28 November, 2009

World's strongest beer

Tactical Nuclear Penguin from BrewDog on Vimeo.

I'm not sure I would drink this but I like the idea of living in a world where someone is making it

26 November, 2009

Lockerbie: amazing health development

On 20th August, 2009 Abdelbaset al Megrahi was released from a Scottish prison where he was serving time for the worst terrorist attack on the UK. His release was on the grounds that he had less than 3 months to live. I had therefore been expecting to write some sort of obit.

But..... my congratulations to the Libyan Health Service, for he is with us still.

On a completely unrelated matter the Deputy Prime Minister Lord Mandelson and the wife of the former Prime Minister Cherie Blair were seen with Col. Ghaddafi's son at a shooting party recently.

24 November, 2009

UK: DNA and the police state

The scandal over retention of DNA details continues unabated. At its source is that the police do not throw away or give back the details of your DNA even though you are innocent. A report by the Human Genetics Commission says that almost one million innocent people are on the database which, disturbingly, contains the DNA profiles of 75% of black men aged between 18 and 35.

There is evidence that police are being encouraged to make more arrests so as to expand the database.

One of the aspects of this which is not often noted is the attitude of other countries. In most European countries only very serious offenders – terrorists, paedophiles etc are put on a DNA database. So if you are detained, say, in France at the scene of a car accident not caused by you, they can telephone the UK police to see if you are on the register (it takes longer actually to get the details). If you are, perhaps for having been at the scene of another acident, the French assume that you are a serious and perhaps escaped criminal and will obtain a magistrate’s permission to lock you up until they find out more.

This is an appalling situation which David Cameron has promised to rectify. And let’s hope it isn’t just a cast iron guarantee; we’ll be looking for stainless steel now, Dave.

Kafka! thou should'st be living at this hour!

22 November, 2009

The EU and religion

The recent news that Brussels has written to the UK government saying that it could no longer permit opt outs for churches from employing homosexual staff seems to be part of a trend.

It will be recalled that only a few weeks ago they wrote to the Italian government banning crucifixes in schools and that a few years ago Italy’s choice of commissioner, Rocco Buttiglione, was refused by the Euro parliament for being an overt Roman Catholic who could not therefore condone abortion.

I don’t know why the EU is poking its nose into religious affairs – perhaps it feels it already has the secular world sewn up. But it might be a good idea if the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope agreed on one thing (if nothing else): that they tell the bureaucrats they report to a higher power.

21 November, 2009

EU: the madness of Brown

I can scarcely think of a better reason for leaving the European Union than a story in today’s Times. It seems that once it was clear that Tony Blair was not going to get the presidential post, Lord Mandelson, the foreign office and, unfortunately, the Conservative Party advised that Britain’s best interests would be served by our getting one of the top economic jobs.

Gordon Brown, to spite the Tories, ‘went for second best’. That is to say that instead of acting in the interests of his country he followed the narrow, bigoted tribalism that is his ‘moral compass’. He was helped in this by Jose Barroso, the former Maoist head of the Commission, who saw clearly that if a non entity got the Foreign Minister portfolio he would be able to control it himself.

Now it seems that Michel Barnier, a Frenchman, will have the job of regulating the financial markets and, guess what? He is not in favour of the ‘Anglo-Saxon model’.

This insane, politically charged horse trading may well turn out to have cost Britain billions as the financial markets move to Switzerland and Singapore to flee misguided regulation. The French will lose nothing because they never rivalled the City of London anyway.

Madness. Utter madness.

20 November, 2009


A somewhat under reported study by the Basque Public Health Department seems to show that the more you drink the less likely you are to suffer from heart disease.

The study, conducted on 41,500 people seems to be the first to eliminate the ‘sick abstainers’ risk: in the past the evidence of low heart disese rates among drinkers has been explained away by saying that people who were sick to start off with often didn’t drink.

The study found that for those drinking more than 90g alcohol a day, the equivalent of eight bottles of wine a week or 28 pints of lager, the risk of heart disease was 50% less. Alcohol builds up HDL, or ‘good’ cholesterol.

This does not apply to women, however, who suffer less from heart disease anyway.

The news is already being trampled on by the health lobby so enjoy it while you can.

The EU: If we left......

Thanks to the Taxpayers Alliance for this:

The Rumpy Tax

To be fair to Herman van Rompuy, he does have a policy: an EU-wide tax.

