28 July, 2010

The Corrida

The region of Catalonia in Spain, which includes Barcellona, votes today on whether to ban bullfighting.

I confess I have only been to one bullfight, which was enough, and find myself quite unable to agree with those who regard it as an art. Nor would I particularly want it as a tradition, although the Spanish doubtlessly feel differently.

The ban is likely to pass, I hear, due to an unlikely alliance between Catalonian nationalists, who will ban anything that is traditional in the rest of Spain in order to differentiate themselves from it, and the European and American animal rights lobby. The philosopher queen Pamela Anderson, she of the enlarged swimsuit in Baywatch all those years ago, has declared for the ban; I do not know whether Bono the singer or George Clooney have joined, but when the gods speak the people must listen.

We get quite a lot of bans, don't we? In the past, though mildly disgusted by the speactacle of the bullfight, I have rather envied the Spanish their insouciant dismissal of other nations' claims of brutality. But the Prime Minister, Mr Zapatero, is the Heir to Blair and the attitude of 'I don't think they should be allowed to..' has pervaded, replacing the tolerance of allowing people to do what they want as long as it hurts no one else. It can hardly be said that bullfighting is an outrage to public decency, since it has been going on for such a long time. And of course you don't have to watch it.

Just a little of me feels this is a bad day for Spain and for all of us.

PS the practice of attaching fires to the bull's horns on religious festivals will not be banned. Well, it's religious, isn't it?

They do things differently here

I am indebted to the ANSA news agency for details of the demise of 45 year old Calogero Scimeca in the village of Altofonte, just south of Palermo, Sicily.

Mr Scimeca had been filming a wedding when he suggested that the cinematic souvenir of this important day might be enhanced if the bride and groom were carrying firearms (I am not making this up). Representatives of the two families duly went home and returned with a selection of unregistered weapons.

Surprisingly, you might think, no one at the celebrations is able to recall anything about the incident but it appears one of the weapons went off by accident, killing Mr Scimeca instantly.

The wedding has been postponed, presumably for the two families to acquire armoured vehicles.

The law is an ass

Apologies for the break in service, while I sorted out what should have been a trivial problem.

We Brits like to kid ourselves that everything works. I have known people who regard the police as infallible, I have known people, more fantastically, who regard the National Health Service as the envy of the world, but most people, I should have thought, regard the English and Scottish legal systems as being excellent.

I might have thought that myself until I found myself, in 100deg F heat, having to swear, in front of a bemused Italian notary, that I had been able to walk the 20ft from the road to my house in England these last 20 odd years.

She agreed the necessity of being able to get into one's own home, smiled sweetly and charged me 50 euros.

23 July, 2010


It is a remarkable feat that Muttiah Muralitharan of Sri Lanka has taken his 800th Test wicket on his last ball as a player. The next highest wicket taker is Shane Warne at 708, the highest Englishman Ian Botham at 383 and the highest of any bowler still playing Harbajan Singh of India at 355.

It is a feat which many pundits think can never be repeated. I disagree, and look forward to some new, exciting talent in the future.

Murali is a charming guy and a wonderful ambassador for cricket and his home country. There were questions about his bowling action at the start of his career which he saw off with good humour, and I hope he will help young Sri Lankans long into the future.

Inside the American Empire

The United States' Senate has had the impertinence to summon invite Jack Straw, the former Justice Secretary, and several Scottish politicians to answer questions on the release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.

I didn't agree wit the release of al-Megrahi and I suspect there is a lot more to this than we shall ever learn, but this cannot go without comment.

Whether or not these politicians choose to go to America to help imrove the election prospects of a few senators is a matter for them. But the American Ambassador should be told sharply that the UK is a sovereign nation, not a part of the USA, and that the questioning by the US legislature of UK government ministers about decisions made in their own country is the sort of behaviour Britain wouldn't have got up to when it had an Empire.

Perhaps if we gave them a list of Americans suspected of being involved in torturing innocent people they would send then over to a Parliamentary Select Committee?

I don't think so.

The Monarchy and the Right

The cancelling of the invitation to Nick Griffin, head of the Right Wing British National Party, to attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace was utter folly. We aren't supposed to say that Her Majesty has screwed up so I'll say she was ill advised (everyone else in public and private life has to take responsibility for decisions made in their name).

