Sunday, December 28, 2008

Rather heartening

Looking back on the since 9-11 it is interesting to see how the political atmosphere in the States has been transformed.

There was a time when it was considered "un-American" to criticise the Bush government. The TV networks tip-toed around anything which might be seen to compromise the "War on Turrur".

Now, of course, times have changed. George Bush's ratings in the US are only slightly higher than Osama Bin Laden's. There is an alleged "new Dawn" and it is OK to lay into the Bush regime.

So it is fascinating to see the start of Dan Rather's lawsuit against his former employers, CBS. The lawsuit is born out of that previous period of awed respect towards Bush. Rather (right) was allegedly sacked for reporting on some documents which were said to prove that George Bush barely turned up for basic duty when he was in the National Guard, avoiding the Vietnam draft. Also within the lawsuit is an allegation that CBS unreasonably suppressed the story about abuse at the Abu Graib prison.

One hilarious aspect of the lawsuit is that Rather alleges that the panel set up by CBS to investigate his report was stacked with right wingers. It included Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, two extreme right wing broadcasters. You begin to wonder how CBS had the cheek to do that. But as I say, such was the prevailing mood in the US at the time.

Tory tax U turn

For months the Tories have criticised Gordon Brown for the odd so-called tax cut to allegedly help to "bump start" the economy. They have seemed to have very little alternative to offer except "do nothing".

Well now it seems they are about to a complete U turn and offer tax cuts after all.

Confused? I think they are.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Woolies: they're flogging the fixtures and fittings now

I wasn't intending to visit Woolworths this month. It seemed a bit of a ghoulish thing to do.

However, we had a bit of an emergency. We were going through some old note books on Chritsmas Day (as you do) and found a Woolworths gift voucher! Could we still cash it in? How much longer did we have? Would they be open tomorrow? Don't panic Mr Mainwaring!

Anyway, after wiping away the film of nervous sweat from one's brows, we successfully entered Woolworths Newbury first thing on Boxing Day. The gift voucher was still valid and, given the 'up to 60% sale', we were able to buy a very nice half price CD, which pleased us. There seemed to be lots of good bargains still there. The staff were mainly very young and all smiling, which is brave of them - bless them.

I was very taken by the sort of "fire sale" feel of the place, lent particularly by this display of Woolworths' own fixtures, furniture and equipment for sale at bargain basement prices:




Safe £300

Cage £50

Warehouse racking £15

Staff lockers £30

Warehouse shelving £20

Step ladders £20

Trolley £30

Filing Cabinet £20

Office swivel chair £10

Office chair £10

Has the ethnicity of London changed at a faster rate than Ann Leslie can cope with?

Dame Ann Leslie (for it is her) made an interesting comment on BBC News 24 this morning. Referring to this (I think) photo she said that it had not been noticed that the shoppers queueing at the sales were mostly "foreigners". In keeping with the renowned impartiality and fairness of the BBC, the presenter pointed out that "they could be British". Leslie ploughed on saying that Britain's "ethnic population" is about 7% and that there were far more than 7% of "ethnic minorities" in the picture. (the figure is actually 7.9%)

Indeed, the Sun reports that many people have flown in specially to take advantage of the favourable exchange rates and the sales:

Sun reporters even came across shoppers who flew in especially from South Africa, Jordan and Ireland, aiming to fill empty suitcases.

However, I think Ann Leslie should bear in mind that the photo concerned was taken at Selfridges in London. London has a far higher proportion of people of "ethnic origin" than the UK average of 7.9% (it's actually 30.65%), as Ann Leslie should know, as I suspect she lives there.

Undaunted Leslie pointed out "Taiwanese" and "Indian" people in the photo, implying that they must be "foreigners".

Ahem. There are 1.6 million - British - people in this country who are of Indian or Chinese "ethnic origin". 600,000 of them live in London.

So 999 years of journalistic experience must have given Ann Leslie insight unknown to the rest of us which allows her to tell whether someone is a "foreigner" just by looking at them. Has she got X-ray eyes that allows her to see their passport neatly positioned in their inside breast pocket?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ideal Christmas present

This would be my ideal Christmas present this year.

Red carpet treatment

In 24 years of living in the Newbury district I have never had occasion to visit the main council offices as a "punter". This morning came the first occasion as I had to enquire about a council tax matter.

Consider my surprise when I was greeted by the Chief Executive of West Berkshire Council, Mr Nick Carter, who was seated at the receptionist desk, acting as receptionist, and who handed me my "cheese counter" numerical ticket and invited me to take a seat.

If I knew this was the sort of red carpet treatment that enquirers to the council offices get, I would have gone down there earlier in my 24 years here!

Dr Jan van Strabismus Whom God Preserve of Utrecht and other curiosities

My cultural education is benefitting from avoiding the Steve Wright programme, on the way home from work, from 4.45pm to 5pm by switching to Radio Four.

I have an in-built aversion to Radio Four too - thinking it is generally as dry as a dry thing.

But I am gradually warming to the intelligent programmes of which I get a little burst while in Wright exile.

Last night there was a fascinating discussion chaired by Matthew Parris on his generally most fascinating Great Lives series. The programme was about Beachcomber (aka J.B.Morton). The blurb states:

Raymond Briggs chooses Beachcomber, the Daily Express columnist who inspired both Spike Milligan and Private Eye. Richard Ingrams and the current Beachcomber, William Hartston, join Matthew Parris for a lunatic half hour's celebration of Dr Smart-Allick, Mr Justice Cocklecarrot, and Dr Jan van Strabismus Whom God Preserve of Utrecht.

It really is worth listening to this discussion.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Benedictus Benedicat

That's what used to be said before we ate at school (with "Benedicto Benedicarto" said afterwards). We used to translate it as "They're under starters orders and they're off".

I mention this only because I was pushed for an interesting title for a post about Pope Benedict.

I thoroughly reconmmend and endorse the spirit and much of the letter of Iain Dale's post about this.

The BBC have a handy page showing the actual words of the Pope. As usual he has been reported as saying something very clear. But (and he has this habit in common with dear old Rowan Williams) when you read what he said you are left with some confusion about what he was exactly getting at.

For example, his words about the Rain Forests have been summarised as "The Pope considers homosexuality as "damaging to the future of the world as the destruction of the rain forests" ". That is something of an editorial paraphrase. What he actually said is really quite baffling:

What is often expressed and signified with the word 'gender' leads to the human auto-emancipation from creation and from the Creator. The human being wants to make himself on his own and to decide always and exclusively by himself about what concerns him.
But, in so doing, the human being lives against the truth and against the Spirit creator. Rain forests deserve, yes, our protection but the human being - as a creature which contains a message that is not in contradiction with his freedom but is the condition of his freedom - does not deserve it less.


I'll leave Alex Wilcock to get on the case and explain in twenty easy-to-read paragraphs what that actually means.

What the dear El Papa's words seem to boil down to is contained within this easy-to-chant paragraph:

We need something like human ecology, meant in the right way. The Church speaks of human nature as 'man' or 'woman' and asks that this order is respected.
This is not out-of-date metaphysics. It comes from the faith in the Creator and from listening to the language of creation, despising which would mean self-destruction for humans and therefore a destruction of the work itself of God.


OK. So the (Roman Catholic) Church speaks of 'man' or 'woman' and "asks that this order is respected".

But does God?

I maintain that God created people in many different shapes and sizes. It is the "church's" attempt to shoe-horn everyone into two distinct categories that creates all the problems.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Something to gladden the heart of every LibDem blogger...

I don't regularly stumble onto Iain Dale's Diary. If he links to me, I do. And when I finally stop disappearing up my own exhaust pipe at work I will no doubt have an extravagance of time sufficient to read it occasionally again.