I am in favour of this. Let's apportion into a separate tax the amount the EU costs us. Then it could be individual party policy at election time as to whether we should increase it or decrease it.
Well done Rumpy!

EU: and when the music stops...

In one respect the appointment of Herman van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton to the posts of President and Foreign Minister of the European Union is good news: they are both such unimportant little people that they are unlikely to do anything dangerous.

The corollary of that, however, is that Europe will continue to be run, as it always has been, by anonymous, unelected, integrationist bureaucrats.

Van Rompuy owes his not very prominent position to the near break up of Belgium when, it being naturally two countries with pretty well equal populations, they couldn’t agree on a government. The king kept trying different people and eventually when the music stopped it was Rumpy sitting on the chair. To be so inoffensive a Flem that even the Walloons tolerate him is quite something.

Ashton (she has to take leave of the House of Lords, but don’t worry, she’ll be back) has of course never been elected to anything by anyone. A social worker, she headed various quangos until appointed to the House of Lords. When Peter Mandelson left his European post to grace us with his presence she was the one whose services the Government thought they could dispense with.

As usual in Europe this is a stitch up. Merkel and Sarkozy wanted as President someone who wouldn’t give them any trouble and once Rumpy had been chosen from a list of Benelux non-entities they had to have a left winger as Foreign Minister.

The amazing thing is, we let them get away with it.

19 November, 2009

EU President

The decision on a President for the EU is expected today!


Hands up if you were offered a vote in this contest!

No, thought not.

Gettysburg: anniversary of an anthem

Today, 19th November, however, is the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. Here it is

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate...we can not consecrate...we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honoured dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

It is not a pacifist speech, rather, like the poem of John Macrae I quoted for Remembrance Day, it is a call to arms to continue the fight.

But those words, “..that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth” – don’t they send a shiver down your spine, nearly a century and a half later?

Now apply them to your new country, the European Union. We have failed Lincoln, haven’t we? We have walked, only half blindfolded, into rule by the unelected elite, which in the 18th century Lincoln’s forefathers emigrated to escape from.

Let us hope that in the 21st century we have got beyond fighting for freedom, but that we cherish freedom none the less.


Yesterday, unacknowledged by this blog, was Mickey Mouse's birthday. The Times' Comment Central reminds us that in 1991 Wayne Allwine, the third actor behind Mickey, who had lent the Mouse his distinctive voice from 1977 until his death last year, married Russi Taylor, who has been Minnie since 1986.

So it's legal.

I once had lunch with Disney's finance team, who, despite a reputation for meanness, paid the bill.

'It's on the Mouse', they said

Dalai Lama in Italy

Gianfranco Fini, speaker of the lower house and senior coalition partner in Berlusconi's Pdl group, is to be congratulated for receiving the Dalai Lama at his offices.

This takes courage, not just from Fini but from the entire administration, and is to be contrasted with the behaviour of other nations, notably Britain and America.

18 November, 2009


Inflation is rising in the UK and it should be no surprise to those who read this post that one of the items causing the rise was an increase in the price of second hand cars. If you are poor and can only afford an old car, you are paying through your taxes for the better off to buy a new car more cheaply, and at the same time the price of your next second hand car has risen.

Incidentally the Government seems to treat a rise in inflation as good news. It isn't. It means that those on fixed incomes and those who work for a company which cannot afford pay rises and the self employed struggling in a difficult market are all worse off. Those with savings see them eroded by inflation. It isn't good news at all.

Ghaddafi: the meaning of greatness

The story has been out a couple of days now but I can’t help being intrigued about Colonel Ghaddafi and the flower of Italian womanhood. First is the industrial size of the order: Ghaddafi’s office phoned a single company and asked them to send round 500 ‘hostesses’. The company, said by the Corriere della Sera to be Hostessweb.com seems to have complied readily. I mention their name in case any of my readers has a similar requirement.

The second thing is the diplomacy issue. We have all been taught that one word out of place in diplomatic behaviour can be disaster, that discreet comportment is all. Now imagine Gordon Brown turning up in a foreign capital for a meeting on food aid and, when asked if he had any special requests on his visit to the city saying he would like to pitch a large tent inside (even Rome can be a bit chilly in November) a woodland villa, ‘Oh yes, and send some escorts round – a few hundred should meet my needs’. Ghaddafi lectured them on Islam, but it would be no more bizarre if Gordon had addressed them earnestly on quantitative easing.