Griffin, who is an elected politician, albeit under the bogus 'proportional' system, now looks as if he, and the hundreds of thousands of people who voted for his party, have been undemocratically victimised by the Queen, who could easily have ignored him once she had a sausage roll in her hand..

The way to deal with Griffin is to engage him on the issues of the day: how would he reduce the deficit, what is the right amount to spend on schools or the National Health Service? If we do that he will be found out by the electorate. If her Majesty refuses to engage with elected representatives of the people she looks worse than him.

22 July, 2010

Stonehenge and you

It is reported that a new ancient monument, a wood henge, has been discovered, some 900m from Stonehenge.

I shouldn't be surprised if it were roughly where they had been going to build the vile tourist centre. It is probably an ancient tourist centre.

The BBC reported Professor Gaffney as saying he was "certain" they would make further discoveries as 90% of the landscape around the giant stones was "terra incognita" - an unexplored region.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing is that the BBC website felt it had to translate 'terra incognita' for its readers.

New Kafka story found

One of the author's traditional horrors of the absurd, in the style of Metamorphosis, in which a country which hadn't even come into existence until twenty years after his death claims his work as a national treasure.

21 July, 2010

Iraq: the truth seeps out

The comfortingly named Baroness Eliza Manningham Buller doesn’t sound like a spy, but she was head of MI5 at the time of the Iraq war. And she doesn’t sound like someone who is going to make much in the way of political waves, but she has lit up the Chilcot enquiry into the Iraq war with a testimony which at last had a hold-the-front-page feel to it.

It has to be said that few were expecting much from this enquiry, given that the other two were establishment jaunts determined not to rock the boat and after Tony Blair’s brilliant performance smoothing down concerns.

But Dame Eliza said

- Osama bin Laden had not been involved in Iraq, but our invasion gave him his chance

- the invasion increased the terrorist threat to the UK

- Our involvement in Iraq radicalised a few among a generation of young people who saw it as an attack upon Islam

- She was not surprised that Britons were behind the 7th July bombings in London

Apparently several senior officials believed the above but were too scared to say anything.

Surely this must be one of the shoddiest episodes in our history. I hope the enquiry invites Tony Blair back to say whether, having read this evidence at the time, he now feels responsible for the deaths of the 52 innocent people on 7th July, 2005.

Love and lust in Jerusalem

The Guardian brings us interesting news from Israel. A man, Sabbar Kashur, from East Jerusalem and of Arab origin, has been convicted of rape and sent to prison. His crime was to have had sex with an Israeli Jewish woman, having promised her that he was himself Jewish and interested in a serious romantic relationship. She says she would not have had sex with him had she known he wasn't Jewish.

I think this raises two interesting questions. Firstly, the similarity of the peoples means she could not have known that he wasn't of her race. It seems to put a lot of it into perspective, doesn't it?

The second is intriguing. The judges said the sex was obtained under false pretences. Suppose Mr Kashur had said he was rich and looking for someone to go on holiday to the Bahamas with; supposing he said he was a film director looking to cast an unknown in a major production, or a modelling agent; suppose he had said he was a bachelor when in fact he had a wife and six children?

The prisons would be full.

19 July, 2010


I don't often read Melanie Phillips, not because I think she is wrong, but because she is obsessive and I tend to mistrust obsessives. But in the Spectator she quotes the excellent Tom Gross:

... In Turkey, life expectancy is 72.23 and infant mortality is 24.84 per 1,000 births. In Gaza, life expectancy is 73.68 and infant mortality is 17.71 per 1,000 births. Turkey has a literacy rate of 88.7% while in Gaza it is 91.9%. (It is much lower in Egypt and other Arab countries where Israel did not establish colleges and universities in the 1970s and 1980s.)

Gaza’s GDP is almost as high as Turkey’s and much, much higher than most of Africa that gets 1,000th of the aid per capita that Gaza gets from the West

He suggests that perhaps the Turkish aid convoy was going in the wrong direction.

