31 December, 2009

A cautious Happy New Year from Nanny

Thus speaks the Times this morning: 'Partygoers are being advised to celebrate with a little less than wild abandon tonight as sub-zero temperatures are expected across Britain.

Police chiefs....urged revellers to wrap up warm, but to keep a cool head. People should plan their route home before they start drinking, and be prepared for sleet and snow, they said.'

For me this merely sums up this sorry decade. The country is a shambles, morale is at rock bottom and then the State tells us how to celebrate.

The advice from this blog is to celebrate in whatever fashion you see fit. Get drunk, if you like.

Happy New Year

25 December, 2009

Christmas Day

This is a period of the year when I am usually staggered how I got through the last 12 months without losing what is left of my sanity, and when I am filled with optimism for the year to come. This week, start of the Christian year, as well as of the calendar year, is a little oasis of calm when you can think the best about life.

Doesn't last, of course.

We finish 2009 poorer, less healthy and last week had a burst pipe, an earthquake and the car nicked.

Over the next week I shall be making some slightly over-optimistic forecasts for the year ahead and in the meantime wish everyone all the best for 2010.

24 December, 2009

Iraq: the Chilcot stitch up

Well, we wondered where the stitch-up would come. Every investigation into the Iraq war has been a fiddle in one way or another. Now the Chilcot inquiry has said that Gordon Brown won't need to give evidence until after the election, on the grounds that 'the committee is determined to remain firmly outsde party politics'.


If the top people in one political party adopt a course of action with the British Armed Forces (imagine for a second that Mrs Thatcher had decided to invade China) it is of course a matter for politics. No one authorised Sir John Chilcot to decide the terms of the parliamentary election. Iraq may be the most important aspect for some people and the least important for others but it is wholly corrupt (and as soon as this inquiry was announced I knew I would have to use that word before long) to deprive the electorate of information crucial to its deciding on the suitablility of the Prime Minister to hold down his job. If Brown has nothing to hide he should offer to give evidence now.

I see the hands of Campbell and Mandelson in this and it stinks.

21 December, 2009

Philosophy on one leg

A quote I heard years ago but had forgotten, repeated by the excellent Mary Ellen Synon in the Mail. The capitalist philosopher Ayn Rand is making a pitch to a publisher who can't quite follow it. He told her to explain her philosophy standing on one leg (on the grounds that if you can't explain it in the time you can stand on one leg you don't understand it yourself).

Balanced on one high heeled shoe she says 'My metaphysics, objective reality. My epistemology, reason. My ethics, self-interest. My politics, capitalism.'

She got the book deal.

Love it.

20 December, 2009

The Weather

Nothing quite like a rap on the knuckles from Mother Nature to put us in our place. It snowed at Copenhagen, it's snowing all over Italy and Spain and the East coast of America. It turns out that it was too cold for the electric trains which go through the channel tunnel. Being stuck for hours under the ocean with no light or water must be a fairly shocking experience. Being told we have to do something about warming must make it into a farce. Flights were no better - my other half's flight from Heathrow to Rome was delayed seven hours.

In the interests of rational debate I must mention that this bitterly cold snap doesn't mean that the case for anthropogenic global warming has failed. What it does mean is that it is going to be a little more difficult to persuade the public. They will not have been impressed hearing Ed Milliband describe people who disagreed with him on climate change as 'saboteurs', or Gordon Brown describing them as 'flat earthers'. Our leaders must get less hysterical, acknowledge their mistakes, accept that a majority of the public think they may be wrong, and try to persuade them.

We will not accept the massive sacrifices envisaged (but not agreed) at Copenhagen unless we are sure. Representatives of the people, like Mr. Milliband, unless they can persuade us of their case, must be just that: representative.
PS It's Ed Milliband's 40th birthday on Christmas Eve. Send him a couple of ice cubes - they probably won't melt in the post.

19 December, 2009

Saab - victim of its times

So it's going. The last of the tentative offers for SAAB, the Swedish car company, has fizzled out and it will be put into liquidation.