So many thanks to A Lanson Boy for flagging up a priceless moment from the life in the political twilight zone that is the life of the great Dalester.

He (the Dalester) was being interviewed in Tunbridge Wells.

I recently visited Tunbridge Wells for a very enjoyable mini-break. Marvellous place. But I would have thought that the idea of being interviewed there in the open air is only slightly more ridiculous than being interviewed in the bar of the Clocktower pub in Newbury at 10.55pm on a Friday (think of your worst nightmare.....).

Anyway, this interview in the middle of Tunbridge Wells rapidly descended into something approaching chaos as various grouplets of variously aged teenagers zeroed in on the Dalester and his BBC interviewer. THIS NEEDS TO GET ONTO YOU TUBE QUICKLY! (It's not yet - I've checked)

There was a sort of burping competition to which the BBC interviewer responded somewhat stupidly by demanding the names of the burpers. This was met with an escalation into a swearing contest.

But never fear! Our intrepid Dalester knew how to extract himself from this imbroglio:

HE TURNED TO THE RINGLEADER AND SAID HE LOOKED A "BIT GAY" IN HIS WHITE TRACKSUIT!!!!!

(Or to quote properly from Iain: "Only when I turned to the ringleader and told him he looked ridiculous in his white tracksuit and that "it looked a bit gay"...")

Collapse of stout party.

Oh how we laughed!

Those teenagers aren't very good at repartee in Tunbridge Wells. Burping. Yes - tick. Swearing. Yes - tick. Repartee - No - cross.

Update: Iain has left a comment on Alex (A Lanson Boy)'s post. I think a point may have been missed. Specifically that, yes, on the Chris Moyles Show and elswhere "gay" sometimes means cr*p (particularly when someone is trying to wriggle out of complaints to Ofcom), but more widely "gay" still primarily means homosexual. At the least, there is a danger of confusion which, as Alex suggests, would preclude its use to 13 year olds by someone wanting to be taken seriously in political circles. But then again, we're talking about the Dalester here so that doesn't apply. Meoww Meoww Scratch Scratch

The wonderful Irishness of the Late Late Show

I posted the video below yesterday without watching it (due to a "no add-ons enabled" tedium with which I need not detain you). I've now watched it. It's "There's no one as Irish as Barack Obama" performed on Irish Television RTE's Late Late Show.

This is more an institution than a television programme. For 37 years it was presented by Gay Byrne, who, during his tenure, took on the sort of mantle of the Irish Queen Mother (no subtext intended, although if there was it would be reasonably funny) in terms of love and admiration from the populace. Anyway, after removing the raw plugs with which he was fixed to the studio floor, he was transported off in a bath chair in 1999 to be Chairman of the Irish Road Safety Authority - a very needed cause in Ireland given the alarming level of road deaths (which is just as alarming as in the UK by the way). So the show is now hosted by Pat Kenny who has done very well to survive 9 years in the role.

Any road down, the reason for mentioning all this nonsense, is that the "No one as Irish as" clip from the L2 Show is very typical. It sorts of imbues the Corrigan Brothers and the song with the collective blessing of the Irish nation because the audience clap and swing along to it (try getting a British audience to do that). And what an audience. There are several members of the Dublin Home for the Bewildered there. There is a sort of Boyzone debut feel to the whole thing. And then there's the Corrigan brothers. Let me just say that I suspect that they have spent most of their professional lives performing above the din, smoke and Guinness burps in pubs across Tipperary and Limerick. Subtlety is not in their kit bag. "Belt it out, man!" seems to be their motto.

Three cards a barking....

Many thanks indeed to Sharon Bowles MEP for sending three very attractive and heavy-gauge Christmas cards to our household (one for each loyal member of the party therein).

There are five (count them - one, two, three, four, five!) excellent Libby Demmy things about these cards:

1. They were bought in a very good cause - The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust. Well done Sharon!

2. The board was derived from a sustainable source courtesy of Paper Affection. Well done Sharon - again!

3. One of the cards is displayed in our front room while extra value was squeezed out of all three cards because I took a photo of them together and have now displayed the picture as the little seasonal touch at the top of my sidebar.

4. The two cards which are not now displayed in my front room have been shredded and will be composted in due course.

5. The third card, currently on display in my front room, will be composted on January 8th. I think it will compost particularly well with our green (used twice) tea bags.

So it's Libby Demmy and Seasony greetingsy smiles all round!

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Paganism and Christmas

This is worth a listen - it's an episode of Radio Four's Beyond Belief about Christmas and paganism.

I caught it this afternoon when I was, as usual, escaping from Steve Wright (it's that pathetic clapping by three people that drives me homicidal towards the twit) and then found out it was actually Aled Jones I was escaping from.

Zimbabwe - the tragedy in three words

"Zimbabwe is mine" says Robert Mugabe.

Doesn't that sum up the whole sorry mess?

He doesn't say Zimbabwe belongs to Zimbabweans.

It's his, he says.

It would remind me of Dawn French in those chocolate orange adverts ("This isn't Terry's it's mine") if it wasn't so tragic.

Arrested for playing the bagpipes

I was thinking of doing an ironic/funny piece about this but have decided against that.

Is there something wrong with the police these days? Would an old style copper of the Dixon of Dock Green-type have arrested a bagpipe player, handcuffed him and taken him down to the police station for an hour?

The police said the chap was causing "distress". But the bagpipe busker in Bridport, Dorset had collected £50 from members of the public in just under an hour, so there couldn't have been much wrong with his playing.

What's wrong with a few gentle words from the old Bill to both the busker and the shopkeeper who complained, to defuse the situation?

Would this have happened in Auchtermuchty?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Anton du Beke to take over from Brucie on Strictly

That's my prediction. Bruce Forsyth is a national treasure but I think he should be quietly reitired as co-presenter of Strictly Come Dancing. Last night's final demonstrated the retirement case. He got ratty with the floor manager for trying to speed him up. It wasn't funny. Then during the melee following the announcement of the winner, you could hear him shouting: "Oh my God - who was that?!" as someone bumped him.

And Bruce singing? Whose idea was that?

Don't get me wrong. Bruce Forsyth has an excellent singing voice. On a cold Wednesday evening at Butlin's Minehead, I'd be delighted to hear him singing "The Candy Man", although I may use it as the cue to get a refill from the bar.

But on peak national television? Give us a break. That's what killed Brucie's Big Night. He's excellent at game shows and the odd bit of comedy, but singing....no.

Talking of which, allow me to introduce the real star of Strictly Come Dancing:

Tommy Blaize.

Who he? I hear you cry. He's the chap with the wonderful voice who sings most of the big numbers on Strictly. You hardly ever see him on screen, but he sings the songs beautifully. The man deserves to be a star. You can read about the whole Strictly Come Dancing band here.

O'Bama Irish song hits the big time!

On November 10th I flagged up the brilliant "There's no one as Irish as Barack Obama" record by Hardy Drew and the Nancy boys.

I'm delighted to say that this song has taken off. The Corrigan Brothers, who are Hardy Drew and the Nancy boys, played out Sunday AM this morning and have signed up with Universal, and are now featured on iTunes etc for downloading. They seem to be billed as the "Corrigan Brothers" on iTunes.

I bought a copy of their CD back in November. It looks as though it was lovingly hand-crafted in some Irish country kitchen. So it is wonderful they now have a big-time record deal.

When was the last time three versions of the same song were in the charts at the same time?

I never thought I'd live to see the day that a Leonard Cohen song was in the chart - let alone the Christmas number one with two other versions at number 2 (Jeff Buckley) and 36 (Cohen himself).

