22 July, 2014

Unanimity

Mr Cameron has made another daft speech, this time on the Russia / Ukraine crisis.

He says there should be further sanctions on Russia, perhaps in the areas of defence and energy.

Of course Cameron knows that the French are selling warships to Russia and the Germans and Italians are buying their gas.

The EU started this crisis by destabilising Russia's borders but having successfully (in the British press at least) pinned the blame on Putin, cannot now agree on procedure.

You can't help feeling the world would be a better and safer place if the EU didn't get involved in foreign affairs at all, but there again that is also probably true of the British Foreign Office.

16 July, 2014

Beliefs

The fact that, after Mr Cameron's cabinet reshuffle, there are now - what? - five women in a cabinet of 22 does not seem to change much.

What is of most interest is that Cameron has done something cosmetic, at what, one would have thought, was an important juncture in the country's governance, the election being ten months away.

It's almost as if Cameron didn't actually believe anything (except that he'd like to be Prime Minister, he believes that all right) but just tinkers with things, irrespective of what they mean or how they function. Tony Blair was like this.

An extraordinary headline in the Telegraph says 'Eurosceptic cabinet will win back UKIP voters'. I presume this has been fed to the papers by Conservative HQ (the Telegraph has sacked most of its reporters and all its good writers).

At a pinch you might win back a UKIP voter (one who was going to vote UKIP in the General Election, not just the Euros) by setting out exactly how the UK's relationship with Europe needs to change. Here are some examples:

1. Leaving the Agricultural Policy which makes our food unnecessarily expensive so it can subsidise inefficient farming
2. Leaving the Fisheries Policy which makes our fish a 'common European resource' and thus eaten by the Spanish.
3. Abolishing the Working Time Directive which dictates how hard someone can work to support their family (and keeps it low so there is no pressure on the idle)
4.Changing the 'Single Market' so our exporters don't have to abide by the heavy burden of EU regulation when selling outside Europe, eg to the USA.
5. Stopping the prohibition of Britain from negotiating trade deals with other countries.
6. Stopping the regional policy whereby Britain subsidises Germany and vice versa but the money goes through the Eurocrats' hands. International subsidy only in cases of need, which does not include Britain.
7. Cancel all Health and Safety directives which cost jobs
8. Remove responsibility for regulating the City of London.

That would be a start. I would add kicking out Cyprus until it agreed the UN plan for resolving the border dispute with Turkey (which has agreed it).

But Cameron won't do any of this, because he doesn't really believe in anything. Come the referendum, the country will see him as so wishy washy it will vote to leave the EU.

But don't worry: if we do vote to leave Cameron will suddenly have been a eurosceptic all along. If we voted to become a circus he would volunteer to become a committed clown.

Perhpss we have.

06 July, 2014

Foreign lunches

The European Parliament is in the midst of making up its committees, a process involving arcane voting systems which is normally too soporific for this blog.

However I notice that the Foreign Affairs Committee, which allows members free travel at the taxpayer's expense, has no fewer than 71 members, 10% of the entire parliament!

Sports update

Just to keep you au courant, here is the state of our sporting performance:

Cricket: England whitewashed (5-0) in Australia then lose to Sri Lanka at home

Football: England out of the World Cup at an even earlier stage than usual

Rugby: England whitewashed (3-0) by New Zealand

Tennis: our boy (Scottish) out of Wimbledon

Cycling: Mark Cavendish crashes on first stage of the Tour de France (confusingly, in Yorkshire).

'Something,' I heard a commentator say, 'on which to build'.

05 July, 2014

Europe

Just what is going on about Britain and Europe? Anybody know?

David Cameron appears determined to accept the European Arrest Warrant. This means that a corrupt magistrate in a far away country can order your arrest, even for something which isn't a crime in Britain. The British police have to round you up and put you on a plane. Hardly any European countries have a habeas corpus law, under which you can only be held for a limited time without charge, and almost none of them have trial by jury. And yet our Prime Minister seems perfectly happy with this.

Now there are reports that he is giving away further policing powers to the EU, despite having said that he would call a referendum if that happened.

Why aren't his backbenchers in revolt? Why isn't the country in revolt? He is supposed to be clawing powers back from the EU, not giving more away.

30 June, 2014

Cheating

It seems - and correct me if I have got this wrong - that in the World Cup Holland beat Mexico by a single goal from a penalty at the end of the match.

The penalty was given because the referee thought that a Dutch player, Arwen Robben, was tripped. Mr Robben has since admitted that he 'dived' - that is to say threw himself on the ground pretending to have been tripped.

Mr Robben did not admit this at the time. He did not retire from the rest of the tournament in shame, and the Dutch team manager did not dismiss him. The penalty goal was not disallowed. The Dutch have not offered a replay. The football governing body will take no action.