The thing about SAABs was that they were oddball. The early ones had two stroke engines, when nobody else was doing that. The cars won rallies with three cylinder engined vehicles which had peculiar shapes: SAAB was the first company to concentrate on aerodynamics and in the sixties was producing cars of a sufficiently low aerodynamic coefficient even for today's market.

Many people remember the SAAB 99 manufactured from the sixties to the mid eighties. SAAB for a while in those days was the only manufacturer using turbochargers, now common across all ranges of car. And finally SAAB was the first to offer a range of safety features. The cars felt safe and solid.

And they were odd: from the floor based ignition key which you couldn't get out unless the handbrake was on, to the company's ignoring of 0-60 times, then an obsession among car manufacturers, on the grounds that the customers weren't really interested, they were more concerned about mid-range acceleration, overtaking.

Then in 1989 General Motors took over. SAAB was a victim of its times because it was cheaper for GM to buy a going concern than to expand its market organically. Inevitably the cars, now Opel Vectras with a different badge, became less quirky, less interesting. GM was only interested in selling Vectra platforms; it never made a success of the operation and now it is dead.

I've driven a few SAABs and can't help regretting the passing of perhaps the last interesting car make. But I suppose it couldn't have continued. Hey-ho.

18 December, 2009

Copenhagen madness

Gordon Brown, desperate to look like a world saviour (there's an election coming up) has promised a 42% reduction in Britain's carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 (a massive increase from the current 20% target). Here's what the Taxpayer's Alliance calculates:

'To meet a 42 per cent target at the present rate of improvements in emissions intensity, the size of the economy in 2020 would need to be cut by 30 per cent from expected levels, or nearly £507 billion (2005 prices).'

£507 billion! Of course Brown knows it is unlikely to be him who has to find the money. This is a political scorched earth policy. Brown is mortgaging our children's and grandchildren's inheritance to try to make himself look good.

17 December, 2009

Museum charges

The AdamSmith Institute blog has a good post here about our museums.

I'm tired of the people who say our museums and galleries should be free. Of course, the upkeep and insurance of museums is not free; what the well meaning chattering classes are saying is that the entrance for tourists from China, Russia etc should be free, while the poor suffering British taxpayer pays.

Do you live in Cornwall, Anglesea, northern Scotland? The fare to see the National Gallery will be over £100 but then you'll have to spend the night in a London hotel because it's too far to get back. AND you pay. We are increasing the taxes on people earning even less than the average wage.

Charge a modest fee is my view, and consider a British Card (not a compulsory ID card) to make it free for us. British museums and galleries cost half a billion pounds per year to keep up and we can't afford it.

Homosexuality: on we go

If I had to name one expression from the last decade which fills me with loathing, it is 'Have your say'. It seems to express entitlement, rather than a contribution to a debate being assessed on merit, and thereby devalues it. Anyway, the BBC World Service seems to have such a problem with it, having produced a 'message board' entitled 'Have your say. Should homosexuals face execution?'. Pretty racy, I thought.

As you can imagine all the usual representatives from the Equality Industry wanted to have their say, although not actually on the forum. Everywhere else.

In fact the question was put because the Ugandan Parliament is debating just such a measure (although the measure does not propose a broad application of the death penalty, only when the victim is a minor, or the aggressor is a serial offender or has HIV. A bit of consensual bonking and you would be let off with life imprisonment).

Eric Joyce, a Labour MP, says it is 'completely unacceptable'. I presume he would prefer to ban debate over Uganda's proposed law. For myself I think it quite right that the World Service, pretty well the only part of the BBC not run by climate change cranks, lefties and politically correct minority advisers, should air a decent debate about what is going on under our noses. The problem, as Mr Joyce observed, was that a large number of posts in favour of the propositions were from people in England.

Nevertheless, the Western Consensus and in particular the Anglican Church, are going to have to take notice of the wide hostility in many parts of Africa to homosexuality. Africans will soon make up the majority of Anglicanism and now that as a faith it is run on democratic lines by the Synod, they are in for a few tricky surprises. I remember at the last Bishops' Conference a West African bishop rounded on a reporter who had asked some right-on question and shouted 'You don't understand, homosexuality is a sin against God'.