This threesome, of course, sets off the question: "When was the last time three versions of the same song were in the chart at the same time?"

Having multiple versions of the same song in the charts was quite common in the 50s (and to a lesser extent in the early 60s), as the charts emerged out of the sheet music industry when the song was the important thing. Lots of singers tended to cover what were the most popular songs at the time.

Indeed, a quick flick through the Guinness Book of Hit Singles lists these songs which had three versions in the charts in the same year (I'd have to check if this was in the same week):

53 Broken Wings
55 Twenty tiny fingers
55 Blossom Fell
55 Hey there
55 Let me go lover
56 Cindy Oh Cindy
56 Green Door
56 No other love
56 Ballad of Davy Crokett
56 Woman in Love
57 Garden of Eden
57 Banana Boat Song
57 Alone
57 Around the world
58 Love me forever
60 Never on Sunday

On 20 June, 1955 Al Hibbler, The Les Baxter Orchestra, Jimmy Young and Liberace all scored a hit with Unchained Melody, with Young's version topping the chart.

In '64 Hello Dolly was in the charts with four versions in the top fifty, of which three versions were in the top thirty.

I can find two instances of five versions of the same song being in the charts in the same year: Suco Suco (that's ten "sucos") in 61 and Volare in 58.

But the biggest multiple versioned song which I can find occuring in the charts in the same year is Stranger in Paradaise from 1955 with six versions from Tony Bennett, Eddie Calvert, Don Cornell, Bing Crosby, the Four Aces and Tony Martin (mind you, one of those was an instrumental version as Eddie Calvert was a trumpeteer).

The most recent time I can find three versions of the same song appearing in the charts together was in September 1975 when "Out of Time" was a hit for Chris Farlowe (re-release), the Rolling Stones and Dan McCafferty. Mind you their top chart places were 44, 41 and 45 respectively so it is a fairly unconvincing occurence of the multiple versioned hit.

So, I think you need to go back to Hello Dolly in 1964 for the last time that three versions of the same song were in the top forty together, as the three versions of Hallelujah are today. Those were, by the way, versions by Frankie Vaughan, Kenny Ball and his jazzmen (an instrumental, I'd guess) and Louise Armstrong.

I am now off to see what places they had in the chart at the same time...and I'll also check that there haven't been any threesomes since 1979 when my battle scarred version of the Guinness Book (2nd Edition) was published. The BBC reckon that Unchained Melody in 1955 was the last time that three or more versions of the same song were in the chart at the same time. They are probably right. I never am (right).

The Official Charts Company said the only other time the (same song at numbers one and two) scenario occurred was in January 1957 when Tommy Steele and Guy Mitchell held the top two places with Singin' The Blues.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Che Tyler


Paul Tyler is the last person I would liken to Che Guevara. But BBC Online has compared him (PT) to him (CG). Something to do with guerilla operations behind the scenes to determine what would happen in the event of a hung parliament.

Well it beats grown-up work any day, I suppose.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

SHOCK: Retail sales go UP! UP? Shurely shome mishtake?!

I am just trying to work out how I can effect the surgical injection of this PA press release into a region of Robert Peston's anatomy where solar illumination is uncommon.

Rowan Williams Day

I am declaring today, or what's left of it, as "Rowan Williams Day".

First there were his welcome remarks to the Spectator about church disestablishmentarianism (sorry I can't put an "anti" at the beginning of that and win an award for the longest word on this blog since....since....oh well since since).

Now he's popped up again on Radio Four.

He's trying to drag religion into Christmas isn't he? Nit wit.

Anyway, on Radio Four he gave us some refreshing home truths on the recession:

The credit crunch is a welcome "reality check" for a society that has become driven by unsustainable greed, the Archbishop of Canterbury said.
Rowan Williams also hit out at Gordon Brown's plans to combat recession by boosting spending, likening them to an "addict returning to the drug".
The head of the Church of England's outspoken comments came as he delivered a scathing assessment of "moral" failings in Britain's
economy.
Interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he insisted the country had been "going in the wrong direction" for decades by relying on financial speculation to generate wealth quickly rather than "making things".
The UK had backed itself "into a corner", and must now rediscover "patience" and re-think the way it viewed material gain, he said.
Asked whether that meant the global financial crisis wracking the economy had been beneficial, Dr Williams replied: "It is a sort of a reality check, isn't it - which is always good for us.
"A reminder that what I think some people have called fairy gold is just that - that sooner or later you have to ask: 'What are we making or what are we assembling or accumulating wealth for?'."
Dr Williams went on: "I would like to think that in this sort of crisis people would be reflecting more on how you develop a volunteer culture, how you develop a culture of people willing to put their services at the needs of others so that there can be a more active, a more vital civil society."
The archbishop called on the Government to give more of a lead on "how the civil society is created". He expressed concerns over the Prime Minister's "fiscal stimulus" package, which included cutting VAT to get the public spending again.

Hallelujah!

No, this isn't another ball-aching post about Leonard Cohen.

It is a paean of praise to our Venerable Archbishop of Canterbury who, drawing on his experience as a priest and a bishop of the disestablished church in Wales, has said:

...it would not be the end of the world if the established church disappeared.

What's more, in an interview with this week's New Statesman, the Archbish argues there is a "certain integrity" to a church free from state sanctions. Good Lord! Wonders never cease!

I've waited years to hear that from an AofC.

Well done Rowan Atkinson!

Three Weddings and a funeral anyone?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Newbury Weekly Cant

I was fascinated to read on the Newbury Weekly News' website that the editor says that "The newspaper has expressed no views about Trinity School's record".

Absolutely fascinating.

So saying that the school needed "rescuing" in a big Page 1 headline is not expressing a view, is it?

Saying on the website headline that the school is "troubled" and that it needs to be 'saved' isn't expressing a view is it?

Fair enough. Publishing a front page article which was factually wrong (in saying that "fewer than 30 per cent of pupils achieved five A* to C grades in GCSEs last year", when in fact the correct figure is 43 per cent - 43.3 per cent higher than stated) may not be expressing a view but it suggests carelessness with the facts, motivated by the motive to sell newspapers, rather than properly representing an excellent local school. That is, a school which is on course to approach 50% A* to C GCSE grades including Maths and English next year, has a very strong staff and management team, has moved forward in leaps and bounds under headteacher Debbie Forster and which has demonstrated exemplary handling of individual students' needs.

So, of course the Newbury Weekly News has not expressed views about Trinity School.

They have just simply thought of every bad thing they could say about the school on their front page, without bothering to print a single good thing about the school alongside.

There's a name for their behaviour and subsequent "no view expressed" pleading.

Some might call it "cant".

I would call it "Bovine Scatology".

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

George W Bush - history's turd

Adjusting for inflation, the Iraq war has already cost Uncle Sam more than the Vietnam war and every other war the USA has even fought except the Second World War..

Just think about that for a moment.

The Vietnam War.

All those soldiers, all that napalm, all that carpet bombing.

It all cost more than the Iraq war. $900 Billion - in today's terms, so far - and counting.

That is the legacy of that stupid turd, George W Bush.

All I can say is, well done Muntazer Zaidi!

We were all there throwing shoes with you!

I hope your broken arm heals quickly.

Enough to make grown men run and weep!

Linda Jack is back!

Seriously, Linda, WELCOME BACK from under the duvet!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Two shoe-ins

Say what you like about George Bush, but there's nothing wrong with his reflexes.

Enjoy the slow motion remix version:

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sark: the ultimate act of post-election sour grapes

The Barclay Brothers recommended nine candidates for the recent elections to the new Sark government. Only two of those people were elected.