Gross' article is written as the EU approves massive new funds for Gaza, much of which, he says, goes towards armaments. He has photos of a new shopping centre in Gaza. This is not the sort of stuff you see on the BBC, which continually refers to Gazans as 'refugees'.

18 July, 2010

Legalised Theft

It is reported that the Government plans to take money left in dormant bank accounts – they describe this as money left alone for ‘up to’ fifteen years (six months is ‘up to’ fifteen years) – put it in a ‘Big Society Bank’ (presumably owned by the State, not by ‘society’) and spend it on projects which would otherwise suffer due to the government’s austerity programme.

So who owns this money? Not the State, to be sure. If the account holder is dead, there are ways the deceased’s assets should be divided up. Without a will, some goes to the State, but only some. The rest is divided up amongst relatives. If the account holder is still alive, this amounts to theft by the State. Why shouldn’t someone have the right to leave their money alone for fifteen years without it being legally stolen?

So Mr Cameron’s big idea, ‘incredibly audacious’ he has called it, is to set up a State Bank, amend the law to rob private citizens of their money, and spend it on things the State think are deserving of it.

If Cameron thins this is new politics, he is quite mistaken. He is also mistaken if he thinks this is Conservatism.

16 July, 2010

Abandon hope

Peter Sutcliffe, known as the Yorkshire Ripper, who murdered 13 women between 1975 and 1981, has been told he must stay in prison for the rest of his life. 'The parole provisions do not apply to you', said the judge.

I can't say I am happy about this.

What is prison for?

It is not, as some of our tabloid papers and perhaps many of their readers seem to think, about society getting revenge. It might be about protecting the public, and it might be a deterrent to others thinking of committing the same crime.

On the first of these grounds, supposing we were convinced that Sutcliffe posed no further danger to society? Indeed his doctor seems to have said just that. Shouldn't we at least hold open the possibility of release? He is said to be in poor shape and almost blind.

On the second ground, Sutcliffe would seem to be a special case. I have always felt that some crimes are so awful - the 1960s Moors murderers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley might be in this category - that you must be quite disturbed to commit them. No one is going to be thinking of murdering prostitutes - supposedly on advice from God - and then be deterred by the heavy sentence.

Now he is just going to be left there, perhaps praying to his unreliable god for a death which will be denied him.

The Catholic Church and its sins

This blog delivers its annual Urbi et Orbi message on the Feast of All Fools, rather than Easter and Christmas, and this year, amongst other things (suffocating the Pope while he is sleeping) I recommended the Roman Catholic Church employ a really top PR consultant.

Here is what happens through not taking my advice.

The Church updates its Canon Law, publishing a list of the most heinous offences a priest can commit. It lumps together sacramental offences, such as desecration, with moral offences. So what do the press latch on to? that being involved in a ceremony for the ordination of a woman is on the same level as child abuse. I watched the sneering women on the BBC enjoying every moment.

Of course nobody has actually said this, and the Canon Law doesn’t apply to you and me, it is for priests, bishops and deacons.

But the press didn’t mention that.


‘Argentina to allow gay marriage’ seemed important enough to make it to the front pages of the newspapers, although I should have thought almost none of the readership would have been remotely affected by the news.

But is it news? What can be done in those countries (Britain is one) where gay marriage is permitted which can’t be done in others? What does the institution of marriage mean nowadays?

Marriage is, or was, a societal norm kept in place by stigma, by what I hope is a now defunct ‘she’s no better than she ought to be’ culture. Until the middle of the 19th century in England (more complicated in Scotland), marriage had to take place in a recognised church, be it Christian, Jewish, Quaker etc. Unless you were married in this way children could not inherit.

Since then it has been legal to live together and have children, and since the 1960s it has been morally acceptable to live together, gay or straight. Now Britain’s new Prime Minister wants to ‘recognise marriage in the tax system’ (not, I think, gay marriage) which means the State giving advantages to those who conform to its moral code. This is something I regard as a dangerous departure, although there is already some recognition: if you leave your property to your spouse there is no inheritance tax whereas for two sisters living together or an unmarried couple, the tax applies.

No one disputes that a level of stated commitment is important in a relationship, but society is now comfortable with that no longer involving Church or State.