The girls’ treat was not to end there, however, for it was to be a three day gig. The 200 who were most attractive and conservatively dressed got to listen a fair bit to the great man. One even declared herself a convert (not so easy, one would have thought, to ply her trade in a burqa, but you never know). And there was a question and answer session, during which Ghaddafi was asked what he thought of Berlusconi’s little parties in Sardinia and in the Palazzo Grazzioli. The great man, who has an all female bodyguard with matching lipstick, put his finger to his lips. Too diplomatic to say anything, you see?

At the FAO meeting (remember that? it was the purpose of the visit) Ghaddafi spoke for only ten minutes, thought by some to be the shortest speech of his life (he is normally a two hour man at these set piece occasions). Probably tired.

For another example of such an altruistic vocation in a world leader, we have to turn to the 19th century British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, who worked tirelessly with fallen women, often walking the streets late at night. It is this sort of consideration for others which Ghaddafi has and which so many other leaders – Ghandi, for example – lacked. Food for thought, indeed

14 November, 2009

What's in a name?

I read with amusement the story today that a Canadian government minister had informed a friend by Blackberry of the death of his cat, which he had called ‘Thatcher’ in honour of the great lady, and that the message ‘Thatcher has died’ had been broadcast widely causing grief among Canadian conservatives, with telephone calls to a bemused 10 Downing St and Buckingham Palace.

In the 1980s city dealing rooms it was common for the office junior to be seated in front of the sole Reuters screen shouting out any significant news. In a Japanese bank an unfortunate intern shouted that the skiffle singer Lonnie Donegan had had a heart attack. Because of the lad’s unfortunate pronunciation the dealers thought he meant Ronnie Reagan and started selling the bottom out of the dollar until calls to the Japanese embassy in Washington, then in the middle of the night, revealed the truth.

Both were false alarms. The skiffle king died a couple of years before his ‘namesake’, in 2002.

13 November, 2009

Berlusconi sleeps

Thanks to Austinjohn for the suggestion. Here is the video of the great man dozing off while Medvedev told how he had saved the world


Don't blame him. Hearing the same self-righteous tosh time after time after time would make anyone's eyelids grow heavy, Berlin showed the world blah, freedom cannot be kept behind a wall blah. But where was Berlusca's speech?

What about 'Sono una ciambella' ('ich bin ein berliner' means I am a doughnut).

Superstition - Friday 13th

Thought to be unlucky but nobody seems to know why. It is probably a mixture of Fridays being thought unlucky (probably stemming from Christianity) and the number 13 being unlucky (although this is not true even all over Europe) perhaps from there having been 13 at the last supper.

The Gregorian calendar we use means that there can never be a year without a Friday 13th and that there can never be one with more than 3 (there were three this year, but there will be only one in each of the next two).

A couple of days ago, hearing a squawking noise I opened the door and thirteen magpies rose into the air. Fortunately I am not superstitious (there must have been a fourteenth which I didn't see). The late Queen Mary (Princess Mae of Teck) used to bow three times when she saw a magpie. I'd have been up and down like a Japanese on pay rise day.

A good day for walking under ladders

11 November, 2009

Rembrance Day

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
John McCrae d.1918

10 November, 2009

New environment horror for non-drinkers

WRAP, the Waste & Resource Action Programme quango, warns us against pouring wine down the sink (British households pour away £470 million of wine every year). I don't know how much these guys are paid but have a slight fancy that at a time of cutting public expenditure we might just be able to make a bit of a saving here.

I suspect that the concept of 'leftover wine' may be a new one to some of my readers but apparently it is very damaging to the environment, involving tons of carbon dioxide, if you don't drink the wine and pour it away.

So now you know.

The Berlin wall, 20 years on

I watched on TV the celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. My first thought was that it seemed to mark the death of oratory. Hillary Clinton spoke, followed by a video of Barack Obama saying much the same thing (do they dislike each other so much that they can’t even co-ordinate their speeches?). Still, they got away with it: this is one of the few places on earth where America is loved. Gordon Brown tried the string of opposites route – freedom not slavery, light not darkness, bratwurst not sauerkraut yawn. Tony Blair made just this speech with different abstract nouns on several occasions and even he found it difficult to pull off without the audience getting restless.