Indeed, in an election with a 87.3% turnout, the 473 Sark electors seem to have sent out a very clear message. They actually elected nine out of twelve candidates which the Barclays identified in a newsletter as "establishment" and therefore not worthy of a vote, in their opinion.

Sadly, the Barclay Brothers have taken umbrage at this message and laid off 140 of the islanders (a third of the island's working population) who they employed. This has been described as a "total economic collapse" of the island.

I feel great symapthy for those ex-employees. I hope and pray that those island establishments, which have been closed, can re-open soon. This may be difficult as the Barclay Brothers are not selling them, purely moth-balling them, so no one else will be able to take them over and re-start the businesses! Some of those made unemployed have lost their homes as well as their jobs!

I also applaud the independence of spirit which the Sark electorate have shown through their election results. But what a cost that independence has been shown to have. 140 people unemployed out of a population of 600 just before Christmas, with no welfare benefits to help them!

What is interesting is that the decision to lay off the 140 people seems, according to the Guernsey Free Press, to have been taken by Sark Estate manager Kevin Delaney.

I wonder if this is in anyway connected to the fact that Mr Delaney only managed to attract 132 votes from Sark residents, short of the 183 threshold needed for election to the "Chief Pleas" parliament?

Here are some interesting comments from Sark residents reported in the Express:

Linda Williams, 55, of the Clos Princess guest house, said: “They are acting like spoilt brats and most people here are angry. That said, we are pleased to see the back of them. They came here supposedly to make improvements on Sark but they haven’t listened to the people. We may need to tighten our belts for a few years but the people here will stick together, and that’s what makes this place so special.”

Diana Beaumont, wife of Michael Beaumont, the island’s Seigneur (or feudal ruler), said: “They started all this democracy business, now they don’t like it because they haven’t won.”

The FT comments powerfully and sensibly:

Using their great wealth to punish the islanders who chose not to vote for them merely confirms the views of those who said they were acquiring too much economic power on Sark.
Both sides must be ruminating on the old adage: be careful what you wish for. And no doubt it is unwise to humiliate a wealthy investor. But after campaigning on modernisation, the Barclays have managed to replace one kind of feudalism with another. Having spoken for democracy, their reaction to the election result is contemptible.

Please help the recently unemployed Sark islanders

Via this charity website, I have just sent a donation for the Christmas appeal for those Sark residents recently thrown out of their jobs.

The appeal is being run by The Submarine Charitable Trust which "was set up in Guernsey in 2005. The Trust is registered with the Association of Guernsey Charities and its charitable status is recognised by the States of Guernsey Income Tax Department."

I encourage others to do the same. Particularly if you respect democracy.

140 out of 600 islanders have been thrown out of their jobs, in some cases also their homes, with no welfare system to help them.

All because the Barclay Brothers didn't like the recent election results.
I have just sent a donation for the Sark residents' Christmas fund via this charity website.




I encourage others to do the same. Particularly if you respect democracy.




140 out of 600 islanders have been thrown out of their jobs
I have just sent a donation for the Sark residents' Christmas fund via this charity website.




I encourage others to do the same. Particularly if you respect democracy.




140 out of 600 islanders have been thrown out of their jobs,

'Doris Luke' dies (Nora Batty if you prefer)

I think I must have watched a well above average number of episodes of Crossroads. So, Kathy Staff, for me, will always be Doris Luke. She went about with an extraordinarily glum expression on her face.

Oh, did she play another character? Apparently.

Indeed, as well as donning wrinkled stockings on umpteen occasions, Kathy Staff holds the unusual honour of having been in all three of that unholy ITV trinity of Crossroads, Coronation Street and Emmerdale (when it was a 'Farm'). And she was in Open All Hours.

Quite a star really. Her appearances on This is your Life and other such programmes also showed her to be a thoroughly congenial lady off screen.

Is Brian Coleman following every London fire engine in a taxi?

Following on from my post about Conservative London Fire authority chair Brian Coleman yesterday (more here, here, here and here) Mark Pack draws attention to the man's apparent double standards with respect to public expenditure.

Mr Coleman attacked Lynne Featherstone with all sorts of sexist language because she rang up the fire brigade, explained her problem and they decided to send a crew costing £250. Coleman says this is a misuse of public money and should be paid back.

Perhaps Coleman should himself pay back some of his taxi fares which he has enjoyed at the public's expense. The average London Assembly member claims £685 for taxi fares in the period that Coleman claimed £8,000 taxi fares. Indeed, in one eight month period, his taxi bill was greater than all the other LA members' bills, and the Mayor's bills, put together! And he's got a free travelcard so he could go by bus or tube anyway!

What on earth is Mr Coleman doing with all these taxi journies? Following every passing fire engine to check it's call is valid?!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Appalling Tory sexism

I read Lynne Featherstone's posting about her frightening "hammer airlock" experience and then thought nothing more of it.

So it was some surprise to see that the posting featured on BBC Politics after Tory London fire authority chair Brian Coleman had attacked Lynne for calling the fire brigade to this incident.

It really is disgraceful for Coleman to use this incident to make gratuitously sexist remarks. Phrases such as "dizzy airhead" are insulting and irrelevant.

It was obviously justified to call the fire brigade (as both the fire brigade members who called and the fire brigade spokespeople have confirmed) as it appeared the house was about to explode. It was not a normal airlock - it was a hammer airlock which causes a noise like a pneumatic drill and the floors/walls to vibrate. If you have had no recent bioler problems then calling the fire brigade is perfectly understandable.

Consultation? Not with the Tories

Putting aside laughably exaggerated and (initially on their website and in the printed edition) inaccurate "reporting" by the Newbury Weekly News, this week's story about Trinity School reveals quite a lot about the Conservative controlled West Berkshire Council.

Consultation? Forget it. They've just announced a "super head" and are about to axe the governing body without any warning or even a whiff of consultation.

These decisions were announced to an emergency meeting of school's governing body which was called at four days notice, with no agenda and no disclosure before the meeting of its subject.

And if the governing body don't like being axed, the Conservative Executive member for Children and Young People, Cllr Barbara Alexander says:

We can do what we like anyhow. It will go through but it might be slightly rocky ride.

Excellent. She's obviously been taking management tips from Vlad the Impaler.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sarah Palin Sarah Palin Sarah Palin Sarah Palin Sarah Palin

Google's Top Ten of fastest rising search terms during 2008 has "Sarah Palin" at the top of it.

Don't I know it. My natural curiosity would have, of itself, fueled most of my many posts on Madam Palin during the autumn. But the fact that if I put "Sarah Palin" in a title it caused my humble little hitcounter to go ballistic may have, I freely admit, egged me on a bit.

At the turn of the year, I'll be posting the top ten viewed posts on Liberal Burblings. The way things are going, the most popular post is likely to be a surprise. Nothing whatsoever to do with politics. It's one of two posts (on the same non-political subject) which have given me endless self-gratuitous hitcounter-viewing pleasure throughout the year. I'll keep you in suspenders until early January.

But I can give you a sneaky peeky into the top ten by saying that a Sarah Palin post will be near the top. One of my Sarah Palin posts went completely ballistic and I had over a thousand hits on one day for it. Small beer in the scheme things, admittedly, but for this humble burbling blogger, it was quite exciting - especially as the overwhelming majority of the hits were coming from the Good ol' USA.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Blagogate: A guide to "Candidate 1", "Candidate 2" etc

If you read the details of the Rod Blagojevich charges, you'll find "Candidate 1" and "Candidate 4" etc mentioned. For example, the FBI document reads:

ROD BLAGOJEVICH said that the consultants (Advisor B and another consultant are believed to be on the call at that time) are telling him that he has to "suck it up" for two years and do nothing and give this "motherfucker [the President-elect] his senator. Fuck him. For nothing? Fuck him." ROD BLAGOJEVICH states that he will put "[Senate Candidate 4]" in the Senate "before I just give fucking [Senate Candidate 1] a fucking Senate seat and I don't get anything."