So Mr Robben cheated, and felt so confident that nothing would happen to him that he even admitted it.

What a strange game football is, and what a strange world we live in. Bring back Luis Suarez, who at least bites his opponents openly and without subterfuge.

28 June, 2014

Grubby

At he time of the recent European lunch summit, as European leaders were queueing up to attack David Cameron, one said his proposal for the Heads of Government to decide the President of the European Commission was advocating a grubby backroom deal.

As a matter of fact on this, at least, Cameron was right. The Lisbon Treaty (bet he wishes he'd kept to his cast iron promise to hold a referendum, eh?) says that the Heads of Government will decide 'taking into account the results of the election'. Any idiot can see that the election showed an enormous rise in anti-EU voting, so they should have taken that into account.

But while we are on the subject of grubby deals, that is the way Europe operates and one of the best reasons Britain should have nothing to do with it.

Take Matteo Renzi. He at first cosied up to Cameron and said no, he thought a woman should have the job. He then went to Angela Merkel and said he would support Juncker if he achieved flexibility on Italy's debt. Renzi came away from the conference victorious. Here is what Mrs. Merkel said about it: 'flexibility on the fiscal pact does not mean member states get to rewrite the rules.' Only one of these can be right.

François Hollande, who achieved nothing at the summit, announced that he had been speaking for 'the concept of Europe'.

What the others couldn't understand about Cameron is that they expected him to ask (privately, nothing to be said to the press) for some little concession, say, on agriculture. They were astonished when he simply spoke his mind.

People who attack Cameron for not making friends and building coalitions should have been honest about this. The European way is to discover which way the wind is blowing, give in but obtain some minor concession. It is not the British way.

I presume Cameron now realises that there is no hope of reforming the EU. For him it will not be a question of recommending withdrawal: it will be a question of changing a word here, obtaining a trivial concession there and then pulling the wool over the eyes of the British Electorate. Betcha!

Witch Hunt

It seems that the Police's witch hunt of celebrities has turned to the late actor Leonard Rossiter, famous for Reginald Perrin.

Er....Hello? He's dead.

That means natural justice cannot be served here because he is unavailable to answer the charges and defend himself.

Why not drop it, eh?

EYNTKA...

Everything you need to know about Jean-Claude Juncker

First, the pronunciation: as everyone outside America knows, the first part is not pronounced Gene, but Zhon. Good. The more luxuriance and pursing of the lips, the more it sounds as if you don't approve of foreign names, even for foreigners.

It's the second part that seems to get people, particularly the BBC. They are giving us the anglicised Claud, whereas the approach ought to be coherent, Gene-Claud or Zhon-Clode.

Juncker, more commonly Junker, is an old Northern European honorific for landed gentry.

So J-C's name is roughly the same as J.C.Squire, the 20th century essayist and poet, who was a bit of a boozer.

J-C has been getting a bit of a rough time in the British Press recently. For myself I think Europe is safer in the hands of a man who likes a drop to drink, and I confess I couldn't come up with stuff like 'Europe is a modern, dynamic economy' without a couple of sharpeners after breakfast.

J-C is a fairly common stereotype on the mainland: cutting through all the debate about centralisation, they mistrust the nation state and feel that putting everyone together under the benign governance of people too important to be merely elected is the optimal political system. Of course J-C would be one of these Lords. Of course.

This view, and it is important to recognise that it is widespread, stems in part from World War II and in part from a recognition that the direction of travel (towards a united Europe) would be interrupted if the electorate got grumpy (as now).

Whatever its merits or demerits it is clear that this is not our system.

So rejecting Zhon-Clode was merely picking a fight. Merkel and the rest knew that they could, if necessary, pick someone else with the exact same mindset.

What this episode has shown is that the fundamental point, that Europe should be run by an unelected élite, and that national power should be kept to a minimum, is something they are not going to back down on.

Our choice is simple.

20 June, 2014

England expects

It turns out, and I have this on good authority, that England could stay in the World Cup under certain circumstances, which include Italy winning their next two matches.

Italy's hugely talented forward, Mario Balotelli, says that he can arrange this in return for a kiss from the Queen.

Balotelli does not detail the nature of the kiss, whether a peck on the cheek (Mwah! - ciao Mario) or something altogether more intimate, but surely now, as so often in the past, is the time for Her Majesty to put her country first.

19 June, 2014

Dulce et decorum

The Uruguayan football team, which England is due to meet on our next exciting attempt to return home, has complained that its poor performance against Costa Rica was caused by the Brazilian customs authorities' seizure of its stock of dulce de leche, the milky snack so popular in that part of the world.