Lech Walesa spoke, but there was no translation. A pity, since without his Solidarity movement in the former German town of Gdansk (Danzig), the East German people might not have been so emboldened. Angela Merkel interestingly reminded us that it was also the 71st anniversary of Kristallnacht, the pogrom which marked the beginning of the holocaust, and that we had to be constantly vigilant. Rather good, I thought.

All the speakers reminded us that there was injustice still in the world, in Burma, Zimbabwe etc (no one mentioned the Uigurs in China nor Tibet, natch) and that the fall of the wall was a beacon for the oppressed. These light metaphors were used so often because in 1980s Berlin everyone could see what was going on – the west could see and speak about the Communist oppression, the east could see Trabants and state newspapers on their side, Volkswagens and a free press on the other. No one seemed to want to say it but until some light is shone into these other oppressed places there will be no people’s revolution. It is the internet which will do that.

08 November, 2009

Cash for clunkers

Actually 'the car scrappage scheme' is what we are supposed to call it in England but cash for clunkers has that ring to it.

We are told that new car sales rose 11% in September, principally as a result of the scheme.

We like to own an old banger so we can leave it at the station without fear of it not being there when we get back, so we can fill it with plants or olives without worrying about dirtying the seats etc. Our last one, a 1992 FIAT Tipo, went the way of all clunkers last week and we are looking for another.

Unfortunately the Italian scrappage scheme, which offers €2,000 on top of the generous discounts ofered by cash strapped motor manufacturers, means that the minimum price for an old car is now €2,000, whereas it was €500 or less.

So as usual with government intervention, it is the poor who pay the price.

Lisbon - has Cameron the backbone?

So, as soon as the dust of the Lisbon Treaty has settled, it is swept under the carpet. Mr Cameron will not have a referendum on Lisbon. He says that if you read the next sentence of his cast iron guarantee it is clear that he didn’t mean it to refer to post ratification. In truth there was never any realistic prospect of a post ratification referendum anyway. He was silly to have said it and to have allowed himself to be boxed into a corner.

Now he says he will try to renegotiate some of Brussels’ powers back. No chance, of course, he’d have to be a lot tougher than he is and his party more united for that to be a possibility. He is hoping we won’t notice come the next election but one. The reason Brussels will not allow Britain to repatriate some powers is the same reason why it would be such a good idea: it would mean any country could do the same – pick the bits of Europe it wanted, rejecting the bits it didn’t (the Common Agricultural Policy springs to mind here). It would mean Europe à la carte. And the European political class can’t allow that.

It seems Cameron wants to renegotiate over a full parliamentary term of five years and that his bargaining chip is that he would veto the budget. Cameron needs two healthy doses of backbone and common sense. Backbone because there is every reason for blocking the budget – it is too large for a post recession Europe and there is so much corruption that the accounts haven’t been signed off by the auditors since Mr Cameron was at school. If that is what you believe - and it is what everyone outside Brussels believes - then just do it. Common sense because he must realise that he can only use the budget veto once. The way these people negotiate is to delay and delay and then say it is urgent for the functioning of the EU that we sign (remember Lisbon?). For this to work Cameron would have to have all his demands prepared on Day 1 and then they would say we were trying to renegotiate the whole of our membership terms.

I have previously been supportive of Cameron but I am coming closer to the view that he might be just a silly young fool – in his political positioning and attituding no different from the Mandelson-Blair lot. Someone who in fact has no strong beliefs but would like to be in power. Perhaps I'm wrong.

Some commentators – Janet Daly, for example – make the point that at least Cameron is doing something, and showing concern about Europe, so we should vote for him. I rather think that Cameron will be elected anyway and that a strong vote for UKIP will give him some much needed determination and direction. Cameron will realise that the only serious threat we can offer is to leave Europe, stop paying its bills either in cash or in excessive regulation. You see, the Brussels elite knows, deep down, that Britain would be better off both democratically and financially, if we left. It is the British who don't know this.

Cannabis and booze - which is worse?

Hot on the heels of Prof. Nutt's sacking for saying alcohol was more dangerous than cannabis, we have the unedifying story - with accompanying picture - of a young man urinating on a war memorial. He had been on a bender organised by a company called Carnage UK. The prof must have smiled wryly.