Marriage seems a concept past its sell-by date. Its only relevance is tax. You get a closer bond with a joint bank account.

14 July, 2010


Three British Servicemen have been killed by a rogue Afghan soldier, one of them shot in his sleep.

When a war is started the Government gets the benefit of the doubt, but now many people are beginning to wonder whether we might be better off deploying our soldiers as border guards, assuming, that is, that the ultimnate reason for our presence there was protection of the people of Britain from terrorism.

I don't think this is the straw that broke the camel's back, but I do believe it is another chip out of the public confidence.

Teachers' Pay

It is reported that a head teacher has earned over £200,000 in the last year.

I really don't have a problem with this. Teaching has been an underpaid profession for years and if this makes good teachers want to stay on, so much the better. I would only add that it should be accompanied by a policy of culling the bad ones.

Vive la France

Bastille Day, or la Fete Nationale.

Times are difficult, the President's garden party has been cancelled, a minister has resigned for spending €14,000 of taxpaers' money on cigars, and France were dumped out of the World Cup even before England.

OK, there's a bit of Schadenfreude in Britain and elsewhere, but don't worry, mes amis, things can only get better.

12 July, 2010

The Troubles

Today is The Twelfth, the day Northern Ireland Unionists commemorate the victory by the Protestant William of Orange over the Catholic James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Actually it isn’t really a commemoration at all: it is an excuse to flaunt their manufactured medieval tribalism; a self-justificatory excuse for failure by inventing a ‘cause’ which is different from that of the man in the next street.

Twenty-seven police officers have been injured overnight, three of them shot.

This will come as a surprise to most people. Isn’t Northern Ireland at peace? Didn’t Tony Blair feel ‘the hand of history’ on his shoulder (this was preceded by the statement ‘this is no time for sound bites’)?

The truth is it was a typical Blair deal: high on visibility, high on what he called ‘eye-catching initiatives’, low on practicality. The nationalist price for the deal, troops out and having known terrorists in the government, was so high, and Blair’s trendy courage so dilute, it meant that the unionists were hardly likely to give up their right to these provocative, sneering marches. There were always going to be flare-ups and the police have to carry the can.

Blair's vicar on earth, the late media saint ‘Mo’ Mowlem, was so biased in favour of the nationalist argument that negotiators had to bypass her.

So Northern Ireland is still stuck in 1916, while the rest of the world moves on. And Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and the other self-publicising shysters involved in this botched agreement, continue to bask in the world’s praise.

A more even handed approach might have been that the 12th July be no longer a holiday, that the marches are banned, and that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are investigated for their terrorist activity over a period of thirty years.

Fat chance.

Roman Polanski

We read that Roman Polanski, the film director, has received a reprieve from the Swiss Government. He will not be extradited to America for having sex with a 13 year old girl.

This is a shame: I was hoping that the unpleasant paedophile bugger would be locked up.

The Swiss judgment admitted that ‘national interests were taken into consideration in the decision’. You can guess what this means.

The problems I have with this is Polanski’s assumption that it didn’t matter, that he could live his life as he chose; and the arty farty world’s belief that this sort of law shouldn’t apply to someone like him.

Polanski admitted to having sex with the girl. It is not as if he can claim he was stitched up. In her statement the girl claimed he had anal sex with her.

If laws don’t apply to everyone, indiscriminately, then the whole basis of our society is a nonsense.

09 July, 2010

Italy stops

Today the transport workers are on strike, threatened with a pay freeze, and the journalists are on strike, complaining about them being banned from receiving transcripts from 'phone tapping.

The journalists, who submit to being licensed by the State, can hardly portray themselves as fearless chasers after truth. As to the trains and buses, well, we're all used to it here. The sun is shining and the bars and restaurants are open.

07 July, 2010

Rare Genius

Sometimes I am confused as to whether politicians just think we’re idiots, or whether we in fact are, or whether they are idiots for not realising they are.

Nick Clegg, who only a month ago was a Person of No Consequence* has launched a website patronisingly asking the public to suggest to the government which laws they would like repealed.

One useful suggestion for repeal has been the First Law of Thermodynamics, without which we could have perpetual motion machines and the energy crisis would be solved.