The England camp will be hoping the supplies have not been released, confident in the knowledge that if the Brazilian hosts were to impound stocks of British food, our team's performance would likely improve.

The way to make dulce de leche is to put a tin of condensed milk into boiling water for three hours. When you get it out and open it, there will be the caramelised brown gloop these Uruguayans love.

Now, don't blame me if you burn yourself getting the tin out of the water, or if it explodes while boiling, or a stream of hot caramel spurts into your eye as you wield the tin opener. I am still in a body harness from my last kitchen accident.

Still, what would cooking be without a bit of risk?

18 June, 2014

An attack on freedom

In 1961, with the passing of the Suicide Act, it became no longer illegal to kill yourself.

Obviously, if you had succeeded, you would be judged by a higher court, but until then if you botched your attempt at doing yourself in you could be prosecuted.

Naturally you might even now be in breach of some by-law, like jumping off Beachy Head, but in broad terms I am allowed to buy a carving knife (if over 18) and slit my throat, hold a shotgun to my head (if I have a licence for the weapon) and pull the trigger, or jump off the roof of my house.

But I am not allowed to kill myself by going through the windscreen of my car (through not wearing a safety belt) or throwing myself off a motorbike without a helmet.

Why? Don't tell me it is because the NHS has to pay money to treat me if I fail: we don't make it illegal to live in a town (more likely to suffer from respiratory disease), or climb a mountain (risk of falling off) or to be a promiscuous homosexual (more likely to get AIDS). The NHS is an insurance scheme: if you are a cautious healthy individual you pay the same income tax as a heavy drinker or smoker. Why do we single out drivers and bikers?

The fine imposed by this supposedly Conservative vindictive nanny government for not wearing a crash helmet is £2,000. Some MP ought to have the balls to propose the abolition of these 'crimes'.

16 June, 2014

Albania

While we are on the subject of Mr. Cameron, it now appears that despite promising to do something about migration to the UK from poorer EU countries, he is going to support the application for membership of - and therefore unfettered immigration from - Albania.

The average wage in Albania is £300 a month, a third of the British minimum wage.

Magna Carta

David Cameron, laughably in my view, has said he wants children to learn about Magna Carta. They will learn that amongst its principles were to outlaw the arbitrary arrest of any British subject and the law of habeas corpus where a subject cannot be imprisoned without charge.

They will find in later life that Cameron was happy with the European Arrest Warrant, where a country - Romania for example - can order the arrest of a British subject for something which is not a crime in the UK. The British police have to arrest the suspect and send him to Romania where he will find there is no habeas corpus and they don't even have trial by jury.

This is only one example of Cameron's hypocrisy. It is not that he is deliberately trying to deceive us to pursue what he believes in, it's that he doesn't believe in anything.

I hope everyone remembers this at the next election.

Iraq - what to do

If you're not a Muslim, ask yourself this: which is better, Shia or Sunni?

The distinction between the two arose from a dispute as to who should succeed the prophet Muhammed after his Death in 632.

In Syria and Iraq, before Western intervention, there existed the strange state of affairs that Syria was a predominantly Sunni country with Shiite rulers (the Assad family) whilst Iraq was a predominantly Shia country with Sunni rulers (Saddam family). I have written before that a great deal of unpleasantness could have been avoided if they had simply swapped leaders.

But no, the West intervened and Iraq elected Mr Al Maliki who was going to be an inclusive figure for all Iraqis but turned out, as son as the troops left, to be simply pro Shia.

So the Sunnis rebelled and some of them crossed over from Syria where they had been fighting Assad.

And now some of our half-witted politicians, and the pseudo-statesman Tony Blair, are bleating that we should intervene. And this is where the question at the start of this post becomes important: on which side? Should we intervene in favour of the Shias, allied with Bashar al-Assad, Russia and Iran, or on the Sunni side alongside the ISIS militants, who were chucked out of Al Qaeda for being too brutal?

The answer is that this being a purely sectarian war we shouldn't intervene at all, but let them get on with it. Tony Blair says that we will suffer terrorism in the future, but we suffered a lot when we intervened in Iraq, because those Islamists who are looking to resurrect the Caliphate felt we had invaded their country. We are not going to get more terrorism by not taking sides.

They will not create a united Muslim caliphate in the middle east because they can't stand each other. Long may it continue.

09 June, 2014

Luxembourg

One of the happier tales surrounding the 70th anniversary of D-Day is that when Luxembourg was liberated the cheering people were astonished to see climbing out of the leading tank their own heir to the throne Crown Prince Jean. On escaping to Britain after the Nazi invasion he joined up and as a lieutenant in the Irish Guards had fought his way up from Normandy. He eventually became Colonel in Chief of the regiment.

Bethink you of that, Mr Juncker.

