:

"Lee Myung Bak's Red Herring Slammed".

Must have made a horrible fishy mess.

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Now let's hear Hoon say /that/ here

From El Pais:

"London would be “completely at ease” if Madrid’s Barajas airport were to be selected ahead of Heathrow as the hub of a possible new alliance between Iberia and British Airways, the UK transport minister has told EL PAÍS. Geoff Hoon, who was in Madrid to discuss the upcoming G20 London Summit with Spanish officials, said it was better for the two airlines, and not the governments, to decide the location of any future hub".

He's right, but I want him to give the same quote to the British press.

Elsewhere he appears to accuse the Turks & Caicos Islands of being soft on criminals (in the context of tax).

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Europe re-jigged

Pondering idly on some of the more curious names for sovereign states in other parts of the world, I have re-worked the names of European states on the same basis, using saints, rivers, founders, mountains national products and the like.

Anyway, it amuses me, and I trust it will prompt the odd chortle elsewhere.
(Click for improved legibility)

Explanations for names are available to anyone sufficiently interested and stumped by the antecedents. C.E.R stands for Central European Republic, by the way.

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So much for Labour's honeymoon

From Hansard:

"Mr. Maude: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will place in the Library a copy of the background data for the Delivery Index provided by IPSOS MORI to the Cabinet Office on the public's attitude to and experience of public services relating to the last four quarters. [249963]

Mr. Watson: The Cabinet Office does not routinely receive any additional Delivery Index data from IPSOS Mori beyond that available on their website; the underlying data can be found here...

And because I like doing that sort of thing, I have charted the figures for replies to "On balance, do you agree or disagree with the statement that "in the long term, this government's policies will improve the state of Britain's public services"?


The underlying data comes from erratically dated polls, but there have been at least two per year from 2001 to 2008. The two clearest blue peaks relate to general elections, with the relative spike in May 2007 presumably related to local elections. The highest level of disbelief that governmental policies would improve public services showed in July 2003, but I am at a loss to explain that. Also notable is that bar the 2001 figures, faith in policies has averaged 34%, well below Labour's poll ratings for most of that period. Note also that the question has always been too difficult for at least 6% of the population, and sometimes as much as 14%.

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1st September 2008 - London Year Zero?

Sunday, March 22, 2009
So one might think, as half-heartedly going through bookmarks in search of something to write about, I find that everything at the GLA / Mayor of London media centre prior to 1/9/8 seems to have disappeared.


The GLA:And Boris:

Or maybe someone has been doing the digital equivalent of running everything through a cross-shredder.

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Setting a high bar for criminality

Saturday, March 21, 2009
Danish crim Thomas Andy Sønderborg has set a pretty impressive benchmark, as following an 11m DKR heist (say £1.4m) he is now wanted in 186 countries, due to being on Interpol's watchlist. Even more impressive than the 'wanted in 14 counties' rap sheet read out to Eli Wallach's Tuco character in 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly'.

As a sidenote, Interpol was once presided over by one Reinhard Heydrich, its president at the time of his death. True story.

A little sniffing around discloses that there are not many places where Sønderborg can do a Ronald Biggs, so to speak, although scoffing from one of sundry islands in the western Pacific might be quite pleasant. The alternative to Samoa, Vanuatu and the like would be to hole up in Pyongyang, as the DPRK is the sole non-island non-member.

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Kim Jong Il - the smoker's friend

Friday, March 20, 2009
It would seem he is not all bad:

"He also gave on-the-spot guidance to the Hoeryong Taesong Cigarette Factory....Seeing varieties of cigarettes being churned out from each machine and workshops kept neat and tidy, he expressed great satisfaction over the fact that the interior and exterior of the factory are spruced up in a hygienic and cultured manner and quality cigarettes are mass-produced thanks to the successful maintenance of its equipment and technical control. He advanced tasks to be carried out by the factory, calling on it to keep the cigarette production going at a high rate and further improve its quality.


And here he is taking a drag, indoors:



So, is it a case of 'You are never alone with a Hoeryong Taesong', 'Hoeryong Taesong country - where the flavour is' or 'Happiness is a cigarette called Hoeryong Taesong'.