Great work, Nick

*defined as ‘like an Italian pedestrian’.


Oh, all right then


Today is the 82nd anniversary of the production of the first sliced bread. It was described as 'the greatest forwaard step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped' which is presumably where the expression 'best thing since sliced bread' comes from, although I can think of several things better than sliced bread.

Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Gustav Mahler, whose Urlicht is sung by Maureen Forrester, who died a couple of weeks ago. Mahler is a bit of an acquired taste but I like it; don't listen to it if you've got a gun in your hand.

'Urlicht' means Primal Light and here is an extract in English

O little red rose,
Man lies in greatest need,
Man lies in greatest pain.
Ever would I prefer to be in heaven.
Once I came upon a wide road,
There stood an Angel who wanted to turn me away.
But no, I will not be turned away!

To cheer you up after that, today is also the 70th birthday of Ringo Starr, who claims he has never eaten a pizza. Now is the time, I reckon, and I can recommend Il Paino in Rome.

05 July, 2010


I am a great supporter of India and its almost unbelievable democracy, as well as of the excellent economics work done by one of my great heroes, Manmohan Singh.

But these figures stood out for me, as reported by Ian Dale

UK development aid to India over next three years: £825 million

Amount spent by India on its space programme: £633 million

Phone tapping in Italy

A fair old row is bubbling away in Italy, which must look quite incomprehensible to Anglo-Saxon eyes.

Silvio Berlusconi is trying to limit the amount of ‘phone tapping going on, and its publication in the press. People will remember that some fairly racy moments of his private life got into the press and on to the internet while the Italian police were checking out, if I remember well, a takeover his company had made.

Naturally the left wing press in Italy and the whole press outside Italy were up in arms against Berlusconi – it is the default line to take – but there are some interesting aspects to this.

What happens is that investigating magistrates order mass ‘phone taps – it is said 150,000 ‘phones are being tapped at any one time; so if each subscriber talks to an average 50 people (tiny for an Italian) then 7.5 million people, one person in eight, might be overheard by the State. Then the police (carabinieri, financial police etc) feed the evidence to the papers in return for who knows what. Sometimes the ‘phone tap ‘evidence’ is relevant, sometimes it reveals some juicy titbit of someone’s private life that has nothing to do with the trial.

Under Anglo Saxon law the revealing of evidence before the trial is strictly illegal. It would prevent the accused receiving a fair trial; if the accused is recorded speaking to a mafioso he is obviously tainted with organised crime. If he is recorded wanting some pretty girls to attend his party, he is a womaniser in the public mind. The jury would have had their opinion of him infected before they began to consider the case.

In Italy, of course, they don’t have trial by jury. Magistrates are supposedly professional and incorruptible. The left says that the papers cannot investigate the misdeeds of the likes of Berlusconi without receiving this information, and that Italian trials take so long that if the press doesn’t investigate it, nobody will.

But serious crime trials are conducted by three magistrates and three lay members. And these lay members could easily have their minds poisoned against a defendant. Look at the trial of ‘Foxy Knoxy’ in Perugia. Before she appeared for trial they had read lurid details of casual sex, drink and drugs; they had heard, who knows from where, that the deceased had not wanted to play. Easy – too easy – to imagine circumstances where they are all high as kites and the game turns nasty.

I don’t suppose for a minute that Berlusconi is pushing this through for altruistic reasons, but just because he thinks it is wrong does not mean it is right. Italian justice is not served by the flogging of phone tap transcripts to an eager press. The magistrates are politically biased (it is not just Berlusconi who thinks this) and the lay members easily corrupted.

Italian justice would be served by speeding up the trial system.

04 July, 2010

USA Today

The American President is currently out of favour with this blog, so I wish all those who are not Barack Obama  or his fellow travellers a happy 4th July.

The USA's current wheeze is that to combat terrorism we should give them in bulk and with no screening details of all financial transactions conducted in Europe, eg when you use your card at the supermarket or buy petrol . We of course cannot be trusted with details of all American financial transactions so won't be getting them.

Our reply should be clear: 'Go...' No, I can't write that. But I mean it.