At one stage or another all this is going to have to be dealt with, so if you think we should talk openly, and think Mr Joyce is wrong to try to sweep the matter under the carpet, Have Your Say.

14 December, 2009

Our leaders: Danny the Red

Lucky to have them, I sometimes say, because the theatre of the absurd has always appealed. I also often say that a society gets the leaders it deserves. There can be no better embarcation on the voyage of understanding our politics than an examination of whom we have selected to lead us. The first in an occasional series.

Daniel Cohn Bendit was a soixante-huitard, a leader of the French student unrest in May 1968, while De Gaulle was still in power. He became known as Danny the Red. After Les Evenements of '68 Danny went to Germany and worked in the Karl Marx Bookstore in Frankfurt, forming a group to harness students to a variety of causes he supported. The group, RK (Revolutionary Struggle) was linked to terrorism. Joscha Fischer, former German Vice Chancellor, was also involved.

In 1994 he became an Alliance Green Party MEP (this was a merger with the German Socialists. There should and will be a study one day of how and why the Green movement was formed by the ultra left after Communism died). He is now a senior member of the European Parliament, sitting on a number of committees, including defence!

In 2003 Frankfurt prosecutors asked the European Parliament to lift the immunity from prosecution DCB had for being an MEP (Oh yes, it's criminal when Berlusconi wants it, but normal for an MEP) due to his involvement with known terrorist Hans Joachim Klein, but the parliament declined.

In 2001 he was investigated for paedophilia, having seemingly admitted it in writing from the time he was a teacher in the 1970s.

Lately he has criticised the Swiss constitutional change to ban further building of minarets. In an interview with Le Monde he says (my translation) 'The democratic limit has in my view been crossed. I am in favour of a direct democracy in the context of a constitution which does not let you vote on just anything'. He wants the Swiss to be told to vote again (well, it worked in Denmark and Ireland)

Oh brave new world, that hath such people in it

The Berlusconi attack

The ANSA news agency reports that if you search Facebook for Berlusconi and for Massimo Tartaglia (his assailant) you will get almost equal numbers believing that one man or the other should be canonised. Berlusconi polarises opinion in that way.

For the average Italian there is, I believe, another aspect. They have experienced the 70s and 80s where politics was tinged with violence. More than anything else the emotion they experience when thinking about those times is shame. Italians are very conscious of what others think about their country. The arrival of Berlusconi on the political scene was intended to mark the end of that post war era of corruption, violence and venality.

Now they fear this might mark a return to those days. As the unruly element gatecrashed his party meeting Berlusconi was shouting 'Vergognatevi' - you should be ashamed.

Rightly or wrongly this may well turn out to be an electoral advantage for Berlusconi. Bravely, after the attack, he stood on the sill of his car to show his supporters he was all right. Now the other leaders have been forced to condemn the attack, showing solidarity with the Prime Minister. They could hardly do otherwise.

Berlusca will be out for 3 weeks having a nose job and there will be plenty of plotting behind the scenes during that time, not least by the great man himself.

12 December, 2009

Iraq: the case for war

Tony Blair has finally stated that even if there had been no probability of weapons of mass destruction he would have gone to war with Iraq. He felt that for the stability of the region Saddam had to be removed.

I remember at the time of the first Gulf War asking some gung-ho individual what we were fighting for. 'Democracy', he replied. I said that in that case we were fighting on the wrong side because Saddam had at least been elected, whereas the al-Sabah family in Kuwait had not. Incidentally they made a lot of promises at the time and I don't remember any of them being fulfilled.

I think it is worthwhile recording that a number of the present cabinet, including the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, went along with this. They felt that if the leader of a country was beyond the pale and if it were a threat to other countries, then regime change should be our policy.

Perhaps they could now tell us why we haven't invaded Zimbabwe or Burma, and what they think Iraq was guilty of that China wasn't (including obtaining weapons of mass destruction).

A moral case is a moral case, whoever is guilty. If we corrupt morality with realpolitik it ceases to be moral.

10 December, 2009

EU on strike! Disaster!

Le Monde reports that in the make believe world that is Brussels the civil servants are going on strike for a 3.7% pay rise (well above inflation).