Gill Hornby in the Sunday Telegraph says that the reason the Government tolerates alcohol and not drugs - and always will - is that alcohol provides taxes. She may be right, I don't know, although I suspect they haven't really gone into it in such detail (they have never shown such concern for the public finances before). Government usually makes policy according to what they think the readers of a targeted newspaper (in this case the Daily Mail, they've lost the Sun) would like to hear. In any case, my scheme of legalising cannabis and taxing it would meet the Hornby requirements.

For me, I wonder if Nutt's criteria are correct. Why are we judging the acceptability of stimulants according to how much damage they do to the people taking them? After all it is their bodies, their decision to harm themselves and if they don't do cannabis they can always stab themselves with a kitchen knife, jump out of a window, throw themselves off a bridge. There are endless opportunities for self-harm which we do nothing to regulate and nor should we. I was once told you coud kill yourself by drinking a large quantity of Worcestershire Sauce.

I wonder if we shouldn't instead have an indexing system based on how much harm individual stimulants do to others or to society as a whole. Heroin for example is far more addictive than cocaine (other than crack cocaine) and it causes addicts to steal and commit other crimes.

Such an index would encourage drinking at home but you would go Class A as soon as you set foot outside.

04 November, 2009

EU President: the candidates

It seems Tony Blair is no longer in line to be President of Europe. To many it will seem a shame, and if I were a supporter of the project I should be in favour of his taking the job, despite his duplicity, his skimpy regard for the truth, his emphasis on appearance over substance. He is far and away the most authoritative candidate, and the European project lacks authority.

Who now, though? I propose two candidates, depending on your view of the EU.

The first, for those who support the European Ideal, is Mary Robinson. She is a senior figure, a former President of Ireland (and the Irish deserve a reward for abandoning their democracy and forcing through the vote as instructed by unelected mandarins) and did 5 years as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Mrs Robinson (her name may be the only drawback) is a moderate, sensible figure. She is 65.

As for the second candidate, for those who think as I do that the EU is a corrupt, anti-democratic, economically illiterate, self serving bully which lines the pockets of its adherents, one figure emerges head and shoulders above the rest, despite being only 5ft tall.

03 November, 2009

Cannabis: time for a change

Professor David Nutt, recently sacked from his post as Chairman of the Advisory Council on the misuse of drugs for criticising the listing of certain drugs, particularly cannabis, has supplied The Guardian with his Danger List. Cannabis is the 11th most dangerous on the list, Tobacco ninth and Alcohol fifth.

Part of the brouhaha surrounding Nutt’s sacking is that some people are saying that the Government should listen to its advisers. Others say that Government doesn’t have to follow whatever the advisers say. The truth of the matter is that these advisory councils are there to confirm whatever the political decision is at the time. If Prof. Nutt wanted to be an independent expert he should have had nothing to do with it.

What the figures bring out for me is that we should urge Western Governments to join us in the legalisation of cannabis. Nineteen people died from the drug last year, which given the number of people who smoke it is remarkably low. It is not particularly addictive and wastes hundreds of thousands of hours of police time. There were 186,000 seizures last year, not counting Scotland. In my view it is perfectly daft that cannabis users are dealt with by the overburdened justice system, whilst people suffering from an excess of alcohol or tobacco are dealt with by the Health Service. And cannabis should be taxed, which would pay for our having to deal with an influx of useless potheads.

The Government needs to get rid of the mentality that anything which is bad for you, unless it is sold in a working men’s club, should be banned. Time for David Cameron, apparently a notorious toker in his youth, to step up to the plate.

01 November, 2009

Rome: where have all the scooters gone?

For a moment as I strolled down the little cobbled alleyway towards our flat I thought I had taken a wrong turning; something was different.

Then I realised: normally this little vicolo is crammed with cars and scooters, parked both sides, making it difficult sometimes even to walk down. All were parked illegally but no one seemed to care.

Now the new mayor, Gianni Alemanno, has done us residents of the historic centre a little bit of good. Everyone was warned and told that after a certain date they would be fined if they parked there. Slowly the streets are becoming pedestrianised - casual traffic including scooters are being sent round another way - and walking in Rome has become a delight. A shame that it took a former fascist to achieve this but well done him.

PS. In return, Gianni, let me give you a little tip. If you are trying to play down your fascist roots, don't be photographed looking stern and authoritarian outside the Colosseum. Handing out toys to children is the image for you.