The American Prospect helps us out here with some guestimates as to the identities of the candidates:

Candidate 1 - Valerie Jarret, an Obama adviser
Candidate 2 - Lisa Madigan, Illinois Attorney General
Candidate 3 - ???
Candidate 4 - Could be any one of the Deputy Governors who are Dean Martinez, Bob Greenlee and Louanner Peters.
Candidate 5 - Jesse Jackson Jr
Candidate 6 - A "wealthy person from Illinois"

Staggering charges against Illinois State govenor

It's not every day that there's a dawn FBI arrest of a US State governor on corruption charges.

The allegations against Illinois Democrat Governor Rod Blagojevich are staggering.

US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said:

The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering. They allege that Blagojevich put a 'for sale' sign on the naming of a United States senator; involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target; and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism.

The Chicago Tribune, whose editorial board was the target of one of the alleged corrupt activities, has some fairly sordid details:

Prosecutors also alleged Blagojevich expressed feeling "stuck" as a sitting governor and spent a large amount of time weighing whether he should appoint himself to the vacancy--possibly to avoid impeachment and help remake his image for a potential 2016 run for the presidency. A recent Tribune poll found Blagojevich with a record low 13 percent job approval rating.

Under state law, the governor has the sole unfettered discretion to name Obama's appointment.

Prosecutors alleged Blagojevich sought appointment as Secretary of Health and Human Services, secretary of the Energy Department or gain an ambassadorship in the new Obama administration, or get a lucrative job with a union in exchange for appointing a union-preferred candidate. An Obama spokesman had no immediate comment.

Blagojevich also was alleged to be using a favors list, made up largely of individuals and firms that have state contracts or received taxpayer benefits, from which to conduct a $2.5 million fundraising drive before year's end when a new tougher law on campaign donations, prompted by the governor's voracious fundraising, would take effect.

Even Blagojevich's recently announced $1.8 billion plan for new interchanges and "green lanes" on the Illinois Tollway was subject to corruption, prosecutors alleged. The criminal complaint alleges Blagojevich expected an unnamed highway concrete contractor to raise a half-million dollars for his campaign fund in exchange for state money for the tollway project. "If they don't perform, (expletive) 'em," Blagojevich said, according to the complaint.

Blagojevich and Harris also allegedly conspired to demand the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members responsible for editorials critical of Blagojevich in exchange for state help with the sale of Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs baseball stadium owned by Tribune Co.

In addition, federal prosecutors alleged Blagojevich and Harris, along with others, obtained and sought to gain financial benefits for the governor, members of his family and his campaign fund in exchange for appointments to state boards and commissions, state jobs and state contracts.



Do sod all except cut spending

That's the brilliant Cameron plan to keep us in recession as long as possible.

Has he never heard of Keynes?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

So farewell then, Lord Spudulike

The departure of Lord (Anthony) Jacobs from the LibDem party is very sad news. He's been a stalwart supporter of our party, and the Liberal party before it, since the early 1970s, including being a PPC. A jovial cove, he has been a regular figure at conferences, making the occasional impassioned speech.

But most significantly, he has been a huge player in keeping the party financially afloat over many years. Indeed, at one point it was wittily suggested that the party should be renamed the "Spudulike party" after one of the businesses which Lord Jacobs ran.

So, thanks for your great support and generosity over the years, Lord Jacobs. We're very sorry to see you go.

Maybe it's because I still have my Sunday head on and have just been checking up on how my Isle of Iona single malt is keeping, but I find Lord Jacobs' stated reasons for leaving the party to be utterly bizarre.

Lord Jacobs,77, told The Times that Mr Clegg was too timid and should offer lower taxes both for the poor and the better off.
Mr Clegg and Vince Cable “feel society wants the rich to pay more, whereas I’m arguing the rich could pay less provided the poorest pay nothing or very little indeed.”


Hang on a minute. Jacobs praises the Treasury front bench team to high heaven, but says he is leaving because of our tax policies. Eh?

And he says we want to tax the rich more. But he sat through conferences for donkeys' years as we voted to tax high earners at 50 pence in the pound. But we recently got rid of that policy and we are promising to take four pence off the basic rate in a package widely described as helping the less well off.

So something doesn't add up about Lord Jacobs' stated reasons for leaving the party.

I suspect he is being nice and actually is going because of general disenchantment, perhaps with the leadership. He is a Paddy fan.

Well, I'm a Paddy fan. And I am also a Cleggy fan and I really don't see how Paddy would do any better a job than Clegg is doing.

Could there be another US Senator Kennedy?

Excellent news. Caroline Kennedy, John F Kennedy's daughter, is considering the option of being appointed by the New York state governor to Hilary Clinton's soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat.

Trebles all round as shoppers go spend crazy

Some excellent news from the Sunday Express today. Shoppers are "throwing caution to the wind" and going on a £13 billion spending spree, likely to top last year's Christmas bonanza. It's nice to see something going right for a change (notice that I am breaking the habit of a lifetime and actually believing something in the Express - oh well, what the heck - we need cheering up).

SHOPPERS went on a recession-busting spending spree yesterday to lift the economic gloom.

Stores across the country took more than £1billion and sales figures in the run-up to Christmas now look set to top last year’s £13billion total.

Millions of families decided to take advantage of the reduction in VAT, lower interest rates and dramatic High Street price cuts to spend, spend spend. In London, two million shoppers flocked to the West End and shopping malls elsewhere reported frenetic trading.

With discounts of up to 50 per cent on offer, delighted customers were loading up with everything from electrical goods to clothing as if it were the January sales.

John Lamb, of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “People are throwing caution to the wind this year. It’s been so miserable, they want to really enjoy Christmas. I have spoken to some retailers who have seen the biggest increase in the number of customers coming through the door for three years. People are thinking that what they might be saving on their mortgage should go towards having a great Christmas to cheer themselves up.The retailers are all competing with each other with massive price cuts, partly due to the reduction in VAT but also because they want to cash in on the shoppers’ extra cash.”

Boris may face Standards Board inquiry over Green affair

Oh dear. Boris has got himself into a bit of hot water over the Damian Green affair. Phoning Green, an arrested suspect in an ongoing investigation, and then gabbing about the inquiry saying that it was unlikely to 'yield either a charge or a successful prosecution'. Two potential big mistakes.

Oh dear. He is facing a potential code of conduct charge on four 'clear and serious' code of conduct breaches.

Oh dear.

Whoops.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A sight for sore eyes



I just blog about the things which take my fancy. After months droning on about Alaska and the US elections, my interested has now oscillated the other way - sublime to the ridiculous and all that - and I am now back whittering on about Newbury I am afraid. Well at least for two posts, that is.

This morning I was moved to great activity with my handy little camera. This photo above is of a remarkable sight. Well, I'll modify that. It looks like just an ordinary building site to anyone outside of Newbury. But to a Newbury resident this is a sight to warm the cockles of one's heart.

It's ten years since our cinema closed. We have the excellent Corn Exchange screen but otherwise we've had to drive to Basingstoke, or Reading, or Swindon, or Oxford for a cinema for ten years.

The much promised replacement cinema has been off and on and off and on and off and on again ad nauseam for a decade. Then the digging started at the site of the new building at the junction of Cheap Street and Market Street. For a while it was just a hole. But today I saw the first tangible signs of the building.

Hurrah!