07 June, 2014

Our Shirl

Just check the date before you read this, from a speech by the Education Secretary. It is 2014.

'How can it be right that more than a fifth of children left primary school without having reached a basic level of literacy and numeracy?'

As the men were racing up the Normandy beaches seventy years ago, Parliament passed the 1944 Education Act, supposed to stop this. Seventy years ago. Now we are told we can sort it in another generation.

So, where are the apologies? What about from you, Shirley Williams, educated at elite St. Paul's Girls' School who moved house in order to get her daughter into elite Godolphin & Latymer, but who pushed through Comprehensive Schools and banned grammar schools?

Just a little apology for two generations of children whom we have failed due to your madness and hypocrisy?

06 June, 2014

Driverless


Speaking of driving, do you wonder what it's like in Google's new driverless car?

Two people sitting side by side talking, perhaps caressing, neither with hands on the steering wheel, while the car careers along?

Come to Italy and see.

Il telefono

I rarely criticise Italy, in part because I like it here and in part because I am a guest, but I have to mention one of the worst characteristics of Italians, worse than their crazy, corrupt political system or their inability to drive cars. It is their attitude to the telephone.

Last night a delivery van came up our drive and the driver got out and hammered on the window. When I opened the front door he was on the telephone. I asked what he wanted and he held up a hand for me to be silent.

I tried again and then shouted that either he could talk to me or the telephone but he carried on. As I was closing the door he said 'Hold on, Giorgio, I've got a problem with a foreigner'. He was carrying a courier's delivery instructions so I snatched them from him and shouted directions (he was still on the 'phone).

In Italy, the person you are talking to on the 'phone is more important than the one you are talking to face to face. I was once in a meeting with some minor government official - I had made an appointment - and his 'phone rang so often (he answered it each time) that I was beginning to forget why I had come. So I 'phoned him.

He was a bit confused hearing my voice so I said we'd leave the line open so we weren't disturbed any more. He looked at me incredulously but it worked.

05 June, 2014

Super Mario?

The European Central Bank's decision to adopt negative interest rates is not the first time this has
happened. In Switzerland in the 1980s it was fairly common in order to stop upward pressure on the Swiss Franc, and it is worth noting that it didn't help much. The markets decided Swiss Francs were the place to be and suffered the cost.

What ECB Governor Mario Draghi has done will have a short term effect of pushing the euro down, but it may be too little and it is quite likely to be too late.

Here is how it would work.

1. A bank, let's say French, keeps money on deposit at the ECB because it is safe there: safer than depositing it with another French bank and a lot safer than lending it to a French company.

2. It either keeps the money at the ECB, wearing the cost, or draws it out.

3. It decides whether to shrink its balance sheet, that is to say repay the corresponding creditor, or lend it to someone else. The other French banks are in the same position, as are most European banks, so it seeks out a company to lend to.

4. The company borrows for a new project, which it is cautious about because Europe is already depressed.

5. It slowly invests and takes on workers.

6. The workers, once they have been employed for a bit, feel confident and spend more.

7. That extra spending generates more investment and the eurozone recovers.

Apart from the fact that in those seven steps a lot can go wrong, it is easily seen that it takes time. The economist's rule of thumb is 6-9 months before industrial activity picks up and a further 6-9 months before prices improve.

Has Draghi left this too late?

03 June, 2014

El Rey

Despite a lot of sniping in the media, I believe Juan Carlos will be remembered fondly by history. He could have allowed military dictatorship to continue in Spain but stuck to his line and ushered the country into the modern era.

Handing over now, however, is something of a hospital pass. Felipe must deal with calls for a Republic and with Catalan (and other) attempts at secession, at a time the people are still suffering from austerity.

Good luck to him.

Crazy prices


The European Commission has warned that house price inflation will damage the UK economy.

They may be right - a broken clock is right twice a day - but it does seem impertinent that people who have made such a mess of the Eurozone economy (the ECB is about to take Emergency measures to avoid the spiral to deflation) should lecture us. The unfortunate folk in Europe would like a bit of house price inflation.

The facts, in case anybody is interested, are that if you bought a house in 2007 it is just now - this month - getting back to the level you paid for it. I don't call that crazy.

Source: Nationwide.co.uk

01 June, 2014

Bad exchange

'No soldier is left behind' intones President Obama as he buys the freedom of an American soldier with the release of Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.

Laudable, but the fact remains that America has paid, and every terrorist in the world now knows it will pay again. Every potential hostage in extremist areas must be trembling.

The fact also remains that the President can release prisoners, surely making the separation of Executive and Justice a laughing matter.

I congratulate the freed American sergeant and his family, but this is by no means good news.