Many member states want to stop this for, I think, fairly obvious reasons.

It will be interesting to see how much we all suffer when these people are..er..not working.

09 December, 2009

Copenhagen 2

Now that the Copenhagen charade has begun, I can reveal that the Lady Mayor, Ritt Bjerregaard (Ritt would appear to be a girl's name) has written postcards to the city's hotels warning them not to introduce prostitutes to conference guests. 'Be sustainable, don't buy sex', she writes, without explaining the connection between sustaining and abstaining.

In return the hookers' union, the Sex Workers Interest Group, has offered a free ride to anyone who can produce one of the offending cards.

Be warned: the private sector cannot be bullied out of business.

07 December, 2009

Copenhagen: saving the planet

From the Daily Telegraph:

'On a normal day, Majken Friss Jorgensen, managing director of Copenhagen's biggest limousine company, says her firm has twelve vehicles on the road. During the "summit to save the world", which opens here tomorrow, she will have 200.

"We thought they were not going to have many cars, due to it being a climate convention," she says. "But it seems that somebody last week looked at the weather report."

Ms Jorgensen reckons that between her and her rivals the total number of limos in Copenhagen next week has already broken the 1,200 barrier. The French alone rang up on Thursday and ordered another 42. "We haven't got enough limos in the country to fulfil the demand," she says. "We're having to drive them in hundreds of miles from Germany and Sweden."

And the total number of electric cars or hybrids among that number? "Five," says Ms Jorgensen. "The government has some alternative fuel cars but the rest will be petrol or diesel. We don't have any hybrids in Denmark, unfortunately, due to the extreme taxes on those cars. It makes no sense at all, but it's very Danish."

The airport says it is expecting up to 140 extra private jets during the peak period alone, so far over its capacity that the planes will have to fly off to regional airports – or to Sweden – to park, returning to Copenhagen to pick up their VIP passengers.

As well 15,000 delegates and officials, 5,000 journalists and 98 world leaders, the Danish capital will be blessed by the presence of Leonardo DiCaprio, Daryl Hannah, Helena Christensen, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Prince Charles. A Republican US senator, Jim Inhofe, is jetting in at the head of an anti-climate-change "Truth Squad." The top hotels – all fully booked at £650 a night – are readying their Climate Convention menus of (no doubt sustainable) scallops, foie gras and sculpted caviar wedges.

Thailand: Samak dies

This blog mourns the death of Samak Sundaravej, one time Thai Prime Minister and celebrity chef. Cooking (his favourite dish was pork legs with coca cola) caused both his rise and his fall. He could not have become Prime Minister without his celebrity status, and in the end he was hounded from office for receiving money from his cookery show while Prime Minister.

I was going to say that we shan't see his like again, but I very much hope we do.

05 December, 2009

The World Cup: it has started

The World Cup Football (soccer) tournament does not begin until June but like the commercial institution of Christmas has been started artificially early. Six months early, for last night was the draw to decide who plays whom, when and where.

Similar in style to an Italian game show, there was a celebrity (David Beckham) a pretty girl and a Frenchman (how is it they always seem to get involved?) with a microphone attached to his ear, doing nothing for the supposed independence of the draw. The girl called out numbers, the wired grenouille something unintelligible. Somosas! (why is it when we can’t understand a Frenchman we assume he is talking about food?) And there was another little chap running around with rolled pieces of paper like you find in Christmas crackers. So the long evening wore on. ‘Six two’ said the lovely. ‘Petits Pois’ cries the froggy.

As a televisual spectacle this was buttock clenchingly awful, trying to manufacture excitement where there could be none – we might have simply read about it in the morning papers.

There again, this is not about sport.

Kercher: a verdict

Amanda Knox and her boyfriend Rafaele Sollecito have been found guilty of the murder of Meredith Kercher and many will be grateful that what was closer to a Reality Show than the exercise of justice is now over.

But it won't be. There will be analysis, summary and, above all, appeals. This is just the end of the beginning.