Meanwhile, Nick D has found another pic of KJI and suggests a caption competition, and I think he might be on to something:


"Kim Jong Il hails a breakthrough in socialist zimmer frame technology".

Sticking with the DPRK, a discovery in the Miami Herald today: "North Korea's Kim Il Sung once wrote a love sonnet to the mimeograph machine".

Can't find any further references, but I reckoned that was too good not to take to a narrower audience.

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Lost in translation

From Libération:



And Le Soir (Brussels):


On the basis of those reports, quite a different constituency will be taking umbrage in the Francophone world than the one in the Estados.

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Prepare to be angry

From Hansard:

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): What new measures to reduce electoral fraud the Electoral Commission expects to be in place by the next General Election.

Sir Peter Viggers: The Electoral Commission informs me that it does not expect new measures to be in place by the last possible date for the next general election.


When I consider the variously foolish and wicked things that this administration has managed since even 2005, I am appalled that the integrity of the voting system has not been considered sufficiently important to merit an examination, given the horrors of the last few years.

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Splitting hairs with the DCMS

From Hansard:

Mr. Ellwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport how many (a) public relations and (b) media advisers his Department employed (i) in 1997 and (ii) on the most recent date for which figures are available. [264778]

Mr. Sutcliffe: The Department does not employ public relations or media advisers.

However, the Department employs press officers and communication officers. These are listed in the White Book, as well as civil servants working on media policy in line with the Department’s remit.


Hmm, if it looks like a duck etc etc.

And just how smart does the chin-rich environment that is Gerry Sutcliffe think that he is for coming up with that answer on behalf of Andy 'I do not wear mascara, honest' Burnham?

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Government take advice from 16 year olds

Thursday, March 19, 2009
From Pravda Central, UK:

"Fifty young people from across the UK have been invited by the Department for International Development (DFID) to help shape government policy to eliminate world poverty and share their views with world leaders ahead of the London Summit next month. The DFID Youth Summit on Friday, 20 March will see 16-24 year olds from youth boards of charities and government departments gather in London to discuss how conflict, climate change and the economic crisis can be tackled to reduce global poverty".

And I am sure they will come up with ideas that are no more foolish than those Douglas Alexander might come up with on his own. Mocking of the young - always known for their well-thought and consistent ideas (I remember what my then fellow 16 year olds were like) - to one side, one does not have to be a hardened cynic to play spot the stunt, in that anything they come up with that does not mesh with policy will be ignored, while anything that does will be taken as proof of how down with the kids DFID is.

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Hampshire and South Wales - hot beds of terrorism

From Hansard:

"David Ruffley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many (a) stop and account forms and (b) stop and search forms were issued in each police force area in 2007-08

Vernon 'Hokey' Coaker: Data on stops and account are collected by police force area and are published in the 'Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System—2006-07' report for the first time this month

The tables show that there were some 41,924 stops under Section 44(1) and 44(2) of the Terrorism Act 2000.

The breakdown by police forces is instructive, shall we say, in that while the Met is by far the most active, it would seem that Methodist Jihad, Wessex nationalists and a revitalised Meibion Glyndŵr are keeping the South Wales and Hampshire plod busy, or could it be that the pungent scent of rattus norvegicus is assailing my olfactory system?

Yes, fully 10% of the stops under that act were in South Wales, and 6% were in Hampshire. The Greater Manchester and Merseyside police managed nine stops (0.0002%) between them.

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Fact checking, Pyongyang-style

Wednesday, March 18, 2009
From the usual place:

"Pyongyang, March 17 (KCNA) -- Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People's Assembly, sent a message of greetings to Mary Mcaleese, President of Ireland, on Tuesday on the occasion of its national day. Kim in the message wished the President good health and success in his work for the prosperity of Ireland".

Hibernia's national day went unmarked by the DPRK in 2007 and 2008. Given that McAleese has been president since 1997, on would think that they might have spotted her tell tale double X chromosome count by now.

Elsewhere, there is a less than complete history of the Korean war available here, lacking both detail on the US/RoK counteroffensive and the intervention of the Chinese, but going long on the early stages of the invasion. No mention of the peace being little short of the status quo ante either.

(
Now with Pyongyang spelled properly. Nothing quite like instant karma is there?)