The devil you know

Most people don't follow the rarified bits of European politics, feeling, correctly in my view, that it will go on in the direction chosen by unelected politicians, whatever the voters might think.

But if you have a modest concern about how your life is being managed by other people, consider this. The European Parliament is the institution which is put forward as being democratic, even though its little rules mean that anyone who is against the whole business is never allowed to speak for more than one minute (sometimes two). The Parliament decided that it wanted a bit of influence over the Head of the Commission, so it introduced the concept of favourites being recommended by the bogus political groupings. These are called Spitzencandidaten, and I hope you have noticed that the language for important things has changed from French to German, whilst everyone actually speaks English to each other.

Anyway, the two Spitzencandidaten put up by the main parties were Martin Schulz, currently leader of the Parliament and a leftish integrationist, and Jean-Claude Juncker, former Luxembourger Prime Minister and a rightish integrationist. No one, it appears, likes Schulz (Berlusconi once said he would be suitable in a film about Nazi Germany as a concentration camp guard) and Mrs Merkel favours Juncker.

To appreciate this you have to try to get into the mindset of these people. They believe in the 'European Project' absolutely and to the exclusion of all else. That is to say they believe that the nation state is an outdated institution and that government, to protect the Union against silliness by the electorate, should be by the people who know how to do it.

Cameron appears on the surface to be cutting up rough. He has said that Juncker is such a federalist that his appointment as Commission President could cause the bringing forward of the British Referendum and an early exit from the EU.

Two other pieces of information I should give you: one is that the Parliament reserved the right itself to elect the Commission President. The other is that Tony Blair said in an interview that he would like to 'help' Europe and is next week making a speech in Germany on how he would like to see Europe in the future. In William Hague's terms he is 'on manoeuvres'.



Is Cameron trying to push Blair into the job? Personally I view the possibility with horror: at least we know what Juncker is about; Blair might believe one thing or another or nothing and still say something different.

Better the devil you know....

27 May, 2014

See what it is yet?

I wonder if it was entirely appropriate for Rolf Harris to perform, at his trial, 'Jake the Peg (with the extra leg)'.

Elections

So,did the earth move for you? Earthquake is one of the commoner descriptions of the election results as Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen sweep all before them, but....I'm not so sure. A Euro election is a good time for a protest but that doesn't mean the voter won't return to type, certainly in France. A few years ago the socialist vote collapsed but left-wingers were seen going into the poling booths holding their noses as they voted for Chirac in order to keep out Marine's father, Jean-Marie.

The British voter is a little different. I remember people saying to me that they wouldn't vote for me because I couldn't win. Farage's success this time will make more people think it is OK to vote for him.

But the mainstream politicians are wondering what they should do now. I think it is easy to guess what will happen in Europe: they will ignore the vote, as they always do. They will tell themselves that what the silly little people really meant was that they wanted more Europe.

In the UK there may be some small change. Ed Miliband might now endorse the idea of a referendum, although I think he was Always going to do that anyway. What would be a breakthrough is if Cameron announced that in the event of his renegotiations not working he would campaign to leave. We'll see.

I have a piece in the Commentator about the European results. Read it; it's free.

Still Life

I must say I find it strange that in the 21st century the cure for fractured vertebrae is to lie still in the hope that they heal up. There is apparently an alternative of injecting plastic into the broken bits but that seems unappealing.

Anyone who finds themselves dependent on rolling news broadcasts will immediately notice how they seize on a topic and won't let go, however uninteresting it becomes, like a puppy with an old shoe it has found. One of the worst of these was the Sky News coverage of the Oscar Pretorius trial, a minute-by-minute coverage of tedious legalisms and nothing serious (we know he shot her, the question is why).

Then we had the Ukraine, of course, and Prince Charles saying Putin was behaving like Hitler. Charles was wrong, of course: firstly he should have kept his mouth shut (he surely can't seriously have thought a woman he had just met would respect 'a private conversation'?). He was also wrong in that the crisis was caused by Hermann van Rompuy and Baroness Ashton's naive foreign policy, not by President Putin.

And there was Astra Zeneca. In the first place it would be hard to describe this as a British Company: the great majority of its employees work in other countries, the great majority of its shareholders are foreign institutions, its Chief Executive is French and its Chairman Swedish. Then there is the madness of the Government intervening. I own shares in Astra Zeneca and I don't want the likes of John 'Vince' Cable telling me who I can sell them to. Supposing a Russian oligarch offered you an excellent price for your house, and then this whining ballroom dancer appears and says you can't sell to him because he may be horrid. B****r off!, is what I say.

Then there were the elections....

14 May, 2014

High score

My latest kitchen accident was higher scoring than I thought: 2 fractured vertebrae and I must lie still for a bit.