How to make a saving

Today our attention is turned towards WRAP. This is one of those peculiarly named bodies which looks as if it might be an acronym but isn't. It is usually a sign that money is being wasted.

On April Fool's Day this year WRAP became 'the lead delivery body for resource efficiency in England and Scotland'. I am quoting from their newsletter, which is called a 'Stakeholder Briefing', another sure sign of our money being wasted. Whether there are subsidiary Welsh and Northern Irish WRAPs we are not told.

WRAP has shone the spotlight on teabags, an enthralled nation learns today. Are you tearing your teabags before putting them on the compost? (No, really, I am not making this up)

Lynne Gunn, WRAP’s home composting expert, said: ‘Our advice remains that tea bags are suitable for composting. If the bags are still visible when you want to use the compost, they can be sieved out or picked off the surface of the soil. You can also speed up the composting process by ripping open the bags.’

The WRAP website shows the breakdown of its 6 departments (Communication, of course, but Business Growth? Organic growth, I expect) each with dozens of managers. WRAP has two offices in Banbury, Oxfordshire, and tells you not to go there by car but helpfully explains how to book a ticket on a train.

Ever wondered where your taxes go?

03 July, 2010

Ban the aged

Italy's latest road safety proposal is to ban the over 80s from the roads.

The previous brilliant idea from the Ministry of Blinkered Idiots was to make everyone drive with their headlights on, and to make discos turn the music down half an hour before closing, so young people's ears are accustomed to the ordinary level of sound.

This measure will have no more effect than the previous ones, and merely deprive a lot of fairly fit old people of their freedom.

The reason for Italy's appalling road accident levels is the dreadful driving. They don't use indicators, they are unable to judge the speed of oncoming traffic, they stop at T junctions with the front of the car a metre over the line so you have to swerve into oncoming traffic. Penalising these and many other dangerous habits would be a start. But it would involve accepting what the problem is.

Cry Freedom!

I missed this and am grateful to Conservative Home:
Tony Blair is to be awarded a £100,000 Liberty medal by the National Constitutional Center based in Washington for his role in "bringing liberty to people around the world".

Hmm. Let us note, inter alia:

ID cards

Control Orders

28 day detention (and wanted longer)

Random stop and search


Clamping down on free speech (especially around Parliament)

Innocent people on the DNA database

Trial without jury

The Civil Contingencies Act (the most overbearing legislation ever passed by our Parliament) "

Really, you couldn't make it up

02 July, 2010

The Times

The Times and the Sunday Times go behind their paywalls today. It is £2 per week to receive them both on the internet. What now?

Rupert Murdoch is far sighted and bold. I remember his debt laden set up of Sky, which eventually generated a huge cashflow. No one thought he would do it, but he insisted it was the future of TV.

He may be right about newspapers. We may come to look on the last fifteen years as a golden age, when you could get newpapers every morning for free.

The others will be watching carefully - at the moment the Telegraph, Independent, Guardian and Mail are free. My guess is that Murdoch will have a tough time of it to begin with but will triumph eventually. He usually does.

No subscription from me, though, until the others give in

Homage to Catalonia

The town of Salou, on the Spanish Mediterranean coast near Barcelona, has decreed that it will be illegal to wear a bikini on the street, following appalling behaviour by British tourists. Drinking alcohol on the streets and having sex on the beach will also be illegal.

Of course the Spanish can't just ban British tourists, because we are all in the EU.

The reason I mention it, though, is that when I first went to Spain in the 1960s bikinis were illegal. Then it was because of the prudery of the Fascist Franco regime.

The reason the Brits are there, though, is not for the Hemingway trail, nor for the weather, it is because their own government thinks that alcohol is a sin and taxes it heavily.

So they take it out on the poor Spanish

The wages of sin

After what was described as an 'extraordinarily quick' debate, the parliamentarians of Kenya have voted themselves substantial pay rises. With allowances they can now earn $126,000, more than 170 times the national average wage. The Prime Minister will earn 10% more than the US President.

It is as if British MPs had awarded themselves £3.5 million each.

The case in favour of this, and there is one, is that if they are well paid they will be less susceptible to corruption.

That however assumes their behaviour is going to be properly policed.