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Yet more fun with ministerial tastes in art

This time the Home Office:

Mr. Vara: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department which works of art from the Government Art Collection each Minister in her Department has selected for display in a private office.

Jacqui Smith does not have anything especially mockable, which irks somewhat.

However, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Crime Reduction - the deeply obscure Alan Campbell - looks like another candidate for defection as he has not just one, not just two, but three portraits of Tories gracing his walls - Canning, Castlereagh and Peel. Odd choices given his portfolio, as Canning, one might note, fought a duel with Castlereagh and Castlereagh as a suicide was lucky not to be buried at a crossroads with a stake through his heart, which was the punishment at the time. I believe Peel was pretty law abiding, however.

The oily Phil Woolas, Minister of State for Borders and Immigration, would appear to be making something of a statement with his taste in art. He has works entitled 'Apse of Notre Dame', 'Chartres East', 'Chartres West', 'Interior, Poitiers' and 'Beauvais' hanging on his walls. Which country's borders are you minding Phil?

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Men (and women) behaving badly.

C/O Hansard:

Paul Holmes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many people have been issued with penalty notice disorders for being drunk and disorderly in each of the last three years.

The table breaks down the figures by police authority and by gender, and Lancashire's Finest were the keenest on dishing out PNDs last year at just shy of 5900. They were better behaved on the other side of the country, or the plod were less trigger happy, with all of 77 issued in Lincolnshire.

What is perhaps more interesting is the ratio of male to female penalty notices, with the ladies policed by the Northumbria Constabulary (includes Newcastle) the least genteel at a ratio of 3.3:1, compared to 5.2:1 nationally and 11.8:1 in Lincolnshire. Surrey ladies defy the stereotype at 3.7:1. Also nicked at a rate of less than or equal to one for every five men were the ladies of Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Merseyside and West Yorkshire. The Met's area lags the national average at 6.2:1

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Parliamentary slap down o' the day

From Hansard:

"Adrian Sanders (LD): To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make it his policy to charge a fee towards tug protection on laid-up shipping at anchor within UK territorial waters. [264147]

Jim Fitzpatrick: There are no plans to charge fees for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s (MCA) tug protection services.

The MCA is not aware of any vessels that have been “laid up” at anchor. Anchored vessels must be maintained in a fully operational state".


Ouch.

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The briefest of brief DPRK updates

Tuesday, March 17, 2009
From KCNA:

"Pyongyang, March 16 (KCNA) -- A delegation of the Group of Social[ist?] Parties of the European Parliament arrived here Monday by air".

Please keep them.

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Going that little bit further when pillorying business

This from Sen. Charles Grassley (Rep, Iowa), on AIG execs, quoted in the New York Post:

""I suggest, you know, obviously, maybe they ought to be removed," Grassley said. "But I would suggest the first thing that would make me feel a little bit better toward them if they'd follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, I'm sorry, and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide.

"And in the case of the Japanese, they usually commit suicide before they make any apology."


He is an ungrateful toad, as AIG gave him $26,250 in both 2008 and 2006. Doubtless he will paying that back.

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John Prescott - NOT the allotment holders' friend

Thought I should take this to a narrower audience:

From Hansard:

"Baroness Sharples: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. John Prescott set up core strategies in relation to planning that have resulted in delays of maybe five years in setting up allotments."

The noble Baroness is in her mid-eighties, so her continuing active presence in the Lords does her no end of credit.

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The United Nations to discuss Battlestar Galactica

I am not making this up, the link is right here.

"Through its newly established Creative Community Outreach Initiative, the United Nations Department of Public Information and the SCI FI Channel will co-host a panel discussion in connection with the final episode of the Battlestar Galactica television series at 7 p.m., tomorrow, 17 March in the Economic and Social Council Chamber. The discussion will explore some of the themes that are of importance to both the United Nations and the critically acclaimed television show: human rights; terrorism; children and armed conflict; and reconciliation and dialogue among civilizations and faiths.

The panel will be moderated by...Whoopi Goldberg. [...]Mary McDonnell, ...Edward James Olmos, and Battlestar Galactica creators and executive producers...will participate in the panel. Also participating will be Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict; Craig Mokhiber, Deputy Director, New York Office, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Planning, Executive Office of the Secretary-General; and Famatta Rose Osode, Minister and Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Liberia to the United Nations".