04 December, 2009

Steel: Emma and the slab

1,700 jobs are to go on Teesside as Corus, the rump of British Steel now owned by the Indian group Tata (which also owns Jaguar and Land Rover), mothballs its plant.

Corus Europe chief Kirby Adams said that the loss of jobs was entirely attributable to a consortium of international companies pulling out of a ten year contract. The contract had been to supply slab steel at cost, and for four years, while prices were higher than cost, they profited. When the equation turned the other way, they pulled out.

All this raises a number of questions: why is the UK involved in what would appear to be low-tech steel manufacturing when its skill is in high-tech? Why wasn't the contract watertight? Why were they going for sales at cost rather than at a profit? If it wasn't profitable why do it? The answers may well come out in the next few days. In the meantime we can consider this: the leader of the consortium which pulled out was Marcegaglia Industries, run by Emma Marcegaglia who is also the President of the Italian Confederation of Industry.

I shall return to this as I learn more.

03 December, 2009

Switzerland: leading the fight, or fascist?

The international hoo-ha about the Swiss banning minarets seems to have had a number of interesting results. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, says the decision reflects an upsurge in fascism in Europe (but then again he would, having been repeatedly snubbed in his attempts to get Turkey into the EU, something we shall come to regret, I think). Germany’s tabloid paper Bild says that Germans would have voted the same, and right wing politicians in Italy, France and Holland have said they will also press for a referendum in their countries.

For myself I do not agree with the proposal put to the Swiss electorate that the minaret is a symbol of Islam’s attempt to conquer the world. I do believe, though, that it is a symbol of a refusal to integrate. I believe the Swiss have restated their desire to be multiethnic but monocultural and in this I support them. If the call to prayer is important, and I can see that it is, it can be done by telephone or text.

What also comes out of this strongly is the Swiss independence of spirit. The proposal was condemned by the government and also by both sides of parliament and yet they went ahead with it. It makes you wish that the UK and other countries had such a system (they also voted in a couple of referendums not to be a part of the EU).

Demjanjuk: the war returns to haunt us

Mr. John Demjanjuk has a temperature. And a headache, too, I shouldn’t wonder. Of course names come in and out of the press but his seems to have held our attention for a long time. It is because this is the second bite of the cherry. In the 1980s he was convicted of being ‘Ivan the Terrible’ at Treblinka camp and sentenced to death in Israel, until the Israeli Supreme Court deemed the sentence unjust (they had discovered it was someone else). He was released and sent back to America, which has now answered an extradition request (more quickly than they ever did for IRA suspects!) and sent him to Germany, where he is accused of being a guard at the Sobibor death camp. And now his lawyers say he can’t stand trial because he is ill. He is 89 Years old.

Demjanjuk, if the prosecution is to be believed, was born in the Ukraine in 1920 and served in the Red Army until he was captured by the Germans in 1942, was enlisted into the SS Foreigners unit and sent to Sobibor. I must say I am torn about this trial. There is the technical issue of trying such a man – nobody could recognise in the comfortably framed retired Cleveland car worker the strained, fanatic stare of Demjanjuk’s wartime ID. There is the aspect of his being tried in Germany (the country, you will remember, where the holocaust was planned) when he isn’t German and they can’t prove he killed any German citizens. And in any case, having been in the world’s newspapers as a convicted wartime criminal, the average juror is going to find it hard to put that out of his head. Are we putting him through the trial even though we don’t believe he can be convicted? That would be wrong – imagine it was you and they had incorrectly identified you.

Then again I think we hear too much of the war, seventy years after it started, and that it is unhealthy. Do we want not just the generation born after the war but the generation after that to be defined by its horrors? Shouldn’t we instead try to draw a line under it? And shouldn’t that line have been fifty years after its end?

Lastly, he can claim that he was forced into it: that if he had not pushed Jews into the gas chambers he would have been killed himself. This is a moral dilemma few are made to face in these happier days. Should he have refused the work and stepped right in there with them, or maybe faced some other even less humane penalty from the SS? What would you have done?