I am resolving for a life on takeaways but the kitchen bug will probably get me again. Hey-ho

10 May, 2014

This time?

It is the Eurovision song contest again (Hurray!) and this year rather than offering a 1960s loser Britain's candidate will be Molly Smitten-Downes, who must have had a tough time at school with a name like that.

To save you having to watch the whole affair, here it is.



Still, I expect she's a nice girl underneath all that cliché

Our boys

There are outraged reports in today's press that British soldiers have been photographed next to dead Taliban in Afghanistan.

I don't know who the Left think we are sending out to Afghanistan - perhaps they imagine it was an army of Guardian reading social workers. In fact it was thousands of tough young lads, whom our schools system has largely neglected, who are trained for fighting and told that their job is to kill Her Majesty's enemies.

If we don't want this type of person representing Britain abroad, we shouldn't send them.

The r-word

One of the silliest pieces of news has been the story of Jeremy Clarkson and the n-word. Incidentally, don't you find this terminology daft? I first heard it from George H Bush (Bush père) referring to the F-word. It doesn't seem to convey meaning in a straightforward way.

Anyway, Clarkson previously had referred to an Asian gentleman as a 'slope' (the s-word, or perhaps one of the s-words, this is difficult). For myself I shouldn't have known this was slang for an Easterner had not some daft woman threatened to sue.

Now, apparently in an out-take, Clarkson recited the Eeny.meeny-miny-mo tag, mumbling the n-word, but this was not enough. So he's a racist.

Surely this is pretty low-level offensive, indeed not much more than silly. Why didn't the BBC edit it out?

Contrary to newspaper reports, the BBC will not fire Clarkson. The reason is that the licence fee goes towards making the programmes. There is some other income from sale of material, much of which is provided by Clarkson, and this pays for the chauffeur driven cars and decent lunches of the executives. There would be uproar, not just among the general public, if they got rid of him.

I am just wondering if our problem isn't over-use of the n-word, but of the r-word?

The Master

I generally regard myself as a modest type, but on one issue I will brook no dissent. When it comes to kitchen accidents no one comes close.

Over the years I have suffered sprains, bruises, dropped stuff on my feet, got hot oil, water or fat in most anatomical locations and of course got burns everywhere. My culinary career has been tantamount to self-harm.

My latest contribution was to put a pan of hot oil on the cooker such that it could not balance. As I noticed it falling towards me, with great presence of mind I leaped backwards. During this manoeuvre a shoe came off, I slipped and lost my footing and landed heavily on the terracotta floor on my backside, sliding along until my head struck a solid chestnut door.

Don't try this at home, children.

In over a week of enforced misery, lying on my front, under heavy medication, I have absorbed the news stories without being able to comment or even, as is my usual practice, throw things at the television.

I am now heading for the land of the living, if not for civility. 

01 May, 2014

The LoUC

Interesting news for fans of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Europe doesn't allow the death penalty, but is good at making the drugs to execute criminals in America.

Europe banned the export of these drugs, because of the use the Americans were putting them to.

Since the Americans have had to find other drugs, the average execution has taken a lot longer, perhaps 20 minutes more, and, as we saw in Oklahoma the other day, the prisoner can die in pain.

What is the answer to this (other than the USA banning the Death penalty, which is unlikely)?

It is for an American company to buy the companies which make the drugs, then manufacture them in the USA. Obama should tell Pfizer to add them to its shopping list.

28 April, 2014

More racism

The media have not been shy of telling us that the UK Independence Party has had a bad week, being referred to everywhere now as 'racist'.

UKIP promptly went on to top the opinion polls, being now expected to come first in the European Elections.

They must be doing something right, mustn't they?

I sometimes wonder how it would be if the whole country, other than a few bien pensant lefties in London, turned out to be, in their terms, 'racist'. It reminds me of that East German politician who said 'the people have lost the trust of the state'. These people would be writing their bilious articles and displaying their high blood pressure on television while the rest of us ignored them and got on with being utterly horrid, in our own way.

There would be two separate realities, one for the media classes and one for the rest of us. Indeed, perhaps it is already like that.

Quite interesting.

27 April, 2014

The men in charge

I often think back to the time the Glazer family bought Manchester United. Hundreds of supporters paraded at the stadium with banners saying 'Manchester United is not for sale'.

But of course it was: it was quoted on the stock Exchange which is an invitation to buy or sell the shares.

Now they are getting a new manager. The media have been having earnest discussions with former players and heads of fan clubs 'So, Jim, the man the fans want is....'

Of course it is completely irrelevant who the fans want. Manchester wanted to hold on to the previous manager until they had confirmed a replacement but the Stock Exchange rules didn't allow this: if there are rumours circulating you have to deal with them publicly.