Can't say I have ever seen it, but the original film was utter dreck.

Maybe the EU will be taking pointers from 'Futurama' next, or Parliament can get carried away over 'Life on Mars'. Could be entertaining.

I suppose the thespians get to polish up their slightly tarnished sense of self-importance, while the UN bods get to hang out with some rather unfashionable C-list actors.

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Your opportunity to influence a 'referendum'

Monday, March 16, 2009
And you won't have to anything out of the ordinary:

"The New South Wales Government has backed calls for Earth Hour to be viewed as a referendum on greenhouse gas cuts and be taken into account at an international climate change summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, this year...WWF Australia, which started Earth Hour...believes up to 1 billion people will turn off lights for an hour on March 28 to show their support for action against climate change".

1 billion, eh? "According to a Zogby International online survey 36 million people participated in Earth Hour 2008, with an estimated 50 million doing the same around the world".

One's responsibilities are clear....

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An apology to the good people of Greece

Scotland Yard are co-operating with the Hellenes by offering insights into dealing with terrorism. I could make a cheap comment about our not really being in much of a position to spare Special Branch's finest at the moment, but life is too short.

However:

"Scotland Yard’s chief (sic) Sir Ian Blair, one of the world’s top counter-terrorism experts, is also expected to visit Athens over the next few days to provide his insight into the problem".

What can one say, bar re-iterating the apology?

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A brief observation on minimum prices for alcohol

Doubtless there is much vituperation going on elsewhere, but for now note this:

"Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that he did not want to penalise "moderate" drinkers. Speaking at a press conference at 10 Downing Street on Monday he said: "We don't want the responsible, sensible majority of moderate drinkers to have to pay more or suffer as a result of the excesses of a minority."

And this:

Budget 2008: "Beer duty to increase by 4p per pint, wine up 14p a bottle, cider up 3p a bottle and spirits up 55p a bottle".

And this:

Budget 2007
: "Beer up 1p per pint from midnight on Sunday, cider up 1p per litre. Wine up 5p a bottle and sparkling wine up 7p. No change for spirits".

Budget 2006: "Duties on beer and wine will increase in line with inflation, adding 1 penny to a pint of beer and 4 pence to a standard 75 centilitre bottle of wine; and duty on sparkling wine and cider will be frozen".

So, good news then - clearly there will be no changes to drinks duties in the next Budget. Will there?

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Allergic to Belgium

This would seem to be a mounting problem for les Belges, as 20 years ago one in six of them had allergies, now it is one in four and the prognostication is for one in three in 10 years.

At this rate, by 2039 the entire population will be allergic to the place.

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The other national lottery

As opposed to the original, also known as 'national insurance'.

From Hansard:

"Mr. Hunt: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport how much was received by each of the National Lottery good causes in each year since 1995, expressed in 2008-09 prices. [263539]

Barbara Follett: The table shows the total income for each of the national lottery good causes for each financial year since 1995. Figures are adjusted to 2007-08 prices, using GDP deflators for the most recent year available from the Treasury. All figures are rounded to the nearest £000".

And charted.



Note that 'Health, education, the environment and charitable expenditure', one fifth of expenditure in 1995-96 is now half of it.

And there were Joe and Josephine Public believing that lottery funding would not replace conventional tax funding. Well, that's what they told us, didn't they?

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Cuban missile crisis II?

Sunday, March 15, 2009
From Novosti:

"Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has proposed to Russia using a Venezuelan island for temporary hosting of Russian long-range aviation, a top-ranking Russian Air Force official said Saturday.

There is such a proposal on the part of the Venezuelan president. Chavez proposed to us a whole island with an airfield that we can use for temporary basing of strategic bombers," said Maj.-Gen. Anatoly Zhikharev, the chief of the long-range aviation staff".

I noted the presence of TU-160 Blackjacks in Venezuela a while back. Perhaps unexpectedly, there has never been a permanent Russian military presence in Cuba, although that is on the tables too.

Should be an early test for the mettle of Obama and Clinton, I would think.

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