But lastly, unfortunately, the moral right is on the side of pursuance. We have a statute of limitations for small crimes, not for murder, certainly not for mass murder. And whilst some say Demjanjuk is a victim, Danny Finkelstein in the Times, whose mother was at Belsen, has a strong piece which ends ‘I want the victims like my mother to see that we can still tell the difference between them and their prison guards.’

But I can’t help feeling it migh thave been better if someone hadn’t just put a pillow over his head (even though I don’t agree with killing the convicted, much less the unconvicted) or that he should die before the sorry charade gets going. Relatives of the victims of Sobibor want a conviction of someone (Demjanjuk is accused of having been associated with the deaths of some 10% of the people who died in that horror) but if he is acquitted they will die in despair.

02 December, 2009


Today is National Day in the United Arab Emirates and it might be a good time for them to reflect a little.

Last week saw one of the great Central Bank botch jobs. Dubai asked for a moratorium on what in today's market was a modest amount of debt in Dubai World, one of its flagship state entities. The markets, frothy but jittery, didn't like it at all. There was even talk that this might herald a new global recession. What should have happened is that Abu Dhabi, by far the richest of the seven emirates which we used to call the Trucial States (it has 90% of the oil) should have shut down rumours and told everyone there was nothing to worry about. They could have borrowed Peter Mandelson for two days and it would all have been OK.

Now we have Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Muhammed of horse racing fame, trying to calm things down and there is talk of rescheduling all of Dubai's $26bn of debt (nothing by the British Government's standards, of course).

Some people believe that underneath this lies a dispute between the ruling families al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi and Al Maktoum in Dubai. Time to pull your fingers out, gentlemen.

Perugia: false portrait of a town

The trial of Amanda Knox and her boyfriend will be over this week, they say. It has been two years and doubtless has been a heartrending worry for all those concerned.

It will not, however, be over for the place where the crime happened and where the trial is being held. Perugia is what we would call a small county town, the capital of the region of Umbria with a population of about 150,000. It sits atop a steep hill. Visitors stroll through the broad streets, take an aperitivo in the Corso Vanucci or look down from the ancient Etruscan walls over the splendid Umbrian countryside. The Tiber flows close by on its way down to Rome.

Somehow this charming place seems to have acquired a reputation for drugs and violence. It is not justified. The University of Foreigners consists for the great part of young people eager to learn about Italy and enjoying themselves harmlessly. But the tourist trade has been bad and bars and restaurants are closing, thanks to Foxy Knoxy and the lurid press treatment her trial is receiving.

Pity poor Perugia, and come and visit if you can.

01 December, 2009

Scotland: the final solution

I don’t know if Mr Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister of Scotland, has ever been seen in the same room as Shrek, but I think the matter should be brought out into the open. Shrekmond has caused some confusion in Scotland by publishing a draft bill for a referendum on the independence of Scotland, leaving the opposition parties to fill in the terms of the question put to the electorate and even the proposed voting system. The opposition parties are against the referendum (and against Scottish independence) and so the thing is likely to go nowhere.

It makes an interesting comparison with Italy, where it is the richer part of the country (the industrialised north) which wants independence from the poorer part.

My advice to the SNP is to start campaigning in England. In these straightened times it would be attractive to the English voter not to have to pay massive subsidies to people who won’t even accept the same laws or health provisions as them and who scarcely make one feel welcome north of the border. In those comfortable southern seats which alternate between Conservative and Liberal a movement could be born.
Avanti, Mr...er...

UK: The Navy East of Suez

The case of five British sailors arrested by Iran points to our less than glorious policy in the region. You will remember that the crew of a fast patrol boat, including a woman, were taken by the Iranians without firing a shot ‘for fear of a diplomatic incident’ (although how they would describe their portrayal on Iranian television and the subsequent negotiations to release them I don’t know).

Then when recently the man and wife crew of a private yacht was captured by pirates we learned a lot later that a Royal Navy vessel had been ‘within 50ft’ and then yet later that it had a detachment of Commandos on it, who never received a call to do anything.

I just want it known that if I am about to be captured by someone and that a bunch of well armed soldiers is nearby, I’d like our guys to shoot the hell out of them. I don’t expect British capability East of Suez to be what it was in the 19th century but I do expect a little more vim than this.