It's not every day you find a large hole in your main street


It's a while since I hung up my councillor's bicorn hat but I emerge from retirement today for a micro-second to show this photo of a remarkably large and deep hole in the road in Newbury's main street, Northbrook Street, just outside MacDonald's.

The reason I discovered it is that, this morning, I put my foot in it (yes, I'm always doing that, I know) and descended six inches into sand, my progress being abruptly halted.

I have alerted West Berkshire Council's Streetcare to this matter.

Channel Five's news producers....are their eyes all right?

Full marks, a "Way to go, girl" and trebles all round for Selina Scott. She's won a pay out believed to be in the region of £250,000 after claiming that Channel Five discriminated against her on the grounds of age.

It's ridiculous isn't? Scott was lined as pregnancy cover for Natasha Kaplinsky but allegedly dropped in favour of younger presenters. The ridiculous thing is that John Suchet, aged 62 (5 years Scott's senior), was used by Channel Five News as maternity cover for Kirsty Young in 2006.
I ask you? Who would you rather look at reading the news? John Suchet or Selina Scott?
I rest my case.


Boris: "I am an exhausted volcano, I am a defunct man"

Well, choosing juicy Boris quotes is like shooting fish in a barrel isn't it? He is interviewed in the Times today.

Senior Conservative councillor who was an IRA gun runner

This beats the Bill Ayers story into a cocked hat in many respects.
Until this week Maria Gatland was Conservative Councillor for Croham ward on Croydon Borough Council (see her council web site profile above) and, furthermore, the Council's Cabinet member for Children's Services.
Then, to the bemusement of council colleagues, last Monday evening Councillor Gatland was referred to by an opposition councillor, in a heated debate, as "Councillor McGuire". It turns out that the lady was an IRA gunrunner nearly 40 years ago. However, she defected from the IRA and Willie Whitelaw, then Home Secretary, "ensured she wasn't arrested" (according to the Times) when she came to England.
Full marks to the lady. She defected and has built a new life for herself. It just seems utterly remarkable that she landed up as a Senior Conservative councillor. The Conservatives have dropped her like a hot potato, quickly accepting her offer of resignation from the Council Cabinet and the party. Perhaps they were mindful of David Cameron's address to the UUP today.


An Eagle with the sensitivity of a rhinoceros on heat

Naomi House in Hampshire is a special place. It is a hospice for children. They give loving care to children in their last days. It is in financial trouble because of the Icelandic bank collapse. It is very difficult to think of a more deserving charity.

Oh no it isn't. Treasury Minister Angela Eagle has thought of one, and said so during a debate on the matter yesterday:

MP for Basingstoke, Maria Miller, had secured a debate in the Commons to ask for help, but was told no special case could be made.

Treasury minister Angela Eagle said during the debate on Thursday: "All of them are very worthy but not all of them tie in directly with objectives that we would normally expect public money to be used for.

"I am a great lover of cats. The national Cats Protection League is one of them. How would we distinguish between helping one charity, and another charity, in that context. "

I'm a cat lover and long term owner of many. But, Cats versus dying children ? Any contest?

I agree it is difficult to choose between charities. But the comparison between a cat charity and a children's hospice is rather unfortunate and undermines the point which Eagle tried to make.

What goes round.....

It would be rather undignified to do a "Whoop" at the news that OJ will be 70 years old before he can be paroled out of jail, wouldn't it?

Oh, what the hell....


WHOOP!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Hello goodbye

....A bit of a weird evening.

I volunteered to be a school governor and was delighted to become one. So I attend my first meeting, which was an "emergency" one, tonight - only to be told by local council representatives that, following the imminent departure of the current headteacher due to a career move, a new "Executive Headteacher" has been appointed and the governing body is being dissolved to be replaced by a six-member "Interim Executive Board" appointed by the local authority.

So what I thought would be a four year commitment to the betterment of the education of the next generation turned out to be a two meeting commitment (there's a closing meeting in a couple of weeks' time).

....All a bit weird but the children come first. I don't think that the council's plan has much, if any, scope for failure. The chosen "Executive Headteacher" has a very high reputation for success. I wish him and the IEB all success.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Michael Martin: Putting the "su" and, indeed, the "pine", into supine

Listening to Michael Martin's statement on the Damian Green arrest was enough to make the middle of my body sink into itself, like a particularly unsuccessful cheese souffle.

Speaker Martin is either an utterly pathetic excuse for a man or the police have got one hell of a case against the Home office mole.

No "Have you got a warrant?" No "Have we got a choice?". Just utterly, utterly pathetic supine patheticness, allowing him and his staff to be steamrollered by some jumped up detectives.

Even Martin's weedy voice, as he read his statement, made me think "Pathetic, pathetic pathetic".

What helps me towards my conclusion is the statement of the former Director of Public Prosecutions last night on Newsnight. It was clear that the current DPP was not consulted, only informed, about this crazy action.

Wouldn't it be sensible, before Inspector Knacker embarks on this sort of enterprise, to check with someone who knows as to whether the case has a cat in hells' chance of succeeding in a court of law?

They do it on the telly all the time.

Cameron: all but 6 or 7 of the Tory shadow cabinet are "useless"

I’ve got six or seven people in the Shadow Cabinet capable of working in the government. The rest are useless.

So said David Cameron, apparently.

Flight to Inverness are still available from the BA website.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Green: Like being arrested for allowing a duck to fart in public on a Sunday

The initial report on the Damian Green arrest on the Telegraph website (see clip below from Google news) stated he had "been arrested under the Official Secrets Act". I based my post yesterday on that report.
I have since noticed that the Telegraph have changed their report to take out the reference to the Official Secrets Act. Indeed, Andrew Rawnsley today says:

Mr Green was not detained under the Official Secrets Act. The authorities resorted to a catch-all law about 'procuring misconduct in public office', a piece of blunderbuss legislation which dates back to the 18th century.

(This is like being arrested for allowing a duck to fart in public on a Sunday under a 14th century piece of legislation.)

In that case, I am going to turn on a sixpence, do a 180 degree U turn, and say that I take back everything I said in my post yesterday and whole-heartedly condemn the ludicrous and outrageous arrest of Damian Green.

I am going to leave my post from yesterday intact, with a note of correction, as a monument to my stupidity in believing the Telegraph in the first place.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Humbug and hysteria over Damian Green arrest

UPDATE 30th November: This is a load of cobblers due to being based on an incorrect, subsequently corrected, report on the Telegraph website. See an explanation and correction here.

Oh, so it's not OK for the police to investigate a potential breach of the Official Secrets Act allegedly involving Damian Green, but it was OK for the Tories to lock up Sarah Tisdall, try to lock up Clive Ponting and pursue Spycatcher author Peter Wright across the world in his dotage, was it?

Fascinating.

And I don't remember David Cameron raising any objection to Ruth Turner being arrested at dawn over the Cash for Honours investigation.

I applaud the dropping of party political norms evidenced by Nick Clegg's Telegraph article today. I agree with his general thrust.

But the police have the task of upholding the law, in this case one which had its public interest defence removed in 1989 under a Tory government.

The fact that no Labour politician was apparently told about this before it happened is surely a sensible way of firewalling them from the action, as they should be, is it not?

If the law is wrong, it should be changed. In the case of the Official Secrets Act, a public interest defence should be allowed. But we cannot complain if the police are legally seeking to uphold the law. That's their job. People are not forced to work in the Home Office. They know they will have to sign the Official Secrets Act if they do.

Without knowing the full details of the police investigation it is almost impossible to make an objective comment. If it turns out that Inspector Knacker has over-stepped the mark on this occasion, I'll be among the first to call for appropriate disciplinary action.

Hat-tip: Alex Wilcock.