Equally, the reason the interim manager and former player, Ryan Giggs, won't get the job is that the investors probably haven't heard of him as a manager. They will require someone who has managed a team to win international tournaments.

All the fans are required to do is traipse through the gate every Saturday and buy the shirts.

Honour

Chung Hong-won, Prime Minister of S. Korea, has resigned over the ferry disaster.

He was not captain of the ship, he did not write the rules for conduct of a ship in open waters, it was not he who failed to give the order to abandon the vessel.

But it was indeed a disaster, he was the man at the top, and he has quit, like a gentleman. He bowed to the people he served.

I do hope some British and European politicians have been following this story.

26 April, 2014

Ukraine; the next step

I hesitate to re-enter the debate on the Ukraine. A dismal story in European statecraft has been mishandled at every step, such that it is hard to see an end to it.

Let me explain, however, how there could be an end.

As I have pointed out, Russian aggression was the likely outcome of Europe's wooing of Ukraine. A child could have seen that. Putin carefully cultivates his image as a tough guy, but it is not purely for his image. If the former Soviet states on the periphery of Russia know that he means business they won't step out of line. He has to be able to rattle his sabre at America and Europe.

So instead of more sanctions, which will not harm America but which will do lasting damage to Europe, let Putin win something. Back down a bit, concede a little so he has something to show for it all: not just the man who lost Western Ukraine but the man who stood up to the West.

That way there is a chance of peace.

22 April, 2014

Rome



Yesterday, had it not been Easter Monday, and had I not been out for a long lunch with friends, I should have been celebrating the 2,767th birthday of Italy's capital city, said by legend to have been founded on 21st April, 753BC.

Still a great place.

Right and Wrong

I have probably mentioned that I knew the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in a previous life and think very highly of him.

I cannot, however, leave unchallenged the tripe he has spouted about homosexuality in the Daily Telegraph (is this the only newspaper which covers religious matters?). He says, and I paraphrase, that much as he would like to recognise gay marriage he can't because the Africans wouldn't like it.

Sorry, Justin, but we expect you to know. The reason people have been leaving the Church of England in hordes over the past few decades is that it doesn't appear to believe in anything. For those of us who drift in and out of religion, and it is most of us, it is like going for a swim from a ship with a loose anchor: you never know where it will be when you want to get back on.

The job of the Archbishop of Canterbury is to know whether, in the sight of God, gay marriage is acceptable or unacceptable. If acceptable it would be quite wrong to deny homosexuals marriage in Church, ie in the sight of God.

If he thinks homosexual marriage is the right thing then, it being an important topic, he should advise those who refuse it that they are leaving the Church.

If it is wrong, he should be prepared to upset the liberals and say it is wrong, or leave his job if he can't.

If he blubbers that he thinks it is OK but that some others don't, people will think him soaking wet and ignore everything else he says.

People are entitled to be told by the Church what is right and what is wrong, and entitled to a Church which commits itself to these principles.

Get a grip, Justin!

Christian?

It seems that fifty-five people have signed a letter to the Daily Telegraph complaining about David Cameron's statement that Britain is a Christian country.

They are incorrect.

Most countries - America and France are the best known for this - have in their constitution provision for the separation of Church and state. Nothing wrong with that, it's just that it isn't the case in Britain. The Head of State is head of the Church, Christian bishops, but no Buddhists, Muslims, Jews or Jainists, sit as of right in the upper house.

Unlike most countries but like, say, Pakistan or Israel, Britain has an established religion, and this is not dependent on the number of people in Church on  any given day.

Where we differ from so many other countries with established religions is that we welcome people of other faiths and protect their rights. This doesn't mean Britain has changed religion. It hasn't.

20 April, 2014

Unhelpful

This blog salutes Dr. Kari Poikolainen, an alcohol expert, formerly of the World Health Organisation, for his recent report on recommended drinking levels.

He says that drinking only becomes harmful at more than 13 units a day, equivalent to about a litre of wine.

The guidelines from the National Health Service are for 3-4 units for a man, so Dr. Poikolainen is coming in at three or four times the recommendation.

Naturally the busybodies are furious. Julia Manning, of the think tank 2020 Health describes it as 'an unhelpful contribution to the debate'.

Incidentally I love this use of the word 'unhelpful', meaning 'differing from what I say and therefore to be banned or ignored'.

2020 Health is funded by the Government, and Ms Manning is hardly likely to jeopardise her salary by saying 'Oh, sorry, I've been talking complete cock all along'.

I personally found Dr. Poikolainen's report very helpful.

19 April, 2014

Holy War

I think I have mentioned before in these pages that Iraq was a Shia Moslem country run by a cabal of Sunnis, whereas Syria is a Sunni Moslem country run by a cabal of Shias. A great deal of unpleasantness could have been avoided if they had simply swapped leaderships.