Heroes at the end of the phone

It's tempting to think of people working at the end of the phone as doing a simple task. The traditional lady sitting in front a telephone exchange is perhaps indelible in our minds. But it is worth thinking of the awesome job done by some people at the end of a phone.
I helped with some fund raising activities a few years back for the Friends of the Samaritans. As a result I got to know a little about how the Samaritans do their excellent work. They really have an awesome role. Often they are sat around with nothing to do, but the sword of Damocles hangs over them. The next phone ring could be a life or death situation. But their role is strictly "passive". They don't advise or cajole or even phone the emergency services (unless freely asked to do so by the person on the phone). Imagine that. It takes an admirable brand of courage to be prepared to put yourself in that situation.
Those responding to 999 calls also have a certain degree of courage to be able to calmly deal with life or death situations while being geographically divorced from the action. This week I have read a number of verbatim accounts of calls to the emergency services. The Guardian's Weekend has a number of accounts which all had reasonably happy endings. I recommend reading them. One involves a gentleman who cut his arm off (by accident) and whose neighbour had to call 999, respond to medical advice and then go and find his neighbour's arm in his garden. You some of the calls related by Weekend here.
On a more sobering note, the Newbury Weekly News this week carries an account (also here on the Times website) of the 999 call made by Julia Pemberton as her son was shot to death by her estranged husband, as she unsuccessfully hid in a cupboard and as her husband found her and shot her.
The circumstances of the death of Julia Pemberton and her son Will are perfectly outrageous. It is a scandal that we, as a society, could not prevent their deaths after Alan Pemberton the husband had actually said several times that he intended to kill them, including in writing, months before he finally did.
Indeed, the recent Domestic Homicide Review report on the deaths made clear many failures in the police response over months, including guidelines which led to delays in the handling of the final 999 call.
However, imagine the person on the police end of that 999 call. To go into work day after day knowing that you could be talking to someone and then listening to them being tragically murdered, takes a special kind of strength.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

David Cameron has just alienated 5 million people

That is, public sector workers who will greet with alarm his announcement that "We have got to end the apartheid" in pensions, by ending their final salary scheme:

We are getting into a situation now where pretty much everyone in the private sector has gone to defined contributions and the final salary schemes are closed. In the public sector you have still got a lot of people on final salary schemes including members of parliament.
MPs are going to have to lead by example. We have got to close the MP’s final salary scheme because we have got to be able to turn around to the rest of the public sector and say that over time it does makes sense to move towards defined contribution.
There is an issue of fairness between the private sector and the public sector but there is also an issue of economic efficiency. We do not want to make it so hard for people to move from the public sector to the private sector or from the private sector to the public sector.
My vision over time is to move increasingly towards defined contribution rather than final salary schemes.
This is something (sic) where the government has been remarkably feeble partly because they are in hock to the public sector unions.


Hat-tip to the FT.com Westminster blog, which comments on this here and here.

Woollies: Nemesis in its own genesis

On Tuesday night on the BBC Six O'Clock news I was expecting the usual manic Robert Peston reactive commentary about Woolworths and MFI going into administration.

Albeit that I was in the bath and could only hear him, he seemed remarkably calm and reserved, choosing his words very carefully.

Although I couldn't see to check, it sounded as though the rolling eyes and usual OTT behaviour were refreshingly absent.

I can only feel great sadness that MFI and Woolworths have gone into administration. That is mixed with enormous sympathy for the staff facing great uncertainty.

I suppose that deep inside me there is a hard-hearted devil who takes the attitude that Woolworths has been on its last legs for years (its founding American counterpart business lost its name and transmogrified into a sports goods chain over ten years ago). A business that started in this country as the "3d and 6d" shop was being undercut at the lower end by the Pound shop and the 99p shop (its nemesis was its own genesis); and at the other end by supermarkets.

But, frankly, on this occasion my over-riding emotion is sympathy for the managers and staff, and prayers that some decent enterprise can be salvaged from what is a huge business and a major landmark in the British high street.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I am a woman

So says "Gender Analyzer". I regard this high praise for my writing style.

There is one slight snag, however.

If you vote to say whether or not they have got the gender right, you see that only 53% say yes - they got it right, against 47% saying they got it wrong. That means that whatever software they are using is only 6% better than tossing a coin.

The rubbish spoken about "squeeze the rich"

Spare a thought for John Humprhys. On Today, he has to play devil's advocate. He has to earn his salt. It's not his fault that he ends up sounding like a whining school boy who's had his sweets taken away from him. It's not his fault he ends up making Alastair Darling sound reasonable.

This morning he asked Darling "exactly" when growth would restart. What a damned stupid question. Who does Humprhys think the Chancellor is? God?

At several points, as Humprhys bemoaned the economic situation, I was willing Darling to reply "Well John, s*** happens, doesn't it?" It would have been the honest answer.

This stuff about returning to old Labour is just utter, hysterical nonsense. Even the Daily Mail demonstrates that, while attempting to make the opposite point:

Denis Healey, the Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, increased the higher rate of tax on incomes of £20,000 and above to 83 per cent in 1975. Those earning more than £8,000 a year paid 60 per cent.
On top of that, there was a special 15 per cent surcharge for 'unearned income'. So anyone living on a pension or savings was taxed at up to 98p in the pound.


Against that, 45% for those earning over £12,500 per month or about seven times the national average, is hardly "squeezing the rich"! (Especially when the VAT cut of 2.5 points, such as is, will be more likely to benefit those with plenty of money, rather than average earners)

Come off it!

Monday, November 24, 2008

"Ah, glorious, glorious competence. How we've missed you."

The news of Timothy Geithner's nomination as US Treasury Secretary was greeted thus. By who? Well, if it had been a headline from Daily Kos or Huffpo one might not give it a second thought.

But it was from no less an august source than The Economist.

Minnesota senate seat is a doddle for Al Franken....regressively speaking

For some reason, the Minnesota Senatorial recount is giving rise to extraordinary outbreaks of political anorakking.

First, we have the ongoing detailed discussion of actual contested ballot paper examples on the Minnesota Public radio site.

Now, Nate Silver on FiveThirtyEight has, remarkably, gone to great lengths to present a regression analysis on the recounting so far and the potential outcome. Here's a sample that gives you some idea of the level of the analysis:

Now, we can attempt to solve this equation at the statewide level. When we plug in a t of .499956 -- Franken was picked on just slightly very less than half of the ballots during the initial count -- we get a value for franken_net of .837. That is, Franken will gain a net of .837 votes for every 10,000 cast.

And the conclusion? Al Franken, the Democrat, will be an absolute shoo-in and win by a resoundingly clear margin of 27 votes out of 2,885,555 cast.

That's a margin of 0.00094%.

......a doddle.

Blink and you miss the share rise: The BBC's hysterical news coverage continues

We got pulverised with pulsating red "FINANCIAL CRISIS" graphs with shares going vertically downwards on the BBC News for weeks.

Now shares go up by 10% in one day and do we get a green graph with the arrow going upwards? (Sample helpfully provided below)

Do we heck as like.

It gets mentioned in one sentence by Robert Peston.

FTSE up 9.84%. Dow Jones IA up by 11% in 2 days. But, those poor people sitting round who worried about those pulsating red downward graphs hardly get told about it.

A month ago journalists were telling us all about the London inter bank offer rate (LIBR). Now it hardly gets a look in. That's because it has dramatically fallen for three month borrowing (see graph below from http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/) so it's no longer news. Instead we get hysteria about the chancellor's borrowing.

So let's briefly recap. First of all we're told it's a bank lending crisis. But that's got better. So then it was a share crisis but now they've gone up - albeit for one day - and it doesn't get a look in. Because now they've decided it's a government borrowing crisis....or a government taxing rich journalists in two years time crisis....

It's all a great reason to listen to Terry Wogan instead of Today and watch Emmerdale instead of the News.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Political anoraks - gorge yourselves

Huffpo provides another set of samples of actual ballots cast in the Minnesota Senatorial election, which are now being pored over by legions of lawyers. They are getting nuttier and nuttier. My particular favourite is this one:

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Just the tonic


Her nibs arranged one of her little treats for me last night and got me a ticket to see Ed Byrne (below on You Tube) at Newbury Corn Exchange. Things have recently been rather hectic at work, coinciding with less than usually obsessive blogging, so this treat was very much welcomed.

Ed Byrne says what I would say if I was sufficiently articulate and could be arsed.

I feel I share a very similar inner spirit with him. I have seen him live three times and I am hooked on the man. He has a vulnerable exuberance which is quite mesmerising.

Last night's show was made all the more fascinating by the presence a very strange heckler. She was sitting in the row in front of me. During the support act, Ben Hurley, an effortlessly masterly comedian from New Zealand, she made some very strange interventions. She told him off for making a joke about sex with sheep. "That puts paid to the second half of my act", quipped Hurley. Even more staggeringly, when Hurley made a few observations about the "up front" nature of the American charcter she called out "Don't be rude".

"Dont be rude". At a late night comedy performance? "Don't be rude".

Hilarious.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Laugh or cry?

Former Telegraph owner Conrad Black is pinning his hopes on clemency from U.S. President George W. Bush as a last-ditch effort to get out of jail early, and he wants his former publishing company to foot the legal bill.

Sarah Palin interviewed while turkeys are killed behind her

I didn't think I would be blogging about Sarah Palain for a loooooong time. But, my goodness me, this video is so utterly bizarre that I just had to put it up.

As part of her Thanksgiving Day preparation duties, Palin went along to a turkey farm to pardon, yes pardon, a turkey (it's a yank thing).

So far, so Alaskan humdrum. But then she is button-holed for a three minute interview by a local TV station. She stands giving the interview, coffee-to-go in hand, while the farmer continues to slaughter turkeys in the background - on camera. She carries on, oblivious to the spectacle, all smiley and "awshucks" as usual. How utterly bizarre. And how strange to pardon a turkey and then give international coverage to two its colleagues being killed!

One for "It'll be alright on the night".

PS The second one really struggles....


I didn't think I would be blogging about Sarah Palain for a loooooong time. But, my goodness me, this video is just utterly bizarre that I just had to

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Drowning in anoraksia

Some of the last pieces of the November 4th US election are falling into place. Felonious Republican Ted Stevens has conceded the Alaska senate race to Democrat Mark Begich. Missouri has finally declared for John McCain by just over three thousand votes out of 2.5 million - a major achievement for Obama - leaving Obama with more than twice as many Electoral College Votes as McCain in the final count.

And the Minnesota Senate race is entering the recount phase, which could last a month. A learned professor says that satirical comedian Al Franken stands a good chance of winning here. This is based on the highly academic theorem that "We just know that, in this case, Democrats tend to [screw up their ballots] more often [than Republicans]."

You can drown in political anoraksia here. Minnesota's laws are quite liberal on voting. They say, broadly, that as long as the intent can be seen on the ballot, the vote counts. So the recount is going to go on for ages with lots of broad interpretation and many lawyers getting in on the act. The website linked shows 11 countested ballots from the actual recount. You can vote on what you think should have happened with the vote. Once you have voted you can see how everyone else has voted.

Once Minnesota is swabbed up, that would just leave Georgia with their run-off and a few House seats still being counted/recounted/litigated.

Booked up

This is fantastic scheme run by a literacy charity. They give every Year seven child a free book after giving them information on a choice of a dozen books.

Revealing Brian

We're learning a lot about Brian Paddick during our annual extended jungle fix.

Tonight we learnt that he loves Blue and has two of their videos on his iPod. He was chatting to two of the gals about Simon Webbe and we heard him express admiration for...er.....the product of the man's workouts.

We've also seen a decent side to Brian. He was seething about Robert Kilroy-Silk (or "Silksie", as Joe Swash calls him incessantly) yesterday when Kilroy was in a different camp. Today, Brian has accepted that he misjudged the man and has made up with him.

Oh, and we've just learnt that, although Brian has not personally been in a hostage negotiation situation, he knows about hostage negotiations. A nod's as good as a wink to a blind horse....

"Im a Celebrity.." this year is an oasis of high culture.

The highlight so far has been several renditions of Joe Swash's song:

Ollie, Ollie, Ollie
Tits on the trolley
Balls in the biscuit tin
Sitting on the grass
Finger up your a***
Playing with your ding-a-ling-a-ling

BREAKING NEWS: David Van Day is a complete and utter prat. Timmy Mallett is a good egg.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

BNP membership list

I have had a look at a few maps and so forth regarding the BNP membership list. Indeed the entire list is available and I've had a look at it. I don't think it is right that the list has already led to two people either losing their jobs (a deejay) or being brought into discipline (a policeman).

It's a legal political party. If members of it are in jobs like policing or teaching then they should have sufficiently thought their membership in the context of their job and not be ashamed of the fact of their membership becoming public.

Once again, this episode reveals the extremely unpleasant internal atmosphere in the BNP. The list was leaked by a former member and the leader, Nick "Red Nose" Griffin is accusing them of "treachery". That's the typical melodramatic language of the BNP.

The list even has phone numbers and email addresses on it. Someone must have really had it in for the BNP to release it. Yes, I've looked up people in my town.

You want the link? Well, I'm not going to give it to you. But you could try googling "BNPmemberslist" with no spaces.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The LibDems: WRONG on opt-out organ donation

The report from the Organ Donation Taskforce on the potential impact of an opt-out system for organ donation in the UK is available in pdf format here.

I have opposed opt-out organ donation since some barking mad judge suggested it. The whole idea is totally illiberal and smacks of an authoritarian state "owning" our bodies. I was surprised that the Liberal Democrats supported the idea. Norman Lamb confirmed the party's support for the scheme yesterday.

Of course, we need to increase our rate of organ donation registration. I have been a registered donor for many years and we wanted our son to be a donor when he died.

But an opt-out scheme is just morally wrong.

The Taskforce have given better reasons than my emotional ones for rejecting the scheme:

On balance, the Taskforce feels that moving to an opt out system at this time may deliver real benefits but carries a significant risk of making the current situation worse.
Nevertheless, some clear messages emerged from our findings about priority action for improving consent rates for donation, the most striking of which was the need to address the extremely low awareness of the odr. if a person’s name is on this register, 90% of families consent to donation, compared with a general consent rate of about 60%. There is a clear need to publicise the register and to make the process of registering easier and more widely understood.
Other areas for development include the following:
many people have fears or misgivings about organ donation based on misconceptions or ‘myths’ that need to be dispelled.
We need to encourage people to talk about organ donation with their families and friends, as recommended in the draft nhs constitution.

What most of this boils down to is this: When did you last see a TV advert encouraging organ donor registration? I have never seen one. There are loads for blood donation but none for organ donation. We obviously need better advertising and encouragement of inter-family discussion of the subject.

Introducing a Stalin-style opt-out scheme is just not on. The proposal is very similar to the ID scheme. I tend to apply my "drop out" test to this sort of thing. If someone decides to drop out of society they will never have the opportunity to opt-out of a organ donation scheme and if their family are not immediately available at their death their organs could be used under a opt-out scheme, but it could be that the deceased and their family had/have deeply held objections to the procedure.

You can register for organ donation here.