Of course the Syrian conflict is still going on, kept out of the press by Ukraine, a lost Malaysian Airlines flight and a sunk Korean Ferry. We learn of Abdullah Deghayes, 18, of Brighton, who went out to Syria and was killed.

Now, usually when we hear of British Moslems going to war it is against us: some sort of jihad they have got up, but this is a purely Islamic thing: one set of Moslems fighting another. Of course our rather gung-ho Foreign Secretary, William Hague, would have got us involved if he could have, but Parliament, for once, put a stop to it.

So it is no different, really, from our fathers and grandfathers going to fight in the Spanish civil war: if that is what they want to do, fine. Around 400 British nationals have gone to fight in Syria. Around 20 have died.

It's just a bit depressing that, despite being British, they see themselves primarily as foreign.

14 April, 2014

Mystery

I've been away on holiday to Sicily, a land of strange contrasts. I've written about it in The Commentator, an internet magazine you should read (it's free!).

As I write, a frantic search is still going on for the disappeared Malaysian Airlines jet in the Indian Ocean.

Why? There is no chance of finding anyone alive after all this time. We (and why does it include the British?) seem to be devoting far more resources to it than we did to the Air France flight which disappeared a few years ago.

There is a lot of speculation on the internet, as always, but even people like myself who reject conspiracy theories are beginning to feel that there is something we haven't been told.

02 April, 2014

Marvin

Incredible - well incredible for me anyway - but yesterday it was 30 years since Marvin Gaye died.

He was shot, aged 44, by his own father.

Gaye led a difficult life, but he could do this:


01 April, 2014

France

I don't follow football, but as an example of life management it repays inspection. When a team is doing badly, the trick is not to fire the players, but the manager, the guy responsible for the strategy.

In France, François Hollande, responsble for the strategy of injecting more socialism into the country (the State takes up 57% of the economy), and for borrowing more and more money, has been found out by the electorate. He is the most unpopular President ever and has taken the biggest drubbing ever seen in the Fifth Republic.

So what happened? He sacked the Prime Minister whom he had appointed.

It would be like the bottom ranking team sacking the ball boys.

30 March, 2014

Earth Hour

Bugger, I missed it. I was watching, on a device which used electricity, Jeremy Clarkson and his friends drive smoky diesel lorries through Burma.

Most entertaining it was, too. Better than turning the lights off, anyway.

I reported on this a few years back when the Environment Minister of British Colmbia lit candles all over his residence and set the cat on fire. That's a carbon pawprint, if you like.

Earth Hour is not for people who are worried about the planet but for people who want to look as if they are. Almost no electricity is saved and it may be that the sudden surge in use at the end of the hour means the event might cause more to be used.

If you think that not using electricity will save the planet, don't use any. You'll be happy. But don't tell us about it. Keep it to yourself.

Virtue is its own reward.

The clocks change

Don't get me started on this, it's bad for my blood pressure. I am remaining on GMT and suggest you do too.

Cock a snook at the State. Say 'I am a free person and know what the time is without being told, wrongly, by a bureaucrat I am paying to do so.'

Keep saying this until you are sane.

The Scottish Pound

We are still hearing a lot of nonsense about a possibly independent Scotland and its currency.

'Walking out of the UK means walking out of the UK pound' George Osborne is reported to have said. I haven't read what he actually said, because I can't be bothered, but he should take care that reportage of his speeches does not come out as utter drivel or loose thinking.

Of course Scotland can keep the pound: it just keeps printing out its Scottish pound notes and fixes their rate at 1:1 to the British £. At present the Bank of England holds £1 for every Scottish £ printed. Also it stands by Scottish Banks as lender of last resort. It is these two things which would change, unless we had a currency union.

As to allowing a currency union in return for Scotland permitting our nuclear weapons at Faslane, the suggestion is risible. Why would we want our nukes in a foreign country? Put them in Portsmouth which already has the skilled workforce and traditions to cope.

Scotland would be very unwise either to seek a currency union or simply to adopt the UK£ as its currency because it would result in it being overvalued and causing a recession, such as we see in Southern Europe today, which has had a vastly overvalued currency (the €) for years, caused by political will rather than economic sense. Thousands of Scottish jobs would be lost.

Let's adopt a simple policy. If they go, they go. They can adopt the Japanese yen as their currency for all I care but they get no help when the plan fails.

28 March, 2014

Cats

The news that cats may be giving TB to humans is disturbing.

When we thought that badgers were spreading TB - even if only to cattle - we had a cull.

The question is whether they should be shot, or gassed in their suburban homes.

The government must act swiftly.